Tag Archives: Jack Lesberg

SHOOT FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER.

Zoot, riding the range.

The splendid people at jgautographs (on eBay) have reached into the apparently bottomless treasure chest and come up with an assortment of photographs for sale.  The auction has a time limit, so don’t (as we say) dither.

Bill, Kenny, and Bob, also riding the range, although dressed like city slickers.

Question: what do Bobby Hackett, George Barnes, Flip Phillips, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Connie Jones, Max Kaminsky, Joe Venuti, Lou Stein, Joe Wilder, Zoot Sims, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Greg Cohen, Dick Hyman, Urbie Green, Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Bob Haggart, Dick Cathcart, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, John Best, Franz Jackson, Wild Bill Davison, Butch Miles, Jack Lesberg, Dick Johnson, Bob Havens, and a few others have in common . . . . aside from their musical glories?

Urbie, the one, the only.

Answer: They were all caught in performance by Al White and his roving camera (many of them at Dick Gibson’s Colorado jazz parties) — asked to sign the photos — the ones I’ve seen have all been inscribed to Al — and these 8 x 10″ black and white beauties are now being offered at the site above.

In 2000, Al and Ralph Sutton’s biographer James D. Schacter created a large-format book, JAZZ PARTY, with over a hundred of these inscribed photographs, but that book is now out of print, although copies can be found.

Al started life as an amateur drummer and jazz fan, then put on concerts and parties in Arkansas . . . . and at some point began to specialize in candid shots of the musicians he admired.

The noble Dick Cathcart.

The photographs offered on eBay have, for me, a special resonance.  For a moment in time, Bobby or Urbie had to touch this piece of paper to sign it, so they are beautiful artifacts or relics or what you will.

I’ve been running out of wall space for some time now (and it would be disrespectful as well as damp to start hanging photographs in the bathroom) so the field is clear for you to visually admire and place bids, even though I might be tempted in two days and twenty-something hours.

I thought you might like some jazz-party-jazz, so here is the priceless 1977 color film (102 minutes) of the Dick Gibson party, “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party,” featuring everyone:

May your happiness increase!

THE EBULLIENT MISTER DROOTIN and FRIENDS: WILD BILL DAVISON, BILL ALLRED, CHUCK HEDGES, BOB PILLSBURY, JACK LESBERG, CAROL LEIGH, BUZZY DROOTIN (Malmö, Sweden, 1984).

Buzzy Drootin was a superb jazz drummer, hardly remembered today except by the few who know their history and listen deeply.  He became a jazz musician in an era when musicians were proud of being instantly recognizable, and Buzzy was all that: hear four bars of him, in solo or ensemble, and one could tell it wasn’t George (Wettling) or Cliff (Leeman) or Gus (Johnson) or a dozen others.  His beat was steady; he wasn’t afraid to propel the band through his singular combination of time-keeping on the cymbal (ride or with rivets), snare-drum accents, and bass-drum explosions.  I never saw him play a hi-hat or brushes: he was content with his own style, which would fit with any kind of enthusiastic band.  (I can easily imagine him playing behind Dizzy as he played behind Bechet.)  You knew he was there, and his presence was both reassuring and exultant.  And he reminds me greatly of Sidney Catlett in the way his accents become a thrilling series of “Hooray!”s behind a soloist or in a rideout.

Although he was typecast as a traditional jazz musician, his work paralleled the orchestral concept of the younger “modern” musicians — a kind of oceanic commentary — and although the story may be apocryphal, I have read somewhere that Lester Young said Buzzy was his favorite drummer.  And the irascible Ruby Braff used Buzzy as often as he could.

I presume he got his nickname for the throaty roar he emitted when soloing or during exciting ensemble passages.  He was clearly having the time of his life; he didn’t coast or look bored.  (I saw him often in 1972, and because I was shy, and a criminal with a cassette recorder, I never approached him to thank him, which I regret.)

Once, jazz musicians were once accepted as part of the larger fabric of the entertainment industry; Buzzy was well-known in Boston and New York, so that when he died in 2000, the New York Times ran a substantial obituary:

Buzzy Drootin, 80, Leading Jazz Drummer (May 24, 2000)

Mr. Drootin’s family left Russia for the United States when he was 5, settling in Boston. His father was a clarinetist, and two of his brothers were also musicians. He began playing the drums as a teenager, earning money in a local bar, and by 1940 he was touring with the Jess Stacy All-Stars, a band that included Buck Clayton and Lee Wiley.  {Editor’s note: That date is incorrect: it would have been later in that decade; Buzzy’s first audibly documented appearances were with the Max Kaminsky – Pee Wee Russell – Brad Gowans – Teddy Roy – John Field band that played the Copley Terrace in 1945.}

From 1947 to 1951 he was the house drummer at Eddie Condon’s in New York. He also worked in clubs in Chicago and Boston, playing with musicians like Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland and Doc Cheatham. He made recordings in the 1950’s and 60’s with Tommy Dorsey, Bobby Hackett and the Dukes of Dixieland and played with the Dixieland All-Stars, the Jazz Giants and the Newport All-Stars, among other groups, while touring extensively in the United States and Europe.

Mr. Drootin returned to Boston in 1973 and formed the Drootin Brothers Jazz Band, with his brother Al, who survives him. In the 1980’s he appeared at the Los Angeles Classic Jazz Festival, backing up musicians like Wild Bill Davison and Chuck Hedges. 

In addition to his brother Al, he is survived by a daughter, Natasha; two sons, Peter and Tony; and two other brothers, Louie and Max. 

Photo by Ruth Williams.

But Buzzy deserves more than a reprinted obituary, because he was often the most lively, vibrating member of the band.  A friend passed on to me — and I can share with you — a seventy-five minute videotape of Buzzy and friends doing what they did regularly and splendidly for forty years and more.  The friends are, in most cases, much better known that Buzzy, but his majestic propulsion is delightfully in evidence in every phrase — as is his grinning face and mobile body. 
This session features not only Buzzy, but Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Chuck Hedges, clarinet; Bob Pillsbury, piano; Jack Lesberg, then an unidentified string bassist; Carol Leigh, vocal.
The songs are YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME / SLEEP / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART (featuring Bill Allred and Buzzy) / EXACTLY LIKE YOU (Carol Leigh) / I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE (Leigh) / UNDECIDED (Leigh and Wild Bill) / AVALON (Buzzy) // For the second set, the unidentified bassist replaces Lesberg: LADY BE GOOD / IF I HAD YOU / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (Buzzy) //. 
Thanks to my dear friend and great jazz drummer Bernard Flegar, I now know that this took place in Malmö, Sweden, in 1984, in a large hall — Wild Bill remarks on it — where food and presumably drink are being served to a quiet audience.  Both the camerawork and the sound are reasonably professional, so it’s clearly not an audience effort. 
All that aside, listen to and watch Buzzy as he holds not only the band, but the music, on his shoulders, grinning away.

Thanks to Tony Drootin for being enthusiastic about this posting, and thank you, Buzzy and friends, for the wonderfully memorable noises.

May your happiness increase!

NEW OLD MUSIC FROM “LITTLE BOBBY HACKETT” and HIS FRIENDS: JACK GARDNER, EDDIE CONDON, LOU McGARITY, PEANUTS HUCKO, JOHNNY VARRO, JACK LESBERG, BUZZY DROOTIN (1945, 1964)

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!

YOU WON’T BELIEVE YOUR EARS: “DIXIELAND VS. BE-BOP,” MAY 23, 1948, WASHINGTON, D.C.

Consider this.

Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Willis Conover, late Forties: photograph by Norm Robbins. Photograph courtesy University of North Texas Music Library, Willis Conover Collection.

and this:

Once upon a time, what we like to call “jazz” was divided into warring factions.  Divided, that is, by journalists.  Musicians didn’t care for the names or care about them; they liked to play and sing with people whose artistry made them feel good.  And gigs were gigs, which is still true.  So if you were, let us say, Buck Clayton, and you could work with Buddy Tate playing swing standards and blues, or rhythm and blues, that was fine, but playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE with Tony Parenti was just as good, as was playing NOW’S THE TIME with Charlie Parker.

But this was not exciting journalism.  So dear friends Jimmy McPartland and Dizzy Gillespie were asked to pose for a photograph as if they were enemies, and people like Hughes Panassie, Leonard Feather, Rudi Blesh, and Barry Ulanov fought the specious fight in print.  Even some musicians caught the fever and feuded in public, but perhaps that was jealousy about attention and money rather than musical taste.

One positive effect was that musical “battles” drew crowds, which musicians and promoters both liked.

Since every moment of Charlie Parker’s life seems to have been documented (the same for Bix Beiderbecke, by the way) we know that he played a concert in Washington, D.C.’s Washington [or Music?] Hall on May 23, 1948; that the masters of ceremonies were Willis Conover and Jackson Lowe, and that the collective personnel was Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker, Wild Bill Davison, Joe Sullivan, Sir Charles Thompson, George Wettling, Tony Parenti, Earl Swope, Benny Morton, Charlie Walp, Sid Weiss, Ben Lary, Mert Oliver, Sam Krupit, Joe Theimer, Arthur Phipps.  We know that the concert began at 2:30 PM, and — best of all — that private acetate recordings exist.  A portion of the concert, heavily weighted towards “modernism,” appeared on the CD above, on Uptown Records, and copies of that disc are still available on eBay and elsewhere.

Details from Peter Losin’s lovely detailed Charlie Parker site  here and here.

But for those of us who hadn’t bought the Uptown disc, there it might remain.  However, through the kindness and diligence of Maristella Feustle of the University of North Texas Digital Library, excavating recordings in the Willis Conover collection, we now have twenty-seven minutes of music — some of it unheard except by those who were at the concert.  There’s the closing C JAM BLUES / a partial RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, talk, and a partial SQUEEZE ME / S’WONDERFUL / TINY’S BLUES / TINY’S BLUES (continued).  Yes, we have no Charlie Parker here . . . but a great deal of lively fine music.  (Do I hear Eddie Condon’s voice in this or do I dream?).

Here’s  the link to hear the music.

But wait!  There’s more.  My dear friend Sonny McGown sent me a photograph I’d never seen before, from a similar concert of the same vintage, at the National Press Club, with this description: “Your email this morning reminded me of a photo that belonged to my father. He is in the picture with his head visible just above the bell of the trombonist on the far left. Some of the musicians’ identities are obvious such as Jimmy Archey, Wild Bill Davison, Ben Webster, and George Wettling. The rest are unknown to me. I wonder if the trumpet at the microphone is Frankie Newton? The clarinetist looks a bit like Albert Nicholas. It is quite possible that some of the fellows are locals.”  [Note: in an earlier version of this post, I had assumed that the photograph and the concert tape were connected: they aren’t.  Enthusiasm over accuracy.]

My eyes and ears were ringing while I stared at this gathering.  I couldn’t identify the others in the photograph, but did not think the tall trumpeter in the middle was Newton.  (And Sonny’s father, Mac, was a spectator, not a player.)  Sonny then found two more photographs from the concert that we hear the music — their source being Maggie Condon, which would place Eddie there, logically, as well.

Tony Parenti, George Wettling, Wild Bill Davison, either Sid Weiss or Jack Lesberg, Bennie (the spelling he preferred) Morton:

Joe Sullivan, happy as a human can be:

This photograph popped up online, labeled “Washington Press Club,” but I wonder if it is from the same occasion.  Even if it isn’t, it’s always a pleasure to portray these sometimes-ignored majesties:

Now, might I suggest two things.  One, that JAZZ LIVES readers go back and listen to this almost half-hour of joys here — giving thanks to the University of North Texas Digital Library at the same time —  for instance, the five-hour interview Louis gave to Conover on July 13, 1956, which starts here, and ten years later, something astonishing, Louis playing COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN and singing “This is the Voice of America,” the former of which I would like as a ringtone: here.

Still hungry for sounds?  A January 31, 1956, interview with Eddie Condon here; a brief 1946 interview with Duke Ellington where he seems to say nothing about the death of Tricky Sam Nanton — the music section begins with Ellington’s BLUE ABANDON, which contains a stunning solo by Oscar Pettiford, which is then followed by lovely records by Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and Kenton: here.

There are many more gems in the University of North Texas Music Library, which seems better than any ancient debate about the merits of different kinds of jazz.  There is music to listen to and photographs to stare at . . . and gratitude to express, nor only to the musicians and Mr. Conover, but to Ms. Feustle and Mr. McGown.  Those who keep the archives tidy and share their gifts are our lasting friends.

May your happiness increase!

WONDERFULNESS, ENACTED

No, not the Gershwins’ S’WONDERFUL, but the Stuff Smith – Mitchell Parish IT’S WONDERFUL, a sweet ballad rather than a witty romp.  I stumbled on to the first version below by Alice Babs, whom I’d known for her work before and after Ellington, but this performance just embodies the title: the quality of something being so delightful that one trembles with awe.  And wonder.

Here she is — a mature singer, with understated tenderness that comes right through.  She’s accompanied by Charlie Norman, piano; Jan Adefelt, string bass; Lasse Persson, drums: recorded in Stockholm, autumn 1998:

Here’s the composer, with Carl Perkins, Curtis Counce, Frank Butler, in January 1957:

Martha Tilton with Benny Goodman in a live broadcast from the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania, December 22, 1937:

and one of my favorite recordings ever, JAZZ ULTIMATE, pairing Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden . . . with Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Billy Bauer, Jack Lesberg, Buzzy Drootin, from September 1957:

And Mister Strong, May 18, 1938, whom no one dares follow.  Talk about WONDERFUL:

May your happiness increase!

FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: HOLIDAY MUSIC BY BERLIN, READE, and CONDON

Eddie Condon and his friends made hot music lyrical and the reverse, so what they played and sang always makes me glad.  And Eddie loved to improvise on the best popular songs of the time, not just a dozen “jazz classics.”

I think most people associate EASTER PARADE with the film starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but the song was from the 1933 show AS THOUSANDS CHEER — as the sheet music indicates.  Here is a very sweet contemporaneous version by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, with Joe very reserved. In addition to a nice orchestral sound, fine lively piano (Schutt?) and guitar (McDonough,Victor, or Kress?) — both unidentified in Lord and Rust — there is a gorgeous vocal by Dolores Reade, who gave up her singing career to marry Bob Hope.  Nothing against the comedian, but that was a real loss to everyone else. (I found a copy of this 78 in a California thrift store, so it might have enjoyed some popularity.)

Here are several “Americondon” improvisations for this holiday, taken from the 1944-45 broadcasts of segments of Eddie’s Town Hall Concerts.  Some of these videos end with the introduction to another song, but you can — I believe — find much more from these concerts on YouTube, almost always mysteriously labeled and presented.  (Performances featuring Hot Lips Page are presented on a channel apparently devoted to Willie “the Lion” Smith, for reasons beyond me — whether ignorance or deceit or both, I can’t say.  But if you know the name of a song performed at a Condon concert, you have a good change of uncovering it there.)

Those who listen attentively to these performances will find variations, both bold and subtle, in the four versions that follow — tempo, solo improvisations, ensemble sound.

Here’s that Berlin song again, featuring Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Jess Stacy, Sid Weiss, Gene Krupa:

and featuring Max Kaminsky, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Bob Casey, Eddie, Joe Grauso, at a slower tempo, with wonderful announcements at the end.

and featuring Max, Miff, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and happily, a much more audible Eddie — doing an audition for a Chesterfield (cigarette) radio program:

and from the very end of the broadcast series (the network wanted Eddie to bring in a comedian and he refused), here are Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee, Ernie, Gene Schroeder, Sid Weiss, and my hero, Sidney Catlett, whose accompaniment is a lesson in itself, and whose closing break is a marvel:

You’ll hear someone (maybe announcer Fred Robbins?) shout “WOW!” at the end of the first version: I agree.  Happy Easter in music to you all.

May your happiness increase!

“AND UNCLE TOM COBLEY (or COBLEIGH) AND ALL”

I just received this now out-of-print “Chronogical” Classics disc.

With all respect to Feather, journalist-publicist, promoter, pianist, composer, arranger of record sessions, I bought this rare item for the company he kept:

From left: Robert Goffin, Benny Carter, Louis, Feather, 1942

For me, the appeal of this now-rare disc in in sessions featuring Bobby Hackett, Leo Watson, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Ray Biondi, Benny Carter, Billy Kyle, Hayes Alvis, Artie Shapiro, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford, Remo Palmieri, Tiny Grimes, Jack Lesberg, Morey Feld, and two sessions featuring swinging British players.  I knew far less about trumpeter / singer Dave Wilkins, reedmen Andy McDevitt and Bertie King, pianist Will Solomon, guitarist Alan Ferguson, string bassist Len Harrison, or drummer Hymie Schneider.

These musicians (with Feather on the final two selections) were presented as LEONARD FEATHER AND YE OLDE ENGLISH SWYNGE BAND, and they recorded for Decca in London on September 12, 1938.

Here’s the personnel for the disc:

Listening in sequence, I discovered this side, which is now an instant favorite:

I hadn’t known this traditional English folksong, obviously updated, but the parade of names is very funny and definitely 1938 hip. I’m sorry the take is so short, because the band has a good time with the simplest material. A similar band had backed Fats Waller on recordings in April.  Was the idea of jamming on traditional folk material was modeled on Maxine Sullivan’s 1937 hits LOCH LOMOND and ANNIE LAURIE, perhaps on Ella Logan’s performances of folk songs swung, or a way for a recording company to avoid paying composer royalties.  Or both.

I searched for more information about WIDDICOMBE FAIR and found this wonderful animated film, hilarious and deft both:

Here are the complete lyrics — an oral narrative too long to reprint here, the moral being caution about lending important objects / animals / possessions. But a secondary moral is that anything can swing, in the right hands.

May your happiness increase!

THE CONDON-GABLER MUSICAL EFFECT, 1947

Musicians’ relations to their material — whether they choose it or someone else does — are complex.

For some, “the material is immaterial,” which means “I will have a good time playing or singing whatever song is placed in front of me, and I will make it my own.”  In this category, I think of Louis, Lips Page, Fats Waller, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, and many others.  Other musicians like the comfort of the familiar: I think of Jack Teagarden, whose many versions of BASIN STREET BLUES are often full of small delightful surprises.  Yet the familiar can be a trap, encouraging some musicians to “phone it in” or “go through the motions.”

The Blessed Eddie Condon exists by himself in those categories.  Because so much of his musical life was  spent outside of the recording studio, on bandstands and in concert halls, there might appear to be a sameness in his discography, with multiple versions of IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE — but that “song” was simply a beautiful structure within which his brilliant strolling players could express themselves to the utmost.  Eddie cared very deeply for and about good songs, material that hadn’t been done to death.  That is why (without looking at the discography) you will find few versions of INDIANA, SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, and none of the SAINTS.  And when he was working with the Blessed Milton Gabler — either for Commodore or Decca or World Transcriptions — the two men shared a love of melodic material.  I don’t know who led the way, but I suspect that Eddie, who remembered songs, might have suggested to Milt a particular favorite of his childhood or the early Twenties: thus, DANCING FOOL; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; IDA; OH, KATHARINA, and this lovely oddity:

TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND

How did this song come to be?  It’s not explicitly a war song — the premise is simply that a pretty Dutch girl is waiting for the singer, and implicitly in the premise is that the singer will be kissed seriously when he shows up.  Were the fellows in the Brill Building making jokes about “two lips” when someone said, “Hey, let’s write a Dutch song!”  Was the “beside me / Zuider Zee” rhyme irresistible?  But it has a forward-looking melody for 1915, thanks to Whiting (I can hear the Wolverines playing this, in my mind) and the lyrics are of their time but not ponderously so.

Here is a contemporary version — not the most famous one by Henry Burr, but a good recording, one I would happily play for a listener insistent that music began with electrical recording or even later:

When Eddie and Milt decided to record this song for Decca, thirty-two years later, it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.  It wasn’t LADY BE  GOOD or RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, and one hears an arrangement that (I think) was done by Bobby Hackett, and done prior to the date.  Who could go wrong with Jack Teagarden singing?

The personnel for this August 5, 1947 session is Bobby Hackett, cornet, probably arrangements; Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Ernie Caceres, alto and baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; George Wettling, drums:

Although that is a very short recording, it is full of pleasures: Jack’s trombone lazily ornamenting the melody over the four-horn statement of the theme; Bushkin, immediately identifiable, modulating for Jack’s vocal, with a Wettling accent to encourage everyone; Jack’s gorgeous voice — slightly nasal, Bing meets Louis in Texas, perhaps, streamlined but deeply earnest (with a different horn background — scored obbligati for four horns with Bushkin brightly commenting — beneath him); a Hucko half-chorus, sounding sweetly as if Bud were in the studio; Jack taking the last sixteen bars, vocally, with a scored phrase to finish it all out.  The only thing “wrong” with that record is that it could have had one more chorus and still been a perfectly respectable 10″ 78.

What impresses me at this distance of nearly fifty years is how musical it all is. It doesn’t need to parade its “improvisatory” credentials: “We’re hot jazzmen and singers, you know.”  The Condon-Gabler world didn’t always want to read from scores, but the musicians were perfectly capable of doing so, and the scored passages are expertly played.  I also imagine someone tuning in the radio — AM, of course, in 1947 — hearing this new Decca waxing, a new platter, and thinking, “That’s a great record!”  Which it was and is.

Why am I suddenly delving in to such obscurities?  Well, no record that has Eddie Condon on it is unworthy; the same goes for the rest of the personnel, especially Mister Teagarden . . . and I have been listening to these overlooked Decca sessions — in glowing sound, with many unissued alternates — from the new Mosaic Eddie Condon / Bud Freeman set, which I reviewed here. Ecstatically.

CONDON MOSAIC

I know this Mosaic set might get overshadowed by the latest glorious gift, the Lester Young effusion, and the Condon / Freeman one is already OLD, having come out in mid-2015, but when it’s sold out, don’t ring my buzzer and ask me to burn you copies of discs seven and eight.  You’ve been warned.

May your happiness increase!

ONCE RARE, NOW HERE: LOU McGARITY and FRIENDS, 1955

 LOU McGARITY ArgoTrombonist and very occasional violinist and singer Lou McGarity, who died in 1971, was both reliable and inspiring.  I think I first heard him on recordings with Eddie Condon, with Lawson-Haggart, and with a wild 1941 Goodman band that included Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and Sidney Catlett, who gave McGarity the most extravagant backing.  Lou was a delightful presence, someone who could electrify a performance with a shouting yet controlled eight bars.  I also gather from his discography that he was an expert section player and reader, for many of his sessions have him surrounded by other trombonists.  But Lou very rarely got to lead a session on his own aside from two late-Fifties ones.
He traveled in very fast company, though, as in this gathering at the Ertegun party, held at the Turkish Embassy in 1940.  (Photo by William P. Gottlieb):
LOU McGARITY Turkish Embassy 1940
Let us have a long pause to imagine what that band sounded like, and to lament that it wasn’t recorded.
But onwards to 1955.  I imagine that someone at M-G-M, not the most jazzy of labels, decided that it would be a good idea to have some “Dixieland” to compete with the product that other labels were making money on.  I don’t know who arranged this session (Leroy Holmes? Hal Mooney?) but McGarity was an unusual choice: a thorough professional with fifteen years’ experience, however with no name recognition as a leader.  Was he chosen as nominal leader because he wasn’t under contract to any other label or leader?  And, to make the session more interesting, the four titles are all “originals,” suggesting that M-G-M wanted to publish the compositions themselves or, at the very least, pay no royalties for (let us say) MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  I’d guess that the compositions and arrangements were by the very talented Bill Stegmeyer.
LOU McGARITY EP
Most of the personnel here is connected, on one hand, to Eddie Condon sessions of the Fifties, on the other to the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band. There’s Lou, Yank Lawson, both Peanuts Hucko and Bill Stegmeyer on reeds, Gene Schroeder, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  And here’s the music.  I say gently that it is more professional than explosive, but I delight in hearing it, and hope you will too.
MOBILE MAMA:

NEW ORLEANS NIGHTMARE:

BANDANNA:

BIRMINGHAM SHUFFLE (not SUFFLE as labeled here):

A mystery solved, with pleasing results.

May your happiness increase!

“HOTTER THAN THAT”! (on January 15 – 16, 2016)

It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January.  But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter.  I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Here’s the Facebook event page.  And the Festival’s website.

Details?  How about a schedule of artists and times.  (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)

FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)

7:20 – Bumper Jacksons

8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner

10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson

11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders

SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)

7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years

8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet

10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band

with special guest Oran Etkin

11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers

with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn

That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber.  And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing.  New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.

If you need more evidence, here are videos of the artists above.

Here‘s the way to buy tickets.  It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.

The place?  The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.

And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase!

IF YOU SLOW DOWN, THE PLEASURE LASTS LONGER

slow_signs

I think my title can be applied many ways, but right now we are talking about music.  One of my particular obsessions — and musicians I’ve talked to about this don’t always agree with me — is that tempos gradually increase, and most bands play music far too fast.  I hear I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME as a ballad or a rhythm ballad; LOUISIANA as a sultry drag; MEAN TO ME as a lament rather than a romp.  (In this, I have noble precedent: think of Louis majestically proceeding through THAT’S FOR ME.  And I heard Ruby Braff play I GOT RHYTHM at ballad tempo with unforgettable results.)

Perhaps because of Henry “Red” Allen, many bands play ROSETTA (officially by Earl Hines but the real story is that it was written by Henri Woode) as an uptempo tune.  But there are two delightful exceptions to this.  One took place during a 1971 concert in upstate New York — led by Eddie Condon, a superb band featuring Bernie Privin, Lou McGarity, Kenny Davern, Dill Jones, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  (It’s been issued on Arbors Records under Davern’s name, as A Night With Eddie Condon, so you can hear it yourself.)  The band leaps in to the first tune, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, and does it with speed and energy.  Condon, I think, calls ROSETTA to follow, and Dill Jones, used to playing the song as an uptempo number, starts it off quickly — and Condon stops him, correcting the tempo with a “boom . . . . boom” to a slow, groovy sway. Instructive indeed.

The other example I can offer is more readily accessible, and it started with everyone in a delicious groove from the first notes.  I was there to witness, delight, and record it — on November 28, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  The creators are Ray Skjelbred, piano (who set this fine tempo), Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

And you might want to know that there is going to be a 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, Thanksgiving weekend, November 25-29, 2015. I know Thanksgiving seems so far away, but time rushes on.

Find out more here and here. I know that Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Carl Sonny Leyland, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Miss Ida Blue, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Jonathan Stout, Bob Schulz, Chloe Feoranzo, and many others will be making music there.

May your happiness increase!

DICKENSON, BALLIETT, AND COOL

An excerpt from Whitney Balliett’s memorial for Vic Dickenson:

Dickenson . . . seemed almost ageless.  As the years went by, he never looked any older, and his playing never diminished. Keeping his cool was essential to him–it was a matter of pride–and perhaps that insulated him. The only thing that visibly gave out was his feet, and their failure left him in his last decade with a slow, leaning-over gait. He had a tall, narrow frame and a tall, narrow head. His arms and hand and legs were long and thin. The expression in his eyes flickered between humor and hurt, and his smile went to one side. He was a laconic man who said he had become a musician because “I know I wouldn’t have been a good doctor, and I wouldn’t have been a good cook. I know I wouldn’t have been a good janitor, and I don’t have the patience to be a good teacher. I’d slap them on the finger all the time, and the last thing I ever want to do is mess up my cool.”  (“Vic,” 657-8; Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz).

I read that piece when it first appeared in The New Yorker, and it has stayed with me for almost thirty years.  Both Vic and Whitney remain heroes — their work always sounds new but has the comfort of an unexpected hug from an old friend, met by surprise.  Balliett’s quiet observant power is still my model.

But I am still amazed that Vic could tell an admiring listener that he became what he was because he was so unqualified to do other things. Whether it was a true self-awareness of limitations or an excessive modesty, I don’t know.  But he created singular art for five decades without ever shouting his name in our ears.

I also think Vic’s final lines stay with me because anyone’s cool — that delicate serene balance we strive for — is so fragile, so easily damaged.  Small slights, casual acts, emotions coming upon us unaware inevitably “mess up our cool.”

Vic didn’t like to speak at length.  He didn’t philosophize, but he left us thousands of heartfelt texts to consider.  I refer to Pema Chodron at intervals; I might just as well start the day with a Dickenson solo to learn something about how to proceed through life.

Here he is, playing MANHATTAN — with Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman — on Eddie’s Condon’s tour of Japan in 1964 (other heroes on this voyage were Buck Clayton, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, and Jimmy Rushing):

Vic’s version of serenity and balance seems warm and welcoming, as if he is saying, “Isn’t this melody beautiful?  I want to shine my sound through the notes so that you will never forget them.”

I hope that no one messes up your cool — or, if it happens, you can think of Vic and set things right.

May your happiness increase!

CLIFF LEEMAN’S SOUND LIVES ON

Drummer Cliff Leeman had a completely personal and identifiable sound, a seriously exuberant approach to the music.  You can’t miss him, and it’s not because of volume.

He’s audible from the late Thirties on in the bands of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet, then most notably in Eddie Condon’s bands, later with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Bob Crosby reunions, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood, and Soprano Summit.  Cliff died in 1986, but his slashing attack and nearly violent exuberance are in my ears as I write this . . . including his trademark, the tiny splash cymbal he used as an auditory exclamation point.  He spoke briefly about his approach in this interview for MODERN DRUMMER magazine.

In case Cliff is someone new to you, here he is on a 1975 television program with Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland, and Major Holley, elevating CHINA BOY:

In spring 2008, Kevin Dorn and I paid a call on Irene (Renee) Leeman, his widow, then living comfortably in New Jersey.  I have very fond memories of that afternoon, hearing stories and laughing.  Until recently, I thought that those memories were all I had.  But a recent stint of domestic archaeology uncovered the small notebook in which I had written down what Mrs. Leeman told us.  Here are some of her comments and asides, shared with you with affection and reverence (and with her permission).

But first: Cliff on film in 1952 with Eddie Condon . . . the epitome of this driving music.  Also heard and seen, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey:

Some words from Mrs. Leeman to go with all those good sounds:

I first met Clifford at Nick’s.  I didn’t go there by myself, but because of a friend who had a crush on Pee Wee Erwin.

Roger Kellaway always asked for Clifford.

He wore Capezios on the job.

He had a colorful vocabulary and didn’t repeat himself.  He thought Bing Crosby was the best, but Clifford was always very definite in his opinions.

He came from a Danish-Scandinavian family where the men didn’t hug one another.

Clifford once asked Joe Venuti, “How do you want me to play behind you?” and Venuti said, “Play as if I’m five brass.”

He worked on THE HIT PARADE with Raymond Scott, who timed everything with a stopwatch, “The hardest job I ever had.”

Clifford was the drummer on Bill Haley and the Comets’ Decca recording of ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, and when the session ended, he said, “I think I just killed my career.”

Sidney Catlett was Clifford’s idol.  Jo Jones, Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and Clifford loved each other.  They all hung out at Hurley’s Bar, Jim and Andy’s, and Charlie’s Tavern.

Clifford played piano — not jazz, but ROCK OF AGES and MOTHER MACHREE, as well as xylophone.  And he could read music.  He was always surprised that other musicians couldn’t, and would come home after a gig and say, “Do you know _____?  He can’t read!”

Clifford was left-handed but he played with a drum kit set up for right-handed drummers.

He thought the drummer was supposed to keep the time and drive the band and pull everything together.  Clifford listened. He was fascinated with rock drummers he saw on television, and would tell me how bad they were.

“Cliff is the best timekeeper,” Billy Butterfield said.  Billy was so cute.

He loved his cymbals.

He was hard on himself, and on other people, but he loved working with Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart.  They had a good time.  They respected each other. They thought that music should be fun. Yank and Bob used to rehearse the band in Lou Stein’s basement in Bayside, New York.

Kenny Davern!  Kenny was a challenge to the world and a thinker. He was an angry young man who became an angry old man.  He and Clifford were a comedy team wherever they went.

Clifford didn’t embrace the world, and he could be abrasive if people bothered him.

Clifford played with Bob Crosby and Louis Armstrong on one of those Timex television jazz shows.  He was so proud of working with Louis you couldn’t stand it.

I have always liked musicians as a group, and never had a 9 to 5 life. Because of Clifford, I got to meet Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa.  In those days, rhythm sections stuck together, so I knew a lot of bass players and their wives: Milt Hinton, Major Holley, George Duvivier, Jack Lesberg.  I was lucky to have known such things and such people.  How fortunate I was!

We are all fortunate to have lived in Clifford Leeman’s century, and his music lives on.  And I thank Mrs. Leeman for her enthusiastic loving candor.

May your happiness increase!

“DECIDED,” I WOULD CALL THIS: JONATHAN STOUT, CASEY MacGILL, CHRIS DAWSON, JIM ZEIGLER, ALBERT ALVA, WALLY HERSOM, JOSH COLLAZO in SEATTLE (January 2013)

UNDECIDED — by Charlie Shavers — evokes a certain ambivalence.  “What do you want to call this tune, Charlie?” “UNDECIDED” comes back in a telegram — or so the story goes.  I remember Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman playing it in such a manner that you knew there was no dithering at all.

Here’s a more current example: Jonathan Stout and the Campus Five, with guest Casey MacGill on guitar and scat vocal; Jim Ziegler on trumpet; Albert Alva on tenor saxophone; Chris Dawson on piano; Wally Hersom on string bass; Josh Collazo on drums; Jonathan himself on guitars.  It was recorded just a few days ago — January 4, 2013, at Rusty’s Rhythm Club – a weekly swing dance at an Elks Lodge in Playa del Rey, California.  Rusty’s also has live music on the first Fiday of the month: details here.

I like music that knows its own mind.  Even though the video is somewhat informal, it’s a gift to have it.  To see more of Jonathan’s bands, you need only visit here.

May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.

EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW (Nov. 16, 1948) CONCLUDED: JOHNNY MERCER, MARY LOU WILLIAMS, PEE WEE RUSSELL, BRAD GOWANS, and MORE

My goodness, there’s more!  That’s the closing performances of the Nov. 16, 1948 Eddie Condon Floor Show — audio only — with Wild Bill Davison, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Lou Williams, Dick Cary, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, Johnny Mercer, with commentary by Lord Buckley.

On DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS, what might have seemed a novelty number suddenly opens up because of Mercer’s absolutely relaxed singing (with a touch of the giggles at one point) and lovely work from Brad, Pee Wee, and the rhythm section.

The SLOW BLUES keeps Johnny at the mike (with Wild Bill muttering behind him) — some witty lyrics which lead to that marvel, a Pee Wee stop-time blues performance (the video here is from the 197 THE SOUND OF JAZZ, by the way); a beautiful Wettling drum break takes it up and out we go, with Lord Buckley telling us all about the show next week, with Louis, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, Sidney Catlett, and Velma Middleton.

As an aside, if you follow Charles Ellsworth Russell’s fortunes and career, wasn’t he apparently disintegrating in 1948, and with a great enmity towards Eddie Condon?  The music wouldn’t prove either of those contentions: he sounds positively elevated and not at all unhappy with the surroundings.  Perhaps history after the fact isn’t as substantial as the evidence.  And here’s another mystery: the cornetist who’s playing as the program is fading out is clearly Davison.  But the first horn soloist after Wettling’s break doesn’t sound like Bill, or Henry “Red” Allen for that matter.  I wonder, I wonder — will the experts in the audience listen in and tell me that I am wrong for thinking it to be my hero, the Atlas of the trumpet, HOT LIPS PAGE?  It wouldn’t be the first or last time Lips showed up at the Floor Show.

I don’t know if Channel 11 — WPIX-TV in New York City — even exists, but I’d guess that their programming in 2012 is not quite as surprising as this.  Thanks once again to the energetic Franz Hoffmann for opening the cornucopia . . . with more to come!

This one’s for Maggie, Romy, and Phyllis and Liza as well.

“ONE BLASTED SURPRISE AFTER ANOTHER”: THE EDDIE CONDON FLOOR SHOW (Nov. 16, 1948)

The title comes from surrealist-hipster-comedian Lord Buckley, who was master of ceremonies for this half hour of startling juxtapositions.  Thanks to magician Franz Hoffmann, we have the soundtrack and some non-synchronized film footage from the November 16, 1948 Eddie Condon Floor Show.*

I offer these videos not only as tribute to the individual artists, but as a kind of swinging rebuttal.  In the last thirty or so years, conventional jazz history has relegated Eddie Condon to, at best, a condescending footnote. “Yes, he organized early interracial recording sessions, but after that his music was no longer important.”  This is what the late Richard Ellmann called the “friend-of” syndrome: that Eddie is important only in his relations to Major Jazz Players Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller.  I beg to differ.  Evaluating creation by skin color has never been a good idea, and in this case it ignores a great deal of evidence.   

Eddie’s Floor Show reminds us, once again, how expansive Condon’s musical vision was.  Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, and George Wettling are strongly present — but so is Johnny Mercer.  And Sidney Bechet, Henry “Red” Allen, Mary Lou Williams, Teddy Hale, Thelma Carpenter,  Pearl Primus, and Lord Buckley having a fine time satirizing both himself and the proceedings (with a quite accurate Louis Armstrong impersonation).  This is not simply a formulaic group of musicians gathered to read through MUSKRAT RAMBLE once again.  I would have Mr. Condon celebrated as a man who embodied jazz — not simply a pale shadow of its former glories.  Some faithful JAZZ LIVES readers may have noted my attempt to revise history so that everyone appreciates Eddie Condon: I won’t give up until everyone does. 

But music speaks louder than . . . .

So here, thanks to Franz, is the music from November 16, 1948.  More important than Milton Berle, boxing, or wrestling.  In his generous desire to give us a true multi-media experience, Franz has also offered still photos and video clips of the relevant artists: the matchup isn’t always perfect, but his efforts are a gift to us all. 

I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL into HAPPY BIRTHDAY — vocal by Johnny Mercer, who was quite a singer:

CARAVAN — a feature for Mary Lou Williams:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS — featuring Sidney Bechet and the rhythm section:

CONGO DRUMS — perhaps hard to visualize Pearl Primus capering around the small screen, but she loved to dance to jazz accompaniment (there’s a picture of her at Gjon Mili’s 1943 jam session, where she is dancing, barefoot, to a little band playing HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . the little band is made up of Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Edmond Hall, Johnny Williams, and Sidney Catlett — a pretty fine pickup group!):

For me, what follows is the prize of the session — a new song for Henry “Red” Allen to sing, the rather tough-minded love ballad (after a fashion), I TOLD YA I LOVE YOU, NOW GET OUT (a song composed by the Soft Winds — John Frigo, Lou Carter, and Herb Ellis):

I don’t know whether having dancers on the show was Eddie’s idea or not, but someone understood that television was a visual medium — and while a band could play for an hour on radio, viewers needed other kinds of stimulation to keep their attention: hence a BLUES played as background for the brilliant tap-dancing of Teddy Hale:

A tribute to Louis by Wild Bill Davison, I’M CONFESSIN’:

And a neat combination of Johnny Mercer (whose lyrics we hear) and Thelma Carpenter on COME RAIN OR COME SHINE:

What a bonanza — thanks to Eddie, his friends, and to Franz Hoffmann.

*I believe the yearning for the kinescopes of this television show will forever be unsatisfied: the details are not appropriate here, but the primary kinescopes no longer exist.  One may, of course, imagine a jazz fan with a sound film camera aiming it at the television screen — but the combination of happy events that would have made this possible in 1948 is frankly unlikely.  Better to treasure what we have!

YOUR OPINION, PLEASE.

I just posted this YouTube clip from the March of Time documentary about the making of records, “It’s In The Groove,” because it features an Eddie Condon band in 1949.  The personnel seen on screen is Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano, Eddie, guitar; presumably Jack Lesberg, bass (well out of camera range) and Buddy Rich, drums. 

Here it is again:

Why am I bringing this up again, you might ask?  Well, there’s the simple pleasure of viewing it again, of reminding people of EDDIE CONDON and what beauty he created whenever he got his friends together.

But there’s something else.  I knew that Sidney Catlett was on the record session for which this was presumably a rehearsal, although the time sequence is a bit puzzling to me. 

Now there’s another puzzle, posed by the great drummer / listener / jazz scholar Hal Smith — and I quote:

To the best of my knowledge, that clip of Condon & Co. is lip-synched, and it’s BIG SID on the soundtrack.  I read an article–I think in Down Beat–mentioning that Sid played the soundtrack, but was too ill to make the filming.  Anyway, I remember seeing/hearing that clip several years ago and thinking “That doesn’t sound anything like Buddy Rich.”  The news item about Sid confirmed my suspicions!

I invite JAZZ LIVES readers to watch the clip again for evidence of the musicians miming their playing to a pre-recorded soundtrack, and then (if they will indulge me in this jazz-mystery-solving), to listen, eyes closed.  It might be Sidney, although it sounds simpler than he often chose to be . . . another bit of evidence that suggests he was ailing, although recordings with Muggsy Spanier in 1950 and a WMEX broadcast from that same year have him much more recognizable. 

Your thoughts?

“IT’S IN THE GROOVE,” or FORTY-FIVE SECONDS WITH EDDIE CONDON (1949)

If you were to take all the video footage of Eddie Condon and his bands before the early 1960s, it wouldn’t add up to an hour, and that is sad.  But this clip from a 1949 March of Time short just came up on YouTube thanks to “pappyredux,” and although I’ve seen it before, it is delightful. 

BILLBOARD’s reviewer disliked “IT’S IN THE GROOVE” and seemed bored by the shallow coverage of the history of records offered in its eighteen minutes, I don’t share that negative opinion at all: 

The actual date for this rehearsal is unknown, although a version of this assemblage — identified on the labels of the Atlantic 78 as “Eddie Condon and His N.B.C. Television Orchestra” recorded four sides for that company on May 25, 1949.  The reference to television is of course to the Eddie Condon Floor Show.  And it is tragic but true that no kinescopes of those shows have ever surfaced: we are lucky to have as much audio from those shows as we do (even though little of it ever made its way to CD — my collection exists on cassette tapes and five records issued on the Italian Queen-Disc label). 

On two of the Atlantic sides, recorded on May 29, 1949 in New York City, the band played rather undistinguished scored background (arranged by Dick Cary, I would guess) for the new singer Ruth Brown — those titles are IT’S RAINING and SO LONG.  The recording band was composed of Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Dick Cary, Eb alto horn; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon,guitar; Jack Lesberg, bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. 

The other two sides (a 78 I now have in my collection again, thanks to David Weiner and Amoeba Music) are SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES — identified in a subtitle as the theme for Arthur Godfrey’s television show — and a fast blues seated midway between Basie and late Goodman, called TIME CARRIES ON, a nod to the MARCH OF TIME.  Eddie and friends had recorded for Decca a slow blues theme — their version of DEEP HARLEM, retitled IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME, so I suspect Atlantic wanted a similar recording.  The Erteguns were deep into what we would call the best small-band swing, and I wish only that they had signed Eddie up for record session after record session.  Herb Abramson told Chip Deffaa a story that suggests that this whole session was the idea of Condon’s friend, the indefatigable publicist Ernie Anderson, and that the two vocal sides launched both Ruth Brown and Atlantic Records.  I wonder myself whether Condon was temporarily released from his contract with Decca Records (overseen by Milt Gabler) to make this session, or whether Decca hadn’t signed another contract with the musicians’ union after the 1948 recording ban.

But all this historical rumination matters less than what we see here.  For me, it took a few serious episodes of staring-at-the-screen to get past the newsreel touches (the overly serious voice of the narrator, the animated stack of discs growing larger, then the large-print display of one statistic (a repetitive tendency predating Power Point by sixty years).  Then, after a visual reminder of Atlantic Records — the disc on the turntable (yes, try this out at home), we are in a quite small room, microphones visible but pushed aside, two soda bottles on the piano — an oddity, perhaps. 

Everyone is arranged around the piano for a rehearsal of TIME CARRIES ON, a fast blues with arranged passages, riffs, and a four-bar drum break at the end.  However, Lesberg seems hidden to the right, and I would not swear that I hear either Cary or Caceres . . . were they added only for deeper background harmonies on SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES?

The music seems reasonably well synchronized with the film, suggesting that the players were not miming to a prerecorded soundtrack.  Great things happen: we can hear and see Eddie playing the guitar; his bowtie is especially beautiful.  (Hucko’s necktie is superb as well.) 

The players are so tidily attired in business attire that Hackett’s black or dark blue shirt comes as a small shock; we expect drummers to dress more casually, so Rich’s open-necked shirt is not surprising.  The music is hot but insufficient . . . but after the audible splice (or jump from one passage to another) we have a chorus that seems reasonably free-wheeling. 

Readers of JAZZ LIVES have long understood my deification of Sidney Catlett, and I am glad that he is on the record to play his own four-bar break, but I lament that he is not here.  It is possible that he was on the road with Louis Armstrong and that Rich made the film shoot, or (heresy according to my lights) that Rich was the drummer of choice and he couldn’t make the record date.  Buddy, by the way, plays splendidly on many of the Condon Floor Shows. 

It’s not a Town Hall Concert or a 1949 kinescope, but it is a wonderful glimpse into a world we would not other have seen had the March of Time people not wanted to array a variety of live musical groups to depict its own version of the history of recorded music.

ARE YOU FREE AT 5:30?

Meet me in front of Town Hall.  I’ll be wearing clothing and I’ll have two tickets in my hand.  What else would I need?

OUR GOOD FORTUNE!

Very simple, beautiful, swinging, and uplifting: a kind of SUNRISE SEMESTER in jazz.

The easy floating and unaffected sincerity (and understatement) of Miss Maxine Sullivan in Bern, 1986.

She’s singing one of my favorite songs;  even when the lyrics are a bit thin at points, the sunny affirmation is worth hearing.  It’s the Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY, from a Cotton Club show that featured both Maxine and that Louis fellow.  (His Decca recording of the song has a wonderful J.C. Higginbotham break and Sid Catlett accent that I can hear in my head right now.)

And alongside Maxine — as we say, “Couldn’t they get anyone good?” — a perfect rhythm section: Jack Lesberg on bass, Dick Hyman on piano, and Uncle Jake, Jake Hanna, on the drums.

Thanks to Bob Erwig for sharing this.  Breathing?  Have music?  We’re lucky!

REMEMBERING LARRY WEISS by RAY CERINO

Larry Weiss, the New Jersey-based cornetist and pianist, has died at 83, after a long illness.  His friend and mine, the jazz aficionado, popular music scholar, and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, sent these lines at my request:

Larry Weiss, a good friend of mine, and an extraordinary musician, died over a week ago. Because I had played with Larry for several years in a pro-bono quartet at a life-care facility, the writer of this blog asked me to provide my thoughts on Larry the musician.

The first thought that comes to mind is a word in the title of a book by his friend, Warren Vache called “The Unsung Songwriters”. Although Larry was well-known and respected by all the famous musicians he played with, the majority of jazz concert-goers never heard of him. In that regard, Larry was unsung, and his special, musical ability went largely unrecognized.

The way I like to describe Larry is as a self-taught, natural, supremely gifted musician. When Larry soloed on a song, he did not simply play the notes of the chords underlying the melody, nor did he play the scales in the modal form of the harmony, as is frequently offered as an improvised chorus by younger players today. Larry created a new, beautiful variation, under which the original melody could always be heard. And often he would substitute an altered chord of his own devising, especially audible on the piano, which would introduce a new, intense feeling to the music. He did this all without ever referring to a printed note. The music came from his heart, to his ear, to his hands, seamlessly. And the music that emerged contained original, surprising passages that could move the astute listener deeply.

As a friend of Larry’s for over twenty years, we spent a lot of time together at my house, playing and listening to music. Larry was always gracious in offering to play piano accompaniment to my pedestrian tenor sax solo efforts, never making harshly critical remarks about my playing. He had a good many live recordings on cassette tape that he had acquired over the years, and we would play and listen to these on my stereo system. I recall how he would listen intently to a particular passage of which he was proud, and point to the speakers to underline his high regard for the music. When I asked him how he created so noteworthy a phrase of music, he would just shrug, and say “that’s what I heard”. Like I said, a gift.

As I mentioned above, other well-known and knowing musicians were well aware of the quality of Larry’s musicianship. Larry told me once that he was on the stand with Bob Haggart, bassist and composer of “What’s New”. Larry had just finished a solo of that tune when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned around and saw Bob smiling and giving him a big “thumbs up”. Many times as we listened to other famous musicians, Larry would say “I played with him”. He was never boastful: in fact he was modest to a fault. In talking about his solos, he would often say “I’m not claiming this is great, but I am rather proud of it. (And if Larry was proud, you know if it had to be good).

Unfortunately there are only a few commercial recordings of Larry’s work on cornet available, two with a group led by his friend, Warren Vache,and one CD, on piano, with Joe Licari.

That’s Larry, the unsung musician. I was lucky to have been his friend, and to have spent time discussing and listening to the music we both love.

A few words from Michael Steinman:

I am glad that Jim Balantic had uploaded to YouTube two duo selections by the fine clarinetist Joe Licari and Larry on piano — HAUNTING MELODY and MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, where Larry plays subtle Teddy Wilson-style piano with great delicacy:

That CD, and others, can be obtained on Joe’s site: http://www.joelicari.com/

I never met Larry Weiss, but I knew his work as a cornetist and admired it greatly.  He shared my admiration for Bobby Hackett’s beautiful tapestries of melody.  And Larry was more than a copyist — not that it would have been easy to copy Hackett — he was someone who had so thoroughly internalized the Master’s style in broad outlines that he could then invent his own personalized utterances at a moment’s notice. 

I heard Larry play cornet in many rather vigorous traditional ensembles, and his voice was a clarion one.  “Luminous” is an overused adjective these days, but it applies.  He was modest; he didn’t shout; his tone glowed.

I have one example alone of Larry’s gentle mastery for the JAZZ LIVES audience.  I have shared this video clip — from the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — before, as an aching tribute to the much-beloved Vic Dickenson, in memory of the astonishing band he and Bobby Hackett led at the Roosevelt Grill in 1969 (its rhythm section usually Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg or Milt Hinton, and Cliff Leeman). 

But this time I would ask my readers to do what is nearly impossible — to tear themselves away from Vic and from Dill Jones and Steve Jordan — and listen to Larry Weiss.  Modest and unassuming, using his mute, sometimes creating obbligatos that one has to strain to hear, he makes great beauty, great empathy, lasting music. 

In the world of jazz, the night sky is full of stars.  There’s Louis, blazing bright; Jack, Lester, Bird, Ben, the two Sidneys . . . and more.  Galaxies, in fact.  But there are also stars not often seen.  You might need a telescope to find them.  But their light is just as memorable: that’s how I think of Larry Weiss.