If you travel in certain circles, you’ll hear a good deal of serious talk about “authenticity,” “ownership,” and “cultural appropriation.” These scuffles bore me and make me happy that I have escaped academia.
But here are nine precious of film and music by someone I can’t get enough of — Jack Teagarden — from a film I’d never heard of, unearthed by archivist-sleuth extraordinaire Franz Hoffmann. The 1944 film, possibly less regarded than Citizen Kane, has three names: TWILIGHT ON THE PRAIRIE, SONG OF THE PRAIRIE, and PRAIRIE BUCKAROOS. I doubt that the screenwriters aimed too high, but Jack’s blues — lyric he first recorded in 1928 or 9, are classic. As is his trombone mastery:
Born in Vernon, Texas, he certainly had a right to those lyrics.
I never saw him in person, yet I miss him terribly. You understand why.
Early on in my listening career I was frankly enraptured by Jack Teagarden, trombone and voice. I heard his ST. JAMES INFIRMARY from Louis’ 1947 Town Hall concert and although I played that whole recording until it turned grey, that track and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ were especially worn. In my local department store, a Decca anthology, THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, was a cherished purchase, with recordings from 1929 to 1947. Ask any trombonist how astonishing Jack’s technique is — and note I use present tense. And as for his singing . . . who has matched its easy fervor?
This little meditation on the man from Texas is motivated by two autographed photographs on eBay. The seller is from Belgium. Here is one link (the portrait); here is the other (the group photo).
First, a standard publicity shot when Jack was a member of Louis’ All-Stars (and thus employed by Joe Glaser’s Associated Booking Corporation) — inscribed “To Rosie and Tony,” in peacock-blue fountain-pen ink. I suspect that either Rosie or Tony dated the photograph at the bottom; the neat printing is probably not Jack’s:
That photograph holds no mysterious half-submerged stories. But this one does. It is heralded by the seller as “Louis Armstrong – Lucille Wilson – Jack Teagarden – RARE back signed photo – COA,” and I have no quibbles with that except that by 1942, “Lucille Wilson” had taken “Armstrong” as her surname.
But wait! There’s more! Is the partially obscured clarinetist to the left Peanuts Hucko? I believe the seated baritone saxophonist is not Ernie Caceres, but the elusive Bill Miles. And standing behind Louis is a naggingly familiar figure: the penny dropped (as my UK friends may say) — drummer Kaiser Marshall. His headgear suggests that this is a candid shot from a 1947 gathering, “Jazz on the River,” that also included Art Hodes and possibly Cecil Scott — connected to the premiere of the film NEW ORLEANS at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City.
William P. Gottlieb took a good number of photographs of this concert which was to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, and you can see them at the Gottlieb holdings at the Library of Congress here. Here’s one:
Other musicians in this band were Cecil Scott, Sandy Williams, and Henry Goodwin. We have even more evidence: an NBC radio broadcast of a concert at the Winter Garden on June 19, 1947, the performers being Louis and Jack, Peanuts and Caceres, Bobby Hackett, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and Sidney Catlett. The broadcast, m.c.’d by Fred Robbins, offered ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, MUSKRAT RAMBLE, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, and TIGER RAG.
Back to the second photograph for a moment. It does not look to me like a Gottlieb shot. Was it was a candid one, created by another photographer. Is the number on the back significant of anything more than the developer’s index? I do not know. Did Louis, Lucille, and Jack sign this photograph at or after the concert? And . . . who can decipher the fourth signature, quite cryptic and unfamiliar to me?And an aside: we don’t always think of Kaiser Marshall when we list Louis’ great drummers, but they were colleagues in the Fletcher Henderson band during Louis’ 1924-5 tenure, and they teamed up so very memorably for the 1929 KNOCKIN’ A JUG session — although not after that, at least in terms of recorded evidence. You can hear Kaiser (born Joseph) with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and, in 1946-47, with Mezz Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet for KING JAZZ recordings. Kaiser died on January 2, 1948; he was only 45.
All of that has taken us some distance from Jack Teagarden, but I hope you found this jazz-mystery solving rewarding. Now, for some relevant music from the 1947 Winter Garden broadcast — with Louis in that brief golden period when he appeared and recorded with a group of musicians we would most happily associate with Eddie Condon, to great effect:
‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:
MUSKRAT RAMBLE :
DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (Bobby Hackett at the start, and a gorgeous solo by Jack):
(Note: the YouTube compilers seem to have hidden DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, a duet for Louis and Dick Cary, and SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY. I have no idea why.)
TIGER RAG (with raucous Jack and a wonderful Sidney solo):
Photographs, imperishable music, and a small mystery: JAZZ LIVES’ gift to you.
Marc Caparone is a hero of mine, someone who balances passion and control in the nicest individualistic ways. Here he is, heading the most quietly illustrious chamber group at his own birthday party: John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And the song — HOME, so identified with Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Thomas — never fails to move me.
Home, you know, is a state of mind more than an address.
I have particular associations with this performance, having heard the Louis versions and the Jack Teagarden Keynote recording perhaps fifty years ago, and knowing the musicians here for more than a decade. Even if the song and the players are new to you, I hope the passion and joy reaches you:
Just beautiful. Here’s hoping you have your metaphysical HOME, or find one soon.
The cold facts. Trombonist / composer / bandleader Curtis Fuller, born December 15, 1934, left us on May 8, 2021.
In Michael J. West’s farewell piece in Jazz Times, he wrote this, “Asked in a 2012 interview by writer Mark Stryker about the keys to a good solo, Fuller replied, ‘Humor and dialogue. … Music is English composition. Each song should have a subject, and phrases should have a noun, a verb, and like that. It should be expressive. Exclamation points: Bap!’”
I knew there were reasons I admired this man. And although I was initially excited about the music you will hear because of the presence of my hero Jimmie Rowles, I celebrate Curtis Fuller as well. This session from the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 13, 1978 — audio only — presents Curtis Fuller, trombone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Barney WIlen, tenor saxophone; Red Mitchell, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, playing a repertoire that I would call sophisticated Mainstream: SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE / ALL OF YOU / THESE FOOLISH THINGS (Mitchell) / STELLA BY STARLIGHT with Fuller cadenza / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Rowles, Mitchell, Rosengarden).
I know some of my more “traditional” readers might feel that jazz trombone begins and ends with Jack Teagarden, and I revere Jack, Vic, Bennie, Dicky, their ancestors and their modern heirs, but I urge them to give Curtis Fuller an open-eared hearing. He is a great vocal player; he speaks to us; he has things to say. Fuller is technically adept but he is more interested in telling us his very vocal stories. Hear him out. And you can, on a second hearing, absorb Rowles’ subversive beauties, and the way the rest of the band — apparently an unusual mixture of players — settles in to swing:
Thank you, Curtis, for your energy, humor, and open-heartedness.
Pee Wee Russell hadn’t taken good care of himself, and his body had rebelled in 1951. Thank goodness for the medical acumen of the times that enabled him to live almost twenty years more. But I also think that knowing that he was so loved — Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong visiting him in the hospital — and events such as this concert must have helped. Music and love were so intertwined that it would be silly to ask where one starts and the other one ends, because neither one of them ends.
It’s odd to write that good things came out of the Cold War. But the belief that one of the best ways to exhibit the happiness possible under capitalism was to share hot music as an emblem of freedom may seem naive now, but it had sweet results. The Voice of America, an active propaganda medium, beamed live American jazz “behind the Iron Curtain,” hoping for conversion experiences.
In 2021, those of us old enough to remember Khruschev’s shoe and the Bay of Pigs, hiding under our desks, terrified of a thermonuclear device, can listen to some rich “Americondon” music. And for those who have no idea what those historical references might mean are encouraged to learn a little history and listen to the joys.
Here’s the menu:
JAZZ CLUB USA (Voice of America): from Town Hall, New York City, February 21, 1951: Tribute to Pee Wee Russell.
FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, Buzzy Drootin / UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE Ernie Caceres, Schroeder, Al Hall, Buzzy / I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, Ray McKinley / IN A MIST Ralph Sutton / BASIN STREET BLUES as FIDGETY FEET:
In the darkest days of the pandemic, I found myself muttering under my breath, “I want to go home.” It was of course unattainable: my parents had been gone for decades and my childhood home long occupied by others. I have lived in this apartment for sixteen years, so wanting to “go home” was physically attainable and emotionally wavering. I am home. I was home. But not really. Home feels like a peaceful state of mind, somewhere you are safe and welcomed, perhaps even where someone makes a salad and asks if you would like some. In the midst of fear, grief, and uncertainty, “Home” still means to me a time and space where I don’t have to read the headlines in the morning and find out how many have died, been killed, are abused, are suffering.
So even before the pandemic, when the other person in the car asked me, “What’s your favorite song?” I said, “One?” and the first that came to mind was Louis’ THAT’S MY HOME. (Second place was IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which is revealing also.)
And in musical terms, HOME is one of those songs so ennobled by performances, live and recorded. The last time I saw Bobby Hackett, at a January 1976 concert tribute to Louis, it was that song he picked as his feature. I can hear and feel embraced by the performances of Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, Coleman Hawkins on a 1944 Keynote Records date.
But for me it all comes back to Louis. I first heard him sing and play HOME on a glorious, touching Verve session, backed by Russell Garcia, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS, and then the 1931 OKeh version. Louis makes me want to stand up and put my hand over my heart, an impulse I must stifle because people at adjacent tables might ask if I need the Heimlich maneuver, but this Louis-inflected reading of the song, by Bent Persson and the Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by Michel Bastide, has me in tears every time. Good tears, rich ones:
We owe deep thanks to musician and videographer Andreas Kågedal for preserving this beauty and sharing it. I apologize to him for not naming him at the start.
Wherever you are, may it be comfortable and haimisch — you don’t need a translation.
Louis, Bix, Brad, Gene, Jack, Buck, Pee Wee, and company . . . all in less than a dozen minutes. These delicious scraps come from the collection of John L. Fell — a potpourri he sent to me around 1987, some seen in the case above. This is part of my crusade (obsession?) to share the music with you.
From “The World Series of Jazz” [Quaker City Jazz Festival] in Philadelphia, CBS Radio, August 28, 1960, I FOUND A NEW BABY, featuring Gene Krupa, Pee Wee Russell, and Buck Clayton, probably Eddie Wasserman, tenor saxophone; Ronnie Ball, piano; Kenny O’Brien, bass.
An undetermined place and time, Jack Teagarden playing along with the 1928 Bix and his Gang recording of MARGIE.
Louis (and the All-Stars with Trummy Young, Ed Hall) selling Rheingold beer, October 1956.
Brad Gowans elaborates on the beautiful theme of JADA, perhaps his feature with the “Sextet from Hunger” transcription group.
The only problem is that now I want a beer, and it’s not even noon. Such is the power of Louis.
Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students. Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951. Then again, jazz was still the popular music. Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers. Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:
They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).
That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.
One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame. Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line. In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street. Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981. He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.
Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan. He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.
“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford. But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948. His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.
I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble. Where did he go after Harvard? Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved. (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)
That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.
I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.” To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds. As young as they were, they were splendidly professional. And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)
I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology. Was this a dance? Did the girls get to invite their beaux? Or was it a social event where the band played for listening? I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all. I wish I knew, but here’s the music. And what music!
In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew. When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix. And that sound! — full and shining. Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans. Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song. Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support. And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner. It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures. And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings. Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.
Can you tell I admire this band?
The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):
The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other. Was it broadcast on the local radio station? And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”
On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm. I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.
Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school. Days gone by for sure. (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream. I will send this post to them.)
P.S. I invite the word-averse to skip what follows. Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond. Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette. Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month. Why? Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes. It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard. That was intolerable to me. So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.
At least for now, face-to-face meetings still seem fraught. So this wonderfully sweet song seems an alternative, perhaps. Whether “Dreamland” was an actual amusement or an imagined nocturnal lovers’ rendez-vous, I leave to you. In either case, the song presents possibility, more so than I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, where dreams must suffice because there’s no chance of an actual meeting. But enough philosophy.
From 1909 (one of Tim Gracyk’s beautifully detailed presentations):
Fifty years later, Bing and Rosie, with strings attached:
And the 1938 explosion that started this chain of thought, the delightful Condon-Gabler alchemy that turned old sweet songs into Hot Music for the ages:
As an aside, Allen Lowe’s CD sets and book, THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE, have brought me much pleasure: well worth investigating here.
Today, Saturday, October 31, is Halloween — but no “spooky” posts, because the holiday is eviscerated for valid health reasons. And at my age, the only costume I don is my own, and I don’t buy candy bars for myself.
But Sunday, November 1, is the official end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States, “giving us” an extra hour of sleep or some other activity. (Sundays are reserved for the EarRegulars, which is why this post comes early.)
I encourage all of you to enjoy the faux-gift of sixty minutes in some gratifying ways. But here are my suggestions about how you could happily stretch out in the extra time: versions of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, the unaging classic by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer, which speaks to our desire to spend time in pleasurable ways.
Here’s a pretty, loose version from the September 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, performed by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and commentary; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass sax; Arnie Kinsella, drums:
Two years later, Andy Schumm’s evocation of the Mound City Blue Blowers, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, paying tribute to one “Red” McKenzie, hot ambassador of the comb / newspaper — here, with Andy, comb; Jens Lindgren, trombone, off-screen because of a patron’s coif; Norman Field, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums:
and, from the 2018 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, here’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, for that set, Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Marty Eggers, string bass (subbing for Steve Pikal, who was on secret assignment):
1944, for V-Disc, with Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Ernie Caceres, clarinet; Nick Caiazza, tenor saxophone; Bill Clifton, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Felix Giobbe, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums — one of those perfectly memorable recordings I first heard decades ago, with its own sweet imperfections: some uncertainty about the chords for the verse, and the usually nimble Caiazza painting himself into a corner — but it’s lovely:
Of course, we have to hear the composer, in 1944, with Eddie Dougherty, drums:
Marion Harris, 1930:
Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, 1940:
Helen Humes and Buck Clayton with Count Basie, 1939:
Ade Monsbourgh and his Late Hour Boys, 1956, with Bob Barnard, trumpet; Ade Monsbourgh, reeds, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Jack Varney, banjo, guitar; Ron Williamson, tuba; Roger Bell, washboard:
George Thomas with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, 1930:
and at the very summit, Louis in 1930:
Now, you’re on your own: use the time for pleasure.
Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Chu Berry, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, November 10, 1938.
That is a compact way to introduce you (or remind you) to the joyous mastery of Sidney Catlett — Big Sid to many — not only in his dancing solo, but in his subtly powerful propulsion throughout.
That recording is well-documented: “46 West 52” was the address of the Commodore Music Shop at the time, and the improvisation is based on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
The eight photographs that I share with you below came to me without equally detailed documentation. Each one is stamped “BY-LINE FEATURES” on the back, and someone had penciled in SID CATLETT. As well, pencil notations may be “cleared 46” and “tkn 45,” but I am not sure. They emerged on eBay over a month or so from a company apparently based in Iceland, and, Reader, I bought them. The company applied numbers to them, which I have followed below, although this sequence may be arbitrary. What I can presume is that a photographer caught Sidney in a solo . . . gorgeously, both his body and his facial expressions making these photographs both intimate and dramatic.
Right now, the question I am enjoying is how to hang them on my wall or walls.
And that’s not all.
In May 1948, Sidney took what I believe was his first overseas trip (Mel Powell recalled that Sid was terrified of flying) to appear at the first Nice Jazz Festival with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars: Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Velma Middleton — which resulted in these three pictures, recently shared with the world by Jean Labaye: they come from the archives of the Hot Club of France:
The recipient, properly, of flowers:
I presume “Hot-Revue” was a jazz magazine, thus . . .
As they say, “this just in,” thanks to my friend, the jazz scholar-guitarist (who is one-third of a new YouTube series with Loren Schoenberg and Hal Smith on the early recordings of the Benny Goodman band) Nick Rossi — from a 1942 DOWN BEAT.
“Tub thumper,” my Aunt Fanny, but it’s a lovely photograph:
Back to the ears again, for a favorite recording. James P. Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; James P. Johnson, piano; Jimmy Shirley, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, March 4, 1944:
and this, from June 22, 1945, with the Modernists of the time, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at Town Hall in New York City, in concert, with Al Haig, piano; Curley Russell, string bass; Symphony Sid Torin, MC. The crowd doesn’t want to let Sid go:
More than once, I’ve had a non-jazz friend ask me, “What so fascinates you about this man?” I said, “In no order. He led a Dionysiac life and died young — surrounded by friends and he had just told a good story. He made his presence known and was instantly recognizable as himself, but he selflessly made everyone sound better. He is missed.”
My phone rang on July 3. This in itself would not be unusual. But that the caller ID panel read “Ephraim Resnick” was a surprise. I had been on a quest to find the wonderful and elusive trombonist (now pianist) Ephie Resnick for a few years, and had enlisted my dear friend — also a fine trombonist — Dick Dreiwitz in the search.
I knew Ephie first as a beautiful soulful viruoso heard on live recordings from George Wein’s Storyville in 1952 — alongside Pee Wee Russell and Ruby Braff; later, I’d seen him with the New York Jazz Repertory Company in their 1972 tribute to Louis Armstrong, some of which was released on Atlantic, and then Bob Greene’s Jelly Roll Morton show in 1974, issued on RCA Victor. Perhaps eight years ago I had heard him playing piano at Arthur’s Tavern with the Grove Street Stompers. He asked me to refrain from videoing him, but he was friendly and I did buy his two recent CDs, NEW YORK SURVIVOR and THE STRUGGLE. Still more recently, a musical friend of his, Inigo Kilborn, had asked me if Ephie was still on the planet. He is. At 92, he’s a clear speaker and thinker, although his memory is “sometimes OK, sometimes not too good.”
Ephie and I made a date to talk on the morning of Monday, July 6. He doesn’t have a computer. “I live in the last century,” and when I asked if he wanted me to transcribe the interview and send it to him for corrections, he said no. So this is what he told me of his life, with my minimal editing to tie loose ends together. It’s not only the usual story of early training, gigs played, musicians encountered, but a deeper human story. If you’d never heard Ephie play, you’d think he wasn’t all that competent, given his protestations. I wonder at the gap between the way we perceive ourselves and the way the world does.
With musical examples, I present our conversation to you here.
I began with the most obvious question, “When you were a kid, did you want to be a musician?” and Ephie began his tale.
I come from a family of anger and bitterness and humiliation, and all that stuff, so I was in confusion most of the time. When I was in first grade, and this is really important, I was born left-handed, and they made me right-handed, so it really did away with my focus. I got asthma, and I started stuttering soon after that. So my life was a turmoil.
And when I was about sixteen, I guess, I hadn’t any idea of doing anything. I didn’t think I’d be able to do anything. And I heard a Louis Armstrong recording, and that really made me crazy. It showed me a way out, the way out of my turmoil. So when I went to school, they gave me a trombone. Because the guy said, “I want somebody to play the trombone,” and he pointed at me. At that point, it was difficult to breathe, it was difficult to talk, and I couldn’t get a sound out of the horn. And I didn’t understand it until just recently, when I moved to Brooklyn, after I was finished, finally. I wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t breathe.
I took the trombone home from school, I tried to play it, and really couldn’t play it much. But I listened to a lot of records. I listened to a lot of Louis Armstrong then. I got as much as I could out of him. And then I started, for some reason, to go out playing. In little clubs and things. I don’t know how I could play — I didn’t practice. But I played, mostly with black people at the beginning. And there were two places, especially, where I could play. A guy named Bob Maltz had a place downtown, all the way downtown. And across the street a guy named Jack Crystal — there’s a comedian, Billy Crystal, and Jack was his father. [The Stuyvesant Casino and the Central Plaza.] Both of these guys hired mostly black musicians from the Thirties, and I started out just sitting in, and then I started getting paid. And that was the beginning of my jazz playing.
And then I made a record [in 1947]. Irv Kratka, the guy who started Music Minus One, was in our little group. I went into — I forget what it’s called now — it was on Broadway and they had studios and rehearsal studios. I walked into one and there was Bob Wilber and his little group with Denny Strong on drums. The trumpet player turned out to be the Local 802 president years after that [John Glasel] but they gave me the names of some guys, and I got together a little group and made a record. I was just around 17 or 18, I was just playing about a year. It was OK, it was sort of nice.
Here’s Ephie with Knocky Parker, piano; Irv Kratka, drums, May 1, 1949:
I turned 18, and my mother wanted me to go to a college. And I thought, I could never do that. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t learn anything. Whatever I knew, I knew from having read myself or having heard, or something, so I got good marks in English and history. But anything I had to study and learn something, I couldn’t do it: language or science or something like that. So with all this, she wanted me to go to a college. So I applied to Juilliard, and they gave me a date for an audition. I picked a piece, and I couldn’t play it. I couldn’t play it at all. It sat there on my music stand, and once in a while I tried, but I couldn’t do it.
I should have called them up and told them I couldn’t make the audition, but I went there anyway. I played the piece perfectly. That was my life. Sometimes I played really good, sometimes I played terrible. Sometimes I played mediocre, but this time I played really good and they clapped me on the back and said, “You’ll go far, young man.” My teacher was there, Ernest Clarke, Herbert Clarke’s brother. Herbert Clarke was a trumpet virtuoso. Ernest Clarke was some sort of a name, I don’t know what he did, but he was well-known there. He was 83 then. And he opened up his book when I took my first lesson. The first page was a row of B-flats. B-flat with a hold on it, more B-flats and more B-flats. And I couldn’t play it. I couldn’t play the note. He would walk back and forth, his hands behind his back, he couldn’t figure it out. So I did that for a couple of weeks, I showed up once a week, and then after a while he turned to the second page. And there were F’s, a little higher but medium-low. And I couldn’t play that note either. And then he retired. I always say that he retired because of me.
Anyway, whatever it was, while this was happening, I was playing outside. I was sitting in and playing, going to clubs and stuff. I played a lot at the beginning with Sol Yaged. He was a clarinet player who played in the clubs where they used to have jazz and now they had strippers. So I played for the strippers with Sol Yaged. I still couldn’t get a sound on my own. When I was in the house, I couldn’t practice. I couldn’t play a scale, I couldn’t do anything. I fell apart. And I went to a lot of teachers. Nobody gave me anything. And when I moved to Brooklyn, I quit playing the trombone when I was here. I started to figure out, what it was was so simple — I guess I wasn’t breathing. I was tight. I never could find an embouchure, except once in a while it happened. It came in by itself, and when it happened, I could really play well. But I wasn’t practicing, I couldn’t play a scale, I couldn’t play anything like regular trombone players could. But I knew that.
My first year at Juilliard I got a straight A because all they did was ear stuff — ear training — and I was good at that. And piano playing, and I could do the piano. And that was it. The second year, I started getting academic subjects: science, languages and stuff, and I couldn’t do it. So I stopped going to school. And years ago, before they fixed up Forty-Second Street, it was a mess, but there was one movie theatre called The Laugh Theatre, and they had, once in a while, regular movies, but usually short subjects, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and all that stuff. So I was there, and I was laughing. My life was awful, but I was laughing. I did that for the rest of my school year, and then I got out of Juilliard. Finally. And years later I figured out that, you know, going to school would have depressed me and made me feel really awful, but being away from the school I was laughing. I felt OK. Laughing is very good for you.
Anyway, I don’t know how it was, but I got out of school, and I started working. I still couldn’t play, I still didn’t practice. So my first job was with Eddie Heywood. He was a piano player. It was an all-black band, at Cafe Society Downtown. There was also a club, Cafe Society Uptown. I was there six weeks or so, and then somebody recommended me — I don’t know how it happened — to Buddy Rich. It’s hard for me to believe. I played six weeks with Buddy Rich: Zoot Sims and Harry Edison were in the band, I forget the bass player and the piano player. So I did that, and then I came out, and that was the end of the big band era. So then I went out, maybe two or three weeks, maybe a weekend, with big bands, but they were beginning to close down. I played with a lot of them, but the only ones I could remember were Buddy Morrow, Ray McKinley, and Charlie Barnet. And with these bands, I was the jazz player.
With Charlie Barnet I also played lead, but I had one solo — that was the audition. There were about eight trombone players who auditioned for Charlie Barnet, and later on he told me that when he saw me he figured I would be the last guy to get it. But the audition was a song — I forget the name of it — [Ephie hums ESTRELLITA] — a Spanish song. It had a trombone solo, there was a high E in the middle or someplace, and I really smacked that thing. I took a chance, you know, I got it, and I was great. The other guys played that E, but they played it hesitantly, so I got the job. And that was great. I had that one solo, and I played lead, which was great for me, because I learned how to do that.
Here’s Ephie with Marty Grosz, guitar; Dick Wellstood, piano; Pops Foster, string bass; Tommy Benford, drums; Hugh McKay, cornet; John Dengler, baritone saxophone; Frank Chace, clarinet. June 6, 1951: comparative listening thanks to “Davey Tough”:
And then I started to work with small bands. I don’t know how I got this work either. Dixieland bands. Wild Bill Davison, who was at Condon’s for I guess twelve years, lost that job — they closed down or something — he went on the road and I went with him, and we made a record. Then I played with Buddy Morrow, and I was the jazz player in that band. He was a great, great trombone player, but a little stiff for my taste. Then Ray McKinley, and I was the jazz player in that band. And Bill Davison, we made a record with that. And then I went with Pee Wee Russell, Ruby Braff was in that, and I forget who else. And we made a record with him. So, so far, I made a lot of records. I got a little bit of a fan club in England because of those records. And Pee Wee — those records were in Boston, and they recorded a whole night, and they put out four ten-inchers. And then they made an lp out of it, or two lps. I don’t imagine any of these things are available now. That Pee Wee thing, it sold well, I don’t understand how, exactly. Can’t figure out those things.)
Here’s Ephie in 1952, with Pee Wee Russell, Ruby Braff, Red Richards, John Field, Kenny John — the second part of this presentation (the first offers Johnny Windhurst, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, John Field, and Jo Jones). For the impatient among us, Ephie’s portion begins at 16:00:
While I was working, I was still struggling. I wanted to finally learn how to play. Since I was working, I might as well learn how to play. I still couldn’t play a scale without falling apart. But in context, I could play, somehow. I saved enough money for a couple of years and went to Philadelphia and studied with a guy named Donald Reinhardt who had a system. His system was really good, but you had to figure out the system. He couldn’t, by himself, help you.
Art DePew, a marvelous trumpet player who played lead with Harry James and a few other bands, went to him and got fixed up. Kai Winding used to run there once in a while. He had problems. His mouthpiece would slip down. Sometimes he could get it back up, sometimes he couldn’t.
Reinhardt didn’t teach me anything. He couldn’t tell you what you were doing wrong or what you should be doing. He had a book and a system. He had a lot of people, and they could look at what he had to say and do it. I couldn’t do that. I had to be told what I was doing wrong. And nobody told me I wasn’t breathing. Lots of times I couldn’t get a sound out. I had no control over it. When I played well, it had nothing to do with me. It just happened. When I played badly, there was no way for me to fix it.
I spent a couple of years there in Philadelphia, and I met my wife. She was a singer, a wonderful oratorio singer. And there was a jazz club over there, and I was playing once a week. I was playing piano in strip clubs with another guy, a very strange man. He wore a toupee, but never bought one. He wore other people’s old toupees; everybody gave him their old toupee. So he just dropped them on top of his head. I spent four years there, learned nothing, and still couldn’t figure out what was happening.
I had to come back to New York, because we got married, and she had a six-and-a half-year old son. We became friends, and that was really good. I did various things, and then a contractor called me. In those days, there was a lot of money around, money flowing freely. In music, there was a shortage of musicians, and I came in at that point.
I’ve been lucky all my life, actually.
I got a job playing in various theatres around the city, short things. There was a theatre on Sixth Avenue and Forty-Eighth Street, I believe, the contractor liked me, and he had some shows coming to New York. He said I could pick one, and one of them was HELLO, DOLLY! I did that for seven years. Playing a show, especially if you’re a jazz player, is terrible. You’re doing the same thing all the time. But I took off a lot. You could take off as long as you got somebody good, and I always got somebody better than me.
I worked with Lester Lanin and played all around the world — Ireland, France, Paris, the Philippines. The guy whose wife had all those shoes [Imelda Marcos], I played their thirtieth anniversary. We went to Hawaii, to Hong Kong, and then I came back, was home for a couple of weeks. They started a group in New York, playing different types of music, so I was in that group, and then they had a small group out of that. I was picked out of that, and we went to Russia — a jazz group. We traveled all over the country, and that was really interesting. That was during the Khruschev era. When I came back, I continued to do club dates, but I couldn’t really progress, I couldn’t learn anything. When I was forty, I still couldn’t play a scale. I was making my living as a trombone player, and I couldn’t play a scale once up and down without falling apart.
Somebody introduced me to marijuana. I tried that, and it was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. It saved my life. The first thing I started to do after I started to smoke was to go downstairs to the basement every morning. We had small radios, and I hung the radio up, right next to my ear, as loud as I could. Not music, but talking. I started to play scales, and it sounded awful, because I couldn’t really hear it. I did that for a couple of years, and finally I got rid of the radio. I began a regular practice, for the first time in my life, when I was about forty.
But by that time I was sort of on the way down, in a way. And then I did a job with Lester Lanin in London, and I met a guy there — I knew him was I was nineteen or twenty. He became rich: his father died. Max, his father, was not too smart, and he couldn’t come to a decision: he didn’t know how to make a decision. So his father, who was a lawyer but a Mob lawyer, he was powerful with a lot of connections those days, so he put Max on the Supreme Court. He couldn’t make a decision. That was his life’s work. So I met this guy, and stayed at his house for a while, and then I stayed in London and made a record there. I have two left, of those records. The other stuff I don’t have any copies of.
Then I had an accident. I’m not sure of the timeline now. I was hit by a car, and broke both my legs and my pelvis. My ankles were messed up. I was in the hospital for about three months. When I came out, I couldn’t really move around, so I didn’t work for a couple of years. But I was lucky, again, because they just had passed a law in Albany, and if you had an accident, they called it “no fault insurance,” and gave you fifty thousand dollars and services. So I was in the hospital, and they would send me a check once a month to live on. So I didn’t work for a couple of years, but I was taken care of.
I came out, and I wasn’t working very much at all, so I called Marty Grosz. I knew him from years ago. We had worked together, in a bar someplace. Not in New York, someplace else. I forget where it was. And I called him, and we made a record. [THE END OF INNOCENCE.] And it got a great review from John S. Wilson, the Times music reviewer. He wrote a really good review of it, not in the paper, but in an international magazine. So I sold about a thousand records. People wrote in. One guy sent it back to me because he didn’t like it. So I sent him back his ten dollars. [I complimented Ephie on the record.] Well, thank you. But I hadn’t worked for three years before that. Again, I was lucky it came out OK. [I reminded Ephie that he and Marty had recorded before, in 1951.] Oh, those records! Those records were nice! Those were really good. I was really happy with those records. I’d forgotten about that. I don’t have any of that stuff, but somehow they turned out to be really good. Frank Chace was nice. Yes, I liked the way he played. Years before, Marty and I had a summer job together. He was just learning how to play and I was learning also. And I never paid him for that record, THE END OF INNOCENCE. He did it for nothing.
I will offer THE END OF INNOCENCE — a glorious duet — in a future posting.
I was in England for ten years, and I did a record there. [Two: NEW YORK SURVIVOR and THE STRUGGLE.] Well, that was close to the end of my career. After my accident, I didn’t do too much. I hung around for a while, and everything got slowed down to nothing. My wife got sick, she got Parkinson’s. So I got a job — I was lucky again — working for Catholic Charities, playing piano for Alzheimers people, various venues, different bosses, for almost twelve years. They just closed down, in March, because of the virus. So I was lucky, I was working all this time, until right now.
So now I’m in one room, I’m hiding out, and I’ve got an electronic piano. I guess you’d say I’m an old-fashioned piano player. Pretty much old-fashioned, with a couple of things thrown in, contemporary. And a couple of months ago, in February, before the virus became widely known, I made a record with a trombone player from England, Malcolm Earle Smith. I hadn’t played in a while. My playing was — I don’t know how to describe it. Except on the last two pieces, there I kind of relaxed. I was careful — I was too careful, so I don’t know about that record. I have a couple of copies. Some people liked them, and some people I sent them to didn’t like it at all.
Ephie at the piano, briefly but evocatively:
[I also mentioned Inigo Kilborn, one of Ephie’s musical colleagues, to him.] Inigo heard me playing in a club in England, and wanted me to come down. He was living in Spain then, he went from London to Spain, he was retired. He wanted me to play in clubs, and I wasn’t working much, I still didn’t have an embouchure, and I still didn’t know how to play. I put him off and finally he gave up.
One of the people I sent the record to was a guy in Sweden. He sent me a letter, that he loved the record, and he wanted me to play all over Europe, he had contacts in clubs all over Europe. And I couldn’t do it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. Maybe I could play one day or two days, but I’d fall apart. I fell apart, here and there, when I was playing. So I didn’t answer him, and he came to New York and then he called me. He wrote me another letter, and he called me and called me, but I didn’t answer the phone. That was the end of that. I couldn’t have done it. It would have been wonderful for my future, my present, but I couldn’t do it. So that was that.
Then, little by little, I faded away, until I got this job. This job saved my life, this piano job. That’s it.
So that’s my story up till now. And here I am. I’m practicing every day, trying to play a little more contemporary, make the chords closer together. Not so old-fashioned. So I’m working on that a little bit, but I’m not working at all now.
I’m just old. And that’s my story.
Ephie at the piano, Malcolm Earle Smith, trombone:
[Ephie had delivered almost all of what you read above in a diligent narrative, and I had not wanted to interrupt him, to distract him. But now, after forty minutes, I thought I could ask some — perhaps idle — questions. I told Ephie I’d seen him onstage, at Alice Tully Hall in 1974, with Bob Greene’s “The World of Jelly Roll Morton.”]
Oh! I forgot about that. That was great. He played like Jelly Roll Morton, and he started a band, a Jelly Roll Morton band. We played all those songs, and I could really do that. I was good at that. I could really blast out. The record doesn’t show that, but we traveled all around the country, and we had standing ovations on every job except one. I don’t know exactly why that one. But that was easy for me, easy and natural. It paid well, and it was fun. Those were happy moments in my life.
I was with Kai Winding — four trombones. It was a tour. We started out someplace — I can’t remember where it was but it was a restaurant. We were above the eaters, so we couldn’t play too loud, and we were close together. And for some reason I played just great — just wonderful, all the way along. and he was talking about making a tour with just the two of us. The job ended, and we had a three-day layoff, and then went into the Little Mirror, a place in Washington. There was an echo, we were spread out, it was loud, I lost what I had in that previous gig, I never found it. I looked for that embouchure for years and years and never got it back. We made a record with Kai Winding. I made a lot of records with different people, but that one was OK. That turned out nice.
[I asked Ephie if he could tell me about people — heroes of mine — he’d encountered, from the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, on.] There was one guy, Jerry Blumberg[a Bunk Johnson protege on cornet and a pianist]. He was wonderful. He got one job someplace, and hired that famous pianist from the Thirties, James P. Johnson. I played one night with him. That was interesting. He was old, but he still played OK. I never worked with Sid Catlett, but I saw him play. I played with Frankie Newton a couple of times. He was fun to play with. Very easy to play with.
When I was in Boston, I was with Pee Wee Russell. He had his own pianist. It wasn’t Wein, and Red Richards came later. There was another guy [Teddy Roy] who I didn’t know, but had played with Pee Wee for years and years. And he had a book, with all the chords in it, which he didn’t need. Every tune that was called, he’d open up the book. He never looked at the book, but the chords were there. He was sort of tied to that.
Ruby Braff was a fantastic player. Nobody ever played like him. He didn’t play like anybody else. He had phenomenal technique, and he used it in very personal ways. A wonderful player. He had his personal problems, like we all do. Sometimes, we were playing someplace, and he didn’t feel he was playing right, or he wasn’t doing justice to what he was doing, someone would come up to him and say, “Ruby, you sounded wonderful,” he would say, “Aaahhh, what do you know?” and dismiss it, insult the guy who liked him. He felt vulnerable all the time, but a great player. And later on, he played with Benny Goodman. He couldn’t read, but Benny would put him at the end of the line of trumpets, and once in a while call upon him to play. He did that for a while.
Did you know Johnny Windhurst? I did one job with him and Ed Hubble on trombone, and I played piano, and Ed Phyfe on drums. He was a wonderful player also.
I didn’t hang out with anybody in Boston. I wasn’t a hanger-on. I went right home after the last tune we played. And I don’t want to hear any of my old stuff. The only records I have are the ones I made in England, THE STRUGGLE and NEW YORK SURVIVOR. THE STRUGGLE is a terrible record, but the other one turned out good.
I played for six-eight months with Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s. He was playing trumpet then — with the mute, not ebullient, but great. Those records with Dizzy are really wonderful. At one point, I was on staff with ABC for three years, subbing for one of the jazz guys. Dick Dreiwitz is such a sweet man, and his wife Barbara, who plays tuba. For a while I was playing ball games with them — they had a Dixieland band. Between innings, we’d walk up and down the aisles and play. People used to throw stuff in the tuba — peanuts, papers, everything — so the tuba players put a pillowcase over the bell. People aren’t naturally nice, you know. Some are, some aren’t.
I’m 92, and I hope I don’t have too many years left. So far, I’m OK.
At that point, we thanked each other, and I assured Ephie he was safe from me. But in the next few days, the phone rang again, as Ephie remembered some other stories:
Ephie played about six weeks at the Cinderella Club with pianist Bross Townsend and a bassist, not Peck Morrison, whose name he didn’t remember. He thought that cornetist Hugh McKay played really well on the 1951 Marty Grosz records and wondered what happened to him. [Does anyone know?] He saw Vic Dickenson once at some uptown Manhattan gig and thought he was wonderful. When working in San Francisco with Wild Bill Davison, he found out that Jack Teagarden was playing in Los Angeles and took the bus to see him. But this was when Jack had quit drinking and Ephie thought he sounded dull.
Another postscript: an extended list of Ephie’s performance credits, which are staggering:
Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Eddie Condon, Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Stan Getz, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Zoot Sims, Lennie Tristano, Teddy Wilson, Kai Winding and Willie the Lion Smith. He has also played with a variety of rock and pop bands including The Bee Gees, The Four Tops and Englebert Humperdink, and has worked for Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Woody Allen and Norman Mailer.
Ephie spent much of the 1990s working in London, during a period in his life when he felt trapped in New York. During that stay he met and played with a number of British musicians as well as becoming something of a mentor for many of them. He also played at a number of society parties with the world renowned orchestra headed by veteran bandleader Lester Lanin. The musicians included: Dick Morrissey, Alex Dankworth, Huw Warren, Tim Whitehead, Martin Speake, Mike Pickering, Steve Watts, Julian Siegel, Chris Gibbons, Andrew Jones, Carl Dewhurst, Dave Whitford and Jean-Victor de Boer. He recorded two albums whilst in the UK: New York Survivor and The Struggle (both released on Basho Records)
Although he stopped playing trombone in 2010, Ephie continues to lead an active musical life in back in New York, playing piano in care homes. Still an inspiration to his friends and colleagues, his passion for music is still as strong as it was decades ago.
Taken and adapted from Ephie’s profile page at Jazzcds.co.uk
Blessings and thanks to Ephie, to Dick Dreiwitz, to Inigo Kilborn, to Malcolm Earle Smith, who made this informal memoir of a fascinating man and musician possible.
Of course, the Legends are Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Adrian Rollini, and their majestic colleagues. But from this distance — can it be a little more than forty years ago? — Messrs. Pletcher, Ingle, Harker, Gibson, Whitman, Miller, and Koch are legendary as well.
I asked someone who is too young to be a legend but certainly plays like one, David Jellema, to write an appreciation of this band, this video, and Tom Pletcher, and I am delighted to present it to you. David, whom I’ve known for more than a few years, is a world-class cornet and clarinet hero, hot and lyrical, his work intelligent and passionate, his style all his own even when he is paying tribute to the Masters who have inspired him. At the end of this presentation, I’ll share a few videos where David shines and list a few sessions that delightfully showcase his work.
But now, to the Sons, through David’s affectionate and perceptive lens.
In the 1970s and 80s, many of the founding fathers of jazz and swing, although in their twilight years, were fortunately yet with us. It was also a great time for the second generation of jazzmen not only to be personally influenced by the ancestors, but to be mingling and collaborating to make their own unique sweet preserves of musical fruits. Bands featured at many of the revival traditional jazz festivals tapped specific, living veins of American jazz heritage.
There were a few bands on the scene that dedicated themselves to the memorialization of the legend of Bix Beiderbecke, some featured over the years at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society jazz festival in Davenport, Iowa where Bix was born. One such specialty band, western Michigan’s “The Jackpine Savages,” formed in 1971, had the expected repertoire of traditional jazz standards and many tunes that Beiderbecke had recorded, but had the honored distinction of including leader Don Ingle (Baldwin, Michigan) on valve trombone and vocals, and Tom Pletcher (Montague, Michigan) on cornet.
Ingle’s father, Ernest ‘Red’ Ingle, played tenor sax and violin,and over his career had recorded with Ted Weems, Spike Jones Orchestra, and his own group,the Natural Seven. For an engagement in Cincinnati in May and June 1927, Red appeared on tenor sax with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. So Don Ingle (1931-2012, who, as an infant, had been held in Bix’s own arms), inheriting his father’s music, humor, and artistic talents, was tutored on cornet by Red Nichols, on arranging by Matty Matlock, and played at Chicago’s Jazz Limited in the mid ‘60s. When he formed The Jackpine Savages in the early 1970s to play at the Lost Valley Lodge on Lake Michigan’s shore near Montague (also for various appearances locally and at aforementioned festivals), he switched to the valve trombone and hired local business-man Pletcher to play the cornet.It was just a few years later that Ingle collaborated with Chicago-based bandleader and piano player Don Gibson (Al Capone Memorial Jazz Band) in forming the Bix-style repertory band heard here, the “Sons of Bix,” whose repertoire and arrangements were primarily informed by Bix’s recordings and as well by period tunes Bix may have played.
This cornet player, Tom Pletcher (1936-2019), was fortunate to have been born to a sterling jazz trumpet player who had played in a few of the earliest jazz groups in collegiate circles. Stewart (“Stu” or “Stew”) Pletcher had friends and associates among the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, and Roy Eldridge (who had once exclaimed to young Tom sweet profanities of praise about his dad), and played professionally for Ben Pollack, Smith Ballew, Red Norvo. Young Tom had the nurturing environment of the earliest of the jazz pioneers even in his home growing up; and at 15, hearing his first Bix record, decided to take up the cornet. After formative youth years on the West Coast, adult Pletcher ended up taking over his grandfather’s decorative metal business in the White Lake, Michigan area (something his jazz musician father was not in position nor disposition to do) throughout a good deal of his life. This metal fabricator shop was a little more than 7 miles from where Ingle’s band would play at that lone restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan shores.
Pletcher’s fascination with Beiderbecke’s music led him into remarkable musical circumstances and personal associations that fueled and lent credence to his knowledge of Bix’s life and music. He corresponded with and visited the homes of the guys who had known and played with Bix. As a layman, he was diligent in seeking, and lucky in finding, not only information, facts, and stories about Bix, but even unseen pictures and a previously unheard recording, thereby to a small degree aiding in the research of Phil Evans toward two different exhaustive books about Bix. In that respect alone he deserves some credit toward the shaping of a factual account of Bix’s life beyond romantic and apocryphal mythologies and fantasies, something the dreamy jazz icon was victim to even before his tragic early death.
Pletcher’s acute intimacy with Bix’s music found its real recognition, however, in how he played a Getzen Eterna cornet(–one from 1965 that Ingle sold to him when Tom joined the Jackpines, and another large bore Eterna he bought in 1987). Certainly Pletcher had been influenced by his own father, Stu, and the musicians Stu associated with (especially Armstrong and Teagarden). Pletcher was an avid fan of Bobby Hackett, and often could deliver a solo sounding convincingly like the gentle man from Providence. He loved the recordings of Bunny Berigan, listening til the end of his life. Tom had acquired and absorbed all the lp records of Chet Baker. (Pletcher was also a keen listener, with Bix, to the music of the French Impressionist composers, Debussy, Ravel, and Delius, beautiful sounds that also influenced how he felt the music.) So a broad base of jazz (and classical) sounds made for a rich depth and diversity of the ideas that he expressed on the horn: he didn’t just play Bix’s licks or try to copy Bix. (The note-for-note tribute solo features like “Singin’ the Blues” mark the rare exception).
It was the extent to which Pletcher had absorbed and internalized technical aspects of Bix’s playing (attack and articulation, tone, vibrato, dynamics, effects and idiosyncrasies, and often, humor) without slavishly or consciously copying Beiderbecke that allowed him the acclaim among fans and musicians, contemporaneous to his generation and that of Beiderbecke’s, that he had come closest to Bix’s sound and spirit of anyone to date. All the other influences that had seasoned his playing allowed him freedom to express his own modern feel of the Bixian sound, keeping those sounds fresh.
Among musicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, he would be the first call to sit in “Bix’s chair” for a host of projects that recreated that period in repertory bands. While yet still alive, Bill Challis, the Bix-friendly arranger for the famous Jean Goldkette Orchestra and Paul Whiteman Orchestra (and the man who transcribed and published Bix’s piano compositions), joined with protégé Vince Giordano to do some newer, expanded renditions of songs from the Goldkette years, including tunes Bix had recorded and some he hadn’t. Legendary piano demi-god and musical powerhouse Dick Hyman had Pletcher featured in a 92nd Street Y concert in New York City (and subsequent CD for Arbors Records) called “If Bix Played Gershwin,” a delicious pallet of all Gershwin tunes rendered as if they had been played in some of the formats that Bix had been grouped in. (Actually, only one Gershwin song from the concert was one that Bix had recorded, “Sunny Disposish.”) An Italian film producer had Pletcher playing the Bixian lead and solos for the stellar soundtrack of a not-so-stellar film loosely based on Bix’s life called “Bix: An Interpretation of a Legend.” John Otto’s “Hotel Edison Roof Orchestra” made in two recordings the perfect setting for Pletcher’s sound: hot jazz arrangements from Jean Goldkette, California Ramblers, Ted Weems, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Sam Lanin, Frank Skinner, and more.
A word must be said about one of Pletcher’s longest standing gigs of fairly consistent personnel. Pletcher played yearly among a group of musicians who gathered to play at Princeton 50th class reunions (months of June, 1975-1981), partly to entertain alumni, but mostly to enjoy their own private ongoing reunions of musicians who were fond of Bix’s music and some who were there when Bix played at Princeton near the end of his life. Squirrel Ashcraft, Bill Priestley, Jack Howe, and other Princeton grads had continued playing music under Bix’s spell at jam sessions in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; they were joined by later Princeton grads like Ron Hockett and Doug James, and collegiate and commercial band alumni like Spencer Clark, Bud Wilson, and Bob Haggart. The music had Eddie Condon-like small group spirit and freedom, and a relaxed approach. Live recordings from these were privately issued on vinyl for the musicians, friends, and alumni. They too called themselves “Sons of Bix.” They later went into Jazzology studios to record formal lps under Haggart’s name, with arrangements on “Clementine” and “In a Mist” by Hockett. They also did a number of private parties on the east coast that carried the reunion flames forth, one among many in Vero Beach which produced a nice album of cassettes with a complete 8-page history of the various “Sons of Bix” configurations over the decades, written by Jack Howe.
The Sons of Bix that you hear in this video (originally calling themselves, tongue in cheek, “The Sons of Bix’s”) only have Pletcher in common with the Princeton Reunion Sons of Bix, although their personnel may have had associations in the Evanston, Illinois jam sessions at Squirrel’s. These SOBs had three lp albums that were released (“A Legend Revisited” on Fairmont Records;“Ostrich Walk,” “Copenhagen”both on Jazzology). One was recorded but not issued on vinyl, and only in part much later online, called “San.” They played at the popular traditional jazz festivals like San Diego, Central City, and Sacramento. They toured Europe in 1979, playing in numerous countries and at the Breda Jazz Festival. (That is no small feat for loads of luggage, many horn and drum cases, a bass sax, train schedules and coaches, plane rides, small alleys, streets, and bars, wives and my own tagging aunt and uncle..)
In their “first East Coast appearance,” introduced here by the director of the DC-area Manassas Jazz Festival, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, the personnel consists of Glenn Koch, drums; Don Ingle, announcer, valve trombone, arranger, co-leader; Don Gibson, piano, arranger, co-leader; John Harker on clarinet and alto sax; Dave Miller, banjo and guitar; Tom Pletcher, cornet; and Russ Whitman, bass saxophone. In this video you’ll hear six songs that Beiderbecke had recorded, and one traditional tune they occasionally played.
I heard this band live for the first time at this very festival. I was a little boy, almost 14, with a bowl-cut Dutch-boy head of blonde hair and corduroy pants climbing high over white socks. I joined some of them for a brief after-hours jam session, along with another young Bix-Pletcher protégé named Ralph Norton, whose hair was slicked back and parted down the middle. (By the next time I heard them live, Ralph and I were in a cordial race to see who could part with his hair first.)Fast forward. In August 1987, I was just graduated from college, and for that summer was at my family farmhouse near Montague, Michigan (within a 12-minute walk from the Lost Valley Lodge where I first had heard the Jackpine Savages as a lad). The Sons of Bix had two appearances in the area the 8th and 9th, one at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with guest Marian McPartland, in which she joined the band for a standard, played “In a Mist” solo, and did a haunting duet of “Stardust” with Pletcher. The next day,the SOBs were at a country club near Muskegon. Tom was playing that weekend on a brand new, large-bore Getzen Eterna, and any adjustments he needed to get used to the feel of the new horn on its maiden voyage Saturday night had been made into a crackling performance for the local jazz society the next day.
Unfortunately, life was making demands on me that did not allow me any further opportunities to hear this band live. But the lp records had to suffice, and the magic had been done on me. In either case, here was a band that liked playing together, liked the specific material they were reviving and reshaping, played with energy and cohesion, joked and giggled a lot. They had intelligent arrangements when needed, they could hug the ballads, and could fire up listeners with the standard barn-burners of the genre. Each musician was a seasoned, veteran master at his craft. Each one had remarkable personal connection to his antecedents at a time when some of those musical forebears were still alive to enjoy their own memories and these new achievements.
I have resisted a number of other opportunities herein to insert myself further into the narrative about this band and its roots, about Ingle, and especially about Pletcher. I will simply close with a note of gratitude to them for their loving treatment of their musical heroes and their influence on the younger musicians they had the chance to shape, to the two horn players that especially mentored me, to all the other musicians who play in these sounds, and finally to the historians, archivists, and documenters that have the cultivating hands in making this tree continue to grow in the shape of a musician from Davenport, Iowa.
And now, that 1978 session. SUSIE / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / BORNEO / CARELESS LOVE / THOU SWELL / CLEMENTINE / FIDGETY FEET // Introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee: Tom Pletcher (cornet), Don Ingle (valve trombone), John Harker (clarinet), Don Gibson (piano), Russ Whitman (bass sax), Dave Miller (guitar, banjo), Glenn Koch (drums).
Back to David for a rewarding short interlude.
What could be nicer than four friends romping through a jazz evergreen: Albanie Falletta, David, Jonathan Doyle, and Jamey Cummins in 2014:
More friends, the Thrift Set Orchestra (yes, that’s Hal Smith!) in 2013, doing KRAZY KAPERS:
Many of the same rascals, plus the wonderful Alice Spencer, in 2014:
You can also hear David on the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, two sessions by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, THE ROAD TO LEAVING and LIVE AT THE SAHARA LOUNGE, as well as FLOYD DOMINO ALL-STARS.
The eBay seller “jgautographs,” from whom I’ve purchased several marvels (signatures of Henry “Red” Allen, Rod Cless, Pee Wee Russell, Pete Brown, Sidney Catlett, among others) has been displaying an astonishing assortment of jazz inscriptions. I haven’t counted, but the total identified as “jazz” comes to 213. They range from “traditional” to “free jazz” with detours into related musical fields, with famous names side-by-side with those people whose autographs I have never seen.
As I write this (the early afternoon of March 21, 2020) three days and some hours remain.
Here is the overall link. Theoretically, I covet them, but money and wall space are always considerations. And collectors should step back to let other people have a chance.
The signers include Benny Carter, Betty Carter, Curtis Counce, Jimmy Woode, Herb Hall, Bennie Morton, Nat Pierce, Hot Lips Page, Rolf Ericson, Arnett Cobb, Vernon Brown, Albert Nicholas, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Margolis, Ed Polcer, Ed Hall, Billy Kyle, Sam Donahue, Al Donahue, Max Kaminsky, Butch Miles, Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Arvell Shaw, Barrett Deems, Buck Clayton, Babs Gonzales, Benny Bailey, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Burrell, Reggie Workman, Stanley Turrentine, Louis Prima, Wayne Shorter, Tiny Bradshaw, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Bea Wain, Red Rodney, Frank Socolow, Bobby Timmons, George Wettling, Roy Milton, Charlie Rouse, Donald Byrd, Kai Winding, Kenny Drew, Kenny Clarke, Steve Swallow, Shelly Manne, Frank Bunker, Charlie Shavers, Ben Pollack, Jess Stacy, Ron Carter, Bob Zurke, Jimmy Rushing, Cecil Payne, Lucky Thompson, Gary Burton, Jaki Byard, Noble Sissle, Muggsy Spanier, Don Byas, Pee Wee Russell, Slam Stewart, Hazel Scott, Ziggy Elman, Buddy Schutz, Ernie Royal, Boyd Raeburn, Dave McKenna, Claude Thornhill.
And signatures more often seen, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Gerry Mulligan, Cab Calloway, Rosemary Clooney, Wynton Marsalis,Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Chick Corea, Count Basie.
In this grouping, there are three or four jazz-party photographs from Al White’s collection, but the rest are matted, with the signed page allied to a photograph — whether by the collector or by the seller, I don’t know. And there seems to be only one error: “Joe Thomas” is paired with a photograph of the Lunceford tenor star, but the pairing is heralded as the trumpeter of the same name.
My head starts to swim, so I propose some appropriate music — sweet sounds at easy tempos, the better to contemplate such riches, before I share a half-dozen treasures related to musicians I revere.
Jess Stacy’s version of Bix Beiderbecke’s CANDLELIGHTS:
Harry Carney with strings, IT HAD TO BE YOU:
Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones, PRISONER OF LOVE:
Here are a double handful of autographs for your amazed perusal.
Charlie Shavers, name, address, and phone number:
Lucky Thompson, 1957:
Jimmy Rushing, 1970:
Hot Lips Page (authentic because of the presence of the apostrophe):
Benny Carter (I want to see the other side of the check!):
And what is, to me, the absolute prize of this collection: Lester Young, whom, I’m told, didn’t like to write:
Here’s music to bid by — especially appropriate in those last frantic seconds when the bids mount in near hysteria:
I take my title from what Bobby Hackett told Max Jones about his friend Jack Teagarden, “The Good Lord said to Jack, ‘Now you go down there and show them how to do it.” (I am paraphrasing, because the book, TALKING JAZZ, is hiding from me.)
My subject is one of Jack’s noble colleagues, the trombonist Bob Havens, born May 3, 1930, in Quincy, Illinois — thus seventy-nine in the performance I will share with you, which he created at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend — with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, string bass; James Dapogny, piano. The song Havens chose for his feature is the venerable IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, which has its jazz immortality due to the 1927 Red Nichols recording featuring Adrian Rollini and Pee Wee Russell along with Red and Miff Mole. Bob’s performance is three choruses, a continuing amazement.
Bob Havens, 2016
What strikes me immediately is the serious ease with which Bob approaches the melody, not rushing, not being in a hurry to get to the “hot” part, but playing it, slightly embellished, in his first chorus.
His tone. His huge sound — a sound on which you could build your church. His generous but intelligently applied phrase-ending vibrato. His complete command of the trombone in all registers. And, for me, that first chorus is a complete meal in itself, so beautifully offered. But to look at the video and know, as I do, that there are two more choruses that will follow leaves me nearly open-mouthed.
Please, on your second and third viewing, and there should be occasions to revisit this splendor, savor the solid drumming of Arnie Kinsella, who knew how to play simply but with great soul; the delicious supportive work of Vince Giordano, who knows not only the right notes but where they should fall and how; James Dapogny’s intuitive embrace of both the soloist and the music in every phrase.
Bob’s turning-the-corner into his second chorus is exultant: now this is serious business, his shouting announcement seems to say. I’ve laid out the melody, now let me show you what I can do with it. Only a trombonist could explicate the dazzling variety of technical acrobatics — all beautifully in service of the song — Bob creates in that chorus, ending with a bluesy flourish. And the third chorus is a magnificent extension of what has come before, with technique and taste strolling hand in hand. (Again, no one in this quartet of masters rushes.) Admire the structure, variations on variations, as simplicity gives way to complexity but the simplicity — IDA is a love song! — remains beneath. Bob’s virtuosity is amazing, super-Teagarden thirty stories up, but his pyrotechnics never obscure emotions, and his sound never thins or becomes hard.
I invite you to admire someone who astonishes, who gives us great gifts.
What glorious music. in some ways, beyond my words.
This post is in honor of my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler, the young trombone whiz and friend Joe McDonough, and Nancy Hancock Griffith, who made so much beauty possible.
Few people would recognize the portrait on its own.
But Walter Donaldson (1893-1947) wrote songs that everyone knows (or perhaps, in our collective amnesia, once knew): MY BLUE HEAVEN; LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME; AT SUNDOWN; YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY; HOW YA GONNA KEEP THEM DOWN ON THE FARM?; MAKIN’ WHOOPEE; CAROLINA IN THE MORNING; LITTLE WHITE LIES; MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME; WHAT CAN I SAY AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY; YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, and many more — six hundred songs and counting. Ironically, the man who created so much of the American vernacular in song is little-chronicled, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, he is buried in an unmarked grave in Brooklyn. So much for Gloria Mundi.
On May 12, 2019, Jonathan Doyle (here playing bass saxophone) and Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto saxophone) created a wonderful exploration of Donaldson’s less-known and often completely unknown compositions for the Redwood Coast Music Festival. Joining them were Kris Tokarski (piano); Katie Cavera (guitar); Charlie Halloran (trombone); Hal Smith (drums). Charlie had to rush off to another set, so Brandon Au takes his place for the final number, JUST THE SAME. There are some small interferences in these videos: lighting that keeps changing, dancers mysteriously magnetized by my camera, yet oblivious to it (a neat trick) but the music comes through bigger-than-life.
Ordinarily, I parcel out long sets in two segments, but I was having such fun reviewing these performances that I thought it would be cruel to make you all wait for Part Two. So here are ten, count them, Donaldson beauties — and please listen closely to the sweetness and propulsion this ad hoc ensemble gets, as well as the distinctive tonalities of each of the players — subtle alchemists all. At points, I thought of a Twenties tea-dance ensemble, sweetly wooing the listeners and dancers; at other times, a stellar hot group circa 1929, recording for OKeh. The unusual instrumentation is a delight, and the combination of Donaldson’s unerring ear for melodies and what these soloists do with “new” “old” material is, for me, a rare joy. In an ideal world, this group, playing rare music, would be “Live from Lincoln Center” or at least issuing a two-CD set. We can hope.
LITTLE WHITE LIES, still a classic mixing swing and romantic betrayal:
DID I REMEMBER? — possibly best-remembered for Billie’s 1936 recording:
SWEET JENNIE LEE! which, for me, summons up a Hit of the Week paper disc and a Frank Chace home jam session:
MAYBE IT’S THE MOON — so pretty and surprisingly unrecorded:
YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO TELL ME (I KNEW IT ALL THE TIME) — in my mind’s ear, I hear Jackson T. singing this:
SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, again, surprisingly unacknowledged:
CLOUDS, recorded by the Quintette of the Hot Club of France:
TIRED OF ME, a very touching waltz:
REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), which enjoyed some fame because of Bix, Tram, and Bing:
JUST THE SAME, which I went away humming:
Thoroughly satisfying and intriguing as well.
I dream of the musical surprises that will happen at the 2020Redwood Coast Music Festival (May 7-10, 2020). With over a hundred sets of music spread out over four days and on eight stages, I feel comfortable saying there will be delightful surprises. Their Facebook page is here, too.
Meet the Lamb! Here he is — don’t mind the murky visual — at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:
Thanks, deep thanks to Howard Kadison and Audrey VanDyke, keepers of so many flames. Here is Howard’s prized copy of the PRINCETON RECOLLECTOR, a historical journal almost exclusively devoted — in this issue — to the marvelous and elusive jazz piano genius Donald Lambert.
An editorial about Donald Lambert: will wonders never cease?
Lambert plays the Sextette from Lucia:
Recollections of Bill Priestley, a fine cornetist:
Pee Wee Russell and the milk truck:
More rare narrative:
Lambert in his native haunts:
Playing two melodies at once:
THE TROLLEY SONG, with friend Howard Kadison at the drums:
SPAIN, with Lambert and Kadison:
ANITRA’S DANCE, from the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:
LIZA, from the same concert:
Yes, Art Tatum:
The 1941 Bluebird PILGRIM’S CHORUS:
I GOT RHYTHM (recorded by Jerry Newman, 1940) with Lambert, Hot Lips Page, Herbie Fields, Pops Morgan:
DINAH, from the same party at Newman’s parents’ home):
I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE:
and TEA FOR TWO from the same incredible session, Lambert also playing FRENESI:
A very rare (and I think unissued) 1949 performance, BLUE WALTZ:
LINGER AWHILE, with Kadison (the first Lambert I ever heard):
An unlisted WHEN BUDDHA SMILES, with trumpet and string bass:
There are so many names for the music The Easy Winners create (is it string-band music, ragtime, roots music, Americana, or venerable popular song?) that I have given up the quest to name it. But it’s light-hearted, sweet, sometimes hilarious, sentimental in the best ways, old-fashioned without being stuffy.
THE EASY WINNERS, photograph by Wendy Leyden.
Here’s RAGGED BUT RIGHT, swinging and comedic at once:
Who are these gifted and friendly people? In the middle, that’s Nick Robinson, to his left is Zac Salem; for this appearance at the 2019 Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival they are joined by Robert Armstrong — you’ll know which one he is because he sings with great subtle skill. I’m also pleased to point out that the very fine videos are the product of Unigon Films: video and audio by Rob Thomas, edited by Lewis Motisher.
To me, this music is completely charming — what I envision people who lived some distance from cities playing and singing at home (ideally on the porch in summer), old songs, pop songs, swinging without trying hard to, joining their individual string sounds and vocal harmonies to entertain family, friends, neighbors. They feel a million miles away from music funneled through the iPhone into earbuds or blasting from someone’s car speaker: they remind me of a time when people made music on their own and they were expert at it even when Ralph Peer didn’t offer them a record contract: a landscape full of wonderful sounds, people creating beautiful melodies for their own pleasure.
One of the additional pleasures of this group is their varied library, “ragtime era music of the Americas on mandolin and guitar . . . classic rags, waltzes, cakewalks, tangos, marches, and songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” For those whose little “is this jazz?” alarm bells are going off, calm down and remind yourself that Oliver, Henderson, Gioldkette, and other fabled bands (we celebrate them as hot ensembles) played tangos and waltzes because the crowd wanted them and expected them — as delights for the ears and intriguing dance music, variety over the course of an evening.
A little personal history: in 2013 I delighted in Nick’s former band, The Ragtime Skedaddlers, at the Cline Wine & Jazz Festival, and it was my pleasure to write about them and post video from their performance here. Nick happily reminded me that I called the R.S. “old-fashioned melodists,” true then, true now, no matter what the band is called.
The R.S. gave way to The Easy Winners — an optimistic title with echoes of Joplin (and much easier to spell). I wasn’t at the Sutter Festival, but 17 (!) beautiful videos have emerged and I am delighted to share a few with the JAZZ LIVES audience in hopes of introducing them to this beautiful expert unaffected group. You can see them all
hereor here(the first is Nick’s playlist; the second the filmmakers’ channel).
But here are two more that I particularly like because the songs have deep jazz connections for me and perhaps you as well:
DIANE always makes me think of Jack Teagarden, although the verse is new to me — as is Robert’s fine playing on that home-improvement item (he doesn’t sing “Did you see what I saw?” but perhaps he should):
BREEZE, which I associate with Clarence Williams and Jess Stacy:
I didn’t have the good fortune to grow up among people so talented (although my father played a round-back mandolin in his youth) but the Easy Winners are not only a musical delight but a kind of spiritual one. Although we are listening to them digitally through our computers, they link us to a time and place where sweet music helped us to perceive the world as a benevolent place. I hope they prosper.
If I had a house with a porch (my apartment complex has unyielding concrete benches) I would want to hire The Easy Winners for late-spring serenades. There could be pie and lemonade, too.
And the first musical exhortation, this by Mamie Smith (Note: I’ve consciously not written out the known personnel on each of these musical therapies, thinking it a distraction. If you need to know who’s in the section, write in and I will look it up in Tom Lord’s discography.):
and another contemporaneous version, by Lou Gold and his Orchestra:
and the next step:
and the Fletcher Henderson version, arranged by Benny Carter:
and the Ellington version that thrills me — vocal by Chick Bullock (whom I like):
and the Red Nichols version, where Jack Teagarden delivers the sermon:
and the frankly amazing recording of Bill Robinson. Follow along!
That’s a hard act to follow, but here are three “modern” versions that have delicious energy of their own. First, Jeff Barnhart:
and one version by Marty Grosz (there’s another, easily found, on YouTube) where he borrows liberally from Fats’ DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU for the opening:
and this Teddy Wilson-styled small-group masterpiece by Rebecca Kilgore and Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers:
This post is for my dear friend, the fine young trombonist Joe McDonough, who worships at the Teagarden shrine. A few days ago, I began to collect orts, fragments, and holy relics (from the treasure house of eBay and elsewhere) for him, and for you. Along with Louis, Sid Catlett, and Teddy Wilson, Jack was one of my earliest jazz heroes — and he remains one, memorably. Wonderful pieces of paper follow below, but no tribute to Jack could be silent. Although there are many versions of his hits in his discography, he made more superb recordings than many other players and singers. Here’s one of his late masterpieces, a sad song that reveals Jack as a compelling actor in addition to everything else. The trumpet is by Don Goldie:
and an early one, with support from Vic Berton and frolics from Joe Venuti:
and since we can, here’s another take (who knows at this point which is the master and the alternate?):
And the 1954 LOVER, with an astonishing cast: Jack, Ruby Braff, Sol Yaged, Lucky Thompson, Denzil Best, Milt Hinton, Kenny Kersey, Sidney Gross:
An early favorite of mine, the 1947 AUNt HAGAR’S BLUES, with beautiful work from Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, and Pee Wee Russell:
And now, some pieces of paper. Remarkable ones!
Pages from an orchestral score for SUMMERTIME (title written in by Jack):
The seller of some of these treasures has a pleasing explanation, which I offer in full:
This is the score for Jack TEAGARDEN, when he performed in bands and orchestras, throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Jack TEAGARDEN was known as the jazz singer and jazz trombonist, who was an innovator at both. He was famous for playing trombone with the best – Paul WHITEMAN, the Dorseys, Louie Armstrong, etc., etc.
Teagarden’s wife, Addie was a great personal friend, throughout the 1980s. She shared some of Jack’s personal effects, including this historic and valuable score for “Summertime”, which Jack actually used in studio and on stage. This is a genuine original score. What a great piece of jazz and musical history.
Jack’s part on trombone is designated (in a small rectangle), on each of six, large, hand-written score sheets from Los Angeles and San Bernardino, California. The front of the sheets, when closed, has the words, Summer time, which have been doodled, by Jack.
I will be selling other TEAGARDEN and Louis Armstrong memorabilia, over the next year.
Weldon Leo “Jack” Teagarden (August 20, 1905 – January 15, 1964) was a jazz trombonist and singer. According to critic Scott Yannow of Allmusic, Teagarden was the preeminent American jazz trombone player before the bebop era of the 1940s and “one of the best jazz singers too”. Teagarden’s early career was as a sideman with the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Paul Whiteman and lifelong friend Louis Armstrong before branching out as a bandleader in 1939 and specializing in New Orleans Jazz-style jazz until his death.
At my age (77), I am beginning to sell a lifelong, eclectic, collection of unique artwork. I enjoyed this great collection. Now, it’s time to share it with others.
Is it “Milly” or “Willy”? Jack wished her or him the best of everything:
In 1936 and perhaps 1937, Jack was one-third of a small band aptly called THE THREE T’s. Here’s a page from a fan’s autograph book (selling for 449.95 or thereabouts on eBay):
in 1940, Jack either played a Martin trombone or advertised one, or both:
Some years later, the Belgian label issued BOOGIE WOOGIE by Jack — which is from his 1944 transcription sessions:
And this is a Billboard ad for that same or similar band:
At the end of the Swing Era, when big bands were dissolving and throwing their leaders into deep debt, Jack got telegrams, at least one decidedly unfriendly:
Jack inscribed this photograph to the Chicago photographer Nat Silberman:
and the newspaper advertisement for Jack’s last gig, at the Dream Room in New Orleans — where Connie Jones was with him:
At the end of the trail, Jack’s headstone with its very moving inscription, although I wonder if those sweet moving words were his idea:
Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Willis Conover, late Forties: photograph by Norm Robbins. Photograph courtesy University of North Texas Music Library, Willis Conover Collection.
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?).
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.
David Lukácsdreams in lyrical swing. His most recent CD is evidence that I do not exaggerate. Now, I know that some of my American readers might furrow their brows and say, “Who are these people? I don’t know their names!” but I urge them to listen and watch.
To quote the lyrics from SAY IT SIMPLE (I hear Jack Teagarden’s voice in my head as I type), “If that don’t get it, well, forget it right now.”
Here you can hear the music, download it, purchase a disc.
The sweet-natured magicians are David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; Malo Mazurie, cornet, trumpet; Attila Korb, bass saxophone*, trombone; Felix Hunot, guitar, banjo; Joep Lumeij: string bass. The songs are DREAM CITY / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / OLD MAN BLUES / MORE THAN YOU KNOW / THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / I HAD IT BUT IT’S ALL GONE NOW / HALLELUJAH! / BLUE PRELUDE / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / THEN SOMEONE’S IN LOVE / LOUISIANA / CLARINET MARMALADE / MANOIR DE MES REVES. The liner notes are by Scott Robinson.
David told me that this CD is inspired by his father’s record collection (obviously the Lukacs lineage has taste and discernment) but his vision is even larger: “With this album I created my own city, my Dream City, where there’s Bix and Tram’s music in one club, Duke is playing in the theatre beside, and you might hear Django’s music around the corner.”
That transcends the time-machine cliche, and each track is a dreamy vision of a heard past made real for us in 2019. The dreaminess is most charming, because this disc isn’t simply a series of recreations of recordings. Occasionally the band follows the outlines of a famous disc closely — as in A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND — but each song becomes a sweet playground for these (sometimes shoeless) dear geniuses to roam in.
Here’s another video tour, with snippets of the title tune, OLD MAN BLUES, MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES, MANOIR DE MES REVES (and comments from Scott, who knows):
Readers who feel this music as I do won’t need any more explanation — but a few lines are in order. I first heard David on record with Menno Daams (check out the latter’s PLAYGROUND) — two musicians who have deep lyrical intelligence, but DREAM CITY is an astonishing combination of the hallowed past and true contemporary liveliness. David told me that he has been inspired not only by the old records, but by the music Marty Grosz and others made, using those sounds as a basis. I hear echoes of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet and the small-group sessions that were so prolific and gratifying on the Arbors label.
DREAM CITY offers us glorious yet understated solo work and — perhaps even better — delicious ensemble playing and gratifying arrangements. The inspirations are also the Kansas City Six, the Ellington, Basie, and Wilson small bands, and more. You can draw your own family tree with chalk on the sidewalk. The “unusual” instrumentation also allows a great flexibility in voicings — this is no formulaic band that plays each song in the same way, simply varying tempo and key — and this CD is not a series of solos-with-rhythm. Each selection, none longer than a 12″ 78, is a short story in sounds.
If you care to, go back to the video of DREAM CITY — which begins, if I am correct, with a line on the chords of BYE BYE BLUES and then changes key into a medium-bounce blues — and admire not only the soloing, so tersely expert, so full of feeling without self-consciousness — but the arrangement itself: the quiet effective way horns hum behind a soloist, the use of stop-time and a Chicago “flare,” the echoes of Bix and Tram without tying the whole endeavor to a 1927 skeleton . . . worth study, deserving of admiration.
All of the players impress me tremendously, but Attila gets his own * (and that is not the title of a children’s book) because I’d not known of his bass saxophone playing: he is a master of that horn, handling it with elegance and grace, sometimes giving it a limber ease I would associate with the bass clarinet, although he never hurries. (I also discovered Attila’s 2017 TAP ROOM SWING, a tribute to Adrian Rollini, which I hope to write about in future.)
I plan to continue blissfully dreaming to DREAM CITY, an ethereal soundtrack, so rewarding.