Tag Archives: Israel Crosby

DAN MORGENSTERN ON VIC DICKENSON, BOBBY HACKETT, DILL JONES (March 3, 2017)

Dan Morgenstern and Vic Dickenson are heroes of mine, and I am not alone. That’s Dan, below.

I first heard Vic on records in adolescence and tried to see him as often as possible in New York City, 1970-1981.  Always surprising, always rewarding.

This is the closing segment from a long and glorious afternoon of video interviews — here are the preceding ones:

Since it would pain me that someone had never heard BOTTOM BLUES — Vic, Hot Lips Page, Don Byas, Albert Ammons, Israel Crosby, Sidney Catlett — here’s spiritual uplift for the week:

For those who like my explications (and it’s fine if you don’t) here is the post I wrote in 2008 about BOTTOM BLUES.  No saucy video, but another sound source.  And another opportunity to hear that music.

News flash: yesterday, April 20, Dan and I completed another round of interviews — recollections more than interviews, really — around two hours of video in thematic segments, which will appear on JAZZ LIVES in due time. Because I was spoken to in terms from gentle to harsh about the previous videos being hard to hear, I bought a different microphone and we made sure more light came into the room.  Thus, the April 20 sessions will be loud and clear, which is as it should be.

Blessings on Dan and the men and women he keeps alive for us all.

May your happiness increase!

WE INTERRUPT OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOGGING

No, JAZZ LIVES is not going away.  Nor is there some crisis.  Nor am I asking for money.  However, I would like my viewers to devote themselves to what follows, which will take perhaps ten minutes.

That man is pianist Junior Mance, born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1928.  Before he was twenty, he had begun recording with the stars we revere: Gene Ammons, Howard McGhee, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Clifford Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Israel Crosby, Chubby Jackson, Art Blakey, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, Sam Jones, Nat Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, Carmen McRae, Wilbur Ware, Bob Cranshaw, James Moody, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Crow, Art Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie (he’s on the duet with Louis of UMBRELLA MAN), Leo Wright, Harry Lookofsky, Lockjaw Davis, Johnny Coles, Ray Crawford, Paul Chambers, Bennie Green, George Coleman, Eddie Jefferson, Louis Jordan, Irene Kral, Joe Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Kenny Burrell, Mannie Klein, Shelley Manne, Etta Jones, Benny Carter, Jim Hall, Joe Newman, Milt Hinton, Richard Davis, Frank Wess, Wilbur Little, Jimmy Scott, Marion Williams, Les McCann, Dexter Gordon, George Duvivier, Carrie Smith, Ken Peplowski, Howard Alden, Milt Jackson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Grey, Houston Person, Joe Temperley, Benny Golson, Jay Leonhart, Jackie Williams, Andrew Hadro . . . and I know I’ve left two dozen people out.

Next, in the world of jazz, one would expect a tribute.  Or an obituary. Or both.

But not a love story, which is what follows.

A few days ago, I was contacted by Sarit Work, co-producer of SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD, a not-yet-finished documentary about Junior and his wife, Gloria Clayborne Mance.  They have created a Kickstarter to help them finish the documentary.  The headline is “The love story of jazz legend Junior Mance and Gloria Clayborne Mance. As he loses his identity to dementia she reckons with her own.”

Being a man (although this may not be typical of my gender) I have less ability to cope with illness than women I know.  It’s terribly irrational, but I cringe at visiting people in hospitals, visiting the ailing, the dying . . . and so on.  There must be a name for this — call it “testosterone terror”? — which makes people like me hide under the couch, if possible.  Or in the car.  And dementia is especially frightening, because I am closer to being a senior citizen than ever before.  But Sarit was very politely persuasive, so I watched the trailer.

And it hit me right in the heart.

Junior has a hard time remembering, and he knows this. But he knows he loves Gloria.  And Gloria, for her part, is a lighthouse beacon of steady strong love.  It is not a film about forgetting who you are so much as it is a film about the power of devotion.

So I urge you — and “urge” is not a word I use often — to watch the trailer, and if you are moved, to help the project along.  It will be a powerful film, and I think that helping this project is very serious good karma.  Maybe it will protect us a few percent?

Here is the link.  Yes, the filmmakers need a substantial amount of money.  But anything is possible.  And, yes, I’ve already contributed.  And from this day (or night) the filmmakers have only EIGHT days to raise the sum they need.  So please help — in the name of jazz, in the name of love, or both.  In my dictionary, the two are synonyms.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE GEMS BY THREE MASTERS: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, HAL SMITH at the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (September 16, 2016)

We must acknowledge the passage of time.  Art Tatum, Johnny Guarneri, Hank Jones have become Ancestors.  Israel Crosby, Milt Hinton, and Oscar Pettiford have moved to another neighborhood.  Sidney Catlett, Dave Tough, and Jo Jones have passed into spirit.

FRANK.

FRANK.

But we cannot mourn those shifts too sorrowfully, because we have Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums to show us how it’s done in 2016 — Old Time Modern, flawlessly.

They did it (perhaps for the first time ever?) at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, for a short spell.  It seemed that by the time I had set up my camera, their set was over.

HAL.

HAL.

This year, on September 16, 2016, I was better prepared . . . and caught the whole glorious effusion.  I was transported, and the audience was rocking alongside me.  You’ll hear immediately that I don’t list the names of the illustrious forbears in vain. This trio has a lightness and grit that I don’t hear very often, and it is good medicine for troubled times and happy ones.  They perform two early-twentieth century pop classics, two blues, with nods to Basie, Charlie Christian, and the boogie-woogie masters, as well as Rossano’s Chopin-into-jazz transformations.  All with style, grace, and enthusiasm beyond compare.  And this is a blissfully natural-sounding group: a fine grand piano (no microphones pushed under its lid); an unamplified string bass; a drum kit of snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, wire brushes to the fore — the old days without anything dusty about them.

ROSSANO.

ROSSANO.

SHOULD I? (from Rhapsody to Romp, which could serve as a title for the set):

SWEET LORRAINE:

SOFT WINDS:

CHOPIN IN JAZZ:

BASIE BLUES / BOOGIE (exalted dance music):

I have it on good authority that this trio is accepting gigs.  Private parties, public concert tours, canonization . . . what you will.  They deserve it, and so do we.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billie, once:

eBay BILLIE ONE

Billie, twice:

eBay BILLIE TWO

Claude Jones:

eBay CLAUDE JONES

Coleman Hawkins:

eBay HAWK

Buster Bennett:

ebay BUSTER BENNETT

Bunny Berigan:

eBay BUNNY

Fletcher Henderson:

eBay FLETCHER

Israel Crosby:

eBay ISRAEL

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

ALBERT AMMONS and FRIENDS: PERPETUAL SWING, 1936, 1944

Everyone knows those famous boogie-woogie pianists were best on their own, and they were stylistically limited.  Wrong.  Hear these three recordings by the heroic Albert Ammons (1907-1949) and noble hot colleagues.

In the first two, reedman Dalbert Bright is as nimble and enthusiastic as any swing-to-bop player; trumpeter Guy Kelly, although somewhat more taciturn in the manner of Tommy Ladnier, executes some heartfelt Louis. Ike Perkins, young Israel Crosby, and Jimmy Hoskins were Ammons’ preferred rhythm team, and it’s easy to hear why.  On the last recording, it’s as if Milt Gabler got the most rocking, riffing players he or anyone could find . . . evoking jam sessions in Kansas City that could go on for hours.

MILE-OR-MO BIRD RAG* (based on a strain of OL’ MISS):

NAGASAKI:

Guy Kelly, trumpet; Dalbert Bright, alto and clarinet; Ammons, piano; Ike Perkins, guitar; Israel Crosby, string bass; Jimmy Hoskins, drums.  Chicago, February 14, 1936.

JAMMIN’ THE BOOGIE:

Hot Lips Page, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Don Byas, tenor; Ammons, piano; Israel Crosby, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums.  New York, February 12, 1944.

Extraordinary tireless, gravity-defying swing, no?  And Ammons holds it all together, strides, encourages everyone . . .

*I always thought that this first title referred to a bird that could fly impossibly long distances.  Some online research revealed that the M-O-M-B exists only in boyishly naughty local legends involving avian body parts.  You’ll have to look these tales up for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

THE POET, GRIPPED BY PURE LOVE, EARNESTLY STATES THAT HE WOULD RATHER HAVE THE COMPANY OF THE BELOVED THAN ANY OTHER PERSON, EVEN ONE OF GREATER WEALTH AND FAME, AND THESE WORDS ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A PLEASING AIR

What follows is the Official JAZZ LIVES Love Song.  It captures my feelings exactly and deeply, and the music that accompanies it is perfectly delightful.

The song is I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU — composed by Harry Akst, Lew Brown, and Elsa Maxwell for a night club “revue” for the Casino de Paree.  (I have read that the New York club Studio 54 occupied the same space, decades later.)

My guess about the composition of this song is that Akst created the melody, Brown the lyrics, and that they called on Ms. Maxwell for the details of Society that would make it authentic.  (I can invent the dialogue for their meeting, and I am sure you can also.)  I’ve not seen the film nor a copy of the sheet music, but the song was recorded in Chicago by Charles LaVere and his Chicagoans, and we have the performance I love through a series of nearly miraculous kindnesses.

The jazz connoisseur Helen Oakley Dance arranged for this racially mixed band — not yet accepted as the norm — to record for the nearly-dead OKeh label, and the records were not issued at the time.  (Thanks to hal Smith for this detail.)

Some thirty years later, Columbia Records was cleaning house and someone decided to dispose of a number of unlabeled one-sided vinyl test pressings. Helene Chmura, blessed be her name, asked collector Dan Mahony if he wanted them before they were thrown away; he agreed, and among them were the seven sides from the LaVere sessions of March 11 and April 5, 1935 — this performance comes from the latter.  I read that these were “test-only” performances, which means that they were the Thirties equivalent of audition “demo” recordings. Given the circumstances, we are so lucky — beyond lucky — to have them. (Mahony passed them on to the fine UK collector and gentleman Bert Whyatt; the discs now are held by Charles LaVere’s son Stephen.)

Before I write more, you should hear the music.  The video below was created by the exceedingly talented Chris Tyle (cornet, clarinet, drums, vocal, jazz scholar, bandleader, archivist, writer . . . . ) as a special commission for JAZZ LIVES. Alec Wilder would have called the song “notey,” and deplored the repeated notes; I am amused by the way the lines spin out to accommodate the lengthy lyrics . . . but it goes right to my heart.

The musicians are Charles LaVere, vocal (and possibly trumpet); Johnny Mendell and Marty Marsala, trumpets; Joe Marsala, clarinet / alto; Joe Masek, tenor; Boyce Brown, alto; Preston Jackson, trombone; Jess Stacy, piano; Joe Young, guitar; Israel Crosby, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.  That’s some band.

I find the lyrics particularly charming.  Of course the notion that “I like you a lot” is a familiar refrain in love songs.  “I like pie, I like cake, I like you best of all,” another.  “It all depends on you” and “I wanna go where you go — then I’ll be happy,” other variations.  But this song, where the singer says “I prefer your company to that of famous members of the upper class who would offer me unique experiences so far beyond the ordinary,” is offering a special kind of love-bouquet.  And it is witty and sweet that the singer doesn’t say, “Mrs. Astor wanted to sleep with me but I told her NO because I like you better.”  No, the lyrics advance a series of whimsical rhetorical possibilities — which must have been especially striking in the Depression: IF Mrs. Vanderbilt invited me to dine . . . and I think we are expected to know that this is a dream rather than a real invitation, and that the singer and the Beloved do operate in the world of the shared hot dog at Coney Island.

But love often is charmingly hyperbolic, and the singer insists, “My preference for you, my fidelity to you, is not a simple matter of preferring you more than your real peers.  I’d rather be with you than with anyone else, no matter how rare and glittering the experience anyone else could offer.”  That, to me, makes it a deep and authentic — even while whimsical — offer of love.

And the music!  It might be too much for some when I say I love every note of this performance, but it’s true — from the repeated vamp capped with a Zutty accent (sounds like his pal Sidney) into Boyce’s melody statement, so sweet yet never sentimental, with that rhythm section, Stacy bubbling, beneath.  Marty Marsala takes the bridge in an impassioned way, with the saxophones playing a written figure to emphasize his statement; a break from Boyce leads into an even more beautiful exposition of the melody.  (If anyone doubts that Boyce was a remarkable player, soulful and precise, let the skeptic listen to that chorus a few times.  It stands alongside the best alto playing I know.)

This — eighty seconds — is a fully satisfying musical offering.  But there’s more. After an interlude concluded by Zutty and a two-note phrase from Preston Jackson, Charles LaVere begins to sing.  (Is it Marsala or  Mandell echoing and improvising around and under him?)  His diction is refined; he is offering us the story in the clearest way.  But the vibrato-laden way in which he ends phrases is both intense and heartfelt; his reading of “be” in the song’s title is so touching. We know he cares!  On a second or third listening, we can honor Jess Stacy, stealing the show yet again.  Tenorist Joe Masek brings out his best early-Thirties Hawkins, and one of the musicians (or a studio onlooker) lets out a fervent yell of approval at 2:37.  I agree with the anonymous emoter.  And the final eight bars are a full-band ensemble, both tender and rocking, driven on by embellishments from Preston Jackson and Zutty’s cymbal.

It’s the combination — witty lyrics without a hint of satire, delivered with the utmost feeling over a hot jazz background — that does it for me.

(In this century, James Dapogny urged Marty Grosz to record the song — which he did, splendidly, on an Arbors CD called MARTY GROSZ AND HIS HOT COMBINATION.)

I send this to performance and video to the lovers in my reading audience, and I encourage you to send it to your Beloved.  If you don’t have a Beloved at the moment and would like one, play this over and over until the music and the lyrics are brilliantly resonant in your head, then hum and sing it under your breath as you go through your day.  It will, I am sure, attract love to you.

May your happiness increase.

THE ANGELS SWING, 1953

The photograph below comes from Helen Ward’s collection, courtesy of my friend Sonny McGown.  It’s amazing — an onstage jam session from one of the 1953 concerts that began with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.  After Benny chose not to go on with the tour, Gene Krupa led his band — and obviously a good time was had by all.  See who you can identify:

From the left, I see George Auld and three other saxophone players, Steve Jordan (guitar), Israel Crosby (bass), a Goodman trombonist and bespectacled Vernon Brown, Trummy Young behind Vernon, a short fellow in a light suit whose name escapes me, Cozy Cole behind him, Ziggy Elman, an unidentified trumpeter and Charlie Shavers in front of Arvell Shaw.

I think I hear an uptempo blues . . . but whatever it is, the sound I imagine is angelic.  Wow!

P.S.  Sonny pointed out to me that Willie Smith (on left) has his back to the camera, Al Stewart is the unidentified trumpeter . . . and the closing jam session was typically THE SAINTS.  So now I know what I’m hearing.

ON AND OFF eBay: THE PORTRAIT GALLERY (November 2010)

More from eBay!

On the left, Al Hirt (possibly during his fame in the Sixties).  More interesting is a very thin Bobby Hackett on the right, working hard, with someone I can’t identify standing behind him, looking quizzically at the invisible photographer.

At top, the King of Swing, possibly at the Madhattan Room — on the air for CBS.  Below, circa 1948: is that Wardell Gray to the extreme left in the saxophone section?

Early Thirties, on the West Coast — CREOLE REVUE . . .

Ellington in the Forties (the first band shot has Ben Webster, Sonny Greer, probably Junior Raglin — 1943?); the second is twenty years or so later, with Lawrence Brown, stalwart, on the far left.

Probably Chicago?  Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine on trumpet, Budd Johnson on tenor saxophone.  Are the two other musicians Scoops Carey and Shorty McConnell?

I have to say very quietly that I am less interested in Glenn Miller and his many orchestras than many people: what interests me here is not the ghost band below, but the top portrait that has a portly Irving Fazola sitting in the reed section on a gig in Texas, early in Miller’s bandleading career.

Who’s the pretty lady with the astounding hat sitting with Glen Gray on the right?  Looks like Miss Mildred to me, grinning happily.  Whatever Glen said to her must have been delightful!

Two unrelated Johnsons, J.J. and Gus (they both swung)!

Circa 1937 or 38 — Teddy, Hamp (concentrating hard), and Benny (paying attention): Gene got cut off, but we know he was having fun, too.

The top portrait is just amazing to those of us who are deeply immersed in this art — an autographed picture of Kaiser Marshall in 1938, in Europe (wow!); the second is listed as guitarist Jimmy McLin and saxophonist Earl Bostic, when and where I can’t tell.  The beautiful double-breasted suits say “late Thirties,” but that’s only a sartorial guess.

This portrait of the John Kirby Sextet lets us see the diminutive O’Neill Spencer in action — something more unusual than seeing Charlie Shavers, Russell Procope, Buster Bailey, and a pianist who’s not Billy Kyle. 

Clockwise: Benny Carter in a familiar publicity pose; a small band featuring Fats Waller’s reliably swinging drummer Slick Jones, and a famous shot from the Columbia studios, 1940, of John Hammond’s noble experiment melding the Basie and Goodman stars in what might have been the world’s finest small jazz band.

A famous Chicago studio portrait from 1936 but still gratifying: the rhythm section of Fletcher Henderson’s Grand Terrace Orchestra: Israel Crosby, bass; Bob Lessey, guitar; Horace Henderson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums.

Late Twenties, early Fifties, perhaps for Ben Pollack?  Jack Teagarden and Benny in the first photo, perhaps Charlie Teagarden (and the Pick-A-Rib Boys) in the second.

Lee Young and J. C Higginbotham, both middle Forties if the suits are evidence.

There’s that Louis fellow again!  Ecstatically with Trummy Young (and an invisible Barrett Deems) at top, with Danny Kaye in THE FIVE PENNIES (1959) below.

GOING PLACES indeed!  Louis, Maxine Sullivan, Johnny Mercer . . . no doubt rehearsing JEEPERS CREEPERS.

And a delightful piece of memorabilia from Phil Schaap’s new website — which not only features artifacts autographed by Wynton Marsalis and jazz broadcasts from WKCR, but also tangible morsels of jazz history.  Can you hear Lips Page and Johnny Windhurst swapping lead and improvised countermelody?  I certainly can imagine it!  Visit http://www.philschaapjazz.com for more.

“BEAUTY IS TRUTH,” SAY THE BLUE NOTE JAZZMEN

A friend who is new to the music gently asked me by email, “Hey, Michael, what’s all the fuss you’re making about this Sidney Catlett?”  And it’s a valid question deserving an answer.  But the best way to answer it is not through words, but through the experience.  Thanks to “cdbpdx” on YouTube, here’s a 1943 recording of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES by Edmond Hall’s Blue Note Jazzmen.  Let their names never be erased: Sidney deParis, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Arthur Shirley, Israel Crosby, Sidney Catlett.  If you’d want to understand what Sidney is doing — playfully and with the utmost art — listen to the little conversations he has with the ensemble (both as part of it and joyously commenting on the good time everyone’s having) urging, encouraging, applauding — especially alongside the solos of deParis and Vic. 

I don’t mean to give my readers homework, but someday soon, listen to this recording twice with all your attention: once in its glorious complete beauty, then for Sidney Catlett himself.  Jubilation indeed.  And everyone on this recording is dead, but like Keats’s urn, they transcend mere mortality: this music is alive!

“BOTTOM BLUES” BY ALBERT AMMONS AND HIS RHYTHM KINGS

Although I can’t envision life without daily infusions of stride piano, I’ve never managed to warm up much to boogie-woogie. At its peak, that late-Thirties style featured three rotund, cheerful players — Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, and Pete Johnson — whose collective sonic effect was a roaring express train aimed at the listener. But each one of the trio was a splendid soloist who could venture beyond eight-to-the-bar conventions, given the chance. Their slow and medium-tempo blues, especially, moaned and rocked. And they were superb leaders and accompanists: Big Joe Turner and Johnson made a wonderful team. But Albert Ammons is not often given his due.

Born in 1907, Ammons died young, but he made some marvelous band recordings. There’s a 1936 Decca session recorded in Chicago featuring trumpeter Guy Kelly (whose mournful voice you hear on Jimmie Noone’s “The Blues Jumped A Rabbit,” recorded around the same time). That’s the band pictured at the top of this posting, his “Rythm Kings.”

Slightly later, there was a romping session with Harry James (a Texan who knew how to play the blues), the Port of Harlem Jazzmen for Blue Note, and a 1944 Commodore session that produced four titles. One of them is an instrumental slow blues, “Bottom Blues.” Whether the title refers to the tempo, the overall funkiness, or the reference is anatomical, the music is imperishable.

On February 12, Milt Gabler, the patron saint of Commodore (pictured here in his record shop — thanks to the late William Gottlieb for capturing this shrine for posterity), put together one of those compact bands that blossomed in 1944 on Keynote, Savoy, Blue Note, Wax, Jamboree, and other small jazz labels. Most jazz historians ritually excoriate James C. Petrillo, then president of the musicians’ union, for provoking the record ban of that period, but the irony is that the ban provoked some enterprising jazz-lovers into capturing transcendent music that the major labels wouldn’t have been interested in. For once, commerce and art — however unintentionally — worked together.

Jazz listeners are always frustrated record producers, who think, “That band would have been just perfect if I had been able to replace Kid Pippin with Sox McGonigle,” on into the night, but this sextet admits no such after-the-fact meddling.

In the jazz family tree of recording dates, we can find connections among the three horn players, but this is the only record date I know of with this front line: Hot Lips Page on trumpet, Vic Dickenson on trombone, and Don Byas on tenor sax. As a teenager, bassist Israel Crosby had worked and recorded with Ammons in Chicago, and Big Sid Catlett — everyone’s first choice — was in town.

The four selections recorded that day are all blues — medium slow, medium, fast, and slow. Page and Dickenson were known as splendid bluesmen, squeezing Dionysiac ecstasies into the narrow confines of twelve bars. Byas’s style may have seemed more urbane, but he had deep Basie – Kansas City roots as well, and he plays nobly. The slow tempo, in addition, keeps him from falling back on the up-hill-and-down-dale rhythmic patterns he liked when he picked up speed, echoing Coleman Hawkins.

Gabler liked to give his musicians a chance to stretch out both live and in the studio, and he usually recorded on 12″ 78 RPM records — almost always earmarked for classical discs — that allowed another full minute of playing.  (Had this been recorded on the much more common 10″ disc, the ensemble would have concluded, probably in haste, when Lips Page’s chorus was over.) 

“Bottom Blues” is structurally very simple — a series of solo improvisations on the twelve-bar blues form, leading up to ensemble riffing at the end. Ammons begins with a musing, suspended-animation four-bar introduction, almost tentatively setting the key, the tempo, and the mood, before moving into a simply played blues — with only Catlett, on brushes, behind and alongside him. It’s as if he’s thinking about what he might be playing while he is doing it.

Catlett, as I’ve written in this blog, could play with great force and volume.  Although he adds notable intensity as the performance builds, he sticks to the wire brushes rather than using sticks.  In his solo chorus, Ammons offers brief glimpses of familiar piano blues motifs, but with surprising delicacy.  He does suggest eight-to-the-bar rolling rhythms at several points, but they are implied rather than stated: his bass patterns hint at Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, even Fats Waller. The effect is thoughtful rather than assertive, and someone hearing this recording for the first time might not identify him as a famed boogie-woogie stylist.

Vic Dickenson takes the next two choruses, and Ammons’s accompaniment has a simple, forceful architectural logic, as he restricts himself to simple block chords in the first chorus and becomes more ornate in the second. Dickenson’s playing has always been praised for its “vocal” quality, its smears, growls, and moans. Justly so, but was there ever was a singer as eloquent as Vic is here? Could any voice create such sounds, bearish growls and sinewy moans, moving from side-of-the-mouth satirical asides and grief?  At points it sounds as if his sound is huge, barely contained, exploding into our ears.  Vic’s second chorus, propelled by Catlett accents, takes a simple phrase and turns it around and around, holding it up to the light before moving more rapidly into double-time and a few exultant shouts, like a man with so many things to say who knows his time is running out.  We should also hear, behind the growls and snorts that seem to characterize Vic’s solo and his style, a deep allegiance to the vein of exuberant melancholy we hear in Twenties and Thirties Louis — play this solo next to “Gully Low Blues” and hear the emotional kinship.   

By contrast, Byas sounds supple and suave, gliding from one phrase to another, extending the harmonies as if to remind us that this is, in fact, 1944, and that Dizzy and Bird are in town.  He is aided immensely by the two horns humming behind him, felt more than heard — voices in the choir adding harmonic support. 

Saving Lips Page for last was not just a good idea; it was inevitable, for no one wanted to follow him on a blues performance.  His solo isn’t appreciably high, loud, or fast, but it is the very quintessence of intensity.  Like Vic, he manages to get so many different sounds out of an unforgiving piece of brass tubing — slides, glissandos, half-valve effects — that would be impossible to notate.  And I defy any trumpet player today to reproduce these twenty-four bars convincingly.  But what we hear is light-years away from trumpet plus rhythm, as the four players drift into electrifying multi-layered polyphony, with Crosby getting even more earnest, Ammons varying his accompaniment, and Catlett urging, commenting, and agreeing to what he’s just heard.

When Ammons returns, it’s not merely an interlude to give the horns time to get into position: he is more rhythmically assertive, with wonderful dialogues going on between his spattering Hines right-hand figures and the ocean-motion of his bass line.  The orchestral polyphony broadens, as the three horns take the simplest moaning figure, as old as King Oliver’s solo on “Dipper Mouth Blues” — rocking back and forth between two notes with plenty of vibrato — and balance it against Ammons’s interjections, Catlett’s accents (he has become an entire section in himself!) building and building, with his cymbal crash the last word.  What a moving interlude!                 

Jazz, like other arts, always implicitly asks the question of how can we make the familiar new and vividly alive?  In this case, how do these six musicians, individually and collectively, take the same phrases that every jazz improviser in 1944 knew by heart and make them seem fresh?  The answer may lie in a strong sense of self, of defiantly individual voices, of superb technical mastery, of intense passion.  The question of HOW may defy words, but “Bottom Blues” shows itself as lasting, emotionally powerful art.

Happily, I can report that someone besides myself cares deeply about Albert Ammons — in this case, his granddaughter Lila has set up a site to celebrate his memory: www.albert-ammons.com.  And although the ASV CD which contains some of his finest work may be out of print, “Bottom Blues” should be available.  It is down-to-earth and celestial at the same time, worth repeated listenings.