Tag Archives: Jack Rothstein

“LATER, JACK”: REMEMBERING JACK ROTHSTEIN

Jacob Rothstein, 1945

Jacob Rothstein, 1945

My encounters with the late Jack Rothstein are vignettes from a narrative I did not have the sense to capture fully — chapters from a novel that should have been written.
Jack died a few days ago at 87; it is of course a cliche to say that my world has gotten smaller because he is no longer in it, but cliches are often true.
I first met him in cyberspace because he had found JAZZ LIVES and was enthusiastic about it.  We exchanged a number of emails: the pattern was that Jack would read something I wrote about Henry “Red” Allen, for instance, and then write to tell me of his conversation with Red in the late Forties or early Fifties where Red was upset by the way he was being passed over for other musicians, most notably Louis (whom he loved and respected).
I knew I was in the presence of someone who had been on the scene — Jack had gone to law school in Boston and had hung out at clubs, listening to Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson.  He had helped a number of musicians with minor legal troubles; he was a conoisseur of wines, a championship card player, and knew antiques deeply.
When you know someone only through emails or words on the page, their physical appearance is always a bit startling.  (I am sure I have that effect on people, so I write these words without criticism.)  Jack was clearly larger-than-life, and I don’t mean only that he was a substantial man.
He was ebullient in his speech, with an extravagant laugh and a voice that carried.  He didn’t shout, but he cut through — I can compare the sound of his speech most closely to Pete Brown’s alto saxophone.  He was clearly one of My People, that is to say an urban East Coast Jew with a satiric view of the world.  We met at the Dixieland Jazz Bash by the Bay in March 2011, had dinner and talked.  There he told me the story of the woman who wanted to present Vic Dickenson with a rose at Mahogany Hall in 1950 and others I no longer remember.
I am very sorry that I did not take the time — it would have taken repeated visits, I know — to aim a video camera at Jack and work through all the musicians we knew and loved . . . he had marvelous stories and — most delightfully — he wasn’t the subject.
All I can offer JAZZ LIVES readers is a selection from the Rothstein correspondence: excerpts from Jack’s emails to me.  We had a long discussion about who “OLD FOLKS” was in the Robison song; we talked about other matters.  But all I know is that when I got an email from Jack, it would contain something genuine, something new to me . . . and even when we disagreed, he was entertaining and informed.
I miss him and I won’t forget him.
The moral, of course, is not hard to bring to the surface.  Our lives are finite; we should cherish people while they are around to receive it; the stories of our elders will vanish if we don’t collect them.
But someone like Jack Rothstein is not dead, because someone is playing a hot chorus or singing a ballad beautifully.  In these offerings, he lives on.
And in his words:
I am on your side on crowd noise. Quiet conversation is fine but not when it interferes with the listeners. My tolerance is inversely proportional to the quality of the music.  I was at the Embers (a celebrity hangout) listening to Tatum when a noisy conversation started at a table. A guy seated at the next table got up and told them quietly to shut up and a few guys at other nearby tables  rose in support. The noise stopped. Tatum did not have to say or do anything. 
Your comments reminded me of my high school days, a generation earlier, going through the bins of jazz 78s at Sam Goody’s. He only had one shop then, on Sixth Avenue somewhere in the mid-forties. He also had a bin of used jazz records where treasures could be found very inexpensively. I vaguely remember buying a few Armstrong reissues there on English Parlophone. The UHCA reissues I bought at the Commodore on the advice of Jack Crystal who was a super-nice guy.
Thinking about our dinner conversation, I have my doubts as to whether Prez actually changed jazz. He seems more a very influential extension of Bix.
I spent last week in Dayton, Ohio at a convention. The meeting room was on the ground floor of a large hotel. A couple stepped outside for a smoke and when they were done they found that the glass door had locked behind them. Not wanting to walk to the front of the building, they banged on the door. After a few minutes another member (a Catholic priest) heard them and let them in. One of them said, “You saved us.” He casually replied, “That’s my job.”
I remember talking to Barrie Chase about her work with Fred Astaire on the TV special where they were backed by the Basie band. She loved Jo Jones’ work and said he paid her the ultimate compliment – that the way she danced one of her ancestors had to be “one of us”.  In the 30’s, Roger Pryor Dodge and his wife had a dance act and played stage shows at Broadway movie theaters backed by name bands. She later taught at the Manhattan School of Music. She told me that the best drummer they ever had behind them was Dave Tough. 
Add Dave Tough to the list of those who died because they kept drinking and stopped eating.  You were right on about Prez. I helped him with a very minor legal matter in the early 50″s. His problem was not drink but mental. I do not know the facts but I think it was caused by the Army. He was very withdrawn, somewhat paranoid and secure only in his music. He was a gentle human being and just wanted not to be hurt.
The very best that can be said for her singing is that it was egregious.
One night when leaving Nick’s, Wild Bill noticed a fire hose that had been left attached to a hydrant. He picked it up and ran towards a pair of elderly female pedestrians yelling “Wanna douche?” and laughing. Told to me by someone who allegedly saw it.
You mentioned Dick Gibson last night, so here is my Dick Gibson story. He was a classmate of my wife at the University of Alabama. I first met him around 1959-60 in New York at a party thrown by a girl I was dating. The lady I subsequently married, who I only knew then as a person who was taking bridge lessons from a friend, was there, and greeted him with “Dick Gibson! You’ve gained so much weight I hardly recognized you.” The scene shifts. It is now 10 years later. I take my wife to a charity bash in San Francisco because Hackett is playing. Mary Osborne (from Bakersfield) was in the band. My wife sees Dick up front and goes up to him and says, “Dick Gibson! You’ve gained so much weight I hardly recognized you.” His reply was, “Emilie, don’t you know how to say anything else?”  Emilie told me he was a hunk in his college days.
True story c. January, 1946. I was in Seattle and there was a disc jockey who had a Saturday afternoon jazz program and solemnly stated that the Louis Armstrong Hot Five was the first decadent step in jazz. However, he did play a lot of Jelly Roll Morton (with George Mitchell, Omer Simeon,etc.) as well as King Oliver so I was a steady listener. Immediately after his program there was a half hour of the First Herd sponsored by Old Gold cigarettes playing Apple Honey, etc. which put me very much on the side of decadence.  When I got back to New York, there was another Bussard type, Rudi Blesh who actually had a radio program and wrote a book. He also believed that a white jazz musician was a contradiction in terms.  Idiots abound. Don’t let them upset you.
Will not attend San Diego as I am trying to build up my strength after a near fatal bout of pneumonia caused by my lack of immune system due to leukemia (CLL). I have a form that almost exclusively strikes Russian Jewish males and is completely painless. The doctor says I am a favorite to recover this time and go back to leading a normal life but that some time something minor will happen and I will go to bed and not wake up. Considering the fact that I am 87 it is the ideal way to go. I just have to build up my strength because there are a few more bottles of great wine to drink and more jazz cruises to take.
That was the last email I received from Jack — in late November 2012.  He would often sign his emails, “Later, Jack,” which I have taken as my title.
I hope you have your very own Jack Rothsteins in your life.  Their ebullient presence enriches us always.  I am very grateful to his daughter Margo for offering the photograph of her father as a young man — how beautiful he was!
May your happiness increase.
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FIRST-HAND: JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS LEE WILEY

Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy, by Gjon Mili

never knew that Lee was so overbearing [as described in CHICAGO JAZZ AND THEN SOME, the recent book of Jess Stacy’s memories] but was not surprised.  After all, she had been a star in the late 20’s and early 30’s.  She had had her own radio program and had been a headliner at the best supper clubs in New York but by the late 30’s she was considered a has-been.  The only people in the business whose admiration for her singing never wavered were the Condon group.  Her Rogers & Hart session with Bushkin, Freeman,etc. was for the Liberty Music Shop, not exactly a major label.  She probably visualized Stacy as her ticket back to stardom. 

I only saw her with the Stacy orchestra once, in the fall of 1945 at the Panther Room of the Hotel Sherman in Chicago.  My only memory of that evening is that she sang IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON better than anyone I have ever heard, before or since.

The comments about her adultery seemed quite disingenuous.  Well before Stacy, she had a reputation of only going to bed with guys she liked and that she didn’t have an enemy in the world.  Her lovers allegedly included Bunny Berigan and Fats Waller.

The only time I met her was at a club in New York in 1952.  She was sitting with a couple of musicians who invited me to their table.  She impressed me as not being very bright but extremely honest.  Her language was exceedingly vulgar, although not at all malicious.

(Postscript: nothing of Lee as overbearing or vulgar comes through in the 1945 recording of IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which has all of her inimitable tenderness, that sweet phrase-ending vibrato, and the improvisatory playfulness, as if she had learned a great deal from Berigan and Hackett in taking risks.)

REMEMBER! JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS BOBBY HACKETT

Bobby was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island.  He told me that he became an alcoholic playing at Portuguese weddings there in his early teens.

In the 40’s after a concert, a few members of the Boston Symphony decided to walk a couple of blocks to the Savoy for a drink and persuaded Roger Voisin — the first trumpeter — to go with them.  Hackett was playing.

Some time later George Poor (a Hackett admirer, a cornetist himself) asked Voisin what he thought of it and he replied, “I do not much care for jazz, but Bobby Hackett – he is an artist.”

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS and SOUNDS LIKE (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY): March 5, 2011

More from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (the Jazz Bash by the Bay)!

On paper, this was advertised as simply another session by the Reynolds Brothers, which was good enough for me: I had been following them around, a dazed and grinning hero-worshipper.  They’re John (National steel guitar, vocals, whistling), Ralf (washboard), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), Marc Caparone (cornet).  More than enough for anyone!

But when I saw their friends — Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dan Barrett (trombone), Bryan Shaw (trumpet), I settled into my seat knowing that great things — a jazz colloquy on Olympus — would come.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

They began with I NEVER KNEW (homage to that wonderful recording by Benny Carter, Floyd O’Brien, Teddy Wilson, Chu Berry, Ernest Hill, Sidney Catlett, and Max Kaminsky, as “The Chocolate Dandies”).  Their reimagining has stunning brass playing and a delightfully weird harmonic interlude by Jeff — picked up by the horns — before they rock on out:

I adjusted my camera’s white balance so the scene looked less like a Vincent Price film in time for the second number, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Originally recorded in 1930 by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (with a vocal by George Thomas, if I remember correctly), it was rediscovered in 1945-6 by Buck Clayton and Louis.

The spirits of Mr. Strong and Mr. Clayton — tender yet annunciatory — permeate this performance.  And look at the faces of the musicians!  Watch Dan listening to Marc and Bryan!  Catch the dreamy don’t-wake-me-now look on Katie’s face!  It’s thrilling to see musicians afloat on mutual love for beautiful sounds:

I don’t know who suggested the next tune — a wonderful one, almost forgotten, by Harry Warren from FORTY-SECOND STREET, recorded by Bing Crosby and (much later) by Ruby Braff — another jazz carpe diem for the ages.  The clever lyrics are by Al Dubin.  This version has the approving ghosts of Bing and Putney Dandridge hovering around it — with the brass section discoursing in the happiest way on the beauties of Thirties and Forties swing epigrams.  And Jeff’s performance (swinging, hilarious, sweet) suggests what Fats might have done with the song:

Because I had made dinner plans with the irrepressible Jack Rothstein, I had to leave at this point, but I turned to my dear friend Rae Ann Berry and begged her in an insistent whisper, “Please.  Please tape the rest of this?  I have to go but I can’t stand missing the rest.”  And Rae Ann, truly a good sport, took over.  So the remaining videos exist because of her generosity.

And they are generous!

Katie asks the lover’s question — DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?  Oh, we do, Katie.  Her sweetly unaffected vocal gives way to a brass fantasy (who needs clarinets?) in solos and riffs.  And in the middle, there is a perfectly astonishing piano solo — try this at home.  I dare you!  And catch Jeff watching John in delighted amazement while John scrolls through one of his amazing solos (Jeff is chording with his left hand).  Another Katie chorus, and then Brass Ecstasy — circa 1933 (I think), with everyone shouting for joy to the heavens:

Then something beautiful and rare — a Bryan Shaw ballad feature!  It’s I’M CONFESSIN’ (with the bridge of his first solo loving embodiment of Buck Clayton) — again embodying the tradition of singing trumpets born from Louis.  (I’ve heard that Bryan has completed a new Arbors CD with Dan Barrett and friends, coming soon!)  Then a weirdly sweet Jeff Barnhart piano interlude before Bryan offers his own mixture of drama and sweetness:

Back to Louis and Fats (what could be wrong?) for the 1935 GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — in the key of G, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz.  About a minute into this performance, you’ll hear that delicious sound of a band locking into swing — a swing that some bands reach only in the last chorus and some never reach at all!  John’s sweet, flying vocal is appropriate for this song and for a man so beautifully dressed:

I’ve already written encomia for Becky Kilgore’s guest appearance with this band on WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA — but I’m including this video because I think it cannot be seen too many times:

And to close — a simple Louis blues, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, absolutely exultant:

This music gave and gives so much pleasure that I had trouble finding a title for this posting.  I am content with mine — see the smiles on the faces of the musicians! — but have to share another story, with apologies for the dropping of names.  When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace (now more than a decade ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers.  Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Thank you, Jeff, Dan, Marc, Ralf, Bryan, Katie, John, and Rae Ann — for keeping Beautiful Music Alive!

ARE YOU FREE NEXT WEEKEND? DIXIELAND MONTEREY 2011: JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY

This is where I’ll be March 4-6, 2011.  I’ll be the fellow with the video camera and tripod, who’s either three hours ahead or behind.  It will straighten itself out, I’m sure.

Tickets are still available:

http://www.dixieland-monterey.com/?page_id=121

And if you need convincing, here’s the schedule of events: I’ve already got conflicts, but that’s a good thing:

http://www.dixieland-monterey.com/?page_id=19

Who could resist?

I’m looking forward to seeing West Coast friends, getting to meet musicians I’ve only seen on YouTube, celebrating players and singers I’ve known for some time . . . and having a good long weekend, busily carpe-ing away. 

CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS WE ALL ADMIRE.  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

REMEMBER! JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS THE METROPOLE

Photograph by Roger Wood, circa 1965

The Metropole in New York City was on Broadway and had a large bar near the front and the musicians played on a stand within the bar. The front window had been removed so passers-by could see and hear them. Dick Wellstood played there with a trad group. He told me that when they were hired the owner told them, “I do not want to interfere with your artistic integrity. You can play anything you want, provided you play loud.”