Tag Archives: jazz violin

VIPERS and MOCKINGBIRDS, LYRICISM and SWING: EMMA FISK and FRIENDS RECALL EDDIE SOUTH and STUFF SMITH at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 3, 2013)

The very expressive swinging violinist Emma Fisk was given a difficult assignment — to summon up the ghosts of Stuff Smith (violently, dramatically hot) and Eddie South (elegance personified) in thirty minutes at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  I’d give her and her colleagues very high marks at this nearly-impossible task.

The colleagues are Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocal (hear him romp on the verse to LADY BE GOOD — a feat that astonishes the band — as well as on a block-chord solo on SKIP IT), the ceaselessly rocking Richard Pite, drums; the energized Henri Lemaire, string bass; the versatile Spats Langham (called upon to be Django for seven choruses of uplifting accompaniment on EDDIE’S BLUES), and two guest stars to take us close to the Onyx Club Boys of fabled memory, Ben Cummings, trumpet (hidden behind someone’s coif, but he comes through clear as a bell); Jean-Francois Bonnel, clarinet.

Here they are — recorded on November 3, 2013, nimbly being themselves while honoring departed masters.

IF YOU’RE A VIPER (thank you, Jeff!):

MAMA MOCKINGBIRD (for Hoagy and Eddie):

LADY BE GOOD:

EDDIE’S BLUES:

SKIP IT:

Well played, Emma, Jeff, Spats, Henri, Richard, Ben, and Jean-Francois!

And I know that Emma has a feature set at this year’s Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party called FIDDLESTICKS in honor of Signor Venuti, which I know will be fun.

May your happiness increase!

HOT STUFF: “BUGLE CALL RAG”: THE IVORY CLUB BOYS at ARMANDO’S (PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, MARC CAPARONE, SAM ROCHA, ISABELLE FONTAINE) MAY 31, 2014

Here’s music to feel very very good about.  In fact, you might have to hold on to your chair. Here is the BUGLE CALL RAG, as performed by the IVORY CLUB BOYS, Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s delicious swing on Fifty-Second Street circa 1946-45. They are, for this hot concert, Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar. This was recorded on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California.  I was behind the camera, so you can’t see how much I was and am grinning.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR STRING ENSEMBLE, 1938

Bobby Sherwood (1914-81) isn’t well-known as a jazz guitarist today, but in the early Thirties he was so deeply respected that he was Bing Crosby’s accompanist on 1934 recordings (MOONBURN and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART); he recorded with the Boswell Sisters, Cleo Brown, and Joe Venuti.  (In 1940 he was guitarist and one of the arrangers for Artie Shaw.)

To me, this means he was viewed as a player equal to the late Eddie Lang, and his beautiful sonority and chordal subtleties — and swing — don’t disappoint.

A few years earlier, violinist Harry Bluestone (1907-92) was recording with hot dance studio bands, Connee Boswell, the Boswell Sisters, Lee Wiley, the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Bill Challis, Casper Reardon, and again Artie Shaw . . . .

While Sherwood eventually led his own band (playing a variety of instruments, composing, and singing), Bluestone became the first-chair violinist and concertmaster for many many recordings with everyone from Peggy Lee to Quincy Jones.

But this Decca 78, recorded in November 1938, shows them quietly and wittily evoking Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti — to great effect — while sounding like themselves.

First, the punning KIDDIN’ ON THE STRINGS:

Then, a sweet AM I BLUE?:

The moral?  Great music is made by people you might not have heard of except as side-people on more famous people’s record date.

May your happiness increase!

“NOTHING BUT LOVE”: ROB HECHT, TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, ROB ADKINS (May 19, 2011)

Walter Donaldson knew “what makes the world go round,” and it was displayed in many ways at Teddy’s (that’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York) on the night of May 19, 2011.

Violinist Rob Hecht (he plays a five-string fiddle) was joined by singer / actress Tamar Korn, trumpeter Gordon Au, and string bassist Rob Adkins for a few sets of familiar music made new. 

I was there with the Beloved. and UK comrades Sir Robert Cox, his wife Bobbie, and sons Tom and Ed — representing the Empire most happily amidst barbecued spareribs and appropriate beverages. 

Here are seven performances from that evening: musicians in love with the music, creative artists able to focus on making beauty in the midst of an amiable crowd enwrapped in their own conversations.  I make a point of the chatty crowd not to rebuke them — they’re used to background music. even if it’s coming from live musicians.  But I applaud the unselfconscious integrity and focus of these (and other) musicians who shut out the distractions and go straight ahead, sending beauty and swing into the world even if the world seems not to pay much attention.  Musicians know that there’s always someone listening . . . !

Here’s some optimism.  THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE (which we are reasonably sure will come again tomorrow morning):

Another kind of optimism is a little more didactic.  There’s only one thing to do, so WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

I suppose it’s hard not to take it personally, but YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, which Tamar sings with great good humor (and the verse!) rather than rancor or frustration:

Donaldson’s paean to domestic bliss, from whence this posting’s title comes, MY BLUE HEAVEN:

A sweet old-fashioned song (Wayne King’s theme), THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME, gets a beautifully delicate and convincing performance here:

STARDUST, a song that doesn’t grow old:

Do you run your hands / through silv’ry strands?  You might be BLUE, TURNING GREY (OVER YOU) or over someone:

Beautiful music, bravely made!

HEAR ELLA, STUFF, and BEN in 1937!

Ella Fitzgerald, Stuff Smith, and Ben Webster recorded together in the late Fifties for a Norman Granz project — “Ella Sings The Duke Ellington Songbook.”  But they had been captured on disc twenty years before in what are much more fascinating circumstances.

The good news is that the CD that is so delighting me is available and intensely rewarding — musically, not simply for its rarity.  Anticipation over a long period rarely pays off.  If you wait twenty years for something to appear, often the results, however fine, may not seem worth the wait.  Not in this case.  I first heard an I GOT RHYTHM by a related unit — Teddy Wilson, Jonah Jones, Ben, Lawrence Lucie, John Kirby, Cozy Cole — in the late Seventies, and learned that much more material from these sources existed. 

Trust the UK jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett to unearth it, research it, and present it to us with his usual style.  (The session that I’m referring to — with exquisite singing by Helen Ward, including a winsome DID YOU MEAN IT? — has been issued on another of Barnett’s AB Fable CDs — one capturing the live recordings Stuff Smith made with members of Fats Waller’s little band and other gems (ABCD1-015 STUFF SMITH: That Naughty Waltz.  COMPLETE 1937–1942 TENOR SAX SEPTETS FEATURING 1942 FATS WALLER ALUMNI AND 1937 TEDDY WILSON ORCHESTRA.)

But LET’S LISTEN TO LUCIDIN (AB Fable ABCD I-024) is even more unusual.  Barnett’s detailed and witty liner notes tell the story better than I could, but the Lucidin eye-lotion company decided to present fifteen-minute broadcasts (three times weekly) over New York’s WMCA featuring an all-star band of Black musicians. 

The singer was a young Ella Fitzgerald in pearly, playful form.  Some of my readers found my comments about Ella in an earlier blogpost positively blasphemous — but this Ella I could listen to forever: girlish, earnest, sweet, tenderly improvising. 

The orchestra — fourteen pieces — was led by the irreplaceable violinist Stuff Smith, and featured (among others) trumpeter Jonah Jones in his best neo-Louis mode, the delightfully risk-taking Sandy Williams on trombone, altoist Edgar Sampson (also responsible for a number of compositions and arrangements), reedmen Garvin Bushell and Walter Thomas, pianist Clyde Hart, bassist John Kirby, and drummer Cozy Cole.  It was a hand-picked organization that drew on the best Black bands of the time (leaving aside Ellington and Basie): Calloway and Chick Webb.  I’d assume that the players and Ella were happy to have opportunities to broadcast and make extra money, and the band sounds well-rehearsed, even on pop material.  (Chick Webb, always ambitious for Ella, obviously did not discourage her from performing with Stuff’s aggregation.)

One of the great pleasures of this CD is in hearing a band that didn’t record elsewhere splendid hot soloists.  And the CD presents a goodly number of solos by the young Ben Webster, in top form — not yet the player who would spark the 1940 Ellington organization, but a fine, emotive player nonetheless.  The selections (including “trailer” or “teaser” incomplete versions of tunes that would be played the next week) include jazz standards: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, I GOT RHYTHM, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, STARDUST, I FOUND A NEW BABY, SHINE, BASIN STREET BLUES, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  But the current pop hits are also covered: Ella is touching on CHAPEL IN THE MOONLIGHT and GOODNIGHT MY LOVE, sweetly energetic on COPPER-COLORED GAL.  Cozy Cole and John Kirby are properly supportive; the under-recorded Clyde Hart is just fine.  For my taste, there isn’t enough Stuff, but he has some features and offers a lovely obbligato to Ella’s vocal on GOODNIGHT MY LOVE.  His feature on CLOUDS is a treat.  And IT’S DE-LOVELY, split between Ella and Ben, is a gem.   

This music comes from radio broadcasts, another delight.  Jazz collectors know the Ellington Victors, the Basie Deccas, but they are finite.  To find new “live” material from the Swing Era is always a great gift, especially because thousands of hours of music were broadcast between the early Thirties to the end of World War Two.  We have only the smallest portion, and certain orchestras and players were not well-documented.  

This CD is also an anthropological trove of Thirties pop culture, sometimes unintentionally hilarious — because Barnett has wisely kept in all the announcements, commercial and musical.  By the time this disc was finished, I was eager to buy Lucidin: I would have been a loyal consumer!  The commercials are truly amusing, because announcer Don Kerr was required to promote a product not yet available.  But even better, the Lucidin people were unhappy with the frequency and length of their competitors’ commercials.  So Kerr tells us frequently that the company finds such announcements boring and painful, and won’t do them.  Some of Kerr’s disquisitions do go on, but neither he or Lucidin seems to have been indulging in subversive ironies.

A few tracks have unavoidable surface noise, but only the most finicky listeners will reject the opportunity to hear these players in new performances.    

It’s a delightful disc throughout, one of those rare CDs I can listen to all the way through at one sitting.  It offers not just Ella, Stuff, and Ben, but what a now-vanished population heard on WMCA.  And Barnett’s meticulous research is a real pleasure: the liner is illustrated with rare photographs and drawings.  It was worth the wait! 

It can be ordered through North Country Audio (CADENCE Magazine: visit http://www.cadencebuilding.com)  and more details are available at the AB Fable website: www.abar.net.

AL DUFFY (1906-2006)

Courtesy of AB Fable Archive

I don’t print the obituary of every worthy jazz musician, singer, writer, record producer . . . simply because I want to celebrate as well as mourn in this blog.  But jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett’s notice (from the New York musicians’ union, Local 802) of the death of violinist Al Duffy deserves all the attention it can get, I think:

Adolph Daidone – professionally known as Al Duffy – died on Dec. 22. The violinist was 100 years old and had been a member of 802 since 1924.  He was born in Brooklyn and was a resident of Freehold, New Jersey, since 1978.  Mr. Daidone was a nationally renowned violin virtuoso whose career spanned several decades of entertainment in radio, recording, and stage.  He was awarded the Philco Radio Hall of Fame Citation for outstanding artistry.  He played for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Bell Telephone Orchestra with such luminaries as the Dorsey Brothers, Bobby Hackett, Dinah Shore, JimmyDurante, and many others.  He is survived by four children: Vincent and his wife Barbara, Theresa Kimmel and her husband Monroe, John and his wife Elna, and Louis and his wife Teri; eight grandchildren; and eleven great grandchildren.

Anthony Barnett adds: According to my files he was born Gandolfo Daidone 20 September 1906 which would make him older than 100.

Courtesy of AB Fable Archive

The moral has to be that jazz taps in to the Fountain of Youth for a few lucky people!  Also that originality is a saving grace: Duffy was an accomplished player who took his own route rather than attempting to imitate Joe Venuti.

A NIGHT AT THE EMBERS

b_cd022_bushstuff

Although I keep muttering to myself, “I really don’t like jazz violin all that much,” I find myself entranced by the new CD that the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett has just issued on his ABFable label.  It features about an hour of live jazz from the Embers night club — with pianist Joe Bushkin, violin wizard Stuff Smith, under-praised bassist Whitey Mitchell, and the irreplaceable Jo Jones.  In addition, there’s a fourteen-minute solo private tape of Stuff, solo, exploring some of his compositions, as “Sketches for a Symphony.”

Is it the rarity of the performances?  I admit that might initially be captivating — but if you gave me the most unknown / rarest music by someone whose work I couldn’t tolerate, I would listen for sixty seconds and take it off.  The music itself is splendid: Bushkin’s energetic playing (his characteristic arpeggios and ripples) never falters, and he seems to be having the time of his life, and his trumpet playing is much more convincing than I remember it as being.  (He must have been practicing!)  Stuff, although not featured throughout the hour, is in peak form, able to swing ferociously with the minimum of notes, possessed of true jazz passion.  Whitey Mitchell plays so well that he had me fooled: I would have sworn that Bushkin’s regular bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton, was there under an alias.  And then Jo Jones is in prime form, delighting in playing in this band.  He and Bushkin had a special rapport — I saw it once, years later, when they came into the midtown Eddie Condon’s and sat in with Ruby Braff and Milt Hinton for an extended, riotous YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY that became MOTEN SWING perhaps ten or twelve minutes later. 

But what captured me more than anything else was the intimacy of the two sessions presented here.  I was not attending jazz clubs in 1964, being too young, but the taping of the Embers session is done from the bandstand microphone (as far as I can tell) so we get all the musicians’ asides, the teasing, the inside jokes.  It has the feel of being part of the band — and part of a vanished scene, as when Bushkin ends the set by saying that they’ll be back at 2 AM, but they can be found at P.J. Clarke’s or The Strollers in the meantime.  And the private tape that Stuff made (for himself, or as a demonstration of themes for a larger work?) is entrancing because it is quite clearly a composer playing for himself: you can hear him breathe.  It’s a divine kind of eavesdropping on a Master. 

Barnett’s CDs have always been wonderful productions: the music is presented as clearly as the original sources allow, there are many rare photographs, the annotations are through without being stodgy. 

But wait!  There’s more!  Something to look forward to. . . .

b_cd024_lucidinThis one is scheduled for 2010.  Did you know that Stuff Smith had a radio gig (sponsored by an eye lotion, Lucidin) for which he assembled an all-star band, drawing on his own group and Chick Webb’s aggregation — including the youthful Ella Fitzgerald?  (An early broadcast for Lucidin had him leading a small combo with Jonah Jones, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, with vocals by Helen Ward.)  I’ve heard some of this music, and it is spectacular — the height of the Swing Era, I think.  So look for this next year!  For more information (and to order any of Barnett’s CDs and books), visit www.abar.net.  Even if you think you don’t like jazz violin!

ABFable discs are available in the United States from CADENCE — the honest Jazz journal: www.cadencebuilding.com.