Tag Archives: JATP

NAT HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

WAY OUT WESTOVERLEDINGEN / PAPENBURG JOYS (APRIL 8-10, 2016)

I don’t always speak to my college students about Literature; more often, I find myself standing at the intersection of Literature and Life.  So that when a student says to me that (s)he is exhausted because of working too many hours to pay for “things,” I encourage that student to consider, before springing to buy a glittery object, exactly how many hours of work it will cost.  I don’t know if my parental exhortation has any effect, but it is part of a cost / benefit calculation that has sometimes led me to put back something I was about to buy.

Cost and benefit is relevant here, because the person writing these words is still seriously exhausted by the previous weekend’s travel to the Rathaus, in Papenburg, in the larger territory of Westoverledingen, where the Generous Man of Jazz Manfred Selchow lives and has been staging concerts and tours for thirty years.  I know I spent more hours in transit than I did listening to music, but the ten-plus hours of the latter were and are precious.  A few notes follow. But first, a photograph (by my new friend Elke Grunwald):

Rathaus photo by Elke Grunwald

From the left, that’s Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophone; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone; Nicki Parrott, string bass / vocal; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Moritz Gastreich, drums.  Others on the program were Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Niels Unbehagen, piano; Bert Boeren, trombone; Bernard Flegar, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass.  And in the audience there’s a balding fellow with a turquoise shirt and a video camera, as close to the music as he can get without ascending the stage.

Friday night featured a two-set concert by Engelbert, Stephanie, Paolo, and Nicki — a group coyly termed SWINGIN’ LADIES PLUS 2.  The music was lively (TEMPTATION RAG), funky (BLUEBERRY HILL), riotously exuberant (THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE), multi-colored (THANKS FOR THE MEMORY), classic (SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, SHINE, LIZA, ST. LOUIS BLUES) tender (THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU) and Brazilian (Nicki sang BRAZIL and played a samba medley).  I heard delicious echoes of Goodman, James P. Johnson, Garner and Don Lambert, but the quartet was itself as well as evocative, full of sweet surprises in ensemble and solo.

FROM JOPLIN TO JOBIM

If you weren’t in the audience, you can still hear this group — their wonderful CD, FROM JOPLIN TO JOBIM, is available on iTunes and elsewhere.

And that was Friday.

Saturday, post-breakfast, was devoted to a necessary exploration of Sleep.  But at night, there was JAM SESSION NIGHT — four hours and more of sheer pleasure.  It began with a set devoted to Eddie Condon’s music and world, which was started off in just the proper spirit by Nico, reading aloud from WE CALLED IT MUSIC — in German — the passage where Eddie has to go to the induction center to determine if he is fit for service.  (The punchline, in English, is something like, “Get this man a drink!”)  After the laughter died down, Menno, Rico, Bert, Matthias, Niels, Nico and Moritz offered songs directly related to Eddie’s recordings and performances: LOUISIANA, WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE, DIANE, OH, BABY!, THEM THERE EYES, a ballad medley, and MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND.  The music also honored Milt Gabler and George Avakian, appropriately.  And it honored Eddie, with beautiful hot lyricism from everyone.

A short pause, and then Paolo introduced his clever AROUND BROADWAY — jazz classics that were originally show tunes in one way or another — with Engelbert, Stephanie, Nicki, and Bernard.  Berlin, Youmans, Gershwin, with intelligent but never pedantic commentary by Paolo.  And we heard HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, BLUE SKIES, OVER THE RAINBOW, ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, THE MAN I LOVE, and I WANT TO BE HAPPY.  (The audience and the musicians were already happy.  I saw this.)

One of the highlights of the weekend followed, a Hoagy Carmichael set featuring Menno, Matthias, Engelbert, Paolo, Nicki, and Moritz.  The classics were beautifully played and sung: SKYLARK, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, NEW ORLEANS, STARDUST, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, LAZY RIVER — with two delicious surprises: SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, which Carmichael’s Collegians had recorded, although not a Carmichael composition, and THANKSGIVING, which was his work.  My marginal notations (what Stephanie called my “grades”!) were very enthusiastic.

Finally — who or what could follow that? — a set led by Rico in tribute to his mentor, idol, and ideal Louis.  A brief AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ led off, then a seriously intent CHINATOWN, a more relaxed MY WALKING STICK, WILLIE THE WEEPER, a Rico-Niels duet on SWEET LORRAINE (unplanned and elegant), two versions of I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA, YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, and a two-tiered finale, merging STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.

A seemingly insatiable audience called for more, and got it — eleven players assembled for a Benny Carter-flavored I NEVER KNEW and a promise, WE’LL MEET AGAIN.

Delighted, thrilled, elated, exhausted, I went to bed as soon as I could.

After a perfect German breakfast buffet (I dream of these lavish assortments of food, I confess) it was time for Sunday’s JAZZ FRUSCHOPPEN (I now know that the second word means “morning / lunchtime drink,” another linguistic morsel for the word-hoard).  Bert, Rico, Engelbert, Niels, Stephanie, Helge, Nico, and Moritz took on the pleasure of honoring Basie in under an hour, with MOTEN SWING, SPLANKY, a plunger-muted feature a la Al Grey for Bert on MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, SHINY STOCKINGS, ALL OF ME (for the rhythm section) and a searing JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE.

Nicki led Menno, Matthias, Stephanie, Paolo, and Bernard through a tenderly swinging evocation (not imitation) of Billie, Teddy, and Lester, with ME, MYSELF AND I, LOVER MAN, PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE, SAY IT ISN’T SO, THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT, STORMY WEATHER, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — drawing on the best songs that Billie ever recorded, instead of A SUNBONNET BLUE.

And — a proper climax — a JATP set with a five-horn front line backed by Paolo, Helge, Nicki, and Moritz, which presented long versions of TEA FOR TWO, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, I SURRENDER DEAR, IDAHO, a BLUES FOR MANNIE, THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME, LADY BE GOOD with Lester’s 1936 solo for two tenors, and an encore of PERDIDO, with swing rather than honking.

It was wonderful.

Yes, I video-ed the weekend, so those who weren’t there should not grieve.  It will, however, take some time for the videos to emerge: courtesy to the musicians requires that they be given a chance to see what they like or loathe.

A Manfred Selchow weekend is a jazz feast, and he’s been doing this and more for three decades.  We are all so grateful.

May your happiness increase!

A GENUINE PAGE-TURNER: “SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES,” by PETER VACHER

I’m a very tough audience when it comes to jazz history books.  Many of them, understandably, are pastiches of familiar evidence with big helpings of speculation mixed in.  Nice enough for people new to the subject, but give me first-hand information rather than paraphrases of what has already been published.

In addition, most jazz literature seems star-struck, fixated on the forty or fifty BIG NAMES.  That’s splendid: books about Louis, Lester, Ben, Hawkins, Roy, Red, and others are treasures.  But since the musicians themselves didn’t always get the attention they merited, much jazz biography is brilliant posthumous research.  If someone were to turn up pages by Walter or Hot Lips (I couldn’t resist) they would be priceless.  And the people who never get to report on what they saw, felt, heard, experienced are likely to have the best stories to tell.  This brings us to Peter Vacher’s new book, SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 331+ pages, many photographs).

It is an irresistible book, and I speak as someone who finds many books — after decades of reading — utterly resistible.

SWINGIN' ON CENTRAL AVENUE

Peter Vacher (much like the recently-departed John Chilton, although Peter is still very much alive) is one of those rare multi-talented writers: a splendid unaffected prose stylist, a very diligent researcher and “connecter,” someone with an eye for what’s true and what’s intriguing.  In this case, he offers us oral histories and historical research into the lives and music of sixteen musicians — his research done over more than two decades.  The musicians profiled are Andrew Blakeney, Gideon Honore, George Orendorff, “Monk” McFay, Floyd Turnham, Betty Hall Jones, “Red Mack” Morris, Caughey Roberts, Chester Lane, Monte Easter, Billy Hadnott, Norman Bowden, John “Streamline” Ewing, Chuck Thomas, Jesse Sailes, “Red” Minor William Robinson.

I knew of perhaps one-half of those musicians: Blakeney had played with Kid Ory; Honore with Jimmie Noone; Orendorff with Les Hite and Louis; “Red Mack” with Lee and Lester Young’s band; Caughey Roberts had been replaced in the early Basie band by Earle Warren; Billy Hadnott was on famous JATP recordings as well as with Nat Cole; Norman Bowden had recorded with Zutty Singleton; “Streamline” Ewing had played with Hines, McShann, Horace Henderson.

Because of the “star-system” in jazz, many might assume that these interviews with people who — apparently — were on the fringes of the big time would be narrow and not terribly interesting.  To assume this would be a huge error.  For one thing, these sixteen people hadn’t been interviewed much, if at all, so their reminiscences are fresh and eager, full of good stories.  Not one page in Vacher’s book has the stale, “Must we go through this again?” quality of the recitals the stars have given so often they take on an inescapable sleepiness (both in the speaker and the reader).  Although many older musicians expressed themselves through their instruments, sometimes their narratives are enthusiastic but closed: “Big Boy was a terror when he got into that whiskey, but he sure could blow.”  Not here.  And Vacher’s interludes are brief, lively, and the very antithesis of narcissism: he shines the light with great skill and affection on his subjects.

And the stories are amazing.  Andy Blakeney was in Chicago when Louis joined King Oliver; he played in a Doc Cooke band.  Streamline Ewing was asked to join the Basie band; he heard Charlie Parker before Bird had made records.  Speaking of Bird, he stayed with Billy Hadnott and his wife — and it’s a sad story — before the Hadnotts were compelled to ask him to leave.  Ewing also mentions seeing both Mutt Carey and Nat Cole at the union — consider that pairing!  Norman Bowden talks of rehearsing with Jelly Roll Morton, “the most sophisticated man I ever met in my life,” in 1940.  We hear of Benny Goodman sitting in with Mutt’s band in 1925; the book offers the first substantial sketches of drummer Cuba Austin, of bandleaders Reb Spikes, Sonny Clay, the pianist Lady Will Carr. We learn — in just a sentence — that the short-lived and extremely talented pianist Margaret “Countess” Johnson was Lester Young’s “heartbeat.”That Eddie Nicholson was Billie Holiday’s drug supplier.  There are extended stories about a young Charlie Christian, about Lester, about the Basie band at the Reno Club in 1935, about Louis, marijuana, Charles Mingus, Buck Clayton in Shanghai, Lionel Hampton in 1936 . . .  And some musicians, like Kid Ory and Christian, pop up in different contexts, so one has the advantage of seeing them as if they were characters in a Faulkner novel, from many angles.

I deplore the kind of advertising assertion that suggests, “If you don’t buy / read / eat ____________, your life will be joyless, devoid of meaning.”  But I found myself thinking, “Every jazz fancier I know would find something delightfully memorable in these pages.”

And there’s more.  Extraordinary photographs, many from the subjects’ personal hoards.  Interludes of fact taken from contemporary music magazines. And, should you think this to be simply a collection of oral histories of little-known musicians retelling their careers, the book presents so much more — as in race and racism from the Twenties onwards.  Not all the stories are grim, but they are all revealing.  I offer only one example — in Billy Hadnott’s section, Vacher includes this comment from DOWN BEAT, March 15, 1944, where Frankie Laine and a four-piece “mixed group” are praised for their music, then the reporter notes, “Despite their excellent air shots the group has found difficulty in club bookings because of the racial angle involved in the mixed group. Setup includes two colored and three ofays, and it will be interesting to find if this group can break through the Jim Crowism so strong out here.”  That quotation — both in subject and style — is worth a good deal of study, and it reminds us that there were two unions at the time in Los Angeles.

Such fascinating evidence spills out of Vacher’s book — because his subjects haven’t simply played or lived locally, and they are people one would otherwise know only as names in discographies or on record labels.

The book is entertaining, powerful, and eye-opening.  Peter Vacher has surpassed himself, and that is saying a great deal.  Now I’m going back to read more.  As a postscript, I opened the book at random and found Chester Lane’s story about working with Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings in El Dorado, Arkansas, circa 1928, with Louis Jordan . . . and the band is taken over by one Wilson, who owns Wilson’s Tell-‘Em-‘Bout-Me Cafe.  I’ll stop there, but you will see why such real-life details make the book a deep pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN, WRITER

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Pianist Hod O’Brien is a master of melodic improvisations.  If you missed his July 2015 gig at Mezzrow with bassist Ray Drummond, the evidence is here.

But here’s the beautiful part.  Some jazz musicians keep words at a distance and their expressiveness comes out through the keyboard, the brass tubing, and so on.  But Hod has written a pointed, light-hearted memoir that operates the way he plays.  His words seem simple, his constructions are never ornate, but he gets to the heart of things and leaves the reader enlightened, renewed.

HOD BOOK

The first thing to say about this book is how pleased I am to read a book by someone who, like Hod, has been an active part of jazz for six decades.  It’s not “as told to,” nor is it embellished by a jazz scholar as a posthumous tribute.  Here is part of  Hod’s preface, which reveals much about his character:

“This book is not intended to be a strictly biographical text, but, rather a collection of funny, little incidents and stories I’ve witnessed and heard along my way, on my path as a freelance jazz musician over the past 60 years of my professional life.

It’s intended mostly for fans of mine, whomever and wherever you all are, and fellow musicians, who might be interested in hearing a little bit more about me from another perspective, rather than from just my music and recordings alone. . . . The jazz community is a small, but hip part of the world, of which I’m happy and proud to be a member, and to whom I wish to express my deep gratitude — to those of you in it and interested in my work.”

I was immediately struck by Hod’s self-description as “happy and proud,” and the book bears him out.  “Proud” doesn’t mean immodest — in fact, Hod constantly seems delighted and amazed at the musicians he’s gotten to play with, but his happiness is a great and reassuring undercurrent in the book.  (When was the last time you met someone deeply nourished by his or her work?  Hod is that person.)

His  book moves quickly: at the start he is a child picking out one-finger melodies on the piano, learning boogie-woogie, hearing JATP and bebop recordings; a few pages later it is 1955 and he filling in for Randy Weston at a gig in Massachusetts, hearing Pepper Adams, getting threatened by Charles Mingus, meeting and playing with Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer.  Oscar Pettiford (called “Pet” by Thad Jones) gets a longer portrait.  The O.P. portrait is so good that I won’t spoil it, but it has cameo appearances by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe Jones.  In case you are realizing that Hod has managed to play with or hear or meet many jazz luminaries in the past sixty years, that alone is reason to buy the book.  There’s J.R. Monterose and a defective piano, a compromised Wilbur Ware, friendliness from Max Roach and Arthur Taylor.

The book (and Hod’s life) takes a surprising turn with Hod losing interest in his jazz career, studying with Charles Wuorinen, and delving into physics, higher mathematics, and early computer programming.  But a reunion with his old friend Roswell Rudd moves him back to performance and the club scene.

Interruption: for those of you who can only read about doomed heroic figures, victims, or the chronically self-destructive, this is not such a book.  Hod has setbacks but makes friends and makes music; he marries the fine singer Stephanie Nakasian, and they remain happily married, with a singer in the family, daughter Veronica Swift (born in 1994) — who just won second place in the Thelonious Monk jazz competition.  Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative.

Hod’s experiences as a clubowner are somewhere between surreal, hilarious, and sad — but his reminiscences of Sonny Greer (and a birthday gift), Joe Puma, Chuck Wayne, Al Haig, Stan Getz, and the little East Side club called Gregory’s (which I remember although I didn’t see Hod there).  There’s  Hod’s playing a set with Dizzy, Ornette, Ed Blackwell, and Teddy Kotick . . . and much more, including more than fifty photographs, a discography, and a list of Hod’s compositions: very nicely done at 122 pages.

You can buy it here — and you can also find out more about Hod . . . such as his return to Mezzrow on March 18-19, 2016. But until then, you can entertain yourself with a copy of HAVE PIANO . . . WILL SWING! — a book that surely lives up to its title.

May your happiness increase!

A DREAM WE CAN SEE — JATP IN EUROPE: ROY ELDRIDGE, COLEMAN HAWKINS, DON BYAS, BENNY CARTER, LALO SCHIFRIN, SAM JONES, JO JONES (November 25, 1960, Paris)

Recorded at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on November 25, 1960 — directed by Jean-Christophe Averty. Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Lalo Schifrin, piano; Sam Jones, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.

Brought to you through the kind diligence of the indefatigable Franz Hoffmann.

TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

I don’t have my Verve recordings of the JATP in Europe tour to compare these with, but even if the television broadcasts are identical to the recordings, what rapture to see these men in their prime!  (And even if Jo’s lengthy solo on INDIANA was by this time a set-piece, how remarkable to have it on film to see and study.)

Yes, giants did walk the earth.  Tell it to the children.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE BY FIVE (Part Two): THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 2012)

My heroes, and that’s no stage joke.

Ralf Reynolds, washboard, vocal; John Reynolds, guitar, vocal, whistling; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Katie Cavera, string bass, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal — live at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 25, 2012.

Irving Berlin’s I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A wasn’t a stab at capitalism, but a very witty response to Prohibition.  Katie Cavera, whom I nominate for Best Swing Actress in a Motion Picture, handles the deft lyrics nimbly:

You could deconstruct THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN as a lie in swingtime fed to the hungry and desolate unemployed (“Hey, fellas and gals, an empty stomach is what God meant you to have!” or as a sweet-natured rebuke to materialism, asking in 4 /4, “How much land does a man need?”  Either way, John sings it wonderfully:

If he struts like a king, HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH.  He’s their delight.  He’s so polite.  One of my favorite songs, letting Louis shine through Marc Caparone:

Pretty!  DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:

Our caravan is red-hot in HINDUSTAN:

I will bet you thirteen dollars of my money (as Lester Young used to say to his JATP colleagues) that the Reynolds Brothers would go over gangbusters at a swing dance . . . or in a club . . . at a European jazz party . . . at an East Coast venue.  At present they are delighting people right and left at Disney California Adventure (as “the Ellis Island Boys”) but I want other people to have this experience.  I’m willing to share them with the world, you know.

May your happiness increase.

POSITIVELY VIBRANT at ATLANTA 2012: JOHN COCUZZI, CHUCK REDD, HARRY ALLEN, MATT MUNISTERI, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, ED METZ (April 22, 2012)

Two men, one vibraphone, no pushing or crowding, just swing and harmony: more a brotherly conversation than a cutting contest.  The font line is John Cocuzzi and Chuck Redd, wielding their mallets with intensity and care; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Ed Metz, drums.

Only at the Atlanta Jazz Party!

The venerable and much-loved CRAZY RHYTHM to start:

John slyly sings I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

A lovely interlude — harking back to JATP or to Condon’s — the ballad medley: GHOST OF A CHANCE (John) / CHELSEA BRIDGE (Harry) – SOME OTHER SPRING (Chuck):

And the Hampton – Christian – Goodman AIR MAIL SPECIAL to close:

May your happiness increase.

THE SWING SESSION’S CALLED TO ORDER: HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, DAN LEVINSON, SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, REBECCA KILGORE at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2011)

I was tempted to call this post COUNT BASIE MEETS MARILYN MONROE, but thought better of it and opted for the title of a 1937 Victor 78 with Mezz Mezzrow, Sy Oliver, J.C. Higginbotham, and others — for this delightful late-night saxophone / vocal gala. 

Sessions featuring a proliferation of one kind of instrument (you know, four trumpets and a rhythm section) sometimes rely on drama for their motivating force: will A outplay B?  But these musicians are united my love and admiration rather than competition, so they left the cutting contest out on the Hotel Athenaeum lawn.  Basie, not JATP. 

And what musicians!  On the reeds, we have Scott Robinson, Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Harry Allen; with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, bass; Pete Siers, drums — with a lovely cameo appearance by Becky Kilgore, singing two songs associated with Marilyn Monroe — while remaining our Becky. 

Theu began this session with a BASIE BLUES — a time-tested stress reliever and my secret recipe for world peace:

In the same lovely mindset, TICKLE-TOE —  Lester Young’s tribute to a marvelous dancer . . . in music that keeps dancing in our heads:

For Hawkins, but also for Lester (think 1942) and Sonny Rollins, a series of improvisations on BODY AND SOUL:

Something sweet from Miss Kilgore — evoking Marilyn Monroe but not copying any of her vocal mannerisms on a song few people know, INCURABLY ROMANTIC:

And something witty and silly, A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK:

To close, a saxophone opus (think of Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Lockjaw Davis, Gene Ammons, and Sonny Stitt), BLUES UP AND DOWN:

What a marvelous session — not exactly DANCING WITH THE STARS . . . more like ROCKING WITH THE MASTERS.

CLASSIC BALLADS FROM JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 19, 2010)

The late Joe Boughton, commander-in-chief of Jazz at Chautauqua and other jazz parties, had very definite ideas about what should go on in a jazz performance and what was verboten, taboo, unforgivable.  So it would have caused him some astonishment to be told that he and Norman Granz (whose Jazz at the Philharmonic — with its long themeless blues, drum solos, and explorations of I GOT RHYTHM changes — represented everything he deplored) agreed on anything.  But they both understood something crucial about the performance of jazz ballads before a live audience.

Both men knew, through experience, that having all the musicians on the stand play BODY AND SOUL, for instance, each one taking two choruses, could lead to a certain sameness, not only for the audience but for the players.  Granz got there first with the solution: a ballad medley, where each of the horn players told the rhythm section what their chosen song was, the key (the tempo remained fixed throughout) and played a chorus in leisurely fashion.  You can hear this on Granz’s recordings, live and in the studio.

Joe Boughton didn’t release any of his ballad medleys, but the one that closed off the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua — the most recent party, and not the last — was particularly moving.  Here are three videos that capture most of it (with some editing for a variety of reasons, none of them musical).

We begin with an extraordinary rhythm section of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, and an unusual combination of songs: Rossano tenderly delineates I GOT IT BAD (AND THAT AIN’T GOOD) then turns it over to Marty, who sings and plays the Louis Armstrong – Horace Gerlach IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

Randy Reinhart climbs the stage to deliver an absolutely velvety APRIL IN PARIS, a performance that seems untoppable until Dan Barrett convincingly explains how THAT OLD FEELING is still in his heart.  (The crowd properly gives it a small ovation, and Dan looks does a comic double-take of surprise, “Me?”  Yes, you!) 

The very gentlemanly and polite Bob Havens asks PLEASE — doing Bing very proud.  Continuing in this most gallant fashion, clarinetist Bob Reitmeier very quietly asks us in for TEA FOR TWO.  Harry Allen sweetly tells us I WISH YOU LOVE, with Dan Block coming up immediately after!  

The Man of Feeling, Dan Block, assures us (the stakes are getting higher with each delicious cameo) that EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS.  Scott Robinson isn’t a combative, competitive player, but his version of SLEEPY TIME GAL — on the bass sax, which he carries — would be a masterpiece anywhere.  Scott Robinson heroically lifts the bass sax for SLEEPY TIME GAL.  Bobby Gordon tenderly whispers his love for the music in SUGAR; Andy Stein devotes himself to LAURA; Jon Burr emotes lyrically with PRELUDE TO A KISS — which is received with the proper hush (how nice to hear a bass solo receive such quiet attention):

Extraordinarily lovely, with not a hackneyed or overdramatized note in the bunch.  I’d like to make these clips required viewing for jazz musicians and singers of all vintages — to say nothing of those of us who can’t live without beauty.  And not incidentally — the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua will be held from September 15-18.  If you have already purchased your 2011 calendar . . . .

DAVE TOUGH / WOODY HERMAN on eBay

As of May 2, 2010, $250 or the best offer takes the set — a 1947 JATP program, plus autographs by Doris Day, Les Brown, Ted Nash, Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, and Dave Tough . . . !

BLISS IN THE NIGHT (APRIL 18, 2010)

You know how “the jam session” is handled in films of a certain vintage.  Magically, the cameras take us to a clearly fictive basement club where Art Tatum is playing.  He plays for a few bars, then the door opens and a whole troop of musicians who apparently have unpacked their horns outside on the sidewalk burst in, exchange a few words of greeting, and a whirlwind jam session begins, only to end in two or three minutes.  (The 1947 THE FABULOUS DORSEYS.)

Or there’s the cutting contest between trumpet players, perhaps the Young Cub and the Old Lion, aiming their horns at each other, playing higher and louder.  (The scene here is between Louis and “Red Nichols,” played by Danny Kaye in 1959 THE FIVE PENNIES, is a most benign example, and Louis gets to make some good, albeit scripted jokes.)

But real jam sessions, especially the magical ones that happen during the second set at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in New York City) have little to do with either fantasy.  For one thing, they are a collection of friends.  In the videos below the two trumpeters (or, to be precise, the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and the cornetist Marc Caparone) or the two guitarists (Matt Munisteri on electric and Julian Lage on acoustic) and the reed players (Dan Block on clarinet, Andy Farber on tenor saxophone, Nick Hempton on alto) have no aggression in their souls.  No one seeks to play higher, faster, louder.  And those single men — Harvey Tibbs on trombone and Jon Burr on bass — don’t pick fights with anyone.  It’s all congenial. 

Imagined dialogue, overheard in part: “What would you like to play?”  “RITE OF SPRING?”  “Sure.  How many flats?  Your tempo . . . ”  And off they go.  There’s no JATP crowd-pleasing (or crowd-baiting); the music just grows.  The musicians smile at each other.  They listen closely, even if the crowd sometimes doesn’t. 

The second set of Sunday, April 18, 2010, began with a swinging version of AVALON that harked back to the Benny Goodman Quartet — in arrangement only, since the Ear Regulars had cleverly decided that they didn’t need a vibraphone, piano, or drum kit.  But hear how nimbly they negotiate the closing chorus — “they” being Jon-Erik, Harvey, Matt, Jon, and guest Julian Lage, playing somewhere over my left shoulder:

Then Jon-Erik called up the Pride of Paso Robles, California — someone I would give every honor I could — the noble cornetist Marc Caparone, here on a week’s visit to New York City.  Marc should be better known here: he is a plain-spoken but subtle player who favors such delightful left-handers as Henry “Red” Allen and Jim Goodwin.  In his approach, ferocity and delicacy are pals.  Here, he makes the quintet of AVALON a sextet for a lively ONE HOUR, a performance that would have pleased the very finicky Ruby Braff.  His wife, the wonderful singer Dawn Lambeth, watched Marc happily (I was grinning widely from behind my video camera, I assure you):

Each selection seemed to add a new player: next up was the gifted Dan Block, who joined in for a strolling WHISPERING, while Jon-Erik caught his breath:

Tenorist Andy Farber joined in (his back is to the camera, but I didn’t take it personally) for PERDIDO, a song with a historically-established countermelody.  Tizol’s line lends itself to long performances, and this one needed two sections to be visible on YouTube.  What passes for a bandstand at The Ear Inn (flat on the floor, really a space cleared among the diners) was too small for the musicians, so Jon-Erik was now playing somewhat over my right shoulder, with Marc employing a thoroughly Ellingtonian plunger mute. 

Some viewers will be disturbed by the intrusive white piece of paper at the lower right: it is the banner reading TIPS that lets people know what the jar was for.  I preferred to keep on filming rather than miss a note by indulging in feng shui): 

And the conclusion:

To finish, something melodic, a long romp on THREE LITTLE WORDS.  The common language is so well established here that all Jon-Erik had to do was to say to the horns, “A little Lester,” and everyone fell into the riff taken from the 1943 Kansas City Six date for Commodore — you can’t miss it.  And, in true Hollywood fashion, the Australian Nick Hempton appeared, apparently from nowhere, to offer his singular evocation of right-this-minute mixed with 1940 Charlie Parker:

The concluding moments:

I know that the “three little words” of the title are “I love you” — but certainly “The Ear Inn” is a close second.  If you know of another place where such marvels happen on a weekly basis, do write in!

SHUFFLE ALONG!

Egged on by the inestimable Messrs. Riccardi and Hutchinson, I present my unexpurgated and hugely idiosyncratic list of the first 25 selections on my iPod, no cheating.  Readers of similar temperaments are encouraged to respond:

Perdido, Stuff Smith

Sleigh Ride, Mark Shane’s Xmas All-Stars

Good Little, Bad Little You, Cliff Edwards (Venuti and Lang)

Blame it On the Blues, Duke Heitger’s Big Four

It’s A Sin to Tell A Lie, Humphrey Lyttelton

Walk It To Me, Hot Lips Page

Gassin’ the Wig, Roy Porter

Under A Texas Moon, Seger Ellis

They Say, Echoes of Swing

Some Rainy Day, Hal Smith’s Roadrunners

Linden Blues, Rex Stewart

There’s Something In My Mind, Ruby Braff

Down By The Old Mill Stream, Benny Goodman

Sweet Sue, Jammin’ at Rudi’s (Rudi Blesh, 1951)

Take the “A” Train, Duke Ellington

My Blue Heaven, Eddie Condon (Town Hall)

Farewell Blues, Eddie Condon (Decca)

Stay On the Right Side of the Road, Bing Crosby

Oriental Man, Simon Stribling

All That Meat and No Potatoes, The Three Keys

Stompin’ at the Savoy – Fine and Dandy, Coleman Hawkins (1967 JATP with Teddy Wilson)

Corrine Corrina, Red Nichols

Fascinatin’ Rhythm, Cliff Edwards

St. Louis Bllues, The Boswell Sisters

I’ll See You In My Dreams, Jeff Healey

 

Perhaps not a scientific cross-section or a scholarly sample, but those tracks — in that idiosyncratic assortment — offer great happiness.  Anyone care to join in?

SMILING JO JONES

As a high school student, I supplemented my intermittent jazz record purchases by listening to the records available at my local public library.  One of the librarians was hip.  Someone had good taste!  The collection included Ellington and George Lewis, Jimmy Rushing and Vic Dickenson, Benny Goodman and “The Sound of Jazz,” among others.  On those records — particularly the Vanguard sessions supervised in the early and middle Fifties by John Hammond — I first heard the sound of Jo Jones, his swishing hi-hat cymbals, his emphatic rimshots, his irresistible swing. 

I had already fallen in love with the propulsion and pure sounds of Catlett and Wettling, but Jo was a revelation: I can still hear the way he brought the band in on Vic’s RUNNIN’ WILD, or the three perfectly placed accents (all different) he used to propel Tommy Ladnier in a fast WEARY BLUES at the 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert.  And, a little later, when I bought my first Billie Holiday records, the Kansas City Fiva and Six, the Decca Basie band . . . I wanted to hear every record Jo Jones had ever been part of.   

Here is Jo — exuberant, explosive, grinning, soloing at the end of a fast blues, on a 1957 Nat King Cole television show devoted to Norman Granz and the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe.  This clip begins at the end of Roy Eldridge’s solo (in mid-scream) and at the end Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown are visible:

But that clip gives way to my own memories of Jo in person, onstage and off. 

This post is motivated by a recent conversation I had with the Beloved about the subject of retiring from one’s job, leaving a career behind.  I told her one of the stories below and she said, astonished, “You spoke to Jo Jones?  Smiling Jo Jones?” hence my title. 

Not only did I speak to Jo Jones: I took this photograph of him in 1981:

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

True, the shot is amateurish: a head is in the way, my flash’s explosion is visible, the overall hue suggests Halloween . . . but Jo’s slow-motion mallet, on its ways down, pleases me greatly.  And the photo evidence that I was there, capturing this moment, which is no small thing.

Many other moments come back to me now. 

My friend Stu Zimny found out, sometime before 1972, that one could see Jo at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop.  We decided to go there, as if we were making a pilgrimage to some sacred place.  Was Jo holding court there, as befits an artist and aristocrat, or was he making a few dollars in a job unworthy of him, as I have read?  I don’t know.  I do remember buying a pair of 5B parade drumsticks from him — to practice with — and snippets of this conversation. 

In person, Jo was animated, inscrutable, vehement.  Something in his manner and approach defied easy explanation.  It felt as if we were speaking to a character in a play — and only Jo had the script.  There was also some element of unpredictability, even of danger, as if he might suddenly get furious at you in the middle of a conversation, as I saw happen with Ruby Braff.   

(Ruby, incidentally, told us a wonderful story about working with Jo at Storyville, almost twenty years earlier: Jo would never say, “Let’s play ROSETTA,” but start a rhythmic pattern and tempo on his hi-hat or snare and leave it up to the musician to guess which tune might best go with that tempo.  Ruby shook his head in disbelief when he recalled, somewhat in desperation, picking some song that he thought might be fine at that tempo, and Jo saying, “That’s it!  You got it!” as if Ruby had telepathically found the answer.  “I don’t play with him any more.  He’s nuts,” said Ruby.) 

Even when speaking to people he knew and liked, Jo had a particular tone of voice that in someone else might have been ironic verging on contemptuous.  But with him it was a form of emphasis.  You could hear capital letters, boldface, italics in his voice.  And he had a fierce energy in his speech: a conversation with him was like being strapped into a centrifuge, an untiring monologue, rising and falling. 

Spotting Jo at Ippolito’s, I imagine that we introduced ourselves as jazz listeners, fans, admirers.  And then one of us asked Jo where we could hear him play.  Was he gigging anywhere?   

He looked at us with weary resignation, two innocent Caucasian college boys who had asked a silly question.

“I’m re-ti-red,” he said, by way of explanation.  “I don’t play the drums anymore.  Leave all that to the kiddies,” he continued.  We couldn’t believe it, and asked him again.  He wasn’t playing any gigs, no festivals?  All he would say was that he was “re-ti-red.”  If we needed a drummer, he suggested that we call Buddy Rich.  Stu points out that Jo offered no contact information for Buddy.  

We went away from that encounter half grieving, half amazed.  We had gone to the mountaintop to meet one of the elders, to receive counsel and inspiration, and the elder had said he had packed it in.

The sequel to all this is that some months later we saw Jo’s name prominently advertised as one of the musicians who would appear in the Newport-New York Jazz Festival.  I think, now, that he had been putting us on.  But perhaps in his own head he had decided to retire.      

In the next decade, we had the opportunity to see him in a variety of situations: concert halls and jazz clubs.  He drove Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS at their 1972 concert appearance (a band that included Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Buddy Tate, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and an out-of-tune Bernard Addison) and took a long solo in the middle of SLEEP — a virtuosic exercise that stopped the song and the show.  Two years later, he appeared at the Newport “Hall of Fame,” as part of a quintet with Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Wilson, and Hinton, his playing was immaculate, sensitive, not showy — Hackett turned the last bridge in “Body and Soul” over to Jo, who filled the air with urging, whispering brush strokes and accents.  

Tom Piazza, then a student at Williams College, arranged a concert of the jazz elders — when such things were still possible: Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge, Benny Morton, Budd Johnson, Claude Hopkins, and Jo.  Stu and I went there, armed with a heavy tape recorder, and (in the face of numerous obstacles: an inebriated Budd, a student running the sound board who turned the record level up and down for no reason, an over-exuberant audience) we focused on the band.  Jo traded eights and fours with Milt on a leisurely STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and did his volcanic version of CARAVAN, with every grimace, every surprise firmly choreographed. 

He smiled incessantly when he played: he glowed.  But when we saw Jo in clubs, at close range, he often appeared to be brimful of some barely contained anger.  And though we had come to the gig hoping to hear something delicate, witty — that magical hi-hat sound, those quietly insistent brushes that had levitated so many recordings — he would beat out the time loudly, indefatigably, on a brassily resonant ride cymbal.  It was clear that there were two Jonathan David Samuel Joneses: one, the player we had heard on records, lifting the band with what Donne called “gold to airy thinness beat”; the other, furious at something, wanting to control it by pure sound and pure volume.  Stanley Dance told me about producing a 1961 session that paired Jo with some Ellington alumni — Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Ray Nance, Sir Charles Thompson — and Jo being infuriated about something, then playing as loudly as he could. 

I recall several instances of this irritation-translated-into-music.  When there was a ragtag band of “Basie alumni” assembled at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage: sic transit gloria mundi), Jo walloped the ride cymbal as if wanting to drown everyone out.  At a short-lived spinoff of the Half Note, “The Onliest Place,” a venture that lasted only a few weekends, Jo led a little band one night.  If I remember correctly, it included bassist Tommy Bryant, Ben Richardson on clarinet, Skeeter Best on guitar, and one or two other players.  They embarked on a nearly forgotten Thirties pop tune, CALL ME DARLING, which was not terribly familiar, and some members of the band got lost.  I can hear Jo shouting, “The middle!  The middle!” although I am not sure that this advice averted chaos.  Irritability and delighted in-jokes always characterized his appearances with “The Countsmen,” a group that included Doc Cheatham, Benny Morton, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate, Chuck Folds, Franklyn Skeete, and Jo.   

Jo could play magically in clubs, though.  I remember going to Gregory’s, a tiny room, to hear Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  That duo played splendid embroidered jazz for one set and then Jo walked in, unfurled his newspaper, took out a set of folding wire brushes, spread the paper on a chair, and played with elegance, amusement, and grace.   

At the West End Cafe, thanks to Phil Schaap, Jo had a fairly steady gig: “Jo Jones and Friends,” which was most often a quartet of Harold Ashby on tenor, a pianist (sometimes Don Coates), and bassist John Ore, who had played with Monk.  One rainy night in particular stands out.  It was time for the band to begin and Ore had not arrived.  Jo began his sets with a medium-tempo blues in G, and, muttering to himself, he set the tempo by tapping his snare drum with his fingers.  Ashby soloed; the pianist soloed, and when it came to the two or four choruses that would have been taken by Ore, Jo grimaced, muttered loudly and incomprehensibly to himself, and played choruses of accompaniment — as if Ore had been there — with the tenor and piano silent.  It was mildly eerie.  Ore came in soon after, apologized for being late (he lived in Brooklyn), but it took the rest of the night for Jo to become calmer.      

One summer on Long Island, I read that Buddy Tate would be bringing a band, including Jo, to play a free outdoor concert somewhere miles from Manhattan on the North Fork.  It may have been Southold.  We drove out there and saw Tate’s outfit play the first half of the concert, with some of their members, including Jo, missing.  Jo’s son may have subbed for his father on drums.  Eventually, much later, a fire engine drove up, with a few cars following.  Jo came out of one of them.  They had gotten lost and asked directions at a firehouse.  I would like to report that the Tate band, plus Jo, played magnificently, but that wasn’t the case.  The group reassembled itself, and Jo demanded his feature on CARAVAN.  It went on, no nuance or flourish omitted, for something like eleven minutes.  After that, there was only time for Tate to play a hasty LESTER LEAPS IN, and the concert ended.  Perhaps it was because of episodes like this that when we mentioned Jo’s name to musicians of a certain era, their expressions grew wary and guarded.  “He’s crazy, man,” was the response we got from more than one well-established player.

But he could be politely accessible to fans.  I recall approaching him at the West End, before the gig had started, with a new vinyl copy of a record, FOR BASIE.  I had bought it that afternoon and hoped that Jo would autograph it for me.  Recorded in 1957 for Prestige-Swingville, it brought together Shad Collins on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor, Nat Pierce on piano, Walter Page on bass (one of his last recordings), and Jo.  The cover picture showed Jo in a heavy flannel buffalo-plaid shirt with wide suspenders over it, and he grew animated and showed the other musicians at the table.  “See that?” he demanded of them.  “That is style!” he insisted, happily.  And he autographed the back side of the cover in a large ornate hand.  When he was through signing, he said to me that he had never heard the music.  I could take a hint, and offered him this copy (I had another at home).  I hope that it gave him pleasure. 

At another, later West End gig, I had with me a new record, OUR MAN, PAPA JO! — on the Denon label, which had a picture of Jo in full glower at his drum set, on the cover.  Thinking that one can never have too many Jo Jones signatures, I asked him to autograph this one also.  He stared at the cover, held it at arm’s length.

This will keep the burglars from your house!” he gleefully told me. 

In 1981 and early 1982, he was getting more frail and having more difficulty.  Jo played with great delicacy at a “Salute to Pres” concert, offering his familiar dancing trades with Milt Hinton — but he had to be helped up on the drum throne.  At the last West End gig I recall, playing was becoming more and more arduous for him.  When I heard about him next it was the news of his death in 1985.

Photographer Richard H. Merle was at Jo’s funeral, and he caught this poignant moment of Max Roach at Jo’s coffin — the flag draped over the back because Jo had served  — with great reluctance — in the Army in World War Two. 

 

Jo Jones Funeral

Jo Jones’s body has been gone for almost twenty-five years.  Yet his sound remains, and his smile — like the Cheshire Cat’s — has never been effaced.  

Copyright 1985 by Richard H. Merle.  All rights reserved.