Tag Archives: jazz trumpet

MAKING IT SOUND EASY: BILLY BUTTERFIELD

The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others.  But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.

Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.

Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.

Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough” (who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.

Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:

And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:

and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:

My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.

And one other piece of beautiful evidence:

How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?

Here is an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.

Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless.  I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted.  Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.

But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session.  I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff.  He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.

And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt.  When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn.  Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.

Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.

Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:

Billy should be more than a half-remembered name.

May your happiness increase!

EMBRACED WARMLY BY MUSIC: DANNY TOBIAS, GEORGE RABBAI, PHIL ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (Part One): March 24, 2018

It’s lovely to see and hear indebtedness, art, and gratitude all combined into a glowing musical gift.  I’m not at all being hyperbolic, as you will understand.

But before I get wrapped up in the music, let me point out that this all happened yesterday, Saturday, March 24, at a place you should know about — the 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Center at Ewing, New Jersey.


And what was “this”?

Now you know.  But in all fairness to the graphic designer and the copywriter here, that advertisement might have made people who didn’t know Danny, George, Pat, Phil, or Joe leap to incorrect conclusions.  “Pops to Bop” might have suggested a-history-of-jazz-trumpet, or an afternoon vacillating between WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and DIZZY ATMOSPHERE.  But these musicians meet on common ground; they love one another, and the music was so warmly played and presented that there was not even a thirty-second note of the formulaic here.  It wasn’t a battle of genres: quite the contrary, if you squinted in just the right way through the stained glass windows, you could see Buck, Louis, Sweets, Basie, and Dizzy grinning like mad.

And although the brass instruments displayed and played here are often quite assertive, there was none of that signifying stuff, no “I can play higher, I can play louder,” so the sound was resonant, glowing, and in its own way serene, even at faster tempos.  

Introducing the second song, HALF NELSON, Danny talks about how George was and is his inspiration, and even if he hadn’t explained that, we could hear it in the air.

Let me share the first four performances with you.

Danny’s original (in the spirit of the season to come) PASS OVER:

Following that thread, I’M CONFESSIN’:

HALF NELSON, credited (I think) to Miles, but who can tell?

And to close off this segment, George’s lovely reading of BODY AND SOUL:

It was a nearly six-hour round trip by car from my place to Ewing: I’d do it every weekend ti hear this band.  Aren’t they wonderful?  Savor this quartet of beauties: there are ten more to come.

May your happiness increase!

A VOTE FOR RED ALLEN . . .

is a vote for exuberance with subtlety beneath the roistering.  And since Henry “Red” Allen used to exhort the audience at New York’s Metropole to applaud his sidemen by saying, “Make him happy!” he is JAZZ LIVES’ way of symbolizing what we hope awaits everyone in 2012.

The photograph below was taken by the fine reedman John “Butch” Smith at New York’s fabled Metropole in 1964. It shows Henry Red working very hard to spread his own kind of musical entlightenment:

But a still photograph can only show so much.  How about bringing Mr. Allen alive, although in glorious black and white?  Thanks to Bobby Hacksaw for alerting me to this YouTube video from 1963, with Red and his rhythm section blazing through CHERRY:

From http://www.whascrusade.org. I learned that the WHAS Crusade for Children has been in operation since 1954, devoted to helping children with special needs in Kentucky and Indiana.  What path brought Red and his quartet to their television studios, I don’t know, but we are certainly thankful that this performance exists.  Henry “Red” Allen lives!

UP IN THE CLOUDS with BILL COLEMAN

No other trumpeter sounded quite like graceful Bill Coleman, who should have put his profession as “aerialist” on his passport.

It wasn’t a matter of playing high notes, for other trumpeters have gone higher, but the ease with which Coleman accomplished his arcs in the sky.  Most astonishingly, he made the whole thing sound so easy, which even non-trumpeters will know is a great feat of magic. And his sound!  Not brass and valves and air pressure and force, but “gold to airy thinness beat.”

Here he is in glossy form in late 1935 in Paris:

The band was billed as “Garnet Clark and his Hot Club’s Four,” with Bill on trumpet and vocal; George Johnson, clarinet and tenor; Clark, piano; Django Reinhardt, guitar; June Cole, bass.

Here’s Bill in 1972 — playing fluegelhorn, his sound heavier, and darker, but still masterfully light.

We have this clip from a French television program, “Jazz Harmonie,” thanks to trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig.  Bill is joined by Marc Hemmeler, piano; Jimmy Gourley, guitar; Pierre Sim, bass; Michel Silva, drums.

And — thanks to eBay — Bill signs in, too:

Postscripts: I realized, perhaps too late, that this blogpost was seriously indebted to that of my friend Michael McQuaid, hot musician from Australia, who had recently paid homage to Bill with THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION.  The evidence of the borrowing is here, but the theft was purely imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.  And — also from Oz — the trumpet player who most reminds me of Mr. Coleman is the equally dazzling Bob Barnard.