Tag Archives: jazz repertory

DROP THAT SACK!

Before the words begin to flow, here’s some convincing evidence, courtesy of my videographer friend Elin Smith — Thomas Winteler’s Jazz Serenaders with Bent Persson playing POTATO HEAD BLUES, recorded at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival:

Thomas and his Jazz Serenaders have recorded DROP THAT SACK! — a CD of music associated with Louis and Sidney Bechet, including their collaborations and ending with two songs associated with later Bechet.  The songs are ONCE IN A WHILE / ALLIGATOR CRAWL / SAVOY BLUES / ORIENTAL STRUT / TEXAS MOANER / DROP THAT SACK! / OLD-FASHIONED LOVE / BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA / PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES / NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT / DON’T FORGET TO MESS AROUND / PERDIDO STREET BLUES / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / STRANGE FRUIT / VIPER MAD / PETITE FLEUR.

The musicians are Thomas, clarinet, soprano sax; Bent Persson, trumpet, cornet;  Rodolphe Compomizzi, trombone;  Jean-Claude “Lou” Lauprete, piano; 
Pierre-Alain Maret, banjo, guitar; Henry Lemaire, bass; Jean Lavorel, drums.

I hadn’t heard or heard of Thomas before the 2010 festival, but Bent Persson made a special point of recommending him to me — and when Bent recommends another musician, I take it seriously.  Thomas is a superb player; like Bent, he understands not only the records but the idiom, and can nimbly become Bechet or Johnny Dodds while sounding like himself — no small accomplishment.  And the CD is a delightful representation both of the Masters and of the twenty-first century musicians doing them honor.  It’s always a pleasure to hear some of the less-recorded Hot Five and Hot Seven material, and this band is able to summon up the deep melancholy of STRANGE FRUIT as well as the jubilant elevation of VIPER MAD.

Ideally, one would buy a copy of the CD from Thomas at a gig, but for those who aren’t flying around Europe in search of the real thing, the financial details are:

Send your address and 30 swiss francs or 22 euros to :
   Thomas Winteler
   ch. du levant 10B
   1299 Crans-près-Céligny
   Switzerland

(the price includes postal costs)
 

You can find out more about Thomas and his friends (including his substantial discography complete with music clips) at his website, http://www.winteler-music.ch/. 

Finally, some speculative etymology.  I think with affection of the Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky, who wrote in his novel THE COWARDS (or his novella THE BASS SAXOPHONE) of his difficulties with jazz-related English (he was a youthful amateur tenor player during the Second World War): encountering “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” for the first time, he was puzzled by the word-by-word translation: could it really mean “Walking pompously with an animal carcass roasted whole”? 

I have the same feelings about “Drop that sack!”  Is it really an old-time racially-based joke about chicken-stealing, or did it mean, “Let’s get out of here” or “Get rid of that unattractive person”? 

It adds something to the resonance of the words that DROP THAT SACK was one of the two titles that Louis recorded “anonymously” with Lil’s Hot Shots for a competing label while he was under contract to OKeh — trying to hide Louis’s conception and sound would be like pretending the great Chicago Fire wasn’t burning . . . . but I wonder if there are hidden meanings to the expression, just as we later learned that “Struttin’ with some barbecue” was a pre-PC way of saying, “Walking proudly with my beautiful girlfriend.” 

Suggestions, anyone?

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BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS, Part Two

Still more from Bent’s recreation and reimagining of Louis’s classic early Thirties recordings — a Whitley Bay highlight from July 12, 2009.  I posted videos from the first part of this concert on August 2.  To refresh your memory, as they say in courtroom dramas, the band was international and truly “all-star,” including Nick Ward (drums), John Carstairs Hallam (bass), Martin Litton (piano), Jacob Ullberger (banjo / guitar), Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert (reeds), Paul Munnery (trombone), Beat Clerc (trumpet), Michael McQuaid (trumpet / reeds), Ludvig Carlson, Spats Langham, Elena P. Paynes, and Bent himself (vocal), and one of two musicians whose names I didn’t catch or write down — being busy clutching my video camera like a man possessed!  (By the way, astute Louis-fanciers will note that Bent is often evoking Louis without playing the solos note for note, which raises these performances far above the limits of jazz repertory, or “playing old records live.”

Here’s a jaunty WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME, no longer the property of Maurice Chevalier — now taken over by Bent and Spats Langham:

If that song celebrates the happiness of the end of a loving evening — infinitely expandable, with kisses and stops for barbecue — I SURRENDER, DEAR (which remains the property of Bing and Hawkins as well as Louis) depicts the lover’s swooning subjection, again offered with proper emotion by Spats:

WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE is, as its title tells us, something very different — grieving and despondent, given a touching performance by Elena P. Paynes, temporarily on loan from the Chicago Stompers:

The destinies of Louis and Hoagy Carmichael were entwined early on, with the 1929 ROCKIN’ CHAIR (which Louis performed until the end of his life, with different bandsmen playing the other part) — but it didn’t stop there.  Carmichael must have been ecstatic to hear his songs immortalized by Louis, and Louis never got such good material.  This medley leaves out LAZY RIVER and GEORGIA ON MY MIND, but includes the rarely-heard MY SWEET and the pretty MOON COUNTRY, which Louis performed during his European tours but never recorded, as well as LYIN’ TO MYSELF and the exultant JUBILEE, sung here by Ludvig Carlson and Elena:

Many jazz wfriters have termed THAT’S MY HOME a brazen attempt to cash in on WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and it does come from the same root — but what a pretty song it is, both here and in Louis’s 1932 Victor performance.  A pity he didn’t go back to it more often, although there is a 1961 version from the Ed Sullivan Show, full of feeling as always.  As is Spats:

WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABY comes from the rare 1934 French Polydor session, and the song from the book of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  No vocal here, just romping solos by Bonnel and Seuffert:

Bent concluded the first half of the concert with a luxuriant evocation of the French Polydor ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, originally a six-minute two-sided 78 disc.  Here Ludvig takes care of the vocal refrain:

The second half (from Louis’s Decca days) will appear soon. . . . till then, keep muggin’ lightly!

O RARE BENT PERSSON (and FRIENDS)!

Last night — Thursday, July 9, 2009 —  I witnessed the kind of jazz creativity and bravery that at times left me with tears in my eyes. 

The occasion was a concert organized by the Swedish trumpeter / cornetist / Louis Armstrong scholar Bent Persson, one of my heroes, in tribute to his hero Louis: “YOUNG LOUIS,” which — in two hour-long sets — demonstrated much about Louis’s first six years of recordings as well as the majesty of players now alive. 

The band was a stellar international crew: Mike Durham, tpt, joining Bent at the start and finish, as well as being a most adept and witty master of ceremonies; the gruff trombonist Paul Munnery; the brilliant reedman (clarinet and alto this time) Matthias Seuffert; the nimble pianist Martin Litton; the remarkable plectrist (banjos and guitar) Jacob Ullberger; the very fine brass bassist Phil Rutherford; the frankly astonishing percussionist Nick Ward.  The concert took place at the very modern Sage Gateshead in Newcastle, UK — lovely acoustics and a sound engineer at the back who was truly paying attention!  I attempted to videotape the whole thing (being a man of daring but not much discretion) but was stopped by an usher who whispered ferociously that there was NO photography of any kind allowed and I would have to leave if I continued . . . so I stopped.  But I did capture the band’s second song, a stately rock through King Joe Oliver’s WHERE DID YOU STAY LAST NIGHT? — much as it might have sounded in Chicago, 1922-23.  My video doesn’t capture everything — but you can see the graceful arcs of Nick Ward’s arms behind his drum set: I had a hard time taking my eyes off of him.   

Lovely as it is, that performance can’t summon up all of what I found so moving in this concert.  It wasn’t a pure repertory performance, where musicians strive to reproduce old records “live”; no, what was fascinating was the fervent interplay between the Past and Now, between the Great Figures and the living players onstage.  Everyone in this band knew the original records, but they were encouraged to dance back and forth between honoring the past by playing it note-for-note and by going for themselves.  Thus, Bent created solos that sounded like ones Louis might have — should have! — recorded, and his bravery and risk-taking were more than heartening.  I have never seen him in person, and he would give the most timid of us courage to learn the craft, to shut our eyes, and to make something new.  His playing on POTATO HEAD BLUES was immensely moving — watching him dare the Fates and declare his love for Louis in front of our eyes.  Bent also sang in several performances — mostly scatting, but once or twice delivering the lyrics in a sweetly earnest way — another example of an artist going beyond the amazing things we’ve already come to expect.  It was also delightful to watch the musicians grin broadly at each other as the beautiful solos and ensemble work unfolded.   

The concert moved briskly from Louis’s sojourn with Oliver to his work with Clarence Williams small groups, his own Hot Five and Seven, an evocation of Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards, Louis’s duet with Earl Hines, his Hot Choruses (as reimagined by Bent over a thirty-year period), with more than a few surprises.  One of them — gloriously — was the appearance of bass saxophone titan Frans Sjostrom for a version of BEAU KOO JACK by the trio called, so correctly, the Hot Jazz Trio (their one CD is under that name on the Kenneth label): Bent, Jacob, and Frans.  Wonderful both in itself and as a reinvention of that brightly ornate recording.  Sjostrom stayed around for the final ensemble celebration on HIGH SOCIETY, which brought tears to my eyes.   

I am posting this on Friday morning, hours before the Whitley Bay extravaganza — some 130 bands playing in rotation for three days in four simultaneous locations — is scheduled to begin.  There’ll be more magnificent, moving jazz, I am sure!  It promises to be both uplifting and overwhelming.  (And, as an extra delight, I am joined here by two of my three Official British Cousins — Bob Cox and John Whitehorn — men of great humor, generosity, and sensibility — whom I first met at Westoverledingen, Germany, in 2007, when we were rapt attendees at another Manfred Selchow jazz festival.  Always nice to have friends nearby!)

A postscript: at the concert, copies of an otherwise unknown compact disc were for sale — a recording of a similar YOUNG LOUIS concert from 2002, with many of the same players.  I snapped up one copy (paying for it, of course) and by the end of the concert, the CDs were all gone.  Let us hope that Bent and Co. choose to reissue that one and other versions.  I’m going to treasure it, as well as my memories of the concert I experienced.