For once, I would like to let the music speak for itself. I will have more by Jack to share with you in a few days, and yards of biographical data, but now, just savor what he does for its own sake.
May your happiness increase!
For once, I would like to let the music speak for itself. I will have more by Jack to share with you in a few days, and yards of biographical data, but now, just savor what he does for its own sake.
May your happiness increase!
Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs. Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.” Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.
Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance. I am a Fan, you are The Star. The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription. In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them. (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books. And Whitney Balliett.)
But I no longer chase Stars. Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal. I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%. In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.
I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term. He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.
Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on. The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down. I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.
I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know. In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.
Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:
I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.
And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:
This autograph’s closer to home for me:
Again, completely authentic. But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently. I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?” Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.
Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:
Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson. Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:
It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.
Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:
Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged. The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely. For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off. (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)
I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on. I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.
But some people did. Thus . . .
I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones? I doubt it. And inside:
This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.” I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare. But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box. Hence:
At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.” I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.
Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano; Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:
I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH. It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other. Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue:
Heroes. Oh, such heroes.
May your happiness increase!
Our generous friend Sonny McGown, through his YouTube channel called “Davey Tough,” has been at it again, spreading jazz goodness everywhere. And this time he features the man Louis Armstrong called “Little Bobby Hackett.” If you’ve missed Ricky Riccardi’s wonderful presentation — music and words — of the remarkable relationship of Bobby and Louis, here it is.
And here are more Hackett-gifts. The duet with Jack Gardner I’d heard through the collectors’ grapevine, but the 1964 Condon material is completely new. And glorious. Sonny, as always, provides beautiful annotations, so I will simply step aside and let Robert Leo Hackett cast his celestial lights.
Here he is with the rollicking pianist “Jumbo Jack” Gardner — and they both are wonderfully inspired:
and a wonderful surprise: an Eddie Condon recording I’d never known of, with Condon exquisitely miked for once (let us hear no more comments about his not playing fine guitar; let us hear no more about “Nicksieland jazz”). And let’s celebrate the still-thriving Johnny Varro, alongside Peanuts Hucko, Lou McGarity, Jack Lesberg, and Buzzy Drootin:
May your happiness increase!
Before you read another word: if you know the remarkable work of Derek Coller and the late Bert Whyatt, you can skip to the bottom for details on how to buy it: you won’t need me to convince you of its worth.
Full disclosure, for those who like FD: I corresponded with Bert and exchanged information and tapes for the Bobby Hackett book he and George Hulme did, and I am mentioned in this new book as a source pertaining to Frank Chace.
Now for larger matters: when I pick up a book purporting to be on jazz, I value clear presentation of information, at best first-hand narrative or close informed analysis, any ideological basis (if there must be one) aboveboard. I should come away from any reading feeling that I know many new things or have been given new ways of perceiving what I know.
Here’s what repels me (details omitted to avoid legal action):
During the twentieth century, jazz was at the center of multiple debates about social life and American experience. Jazz music and its performers were framed in both positive and negative manners. The autobiographies of _____ musicians _____ and ______ provide insight into the general frames they used to frame jazz experience and agency sometimes at odds with dominant discourses. Through Michel Foucault’s notion of ethical substance, I analyze the way in which jazz is constructed in their autobiographies. Several themes are used by both autobiographers to frame their actions, which are constructed in a complex and ambivalent manner revealing both the ethics of jazz and its covert culture.
A long pause. Happily, I can leave Foucault to his own devices, and enthusiastically recommend CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE, the opposite of the miasma in italics. And, for the curious, the picture above is of Sig Meyer and his Druids, c. 1924 — including Volly De Faut, Arnold Loyacano, Marvin Saxbe, and Muggsy Spanier. In itself, that photograph says everything you might need to know about the depth of research in this book.
Coller and Whyatt come from the old school of scholars — note I don’t write “critics” — who believe that the stories musicians tell about themselves and others are more worthy than what listeners believe they hear. This is a collection of articles — essays, portraits, studies — by both authors, published in Storyville, The Mississippi Rag, the IAJRC Journal, Jazz Journal, and as liner notes — between 1983 and 2016.
For once, I will quote the publisher’s copy, because it is so apt:
When Derek Coller decided to pay tribute to his late friend – the author, biographer, discographer and researcher, Bert Whyatt – he looked for a common theme under which to group some of the articles they had written together over the years. He found it in Chicago where their research activities had gravitated towards the style of music created by the young white musicians from that city and its environs – particularly those who rallied around the figurehead of Eddie Condon – as they listened to and learned from the pioneer black stylists, many of them the greatest jazz players to emigrate from New Orleans, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny and Baby Dodds and Jimmy Noone. Two trips to the USA, made by the authors in 1979 and 1992, led to meetings and correspondence with some of the musicians in this compilation, and to learning about many others. There are connections between most of these articles, interviews and notes, with an over-lapping of jobs, leaders and clubs. Some of the stories are about pioneers: Elmer Schoebel, Jack Pettis and Frank Snyder, for example, were in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923. Trombonist George Brunis, chronicled here, was also a member of that band, though his long career – during which he played with Muggsy Spanier, as did Rod Cless and George Zack, in the Spanier Ragtime Band of ‘Great Sixteen’ fame – has been more widely documented. Floyd Bean and Tut Soper, here too, were also Spanier alumni. The articles originally appeared variously under a dual by-line, or by either Whyatt or Coller, but always with consultation and discussion prior to publication. Here they become a lively mix of the voices of the authors as well as the musicians and their families, building a story through biography, reviews and discography. The book is illustrated with evocative black and white photographs and images, and there is an Index of names and places to help the reader keep track of the musicians, composers, producers, promoters and writers who created this part of the history of jazz.
“A lively mix” is an understatement. First off, the book is full of wonderful anecdotage, primarily by the musicians themselves. And it helps to explicate Chicago — which is often legendary but certainly under-documented — as its own world of jazz, where one could encounter Jimmy Yancey, Brownie McGhee, Bud Jacobson, Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes — see the 1949 photo facing the table of contents.
For me, the complete and absorbing charm of the book and the research under it is in the focus on those musicians whom I’ve known as names on record labels or in discographies. Yes, there is coverage of Muggsy Spanier and George Brunis (the first already the subject of a fine biography by — no surprise — Bert), but the other portraits are welcome because the musicians depicted never got the attention during or after their lifetimes. I will simply list them: Jack Pettis, Frank Snyder, Elmer Schoebel, Rod Cless, George Snurpus, Maurice Bercov, Floyd O’Brien, Oro “Tut” Soper, Floyd Town, Johnny Lane, George Zack, Jack Gardner, Chet Roble, Floyd Bean, Bill Reinhardt and his club Jazz Ltd., Dan Lipscomb, Frank Chace, Jimmy Ille, Art Jenkins, Doc Cenardo, Freddy Greenleaf, and Paul Jordan.
And that is surely not all. Photographs new to me, of course. And when I open the book at random, gems leap out: on page 202, pianist Tut Soper describes Chicago as “the center of gravity as far as jazz is concerned.” On page 63, we are in trombonist Floyd O’Brien’s datebook for 1928, describing gigs and who was in the band. On page 227, jazz writer Larry Kart recalls hearing (and recording) clarinetist Frank Chace and pianist Bob Wright playing Coltrane’s LAZY BIRD and Tadd Dameron’s IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW.
I mentioned anecdotage earlier in this post, and will add a few excerpts from string bassist Harlow Atwood (201-2), talking of clarinetist / clubowner Bill Reinhardt and early rehearsals (Fall 1932) for Charlie Barnet’s first big band:
(. . . Charlie then was a 17 years-old pothead fugitive from Moses Brown Prep in Providence, R.I.) which boasted the legendary Jack Purvis on trumpet and Scoops Thompson (he sold drugs by the scoopful!) on guitar. The two wildest dudes I ever met in the business. That band, by the way, opened the brand-new Paramount Hotel, owned by Charlie’s family, on New Year’s Eve of ’32-’33 and lasted exactly one set. Barnet’s mother, shocked to her socks by Purvis’ romping charts, fired Charlie herself. I was sitting at Charlie’s table and heard the conversation.
And, later, Atwood’s memories of valve-trombonist Frank Orchard (memorable for appearances on Commodore Records — I also saw him at Jimmy Ryan’s in the Seventies) who also acted as M.C., played piano, guitar, and sang — and who installed “a 2 1/2 times life-sized photo of himself at the club’s street entrance”:
The sets were pure Mack Sennett. Frank would tinkle a piano intro, then switch to rhythm guitar for the opening chorus, grab his guitar and up to the mike to sing / play a chorus, then do the sock chorus on trombone lead and finally sprint back to the piano for the ending. Plus, of course, introductory blather.
That’s purest jazz catnip to me, and I hope to you also.
If you’d told me a few years ago that I would hold a book with a detailed portrait of the pianist Jack Gardner in it, or a reference to tenorist Joe Masek, I would have thought that impossible. And I have taken so long to review this book because of its irresistible nature. When I received it in the mail, I left it visible in my apartment, and when I passed by it, I would stop to read a few pages: its distracting force was just that powerful. I apologize to Derek and to the shade of Bert for being so tardy, but if you are in the least curious about Chicago jazz — from the teens to the Seventies — you will find CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE fascinating, quotable, and invaluable. I wish there were a bookshelf of volumes of equal merit.
Buy a copy here or here . Alas, the book doesn’t come with a I BRAKE FOR SIG MEYERS AND HIS DRUIDS bumper sticker or a multi-volume CD set of previously unheard live sessions recorded by John Steiner, but we will make do with this lovely collection.
May your happiness increase!
When I returned to my apartment in New York, I thought, “I need music in here. Music will help remind me who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, where my path might lead.” Initially I reached for some favorite performances for consolation, then moved over to the crates of homemade audiocassettes — evidence of more than twenty-five years of tape-trading with like-minded souls.
One tape had the notation PRIVATE CHICAGO, and looking at it, I knew that it was the gift of Leonora Taylor, who preferred to be called “Gypsy,” and who had an unusual collection of music. When I asked drummer / scholar Hal Smith about her, he reminded me that she loved the UK clarinetist Archie Semple. Although I don’t recall having much if any Archie to offer her, we traded twenty or thirty cassettes.
PRIVATE CHICAGO had some delightful material recorded (presumably) at the Evanston, Illinois house of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft — amateur pianist, sometime composer, friend / benefactor to jazz musicians. Squirrel was both a dear friend of Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Eddie Condon, Boyce Brown, Johnny Mercer, George Barnes, Lee Wiley, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, and many others — one facet of a very intriguing life. He deserves a biography.
But back to the music.
I played through the side of the cassette, rewound it, and played it again. And I kept returning to a short improvisation: BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, played by Johnny Windhurst (cornet or trumpet) and Jack Gardner (piano) with possibly other players in the background — I hear a murmuring clarinet offering harmony notes — recorded, Gypsy’s typed notes say, circa 1950.
Neither Windhurst nor Gardner is as well known as they should be. Windhurst (1926-1981) was recognized young as a brilliant player, and got to play with the best — Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster in Boston when he wasn’t voting age, then Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Kenny Kersey, John Field, Jimmy Crawford a few years later, moving on to be one of Eddie Condon’s regulars, briefly recording with Jack Teagarden and on his own date with Buell Neidlinger, on a Walt Gifford session, with Barbara Lea (he was both colleague and boyfriend) then moving upstate to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he died too young (once being mugged and beaten) of a heart attack.
I saw him in person once, at Your Father’s Mustache in New York in 1972 — with Herb Hall and Herb Gardner (the latter someone who is very much with us) and Red Balaban. Windhurst was capable of the most beautiful melodic flights of fancy — a cross between heavenly music of the highest order and Bobby Hackett — but he couldn’t read music, disdained the idea of doing so, and thus turned down higher-paying and possibly higher-visibility gigs from bandleaders. I read somewhere that Woody Herman wanted to hire him, offered him good pay, promised to teach him to read, but Windhurst — a free spirit — would have none of it.
There is one video extant of Windhurst — I wrote about it, and him, in 2009 (and received wonderful comments from people who had played alongside him) here.
I did not know much about pianist Gardner, except that what I’ve heard suggests a delicate barrelhouse approach, and I seem to recall he was a large man called by some “Jumbo Jack.” But an exquisite biographical sketch of Jack by the diligent writer and researcher Derek Coller can be found here. (Our Jack Gardner is not the man who led an orchestra in Dallas in 1924-5.) Jack first recorded with Wingy Manone and Jimmy McPartland, then got more visibility with Harry James (you can hear him on SLEEPY TIME GAL and he is also on Sinatra’s first recording with James) 1939-40, then he crops up with Muggsy Spanier, Red Nichols, Bud Freeman, and after being captured on sessions at Squirrel’s from 1950-52, we hear no more from him.
I know THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC as a very assertive religious song in which the enemies of the Lord receive divine punishment: “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” and so on, even though later verses of the song — known to how many? — suggest that there is a balm of kindness.
More importantly than the theological, I and others know it as a hot number — think of “Red Nichols” as played by Danny Kaye and “Louis Armstrong” as played by himself in THE FIVE PENNIES, sending the sermon. Everyone from Art Hodes to George Lewis to Gerry Mulligan has recorded it, but I suggest that no version you will ever hear matches the sweet delicacy of this brief celestial interlude by Windhurst and Gardner.
Windhurst doesn’t venture far from the melody — the recording catches less than a whole chorus, and aside from a bluesy transformation near the end, it is melodic embellishment rather than harmonic improvisation. But he treats the melodic line with lightness, fervor, and love; every note is caressed; his tone is so beautiful as to make “golden” into an affront. Gardner plays a simplified version of barrelhouse support but never gets in Windhurst’s way. The whole duet is tender, yearning — the music of the spheres in under a minute.
Glory, glory, hallelujah.
May your happiness increase!
Even if many jazz fans don’t know his name, we’ve all seen the photographs of Duncan Schiedt, who began chronicling the music in 1939.
I’ve been encountering Duncan at the Athenaeum Hotel — for the annual September Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Festival) — for the past nine years, and have always enjoyed his impromptu solo piano recitals in the parlor.
Undismayed by whatever might be going on around him — consider the wedding party trotting through the scene during YOUTH — Duncan moves easily from one song to another, keeping his left hand gently moving, modestly embellishing the melodies as he goes, making the piano sing in an understated way. I had my camera with me this last September, and at the Beloved’s urging, I recorded a few minutes of an informal Schiedt recital.
Piano aficionados will hear the kind of sweet melodic homages we associate with Jess Stacy and with the more obscure Chicagoan Jack Gardner (with touches of Bix and Joe Sullivan also!) — a style that is tenderly respectful yet always moving along. I like to imagine that Duncan, without camera or notebook, himself embodies a great tradition by playing piano the way it used to be played, the common language of song in motion.
AS LONG AS I LIVE / MEMORIES OF YOU:
BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH:
SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:
Now, knowing that Duncan goes back to 1939 in his jazz photography, one might guess that he is an Elder of the Tribe, and we know him to be an honored one.
But I offer him as proof that music — making it or being absorbed in it wholly — is a sure way to stay young. The man at the piano was born in 1921, which would make him 92, more or less, at the time of these performances.
And whether subliminally or intentionally, his song choices come back to the verities of our and his existence: Life, Memories, Youth, and Happiness. Thank you, Duncan, for reminding us of the beauty that never grows old.
May your happiness increase!
I first heard the Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace on 1951 broadcast recordings from Storyville (issued on Savoy records and reissued in the late Seventies) where he held his own alongside Wild Bill Davison, Ephie Resnick, and a loud rhythm section. (Later, Frank would tell me that he was half-deafened by Davison’s habit of blowing into the clarinetist’s ear.) Chace impressed me as having absorbed Pee Wee Russell’s style without exactly copying Pee Wee. Years later, I thought that he was to Pee Wee what Buck Clayton was to Louis — a loving reflection, a distillation. But in the early days of my vinyl-searching, there was no other Chace to be found on record.
in 1986, when I began corresponding and trading tapes with John L. Fell — film scholar, amateur clarinetist, and erudite jazz collector — he sent a cassette of private Chace performances: some with Marty Grosz, others with the guitarist / cornetist Bill Priestley. On this tape, I heard thoughtful questing that had only been hinted at on the Storyville recordings. And I wanted to hear more. After asking all the collectors I knew (among them the late Bob Hilbert and the still-active Joe Boughton, Wayne Jones, Gene Kramer) to dig into their Chace holdings, I had a good deal of music in settings where he felt comfortable enough to explore, from 1951 duets with Don Ewell to a Marty Grosz nonet and various small groups. Frank’s brilliance and subtlety — his willingness to take risks — moved me greatly. I iamgine I was also intrigued by his elusiveness: his name appeared in none of the jazz reference books; his issued recordings were out of print, except for a Jim Kweskin session on Vanguard.
Quite by accident I learned that he was still playing. WBGO-FM broadcast live remotes from the Chicago Jazz Festival over the Labor Day weekend. In 1997, listening idly to the proceedings, I heard the announcer say, “Up next, the Frank Chace Quintet.” I scrambled for a new cassette, and, feeling as if the heavens had opened to let divinity in, heard Frank play, marvelously, including a bossa nova and LITTLE MAN, YOU’VE HAD A BUSY DAY. This gave me hope that he was alive and well, and I imagined that I might see him play sometime or have a new Chace recording to study.
Because I had spent much of my academic life as a literary detective, poring over unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, I became fascinated by Frank as a subject for study. I knew that he lived in Evanston, Illinois, and when I had his address confirmed by the Chicago musicians’ union, Marty Grosz, and John Steiner, I felt bold enough to proceed by writing to him.
I don’t have my letters to Frank, although his friend and executor Terry Martin tells me that Frank saved them, but I am sure that I introduced myself as an admirer, someone who would like to write about him (I had been reviewing CDs for the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal and was soon to start writing for The Mississippi Rag). In this post, I present his side of the correspondence. I have omitted only a few telephone numbers and addresses of individuals; otherwise I have left the letters intact. I have guessed at the placement of the few undated items; readers are free to do their own reshuffling if my logic offends.
I must have sent him some Pee Wee Russell cassettes, and addressed him (politely) as Mr. Chace:
12 Apr 98
A hasty note of thanks for the astounding packet. Golly, Pee Wee was even better than I thought.
I had no idea anyone was tracking my transgressions. If I recall, some of those pallid Pee Wee-ish peregrinations are even lousier than others.
You still think I should be interviewed?
I wish Hilbert had looked me up. I might have filled in a few spaces, e.g. PWR for Jack T. at Curley’s in Springlfield IL Oct 93 [sic], et alia. Five glorious drunken nites.
My father was from Mayville, N.Y. Any relation?
P.S. I’m Mr. Chace only to the IRS.
Frank’s opinion of his playing here is positively sunny. “Hilbert” was Robert Hilbert, who had written a Russell biography and compiled a discography. Later, Frank told me that the Curley’s gig was meant to be a Jack Teagarden quartet — Teagarden was by then appearing only with Don Ewell, a bassist Frank remembered only as “Pappy,” who was derisive about the other players, and drummer Barrett Deems. When Teagarden took sick, Pee Wee filled in for him, and Frank remembered long explorations of each song that would end with many choruses of eight-bar and four-bar trades among the quartet. Don Ewell was his great friend and musical mentor. And “Mayville” is a mild joke; I was living in Melville, New York.
Encouraged by his response, I sent Frank a photocopy of my then amorphous Chace discography:
20 April 1998
I’ve entered some guesses along with one or two certainties. I recall some of these sessions vividly, others not at all.
As for the penultimate entry on the reverse side, if you send a cassette I might sort it out. But aside from a few tunes with Marty [Grosz] and a bassist [Dan Shapera] from the Chi. Jazz Institute’s Jazz Fair in Jan. 1984 I haven’t listened to myself since before 1982, when I stopped drinking. Too grisly. (Except for a few S[alty] D[og] ensembles, below*.)
There was a 1968 session (at John Steiner’s, like many of them) during Marty’s brief affair with electricity: Lullaby in Rhythm, Exactly Like You. These should be around, God knows, if the rest of this stuff is.
Birch Smith sent me a CD “Selty Dogs 1955” last year. He finally issued them (Windin’ Ball) but so far as I know distributes from his home, only. I’d make you a dub but don’t know how. (I have only a Sony Diskman for playing.)
Do you have the 1961 Jabbos? Lorraine Gordon issued [a] two-LP boxed set around 1984. Sure enough, we didn’t try any Jazz Battles or Boston Skuffles, but we thought Jabbo was wonderful seapite reviewers’ demurrers. I never had other than a tape dub but gave it away 30 years ago!
Cheers back atcha,
I don’t remember when I asked Frank if we might talk on the telephone; he agreed, although our conversations were intermittent at best, usually on Sunday evenings. Once I interrupted him when he was about to eat some soup; other times I would let the phone ring twenty or so times before giving up. I now assume, and Terry Martin agrees, that Frank was at home — as he aged, his mobility was limited by illnesses — but did not want to talk.
I do recall his amusement when I asked his permission to record our conversations for a profile of him; he was both flattered and puzzled. He had said that he didn’t write to me as often as he would like because he lacked paper and pens; ever enterprising (or overbearing?) I sent him some. Now, I think he was being polite and evasive; I was more interested in interviewing him than he was in being interviewed. Gene Kramer, who had co-written a book on Don Ewell, had sent me a collection of Pee Wee rarities, which I copied for Frank:
24 Aug 98
It’s yet unclear how churlish I can get — might at least have sent a thank you card, but didn’t think I had any stamps. (NO — please don’t send stamps – I found some.)
*I haven’t listened to it all so far — it’s easier to replay the marvelous alternate Ida. Marty once opined that PW’s style came to fruition only around Home Cooking time, but it seems PW was annoying and perplexing his colleagues years earlier. And, how those other guys could play B I Y O Backyard. I’m reminded again of hos much I love Max.
*I’ve wondered for a long time how the US got this way — a week ago at the N[orthwestern] U[niversity] library I read NSC 68 (to be found in “Foreign Relations of the United States,” 1950 Vol I page 234). Example: “We seek to achieve (our values) by the strategy of the Cold War.” The whole thing is absorbing. Books I might have mentioned to youare The Frozen Republic by Daniel Lazare and Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948 by Frank Kofsky. If you’re interested.
Later. it’s to hot and humid for now.
*The “I” violated your code.
SPPFL = Society for the Preservation of Pete Fountain’s Legacy.
Love, Yakov, master of the ocarina.
The “Ida” was an alternate take of the 1927 Red Nichols recording. In retrospect, this letter mirrors our phone conversations. Frank was articulate and well-read. Although he could be wheedled into talking about himself (briefly and grudgingly) and the musicians he admired, his real subject was the downfall of the United States. I was much less well-informed about global history, and this seemed to exasperate him. I shared some of his views, but his gloom and rage were far deeper. I suspect now that he humored me when we spoke of jazz, but that it struck him as almost irrelevant. His comments about “I” and the “SPPFL,” which he had written on the envelope, need explanation. Frank disdained players he thought “synthetic”; Fountain was one. And I had mock-apologized in a letter for beginning several paragraphs in a row with “I”; hence his asterisks.
I didn’t hear from Frank until the end of the year, when a Seasons Greetings card arrived.
A bacterial infection put me in the hospital (out cold) Sept 14 – Oct 13 and Rehab Oct 13 – Dec 4, but I recover apace. Sorry about the hiatus. Hope you are well and prospering in this psychotic Republic.
Hoping all’s well with you. You wanted a picture. All I’ve unearthed so far are pix from Aspen, where Marty got me a few weeks with The Village Stompers. The wide angle shot shows Alfie Jones, a dandy Toronto trombonist, greeting Lou McGarity. The others you know or are listed.
I’ve been out of touch with Sandy Priestley, Bill’s younger son, the one most interested in his dad’s music. He one told me that Avis, Squirrel [Ashcraft]’s daughter, had rescued some stuff from the Evanston Coachouse and needed ID’s for some of the players. He, Seymour, lives in or near Milwaukee. I don’t want to put him in touch with you without your permission. The 1951 tracks with Nichols and Rushton, and Bill’s anthem Isn’t It Romantic might interest Sandy and Avis a lot, but it’s been a while . . . . This makes me miss the old “Club 55” (Lake Forest). John Steiner, too. The old order passeth.
As ever, Frank.
I had sent Frank a private tape (original source possibly John Steiner, the great archivist of Chicago jazz) of a 1951 Squirrel Ashcraft session featuring Red Nichols and Joe Rushton.
2 Feb 1999
I only just uncovered your Prima cassette amidst four cases of accumulated mail, mostly junko. I had never even known of the enhanced orch. of side B. PWR’s chorus-long trill on Dinah has me confounded. Never knew him to do the circular breathing thing. Prima clearly exhilarated him. Egged him on. Exhorted him. PWR IS SUPERMAN.
I (hereby disobeying your paragraph rule) never replied to your probe for an 8 x 10 glossy. Fact is, I never had one. The J D Salinger of the clarinet.
Yet another fellow, a Brit, has written about doing a piece on me for IAJRC publication of Miss. Rag. I’ve come across his note ten times, but now can’t find it. Name of Derek Coller from County Berkshire if I recall. Do you know of him? I might never find his address. I am less churlish than lazy and disorganized.
Your cassettes are better for me that Wodehouse’s BUCK-YOU-UPPO.
Frank was referring to the Brunswick recordings Pee Wee had made as a member of Louis Prima’s band, which show off Prima as successfully ouis-inspired, and Pee Wee responding with great enthusiasm. Ironically, Derek Coller (a fine jazz scholar) and Bert Whyatt did finish a long essay on Frank for JAZZ JOURNAL — in 2009 — and an accompanying discography for the IAJRC Journal in the same year. Like Bix and some of the Austin High Gang, Frank loved P.G. Wodehouse.
9 March 1999
You Leave Me Breathless. What? No Simeon too? Do I not play like Simeon? Beale (Billy) Riddle thought I played like Simeon. Possibly not like him on”Bandanna Days” tho. Beautiful.
Your encomiums had me groping for my blue pencil, but I won’t query you less’n you want. The finale, or coda, “inspired improvisation,” is a dandy. STET. I told you I was fighting for my life.
As for your S[umma] C[um] L[aude] submissions, they only fortify my esteem for those guys. How competent they are. The medley, stitched together with modulations ouf of Easy to Get, seems an outstanding ploy. Signature segues. The Miff unissued V-Disc: I heard Peg O’My Heart at Nick’s, then on Commodore, but PWR is positively SEIZED on this on. And on what you call “Notes on Jazz,” see if you don’t identify Mel Powell. The Bushkin right-hand grupetti, the fleeting salute to the Lion. And if Bert Naser is Bob Casey, why? AFM? And Joe Sullivans, I’d never heard these. No wonder [Richard] Hadlock’s fixation.
And Swing It. Priceless. My undying gratitude is yours. I’ve watched it only once so far, perhaps refusing to believe it.
And that fool Brunis. (Ending tape segment.) PWR phoned from the hotel upon arriving [in] Chicago with McP (MaFathead) for that NPR thing (Oct. 67?). I said, “Pee Wee! You called me”!* He said, “Who would I call, Brunis”? (Georg was his lifelong tormentor.)
I found the Coller letter and replied saying that the recounting of my legendary career had been already besought, but omitting your name and address. If you care to write him . . . .
Instead of dredging out my apartment I did so with my wallet and found the enclosed. It’ll have to do. Soon I’ll be “a tattered coat upon a stick.” Whence the quote?
Love and XXX,
*I have to watch my punctuation p’s and q’s, Prof.
P.S. My regards to [Gene] Kramer. We’ve got out of touch.
Have you read “the Ends of the Earth” by Robert D. Kaplan? An outstanding travel book.
Frank admired the Fifties John Coltrane, and “You Leave Me Breathless” was one of his favorites. I had written an exultant review of the 1955 Salty Dogs CD to the IAJRC Journal and sent Frank a copy. Since it infuriated him when people assumed he was imitating Pee Wee, I made the point that Frank had reinvented many of the classic clarinet styles — Dodds and Noone among them. Beale Riddle was a jazz fan, amateur drummer, and recordist who had captured an early trio of Frank, Don Ewell, and himself for posterity. “Bandanna Days” was recorded by “the Carnival Three” in 1947 for Disc — Simeon, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster. I had sent Frank airshots of the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra (with Kaminsky, Gowans, Pee Wee, and Bud) from the Sherman Hotel in Chicago in 1940, as well as an unissued V-Disc performance of “Peg O’My Heart” by Miff Mole, Pee Wee, Stirling Bose, and others. “Notes on Jazz” captured a number of Condon concert performances — before the Blue Network series began in 1944 — for distribution to South America. I had been given thirty minutes of this material by John L. Fell; the announcements were in Portuguese. I had also sent Frank a videocassette copy of the Thirties film short subject SWING IT — featuring Pee Wee and Louis Prima at their most lively, and may have included the 1967 JAZZ ALLEY television show with Hodes, McPartland, and Pee Wee. (Frank was in the audience, and remembered that Pee Wee offered McPartland five dollars to change places with him onstage.) Richard Hadlock continues to be an active West Coast jazz historian and reedman; he did a good deal for an aging Joe Sullivan in the Sixties. The quotation was from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium,” which Frank knew I knew. Still looking for a picture to send me, he had found an outdated bus pass in his wallet and enclosed it, which I still have. Obviously he was in a happier mood. And I was thrilled to be purveyor-of-jazz-treats, sharing pleasures.
28 June 99
I went straight to the Marty-Ephie music. Was there ever a one-man gang like Mart? And Effie’s dry wit. I can’t always tell whether he’s trying to be expressive or funny. And he can play anything, sometimes all at once.
Grateful too for the Dodds stuff. It seems the Harlem hot-shots foreswore mocking him musically – let’s hope they didn’t do so personally. Terry Martin suggests he probably could hold his own in eiher context, Ewell’s fears notwithstanding.
I never dreamt the Ashcraft stuff had been orgaznied and documented like that. Pee Wee, guesting at Priestley’s in 1967, calimed he could identify Joe [Rushton’s] clarinet anywhere. So far I’ve heard only a little from these cassettes. Speaking of bass sax I have from the lib. “ART DECO” Sophisticated Ladies (Columbia, 2 CD’s set). Ella Logan sings I Wish I Were Twins, with Adrian [Rollini], Max, Bud, [Carl] Kress, [Roy] Bargy, [Stan] King.
It’s raining on this sheet. Grateful to know someone who connects with my frame of reference. Must run for cover. WITH THANKS
This time, I had sent a duet recording of Marty Grosz and trombonist Ephie Resnick, as well as the Decca sides pairing Johnny Dodds with Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, and Teddy Bunn. The Rushton recordings are informal duets recorded at Squirrel Ashcraft’s — Rushton on clarinet, Bob Zurke on piano. Whether then or at another date, I had sent Frank a collection of other informal sessions at Squirrel’s: on the telephone, he told me that a prized listening experience was hearing Pee Wee on a 1939 or 1940 “Clarinet Marmalade.”
27 Mar 00
Don’t get a paper cut from these sheaves. Not that these observations from K. Amis’s memoirs are new to you.
I love the references to Hodes, with whom I played off and on between 1957 and 1984.
Young J. Dapogny introduced me to Lucky Jim. I evened up by playing him Tea for Two by one T. Monk, of whom he’d never heard.
The pages were excerpts from Kingsley Amis’s memoirs: Amis, like his friend Philip Larkin, revered Pee Wee and especially the 1932 Rhythmakers sides. In 1947, moving into an apartment, Amis glued to the wall “an over-enlarged photograph of the clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, with a typed caption adapted from the last stanza of Tennyson’s poem, ‘To Virgil’: I salute thee, Pee Wee Russell, / I that loved thee since day began, Wielder of the wildest measure / ever moulded by the lips of man.’ Frank also took pleasure in Larkin’s dismissal of Hodes: “he sounded as if he had three hands and didn’t know what to do with any of them.” When I see James Dapogny (now Professor Emeritus) I will ask him if the Monk anecdote is as he remembers it.
17 Jan 00
I write this on my lap in front of football TV, having no surfaces owing to apt. mucking-out, and having no pen I like andneeding to buy six encased in plastic to find out.
So this should be short – a mercy considering a sentence like the above.
Nice to hear Jack [Gardner or Teagarden?] again. An altogether agreeable cohort. And such exciting Lester and Fats. Listening to that radio announcer makes my blood run cold. I hate this f…..g country.
In that vein I’m reading Frances FitzGerald’s America Revised. My high school’s history text was Charles Beard. Reading him now suggests the textbook was seriously bowdlerized. No wonder we’re all so ignorant. Oh by Jingo.
Do you have, I mean do you know, Bud’s I Remember Rio, done latterly in Chi? Typical Bud. He’s like a favorite uncle.
At the library I check[ed] out the 2 CD Art Deco, Sophisticated Ladies on Columbia. I Wish I were Twins: Max, Bud, Adrian, Kress, Ella Logan? 1934. You Go To My Head unusual sunny Pee Wee yet controlled. Nan Wynn? Lee W.[iley] and a flock of canaries w/ nice acc.
I hear of a complete Django – might buy.
Ask me sometime about who I thought (whom, Prof.) was Jerry Winter — turns out to be Jerry Winner who hung around North Brunswick, NJ in 1951-2. Nice cl. With Raymond Scott 1947/8.
Also ask about the Victory Club.
P.S. I used “nice” 3 X, C-.
Terry Martin tells me that Frank discarded nothing and hoarded things in stacks and piles. Were the frequent references to desperate cleaning real or merely rhetorical? What incensed him so much in this letter was a live 1938 broadcast Fats Waller did from the Yacht Club — infamous for a condescending racist announcer who persists in calling Fats “boy.” Frank loved football but was aghast at the way the announcers spoke: he told me more than once of a famous sports figure, trying to sound polished, making a grammatical error. Now, this letter seems to combine politeness and impatience: I did not get the opportunity to ask about the subjects he threw in at the end. He had told me that as a young clarinetist, he failed to get involved in the rivalry of Goodman and Shaw; he cited Winner as someone he admired.
29 June 00,
I never expected that fooling around with a clarinet would fetch me such bounty as your books and cassettes. This Buddy Clark sure had accurate pitch, is it not so?
As for your Salty Dogs (Saline Canines: MOG) inquiries, as far as those of D. Coller about [Tony] Parenti, [Bill] Reinhardt and [Jimmy] Ille, I wouldn’t know what to say.
Did I ever tell you of my European summers (’51 and ’52) with the Amherst Delta Five? Their clarinet player preferred to sell used cars in Utica. One “Bosh” (Wm. H.) Pritchard came along on guitar (’51) which h’d never played. Someone showed him how to make a G7 chord. Some girls on board ship told him he sounded like Eddie Condon. Protchard became Henry Luce Prof. of Eng. at his alma mater.
I had sent Hilbert’s Pee Wee biography. The Buddy Clark session was an oddity — for the Varsity label in 1940, where he is accompanied by a version of the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, with Freeman and Pee Wee taking surprising solo passages. “MOG” is Martin Oliver Grosz. I hope that the story of Prof. Pritchard is true.
2 January 01
Glad to have your letter, but saddened indeed at news of your mother. Please accept my condolences. What good is it to know that it happens to most of us before we depart, and that there’s always regret at what we failed to do or say in time.
As for me, I’m trying to emerge from the Nov. – Dec. blahs — respiratory congestion followed by the BLAHS of SNOW and cabin fever. Yes, I played a couple of gigs in Nov., just down the street really at Pete Miller’s Steakhouse, a last refuge of cigarette smokers. I paid for it. [Bob] Koester showed up both times, and Paige Van Vorst, and someone named Jerry (a friend of Bill Russell of Am. Music) and an OTIS who is a P. W. fancier. A katzenjammer quartet: [mandolinist / guitarist Don] Stienberg, [Mike] Waldbridge, me, and an EAGER but blatty trumpet player. Later, Paige sent me a year’s worth of Miss. Rag. Don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Koester keeps wanting a record session and I keep demurring. As for your discography and entries I question the Jazz At Noon dates as to my presence, my having been absent with a misdiagnosed biliary tract infection. I was in hosp. during the assassination of Fred Hampton. The Oct. 18, 1968 date shows an odd title inversion suggestive of Steiner: “Pick Yourself Up” is really Let Yourself Go.
Hang in there,
My mother had died, at 85, a few months before. Frank’s comments transcend formula, I think. And I take it as indicative of his worldview and political awareness that he should recall his hospital stay because of Fred Hampton: the head of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, killed by police at the direction of the FBI.
02 Nov 02
Terry Martin sent me a photocopy of D. Coller’s thing on Floyd O’Brien. Takes me back, if not quite aback.
Here’s hoping you are somewhat restored to the quotidian world, the humdrum, what an Army buddy and I referred to as the drab mundane. Meanwhile, I thought you might be bemused by the enclosed pic, from 1978 I think under a wedding-reception tent in Priestley’s backyard. (Lake Forest, IL). Bill, left, has his back to the crowd as was his wont, duels with Warren Kime. Your congenial leader is at back, looking like Bergen Evans. Not shown: Bob Wright, piano; Joe Levinson, bass; Bob Cousins, drums. Nice gig.
I’m looking for a cassette to send you: a string of tunes from the Chi. Jazz Fest, Jan. 1984. Doubt that you’ve heard them. A trio: Marty, me, Dan Shapera, hass. Last time Mart and I tangled. Trying to get my apt. under control – I’m not exactly a fussy taxonomist.
I will share this photograph in a future posting.
18 Dec 02
So you laughed out loud at M[ichael]. Chabon – I coarsen myself listen to the enclosed examples of obtuseness, banality, and dead-ass playing. I wrote Price and Thompson thanking them for the check and rhapsodic blurb, respectively. Also mentioned that I was both terrified and pissed off throughout.
Thanks anyway, but I can’t listen to Braff. Musically, verbally and in print, he is, for me, a prototype of The Boston Asshole.
I really must learn to curb my expressionism.
As Marty once abjured me, For Your Eyes Only. I continue to rummage for that cassette – my housekeeping is execrable.
The remarks above may offend, but at this late date I prefer candor to ellipsis. I had sent Frank a copy of a Braff CD I particularly liked; he sent me the 2-CD set of his live recordings from 1967 with Jimmy Archey and Don Ewell — an odd group of players, their styles rarely coalescing.
This is the last letter from Frank — and my Sunday evening attempts to call met with no response. I assumed he had fallen ill or no longer wanted to talk or correspond. Thus I was greatly surprised to receive a package months later — that long-promised cassette, with a scrawled note on a tiny scrap of paper, which read something like, “Sorry, man — I’ve been sick with ascites (?)” That was the last I heard from him.
Frank’s letters were always leavened to some extent by his wit, even when it was extremely dark. I don’t, however, know if he would have written to me at all if he didn’t feel the need to thank me for the things I sent him, which he did seem to appreciate.
Talking to him on the telephone, however, was often a depressing experience as conversation wound down. I found Frank’s mixture of annoyance, contempt, and sadness sometimes difficult, often frustrating. I wanted to celebrate and gossip about the older music (a fan’s ardor); he wanted me to listen to Coltrane. But more, he wanted to vent his rage at United States imperialism and the decline of the West. In retrospect, we had little to talk about. Someone listening in might have considered our sonversations as little dramas, with each of us wanting to make things go his way, succeeding only briefly. I know that musicians and non-musicians are often separated by an invisible wall, but these conversations had even greater barriers, although we were enthusiastic about the same things.
But Frank often seemed as if he was going through some elaborate set of motions; whether he wearied of me, an enthusiastic correspondent who attempted to ply him with cassettes, whether he wearied of talking about what was now the receding past, whether he was weary of people, I do not know. That enigma, still fascinates me, although the possibilities are saddening.
Thus I was surprised when I heard from Terry Martin, perhaps in 2006, telling me that Frank was ailing (which did not surprise me: the long spaces between calls or letters were often the result of hospitalizations) and that Frank had mentioned my name to Terry as someone he wouldn’t mind speaking to. I feel some guilt about this now, but I told Terry I couldn’t attempt to restart the conversation. I was going through a difficult period and Frank’s darkness was too much to face. Terry, to his credit, understood. The next news I heard was that Frank had died at 83.
I consider myself fortunate that I had these exchanges, and that we can hear him play on recordings. Frank had something to tell us, and he still does.
Frank Chace: July 22, 1924 – December 28, 2007.
A postscript: when I was attempting to interview Frank for a profile, I amassed five or six pages of transcriptions of those taped conversations. In the spirit of Frank’s housekeeping, these pages have vanished. However, I recall a few fragments. When young, Frank was initially intrigued by the sounds coming from the apartment below — a neighbor was a symphony flautist. When he began to take up the clarinet (moved to do so, of course, by a Pee Wee Russell record), he listened to “everything” and thought it was his responsibility as a musician to do so. He recalled with great glee a recording with Don Ewell in the house band at Jazz Ltd: the band was playing the SAINTS, a song Don loathed, and he kept playing MARYLAND through his piano chorus. (The details may be awry, but the intent is clear.) When asked what recordings he particularly liked, Frank eventually called to mind the Mezzrow-Bechet OUT OF THE GALLION, Bud Jacobson’s BLUE SLUG, and expressed a special desire to hear Pee Wee’s solo on the Commodore Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers SWEET SUE, which I did not have, but acquired through Gene Kramer. When Frank heard it, he remembered that he and Marty played it many times, their verdict being that Pee Wee’s solo “scraped the clouds.”
But he saved his most enthusiastic words for two extremely disparate recordings: Coltrane’s YOU LEAVE ME BREATHLESS and Jerry Colonna’s comic version of EBB TIDE. Since Frank’s death, I’ve heard both, and was much more impressed by the Coltrane. Colonna’s version of that pop song has the singer nearly drowned by sound-effects waves — surely an acquired taste.
Frank had seen my hero Sidney Catlett in concert once (a wartime presentation by Deems Taylor); he had played alongside Bobby Hackett once in an informal session, probably at Priestley’s. But there were almost no contemporary musicians he admired, and fewer he could see himself playing or recording with: Marty Grosz certainly, Dick Hyman, possibly. He was sure he was able to play a whole session and that he didn’t need to practice. Terry Martin and Bob Koester have first-hand experience with Frank’s reluctance to record. In fairness, few of the recordings he did make usually do not find him in the most congenial settings: he felt comfortable alongside Ewell and Marty and some of his younger Chicago friends, but such congeniality was rare.
Frank deserved better, but it is difficult to make him into another jazz-victim-of-oppression, as his stubbornness often got in the way of musical opportunities. I offer these letters and recollections as tribute to a great musician and enigmatic figure.
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