Tag Archives: Irving Mills

O.P., IRVING, LOUIS

Last night, while in an eBay reverie, I was grazing through the meadow of Entertainment Memorabilia, sub-section Jazz, sub-sub section Original Autographs, when I found these three artifacts.  To some, they may seem irreplaceable treasures; to others, just weird debris.  The first seller had purchased a huge collection of Danish paper ephemera and added it to his already expansive holdings, the latter laid out for your pleasure here.

I’d never seen an Oscar Pettiford autograph before, and this one is from the last years of his too-short life.  The red diagonals suggest that this is, rather than an autograph for a fan, the return address — upper left corner — taken from an air-mail envelope.  Whether that increases or decreases value, I don’t know.  I haven’t identified the Copenhagen hotel, but since the autograph would be, at latest, from 1960, it is possible the hotel no longer exists:

And here is a very touching and brief remembrance of Oscar with guitarist Attila Zoller — performing Oscar’s THE GENTLE ART OF LOVE in Denmark, perhaps not that far away in time from the envelope above:

Then, something more odd: a photograph of Irving Mills and two men I don’t recognize, inscribed lovingly to film star Dorothea Summers, from whose collection this came:

and a magnified inscription:

Here is a promotional short film (or most of it) from 1931, where Irving Mills introduces three of his bands: Baron Lee and the Blue Rhythm Orchestra; Duke Ellington (with pleasing closeups of Arthur Whetsol), and Cab Calloway, with Al Morgan stealing the scene.  I thought that glimpses of Mills, reading from the script on his desk, would be easier on the nerves than his singing:

Finally, something I found exciting, even though it isn’t inscribed.  Louis Armstrong had a heart attack in June 1959, and I now assume that he received get-well cards from everyone who loved him . . . that’s a-plenty.  I had never seen his singularly Louis thank-you card, and a collector possessed not only the card but a publicity photograph that may have come with it:

I would like you to commit Louis’ poem to memory, please:

Here’s Louis in 1960 on the Bell Telephone Hour — magnificent readings of SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, LAZY RIVER, and a heartbreaking SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD, before a MUSKRAT RAMBLE that puts Louis with a modern version of the Mills Brothers who sing a version of the lyrics from BING AND SATCHMO:

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S SWEET. SHE’S FROM SAVANNAH.

savannah

Fats Waller, Andy Razaf, and Shelton Brooks wrote this song in 1929 for the revue CONNIE’S HOT CHOCOLATES.  I’ve read that Fats sold the rights to this and nearly 20 other songs to Irving Mills for $500 — a fortune in those days, but nothing compared to the money Mills made from that bundle.  Alas.

But back to the theme. To some, it’s not the most memorable composition — melody, rhythm, or lyrics — but I love it ardently because of the music its inspired, and because I always imagine a line of nimble chorus girls dancing to it. Like many of Fats’ most memorable tunes, it relies greatly on repeated melodic phrases moved around over the harmonies — simple to annotate but not as simple to create.

Here are four recordings from 1929, in chronological order, and a later masterpiece.  Consider the delightful possibilities.

The first ever: Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Homer Hobson, trumpet; Fred Robinson, trombone; Jimmy Strong, clarinet; Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington, alto saxophone; Carroll Dickerson, violin, conductor; Gene Anderson, piano; Mancy Carr, banjo; Pete Briggs, tuba; Zutty Singleton, drums.  New York, July 22, 1929.  (I think the intuitive relationship between Louis and Zutty — the latter on bock-a-de-bock cymbals and solidly thudding accents) foreshadows that of Louis and Big Sid. July 22, 1929:

Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang.  Mannie Klein, Phil Napoleon, trumpet; Miff Mole, trombone; possibly Arnold Brilhart, clarinet, alto; Larry Binyon, tenor saxophone; possibly Arthur Schutt, piano; unknown banjo, guitar; Joe Tarto, tuba; Chauncey Morehouse, drums; Lilian Morton, vocal.  July 31, 1929:

I wonder what else can be known about Lilian Morton, aside from the two sides she made for Parlophone, THAT’S MY MAMMY and AFTER MY LAUGHTER CAME TEARS (accompaniment unknown) and that in 1926, she was praised in a tiny notice in The Scranton Republican from Scranton, Pennsylvania, as “Broadway’s well known singing comedienne … a peppery singer of the original type,” with “a splendid voice.”  She sounds very good on this recording.

Here’s the non-vocal version (made for the European market) with Miss Morton’s place taken by a duet for Arthur Schutt (perhaps?) and wonderful drumming by Chauncey Morehouse.  Praise to Larry Binyon, too:

And for the Lilian Morton completists in the viewing audience, the other Fats song — a good one! — from the same score, with Miss Morton’s vocal:

The originator, Fats Waller, at the piano, August 2, 1929:

And an utterly remarkable recording of SUE by Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra, September 20, 1929.  The Louis and Mills recordings seem to use the same stock arrangement, but this recording is notable for a slap-tongue clarinet solo after the last eight bars, completely satisfying vaudeville singing from the leader, wondrous piano by Hank Duncan, and delightful trumpet work from either Temple or Brown.  Fess Williams, clarinet, alto, vocal, leader; George Temple, trumpet; John Brown, trumpet, vocal; David “Jelly” James, trombone; Ralph Brown, Felix Gregory, alto saxophone; Perry Smith, clarinet, tenor, vocal; Henry “Hank” Duncan, piano; Ollie Blackwell or Andy Pendleton, banjo; Emanuel Casamore, tuba; Ralph Bedell, drums, vocal:

and one of the most endearing recordings I know — in its own way evoking Louis and Fats together in the persons of Ruby Braff, cornet; Dick Hyman, piano; July 2, 1994:

May your happiness increase!

GLORIOUS LYRICISM: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (Feb. 7, 2016)

How do you honor the past?  By being yourself and letting the ancestral beauties and lessons flow through you.  Here are three young musicians who not only understand that deep truth but embody it: Rob Adkins, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone (and a surprise vocal on DREAMS); Ehud Asherie, piano.  I offer you two lovely performances recorded at Casa Mezcal on February 7, 2016.

WAS I TO BLAME

I knew this gorgeous song through Louis’ Decca recording, then through Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton (separately) but it was a thrill to hear this trio explore it with such deep fwwling but such a light tread.  And its title — and unheard lyrics — ask the eternal question:

Then, a Swing Era anthem — beloved of James P. Johnson, Lester and Billie, and many more.  The sheet music below credits Benny Goodman and  Irving Mills along with Edgar Sampson, but I’d give the latter full credit.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

Incidentally, I’ve left the Louis version of WAS I TO BLAME? and the James P. and Billie-Lester versions to those willing to embark on a few YouTube clicks. I revere those records and have done so for decades, but comparison is — not necessarily odious — to me, disrespectful.  We should honor the giants who walk and create among us, shouldn’t we?  And thank them, not posthumously, but now, for their gracious, eloquent playing and singing.

May your happiness increase!

“RHYTHMOODS,” 1940

Browsing in my favorite antiquarian second-hand store, eBay, I encountered a 1940 music folio that I’d never seen.  Now, I know that the music in these books is often suspect: “compositions” by a famous artist that (s)he had only a tenuous link to, solos created over songs owned by the publisher of the folio, and so on. Of course, anything connected to Irving Mills is a touch more suspect . . . but here’s the cover:

DUKE Rhythmoods frontWithout being a deep Ellington scholar, I recognized those titles: aside from SOPHISTICATED LADY and CARAVAN, which date from the start and end of the Thirties, the rest come from the Twenties.  But what of RUB-A-TUB-LUES? Did Ellington whistle a blues line to Mills while he (Duke) was bathing?  It’s a mystery. Here’s the first page of the folio, to substantiate even more solidly:

DUKE Rhythmoods inside

It’s perplexing . . . can any Ellington scholars ride to the rescue?

Were I even an amateurish pianist, I would purchase the book (several copies are for sale on eBay) in hope of solving the mystery myself.  But I have to be realistic.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S SO GOOD”: HONORING JIMMY McPARTLAND AND FRIENDS at WHITLEY BAY 2012 (ANDY SCHUMM, MICHAEL McQUAID, ALISTAIR ALLAN, NORMAN FIELD, SPATS LANGHAM, KEITH NICHOLS, FRANS SJOSTROM, PHIL RUTHERFORD, RICHARD PITE: October 26, 2012)

If you simply showed me this personnel, as a kind of jazz Rorschach test — Andy Schumm (cornet), Michael McQuaid,  Norman Field (reeds), Alistair Allan (trombone), Keith Nichols (piano), Spats Langham (guitar / banjo), Frans Sjostrom (bass saxophone), Phil Rutherford (brass bass), Richard Pite (drums) — and asked me what I expected, or how I reacted, I would say that HOT JAZZ was coming, abandoned and accurate.

My experience at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party will show you that my perception is correct.  This band, under Andy’s leadership, assembled on October 26 to honor cornetist Jimmy McPartland and his friends — specifically, the recordings they made under a variety of pseudonyms in the late Twenties and the first two years of the next decade as refugees from Ben Pollack’s large, often sweet orchestra.  Irving Mills’ Merry Makers.  Jimmy Bracken’s Toe Ticklers.  Mills Musical Clowns, Jimmy McHugh’s Bostonians.  And more.

Here is their very hot set — with commentary by Andy and searing playing by everyone.  (My wisdom tooth says YES.)

IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT:

BLACK BOTTOM:

DIGA DIGA DOO:

BEND DOWN, SISTER

BEND DOWN, SISTER ( a song about physical exercise and diet — lyrics below — in case Andy’s mom is truly worried about what her son is up to):

FUTURISTIC RHYTHM:

MY SWEET TOOTH SAYS ‘I WANNA’ (But My Wisdom Tooth Says No):

SHAKIN’ THE BLUES AWAY:

IT’S SO GOOD (with Andy and Michael switching instruments, expertly):

FRESHMAN HOP:

Red hot Chicago (and New York) visits Newcastle!  For more of the same in autumn 2013, be sure to visit here while there are seats and rooms available.  The 2012 Party sold out early.

“You’ve got to bend down, sister / Bend down, sister / If you want to keep thin / No more messing / With French dressing / Sister, you’ll have to bear it and grin / You can flirt with noodle soup / Sniff but don’t dare give in / Bend down, sister / Bend down, sister / If you want to keep thin.”  Second chorus variations: “Don’t be hasty / With French pastry / If you never should eat at all / You’re a cinch to win.”

May your happiness increase.

PAGES FROM THE DIARY OF DILLON OBER

I cannot find out much information about the drummer-xylophonist Dillon Ober.  John Chilton wrote no thumbnail biography of him; he does not appear in Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS.  I have no photograph to share with you (although Don Ingle says that Ober looked like Robert Benchley, later went to work in the Hollywood studios, and was a superb drummer).

All I can ascertain is that he recorded with a Ted Weems small band in 1922, with Irving Mills, Ben Bernie, and Jack Pettis in the latter half of the Twenties.  After that . . . ?

But a jazz scholar who wishes to remain anonymous has been able to read a diary that Ober kept in that period.  Aside from the intriguing period data (gigs played, personnel of bands, wages, names of friends, telephone numbers and addresses) there are a number of strongly worded philosophical statements: Ober was obviously someone who observed the scene closely and expressed himself wittily.

Here are two gems:

I like jazz music and my girlfriends to be SOFT and HOT.  That FAST and LOUD that other people go for does nothing for me.

and

Those people who say they “like the music” are fine, I guess.  We need them.  But they want to talk to me before I’m playing, after I’m playing, sometimes even when I have the sticks in my hands.  Do I come up to a doctor or a lawyer while he’s in the operating room or the courtroom to tell him how he should have done that operation or won that case?  I can’t stand them.

More to come.

May your happiness increase.

RHYTHM IS THEIR BUSINESS: DUKE HEITGER’S SWING BAND (with BECKY KILGORE) at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

Sometimes the best things happen when the more moderate types have gone to bed.  Here’s “Late Night Swing” from Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 16, 2011), featuring a hot swing band and singer in peak form.

Duke Heitger’s Swing Band featured the man himself on trumpet and vocals; Dan Barrett on trombone and arrangements; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano and arrangements; Howard Alden, guitar; Glenn Holmes, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Becky Kilgore, vocals.  It was a twenty-first century version of the band that recorded a Fantasy CD (9684-2) which I hope you’re still able to find:

Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Rhythm-Business-Duke-Heitger-Swing/dp/B00004SAZ8

But what we enjoyed at Chautauqua was more than sound coming out of speakers: catch the happy expressions on the musicians’ faces as they listened to these swinging arrangements and to Ms. Kilgore.

The set began with one of the best Thirties let’s-introduce-the-stars-in-the-band songs (courtesy of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra), which Duke sang, RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS:

Then something for Louis and for Billie, YOURS AND MINE, again with a lovely Duke vocal.  (What a fine singer he is — on his horn or his vocal chords!):

A little Ellington excursion (thanks to Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters, Master Records, and the Irving Mills complex), the wittily-titled SWING PAN ALLEY.  Remember to open up Letter B:

More Ellington (of a romantic tendency) from Becky, JUST SQUEEZE ME:

And for those who need the etiology of Swing explained to them, here is the big hit of late 1935, THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND, made perfectly clear by Becky:

Memories of the Goodman band, thanks to arranger John Sheridan, and a lilting I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU.  It’s hard to see Duke at the start, but his sound is unmistakable:

And a hot salute to Sweets, Pres, Jo, Sidney, Illinois, Gjon, Norman, and the Brothers Warner, in JAMMIN’ THE BLUES.  (Thank you, Pete Siers!):

“Business sure is swell!”

THOSE RHYTHM MEN: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (May 5, 2011)

Here are some more uplifting moments in jazz, courtesy of  on YouTube. 

The prime movers here are Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, performing at Seattle’s New Orleans Restaurant, on May 5, 2011.  That’s Ray on piano and vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

I would write “Four minds with but a single thought — to swing,” but that would be an oversimplification.  The beauty of this little band is that they are unified, presenting something irresistible, but each player shines through, his individual sensibility intact yet happily part of the group.  Ray, Steve, Dave, and Mike surely rock — in the best old-time-modern ways.  Savor those tempos!  Many bands with less feeling for the music play only Fast or Slow . . . . not this quartet.  But you don’t need me to tell you how good this band is: the music will do that in a minute. 

THAT RHYTHM MAN — connected to Louis and Fats in 1929 — was originally a dance number for the chorus line, I recall, so its tempo would have been hot.  The FTB takes it at an insinuating medium-tempo, just intoxicating:

Something for Bix — even if the debate goes on whether he is on the Irving Mills 1930 recording of this song — LOVED ONE:

Jelly Roll Morton’s tune WHY asks that puzzling question:

And for the vipers in the house . . . here’s a Thirties paean to the joys of muta.  Mike shows how it would feel to be Tall: he’s VIPER MAD:

More delights await — video performances of AVALON, STUMBLING, MOANIN’, ONE HOUR, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and a favorite of mine, the lovely FOREVERMORE.

But wait!  There’s more!  “Informed sources,” as I used to read about in the New York Times, have told me that there is a First Thursday Band CD in the works.  What good news!  Watch this space!

WHERE THE DARK AND THE LIGHT FOLKS MEET

Unfortunately, the history that seems to stick in the mind is oversimplified beyond belief.  Although jazz is a reasonably young phenomenon, it has attracted too many watery half-truths.  When enthusiasts began to write about the music and its performers in the Thirties, they were so in love with what they heard that they created and embellished myths appropriate to its magical, transporting nature.  Perhaps we have come some distance from Buddy Bolden’s cornet being heard miles away and Bix Beiderbecke carrying his horn in a paper sack, but the myths have been maintained tenderly for decades.  Closely examined, these cherished bits of apocrypha turn out to be dangerous rather than dreamlike. 

In his new book, musician, harmonic theorist, and writer Randall Sandke (we know him as Randy) has done a magnificent job of spring cleaning jazz’s mythic house, writing truths others wouldn’t.  It might be the only book of its kind; it needed to be written.  More to the point, it needs to be read.

Sandke’s WHERE THE DARK AND THE LIGHT FOLKS MEET: RACE AND THE MYTHOLOGY, POLITICS, AND BUSINESS OF JAZZ (Scarecrow Press: 2010, 275 pages) takes its title from the verse to “Basin Street Blues,” but it is neither an exercise in jazz nostalgicizing (“Oh, the glories of the past . . . all gone now . . . how those boys could play . . . who remembers them?”) nor is it a spattering of irascibility (“Those damned hip-hop musicians . . . those promoters . . . Oprah . . . those record labels . . . the end of beauty as we know it.” 

Sandke is angry, but his is a righteous indignation.  The book isn’t his story of how badly he’s been treated, but a wide-ranging evidence-based study of the distortions that pass for received wisdom.  His goal is to point out the fallacies, inconsistencies, and contradictions that have become jazz history (and by extension, the curricular truths on which jazz education has been built).  He can be sharp-tongued, especially about biased statements made by people who don’t play instruments — but the book is not a vindictive jamboree.

What Sandke is particularly unhappy about are attempts to portray jazz as a racially divided music, where African-Americans took their inspiration directly from Africa (where else?) and brought it to America only to have it stolen by greedy, ignorant Caucasians who copied their innovations, ran record labels and jazz clubs. 

Jazz, to Sandke, isn’t Black music popularized by White men: it is a musical continuum where Ornette Coleman can speak sadly about young “Scotty” LaFaro, his favorite bassist, where Louis Armstrong and Doc Cheatham can speak reverently of Bix Beiderbecke.  The musicians know that the notes are not connected to skin pigment. 

The critics, Black and White, have not gotten that point. 

And the writers who have, intentionally or through ignorance, nurtured alsehoods are famous — Rudi Blesh, John Hammond, Hugues Panassie, Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch, Marshall Stearns, Amiri Baraka, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins. 

If this ideological slant had only been condescension to Benny Goodman and Bix because as, Rob Gibson (the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center) told someone, Benny and Bix didn’t write any jazz compositions of significance, it would be foolish and sad.  If this racial perspective had only ignored the creative White improvisers, Sandke’s work could have been seen as a continuation of Richard Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS — but Sandke has larger aims in mind than simply saying, “You know, when Louis and Bunk were playing jazz in New Orleans, the Prima brothers, the Brunies brothers, Tony Parenti, Johnny Wiggs, and fifty more people whose names aren’t caled, were also playing.”

What Sandke wants is fairness, not music being distorted to serve anyone’s ideology.  He wants readers to know the reality of the music business — something he’s learned from experience on the bandstand and off — and to examine how race applies to jazz, which it certainly does.  He wants us to know what musicians were paid in different contexts from New Orleans gigs to current festivals.  He would like us to think deeply about the problems of “authorship” — when a composition was re-copyrighted under a different title, when such august figures as Clarence Williams made money off more credulous younger players, one being Louis Armstrong. 

And he poses philosophical questions without being didactic, merely by positioning first-hand narratives side-by-side, so that we are asked to think about Duke Ellington’s taking the ideas his musicians brought to him and making hit songs out of them, adding his name . . . and the same process done to those compositions by Ellington’s White manager Irving Mills. 

Many readers will be drawn to Sandke’s careful yet impassioned examination of what he calls “the Wynton Marsalis phenomenon,” giving Marsalis credit as a player and influential figure but taking issue with the social and poitical implications of his elevation to a primary role as jazz’s sole figurehead.  But Sandke is not out to win notoriety by attacking Marsalis, as will become obvious even to the most Marsalistic of readers.

Sandke also works hard to remove the mythic accretions of decades in favor of first-hand narratives: the racial balance in the recording studios; the complex and sometimes painful relations between musicians and record companies, managers, and promoters, and the role of White listeners as essential to the survival and continuation of jazz.  For jazz, he sees a hopeful future — that is, I think, if much could be left in the hands of the musicians rather than the ideologues.

This book will be greeted with some dispeasure.  Sandke is Caucasian; he will be seen by some who do not read his book closely as writing as a jealous, disgruntled outsider.  He does portray some musicians and writers, living and dead, as unfair, hardly objective.  But five pages of his book will easily dispel any sense that he is acting out of acrimony.  Those tempted to call him racist will have to ignore the evenhandedness on every page. 

And — to back away from disputation for a moment — Sandke is a fine literate plain-spoken writer.  The book is heroically researched without being dull or stodgy.  And it comes to seem a series of brief interconnected essays on the larger theme, essays that can successfully stand on their own.  I dream of an upper-level jazz course for musicians as well as educators that would take each essay as a seminar text: perhaps some perceptive university will offer Professor Sandke a steady Tuesday-afternoon gig. 

Ultimately, it all comes back to the book’s title.  Jam sessions and jazz clubs have long been places where dark and light folks met in joyous exploration, creative harmony.  Eddie Condon was arranging “mixed” record sessions long before this country could accustom itself to the possibility of Barack Obama.  Jazz, rather than having been the reactionary, nearly moribund phenomenon some of its critics see it as, could still be the vision of a loving collective world.  Now, that’s hopeful!

MORE FROM THE BIX FEST (RACINE, March 2009)!

These videos are here (and on YouTube) through the generosity of Jamaica Knauer and her “little camera,”  suitably attired, “running around in the gaudy 1920’s outfit, and Cleopatra headpiece.  Anywhere Andy Schumm and Dave Bock were playing, I was somewhere around, filming them. Ha! Ha!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and we owe Jamaica and the Bixians a great deal: they are, besides Andy and Dave, John Otto, Paul Asaro, Vince Giordano, Leah Bezin, and Josh Duffee.  Here they are at Fitzgerald’s, with a truly rocking NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

A little calmer, but still enthusiastic, is THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

And a steady BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? at one of the many “right” tempos, with a soulful vocal by Vince:

Walter Donaldson’s pretty AT SUNDOWN, again at a wonderful tempo, not too fast:

Finally, an exuberant FRESHMAN HOP (which I associate with Jack Pettis, Irving Mills, the Hotsy Totsy Gang, and Jack Teagarden), with Otto on bass sax and Kim Cusack on clarinet:

There are more delights on YouTube.  Everyone here is a wonderfully enthusiastic, gifted soloist, but one of the rare pleasures of these performances is the way the ensembles work together — Asaro’s striding piano behind a horn soloist, Vince, Leah, and Josh working together as a unit, the horn players trading phrases and humming behind one another.  Yes, “Bix lives!” but we shouldn’t forget just how alive and lively these players are — thanks to Jamaica!