Tag Archives: J. Fred Coots

“LIKE THE RIPPLES ON A STREAM,” or IMPERMANENCE, by HARVEY SHAPIRO and by BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

For those of us who keep music in our hearts, this 1934 song is special.

Yes, it is a carpe diem love song, but it is also about how nothing lasts forever.  It inevitably leads me back to Harvey Shapiro’s poem about Charlie Shavers, reprinted here with apologies for copyright infringement:

That melancholy sharply-realized poem leads me back to these moments in time:

I don’t know the remedy for impermanence — but, as Doctors Holland, Coots, Caparone, Otto, and Pikal enact here: “Take your saddest song and make sure it swings.  You don’t have unlimited chances to swing your song.”

May your happiness increase!

HOW THE MASTERS DO IT: BOB HAVENS // MARTY GROSZ (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2011)

I am moderately accident-prone: I can trip over an uneven sidewalk; have the last bit of salad dressing adhere to my shirt; while driving, I may unsuccessfully avoid a pothole with an $800 repair bill as the result.  I laugh about it.

So I admire those who see the looming catastrophe, however its size and shape, and step around it without spilling their tea.  They aren’t Bojangles, Fred, or Gene — just people who sense the landmine and gracefully avoid it.  Jazz musicians are especially good at fixing errors before they turn into train wrecks.

Two of these Masters — you could call them spiritual acrobats or merely veterans of the trade — are trombonist Bob Havens and guitarist / singer / arranger Marty Grosz.  Both of these heroes are born in 1930, so when this brief interlude took place on September 16, 2011, they were 81.  Decades of experience!  The occasion was the yearly Jazz at Chautauqua, the beloved child of Joe Boughton, that was held at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York (ninety minutes from Buffalo).  It was a memorable jazz weekend, with about thirty musicians playing and singing from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon.

One of the particular delights of Chautauqua grew out of Joe’s love for beautiful semi-forgotten songs.  Thus the weekend began and ended with a ballad medley.  Four musicians were chosen as a skilled rhythm section, and from one side of the stage, everyone else walked on, indicated briefly to the rhythm section what song they had chosen and in what key, played or sang a chorus at a slow tempo, and walked offstage from the other side.  Emotionally powerful, visually charming, full of surprises and sweet sensations.

For the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua’s closing medley, the rhythm section was Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums.  The complete medley ran perhaps twenty minutes: I’ve excerpted a segment I find particularly touching.

You’ll see at the start of this excerpt Bob Havens step onstage and explain by words and gestures that he plans to play — in seconds — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND, the nostalgic creation of Charles and Nick Kenny and Danny Coots’ great-uncle, J. Fred.  It’s a favorite song of mine, first recorded in 1931 by (among others) Ruth Etting, then made into a huge success by Pat Boone.  I won’t comment on what the trajectory from Ruth to Pat suggests to me, especially because it was one of Vic Dickenson’s favorites also (his medium-bounce version can be found on YouTube).  In its homespun way, it’s a seventeenth-century poem: human love always loses the battle with nature and time, and tears are inevitable.

The opening phrase is familiar, the harmony simple, but unless my ears deceive me, there is a slight uncertainty in the rhythm section about the harmonies that follow, so Havens, used to this sort of thing for decades, “spells out” the harmony by emphasizing arpeggiated chords as he goes along — and the performance not only reaches its goal but our hearts as well.

Then Marty, who always goes his own way, thank goodness, asks everyone to be silent while he essays EMALINE.  That in itself would be brave — the lyrics to the chorus are pure Waltons-Americana, but they might be fairly well known.  No, our hero Martin Oliver Grosz begins with the verse and gets about one-third of the way before realizing his memory of the lyrics is incomplete: hear his inimitable rescue!  And the chorus is just lovely.  Incidentally, Frank Tate is someone I deeply admire: watch and listen to this clip again, and look at his facial expressions as Marty walks the thorny path he has chosen for himself.

For those who need to know (I had to look them up) the pretty although seriously hackneyed lyrics to the verse are: Ev’ning breezes hum a lullaby / There’s a million candles in the sky / I’ve put on my Sunday suit of blue / Emaline, just for  you / Here I’m standing at your garden gate / While the village clock is striking eight / Hurry up! Hurry down! / Honey, don’t be late!  (I especially like the “up” and “down,” but I’m a sentimentalist.)

The musicians on this stage (and their friends) are my role models.  What does a brief error matter if you either head it off or make a joke out of it: in both cases, they not only avoid trouble but cover it up so stylishly that the result is even better than plain old competence.  All hail!

There will be more previously unknown treasures from the Jazz at Chautauqua weekends — and then its successor, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — in months to come.  “Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon, who spoke truth.

May your happiness increase!

GUILLERMO, FERNANDO, and A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE (June 14, 2019)

Lady in Blue, Henri Matisse

I’m waiting, with some sly amusement, to read a comment on JAZZ LIVES that runs, “Michael, what’s wrong with you that you post so many pretty things on your blogsite?  ‘Pretty’ is so ancient.”

Well, brace yourself.  Here comes more Pretty, with side Dishes of Delicate, Tender, and . . . it’s a waltz.  Can you take it?  I know you can.

Here’s the splendid song — by Sam M. Lewis and J. Fred Coots — as performed in 1936 by Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with Al Bowlly’s heartfelt exposition of the story, elating and melancholy all at once:

And the sweet brand-new version created by Guillermo Perata, cornet; Fernando Montardit, guitar (June 14, 2019), where they steadfastly stay in 3/4 and don’t double the tempo:

For all of you who celebrate Beauty.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND COMMERCE: TAFT JORDAN AND THE MOB (February 21-22, 1935)

TAFT

A nice bio of trumpeter / vocalist Taft Jordan is available here, which is also the source for the photograph.

TAFT Night Wind Banner

In February 1935, “Taft Jordan And The Mob” — Taft, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Elmer “Tone” Williams [not “Skippy” Williams as listed in Tom Lord — thanks to Mark Cantor], tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Bobby Johnson, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Eddie Dougherty, drums — recorded four memorable sides that have never gotten the attention they deserve.  (Incidentally, the beautiful record labels are illustrations only: the music can be found in the videos below.)  

TAFT MOB label

The idea was John Hammond’s, and one that we are grateful for.  The usual story is that Hammond worked hard to get the music he loved on record, to make opportunities for racially mixed bands.  He succeeded beautifully: most readers know this part of the story as preface to the 1933-42 Billie Holiday sides.

But other parts of the story deserve attention.  There is, for one thing, the success of the coin-operated phonograph (later, the “jukebox”) that could offer people recorded music in restaurants, bars, and elsewhere for what seems to us like a bargain: a nickel would get you three minutes of new music.  But a 1935 nickel was much more than the ninety-nine cents per song that iTunes charges.  (A contemporary advertisement shows Easter dresses for $1.95, and a skilled worker for the W.P.A. might earn $79 a month.)

And, at the time, commercially produced records were — as it says on the label — “not licensed for radio broadcast.”  I think that coin-operated phonographs served the audience’s desire for novelty (“Let’s hear that new record of ______ by Erin Morris and her Ponies!”) — songs from new movies, new songs popularized by much loved bands and singers . . . and for five cents, one could have a side played for a gathering of listeners and/or dancers.  The record labels pictured above are now called “dime-store,” because one could  buy these records inexpensively at, say, Woolworth’s.

Radio and recordings created a need for new material, so many songs, not all memorable, were published, with a clear financial relationship between composers / lyricists, publishing companies, artists, recording supervisors, and record companies.  (A small example: IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN was written by Bernard Hanighen, Billie Holiday’s friend, also a recording director at Brunswick Records.  He would have been happy — aesthetically and financially — to have his song recorded.)

Taft’s four sides run parallel to other small groups led by Fats Waller, Henry Red Allen, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Stuff Smith, Adrian Rollini, Tempo King, Cleo Brown, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Frank Froeba, Bernard Addison, Louis “King”Garcia, Stew Pletcher, and others.  I’ve heard writers say these sessions were “cranked out for the jukebox trade,” but these records are lovely, imperishable.  That there were only four sides says more about an audience’s awareness of Taft as a star than about their quality.  Some listeners might have known him from the Savoy Ballroom and radio, but not many.  When the records were later reissued in the UK (the red-and-gold Vocalion issues) Teddy Wilson had become famous enough so that his name would sell discs.

The artists made little or nothing for these sessions: they were paid “scale,” although they were pleased to make the extra money.   The math is fascinating, a quiet recital of economic disparity, even at the remove of eight decades.  Let us say a band of eight musicians made four sides for $50 a musician.  The records were pressed, distributed, and ended up in the phonographs.  One could hear a side once — no limit on the number of hearers, theoretically — for a nickel. The machine could take in twenty nickels in an hour.  In 1935, the profit went to the record companies and the owners of the phonographs. Later (too late, perhaps) musicians and composers received royalties, but that is another story.

Yes, mechanical reproduction of art guarantees “exposure,” but one cannot eat exposure.  I am aware of this from both sides as an interloper with a video camera who can only recompense musicians in insubstantial ways.

I offer these notions, some of them quite sad or infuriating, as preface to wonderful music, and also to point out that an unstable, often exploitative relationship between the artists, “the marketplace,” technology, and lasting art is not a twenty-first century issue.

TAFT Vocalion Devil

What good songs these “disposable” pop tunes are — thanks to Rothberg, Coots, Alex Hill (yes!), and Hanighen.  And the players, professionals all, were used to sight-reading and creating instant arrangements — with split choruses, riffs, backgrounds.  To take one example, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, still recognizable, is a series of thirty-two and sixteen bar solos with rhythm (and what a rhythm section!) with a jammed ensemble ending.  How fine it sounds now.  One could spend an afternoon listening to the glowing epigrams Wilson dispenses, the variety of timbres the horns offer, solo and in ensemble.

In my collecting history, these four sides were part of a Columbia Chick Webb lp compilation — glorious gap-fillers, but also logical because of Taft’s role in the band.  Mince and Silloway were with Tommy Dorsey; Skippy Williams, Bobby Johnson, and John Kirby with Webb also; Eddie Dougherty a busy free-lancer. Wilson had not yet joined the Goodman orchestra as a member of the Trio and Quartet, but had recorded with BG in ad-hoc studio groups.

What we have here — each side is less than three minutes long — is both superior dance music and small-band swing of the highest order, pleasing to all audiences.

In my time-travel fantasy, I would like to be a silent onlooker at one of these sessions, but I doubt the musicians romanticized such work.  It was another way to pay the rent, perhaps (for the lucky sideman) to get some recognition for future leader’s gigs . . . or perhaps, after creating four quiet masterpieces, the guys went out for a drink or some ribs, a nap before the night’s work.  If I’d asked Taft about these sides in 1972 /3 and later — I didn’t see him at close range — I wonder what would he have said.

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

NIGHT WIND:

DEVIL IN THE MOON:

IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN:

All four of these songs were also recorded “with vocal chorus” by Taft, a charming Louis-influenced singer (consider his work with the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Webb) but none of the vocals was issued.  Mysterious.  I know there is an alternate take of NIGHT WIND issued on a Jerry Valburn collectors’ compilation, but it’s instrumental.

TAFT Vocalion Green

Does anyone know more about Eddie Dougherty than is published in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ?  I have learned that he recorded between 1933 and 1952 or a little later, that he lived in Brooklyn, and, according to Johnny Williams via Mike Burgevin, that he pronounced his last name as if spelled Dockerty.  But no more.

The music remains.  And I, for one, am truly grateful for that.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

As a postscript, here are four contemporaneous versions of DEVIL IN THE MOON — in honor of the Blessed Alex Hill.  I think they are all beautiful, so this is not to make insidious comparisons.

Leo Reisman:

Mills Blue Rhythm Band (with an incendiary Buster Bailey interlude that the expert dancers must have loved):

Benny Goodman:

Art Tatum:

May your happiness increase!

“TO IGNITE THE SPARK”: MR. WALLER’S ROMANTIC SONG (1937)

Recently there was a long, energetic discussion on Facebook, sparked by our friend, the superb young pianist Kris Tokarski (you can find it if you scroll down to March 31) on what attributes constitute a “jazz singer.” Bless him, Kris didn’t come to it with a narrow ideology; he wanted to open up a discussion, which he did.

I made mention of instrumentalists with “untrained” voices, and mentioned Hot Lips Page — then also Jimmy Rushing and Ivie Anderson.  But I forgot one of the finest singers of all, Thomas “Fats” Waller.

Most often, we think of Fats, at high volume,  shouting and carrying on — THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’, satirizing, parodying, mocking, clowning. But there was another side of him, heard all too infrequently: the dear romantic balladeer, treating a deserving song with great tenderness.

He does it here — with the 1937 I’M ALWAYS IN THE MOOD FOR YOU:

The lyrics aren’t memorable — in fact, they seem a winking collection of love-song-conceits — but the performance lingers because it is so close to the heart. Hear the long, leisurely piano chorus, Fats’ careful, endearing reading of the lyrics with only Herman Autrey whispering sweet nothings in back of him, and the return.  I think it’s fascinating that this take was issued, for clearly Fats got distracted or the lyric sheet slid off the piano, for there is a distinct near-crisis around three minutes in.  Whether Eli Oberstein said, “Look, we have six more sides to get done today,” or “Well, you made a mistake, Fats, but it’s so late in the record and the side is so beautiful, let’s leave it be,” I don’t know.  (It was the fifth side of nine recorded that day, so I suspect Fats was pressed to move on, even though there was this momentary lapse of attention.  I find the “mistake” completely endearing.)

I also wonder if Fats’ very tender delivery of the song was because it was written by Benny Davis (lyrics), a true veteran of the Brill Building, and Fats’ dear friend and eating buddy J. Fred Coots . . . whatever the motive, it is a very sweet performance and one that has stayed in my mind for years.

I hope you have someone you adore who can hear this recording — preferably seated right nearby — and know that the lyrics and melody are Cupid’s arrow, aimed tenderly but accurately.

May your happiness increase!

WINGY and IVIE ASK THE SAME DEEP QUESTION, 1936

What a lovely song this is — by Benny Davis and J. Fred Coots in 1936.  I heard it first on record (the second version below) and then I was charmed by it in person when Marty Grosz sang and played it with Soprano Summit in 1976. Characteristically, Marty introduced it by saying it was written by a house detective in a famous St. Louis hotel.  (That version of the Summit had Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Marty, Mickey Golizio, and Cliff Leeman.  Yes indeed.)

Here’s Wingy Manone in an uncharacteristically serious, tender performance (even though the lyrics elude him about two-thirds through) both on trumpet and vocal.  The other philosophers are Joe Marsala, clarinet; Tom Mace, alto saxophone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sam Weiss, drums:

Then, the masterpiece: Ivie Anderson with the Duke, featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, and Barney Bigard:

Wishing you love that is anything but puzzling.  You can have it as strange as you want it, but I hope it’s always rewarding.

Postscript: later versions of this song were recorded by two other fellows named Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.  Quality!  I know more than a few fine singers — at least — who would have a fine time with this song. Any takers?

May your happiness increase!

MILDRED, TWICE

MILDRED autograph 2It seems an authentic signature because of the ornate little flourishes.  But the next one, from a book signed by various luminaries (Harry Richman, J. Fred Coots, and Huey Long among them) in 1933 — celebrating the start of Ozzie Nelson’s band — has its own sly message about the Rockin’ Chair:

MILDRED autograph

Words to live by.

May your happiness increase!