Tag Archives: jazz violin

SOME RARE STUFF

That’s Stuff Smith, one of the supreme beings of jazz violin, who deserves more attention than he received in life and does now.  An audio sample from 1936 with Stuff playing and singing (with Jonah Jones, Jimmy Sherman, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, Cozy Cole):

This little remembrance of Stuff is because I found two rare paper items on eBay — which you shall see.  But before I completed this post, I checked everything with Anthony Barnett, the reigning scholar of jazz violin, who’s issued wonderful CDs, books, and more about Stuff, Eddie South, Ginger Smock, and many other stars and hidden talents.  More about Anthony’s ABFable projects below.

Here is a 1947 Associated Booking Corporation (that’s Joe Glaser’s firm) magazine advertisement for both Stuff and Eddie South — Eddie has Leonard Gaskin, string bass; Allen Tinney, piano:

Music instruction books linked to famous artists proliferated from the Twenties onwards, and here is one I had never seen before.  I don’t know how deeply Stuff was involved with the compositions and arrangements, but this 1944 folio is a fascinating curio:

Characteristically and thriftily, a mix of public domain songs and a few originals:

The composition looks unadventurous, but this is only the first page.  “Who is Lee Armentrout?” is the big question on JEOPARDY, and the answer is here:

How about some more music?  “Can do,” we say — a lovely rendition of DEEP PURPLE, a duet between Stuff and Sun Ra, recorded on July 29, 1948 by drummer Tommy Hunter. Ra is playing a solovox which was a piano attachment.

Anthony tells me, “There is a lost recording by Ra and Coleman Hawkins from around the same period (but not the same session).  Stuff and Hawk led a band for a couple of weeks around that time with Ra on piano.”

I’ve been writing ecstatically about Anthony’s ABFable discs for more than a decade now: they are absolute models of loving presentation of rare music.  How about this : a CD of 1937 broadcasts of a big band, led by Stuff, its members drawn from the Chick Webb band plus other stars — with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald?  Stuff leading a septet drawn from the 1942 Fats Waller band while Fats was touring; a Ray Nance compilation that features acetate recordings of Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, Sonny Greer — oh, and Ben plays clarinet as well as tenor; more from Ray Perry, Eddie South, and glorious violinists you’ve never heard of.  Helen Ward, Rex Stewart, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones  . . .

It’s self-indulgent to quote oneself, but perhaps this is forgivable: I don’t ordinarily endorse the productions of an entire CD label, but Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable series of reissues is something special: rare music, beautifully annotated and transferred, delightfully presented.  Barnett’s notes are erudite but never dull. Each CD I’ve heard has been a joyous experience in preconception-shattering. I used to think of jazz violin improvisation beyond Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli as a mildly inconvenient experience. Grudgingly, I acknowledged that it was possible to play compelling jazz on the instrument, but I was politely waiting for Ray Nance to pick up his cornet. Barnett’s CDs have effected a small conversion experience for me—and even if you don’t have the same transformation take place, they are fun to listen to over and over again.

And — as a musing four-bar break: we are, in 2017, caught between the Montagues and the Capulets, the people who say, “Oh, CDs are dead!” and those who say, “I’ll never download a note.”  These CDs are rare creations, and those ignorant of them might be unintentionally denying themselves joy.  For more of the right stuff and Stuff — books, CDs, accurate information galore — visit here.

May your happiness increase!

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 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.