Tag Archives: Ian Smith

“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! 

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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.

JOHN SCURRY’S “REVERSE SWING”

One of the most gratifying things about being a jazz listener is the possibility of meeting one’s heroes in the flesh.  I could lament that I never saw Django or Charlie Christian or Teddy Bunn, but I’m happy and proud to be able to write, “I’ve met John Scurry.”

I first heard John — guitarist, banjoist, composer, and not incidentally an artist — on several NifNuf CDs that came out of Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties (a glorious series of celebrations running for a decade). 

I would put the CD into the player, most often in my car, and just listen, not knowing who the players were aside from Bob and one or two others.  But when I got to my destination or at a stoplight, I would look at the personnel to see exactly who that most impressive (unidentified) player was.  Sometimes it was Fred Parkes, other times Chris Taperell or George Washingmachine. 

But I came to know John Scurry’s work quickly: his ringing lines that didn’t go in familiar paths, his solid rhythm, his interesting voicings.  I then heard him on CDs with Allan Browne and Judy Carmichael and continued to be impressed.

And it would have stayed that way except for this summer’s trip to England and the long thrilling jazz weekend at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival. 

One night before the festival actually began, there was a concert devoted to the great British dance bands of the Thirties.  After we found seats on the little bus that was to take us to the hall, I recognized some people I’d met at the previous year’s festival — the multi-instrumentalist Michael McQuaid and his sweetheart Anna Lyttle. . . then Michael introduced me quickly to his colleagues, “there’s Jason, and John, and Ian.”  I’m not terribly good with names the first time I’m introduced, so I let the new bits of data wash over me.   (Eventually I came to meet and admire Jason Downes and Ian Smith.)

Later on, though, someone pointed out “John” and gave him his full title . . . and I went up to him and said, “You’re John Scurry?  I’ve been admiring your work for a long time . . . ” and on.  When he played with Michael’s Late Hour Boys, he was even better in person.  (I’ve posted a number of clips on YouTube that will bear me out.)

I’ve been listening John’s winding, curious compositions on some other CDs with Allan Browne recently.  I regret that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to make a solo or duo CD.  In a world full of guitarists, he surely stands out.

I was both delighted and a bit puzzled by the portrait top left — even though I could understand that it is summer in Australia while we are worrying about the effects of the first frost on the plants . . . so I asked John to explain:

The band is a drumless quartet with Eugene Ball trumpet, Mike McQuaid
reeds, Leigh Barker bass, and myself on guitar.  We are unrehearsed and
playing standards, some of my so called originals and whatever comes
to mind in the balmy summer eve atmosphere of the lovely interior
spanish mission style courtyard of the Mission to Seafarers in
Melbourne, and old circa 1910 building.  The painting is by Antoine Watteau and I think it may be in the Met.  Jed Perl who writes for The New Republic did an article on it a few  years back. The painting if I remember correctly was recently rediscovered: I downloaded the image from his article, which was called  ‘A Big Surprise”.  A very beautiful work, don’t you think?  Sort of
encopasses everything really.

 As to “reverse swing”.  It’s a cricketing term, wherein the ball when
bowled swings the other way unexpectantly and contrary to Mr. Isaac
Newton’s expectations.  I like the name, I’m left-handed and happen to
play cricket…and I’m a bowler.  At this stage up until Christmas the gig is only for three weeks, however as  with all things we live in hope and joyful anticipation that more music may be had from the seafarers in the New Year.
I did this gig last year with Mike and Leigh, it’s a lot of fun
working with an acoustically based group without drums……it’s good
to  find one’s voice for better or worse without certain aural
encumbrances.

I only wish that New York was closer to Australia, or the reverse.  Perhaps someone will record REVERSE SWING with a video camera and share the results with us?  It won’t be the same, but it will tamp down my “Something wonderful is happening far away and I can’t get to it.” 

May John Scurry and his friends — not only in the Australian summer — prosper.

THE SECOND WHITLEY BAY JAM SESSION (July 10, 2010)

Jam sessions don’t always work out.  But the one that took place in the Victory Pub on Saturday, July 10, 2010, during the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, succeeded nobly.  And I stopped finding the television screens distracting as soon as the music began. 

The core group, “Doc’s Night Owls,” remained — and grew.  Michel Bastide, cornet; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Christian LeFevre, brass bass, Martin Seck, washboard, were joined by Mike Durham, trumpet and master organizer; Andy Schumm, cornet; Ian Smith, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Attila Korb, trombone; Nicolas Montier, alto sax . . . and various gifted enthusiastic players.  I apologize to anyone I haven’t identified above: it’s not discourtesy, but having my hands full (thus taking poor notes).  And the players at a jam session don’t always introduce themselves.  So I will add identifications if and when they are supplied!

Perhaps owing to the previous set, the repertoire had a deep Twenties feel.  They began with the Dodds classic, FORTY AND TIGHT.  A prize to the reader(s) who can unravel the etymology of that slang praise.  “Tight,” I can certainly guess at, but “forty” as an accolade?  Research! — while the music is playing, please:

The next song was again associated with Johnny Dodds (and in more recent times, Soprano Summit), OH, DADDY (with or without comma or exclamation point, the meaning is clear):

In memory of Clarence Williams, Alberta Hunter, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong, someone suggested CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME (although there were no titanic solo duels here — the atmosphere was more friendly than combative):

With Andy Schumm in evidence, there is always the possibility that the Twenties will include that young fellow from Davenport, Iowa, whose shade surfaced most pleasingly for SAN.  How nice that this band knew the verse as well:

And the last song I captured was (and is) a good old good one from the Midwest, full of sweet sentiment, MY GAL SAL (by Paul Dresser, brother of the more celebrated novelist Theodore Dreiser — I prefer Paul’s works to his brother’s, but that’s a purely personal statement — they get to the point more quickly and with greater effectiveness):

The collective ensemble began AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL — which, in retrospect, I regret having missed — but my video-taping arm had begun to quiver and I feared the rest of me would shortly follow suit.  But I hope that these videos suggest some of the delicious enthusiasm and deep artistry that ruled this evening.  Victory indeed!

JAMMIN’ AT WHITLEY BAY (July 9, 2010)

Jazz musicians know that great truth: if you stay up late, you can always sleep tomorrow. 

Although the players at a jazz party might seem to have an exhausting schedule, many of them are fueled by the encounters with their peers and heroes — thus, an after-hours jam session often happens.  I was lucky enough to be awake for this one and have a fully-charged video camera.  The session took place at the “Victory Pub” in the Village Hotel Newcastle, the comfortable home base for the Whitley Bay International Jazz Party.  

Of course the seating arrangement scattered musicians here and there, and several flat-screen televisions remained on through the session, but the music was the focus here. 

The musicians who began the session were an organized band — a great one: Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys: Michael and Jason Downes on reeds, John Scurry on guitar, Mark Elton on drums, Ian Smith on drums and washboard.  Then they were joined by Graham Hughes (from London) on trombone, and other gifted jammers.    

FORTY AND TIGHT comes from the Johnny Dodds book, and its title is a slang expression for something (or someone) who is splendidly gratifying.  How naughty the coinage is I don’t know; talk among yourselves:

MAMA INEZ certainly has a rocking, irresistible  beat:

Then, they were joined by a friend from the land of Oz — the fine trumpet player and singer Geoff Bull, who nudged them into SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Thinking of Louis, Jeff Barnhart unsheathed the keyboard and sang ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

But that might have been too mournful for a jubilant occasion, so they swung into another Louis-Hoagy connection, JUBILEE, which certainly did make the rafters ring / up to Heaven:

Bassist Henri Lamaire and drummer Josh Duffee joined the festivities and Geoff suggested the pretty THANKS A MILLION, again reaching back to the Thirties Louis book (or perhaps as homage to Dick Powell, who introduced the song in “the film of the same name”):

And the session concluded with a romping JUNE NIGHT, with pianist Martin Seck and a host of other musicians joining in (again, I’ll happily credit them by name if informed).  My hat’s off to Geoff Bull, who certainly knows how to get everyone going in the right direction with inspiring riffs.  And the wonderful solos are surely sparked by Josh’s exuberant drumming:

And here’s a very musical solo from Josh to wrap things up in a swinging way:

If you weren’t already convinced, I think this session is further proof that good things happen in the dark.

MICHAEL McQUAID’S LATE HOUR BOYS at WHITLEY BAY (July 9, 2010)

At my first Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival last year, I met and instantly liked the young Australian jazz virtuoso Michael McQuaid — he plays alto saxophone, clarinet, and cornet — but didn’t get to hear him in his natural settings.  This year the fates were kinder: I saw Michael and the little hot band he leads, the Late Hour Boys, in two sets. 

After the first one, someone asked me what I thought.  Without thinking for a second, I replied, “Scalding!”  I think you will see that I wasn’t being hyperbolic.

The Late Hour Boys take their name, some of their repertoire, and their joyous attitude from the late Ade Monsborough, who named his group this way not because they favored midnight performances, but because he assembled his personnels at the last minute.  Michael McQuaid’s LHB summon up the kind of hot improvisation I associate with Spanier and Bechet, with a bare-knickle version of Soprano Summit in its closing choruses. 

You’ll hear evocations of Johnny Dodds and Pete Brown, of Teddy Bunn and Milt Hinton and Zutty Singleton.  It’s a two-man all reed front line, with Michael and the peerless wit Jason Downes switching off on clarinet and alto; the rhythm is taken care of by the splendid John Scurry on banjo and guitar and Mark (the Eel) Elton on bass.  Ian Smith, who also played cornet with Ade some years back, is a driving homespun drummer and washboardist who sings with great effectiveness — tenderly on a ballad, raucously on a jump tune.  And this band jumps for sure.

Here’s a rollicking CANDY LIPS (I’m STUCK ON YOU) from the Clarence Williams book:

Here’s a wartime composition by Monsborough, SORRY TO BE LEAVING:

PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES is not the usual homage to Louis and the Hot Five.  It has its own romping momentum.  Although I don’t quite understand the emotional / romantic nuances of the lyric, I believe anything that Ian sings:

RAIN is a pretty tune that no one else seems to remember; Ian is in the moment on his sweet vocal:

EUROA, a Monsborough composition, honors a place that Michael suggests is improved by the song:

MELANCHOLY, which harks back to the glory days of 1927 Chicago with Johnny Dodds and Louis Armstrong:

BLAME IT ON THE BLUES, which I associate with Sidney Bechet and Albert Nicholas, intertwining:

Michael and the Late Hour Boys also have a new CD out which entirely captures the exuberance of these video performances.  Listening to it is also a much more focused experience, since you don’t have a running-shoes-for-sale poster in the background.  It is a limited edition, so I don’t know if this posting is too late, but I hope not! 

Check it out at http://www.jasondownes.com/lhbcd.

CLASSIC SMALL-BAND JAZZ: “MY BUDDY” (TWICE)

I keep returning to these two YouTube videos.  One reason is my fondness for Donaldson’s sweet song, written to mourn the death of his young wife, and how beautifully it lends itself to jazz improvisation.  (Benny Carter recorded it memorably in the late Thirties, as did Lionel Hampton.)

Another is my admiration for this variety of loose-limbed Australian jazz — here exemplified by the heart-on-sleeve playing of Neville Stribling and Bob Barnard, among others.  Barnard makes what he does seem so easy while he is pulling off breathtaking marvels.  Ask any trumpet player!  The rhythm sections rock; the soloists create friendly, cohesive ensembles.

The first clip features Neville Stribling’s Jazz Players at the Eureka Jazz Festival in Ballarat in 1986: Ian Smith (tpt), Neville Stribling (rds), Ade Monsbourgh (rds), Graham Coyle (pno), Joe McConechy (bs), Peter Cleaver (bjo/gtr), Allan Browne (dms).

The second version, from the same place, features “The Australians”: Bob Barnard (cnt), Stribling, Monsbourgh, Coyle, Conrad Joyce (bs), Cleaver, and Browne.

Thanks to Simon Stribling, himself an extraordinary trumpeter (catch his own sessions and his CD with Jon-Erik Kellso, KELLSO’S BC BUDDIES, on Gen-Erik Records, for evidence) for these clips.  And he’s living proof that children of artists do sometimes grow up to be wonderfully creative: he’s Neville Stribling’s son.

Category: Music