Tag Archives: Irv Kratka

HE RODE WITH JAMES P. JOHNSON: TALKING WITH IRV KRATKA (July 31, 2015)

irv

Irv Kratka (drums) doesn’t have a huge discographical entry in Tom Lord’s books, but he played with some fine musicians: Bunk Johnson, Dick Wellstood, James P. Johnson, Ephie Resnick, Joe Muranyi, Bob Mielke, Knocky Parker, Jerry Blumberg, Cyrus St. Clair, among others, in the years 1947-50.  I knew of Irv from those recordings (many of which are quite rare) but also as the creator and guiding genius of Music Minus One and a number of other jazz labels including Classic Jazz and Inner City.

But I had never met Irv Kratka (human being, jazz fan, record producer, concert promoter) in the flesh until this year when we encountered each other at the Terry Blaine / Mark Shane concert in Croton-on-Hudson, and I immediately asked if he’d be willing to sit for a video interview, which he agreed to on the spot.  Irv is now 89 . . . please let that sink in . . . and sharp as a tack, as Louis would say.  His stories encompass all sorts of people and scenes, from Bunk’s band at the Stuyvesant Casino, Louis and Bunk at a club, a car ride with James P. Johnson, lessons from Billy Gladstone, a disagreement between Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, all the way up to the present and his current hero, multi-instrumentalist Glenn Zottola.

I didn’t want to interrogate Irv, so I didn’t pin him to the wall with minutiae about what James P. might have said in the car ride or what Jerry Blumberg ordered at the delicatessen, but from these four casual interview segments, you can get a warm sense of what it was like to be a young jazz fan in the late Thirties, an aspiring musician and concert producer in the Forties, onwards to today.  It was a privilege to speak with Irv and he generously shared his memories — anecdotes of Bunk Johnson, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Bill Russell, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dick Wellstood, Peg Leg Bates, Lena Horne, Joe Muranyi, Billy Gladstone, Jacques Butler, Jerry Blumberg, Art Hodes, Albert Nicholas, Sarah Vaughan, George Brunis — also fond recollections of Bob Wilber, Bob Mielke, Ephie Resnick and others.

Here are four informal segments from our conversation — the first and last fairly lengthy discussions, the middle two vignettes.

One:

Two:

Three:

Four:

Now, here’s another part of the story.  Irv plans to sell several of his labels: Inner City, Classic Jazz, Proscenium (the last with three Dick Hyman discs) Audio Journal (The Beatles at Shea Stadium – Audience Reaction), and Rockland Records which consists of the first and only CD by the Chapin Bros. (Harry, Tom, and Steve) comedy albums by Theodore, and a disc featuring Mae West songs / W.C. Fields. The catalogue includes 141 titles, and there are more than 42,000 discs to turn over to the new owner, all at “a very nominal price.”  Serious inquiries only to ikratka@mmogroup.com.

May your happiness increase!

“LIVE FROM LONDON: BOB WILBER, DAVE McKENNA, PUG HORTON, RON RUBIN, DEREK HOGG”

WILBER cover larger

I want to write a few lines about someone — ferociously swinging and deeply lyrical — who, at 87, is still with us.  For decades, and without calling attention to himself, Bob Wilber has done the lovely creative work of making melodies sing and making the rhythm swing irresistibly.  Bob has slowed down a bit and is more relaxed these days (not the energetic globe-trotter of a few years back) but he and his wife, singer Pug Horton, a few years younger, are still making music and devoted to it.  (As an aside, how many musicians do you know whose recorded careers go from 1946 to 2011?  Amazing durability, I think.)

I was stirred to write this because of a gratifying 2-CD release called LIVE FROM LONDON — recorded over five nights of performance in April 1978.  The place was Pizza Express, and the band was Bob, reeds and compositions; Dave McKenna, piano; Pug, vocals; and UK stalwarts Ron Rubin, string bass; Derek Hogg, drums.  It comes from recordings made by the sound wizard Dave Bennett, and the results are issued on Irv Kratka’s resourceful Classic Jazz label, CJ 36.  It is a consistently gratifying two-and-a-half hours of soaring yet casual music.  For those of my generation, it is a wonderful window into those New York nights of the Seventies and beyond where a glorious little band would play a three-hour gig and keep delighting and surprising us.

The sound is excellent, the music superb.  Wilber has often been minimized as one of the great Followers — understandably, because he studied with Bechet — and smaller-minded listeners have been so enraptured by “his” Bechet, Hodges, Goodman, Bigard, and others, that they have forgotten the Wilber-energies that made those sounds come so alive.  I think of him as someone like Buck Clayton — completely individual — an artist who made his own identity complete and satisfying while letting the great energies of the Ancestors flow through him.  (Is it heresy to write that his Goodman evocation improves on the King?) His sounds are his own (and his compositions are very satisfying as well — whether nicely-shaped “blowing” vehicles like JONATHAN’S WAY or Thirties-evocations like EVERYWHERE YOU GO).  Wilber is in fine form here, eloquent and relaxed . . . a modern equal to the great reed masters.

Pug (born Joanne) Horton, Bob’s devoted wife, is also singing beautifully on these discs.  Although she harks back to the dark ferocity of Bessie and the lighter tenderness of Ivie, she is immediately identifiable and delightful: her sound a purr with British tendencies.  And she swings deliciously.

And Dave.  There has never been a pianist like him and few have come close in the years since his passing.  A whole orchestra, a rhythmic-melodic train barrelling down the tracks at us, but a melodic improviser of sweet gossamer subtleties.  Each disc has a solo feature or two, and they are magnificent: effusions I would play for any classical pianist who thought jazz players were somehow limited.

With the two expert yet gentle UK rhythm players, this was and is a dynamic, varied, shape-shifting quintet, and the CDs are a compact way to travel to a time and place most of us never got to, to enjoy evenings of brilliant heartfelt music. The songs are I’M NOBODY’S BABY / JONATHAN’S WAY / BLACK AND BLUE / MEAN TO ME / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / I FOUND A NEW BABY / THE  VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / EVERYWHERE YOU GO / LOTUS BLOSSOM / PUGGLES / FREEMAN’S WAY / 144 WEST 54th STREET // ROCKS IN MY BED / I GOT IT  BAD / ‘DEED I DO / MELANCHOLY / CLARION SONG / I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (which turns into a McKenna medley of songs with women’s names) / DID I REMEMBER? / ALL OF ME / WEQUASSET WAIL / ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE / DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE / INDIANA //  (Nice and modest liner notes by Bob and Pug, too.)

Here is the CDBaby link — where one can purchase the discs, download the music, or hear sound samples.  And the itunes link as well.

You’ll enjoy it.

May your happiness increase!

“WHAT A KICK!”

Four gifts from from JAZZ LIVES’ friend Bob Sann, banjo / guitarist / artist, who explains it all below:

Barrelhouse-1947
I was privileged to participate in the Bunk Johnson revival movement in NYC in 1947.

Three traditional jazz enthusiasts were friends of mine: Irv Kratka (who later founded Music-Minus-One Records), Dante Bollettino (who later founded Jolly Roger Records) and Harry Newmark knew Bunk was in town because of the Stuyvesant Casino gigs. They booked a ballroom, “Caravan Hall” on east 59th Street, for two concerts. The first (Friday, October 17, 1947) was billed as a “Barrelhouse Brawl,” the second (Friday, October 24, 1947) as a “New Orleans Cutting Contest.” Both concerts paired an all-black band of New Orleans veterans against a young white band of local NYC dixielanders.

JJ_BJ_AN-1947
I was interested in art, at that time, and designed the publicity flyers. While the New Orleans band was on, I made some pencil sketches of Bunk, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, and Albert Nicholas. When the young band was on, I played guitar and banjo with them. At the end of the last set I got to sit-in with Bunk’s band (what a kick!)

CuttingContest-1947

For your information, the New Orleans musicians got paid $20 per concert.

Bob Sann (a/k/a Robert Schiff)
Clearwater, Florida

(I am happy to know that Bob is currently playing banjo/guitar with The Rhythm Kings, a 14-piece hot dance orchestra based in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and is led by the well-known arranger/conductor Dan Fox (formerly of New York City).

Eight tracks from the Caravan Ballroom sessions have been released on the American Music CD (AMCD-45), BUNK JOHNSON AND MUTT CAREY IN NEW YORK, 1947. An additional track was released on the CD accompanying the book by Mike Hazeldine and Barry Martyn, SONG OF THE WANDERER.

May your happiness increase!