Tag Archives: Huey Long

MILDRED, TWICE

MILDRED autograph 2It seems an authentic signature because of the ornate little flourishes.  But the next one, from a book signed by various luminaries (Harry Richman, J. Fred Coots, and Huey Long among them) in 1933 — celebrating the start of Ozzie Nelson’s band — has its own sly message about the Rockin’ Chair:

MILDRED autograph

Words to live by.

May your happiness increase!

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“BIG EASY BIG BANDS: DAWN AND RISE OF THE JAZZ ORCHESTRA,” by EDDY DETERMEYER

A successful book on jazz has to be accurate, unbiased, and deep.  The writer shouldn’t twist evidence to fit an ideology; (s)he has to base conclusions on solid research; ideally, the book has to contain something new.

Eddy Determeyer’s new book on New Orleans “big bands” is successful in these ways.  I knew his work from his 2009 RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS: JIMMIE LUNCEFORD AND THE HARLEM EXPRESS — a beautifully thorough and lively study of that band and its somewhat elusive leader — so I was eager to read BIG EASY BIG BANDS.

BIG EASY BIG BANDS

It’s a fascinating book because it focuses on an aspect of New Orleans jazz and dance music that we knew existed but that apparently never received such loving attention — “orchestras,” groups larger than five or six pieces, relying on written arrangements — from the teens to the present day.

Determeyer’s scope is broad: in this book, one finds Louis Armstrong and Joe Robichaux, Champion Jack Dupree, Aaron Bell, Benny Powell, Ornette Coleman, Papa Celestin, Wallace Davenport, Sam Lee, Ed Blackwell, Dooky Chase, “Mr. Google Eyes,” Papa Jack Laine, and many others.

That a number of those names are less familiar is the point of the book, and testimony to the hard work behind it.  For one thing, Determeyer has shown by his research that there was a vital musical tradition in New Orleans running parallel to the one that most of us acknowledge: street musicians, small improvising bands, larger marching aggregations.  But — so runs the accepted myth — the “big bands” came out of Kansas City, New York, and Chicago, leaving New Orleans as a kind of improvisers’ Eden, both pure and somewhat behind the curve.

Determeyer’s research, from Congo Square to hard bop, shows that there was much more going on: picnics at Milneburg, steamboats and minstrel shows, Sam Morgan’s band, the excursion boats — with Fate Marable in charge (including drummer Monk Hazel’s account of a cutting contest between Emmett Hardy and young Louis (where Louis is reputed to have said, “You is the king!).

One of the strengths of Determeyer’s book is that the reader glides happily from one vivid anecdote to another: Huey Long saws off one leg of a three thousand dollar Steinway grand so that it can get into a club; Joe Robichaux, forty years later, is nearly done in by the erotic / financial insistence of a Japanese prostitute.  Cap’n John Handy sits in with his younger namesake, John Handy, and they have a good time.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining and informative book — stretching from the 1700s in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina — with a number of surprising photographs, an index, and clear links to research sources.

You can purchase a copy at the Determeyer’s webstore — BIG EASY BIG BANDS is surprisingly affordable.  It will entertain and enlighten . . . what more could we ask?

May your happiness increase.

“MY HI-DE-HO MAN” (1936)

This bouncy performance from October 25, 1936, owes its existence to a few fortunate coincidences. 

That new invention, the jukebox, meant that record labels in the Thirties saw a market for pop music recorded inexpensively for listeners eager for danceable novelties. 

So Fats Waller and Henry “Red” Allen gave encouragement to Bob Howard, Tempo King, Putney Dandridge, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, and the overlooked Lil Armstrong, whose last name and ebullience were enough to make Decca Records interested in her.  (Also, a woman-pianist-singer-composer-personality was their idea of good value for one salary.) 

Then, the Fletcher Henderson band was playing a long residency at the Grand Terrace in Chicago: Fletcher’s star sidemen Buster Bailey (clarinet), Chu Berry (tenor sax), Huey Long (guitar), and Joe Thomas (trumpet) were available and eager to make some easy money on their own.  Teddy Cole took over the piano; John Frazier played bass.  Roy Eldridge might have wanted to lead his own date; Sidney Catlett was off having fun. 

And the idea of a “hi-de-ho” man leads back to the immense popularity of both Cab Calloway and his jive talk . . . all things combined to make this wonderful piece of music: meant to be ephemeral but still entertaining us more than seventy-five years later. 

Now, settle in and enjoy the strong pulse of that drumless rhythm section (with Huey Long’s solo passage late in the record), Teddy Cole’s glistening piano — shades of Hines and Wilson — on top.  Then, Joe Thomas — no one’s played like him yet!  Careful yet soulful, taking his time, outlining the melody but offering his own embellishments.  He loved upward arpeggios (shades of 1927 Louis) and repeated notes (all his own, as was that lovely tone).  Thomas’s playing always combines delicacy and earnestness: he has something he wants to tell us, but it’s not going to be bold or overemphatic. 

Then a key change to bring on the Star — jivey, enthusiastic, full of ginger and pep, singing lyrics that don’t make a lot of sense but we don’t care.  (“I’m going to bump that ball . . . ?”) while the band gets more lively in back of her.  Buster Bailey, who could sometimes sound mechanical, now bends a note or two in the hot fashion of Ed Hall —  and Lil comes back for more, with Joe generating a good deal of heat behind her singing.  (All this romping has been created in eighty seconds: the jazz masters of the Thirties certainly didn’t need a great deal of room to warm up the world.) 

And then a sweet chorded interlude from Huey Long  and John Frazier, coming through clearly even now, preparing us for the drama to follow, Chu Berry in flight, his phrases tumbling, his tone shifting and shading as he ascends and descends.  Then tout ensemble, rollicking: Lil riding the rhythm wave of the band, the horns — with space and time enough for a four-bar string bass break — before the end: what Joe plays in the final fifteen selections of this disc is priceless.   Yes, there’s some Eldridge-osmosis there (those phrases were the common tongue for trumpeters in 1936 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went back to Mr. Strong) but Joe is floating on top of the beat just as he seems to be urging the band on to a joyous finale.

And these recordings aren’t well known and haven’t had much existence on compact disc.  Yes, there’s a Classics compilation but it’s been out of print and costly for some time.  I wouldn’t take anything from Billie or Fats, but their colleagues, swinging happily for other labels in these years, deserve our attention, too.

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JAZZ SUSTAINS US

I don’t think I ever heard an actual solo by the acoustic guitarist Huey Long on the recordings he made with Fletcher Henderson and Lil Armstrong, but no matter.  Guitarists then were expected to keep good time, move subtly from chord to chord, and blend with the band — which he did ably.  He comes to our notice today because of a long and detailed obituary in the New York Times.  What a wonderful long creative life he had!  Some of it, no doubt, is the result of character and genetics, but a good part must also be traced to the healing, energizing powers of the music we love.  Hail, Huey Long!

Here’s a link to his obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/13/arts/music/13long.html