Tag Archives: Jack Meilahn

THANKSGIVING with HAL SMITH’S RHYTHMAKERS, NOVEMBER 1988 (Hal Smith, Chris Tyle, Ray Skjelbred, Bobby Gordon, Frank Powers, Mike Duffy, Jack Meilahn)

I have nothing against Thanksgiving as a holiday, and I have plenty to be thankful for.  But I wish I’d been in San Diego over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1988 to hear this hot band . . . although they were captured on local television in a wonderfully varied half-hour.  The band?  Drummer Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers (named in honor of the 1932-33 sessions with Red Allen and Pee Wee Russell) featured the engaging hot cornetist and singer Chris Tyle, the tenor man Frank Powers, the wondrously brave clarinetist and singer Bobby Gordon, our hero Ray Skjelbred at the piano, solid bassist and guitarist Mike Duffy and Jack Meilahn.  I believe that all but Frank Powers are still with us.  And I’ve had the good fortune to hear Hal and Bobby in person, and look forward to hearing Chris, Ray, Mike, and Jack someday soon . . .

Here’s ONE HOUR — and you don’t have to wish for it in plaintive James P. Johnson style!

JELLY ROLL / HOME / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (vocal Mike Duffy):

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (concluded) / THIRTY-FIFTH AND SHIELDS / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / THAT’S A PLENTY (in tribute to Joe Sullivan, by the rhythm section):

THAT’S A PLENTY (concluded) / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP / YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME (vocal by Bobby Gordon) / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES:

TWO DEUCES / I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU:

The miracles of YouTube, not to be taken lightly.

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FRANK CHACE, SEEKER

Clarinetist Frank Chace stood very still when he played, his eyes closed.  In the fashion of the true mystic, he looked inwards, seeking something new, beautiful, personal.  His own speech, his own pathways. 

A Chace solo winds around the melody and the chords, hesitant but guided by its own self-trust: “I don’t know the way but I know where I’m going.” 

He didn’t record enough for any of us, and often he seemed to be making his way through his fellow players — yearning to break free.  When he was playing alongside his great friends Don Ewell or Marty Grosz, he knew that they would supply an indefatigable rhythmic pulse, they would lay down the right chords, and he could then soar.

And soar he did.

In 1985, when I had only recently encountered the mysterious, elliptical Chace universe, Jazzology Records issued a record of a live session led by pianist Butch Thompson.  I thought it remarkable that here was a new Frank Chace record: it remains a treasure.  Charlie DeVore, cornet, John Otto, clarinet, alto sax, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass, were the other fellows on the stand.  And the session was full of delights, aside from Frank: Hal’s press rolls and shimmering hi-hat; the solid rhythm section; Otto’s sweet, thoughtful alto; De Vore’s Muggy Spanier-emphases.  But Frank Chace produces marvel after marvel. 

Hear him chart his own paths, his eyes closed, his only goal to create his own speech.  Frank was rarely — if ever — satisfied with something he had recorded, so I can’t say that he was complacently pleased with this or any other disc.  About an early session with the Salty Dogs, he told me, “I was fighting for my life!”  But no strain can be heard here: just beauty, impassioned or quietly subversive.     

Now, the complete session (offering twenty-four selections) is available on a double-CD Jazzology set.  (JCD 373/374), available at a variety of online sources.  I can’t praise it highly enough. 

The selections are I FOUND A NEW BABY / ROSE ROOM / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / ONE HOUR / JAZZ BAND BALL / IDA / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET LORRAINE / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / HOME / JELLY ROLL / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / FROM MONDAY ON / S’POSIN’ / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS / THANKS A MILLION. 

Frank doesn’t make an obsession out of being “untraditional,” but he won’t play the expected lines, the predictable harmonies.  You might think you know where his next phrase is going . . . but it turns out that he has led us in his own way, eyes closed, finding new surprises.

Listen to his ardor, his courage, his whimsical explorations. 

“THANKS A MILLION”: CLICK HERE.  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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