Tag Archives: Humphrey Lyttelton

CONTRITION OR VENGEANCE? RICKY ALEXANDER, DAN BLOCK, ADAM MOEZINIA, DANIEL DUKE, CHRIS GELB at CAFE BOHEMIA (Nov. 22, 2019)

I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough.  Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed.  It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis.  Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)

Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know.  I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)

Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it.  Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:

That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here.  And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)

May your happiness increase!

HANDFULS OF KEYS: DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES MARTIAL SOLAL (and ANDRE HODEIR), EDDIE COSTA, and WILLIE “THE LION” SMITH (July 6, 2018)

Another visit with our favorite Jazz Eminence who, having spoken first of saxophonists Dexter Gordon here, Sonny Stitt, and Lee Konitz here, moves on to pianists Solal (with a digression to critic / violinist Hodeir), pianist-vibraphonist Costa, and pianist-force of nature Willie “the Lion” Smith . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a previous conversation Dan had spoken of Solal with great enthusiasm, so I followed his lead:

I also wondered what Dan knew of the brilliant, short-lived, multi-talented Eddie Costa:

and finally, for that afternoon, glimpses of Willie “the Lion” Smith:

Now, some music.

Martial Solal, 1963, playing Django (with whom he recorded) — accompanied by Teddy Kotick and Paul Motian.  (The sessions were recorded in New York City.):

Eddie Costa, Wendell Marshall, Paul Motian:

Willie “the Lion” Smith, 1965, introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton — accompanied by Brian Brocklehurst and Lennie Hastings.

Thank you so much, Mister Morgenstern!  More stories to come . . . Randy Weston, Jaki Byard, Ira Gitler, Slim Gaillard, Harry Lim, Jeff Atterton, Kiyoshi Kuyama . . . and others.

May your happiness increase!

“AFTER YOU’VE GONE”: BEN COHEN’S HOT SEVEN at BUDE, 2000

Ben Cohen Hot 7 at Bude 1998, courtesy of Alex Revell. L-R: Nick Ward, Terry McGrath, Alex Revell, Mick Clift, Ben Cohen, Geoff Over, Jon Penn.

I came very late to this particular party, but happily the party still rocks on in cyberspace.  Let me explain.  The searing yet also lyrical cornet player, singer, and bandleader Ben Cohen moved to another neighborhood in 2002, when he was 73.  I didn’t take notice of his work until last year, when I heard him on a record featuring the late clarinetist Pierre Atlan, which also starred Humphrey Lyttelton — but one side of the disc was a 1987 session showcasing Ben, whose KNEE DROPS astonished me with its hot fluency and mastery.  I regret that I can’t share this music, but the record is on eBay, like so much else (including two CDs featuring Ben, posthumously).

I contented myself with playing the record many times, then browsing through my shelves, where I found him appearing with Jean Francois Bonnel and Wally Fawkes, among other luminaries.  I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that Ben had recorded widely from 1950 to 2000, a very long time to be in one’s prime.

And there the matter would have remained, were it not for the gracious fellow who calls himself JazzVideoMike on YouTube — the link will lead you to his channel, where you will find yourself enchanted.  In real life, he answers to Mike Stevens.

I asked Mike to tell me something of his involvement with Ben, and Mike graciously wrote:

Ben Cohen played in Brian White’s Magna Jazz Band for many years right up to his passing. The Magna played weekly and from about 1990 I went weekly and got to know Ben. I started videoing jazz when I went to the French Quarter Festival in 1995 and bought my first camcorder on Canal Street. I then started going to the Bude and Keswick UK jazz festivals and making videos whenever possible, which I have continued right up to now.

I met Ben at these festivals and found that his style of playing with his Hot 5 & 7 was much more to my taste than his style with the Magna band. His early Louis style playing caused quite a stir, and admiration from many musicians. After 2000 Ben suffered several strokes, but he refused to stop playing and it was a more serious stroke which eventually brought him down.

Ben was a lovely man and greatly admired by many. [Sarah Spencer, below, says that Kenny Davern loved Ben.]  Brian White still says he was the best trumpeter he ever had in his bands. Ben and Alex Revell were the front line along with Chris Barber in his amateur band before Chris made it a full time professional band. Ben was an engineer with his own business and remained a part time musician throughout his career. Alex was a also a noted engineer and designer, and they played together again in Ben’s Hot 5 & 7. Jon Penn was the pianist, and Nick Ward the drummer, both now at Whitley Bay every year.

And here is Mike’s splendid video (let us praise the man behind the camera!) of a ninety-minute plus live session at the Bude Jazz Festival:

Now for a rare treat – a new Ben Cohen Hot Five Seven concert never before published – Launched in 1993, Ben’s Hot Five caused an immediate sensation at the Bude festival that year, since when they have starred at major festivals all over the country. 1994 saw the launch of an even more exciting Hot Seven. Ben Cohen, hailed by Humphrey Lyttleton as today’s finest trumpeter in the “early Louis” style, leads Alex Revell (clarinet), Mick Clift (trombone), Jon Penn (piano), Geoff Over (banjo), and they are joined in the Hot Seven by Terry McGarth (sousaphone), and Nick Ward (drums) with special guest Norman Field (reeds).

Ben Cohen is one of the legendary backroom boys of British Traditional Jazz. He first came to notice in Chris Barber’s amateur band in 1950. He based his style on that of early Louis Armstrong and over the years developed a reputation as a powerful lead player in any band he was in. He stuck religiously to playing the cornet rather than the trumpet and was only ever semi-professional throughout his career. Ben was a popular figure on the UK Jazz scene and for many years led his Armstrong inspired Hot 5.

A brief guided tour: YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (Ben, vocal); PAPA DIP; GULLY LOW BLUES (Ben, vocal); EAST COAST TROT (featuring Alex and Norman); NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (Alex, vocal); TAKE YOUR PICK (featuring   Geoff Over); an interlude where the band removed their jackets; MABEL’S DREAM; WEARY BLUES; SOME OF THESE DAYS (Ben, vocal); WILLIE THE WEEPER (Geoff Cole, vocal); I CAN’T SAY (Alex and Norman); ONCE IN A WHILE; ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ben, vocal); BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA (Alex, vocal); KNEE DROPS; AFTER YOU’VE GONE (closing theme).

The band is marvelous.  But I keep returning to Ben, who is — in the words of his friend and bandmate Sarah Spencer — “hot as heck.”

I am sorry that I never got to hear him in person, and — even more — tell him how much his music moves me.  But here is evidence of gorgeous nimble heat in the best Louis manner.  Thank you, Ben Cohen.

May your happiness increase!

COLIN HANCOCK THROWS A PARTY, OR SEVERAL, FOR US

You might know the inspiring exhortation, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  The quite remarkable Colin Hancock has put his own inventive spin on that, and I imagine “Be the music you want to hear!” is his motto.  I’ve written about Colin and his Original Cornell Syncopators as they appeared at the San Diego Jazz Fest last year (dig in here) and they will be appearing in San Diego again this November: make plans here!

And I had the pleasure of seeing the larger unit in New York very recently: hot evidence here.

Colin Hancock by 2E Photography

 

But this post is not about the wonderful young people who make up Colin’s bands.  All respect to them, no.  This post is about Colin, the one, the only.  The dazzling multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer and Imaginer, the young man who gets inside the music rather than copying its most obvious features.

Over the summer, Colin made some records.  That might not raise an intrigued eyebrow until you learn that he plays all the instruments on these records (and sings on one), that they are brilliantly loving evocations of time, place, and style, with no artificial ingredients.  They aren’t tricks or stunts: they are MUSIC.

There is, of course, a tradition of one-man-band records: Sidney Bechet for Victor, Humphrey Lyttelton’s ONE MAN WENT TO BLOW, and more — but Colin’s are deeper and more thoughtfully lovely than simply ways to show off multiple expertises.  What he’s done is make beautiful little alternative universes: imagine if __________ band had played ___________: what would it sound like?  Some bands have no single historical antecedents: they exist only in his wide imagination.  And the results are amazing on their own terms: play one, without identifying it, for a hot jazz fan, and see what she says; play one for a deeply scholarly hot jazz fan and hear the encomia, because the music is just right, imaginative as well as idiomatically wise.

Here’s an example, evoking Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds:

a splendid visit to Red Hot Chicago:

and a tender creation honoring Bix, Tram, Lang, and their circle, casting admiring side-glances at Benny and Jimmy McP:

finally (for this post) a frolic, Mister Hancock on the vocal chorus:

You can hear more of Colin’s startling magic on his YouTube channel here.  And there’s a brand-new interview of this wondrous trickster here.

Fats Waller would have called Colin “a solid sender” or perhaps “a killer-diller from Manila!” but I think, perhaps more sedately, of Colin as someone who likes to imagine aural parties and then generously invites all to join him.  What gifts!

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF “DINAH LOU”

“DINAH LOU,” music by Rube Bloom and lyrics by Ted Koehler, from the 29th COTTON CLUB PARADE, perhaps would have gotten less attention and affection if it had not been the subject of several memorable recordings.

A footnote: the song was composed several years earlier, and recorded by Red Nichols (leading an expert but little-known post-Pennies Chicago band) at the end of 1932: I hope to share that disc in a future posting.

The first version I encountered was Red Allen’s, from July 19, 1935, with Henry “Red” Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Cecil Scott, Horace Henderson, Lawrence Lucie, Elmer James, Kaiser Marshall.  Notably, it was the first of four songs recorded at that session — a warm-up, perhaps, for the delightful Frolick that is ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON.  I think you can hear what captivated me years ago: a good song and lots of very satisfying, individualistic melodic improvisation: much art packed into a small package:

On August 1, Chuck Richards sang it with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band — Red was in the band, but sang on the Bloom-Koehler TRUCKIN’.  However, he takes a soaring solo — more in a Louis mode than his usual way — with marvelous interludes from Billy Kyle, J. C. Higginbotham, and Buster Bailey.  Richards was a competent balladeer, but to me the real star here is the band, with a very lovely reed section:

On January 20, 1936, Ivie Anderson sang it with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (three takes, of which two survive).  I don’t know which of these two was recorded first, but I’ve distinguished them by sound and length.  Talk about wonderful instrumental voices — in addition to Ivie, whom no one’s equalled.

2:25:

2:34:

And the most delightful surprise (August 25, 1955): a live performance by Humphrey Lyttelton, trumpet; Bruce Turner, clarinet, alto saxophone; Johnny Parker, piano; Freddy Legon, guitar; Jim Bray, string bass; Stan Greig, drums:

The motive behind this leisurely long satisfying performance may have been nothing more complex than “Let’s stretch out and keep taking solos,” but it works so splendidly: hearing this is like watching two marvelous tennis players volley for hours with the ball always in the air.  It feels very much like a magical return to a late-Thirties Basie aesthetic, with none of the usual patterns of an opening ensemble giving way, after the horn solos, to rhythm section solos.

Will anyone adopt DINAH LOU as a good tune to improvise on in this century?

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, SIR CHARLES (1918-2016)

Sir Charles Trio

The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):

“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.

He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.

He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .

He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.

He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s.  Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation.  Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.

We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”

sircharlesthompson

Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love.  Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES.  But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful.  I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago.  Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.

Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.

And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:

That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift.  But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player.  With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.

If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.

If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.

But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies.  His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.

I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”

There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HUMPH!

HUMPH

Humphrey Lyttelton would have been 94 this May 23, 2015.  Although I have ordinarily not celebrated the birthdays of my heroes, living and departed, this calls for a celebration.  (Humph, gregarious onstage, was the most private of jazz musicians, so whether he approves of this tribute is open to debate.  But here it is, anyway.)

The gorgeous soundtrack — rare and previously unheard — has been provided for us by Stephen Lyttelton, Humph’s son, and curator of the beautiful and engrossing website devoted to his father.

The song is an old favorite (oddly enough, one I associate with the pre-Basie / pre-Eddie Durham version of the Bennie Moten band, San Francisco jazz, and Louis with the Dukes of Dixieland) SOUTH:

Stephen’s brand-new YouTube channel is here.  (My feeling is that if many of us subscribe, he will be motivated to share more rare, unheard music.  What could possibly go wrong?)

And here is Stephen’s commentary, which I couldn’t improve:

A birthday gift for all Humphrey Lyttelton fans – please pass it on.

Humph would have been 94 today and to celebrate here is a free recording never before released.

Humph, with Bruce Turner and Roy Williams, was part of the Salute to Satchmo Tour that visited Australia in 1978. Rolling back the years and delving back into the New Orleans catalogue, Humph is joined by a local band called The West Coast Jazzmen from North Freemantle, Australia. The gig was a ‘loosener’ before the main concern the next day and the band let rip with their version of ‘South’.

The recording(s) was found on a CDR and restored by David Watson at The Monostery.

Please pass on to fans who may not be linked to Humph’s web page or Facebook.

And here‘s the Facebook page for Humphrey Lyttelton 1928-2001.  “Like” it!  I do.

May your happiness increase! 

BEAUTIFULLY POLISHED BRASS

Here’s something good.

And another taste:

CHRIS HODGKINS CDI don’t ordinarily like surprises, because so many of them feel as if someone has crept up behind me and popped an inflated paper bag to watch me suddenly soar up to the ceiling — but the most lovely surprise is meeting someone new and finding out that (s)he has deep joyous talents you’d never known of before.

Such a person is trumpeter / composer Chris Hodgkins.  In fairness, I’d already heard Chris play (on recordings only, alas) and admired him as a thoughtful lyrical trumpeter — someone who admired Louis, Ruby, Brownie, Humphrey Lyttelton, without imitating a phrase.  And I hear the same kind of tenderness I always heard in Joe Wilder’s playing.  (In the interest of accuracy, I will note that I first heard and wrote about Chris a few years ago here.

The two YouTube videos above offer music from the new Hodgkins CD, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, which I celebrate here as an outpouring of sophisticated yet gentle Mainstream jazz.

I had the opportunity to write a few words for this disc, and they will serve as my enthusiastic endorsement:

Chris Hodgkins and friends do not have the international reputations they deserve, but they create endearing music that doesn’t reveal all its secrets at once.

Aside from two originals and the poignant BLACK BUTTERFLY, the repertoire suggests a formulaic Mainstream set that one might hear at a jazz party. But that narrow assumption vanishes once the music begins, for Chris, Dave, Erika, and Ashley offer serene yet searching chamber jazz, refreshing improvisations on familiar songs. (Although I suppose that SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is now arcane to all but a few listeners.)

I delight in the delicately streamlined instrumentation, reminiscent of sessions by Ruby Braff and Warren Vache. Hearing this music, I am breathing in the light-hearted interplay, without the conventions of four-bar trades or ensemble-solos-ensemble. The players have created an airy, open music, full of pleasant wanderings but solidly grounded in melody and beating-heart rhythms.

And this music gladdens on many levels: a musician could analyze and admire subtle rhythmic displacements, chord substitutions, shifting textures. A casual listener would say, “What is that? That sounds beautiful,” and both responses would be true.

Chris is a master of his instrument. He can modulate from what Agatha Beiderbecke heard in her son’s playing, a “sudden perky blare,” to what Ruby Braff recognized in Lawrence Brown’s “a wonderful little cry.” I hear echoes of a grand tradition – everyone from George Mitchell to Clifford Brown and beyond – but Chris is himself throughout.

Emotionally warm music comes out of the emotions of the players – not only their love of sounds and textures, but a love for the people who have gone before and who have created personal art. On this CD, one hears everyone’s affection and admiration for the great ancestors, but Chris cites two people in particular.

One, his older brother, played trumpet, so Chris heard Louis and Morton and more, but, as he says, “When I was about 14 or 15, my brother said, ‘You don’t want to hear it, you want to play it!’ so he got me a trumpet from a second-hand shop and I never looked back.”

Later, Chris played with guitarist Vic Parker. “He was born in Cardiff, played in London before and during the war. In 1940 he worked at the Embassy Club in Bond Street playing accordion and double bass with Don Marino Barreto. He can be seen in Barreto’s band during a nightclub sequence in the musical film Under Your Hat. He came back to Cardiff and I used to work with him in the Quebec every Monday and Wednesday. We had a little duo, just playing standards, and he would sing in a Cardiff accent. When you’re young, you forget so much. You can be handed the keys to the kingdom and you don’t notice. Working with Vic was like that: he was in his late 60s then, one of the nicest guys you could meet.”

Chris has also played alongside Pete Allen, Rod Mason, Kathy Stobart, Humphrey Lyttelton (whose passionate influence I hear), Buddy Tate, and Wild Bill Davison.

Chris is also a wise generous leader, someone who knows that Being Out Front Always is hard on one’s chops as well as on band morale, so each performance makes his colleagues equals rather than subordinates. One of the most moving performances here is A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, an etude for piano and two double-basses, both celebration and elegy for wartime Britain, with death, romance, and endurance intermingled.

And those colleagues! Bassist Erika Lyons appeared on a BBC master class with Ray Brown, and studied with Buster Williams, Rufus Reid, and Hal Galper. Now she plays jazz festivals all over the world. Pianist Dave Price is a deep student of jazz piano from the Thirties to tomorrow, and he has worked with Tubby Hayes, Tony Coe, Nat Adderley, and Peanuts Hucko among many others. Bassist Ashley John Long is known not only for his work with Hans Koller, Bobby Wellins, Keith Tippett and others, but for his compositions for film, television, and the concert hall.

Together, they make BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD what jazz recordings should be, no matter what genre: warm, wide-awake, deeply personal.

If you go to the channel that Chris has created on YouTube, you can hear two more beauties from BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD and more lovely music.

The CD offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUNDAY, ANGEL EYES, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, BLACK BUTTERFLY, JEEPERS CREEPERS, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, VP, JUST FRIENDS — and it’s beautifully recorded. Here you can find out more — including how to purchase the disc, which I do recommend.

May your happiness increase!

“DID YOU EVER KNOW ART TATUM?”

HUMPH book

From Humphrey Lyttelton’s posthumous “Autobiographical Medley,” LAST CHORUS:

Ben Webster was ejected by the police from the Nottingham club where he was appearing as star soloist, and asked the young policeman who had him in an armlock, “Did you ever know Art Tatum?”  Ben Webster was part-Red Indian and, below a certain specific gravity, the sweetest man who ever walked.  When flash level was reached, he developed a suicidal tendency to attack anyone in official uniform.  Stories of Ben ending a foray with a squad of policemen or hotel night staff sitting on his protesting head would always get the same affectionate but gleeful response from Buck [Clayton], “Yeah, that’s Ben” (197).

That’s one man — indiscriminately dangerous when intoxicated.

Here’s the other side of the human coin:

We are mysterious to each other and, if we can admit it, mysterious to ourselves. Tales of Ben’s murderous drunken behavior — to women, to musicians he ordinarily respected — are many.  Yet that same man made the most beautiful music.  I draw no conclusions and offer no analysis, except to present Ben, Art, Red Callendar, and Bill Douglass, making the music of the spheres for all time.

And you can read and see more about Humph here — it’s a gorgeous site.

This just in: some invaluable words from Dan Morgenstern on the subject of Ben:

The wildness may have been true in his early and middle years, but he changed. Ironically, I well remember Ben doing his best to keep a very drunk Oscar Pettiford (now there was a problem drinker) from harming himself and others at the Copper Rail, eventually almost carrying him out into a cab (Ben was strong, also at Copper Rail, he caught me eating some soul food seldom consumed by ofays and lifted me off the counter stool and held me up, shouting “He’s eating pig’s ears!”)
I’ll never forget taking a stroll with Ben on a summer night, we were at a party on Central Park West, where at the time Ben was sharing an apartment with Joe Zawinul–odd couple if there ever was one. Ben knew that I was European-born and bred and wanted ti talk to me about going abroad for the first time in his life. He was most concerned about communicating, and I was happy to assure him that most people in Western Europe understood and even spoke English and that he would have no problems.* It was amazingly, and charmingly naive. Of course he not only visited, but stayed in Europe until his death. Last time I saw him, he was leaning out the window of his Copenhagen apartment, which I’d just left after a visit during which he lamented the recent loss of Charlie Shavers, and of other dear friends. and we left a bunch of empty beer bottles, waving goodbye. I loved Ben, he really was what his music says. (Among the many treasures in the Mary Lou Williams Collection at IJS, there is a ca. l939 love letter from Ben, and an acetate of him singing “Prelude to a Kiss”. there thanks to Fr, Peter O’Brien, S.J., a dear man whom we just lost.)

Thank you, as always, Dan.

May your happiness increase!

“I’LL ALWAYS KEEP THAT.”

If you are chatting with me for more than a few minutes, it is a sure thing that the name of Louis Armstrong will emerge from my lips.  Musician, man, inspiration. And I knew very well that the superb musician (he’s too large for simply “trumpeter”) Humphrey Lyttelton felt the same way.  Humph, bless him, was able to embody his love of Louis by playing in ways that honored Louis while keeping his individual self.

Doing research for a piece about Humph in the NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD, I was delighted to come across the official Humphrey Lyttelton website, maintained by his son Stephen — so full of information, pictures, memorabilia, and drawings, good prose, and deep feeling, that it will take several days for me to feel that I had explored it all.

Two photographs and one story I found superbly touching — tribute to Louis’ character and to Humph’s as well.  Here is the page.

One photograph shows an ecstatic happy Louis in front of drummer Barrett Deems and near a British trombonist (who is also laughing) while a pair of arms are tenderly placing a crown on Louis’ head — the crown is labeled KING LOUIS. The handwritten caption (in very recognizable script, because Humph was also artist and calligrapher) reads “‘Crowning’ of Louis Armstrong, Empress Hall, 1956.”  This photograph was taken onstage, and Louis is in white shirt, jacket, and bow tie.  In the second shot, presumably posed for a press photographer, Louis has changed to a neat checked shirt, no tie; he sits happily while Humph, in white formal garb, carefully places the crown once again so that the inscription can be seen.  The crown itself is beyond description.

And the brief story, told by Humph:

Another indicator of the strength of Louis Armstrong’s character was his unshakable loyalty towards those he regarded as his friends. I have personal and proud experience of the warmth with which he responds to any action which he regards as a favour to him. At the end of his 1956 season at the Empress Hall in London, when my band was privileged to share the bill, I spent a couple of days making a crown out of cardboard, Woolworth jewellery and ping-pong balls, and inscribed ‘King Louis’. At the end of the show, when I was called up on stage to take a bow in the finale, I made the announcement: ‘On behalf of all British musicians, I crown Louis Armstrong the undisputed King of Jazz,’ and plonked the crown on his head. A day or two later, I saw him backstage at Manchester. I asked him casually if he still had his crown. ‘Of course I have – I had it shipped back home today. I’ll always keep that – you gave it to me.’

Why do I find that so touching?  Even if it were not an anecdote about people I deeply admire — revere, in truth — the emotions and their expression are clear and intensely valuable.

We live in an age of milkless milk and silkless silk, and for me the metaphor has nothing to do with soy beverages and rayon, but everything to do with the many layers of hurry and self-absorption many people wrap themselves and their essential selves in.

The true self feels love and responds with gratitude, which is a deep expression of love.

Although Humph’s gesture had a small element of do-it-yourself comedy in it (I especially like the gilded ping-pong balls) the deep love that animates the creation of such a crown is true and not purchasable at any store.  The love is measurable in the impulse to make such a crown for Louis, and the act of making the impulse real, and the time taken to make the object a fitting tribute.

And Louis’ understanding of the love in the gesture is simple in words, but deep in feeling.  It is the antithesis of contemporary entitlement (“Of course, I am the King! So your gesture is only what I deserve. It’s about time.”) and of checking-the-price-tag-scorn (“Oh, that cardboard crown? I tossed it away.  It would be very hard to pack, and it’s only cardboard.”)

Recognize love.  Send it back in acts and gratitude.

Stories like this are the reason I wrote WHAT WOULD LOUIS DO? — but we don’t have to play trumpet to be loving, grateful, or loyal.  It requires only that we slow down, breathe deeply, be open to feeling, and respond in fitting ways.

P.S.  This post is about the power of generosity and gratitude, and I could have no better example than an email I received from my friend, the superb jazz writer Peter Vacher, less than thirty minutes after my post had appeared:

The trombonist in the Louis picture, taken at Empress Hall, London, a boxing arena now demolished, on the occasion of Louis’s first return to the UK since 1932, is bandleader Vic Lewis. Vic, a sometime trombonist and guitarist, was leading a modern big band which alternated with Humph’s band as the introductory act on the Louis programme. Also on the bill were singer Ella Logan, Annie Ross’s auntie, and African-American dancer Peg-Leg Bates. They all set up and did their stuff in the Hall’s boxing ring, which rotated meaning that at one moment one saw Deems’s backside and at the other Louis full-on frontally. A strange experience but a memorable one as I should know as I was there on one of the nights, in Army uniform, having hitched down from Yorkshire where I was doing my basic training. Sat at ringside, I even managed a brief congratulatory word with the great man who responded as I remember with the immortal phrase, ‘Yeah, Daddy, yeah.’
And this just in — from Harvey Bard, friend of Bob and Pug Wilber:

Yes it is Vic Lewis – see the attached article with photo. He did play trombone and together with Humph, Freddy Randall and Cy Laurie he was one of the band leaders in the reception party for Louis when he landed at London airport on 3rd May 1956, so it’s seems likely he was also present at the Empress Hall. The regular trombonist with the All Stars at that time was Trummy Young and he did play the Empress Hall concert (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcgoJkU6t7M) but maybe as Vic Lewis was around they let him sit in!

Incidentally I was on duty at The State Kilburn when Louis and the All Stars appeared there on their 1956 tour. I get as far as the corridor leading to Louis’ dressing room and glimpsed him sitting there over the shoulders of the crowd. I had hoped to get his autograph but no luck – there were too many people in the way.

May your happiness increase!

THEY WERE BOILING WITH MUSIC: “AN UNHOLY ROW: JAZZ IN BRITAIN AND ITS AUDIENCE 1945-1960,” by DAVE GELLY

I enjoyed reading writer / musician Dave Gelly’s AN UNHOLY ROW: JAZZ IN BRITAIN AND ITS AUDIENCE 1945-1960 (published by Equinox) all the way through. I am a difficult audience for most books of jazz history that propose to cover a period of the music in a larger context (as opposed to a biography or autobiography).  Most times I find such books engaging chronological collages at best that never capture a larger world. Gelly’s quick-moving book has many good stories in it, covering those intense years in 167 pages, but his tales are all wisely connected.

His writing is also a pleasure: the book is not a series of quotations knitted together. One hears his voice: witty but not cruel, stylish but not self-absorbed. Here is part of the book’s opening chapter, an autobiographical fragment from which the book’s title comes:

I think there were five of us, all aged about fourteen, gathered in the ‘games room’ of a substantial family villa on the leafy southern fringes of London. We were equipped with musical instruments — battered cornet, decrepit clarinet, miscellaneous bits of a drum kit — and were doing out best to emulate our heroes, Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band. We had been at it for some time when the door burst open to reveal our unwitting host, the cornetist’s father. ‘Will you kindly stop making that unholy row?’ he demanded, in a voice more weary than irate, and withdrew.

The 1950s, as we are often reminded, was an age of deference. Accordingly, we shut up at once, abashed but not entirely surprised. By any standards, ‘an unholy row’ was a pretty fair description of our efforts, but even if we had been competent musicians, even if we had been Humph and his Band themselves, I wouldn’t mind betting that, as far as the cornetist’s father was concerned, it would still have been an unholy row. The whole thing was offensive to ears attuned to the BBC Midland Light Orchestra or the swing-and-water piano of Charlie Kunz. 

I could have gone on reproducing Gelly’s prose happily, but this brief bit (and he is rarely so autobiographical as the book proceeds) will do to convey his accuracy, charm, and subtlety.

I began taking notes on my reading early on, and find that I have too many of them to even hint at here. Gelly is understandably fascinated by the great individualists in British jazz of the period — famous (Humphrey Lyttelton, Sandy Brown, John Dankworth, Ronnie Scott) and less so (my new hero Spike Mackintosh, George Siprac) but the book is not simply a series of portraits.

Gelly, a fine cultural historian, is curious about artistic movements, not necessarily those as defined by the journalists of the time, but as manifested in groups, recordings, and seismic shifts of taste and commerce. Sometimes these movements are given names: “trad,” “skiffle,” “blues,” “rock,” other times they are only apparent in hindsight.  Much of this might be familiar, even subliminally, to listeners and collectors who know the period, but where Gelly is invaluable is in his awareness of redefinitions within audiences.

What happens to an art form that is — of necessity — enacted in public in front of audiences — when those audiences change, develop, grow older? That, I think, is Gelly’s larger question, one which transcends the names of the music, the players, the clubs, the measures of popularity.  Even if you weren’t deeply involved in British jazz of the period, the question not easily answered.  His thoughtful inquiry makes this book well worth reading, with no hint of the classroom, no pages of statistics, no Authorities beyond the musicians and listeners who were there on the scene.

But I must backtrack and write that when I was only a few pages in, I suddenly had a small stammer of anxiety: “What if the only reason I am enjoying this book so is because of my essential US ignorance of the UK scene? What would an UK reader who knew this as native culture and experience think?” And a few days later (as I was happily reading) the answer appeared in the shape of Peter Vacher’s enthusiastic review for thejazzbreakfast. Here is an excerpt:

gelly cover[Gelly] is, and has been for many years, the jazz correspondent of the Observer newspaper, has written perceptive biographies of his heroes, Stan Getz and Lester Young (the latter also published by Equinox) and of even greater moment plays jazz tenor saxophone professionally and well. Born in 1938, Gelly embraced jazz and began to play during the very period which the book covers. So his is a commentary informed as much by first-hand knowledge as it is by his extensive research.

The subtitle suggests something more than a strictly chronological account of jazz in Britain during the cited decade and a half and that is what Gelly delivers here. He’s good at capturing the mores of the times, as Britain moved from a war-time economy to the first awakening of the ‘never-had-it-so-good 1960s’.

This was when jazz found an audience among the young, newly-liberated from the stifling conventions that had marked their parents’ lives, sometimes to their seniors’ despair, hence the title of the book. He’s even-handed about styles, understanding the sincerity of the early revivalists and tracing the rise and rise of traditional jazz and skiffle before moving over to consider the passionate espousal of the modern style promoted by the collective known as Club Eleven and the more aware dance band players of the day.

He rightly emphasises the role played by the open-minded Humphrey Lyttelton and John Dankworth, two men who largely shook off their early American influences as they sought to produce distinctive music of their own. There’s social history here but it’s British jazz history too, neatly caught and clearly expressed. No fuss, no over-elaboration, all appropriate quotations included . . . . 

Peter is typically correct; it was a relief to know that I book I was so enjoying had much to offer readers who knew the terrain by heart.

Early on in the book, Gelly chronicles a number of what he calls “the Armstrong moment” — that instantaneous conversion to jazz experienced by listeners and players.  (The late US pianist Larry Eanet wrote of the moment when some records by Louis and Earl Hines “hit” him “like Cupid’s arrow.”)

AN UNHOLY ROW gave me a literary version of “the Armstrong moment.”  I am now a Gelly convert, and want to read his other books.  I predict you will, too.

May your happiness increase!

“A LOVELY MAN”: PORTRAITS OF SPIKE MACKINTOSH

Thanks to Dave Gelly and his book AN UNHOLY ROW, I found out about the magnificently subtle musician, trumpeter Ian Robert “Spike” Mackintosh, and wrote this in his honor.

Ian Cuthbert, attentive and generous, pointed me to one volume of the British singer George Melly’s autobiography, OWNING-UP, where there was a brief but memorable “pen portrait” of my elusive hero.  Here it is — and I am pleased that Spike in person is as singular as his trumpet playing.

. . . there was a whole generation of jazz musicians in England who predated the revival [which Melly dates as beginning in 1951] and yet played swinging music in the Harlem style of the late thirties. Some were professionals . . . . Others were amateurs, and the most remarkable of these was a timber merchant called Ian “Spike” Mackintosh who played trumpet in the style of mid-period Louis Armstrong. Small and neat, a little mustache and horn-rimmed spectacles, he looked exactly what he was, two sons down at Public School and a house at Cuffley. But inside him was a wild man in chains. He played with extreme modesty, his back to the audience, and a green beret full of holes hanging over the bell of his trumpet. In conversation he was both courteous and restrained, but he could become very aggressive if anyone suggested that there was any other trumpet player except his hero.

At parties there was a psychological moment when he would lurch towards the gramophone and take off whatever record was playing if it hadn’t got a Louis on it, and substitute one that had. Another anti-social habit was his reaction when his host turned down the volume. He’d just wait until he wasn’t looking and turn it up again.

He once offered Mick [Mulligan] and me a lift home from a suburban jazz club in his car, and when we were safely inside, drove all the way out to Cuffley despite our protests. His wife was away, and he wanted us to sit up all night listening to Louis and drinking whisky. It was an enjoyable night, and it didn’t finish until three p.m. the following day when the local closed. It was just that we hadn’t planned on it. Mackintosh’s friends were another hazard: huge city men in waistcoats, and pre-war musicians with patent leather hair. . . . despite Mac’s party tricks and city mates, we all liked him very much. He was kind, loyal, and generous, and he could, when on form, play absolutely beautifully.

This comes from pages 100-1 of my paperback copy of OWNING-UP — a book whose spine was nearly broken at those pages.  Was its previous owner also looking for Spike?

And this reminiscence (in August 2014) by the very gracious Ralph Laing:

Spike was a well-off London timber merchant with a passion for jazz and Louis in particular. To my knowledge the only sides he cut commercially were the feature on Sandy Brown’s ‘Sandy’s Sidemen’ and the Wally Fawkes sides you have on Lake. Like Wally he was never a professional, and in his early days was an inveterate sitter-in. Sandy featured him usually on the 100 Club alfresco Thursday night. He had three loves – his sons (all well positioned, especially billionaire Cameron), Louis Armstrong and booze. As he got older the latter dominated and it was hard to get him to play, although he often carted his trumpet around. I persuaded him to do a few numbers with my band at a Edinburgh Festival sometime in the late 1980’s, and that was unusual. Stan Greig and I, though, did spend many hours with him at my flat in Edinburgh (he always attended the Festival), listening to Louis, Jabbo Smith and Jack Purvis.  He loved to talk about and listen to jazz, and was a founder member of the Codgers, a group of London musicians and ex-musicians who cared about music (and a drink) – Wally, Stan, Ian Christie and Jack Hutton (ex-Melody Maker editor) among them. When he died his sons mounted the greatest jazz wake in British history at the ‘Pizza On The Park’ taking over the downstairs supper/night club and dispensing endless refreshment to most of the jazz fraternity. Those present and still alive remember it with awe. The surviving Codgers still host an annual Xmas dinner in his memory. He was a lovely man, unlike most, endearing and funny in his cups. I miss him.

Leader of the Classic Jazz Orchestra Ken Mathieson came up with these anecdotes, “in the book THE BEST OF JAZZ SCORE, which consists of selected excerpts from the BBC radio programme of the same name”:

George Melly:
Spike McIntosh played trumpet with the Wally Fawkes Band in the late 1950s. He was a great fan of Messrs Gordon’s and Louis Armstrong. In fact I suspect his real reason for playing the trumpet was to capture other musicians and take them home with him in order to drink the product of one and listen to the product of the other.

Humphrey Lyttelton:
There is a lovely story about Spike McIntosh being at a party at Wally Fawkes’ house. In those days Wally had a large divider in his main room which was covered in pottery, glassware, bowls of fruit and that sort of thing. Typically, Spike was among the last to leave and, as he got himself out of an armchair, he stumbled into this divider which crashed to the floor with Spike sprawled across the wreckage.

The crash woke up Wally’s daughter, then about nine years old. She came out on to the landing in some distress. Prostrate in the middle of the wreckage, Spike saw her at the top of stairs and, with as much dignity as he could muster, he said “Shouldn’t that child be in bed?”

Although his famous son, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, has been acerbic when mentioning his father in interviews, he was more affectionate in his extended sketch for the book, DADS: A CELEBRATION OF FATHERHOOD BY BRITAIN’S FINEST AND FUNNIEST, ed. Sarah Brown and Gil McNeil (Random House, 2008). This excerpt begins with Spike in the Second World War:

. . . . he was blown up . . .in the Egyptian desert during Montgomery’s rout of Rommel, at the Battle of El Alamein, and was rescued by some passing Bedouins who took him back to Cairo where he lay unconscious for three months. While recuperating, he was summoned to play for King Farouk, whose son loved jazz. Throughout his adventures, Dad’s trusted trumpet never left his side or his hospital bed.

Jazz was his life and he played with a veritable Who’s Who of British jazz (Humphrey Lyttelton, Wally Fawkes, Sandy Brown to name but a few). He even played with his hero Louis Armstrong whose style he closely mirrored, and, at one impromptu gig, Louis borrowed Dad’s treasured Selmer trumpet so he could join in. However, Dad had to make a living as a timber merchant to feed and educate three hungry boys — especially me — as jazz simply didn’t pay that much. The fact that Dad couldn’t make music his sole profession had one silver lining for myself and my two brothers, Nicky and Robert, as he always encouraged us to do anything we wanted as a career. His other great example was that he always went through life thinking the best of people — ‘jolly good chap’ — and was genuinely disappointed if they turned out to be ‘a rotter.’  This was counterbalanced by our mother’s far more beady approach to life.

Having met my mother Diana in Naples towards the end of the war, when they were both working for E.N.S.A., the Army’s entertainment division, he was no stranger to the flamboyance of show business, so I had no opposition to my dreams of being a theatre producer, nor did my youngest brother, Nicky, in becoming a chef or my middle brother Robert, in going into the music business, as both a writer and a record producer. Dad still managed to play regularly throughout his life and made several terrific recordings with his colleagues.

In retrospect, one of his other great gifts to us was taking us to see many of the jazz greats in their prime and sometimes introducing us to them after the show. Who could forget the dazzling concerts of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong? The brilliant trombone playing of Jack Teagarden, the haunting saxophone of Johnny Hodges, the dazzling piano playing of Art Tatum and Earl Hines, and going to an intimate Ronnie Scott’s to see Ella Fitzgerald.

Every time I hear these great artists on the radio, I go, ‘Thanks Dad,’ and hear him ‘Zaba Doo Zatz’ in his inimitable musical ‘Satchmo’ growl, as he gratefully sips another pint.  

Two more visual portraits: the front and back cover of the vinyl issue of SANDY’S SIDEMEN, devoted to compositions by trumpeter Al Fairweather:

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp cover

Spike, caricatured, at the top.

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp backand a few words by Sandy Brown about Spike and his work on the “straight ballad,” HIGH TIME.

But the most affecting portrait of Spike Mackintosh I can offer is his music. Here is my homemade video of HIGH TIME, where his playing is both delicate and powerful. (The volume level is low, but you can always repair that.):

I need to know more about the reticent creator of such beauty.

May your happiness increase!

A RHYTHMIC ECSTASY, 1950

The British Pathe newsreel organization has released 85,000 films to YouTube — they can be found here.  Of course, I went to that channel and entered “jazz” in the search box.  Some of the film footage is silent, which is its own kind of frustration, but this one isn’t:

Three and a half minutes of Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, culminating in an ecstatic SNAKE RAG — played for young dancers thoroughly captivated by the music, the rhythm, and their own movement.  No stimulus but rhythm and “ginger pop,” the narrator tells us.

At first, I yearned for those good old days.  Imagine rooms full of young people dancing all night to King Oliver’s music . . .but then I realized that the best swing dance extravaganzas I’ve been to, in California and New York, with bands led by Clint Baker and Gordon Au, and others, have been just as evocative, just as moving.  So there’s hope.

May your happiness increase!

ONE SOUNDTRACK FOR MY IDEAL WORLD

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW was a very popular song in the late Twenties: in my memory, it is connected to Whiteman, Bix, and the Rhythm Boys; Helen Kane; Cliff Edwards, and I am sure two dozen others.

If you’ve never heard it, here is Miss Kane’s 1927 version (with the verse and at a sweet tempo):

Its bouncy melody and amorous conceit –“[S]he loves these [apparently difficult] acts, so I am compelled to perform them also — pity poor me who has to suffer billing and cooing [but not really]” — made both singers and audiences float along in amusement.

THAT-S-MY-WEAKNESS-NOW

But between 1929 and 1939 no one recorded it in a jazz context (according to Tom Lord’s discography) and it’s understandable: its bouncy two-beat melody line and rhythms didn’t lend themselves all that easily to a smoother Swing Era treatment, and it may have seemed to contemporary audiences a relic of their parents’ now-ancient flapper / sheik past.  (The song re-emerged in later decades — with recordings by George Lewis and Humphrey Lyttelton — as a sweet homage to the late Twenties, and that is how modern bands play it today.)

I don’t know who thought of the song for this July 1944 record date, but it’s a wonderful choice.  This was one of Harry Lim’s Keynote dates, so he might have been the inspiration — or leader Pete Brown might have liked the song as a perfect match for his own jaunty, accented, ebullient playing.

As a record producer, Harry Lim had a thousand virtues: good taste in musicians, a liking for medium tempos and melodic improvisation, and the courage to have players who weren’t household names lead sessions.  His 12″ 78 recordings are a body of work that remains its freshness.  (I am only sad that when I was a young record-buyer at one branch of the New York City Sam Goody’s, I didn’t recognize him, wring his hand embarrassingly and tell him how much his fine musical taste had enriched my life.)

Here is THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW, performed by Brown, alto saxophone; Joe Thomas, trumpet; Kenny Kersey, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums.

I think the beauties of this recording are self-evident to anyone willing to listen closely for just over four minutes — perhaps a seeming-lifetime in our restless century.

The disc starts with an unaccompanied introduction by the under-celebrated Kenny Kersey, who had absorbed Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines but also was very much aware of what the jazz critics like to call, retrospectively, “advanced harmonies,” but which musicians of the time might have called “funny chords.” Kersey had played with Andy Kirk as well as with Red Allen’s Cafe Society band, and (for me) his accompaniment nearly steals the show during the first chorus, where the melody is played in a neat, clipped way by the horns.  And as for bass and drums: they provide a swing heartbeat.

The horns offer very individual sounds.  I don’t think an experienced listener would mistake Brown for any other altoist: the way he pushes the beat, as if his notes and phrases were impetuous, his solos impatient to get out of the horn where they could be heard.  And his tone!  Lemony, bittersweet, tart?  One would need a truly subtle food writer to describe the sound of his alto.  Joe Thomas, ah, Joe Thomas — glowing and spare but deeply emotive without playing one more note than needed . . . a true lesson in storytelling, full of nuance but never over-elaborated.  In the melding of the horns, they are synchronous (you hear the professionalism of musicians used to working in sections, in big bands, where blending was essential) but their individual voices are audible, their sounds so personal.

Even on longer-playing discs, the idea of splitting a chorus (the horns play the first sixteen bars of a thirty-two bar chorus; another instrument takes the eight-bar “bridge,” then the horns return or let the other players have the second half) was nothing new, but Kersey’s piano, spare and elegant, is refreshing.  But while Kersey is exploring, so — in the most sympathetic way — is Milt, climbing higher on his instrument without ever seeming to solo.  Heard’s emphatic brushwork (out of Sidney Catlett) never falters, wavers, or becomes mechanical.  The following sixteen bars are equally calm — they are riffing this evening! — with an emphatic flare on the last notes of the chorus, where the horns seem especially determined to repeat the title in song.

Brown was either a  generous or wise leader — I think both — content to build a performance architecturally rather than saying THIS IS MY RECORD and playing all through it, so if we are waiting for the leader to solo, it doesn’t happen for some time.

So the next chorus is apparently a Kersey solo, and what an elegantly swinging pianist — great musical intelligence and no cliches — he was.  But just as Kersey stole the show behind the horns, the horns (with their simple little pushing riff) might easily distract us from his gleam.  Horn backgrounds to a piano solo used to be commonplace — in the departed ideal world — but one does not hear them in this century, with some exceptions.  The way the whole band — is it only a quintet? — sounds, with such sweet subtle variety — is gratifying.  Kersey has some of the same quiet energy of Johnny Guarneri (someone Lim also loved and featured) but he is his own man, steering his own course between Fats and Bud Powell.

With a push from Heard, Thomas is on.  And how beautiful his tone is — dark, clear, not “sweet” but not harsh, brassy.  All his trademarks are in place: the careful repeated notes, the breath-like phrasing, the upward arpeggios, the pace (no matter how fast the tempo gets, at his best, Thomas mastered the Louis trick of relaxing, of “playing whole notes,” of letting everyone else seem hurried while he takes his time, admires the scenery, adjusts the knot on his tie just so.  His bridge is especially luxurious.  If, perhaps, you think, “Oh, that’s just Louis-influenced Swing Era trumpet playing, and everyone was doing that,” may I respectfully suggest that a deep immersion in the period will prove revelatory. No one sounded like Joe.  Ask a trumpet player you know to listen to that solo, closely, and see if it’s easy to create such a sound, such an effect.

Behind Thomas, Brown has been nudging the band along (there are no dead spots on this record) as it shifts into a higher gear, with Heard and everyone else deciding — to use the Thirties expression — “to put the pots and pans on,” to get seriously playful.

And then comes our leader — Mister Brown to you.  What a remarkable sound!  At first, it makes me think of someone with laryngitis who insists on speaking although his voice croaks and cracks, but one quickly gets accustomed to the sound because Brown’s pulse is so warm and enthusiastic.  He doesn’t rush, but he intently gives each phrase its own shape and a rocking momentum.  And his solo is made up of small gems, a phrase turned round and round over the harmonies, without pressure or monotony.  (I am not usually fond of quotations — some musicians overindulge — but Brown’s reference to FUNKY BUTT at 3:12 is hilarious. I hope that there is no particular connection between that subject and what the imagined lover prefers, but more likely it was just a witty idea, floating by, that laid nicely over the chords.)

And that last chorus is a marvel of tidy architecture, of generosity, of variety: sixteen glorious bars for the Judge, Milt Hinton — no one ever talked through his solos! — with the band riffing around and through his sonorous notes, then a “modern” bridge featuring Kersey, four more bars for Milt (how many people understand what Milt understood about the string bass, parallel to Jimmy Blanton?) then four bars where the band says in a politely declamatory ensemble, “THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW!” and the record is over.

Yes, I have heard recordings like this in our century, and, better yet, bands actually doing these glorious acts of solo brilliance and communal swing on the bandstand, in person, but this 12″ 78 is imperishable.  There are a million ways for an improvising jazz group to sound, and I wouldn’t be such a bully to insist that this is the only one, or the best one, but it moves me every time I hear it.

May your happiness increase!

RARE, UNIQUE, NICE (featuring LOUIS, LUCKY, BUNNY, BILLIE, HAWKINS, CLAUDE, ISRAEL, FLETCHER)

Delights from the eBay treasure chest . . . costly but surely unique.

This  is a concert program from the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival (notice that Louis and the All-Stars are billed as the Hot Five).  That would be enough in itself, but notice the autographs: Louis himself, Big Sid Catlett, Lucky Thompson, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, Velma Middleton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bob Wilber, Baby Dodds, Sammy Price, Sandy Williams, and more.

And here’s a picture (the eBay site has other close-ups):NICE FESTIVAL 1948 program 1But wait!  There’s more!

How about a copy of HOT  DISCOGRAPHY— signed by Billie Holiday, Bunny Berigan, Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Buster Bennett, Israel Crosby . . . ?  No, I didn’t believe it, either.

But here is some evidence.  Even though the photographs are (perhaps intentionally?) blurry, the overall effect is dazzling:

Billie, once:

eBay BILLIE ONE

Billie, twice:

eBay BILLIE TWO

Claude Jones:

eBay CLAUDE JONES

Coleman Hawkins:

eBay HAWK

Buster Bennett:

ebay BUSTER BENNETT

Bunny Berigan:

eBay BUNNY

Fletcher Henderson:

eBay FLETCHER

Israel Crosby:

eBay ISRAEL

The Nice concert program obviously has a specific location in time and space.  The seller hasn’t said anything about this copy of HOT DISCOGRAPHY, but given the signatures, I suspect that its owner was at one time a Chicagoan . . . and you can guess when the signers took out their pens, at least by their death dates.

To me what is important here is that the owners of these artifacts not only loved the music but idolized the players and singers — so much so that having the seconds of personal contact needed to approach Lucky Thompson or Israel Crosby and ask for an autograph was worth the effort.  We benefit immensely from this kind of devotion.

Neither item is inexpensive, but the value here is immense.

May your happiness increase!

“CLAYTONIA” IN BLOSSOM: THE BUCK CLAYTON LEGACY BAND

Claytonia-sibirica

I’m serious.  Rarely have I had a CD that made me so earnestly want to turn up the volume and dance around the kitchen — with the Beloved or solo.  It’s amazing music.

CLAYTONIA cover

I shall stop dancing (even metaphorically) and explain.  CLAYTONIA is the first disc issued by the UK-based Buck Clayton Legacy Band.

When I was a young jazz record collector, I sought out every record Buck played on, and I don’t remember ever being disappointed.  His Columbia JAM SESSIONS are (to me) among the most gratifying musical experiences ever put on record.  By the time I began to see jazz performances live, Buck had stopped playing — although I saw him once in a “comeback” concert tribute to Billie. But he was resilient, and channeled his energies into writing, arranging, and directing a small big band for the rest of his life — a wonderful unit in which some of my friends and heroes played.

There the story might have ended if it hadn’t been for the very special British writer, string bassist, and jazz broadcaster Alyn Shipton.  You might know Alyn in any of his roles, but I first encountered him as someone helping Buck finish and expand BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD — a very rewarding book, Buck’s candid and charming autobiography, written with Nancy Miller Elliott.  In his notes, Alyn recalls, “Just after Buck died in 1991, Nancy Miller Elliott contacted me, and handed over a box of his music, with a message from Buck saying, ‘You kept my memory alive with the book, maybe you can do the same with my music?'”

In 2004 Alyn and the brilliant reedman / arranger / composer Matthias Seuffert assembled this great band, and CLAYTONIA was recorded during their first British tour in 2011.

It’s a humming band — these fellows know deep in their souls how to swing, and the easeful yet intense performances tick along like well-tuned engines, hinting at great strength but never relying on volume to get their point across. Alyn and Matthias (tenor saxophone, clarinet, arrangements) are co-leaders; Norman Emberson, drums; Martin Wheatley, acoustic guitar; Martin Litton, piano, make up a splendid rhythm section — nothing artificial, nothing self-consciously “old school,” just hitting on all cylinders with sweet style.  There are no efforts to imitate anyone: they simply Rock.  And Wheatley’s single-string solos are delicious interludes . . . rather like finding a clump of ripe blackberries on your morning walk.  The rest of the band is equally stellar: soloists who have something to say but know how to say it concisely / great supportive ensemble players: Menno Daams and Ian Smith, trumpet; Adrian Fry, trombone; Alan Barnes, alto saxophone, clarinet.

CLAYTONIA has none of the “all-star” nature of some recorded gatherings, where you feel the impatience of Soloist 4 while Soloist 3 is playing.  This, dearly beloved children of all ages, sounds like a working band — and is there anything better?

And they play Buck’s compositions — which have a built-in momentum: OUTER DRIVE (memorable from the SONGS FOR SWINGERS album and 1961 live performances); I’LL MAKE BELIEVE (a priceless rhythm ballad); PARTY TIME; HORN OF PLENTY; SCORPIO; CLAYTONIA (a gritty blues, first recorded by Buck and friends for Vanguard); SMOOTHIE; SIR HUMPHREY (for Buck’s dear friend and trumpet colleague Humph).

And the sound is great, too — recorded at The Sage Gateshead by Hywel Jones for BBC 3.

CLAYTONIA is an irresistible musical offering.  You can follow the band and buy the CD here.  And the flowers at the top?  They’re Claytonia, too.

May your happiness increase! 

WE LOST A CHAMPION: MIKE DURHAM

Mike Durham died this morning, peaceably, his family at his bedside.  He had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer six or seven weeks ago.

Some of you might not know Mike Durham — from Newcastle, England.  He played trumpet, cornet, and kazoo; he sang; he told stories and jokes; he ran a large-scale jazz party (the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival or the Classic Jazz Party) for over two decades.

But all that is not as important as the feeling Mike inspired in people.  When I heard of his death this morning, the words that leaped into my head were Eddie Condon’s — when Eddie was asked to comment on the death of Edmond Hall. And those words are my title.  Mike would be happy to be mentioned in the same paragraph with Eddie and Edmond, for they made his kind of music.  And the reverse was also true.

Mike had so many aspects or facets that it is hard to know where to start — should I begin with the trumpeter, jazz scholar, festival creator, charming man?

He had a deep sense of humor, so perhaps I will begin this post with an example of Mike in action (in front of my video camera, no less) — essaying a Ted Lewis favorite.  Mike would have been amused by the juxtaposition of that title and this occasion, I assure you:

You see there a sly singer, a terse but effective trumpeter (when I first began to hear Mike, I knew he was no exhibitionist, but a subtle creator of epigrams, some sweet, some naughty).  But I first came to know him as the indefatigable organizer of the annual Whitley Bay extravaganzas.  He was gracious and kind, but efficient — and often just a touch exasperated — because he was someone for whom the difference between EXACTLY RIGHT and ALMOST THERE was clear.  So I regret that I rarely had the time to see him when he was not in motion.  I knew, however, that he was a man with depths.

In the four years I knew him (those weekends plus emails) when we could stop talking about the music that was swirling all around us, Mike would speak about something that always surprised me: his experiences in America while working for Proctor and Gamble (or, if I misremember, the large ad agency that handled P&G); his experiences with race relations in the American Midwest; his memories of his father; his serious love of American poetry — ranging from Emily Dickinson to the moderns, all of which he could recite at will.  Right now the Mike I miss is not simply the trumpet player or singer, but the serious man whose utterances, never pompous, seemed deeply felt and deeply observed — I always went away from a conversation with Mike with his gently vehement words ringing in my head.  (By “gently vehement” I mean that he was soft-spoken but emphatic, and his conversation gave one the sense that he had a clear sense of where he was going when he began . . . he didn’t ramble, meander, or repeat himself.)  We had discussed plans to have dinner sometime and actually speak of things . . . but it never came to pass, so the half-dozen hallway conversations were all I ever got to savor.

But I knew him through the music.  Mike loved and understood the hot jazz that shone and blossomed between the wars, and he and his friends took great pleasure in exploring those pathways on their own.  He loved it when a band “got hot” and made the patrons and the room rock.  And you could feel and see his pleasure whether he was leading the band or standing off to one side, tuxedo-clad, ready to introduce the next song.

His pleasure in the music was more serious, his belief in the purity of Hot was deeper than most people’s, and it resulted in his more than two decades’ of nearly religious devotion to its ideals.  Mike didn’t think that simply playing his cornet (he was a great collector of brass instruments) with the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings or playing his records for friends was enough — the music deserved better.  So his Whitley Bay parties were the most vivid, lively, and entertaining jazz “museums” I have ever encountered.  With a cast of international jazz characters — male and female, European, Asian, and South American as well as the usual types — he strove to make the music come alive in front of our eyes and ears.  He didn’t mind an ad hoc group of fellows and gals romping through LESTER LEAPS IN, but that was for the after-hours jam session in the Victory Pub.  Mike’s idea of honoring jazz was serious, and it required much work: to have bands playing the music of particularly notable ensembles and soloists — playing it well, playing it accurately with fervor.  I will offer a video example at the end of this blogpost so that you may understand what Mike did — working all year with his beloved wife Patti — so that we should know what the past REALLY must have sounded like.  And the Rhythmakers, Bix and his Gang, the 1937 Goodman band, Louis and Lillie Delk Christian, and more.  In 2012, he was recovering from an operation and was unable to play the trumpet, but he was a marvel of intense focus and energy — jazz listeners will understand so well that it is not only the musicians on the stand that make the music happen, but the festival organizer who has planned everything twelve months in advance.

A good deal of Mike’s catch-his-breath conversation was based on jokes . . . most of which were new to me, and he never got offended when I held up my hand and said, “Let me save your energy.  Is the punchline ‘And she won’t either?'”  He would move on to one that was even better.

Here I turn to my friend Bob (Sir Robert) Cox, who tells a story: “I knew Mike for 5 years, he always had ready wit and a story or joke to tell.

He was a great fan of Humphrey Lyttelton and his ‘Antidote to panel games’ I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue‘.  Four years ago Mike did a tribute to Humph to include his music and wit.  Unfortunately, Mike left all his notes at home but managed to deliver a side splitting 50 minutes using quotes from a book of Humph’s I just happened to have with me and hastily scribbled notes I handed him from my memory about Samantha, Humph’s scorer on the programme.

Samantha has to go now as she’s off to meet her Italian gentleman friend who’s taking her out for an ice cream.  She says she likes nothing better than to spend the evening licking the nuts off a large Neapolitan.

I will miss Mike as a friend and generous jazz patron.”

Patti Durham very kindly emailed me the news of Mike’s death; it was one of the first things I read this morning.  Later today, at work, I encountered a colleague who told me of the death of her beloved partner — they had been together for four decades — and we both had a hard time not breaking down in the corridor.  With a lump in my throat, I said to her, “The dead know when we weep over them,” something I deeply believe to be true.

But Mike was so impish that I think the tears I shed over him should be in the form of hot jazz.  He was so open-handed in the music he gave us, the music he made possible, that I will close with this video — a small group led by Michel Bastide performing WA WA WA.  “Why is that appropriate for memorial?” some of you might ask.  Oliver, you might know, was a genius at making human sounds with his cornet and a variety of mutes; one of his specialties was imitating a baby crying (he and Bill Johnson had worked up an act that satirized how Caucasian and African-American babies cried).  So my tears, our tears for Mike, will be expressed in JAZZ LIVES through a song whose title reminds me of weeping:

Yes, the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party will go on — as a living, energized memorial to Mike, run by several of the musicians and his young acolytes Julio and Jonathan.  I am certain of this, and have booked a hotel room for that weekend.

I know, however, that I will be shocked a dozen or more times during the long jazz weekend because I will be looking for Mike — well-groomed, tall and slender, running his hand through his white hair in polite exasperation at something . . . the fact that I can’t sit him down and say, “Tell me more!” will make me sad whenever I think of him.

We lost a champion.  We really did.

I send love and sorrow to Patti, Cassie, Chris, and the extended family.  And now I can write no more.

Mike and Patti Durham

Mike and Patti Durham

 

P.S.  For details of Mike’s funeral (March 21, 2013) please click here.    

May your happiness increase.

THE MUSIC of GRAEME BELL / HUMPHREY LYTTELTON at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Oct. 27, 2012): MICHAEL McQUAID’S BIG TEN

One of the many pleasures of the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party has been its generous presentation of “new” “old” music — the recordings and repertoire we know about but may not have by heart.  One delicious example is the music made by Graeme Bell — often in collaboration with Humphrey Lyttelton.  It pulls off the neat trick of sounding original and familiar at once — far from the usual “originals” that are thinly disguised versions of chord changes and motifs we all know by heart.

The very articulate Michael McQuaid, who knew Graeme, was the ideal person to lead this set, and the music was consistently rewarding.

And with this band, that is no surprise: Duke Heitger, Bent Persson, trumpets; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Michael McQuaid, Stephane Gillot, Thomas Winteler, reeds; Martin Seck, piano; Henri Lemaire, banjo / guitar; Malcolm Sked, brass bass / string bass (off-camera but indispensable); Nick Ward, drums.

Michael — clearly at home in front of an audience, for many reasons, introduces each number better — with facts and wit — than I ever could:

CZECHOSLOVAK JOURNEY:

TAKE A NOTE FROM THE SOUTH:

OPEN HOUSE:

SMALL HOUR FANTASY:

MIDNIGHT CREEP:

SWEET MUSCATEL:

NULLARBOR:

HOPPIN’ MAD (a kind of Luis Russell Down Under extravaganza, no?):

May your happiness increase.

STILL MORE HOT NOTES FROM THE WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sunday, October 28, 2012)

Sunday was the final official day of this year’s Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay, but it wasn’t a disappointment, even given the heights hit on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Impatient readers may scroll down to the bottom, although you’ll lose points on the final examination.

The first set of the day was especially ambitious — a history of jazz (at least the middle Twenties to the middle Forties) that was gleaming and inventive —  because it didn’t traverse the ground from HIGH SOCIETY to ANTHROPOLOGY, but delineated the journey in seven original compositions and arrangements by Matthias Seuffert — one evoking the Hot Five, another Bix and Tram, tributes and sly homages to Basie and Hawkins, to Ellington and a Goodman small group . . . ending up with Matthias’ brilliant rewriting of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA as a 1945 boppish small group.  I  hope the startling swerve into Modernism upset no one: it kept me enthralled.

An hour-long consideration of Louis, Bechet, and Clarence Williams followed — with strong playing and singing by Bent Persson, Jens Lingren, Thomas Winteler, and Cecile McLorin Salvant — in addition to a scorching two-reed extravagana (Stephane Gillot and Winteler) on CANDY LIPS.

Just as fine — although different — was Matthias Seuffert’s bow to Benny Carter, with Rene Hagmann on trumpet, Alistair Allan, trombone, and a rocking rhythm section of Richard Pite, Martin Litton, Henry Lemaire — with versions of BLUES IN MY HEART, DOOZY, WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW, BLUE INTERLUDE, SMACK, JUST A MOOD, and I’M IN THE MOOD FOR SWING.  (My notes read “lovely” and “just perfect.”)

What could follow that?  How about Bent Persson, Kristoffer Kompen, Michael McQuaid, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Spats Langham, Martin Litton, Nick Ward, and Rico Tomasso (vocal and trumpet) bringing us a superior version of the Armstrong – Hines Savoy Ballroom Five?  The set began with FIREWORKS, which turned out to be truth in advertising.  Then — just as good as much more rare — an hour spent with the music of King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators circa 1926 — including a riotous WA WA WA and a chart the band was seeing for the first time, SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT.  Topping that was a genuinely exact and ecstatic reincarnation of the Halfway House Orchestra, with glorious playing from Andy Schumm, Michael McQuaid, Stephane Gillot, and Nick Ward — drumming as if possessed by the great spirits of savage grace.

Sunday concluded 9officially) with a stand-up-and-cheer 1937 Goodman concert with masterful playing, ensemble and solo . . . my room one story above was rocking!

After the Goodman tribute ended, sedate souls went to bed.

But I went to the Victory Pub for a jam session that began with Andy Schumm (now informally attired) romping through his favorite late-Twenties repoertoire . . . before friends came along: Rico Tomasso, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Thomas Winteler, Frans Sjostrom, Jens Lindgren, Josh Duffee, Malcolm Sked, Alistair Allan, Michael McQuaid, Matthias Seuffert, and other gifted roisterers.  I needed my sleep but stayed there until two in the morning (and you will see some of the reason I couldn’t leave!).  Extravagant creativity in near-darkness including sweet leisurely versions of TOPSY, MY MELANCHOLY BABY, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, I NEVER KNEW, ONCE IN A WHILE (the Hot Five version), I SAW STARS and LESTER LEAPS IN . . . Minton’s comes to Newcastle, as lit by Edward Hopper, recorded by Jerry Newman with a video camera.

Because of the “storm” or Hurricane Sandy, my flight to New York was cancelled.  But I was given the chance to make the most sublime jazz lemonade.  Paul Adams, of Lake Records, was creating a Vintage Recording Session with a Jazz-Age big band of Whitley Bay superstars: Duke Heitger, Rico Tomasso, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Kristoffer Kompen, Stephane Gillot, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert, Michael McQuaid, Keith Nichols, Malcolm Sked, Spats Langham, Josh Duffee, and a guest appearance by Bent Persson.  I couldn’t stay for the whole session, but I heard them play POTATO HEAD BLUES (with the Louis and Dodds solos scored for brass and reeds, respectively), JAZZNOCHRACY, AWFUL SAD, HOT AND BOTHERED, CHANT OF THE WEED, ONE MORE TIME, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, MANDY (MAKE UP YOUR MIND), WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THAT MEAN LOWDOWN (a Berlin tune introduced by Bing in the film REACHING FOR THE MOON), STAMPEDE, MY PRETTY GIRL, and they were part-way through MILENBERG JOYS when I had to leave to make a train . . .   It will be a profoundly stirring recording — and the project needs subscribers.  Paul and Linda were asking for jazz-lovers to become patrons at a minimum of thirty pounds apiece, for which they would get their names in the CD booklet and a copy of the CD itself.  More information to come — but you can click fellside    for details.

I will post videos from this year’s extravaganza in a week or so — but take it from me.  The 2012 CJP was a sustained explosion of joy, and the 2013 promises to scrape the clouds — with appearances by Les Red Hot Reedwarmers (with Aurelie Tropez) and the Union Rhythm Kings (with Bent Persson, Frans Sojstrom, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Jacob Ullberger, Kristoffer Kompen, and others).

November 1-3, 2013.   If you are able to attend and you don’t, you’ll have missed something very special.  And if you don’t mind whispering a fact in your ears, the 2012 party was sold out.  People had to be turned away.

Check whitleybay for detials.

The musicians invited for the 2013 party include:

Trumpets: Bent Persson (Sweden), Enrico Tomasso (UK), Andy Schumm (USA), Ben Cummings (UK), Andy Woon (UK)

Trombones: Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Alistair Allan (UK), Graham Hughes (UK)

Reeds: Aurélie Tropez (France), Stéphane Gillot (France), Claus Jacobi (Germany) , Matthias Seuffert (Germany), Lars Frank (Norway), Mauro Porro (Italy)

Piano: Keith Nichols (UK), Jeff Barnhart (USA), Morten Gunnar Larssen (Norway), Martin Seck (Germany)

Banjo/Guitar: Spats Langham (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Martin Wheatley (UK), Jacob Ullberger (Sweden), Keith Stephen (UK)

String Bass: Richard Pite (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Malcolm Sked (UK)

Brass Bass: Phil Rutherford (UK), Jean-Philippe Palma (France)

Drums: Josh Duffee (USA), Richard Pite (UK), Julien Richard (France), Nick Ward (UK)

Bass Sax: Frans Sjöström (Sweden)

Violin: Mike Piggott (UK)

Vocals: Daryl Sherman (USA), Caroline Irwin (UK), Spats Langham (UK)

Here’s something both sweet and hot from Friday, October 26 — part of a tribute to Lovie Austin enacted by Rene Hagmann, Jens Lindgren, Thomas Winteler, Martin Litton, Roly VEitch, and Josh Duffee:

And here’s a valuable lesson in swinging animal husbandry from a JElly Roll Morton tribute (featuring Enrico Tomasso, Kristoffer Kompen, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Malcolm Sked, Nick Ward, Michael McQuaid — BILLY GOAT STOMP — with the ordinarily quite evolved Nick doing the convincing animal imitations (and making the band laugh in the process):

And — the lovely sound you hear in those videos is in no small part because of the sensitive hard work of Chris and Veronica Perrin — who made sure the music sounded like music.

May your happiness increase.

MORE HOT NOTES (Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, Oct. 27, 2013)

More random impressions from the second day of the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

The elegant Martin Litton merging himself and Teddy Wilson for the first set of the day, a solo recital of pretty songs (BODY AND SOUL) and more energetic ones (LIZA);

a ferocious evocation of the New Orleans Bootblacks and Wanderers (recording aliases with not a little of the expected condescension of the time featuring Lillian Hardin Armstrong, George Mitchell, Johnny Dodds) — by Bent Persson, Jens Lindgren, Stephane Gillot, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Seck, Martin Wheatley, and Malcolm Sked — music that nearly unsettled the foundations of the Village Hotel Newcastle (PAPA DIP, DROP THAT SACK, TOO TIGHT, GEORGIA BO BO, MY BABY, and two others).  Down-home exuberance!  I was delighted by Gillot’s alto playing, which (from my perch) made the band echo the late-Twenties Sam Morgan recordings . . . with magnificent ensemble and solo work from the others;

a tribute to Red Nichols from 1926-30, with Andy Schumm stepping into the role masterfully, Alistair Allan summoning up the Master Miff Mole (shoes off or on), Michael McQuaid reminding us, once again, how much Lester Young must have learned from Jimmy Dorsey, Frans Sjostrom singing pretty songs through his bass saxophone, and Nick Ward creating hot castles in the air.  That would have been sufficient pleasure for anyone, but when Rico Tomasso and Duke Heitger joined for the trumpet trio on ECCENTRIC, it was nearly too much pleasure to bear;

reed wizard Thomas Winteler sitting close to the bandstand, smiling;

Rene Hagmann, on cornet; Jean-Froncois Bonnel, soprano, giving their own individualistic version of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four — the expected songs, but full of surprising light and shade — the landscape we expected but seen anew, with Hagmann suggesting not Muggsy but Cootie, marvelously;

Spats Langham singing the songs of Al Bowlly (accompanying himself on guitar) so tenderly that I thought I saw tears in many eyes — but also suggesting that Bowlly could easily have visited the ARC studios in 1937 and made himself at home with a small elegant hot band;

a wonderfully romping evocation of the Graeme Bell-Humphrey Lyttelton collaborations led by Michael McQuaid, with fires stoked by Duke Heitger, Bent Persson, and Nick Ward;

Josh Duffee’s loving and energized McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (all new songs) with vocal refrains by Mike Durham, Spats Langham, and Keith Nichols — reminding us that there are rainbows around our shoulders when we know how to do the ZONKY;

trombone hero Kris Kompen donning the mantle of Jack Teagarden — for a sweetly swinging DIANE and a BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME that truly cut loose;

Cecile McLorin Salvant, Bent Persson, Thomas Winteler, Keith Nichols, and Martin Wheatley suggesting that the 1928 OKeh studios had moved right next to the local Marks and Spencer, with visits from Lille Delk Christian and Little Louis;

I missed the tributes to Mary Lou Williams (at the head of the Andy Kirk band) and the Missourians, as well as what I was told was an exuberant jam session in the Victory Pub — video-recording and note-taking can be draining, too — but what I did see was choice and more.

A continued pleasure was the beautiful natural sound provided by Chris and Veronica Perrin — I’d hire them for every jazz party!

People are already reserving their places for 2013.  You come, too.

May your happiness increase.

BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD

People who listen to jazz, read about it, write about it, seem to be entranced by drama.  So many of them are drawn to artists whose careers and lives are boldly delineated: the arc of early promise and a life cut short through self-destructive behavior or illness; the narrative of great achievement that tails off into stark decline.  Early Fame, Great Decline.  Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Jimmie Blanton, Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young . . . the list is long.

But what of those musicians who had long careers, functioned at a high level of creativity, were undramatic in their professionalism?  They get less media attention in life and in death; their sheer reliability makes them almost shadowy figures.  (Of course, if they happen to live long lives — Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Eubie Blake, Hank Jones, Lionel Ferbos — then they may get a story in the paper.  But that’s another subject.)

One of the greatest trumpet players — also a wonderful composer and arranger — doesn’t get the attention he should: Buck Clayton from Parsons, Kansas, whose recordings over a thirty-year span are exceptional but not always celebrated as they should be.  Anyone familiar with the best music of that period can call to mind a dozen sessions that Buck not only plays on, but elevates: consider the dates with Basie, the Kansas City Five and Six and Seven, Billie, Mildred, Teddy and Ben, Hawkins on Keynote, Ike Quebec on Blue Note, his own dates for HRS, the Jam Sessions for Columbia and the later ones for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label, his recordings with Mel Powell at Carnegie Hall, the Vanguard sessions, a Verve date with Harry Edison, his own small band (circa 1961), recordings with Jimmy Rushing and Ada Moore and Mae Barnes, with Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Don Byas, Flip Phillips, Horace Henderson, Sir Charles Thompson, Charlie Parker, Ed Hall, Alex Combelle, Joe Turner, Big Joe Turner, “Jazz From A Swinging Era,” Humphrey Lyttelton, Eddie Condon, J. J. Johnson, Benny Goodman . . . and I am sure I am leaving out many sessions.

Shanghai, 1934

Even though Buck was playing jazz in Shanghai in 1934, before he came home and stopped off in Kansas City, he seems to have been a rather undramatic man for all his exploits.  He showed up on time for the gig; he could talk to the audience; he wrote excellent charts and swinging originals; he was beautifully dressed; he transcended late-in-life health problems to launch a new career as a bandleader when the trumpet no longer responded to his urgings.  How unfortunate to be so bourgeois.

I only encountered him in person once: in 1971, there was a New York Jazz Museum Christmas party (if I have this right) where he was among a large number of musicians advertised as performing.  Buck was there, not playing, but splendidly dressed and very polite to a young fan who asked for his autograph.  (A side story: the musicians who actually did play, beautifully, were Chuck Folds, Gene Ramey, and Jackie Williams.  Someone requested MISTY and Ramey, upon hearing the song title, said, quietly, “I don’t play that shit,” and leaned his bass against the wall for the next three minutes, returning when the music was more to his liking.)

I also saw Buck — perhaps in 1980 — at a Newport in New York concert possibly paying tribute to Billie, with musicians including Zoot Sims and Harry Edison — attempting to return to playing.  His beautiful tone was intact on a fairly fast SUGAR, but he was having trouble hitting the notes one could sense he was aiming for . . . heroic but painful.)

Let’s listen to Buck again.

Here are the two takes of WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS from the 1938 Kansas City Six session for Commodore — with Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones.  It’s hard not to focus on Lester — but it can be done. Hear Buck, golden, easeful, and lithe . . . the only trumpet player I know who approaches his sly mobility is Bill Coleman of the same period.  Like Louis, he constructs his solos logically, one phrase building on its predecessors and looking forward to the next, each one acting as a small melodic building block in a larger arching structure — melodic embellishment with a larger purpose:

Any improvising musician would say that Buck’s solo choruses are not the work of an immature musician and not easy to do; his graceful ensemble playing is the work of a master.  But it sounds so easy, as if he were singing through his horn.  And that tone!

Here he is in a 1954 session that few know of — a Mel Powell-led jam session at Carnegie Hall, with Ruby Braff, Jay Brower (trumpet), Vernon Brown, Urbie Green (trombone), Tony Scott (clarinet), Lem Davis (alto sax), Buddy Tate, Eddie Shu (tenor sax), Romeo Penque (baritone sax), Mel Powell (piano), Steve Jordan (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), Jo Jones, Gene Krupa (drums):

Buck appears near the end –just before Gene and Jo trade phrases.  And, yes, you read that correctly.  A marvel!

Here’s Buck with Ben Webster, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, George Duvivier, and Jo Jones in C JAM BLUES (1959):

And after his playing days had ended, as leader / composer / arranger of his own Swing Band, captured in France (1991) on RAMPAGE IN G MINOR:

The other swingers on that stage are Gerry Dodgion, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Joe Temperley, baritone sax; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Matt Finders, trombone; Doug Lawrence and Arthur “Babe” Clarke, tenor saxophones; Phillipe Combell, drums.; Dick Katz, piano; Dennis Irwin, bass; Bobby Pring, trombone; John Eckert, Greg Gisbert; trumpet.

Someone who hasn’t forgotten Buck Clayton is the UK bassist / writer / radio host Alyn Shipton, who has performed often with Buck’s compositions and arrangements as the Buck Clayton Legacy Band.  Here they are in this century performing Buck’s tribute to his friend and fellow brassman Humph, SIR HUMPHREY:

That band is full of people who understand Buck and his music (some of them heroes of mine): Menno Daams, Ian Smith, Adrian Fry, Alan Barnes, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Martin Wheatley, Alyn Shipton and Norman Emberson.

I would encourage anyone reading this post to go to his or her shelves and take down a recording by Buck and revel in its glories.  Milt Hinton used to have a memo pad with this heading (because of his nickname “The Judge”):”You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music.”  If you were to explore and re-explore Buck Clayton’s jazz world, you would have more than a month of pleasure.

He never provoked controversy; I doubt he will ever have his own online forum with vigorous acrimonious discussion of the minutiae of his life . . . but he created beauty whenever he raised his trumpet, composed a melody, or led a band.

May your happiness increase.

PHILIP LARKIN’S “LETTERS TO MONICA”

I admired Philip Larkin first as a poet, then as an obstinately reactionary jazz critic, then as a writer of letters. 

The first two roles have been examined many times, but I want to say something about his correspondence: thoughts provoked by a new collection of letters to Monica Jones, the woman he had a relationship with for over thirty years.  The phrase “had a relationship” is murky, but their encounters on the page and off defy easy classification.

Larkin could be exceedingly gracious in his correspondence if he chose to: the scholar William McBrien (an authority on both Stevie Smith and Cole Porter) told me that the poet was extremely courteous and modest in their exchanges. 

But more often Larkin is writing to people he has known for decades, and the letters are difficult to read (even when hilarious) because he comes through so completely as someone who knows how flawed he is while hugging his flaws to himself proudly.  He can’t help himself, but who can?  Selfish and complaining, irritable and ungenerous, he also can turn the harsh light on himself and writes of his horror at what he perceives.  At such times I forgave him his meanness of spirit.  But as soon as that moment passed, the next letter returned him to his familiar self, disappointed in almost everything around him.

So his letters are often appalling, often irresistible character studies.  It would have taken a great novelist to delineate him without caricature.   

Larkin experienced hot jazz as a religious revelation and never faltered in his devotion to the Truth as he saw it.  For him, the acme of Western civilization was the recording sessions of the Rhythmakers in 1933 — featuring Henry “Red” Allen and Pee Wee Russell. 

The pianist Larry Eanet once wrote that the first jazz records he heard, the Louis Armstrong – Earl Hines sessions of 1928, hit him “like Cupid’s arrow,” and this was Larkin’s experience also. 

The Rhythmakers records were the standard by which everything, live or on record, had to be judged . . . and as a result, almost everything Larkin ever heard after his first ecstasy, with the exception of Sidney Bechet, seemed flawed. 

Larkin’s letters to Monica are sometimes claustrophobic studies in bewilderment and barely-suppressed rage.  We observe Larkin being selfish on one page, sometimes apologizing for it two pages later.  That he and Monica kept up a running lovers’ narrative of themselves as two rabbits is surprisingly charming but, even with that as counterpoint I could read only a dozen pages at a time before I needed to put the book down, if not away.

I also understand more than ever the wisdom of some public figures who refuse to have their private papers made accessible to “scholars” after their deaths.  I think Larkin would have been enraged to know that readers were poking into his letters: in fact, he supervised the destruction of his diaries.

But this post is about Larkin’s devotion to jazz — and his letters are often lifted up from his annoyance, his sulks, his self-absorption, by his love for this transfiguring music. 

I offer a few passages here, the first two suggesting what it was to be a British record collector of American jazz.  (In these days of apparent plenty, with so much music made available, some forget what it was like to have so little at our fingertips.)

I am leaving out the passage where Larkin is furious because an acquaintance who has been to the States has brought him Volume Two of a Bechet Blue Note collection rather than Volume One — you’ll have to buy the book to read his small yet explosive reaction.

23 November 1950 (Belfast, p. 23)  . . . . I looked round the shops, buying a copy of Wild Bill Davison’s Tishomingo Blues that so insinuatingly wound itself into all last summer; but a sense of having been rebuffed remains with me, perhaps because the cow in the record shop wouldn’t let me — or didn’t want to let me — look through a pile of Jazz Collector & Tempo records she had just unpacked — cow of Hell!  I have never seen any before, & Belfast is the last place I expected to find them: I’m sure they will never sell them.  They are the Real McKoy, fantastic private dubbings of entirely irrevocable records: the Malone Reprint Society in terms of jazz . . . .

1 November 1951 (Belfast, 66-67) . . . . played my new records — six unsuspected sides by Muggsy Spanier, Pee Wee Russell et al. discovered by me in Tempo lists, 6/6 each.  I ordered them blind, & played them trembling, fearing lest they should be a fearful let down, but they weren’t: not a dud among them: six sides of aggressive attacking jazz, touching greatness here & there, but what John Hewitt would call ‘good bread’.  They date from Feb & March 1945: already ‘history’, really — wartime.  My great prayer is now to have scooped Kingsley [Amis] over them, wch I’m almost sure to have done.

Our heroes, seen through Larkin’s acerbic, disappointed eyes:

25 January 1957 (Hull, p. 213)  The Condon evening was too strange to describe fully — there were two ‘houses’, each an hour [Humphrey Lyttelton] an hour Condon — or supposedly.  The first was almost empty: the second almost full.  Condon was a little neurotic-lipped man, like a jockey retired by age & drink, with a drunkard’s careful movements.  W. Bill was a fat fiftyish Jack-Oakie College-Humor man, who chewed gum & clowned about.  I couldn’t adjust myself to the thought that these were friends of Bix, and that WB had been driving the car in 1932 when Teschmacher was killed.  They played fairly routine stuff, not as good as their records, though WB did some of his notorious tricks of tone.  I was in the front row: Condon sat playing his guitar about 6′ from my head.  The Lyttelton group was as usual, Johnny Picard blowing away manfully & very well.  But it was all very odd.  A lone shop girl sat beside me, who’d never heard a jazz concert before, & never heard of Condon.  I admired her resolution . . . .   

And two elegies in his own fashion:

7 May 1959 (Hull, p. 249)  I was saddened to hear of the death of Bechet tonight: of course, he hadn’t produced much lately — living among the French had brought out his Creole side musically — but he was a wonderful player in his day, as exemplified by the 2 choruses of Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Mornin’ they played on Radio Newsreel tonight.  At least one could understand his music: not like this modern stuff . . . cacophony (mumble mumble), deliberate atonalism (mumble mumble) etc etc.  Of course one wanted to take him back to New York and put him behind a good blues singer & in front of a good guitarist for a session or two, but I suppose we shall have to be content with what there is.  I’ve always wanted to hear a 12″ Summertime (c. 1940) on which the musicians ‘burst into spontaneous applause’ at the end of the record . . . .

19 February 1969 (Hull, p. 397)  My record player has broken & been taken away, & life is very narrow.  Did you see that Pee Wee Russell is dead?

Larkin understood so well that life without jazz was indeed very narrow. 

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