Tag Archives: Humphrey Lyttelton

BETTY SMITH (1929-2011)

I learned of the death of British saxophonist, clarinetist, and singer Betty Smith from Jim Denham — whose blog is SHIRAZ SOCIALIST — a good friend although we’ve never met.  Here’s his posting —  http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/betty-smith-6-july-1929-21-jan-2011/ and the obituary written for THE INDEPENDENT by Steve Voce, someone who knew and loved the musicians of that generation all over the world:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/betty-smith-saxophonist-and-singer-hailed-for-her-improvisational-panache-2196497.html.

She was a fine player — although (like Kathy Stobart) not well-known in the larger circles of “jazz scholarship.”  But Bobby Hackett seems to be happy to be on the same stage with her.

“OH, CLICK ME!” SAYS THE LINK.  AND ALL THE MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

THE INSPIRING CHRIS HODGKINS

Meet the versatile and creative Cardiff, Wales-born trumpeter Chris Hodgkins.  

His music answers questions: how to make art new without abandoning the tradition; how to have one’s own voice while honoring your ancestors and colleagues. 

I first heard about Chris through the magic of Google Alerts — because someone had compared him to Ruby Braff, which is my idea of an accolade.  Then I found out that he and his musical friends had created three compact discs, PRESENT CONTINUNOUS, FUTURE CONTINUOUS, and BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL:

Just so know what the musicians look like should you encounter them on the street: to the left is bassist Alison Rayner; to the right of Chris is guitarist Max Brittain.  Click here to hear Alison Rayner’s QUEER BIRD, from PRESENT CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album1.asp

And here’s Alison’s SWEET WILLIAM, from FUTURE CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album2.asp

Click here to hear THE MACHINE, from BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL (where alto saxophonist Diane McLoughlin joins Chris, Alison, and Max):

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album3.asp

You’ll hear that his music is, on one hand, rooted in a Mainstream tradition: I hear Braff, Lyttelton, Buck Clayton, echoes of Horace Silver and Blue Note recordings of the Sixties, of Henry Mancini and occasionally Strayhorn . . . in a streamlined instrumentation (a trio of trumpet, guitar, and bass on two CDs, enlarged into a quartet on the third by the addition of tenor sax).  Chris himself is a singular player; his tone ranging from the silken to the edgy, his lines winding and floating over the ringing lines of Brittain’s guitar, the deep pulse of Rayner’s string bass, and on BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL they all get along nicely with the lemony alto saxophone of McLoughlin.  By the way, Chris loves the assortment of sounds and timbres that mutes give to his horn (as well as playing open) so the three discs never sounded like more of the same.   

I get a bit nervous when confronted with CDs that are all “original” compositions — whisper this: many musicians, stalwart and true, do their best composing on the bandstand, not on manuscript paper (but don’t say it too loudly) so that I was delighted to see some Kern and McHugh, Lyttelton, an Ellington blues, YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  Moving a little beyond the “songbook” tradition, I noted that Chris delights in a wide variety of composers and songs: Neil Sedaka’s BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, lines by Conte Candoli, Sahib Shihab, Thad Jones, Harry Edison.  And then there are the originals — varied and lively, in many different moods and tempos.  (How could you do anything but admire a man who titles a song SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH?  And if you don’t get the in-joke, I’ll explain.)

BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL is a real pleasure — and I am not speaking as a still-active professor of English, but as a jazz listener.  I admire Chris’s awareness of his emotional and spiritual roots in the literary / cultural past, and his joyful audacity.  The first track on the CD, THE MACHINE, describes a stagecoach ride taken by Boswell.  Chris’s original lines fall somewhere in between the twelve-bar blues and OLE MISS, and the sound of the band perplexed me — light, airy, yet serious — until I recalled its analogue: Buck Clayton’s Big Four for HRS in 1946: trumpet, clarinet, electric guitar, and bass (Scoville Brown, Tiny Grimes, and Sid Weiss, if I recall correctly).  What follows is not exactly program music: had I lost the liner notes explaining what each composition referred to, I would have still enjoyed the music — but knowing the artistic structure underneath made this a much-more-than-usually pleasing musical travelogue, veering here and there from updated Thirties rhythm ballads to hints of Horace Silver and Hank Mobley as well as very hip film soundtracks and Sixties pop of the highest order (AUCHINLECK).  I don’t know if I would have guessed the subtext of the winding, pensive REPENT IN LEISURE (referring to Boswell’s having caught gonorrhea), but the historical / musical connection works for me.  It is great fun to listen to the music on this disc — full of feeling, subtlety, and charm — whether reading the notes at the same time or as an after-commentary.

Chris Hodgkins is a fine trumpet player, small-group leader, and composer; he has good taste in his musical friends and in the music he chooses to play.  As a professor of mine used to say over thirty years ago, “I commend him to you.”

FIRST-HAND: KEITH INGHAM AND THE JAZZ MASTERS

Happily for me, I have written the liner notes for pianist Keith Ingham’s new CD for Arbors — with Frank Tate and Steve Little, aptly called ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM. 

Keith invited me to his Manhattan apartment to talk about the songs he’d chosen for the date.  But once we had finished our official business, he was delighted to tell stories about the American jazz masters he had played alongside when he was a young pianist in England, before coming to New York in 1978.   

The first person Keith spoke of was the inimitable Henry “Red” Allen, someone not as well-remembered today as he should be, perhaps because he was having too good a time:

Oh, Red Allen was too upbeat.  There wasn’t that aura of tragedy about Red.  He was probably my first jazz gig in London, where I got a chance to play this stuff.  He had a quartet, and he heard me and said he wanted me to play.  I knew his tunes – SWEET SUBSTITUTE and a thing from a Tony Newley show, THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, something called FEELING GOOD.  I knew that song – a bluesy, lovely gospelly song . . . so when he had to guest with another band, it was very embarrassing, because he’d be guesting with one of the name bands like Humphrey Lyttelton, and he would insist that I play the piano when he was on.  So there was this awkward business of asking the regular piano player if he wouldn’t mind. 

You have to do it courteously.  I remember Dill Jones told me that he was playing somewhere and Martial Solal came in and just pushed him off the piano bench, just shoved him.  And Dill, in his inimitable way, said, “He doesn’t have to be so bloody rude!  He could ask me!” 

Red was a larger-than-life character.  When he came up on the bandstand, he wouldn’t count off a number with “One, two,” but it would be “WHAM! WHAM!” with his foot, and there it was!  And what a player – what technique and what chops.  I remember he had this wonderful red brocade jacket on, always a showman, and he looked great. 

Once he was with a band – no names – and the rhythm section thought he was a bit of a throwback, a ham.  And they wanted to be laid-back and play cool – and I remember Red actually getting down on his knees and put his hands together, almost imploring them, “Please!  Swing!”  They finally got the message. 

He loved Higginbotham, too.  I remember Red singing, in a wonderfully sad voice, Higgy’s chorus on FEELING DROWSY, that beautiful minor-key thing.  He loved Buster Bailey, too – was always on the phone to Buster, and he told me that Buster was a superb clarinet player who, but for being black, could have gone into the symphony, which was what he wanted to do, really.  Listen to Buster’s playing on Bessie Smith’s JAZZBO BROWN FROM MEMPHIS TOWN: his clarinet is pure and gorgeous, a wonderful sound. 

Touring with Red was wonderful: he was such a generous soul.  Like Roy Eldridge, the same sort of guy.  Great characters and human beings. 

Roy was over to the UK accompanying Ella, but he got some gigs on his own and I was lucky enough to be part of them, just a quartet.  He was still playing then, and fabulous. 

Roy loved hot food, and he said to me, “Hey, anywhere we can go for curry?”  There was an Indian restaurant, and when we got there, he said, “What’s the hottest thing on the menu,” and they told him.  He said, “I’ve got to have that.”  It was a chicken dish and when it came out it was violently red with peppers.  Then he went into his trumpet case and brought out the hot sauces he had with him, and threw them all over the dish.  Well, for three days he couldn’t play because he came out in blisters on his lips! 

I have happy memories of those days.  I was fortunate enough to play with Benny Carter – now, that was an experience!  I’d done my little bit of homework: he’d made a lovely record with mostly his compositions on it.  So I’d taken them off the record and came prepared – would he like to play any of those, as well as WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW?  And he still played some trumpet!  There was another guy – you couldn’t pick up a tab when Benny was around, any time you went out, he was that generous.  I asked him to tell me how he’d broken into the Hollywood scene, writing scores for movies.  I asked him about some of the other writers – Bronislav Kaper, who wrote INVITATION, ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET, and ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM – for Ivie Anderson in that Marx Brothers movie – and Benny said, “Oh, Bronnie?  Yes, I’ll tell you about Bronnie!” 

What a great arranger – those things he did with Coleman Hawkins in Paris, amazing.  And I knew people in England who had played in that big band, the one that recorded SWINGING AT MAIDA VALE, and they said Benny played every instrument in the band better than anyone – except perhaps the piano and the double bass.  He could play chords on the guitar.  One of the ultimate geniuses of the music.  Wonderful to have that experience.

When Pee Wee Russell came over to tour, he was quite eccentric.  People didn’t quite know what to make of him.  Then, of course, everybody associated him with Eddie Condon, and he hated that – he said, “Condon was always making fun of me, making me out to be a fool or a clown.”  The sound he got on the clarinet in the low register was just wonderful – he just projected across a big basement club like the Manchester Sporting Club.  He didn’t need a microphone.  He was just remarkable. 

He took a liking to me, and I was very pleased.  “Chum, meet me in the bar tomorrow around noon.  I want to talk to you.”  I was down there in the bar at lunchtime and somebody had hijacked him – they wanted Pee Wee so they went and collected him from the bar, and of course he wouldn’t say no – so before I got there, he’d disappeared with this bunch of characters, who took him to see the sights in Manchester, the fancy sights.  Later he came back and found me, and I asked, “Well, what was the day like?”  Terrible,” he snorted.  “I’m glad to be back on concrete again.  I saw a lot of leaves!”  That was the last thing he wanted.

Everybody has a Ruby Braff story, but this one the wonderful clarinetist Sandy Brown in it.  Ruby had no sense of humor about himself – he had almost no sense of humor at all, unless he was knocking someone or something.  We were playing in the 100 Club, a basement club in Oxford Street, quite a big space downstairs, just a quartet.  I was lucky enough to be on piano, with Dave Green on bass and Alan Ganley on drums.  And Ruby was always perfect on the stand – excellent! 

But when he got off, the club owner, at intermission, decided he’d put on some music.  He pressed the button and on came the Woody Herman band – the First Herd with Dave Tough and Bill Harris, APPLE HONEY and that sort of thing, the trumpets shouting.  And Ruby goes over to the owner and says, “What’d you put that fucking shit on for?  It has nothing to do with what I play!  I hate big bands!”  And he started to go on and on, how he hated every big band except Duke’s and Basie’s. 

Once you got him on a roll he would just keep going – a torrent of abuse would come out.  So Sandy was standing there, listening to all this, and finally he said, in his Scottish accent, after Ruby finally got finished spitting out all his venom, “Hey, Rooby,” he said, “Why don’t you eat some of those chips instead of stackin’ ‘em up on your shoulder?” 

Sammy Margolis, the great clarinet and tenor player, Ruby’s friend from Boston, would tell me things that Ruby said that would curl your hair.  The two of them shared a house at one point – each of them had one floor, but there was only one phone line with an extension.  One day the phone rang and it was Joe Glaser.  Ruby had picked up the phone but Sammy was silently listening in.  This would have been in 1957 or so, and it was something to do with a tour.  Max Kaminsky didn’t want to do it, and would Ruby do it?  And that set him off.  “I’m not subbing for that son-of-a-bitch.  He can’t play anyway.  And who else is in the band?”  And Glaser said, “Well, there’s Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.”  “They can’t play either!”  And then he started to attack Glaser.  “Well, you don’t know anything about jazz,” and Sammy said that was very dangerous.  Ruby didn’t always work, and Glaser was not a man you’d cross. 

I remember one story about Sammy.  We’d gotten a trio gig at — of all places — Aqueduct Racetrack in the winter.  Myself, Sammy, and a drummer named Nat who used to work with Eddie Condon.  (Nat had terrible time, and Condon used to say, “Where you AT, Nat?”)  But Nat was a genuine guy, a real New Yorker.

I arranged to meet Sammy, who used to live on the West Side in the Forties.  And he’d been to the dentist that morning, had a shot of Novocain, and couldn’t feel anything — which must have bugged him.  We got in the car and we’re about halfway there, and suddenly Sammy wants us to stop — he hadn’t remembered putting his tenor sax in the car.  And it wasn’t there.  So we went all the way back to his apartment.  And there’s the case with the tenor, still on the sidewalk!  Wonderful. 

We get to the gig, and start playing away.  All of a sudden, there’s this terrible commotion, people shouting, “Shut the fuck up!”  The guys were watching the racing, but it was so cold that they’re watching it on television.  They can’t hear the odds on the horses, because we’re playing too loud.  So we had to play in between their calling the odds.  Every time the intercom would come on, they’d holler, “Shut UP!” and we’d stop.  We’d play forty seconds and have to stop, and we’d hear, “Rosebud.  Twenty to one,” and then we could start up again.  It was the funniest gig. 

The greatest thrill was when I got the gig with Benny Goodman.  We were playing a gig in Vermont, an open-air thing, and they wouldn’t let the bass on the plane, leaving New York.  So it was just Benny, Chuck Riggs, Chris Flory, and me.  And Benny wasn’t happy.  So what I did was give him those chords in the left hand, paddling, you know — and he was happy.  I had the room before we went on, and I was listening to him warming up — what a master musician!  It was like listening to Horowitz playing scales. 

So at the end of it, I wish I’d had a tape recorder, because he asked me to sit with him while he visited with his two sisters — they were pretty old ladies by that time.  So he was talking to me, “I’m going to be calling you, Keith.”  And I said, “May I ask you something?” And Benny said, “Ask me anything you like!”  So I said, “Can I ask you about Chicago?  Did you like Johnny Dodds?”  And he said, “I loved Johnny Dodds.  I used to go and hear him with King Oliver’s band at the Lincoln Gardens.  That band was fabulous!  But one thing you won’t know.  They played a lot of waltzes.  For the dancers.”  He loved Kid Ory.  They were people who weren’t perhaps of his stature technically, but he loved them.  I wasn’t able to work more with Benny, because I had a steady gig at the Regency — security was important — but I’ve never forgotten this time with him. 

THE SONG IS . . . KAREN SHARP (August 22, 2010)

I hadn’t heard much about Karen Sharp, who doubles tenor and baritone (her name is most famously attached to the late Humphrey Lyttelton, in whose band she played for four years) until my UK friend Daniel Matlin suggested we might go hear her.  What a good idea that was!

Karen was playing a Sunday afternoon gig at the Princess of Wales pub in London (not far from the Chalk Farm tube stop) — with her was the Pete Champman trio: Pete on bass, Ted Beament on piano, and Steve Vintner on drums.  In the ninety minutes we heard them, this quartet performed a nice mixture of standards and surprises — from Neal Hefti to Roland Kirk, from Dexter Gordon to ballads that Karen made sound fresh. 

She’s a full-blown tenor saxophonist with total command of the horn, especially the lower register, which some players shy away from.  She has an admirable technique, but doesn’t let it dominate her playing; rather, her solos have a conversational flavor, moving lightly from phrase to phrase, with space to breathe and reflect in between. 

Here are a few performances from that August 22, 2010 afternoon.  The pub was full of attentive listeners, even if their attention might have occasionally focused on the substantial plates of food that went flying by:

Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s celebratory BRIGHT MOMENTS in a most danceable performance:

A surging but melodic THE SONG IS YOU:

And that greatest act of courage for a jazz tenor player, I think — Karen’s lovely, serious reading of BODY AND SOUL:

My thanks to Karen and her colleagues for being so welcoming to an American bloke with a video camera, and my reiterated apologies to Steve Vintner, nearly invisible (but happily audible) behind a pile of upended chairs. 

Parenthetically, conditions for jazz players may be less salubrious in London than in New York City: the UK musicians don’t employ a tip jar, and there was no dinner as part of the gig . . . between sets, a bag of crisps got passed around.  Woe!

On a happier note (at least the Princess of Wales is a local pub that offers jazz twice a week), if you’d like to learn more about Karen, her CDs and performing schedule, how Dexter Gordon changed her life, and more, visit her website: http//www.karensharp.net.  She’s got it!

COLIN BOWDEN’S SINGING DRUMS

 I first heard Colin Bowden on a session the late Humphrey Lyttelton and Kenny Davern did for the Calligraph label — THAT OLD GANG OF OURS — so long ago that I had a vinyl copy.  And I admired Colin’s wonderful beat and the sounds he got out of his drums.  I haven’t changed my mind.  Too many times, when the drummer in a jazz group begins an extended solo, the other members of the ensemble leave the stand — not to give him more room, but because they know that six or seven minutes of pounding all around the drumset awaits the unwary.  A half-dozen drummers are exceptions to this, and Colin is one of them.  Here’s his feature on THAT’S A PLENTY recorded on September 20, 2009, with the Delta Jazz Band — comprised of the UK veteran Pat Halcox (tp), Terry Giles (cl), Mike Pointon (tb), Andy Maynard (bj), John Sirett (b).  It was recorded (expertly) at HundertMeister Duisburg (Germany), and posted on YouTube by “ulivids.”  

To some this style of drumming may seem archaic — too much Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton.  But if you can free your mind from the neat boxes of Styles and Categories, perhaps you can better appreciate and enjoy Colin’s enthusiastic way of making those pieces of wood and calfskin (or plastic) sing.  And I despair of the person who could watch this clip without jiggling around in the chair.

“KEEP HOT!”

In THE SPIRIT OF LOUIS, 2009, not long ago, I posted three video performances where the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys were joined by one of the remaining Elders, clarinetist Joe Muranyi.  (https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/the-spirit-of-louis-2009/)

If those videos eluded you, or the SRB are new to you, here they are, in Toronto, playing BLUE (and BROKEN-HEARTED).  The “Boys” in this incarnation are Hans Jorgen Hansen, bass saxophone and other reeds; Robert Hansson, trumpet; Paul Waters, bass; Michael Bøving, banjo and vocal.  And the nicely-done video is by Flemming Thorbye, who has preserved so much fine jazz on YouTube.   

I find this very affecting.  It takes experience to play with such emotion yet to be so restrained.  As the late Leroy “Sam” Parkins often said, a group like this is in no hurry; they are taking their time.  And they get there!

A package arrived the other day, STARDUST, a CD with two sessions by the SRB — one with Joe Muranyi.  I had been impressed with the YouTube clips I had seen, but they were nothing compared to the sound of the SRB in the recording studio.  For one thing, the studio itself is spacious — I would guess that the musicians get to see each other and hear other without baffles and headphones.  Thus the result is like being very close up to a live performance in a space with ideal acoustics and ambiance. 

And the SRB plays its collective heart out, without strain.  Waters’ bass is propulsive without being pushing; his slap-technique is never monotonous or wooden.  Hansen has a fine, eloquent facility on all his horns, and he is a masterful ensemble player.  Boving is a steady, serene banjoist without the excesses of enthusiasm often connected to that instrument, and he is a compelling singer — idiosyncratic but with a huge, exuberant voice and attack, a heroic vibrato that made it seem as if every song was his own personal, passionate utterance.  And Hansson is simply a magnificent trumpeter — with a casual daring that honors Louis and Bix, without copying their phrases.  His easy mountain-scaling reminded me of Hackett, Cheatham, and Bob Barnard — and it’s supported by a sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic awareness.  Muranyi, the guest star, brings his own amused fervor to the proceedings, whether playing or singing his own gleeful I DIG SATCH.  And the SRB, with or without Joe, is clearly having fun without being self-consciously silly.  They are a wonderfully rewarding band, and this CD is just delightful, with repertoire that goes from Handy to Lyttelton to Jobim and back to Bix-associated tunes without anything sounding forced.  (A prize goes to listeners who recognize the Armstrong ending that brilliantly concludes SMILES!)

The CD is available through the SRB website (www.srbjazz.com.) and email inquiries can be sent to srbjazz@srbjazz.com

And my title?  It’s how Michael Boving signed his little note along with the CD.  The music it contains shows that he and his colleagues are keeping the faith.

SHUFFLE ALONG!

Egged on by the inestimable Messrs. Riccardi and Hutchinson, I present my unexpurgated and hugely idiosyncratic list of the first 25 selections on my iPod, no cheating.  Readers of similar temperaments are encouraged to respond:

Perdido, Stuff Smith

Sleigh Ride, Mark Shane’s Xmas All-Stars

Good Little, Bad Little You, Cliff Edwards (Venuti and Lang)

Blame it On the Blues, Duke Heitger’s Big Four

It’s A Sin to Tell A Lie, Humphrey Lyttelton

Walk It To Me, Hot Lips Page

Gassin’ the Wig, Roy Porter

Under A Texas Moon, Seger Ellis

They Say, Echoes of Swing

Some Rainy Day, Hal Smith’s Roadrunners

Linden Blues, Rex Stewart

There’s Something In My Mind, Ruby Braff

Down By The Old Mill Stream, Benny Goodman

Sweet Sue, Jammin’ at Rudi’s (Rudi Blesh, 1951)

Take the “A” Train, Duke Ellington

My Blue Heaven, Eddie Condon (Town Hall)

Farewell Blues, Eddie Condon (Decca)

Stay On the Right Side of the Road, Bing Crosby

Oriental Man, Simon Stribling

All That Meat and No Potatoes, The Three Keys

Stompin’ at the Savoy – Fine and Dandy, Coleman Hawkins (1967 JATP with Teddy Wilson)

Corrine Corrina, Red Nichols

Fascinatin’ Rhythm, Cliff Edwards

St. Louis Bllues, The Boswell Sisters

I’ll See You In My Dreams, Jeff Healey

 

Perhaps not a scientific cross-section or a scholarly sample, but those tracks — in that idiosyncratic assortment — offer great happiness.  Anyone care to join in?

LOVE AND THE BLUES, TWICE

Even though they have the most expressive faces imaginable, so many inspiring jazz players and singers were passed over by film producers because they weren’t conventionally “attractive.”  Think of how wonderful it would be to see Mildred Bailey sing.  Alas.

But here are two clips of jazz / blues singers that we are lucky to have.  And, coincidentally or not, the blues they are singing talk about Love, from very different perspectives.

First, the under-acknowledged Ida Cox, “Miss Ida” to even the most illustrious musicians, captured here with her husband, pianist Jesse Crump, some time in the Forties.  I can’t find the source of this clip — which seems to be two versions of “‘Fore Day Creep” from different camera angles, spliced together.  “‘Fore Day” is almost always incorrectly written and conceived as “Four Day Creep,” which suggests that the Wandering Man will be away Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Nay nay, to quote Louis.  It’s “‘fore day,” as in “before sunrise,” but logic is elusive for some people.

Miss Ida looks healthy, assured, sure of herself and her advice.  I love the Twenties hand gestures as well as the nimble, rippling piano accompaniment — a mixture of tidy minimalist stride and slowed-down boogie woogie figures.  And her commentary?  It might strike some as pre-feminist, but it comes from the same tributary as the song DON’T ADVERTISE YOUR MAN.  Obviously, it’s a pre-internet conception of what can be kept private!

Here’s another bit of enticing memorabilia: an autographed Ida Cox publicity picture.

ida-cox-autograph

The second clip comes from a May 1965 BBC television program called JAZZ 625, which featured Humphrey Lyttelton and some of jazz’s finest players and singers: here, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, and Vic Dickenson — here with Tony Coe, tenor sax; Joe Temperley, baritone sax, Eddie Harvey, piano; Dave Green, bass; Johnny Butts, drums.  The song is CHAINS OF LOVE, much sadder and more uncertain — although Big Joe looks so powerful and assured here that the pleading questions he is asking of His Woman must be purely rhetorical.  This clip also gives us Vic Dickenson up close, a beret over the bell of his horn, playing the blues ever so masterfully.  Vic sang on his horn better than most singers.

Perhaps these two performances speak to our age much more that Petrarch spoke to his.

VIC DICKENSON SINGS OF DESIRE

I never thought I would see this performance again.

I first saw it perhaps twenty years ago on a blurry videocassette copy sent to me by my generous friend John L. Fell, a film scholar and scholarly collector of the best jazz.  John and I shared a deep affection for the poetic improvisers — Billy Butterfield, Pee Wee Russell, Lester, and Vic Dickenson, among a hundred others.

This song was captured on November 26, 1983 at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in a program called ” Remembering the Roosevelt Grill,” in honor of the peerless small band that Vic and Bobby Hackett led there (with Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, and Dave McKenna).  Hackett-disciple Larry Weiss played cornet, Dill Jones, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Bob Decker, bass, and Ernie Hackett, Bobby’s son, was on drums.

I don’t need to anatomize Vic’s instrumental style for anyone — he got more vocal sounds, deeply felt and human, out of that recalcitrant instrument than almost anyone.  (Ironically, Vic talked less than most musicians: it all came out of the horn.)  He loved to sing, and was earnest and whimsical at the same time.  I referred to this performance in a posting about Humphrey Lyttelton and Henri Chaix some time back, because it moved me so in memory.  It’s a great surprise to find it sitting quietly on YouTube.  Thank you, unknown benefactor!

Vic was seriously ill when he made the trip to Manassas and knew it.  Although he played intermittently after this festival, I think this is the last glimpse of him in action.  His feeling and humor come out in every note, as well as the joke of holding up two fingers.  Other men might do all they wanted to do in one hour; he would need double the time.

I saw Vic as often as I could between 1971 and 1981, but I wish he had been able to move and enlighten us just a little bit longer.  He died on November 16, 1984.  I miss his sound and his presence.  If only he could be with us still.


For those who want to know more about Vic’s life, the extraordinarily dedicated jazz writer / researcher Manfred Selchow’s book DING! DING!  A BIO-DISCOGRAPHICAL SCRAPBOOK ON VIC DICKENSON is irreplaceable.

“ONE HOUR” WITH HUMPH AND HENRI CHAIX

YouTube is full of moving surprises: this is a 1982 quartet performance by Humphrey Lyttelton (tpt), Henri Chaix (p), John Treichler (b), and Gerry Ceccaroni (dr).  Other concert clips feature Lyttelton, Chaix, and Acker Bilk (cl) with the Harlem Ramblers Dixieland Band from Zurich.  (www.harlemramblers.ch)

Lyttelton was so multi-talented, in and out of music, that people sometimes forget that he was one of the great lyrical trumpeters of the last century: he could sing a ballad in a deeply feeling way.  And Chaix, also now gone, was a wonderful soloist and superb accompanist. 

James P. Johnson’s seriously pretty song is often flattened out through bands that trot trhough it at a medium-tempo.  Humph and Henri take its sweet sentiments to heart — which is, after all, what this music is all about.

When Vic Dickenson used to sing “One Hour” and get to the title phrase, he would emphatically hold up two fingers, letting us know that what he wanted to accomplish would take twice the time.  In his honor, why not watch this performance twice?  It deserves no less. 

SOUNDS GOOD TO ME

radio2Over the past forty years, I’ve spent many rewarding hours in front of the radio, listening to jazz.  My mother loved WPAT, a New Jersey easy listening station where the programmers had good taste and a real affection for Bobby Hackett.  Later, John S. Wilson played an hour of jazz once a week on WQXR.  Then, WRVR, with Ed Beach, Max Cole, and other luminaries; WBGO (thankfully still going strong with their jazz programming and “Jazz From the Archives,” often hosted by Dan Morgenstern).  There’s WKCR — with Phil Schaap, of course, but also Sid Gribetz, Ben Young, and others. Rich Conaty, of “The Big Broadcast” on WFUV and Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC still offer up the good noise.  Once in a while, I could even hear Humphrey Lyttelton on BBC shortwave.  And I am sure I have left someone out.

Thanks to Dave Weiner at Hofstra, who hosted his own “Swing Years,” I took my own leap into college radio, circa 1982.  I invented an hour-long show, “Rarities,” where I could play Thirties blue-label Deccas; consider the career of Lou McGarity, and amuse myself for a splendidly small audience.

Perhaps ten years ago, tuning around the bottom end of the FM dial, where the non-commercial radio stations huddle together for shelter, I heard an assortment of jazz records being played — no announcements, no explanation, and apparently no order.  I would turn to this station when I was ready to go to sleep, but (in that state of fuzzy half-awareness, so oddly precious) I noticed that some of their randomness seemed planned.  They would be offering the same groupings of music at the same time each night — for instance, an Arbors CD featuring Dan Barrett and Becky Kilgore.  Then the light bulb — admittedly one of low wattage — went on.  They had organized everything alphabetically by title: “I Thought About You,” “I Wished On The Moon,” “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me.”  Now, whenever I turn to the “Songs” listing on my iPod, I think of that anonymous radio station.

However, jazz on the radio is hardly proliferating now.  But some people have discovered that they can get around the costly necessities of a “real” radio station by means of the internet.  The OKOM people were perhaps the first to do this.

Now, I’ve learned that “PURE JAZZ RADIO” is coming on January 1, 2009.  Rich Keith, who also lives on this island, has let me know that his project will be to play jazz classics 24/7 with time for Frank Sinatra on Sundays.  Visit his site http://www.purejazzradio.com for more information. 

Some days I look at the pile of CDs next to the computer that have to be listened to so that I can review them, and those I’ve just bought, and think the heretical thought, “Is it possible you have too much music here?”  But even in those moments, a new jazz radio station devoted to jazz (!) is an enterprise worth investigating.  Good luck, Rich!

HIDE AND SEEK (IN IRELAND)

The Beloved and I just returned from a week in Ireland.  Our itinerary included University College Cork and Dalkey (a suburb of Dublin where Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy, Maeve Binchy, Bono, Van Morrison, and other notables live).   And the sun shone for all but one day. 

When I first visited Ireland, continuing my work on the short-story writer Frank O’Connor, I didn’t expect to find jazz.  In fact, in those pre-iPod days, I brought pounds of CDs, trying to prevent the deprivation that I was sure would befall me.  But jazz kept on popping up to surprise me.  I heard CDs by guitarists Louis Stewart and Hugh Buckley, and was invited to jam sessions featuring Toddy’s Hot Stompers and other congenial assemblages.  

So I shouldn’t have been surprised this time when I stumbled onto my favorite art form.   

But I was.  People who love this music are forever lamenting dwindling audiences, the closing of clubs, the names in the obituary pages . . . . with very good reason.  And the sweet ubiquity of jazz in my childhood — Louis and Duke on television, Jimmy McPartland playing a free concert in a Long Island park, Bobby Hackett on the radio — is surely nostalgia rather than current reality.  These days, I can expect to hear Ben Webster as dinner music only if I’ve put his CDs on while the chicken is roasting. 

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And yet . . . . there was Denise Connolly’s fascinating Cork bookshop.  It was a sweet, enlightened disorder of books of all kinds, opera records, and more.  But what caught my attention was the music coming out of Ms. Connolly’s mini stereo system: Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly playing “Limehouse Blues,” then “I’ve Had My Moments,” and more — vintage 1937.  When I told her how delighted I was by her soundtrack, she smiled and said that, yes, Django, Lionel Hampton, and Thelonious Monk were her favorites.  Visit Connolly’s Bookshop, not only for the jazz, but the books! 

And the HMV store on Grafton Street has sections devoted not only to Louis and Duke, but also to Bix Beiderbecke and Humphrey Lyttelton.

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It did my heart good.  Just when I thought jazz had gone into hiding, it poked its head out of the shadows and gave me a big wink.

HUMPHREY LYTTELTON (1921-2008)

The Channel Four tribute above is perhaps understandably skewed towards Humph as a Naughty Old Man, a public figure . . . which is not how I think he should be remembered. (Louis, himself, gets a look-in, which is a rare pleasure, but the clip is too short for my taste.)

Instead, I would suggest that we go back to those Fifties Parlophones, with their deep-blue Ellingtonia, to his sessions with Kenny Davern (now available on Lake and Upbeat CDs) which, among other selections, feature one of the most personal evocations of Louis’s passionate spirit on a song no one else ever played, “Scatterbrain,” taken at a yearningly slow tempo. Or, if you’d prefer, the sessions originally recorded for the “77” label as “Le Vrai Buck Clayton,” where Lyttelton and Clayton, great friends, stood side by side and played as well as they ever did. A chorus of Humph’s blues should, in an ideal world, edge out all the risque jokes he made on “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue,” but we live in oddly skewed times. As if you hadn’t noticed.

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What follows is a brief, highly subjective Lyttelton CD discography. Much more exists.

Humphrey Lyttelton Rhythmakers: “Scatterbrains” with davern and Al Casey (Lake LACD 180) [1982]

Buck Clayton with HL and His Band: “Le Vrai Buck Clayton” (Lake LACD 227) [1964, 1966]

Kenny Davern and HL: “This Old Gang Of Ours” (Upbeat URCD 138 ) [1985, 1986]

The HL Big Band and Jimmy Rushing: BBC Jazz Club (Upbeat URCD 174) [1958]

Jimmy Rushing with HL: “A Night In Oxford Street” (Upbeat URCD 186) [1957]

HL Band / Digby Fairweather Band: “North Sea Jazz Festival Volume 1 (Jazz Colours 874758-2) [1979]

HL: “Take It From the Top” (Jazz Colours 874777-2) [1975, 1976]

HL – Mick Pyne, “Yours and Mine” (Jazz Colours 874772-2) [1973, 1974, 1976]

HL: “Let’s Get In” (Jazz Colours 874764-2) [1973, 1975]

HL: “Blues in Bolero” (Jazz Colours 874778-2) [1976, 1982]

HL: “Snag It!” (Living Era AJA 5462) [1948-52]

HL: “The Other Parlophones” (Sackville SKCD2-2067) [1951-54]