Tag Archives: Jan Evensmo

SIX MINUTES OF SWING MYSTERY (May 25, 1939)

We like to think that everything can be known, and in many cases answers can be found by the diligent, but I am sharing a small mystery with my readers, for their pleasure and perhaps our mutual enlightenment.

Certain jazz soloists are immediately recognizable: you can make your own list.  Other superb players are less familiar because of the paucity of evidence (we know what Charlie Shavers sounds like because of his distinctive approach, but we also have hours of his recorded work to compare any unidentified playing against.)  I think also of Coleman Hawkins’ comment about being on the road: that you could go to some small town and there would be a tenor player who no one ever heard of who would be as good as the famous ones.

When I saw this record — rather obscure and rare — I wanted it, for those reasons.  Also because Edgar Sampson, saxophonist, composer, arranger, never produced any music that was less than superb.  I knew one song — DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME — because of Fats Waller’s UK recording.  When I played it, though, I was impressed and mystified.  A great trumpet solo on JIVE, and rippling swing piano on both sides.

I have some vanity about knowing the great soloists of the period, and it piqued me that I couldn’t identify anyone except Sampson.  But I have friends who are also experts, and I tried their knowledge as well — let me list their names in alphabetical order: Marc Caparone, Menno Daams, Jan Evensmo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bent Persson, Rob Rothberg, Bo Scherman — but no definitive answers.

About The Three Swingsters, I can only surmise that they were a vocal group with some regional fame — I think Pennsylvania — but I do not know whether the record was made to showcase them or not.

Before we go deeper, here is the mysterious listing in Tom Lord’s online discography:

Edgar Sampson And His Orchestra : 2 tp, tb, Edgar Sampson (as) unknown p, b and d, The Three Swingsters (vcl-1)
New York, May 25, 1939
WM1023-A Don’t try your jive on me (1) Voc 4942
WM1024-A Pick your own lick (1) –
WM1025-A Sly mongoose (1) (unissued)

My experts (I apologize if that seems too possessive) came up with names of who the trumpet soloist couldn’t be, and proposed Dick Vance or Benny Carter as the trumpeter, and Tommy Fulford as the pianist, with some thoughts of perhaps Eddie Heywood or Kenny Kersey.  Vance and Fulford were stalwarts of the Chick Webb band — this disc was recorded very late in Chick’s life — and at that time Sampson was the band’s musical director.  I have heard Fulford with Chick’s “Little Chicks,” and he is plausible — fleet and swinging.

On first hearing, I thought the pianist was Billy Kyle, but the player does not reach for Kyle’s beloved downward run, and Billy recorded that day with Jack Sneed for Decca (of course he could have made two sessions in one day). The connection to Master Records suggests the salutary influence of Helen Oakley. And PICK YOUR OWN LICK (written by “newcomers to songdom” Roy Jacobs and Gene de Paul, according to Billboard) was published by Mills Music.  de Paul went on to write DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME and I’LL REMEMBER APRIL, but LICK is not his finest hour.  Or three minutes.

Here’s DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME:

About PICK YOUR OWN LICK: I try never to write these words, but what a terrible idea — an attempt to have a pop hit by cannibalizing bits of other pop hits. But the band sounds good, even while the lyrics pummel us with obvious hopeful thefts.

Your thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

JAN EVENSMO, OUR HERO, KEEPS ON LISTENING

In the middle seventies, which seems a long time ago, I was friends with a dear man and jazz collector, Bill Coverdale, who had moved to Naples, Florida.  We never met and I don’t even know if we spoke on the phone.  In those ancient days, we exchanged typewritten letters, cassette and reel-to-reel tapes.  (We’d met through the mail because of his interest in the trumpeter Joe Thomas, someone I also admired greatly, and I had seen and recorded Joe at that time.)

I miss Bill, because he was funny, kind, and generous — and in those pre-YouTube days, people like Bill were the way one heard new music.  Bill also loaned me a few precious booklets by the Norwegian jazz scholar Jan Evensmo, who I believed called his work “solographies.”  (I found out later that Jan had been doing this — officially and for love — for a long time, with his earliest writings on jazz dating back to the mid-sixties.)

Jan Evensmo, doing what makes him -- and us -- happy, which is listening deeply.

Jan Evensmo, doing what makes him — and us — happy, which is listening deeply.

What’s a “solography”?  Well, it’s not a series of recorded jazz solos reproduced as notes on the staff.  Jan begins each of his surveys with a brief biography, and it is a listing of the subject’s recorded work, but it’s not a discography, full of labels and numbers.  What it feels most like is a beautiful guided tour — on the page — of one recording session or airshot or concert recording after another, chronologically, with notations of how long the solo is, with Jan’s commentary on whether it’s sparkling or flat, and so on.  His judgments are strong and I have found myself disagreeing now and again, but his ears are sharp and he is without bias.  So his work is always enlightening.  And it always offers surprises.  So that, in reading his study of Bobby Hackett’s early period, I came across sessions recorded by Bill Savory that I didn’t know existed, and in his work on Teddy Wilson, I now know there are more alternate takes of the 1933 Chocolate Dandies session than I had ever encountered.  This is catnip — or something stronger — to those of us who vibrate to such things.

Here’s an example.  I knew this record — Maxine Sullivan’s version of SAY IT WITH A KISS, where she is accompanied by Hackett and Bud Freeman, not her usual crew, but until Jan mentioned it I had forgotten just how tender it is, and how lovely four and two bars by Bobby are:

Now, I am not trying to help Jan sell little booklets.  The news is better than that. Jan vaulted ever so neatly into this modern age of disseminating important information — for free — online, and  he has a beautiful, lavishly generous site, http://www.jazzarcheology.com/bobby-hackett/ (I’ve pointed readers to the Hackett pages).  Jan offers PDFs of his solographies for free.

And here is the latest installment of his newsletter, which is free (I know I said that) with no advertising, fascinating, scholarly without being didactic.  I think you will find someone and something to spend time on.

Dear jazz friends!

Happy New Year of 2016 to all of you! Jazz Archeology is digging up treasures as ever before, and you and I will definitely be terminated before all worthy vintage jazz musicians have found their place here, but we just have to keep going…

Thank you for additional feedback on future projects! Many good suggestions, and several (but not all, at least not by me, but by yourself?) will appear in due time!

This time focus is on the following five artists:
The Tenor Saxophone of Dexter Gordon
The Trumpet & Cornet of Bobby Hackett
The Baritone Saxophone of Knut Hyrum (Norway)
The Piano of Shotaro Moriazu (Japan)
The Piano of Teddy Wilson (1932-34)
There is updating of the following artists:
The Guitar of Oscar Aleman (lots of additions, including a solid and valuable CD-discography by Andres “Tito” Liber from Argentina!)
The Tenor Saxophone of Allen Eager (p. 14- )
The Tenor Saxophone of Gene Ammons (p. 20, 25)
The Tenor Saxophone of Don Byas Pt 2 (p. 5, 6, 9, 11)
The Alto Saxophone of Joe Eldridge (p. 5)
The Trumpet of Roy Eldridge (p. 29)
The Clarinet of Edmond Hall (p. 13, 15)
The Tenor Saxophone of Coleman Hawkins Pt 3 (p. 27, 29)
The Tenor Saxophone of James Moody (p. 17, 21)
The Tenor Saxophone of Sonny Stitt (p. 15, 17, 23)
The Piano of Richard Twardzik (several)
The Tenor Saxophone of Dick Wilson (p. 9)
I am most grateful for the latest feedback from James Accardi, Nils Gunnar Anderby, Anthony Barnett, Bill Bithell, Alan Booth, Steve Bromley, Tom Buhmann, Christian Dangleterre, Bjørn Englund, Yvan Fournier, Kenneth Gross, Daniel Gugolz, Marcel Gärtner, Bram Janse, Andres “Tito” Liber, Per Lund, Louis Mazetier, Joe Orange, Leif Bo Petersen, Jean-Francois Pitet, Bob Porter, Lewis Porter, K.-B. Rau, Willy Renström, Norman Saks, Mario Schneeberger, Werner Schrøcker, Klaus Schulz, David Tenner, Daniel Vernhettes.

Jan Evensmo
jan.evensmo@gmail.com

See what I mean?  Be prepared to spend some delighted time with Jan’s wonderful offerings.

May your happiness increase!

FACTS ABOUT FACTS ABOUT THE MUSIC

Imagine an engrossing book “about” jazz that has very little to say about the music. None of the usual content or digressions: anecdotal stories of musicians; portraits of club owners, record producers, concert impresarios. No one’s mother plays the organ; no one has a loving mentor or a horrible first gig.

But the book, MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MUSIC, by Bruce D. Epperson (University of Chicago Press, 2013) is an intriguing study of something most people involved in the music in more than a casual way find invaluable: discographies.

EPPERSON DISCOGRAPHY

A discography, for those new to this, is an essay — or book-length — or a dozen volumes — or an online source — that documents the recorded history of this music. As a bibliography (at the end of your fifth-grade report on The Eye) lists the works consulted, a discography seeks to present all the information known on these recordings.  It can be limited to one artist, a span of time, a style or genre, or it can attempt to be encyclopedic, comprehensive.  Before jazz existed, of course, there were catalogues of compositions — think of the BWV numbers or Kochel numbers for Bach or Mozart.  But it was only when listeners and collectors began seriously to both amass and study recorded evidence — artifacts of performance — that the idea and the actual realization of discography came into being.

Epperson comes to this book (the result of five years’ study — and it shows in the best way) from a singular perspective. He is neither a musician nor a collector; rather, he is a bibliophile fascinated by the books and the people who envisioned and created them. (For some “jazz readers,” this is a perspective that takes some getting used to. It is as if one was handed “a study of Shakeapeare” that was really a history of the most renowned and influential editors of the texts of the plays. If one feels at a distance reading about everyone from the first innovators up to Tom Lord, Epperson’s lively prose will stand up to the accompaniment of one’s favorite recordings — all the master and alternate takes in chronological order, of course.)

A good deal of the book is a serious but not dry historical survey of the form — discographical research and publication, as we know it, began in England in the late Twenties and continues as I write this. At first, it was an outgrowth of the urge common among collectors to know all so that all could be possessed. If one fell in love with the sound of Bix Beiderbecke or Eddie Lang, for instance, one wanted to know exactly what recordings they had appeared on (and which were tempting imitations) so that one could, in this world or an ideal one, possess all their music or at least know that it existed. I think of an orinthologist’s “life-list,” where birds spotted get checked off, and I have seen many discographies that are also tidy or untidy lists of what a particular collector has. (I’ve done it myself, and I recall reading my copies of Rust, Jepsen, Lord, and specialized discographies with a mixture of awe and yearning: “Another take of X MARKS MY SPOT exists?  And it was issued on Bolivian OKeh?  And I don’t have it?  How can I hear it?”)

Why were discographies desirable or necessary?  When jazz performances were issued on single discs, often without the individual players listed on the label, one couldn’t be sure who the Kentucky Grasshoppers or Lil’s Hot Shots were. One could trust one’s ears, but that method has often led to what I would call Collector’s Enthusiasm, where every muted trumpet solo had to be by King Oliver; a vague aural shadow of saxophone on a 1934 Clarence Williams record — could that be Lester Young?  So, at first, they were lists created by collectors, then made public as more widespread enthusiasm about famous and obscure recordings developed.  Then, discographies could serve an ideological purpose: all the recordings in these pages have notable “jazz interest” (translation: they reflect my aesthetic values); they could be divided along racial lines to reflect theorizing about the development of an art form.  From more balanced perspectives, they could reflect much about the ways in which art was made public, and tell a great deal about individual artists or groups.

Epperson’s book deals adeptly with the ideas behind the varieties of discographies, and he does so by specific reference — tracing the changes in the form through specific publications and the writers / researchers responsible for them. This might, to the uninitiated, seem like a scriptural list of begats beginning with R.D. Darrell, but the creators themselves seem to have been at best energetic, at worst acrimonious. There are many small contentions documented in this book: questions of accuracy, of plagiarism, of theory and practice. Epperson’s story begins in England, takes in France and New Orleans, digresses most pleasingly into the phenomenon of “field recordings” and the changes brought in discography and record collecting by the long-playing record, and comes up as close to the present as possible. I was amused and pleased to see jazz scholars I know and admire depicted in these pages: Jan Evensmo, Manfred Selchow, Robert Rusch.

Epperson concludes with some deep philosophical questions (with commentary by Michael Fitzgerald, who knows the field deeply): in this new world, where it appears that everything one wants to hear can be heard in digital format, stripped of its evidence, what effect on discography as a scholarly endeavor or a music-lover’s act of reverence? And for the twenty-first century listener who can have all the issued and some unissued recordings of The Bohemian Stompers in one neat multi-disc set, are comprehensive discographies necessary or are they an antique manifestation of the urge to have all the rarities in one place?

Incidentally, the title isn’t Epperson’s point of view — it comes from a 1947 article by Ernest Borneman, “The Jazz Cult.”  The book has useful illustrations of pages taken from the respective discographies, generous footnotes and bibliography.

I think this book will have a lasting place in the libraries of many jazz enthusiasts and collectors, and I can see it treated with equal pleasure and respect in graduate programs in library science. But that makes it sound too serious. Epperson is a lively, witty writer, and although he tends to fairness to all sides so thoroughly as to occasionally seem diffident, his sharp observations are a real pleasure.

I said at the start that the book was different from most jazz tomes in that it wasn’t deeply based on anecdotage, but one story has stuck in my mind.  The renowned British discographer Brian Rust, Epperson tells us, was already collecting jazz records by the time he was 13 — in 1935 — “it was cheap, and it was approved by the family nurse, who assured them that ‘it’s not possible for germs to survive on smooth surfaces.'”

If anyone comes to you and asks what you are doing, for the love of goodness, with those records or compact discs, feel free to offer that answer.  Jazz records are, if nothing else, sanitary, and thus laudably safer than other objects by which we might amuse ourselves.

May your happiness increase!