Tag Archives: J.C. Higginbotham

“SONG OF THE ISLANDS,” VARIOUSLY (1930-2006)

I’m going to allow myself the freedom of not writing the history of this song, nor posting all the versions, but simply offering a few that please me immensely.  This post is in honor of Doctor J, who knows why it is.

A little introduction (2006) by the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, who closed sets with it: Jon-Erik Kellso, Brad Shigeta, Orange Kellin, Morten Gunnar Larsen, John Gill, Skye Steele, Conal Fowkes, Rob Garcia:

Louis gets to introduce his own performance:

and here’s the lovely 1930 version, with magnificent Louis (yes, I know that’s redundant) and his “Rhythm Boys” drawn from the Luis Russell band, starring J.C. Higginbotham and Pops Foster.  Apparently Paul Barbarin plays vibraphone and the band’s valet plays drums: he swings!

And a more contemporary version I treasure because it seems to convey decades of vernacular music performance, making the transition from waltz-time to quietly majestic rocking (yes, Louis is standing in the wings, very happy).  I imagine the opening choruses as a tea-dance or perhaps a summer band concert in a gazebo in the town park, and then the band takes on restorative color and swing, never aggressively but with sweet eloquence. The group is the 1987 Red Roseland Cornpickers, featuring Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, and Keith Nichols, and this is taken from my prized “long-playing record” on the Stomp Off label:

Details for those who crave data: Bent Persson (tp-2,vcl) Folker Siegert (tb-3,vcl) Claus Jacobi (as-4,ts-5,cl-6,vcl) Engelhard Schatz (cl-7,sop-8,ts-9,vcl) Lothar Kohn (as-10,g-11,vcl) Joachim Muller (bassax-13,cl-14,as-15) Keith Nichols (p,vcl) Gunter Russel (bj-12,vcl) Ulf-Carsten Gottges (d)  Gottingen, January 4 & 5, 1987.  SONG OF THE ISLANDS: (2,3,4,6,7,9,12,13,14,15, Bent, Folker, Claus, Engelhard, Lothar, and Keith, vocal).

In these stressful times, this music evokes warm days, cool nights, tropical beaches, and fresh pineapple.

May your happiness increase!

 

A STRING OF SOLOS, and FOR BEST RESULTS USE VICTOR NEEDLES (January 3, 1940)

Some listeners speak condescendingly of certain jazz performances as “a string of solos.”  This dismissal may be understandable if soloists go on and on — one can feel trapped, as one does when facing the conversationalist who shares every in response to, “Nice sneakers!  Where did  you get them?” After fifteen minutes, the room starts to darken, then spin.  But “just solos” can be wonderful.

I know it’s elderly of me to cherish the concision that the ten-inch 78 side demanded, but occasionally it seems just right.  Consider this side — famous but little-heard, recorded on January 3, 1940, shortly after Coleman Hawkins came back to New York from his half-decade in Europe.  The song originated in 1921, with ties to Valentino and Eddie Cantor, and was often played and recorded by jazz musicians, but (curiously) not that often before 1940.  The band is a mix of Hawkins’ colleagues from his Henderson days and a few members of his current orchestra; Polo might have crossed paths with Hawkins in Europe.

In three minutes, they create five choruses of THE SHEIK, and each one is delightfully different: the recording has a built-in structure from the first improvised chorus to the last.  (There are nearly a half-dozen transfers of this side on YouTube: I’ve chosen the slightly more honest version here over the very cleaned-up “modern” one others prefer: when surface noise is tidied up and removed, some of the sound goes with it.)

Incidentally, I was recently captivated again by this record (thanks to the silent encouragement of Mister Fat Cat) and by one solo on it — with apologies to Hawk, it’s not his.  Care to guess?

I can imagine Hawk briefly issuing directions.  “All right, SHEIK.  Bright but not too fast.  Gene, start us off.  Benny, take the lead in the first chorus.  I’ll play the melody behind you, and, Danny, you do a little there also.  Jack (or “Higgy”) lay out — save it for your chorus.  We don’t want to sound too old-fashioned.  Danny, take the second.  Higgy, take the third.  I’ll take the fourth and the first half of the fifth, with maybe a little riff behind me, and then every tub out.”

I think that’s glorious.  I doubt there was more than one take.  Everybody played their individualistic selves but knew their ensemble role . . . and the record soars.

You’ll notice the label advertises another product.  If you’ve ever picked up a well-played 78 at a yard sale, and noticed that the expected black glossy surface is a dull gray, you could say, “Well, that record’s been well-loved,” or you could think about the possible culprit, depicted here.

Mug shots.  Front:

Back:

Full view:

I know that the modern stylus is also made of metal, perhaps jewel-tipped (I remember the Columbia Records lp sleeves of my youth, with their taxonomy of Sapphire, Osmium, and Diamond — which now sounds like a singing group) but these Victor needles meant business, and with heavy tone arms, they plowed paths through the grooves.  But enough of that.  Let us return to Araby, and not the Joyce story.

May your happiness increase!

FRED GUY, TRICKY SAM NANTON, CHANO POZO, MEADE LUX LEWIS, J.C. HIGGINBOTHAM, BABS GONZALES, ABBEY LINCOLN, SAM JONES, LEE KONITZ, KARIN KROG, JOHN LEWIS, COUSIN JOE, BUD FREEMAN, EDDIE GOMEZ, ANDY KIRK, MED FLORY, CHUBBY JACKSON, WILBUR LITTLE, HELEN HUMES, FREDDIE GREEN, TAFT JORDAN, and MANY MORE, FROM JG AUTOGRAPHS on eBay

The astonishing eBay treasure chest called jgautographs has opened its lid again.  Apparently the trove is bottomless, since the latest offering is 118 items under “jazz,” with only a few debatable entries.  “Donovan,” anyone?  But the depth and rarity and authenticity are dazzling.

Consider this Ellington collection, including Joe Nanton, Billy Taylor, Fred Guy, Juan Tizol, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and the Duke himself:

The appropriate soundtrack, give or take a few years — Ellington at Fargo, 1940 with the ST. LOUIS BLUES (wait for “WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK”):

Incidentally, someone wrote in and said, “Michael, are they paying you to do this?” and the answer is No, and that’s fine.  Imagine my pleasure at being able to share Joe Nanton’s signature with people who just might value it as I do.

Here’s Meade Lux Lewis:

And his very first Blue Note issue, from 1939, MELANCHOLY BLUES:

Taft Jordan, star of Chick Webb, Duke, and his own bands:

Taft in 1936, singing and playing ALL MY LIFE with Willie Bryant:

“Mr. Rhythm,” Freddie Green, with an odd annotation:

a 1938 solo by Freddie (with Pee Wee, James P. Dicky, Max, and Zutty):

Tyree Glenn, a veteran before he joined Louis (Cab Calloway and Duke):

Tyree’s ballad, TELL ME WHY:

The wonderful Swedish singer Karin Krog:

Karin and Bengt Hallberg, joining BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL and SENTIMENTAL AND MELANCHOLY:

The link at the top of this post will lead you to more than a hundred other marvels — the delighted surprises I will leave to you.  And as in other eBay auctions, you or I are never the only person interested in an item . . .

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES CECIL SCOTT, DICK KATZ, AND NANCY HARROW (Sept. 29, 2017)

I won’t go on at length about my good fortune — having Dan Morgenstern patiently sit and tell wonderful stories to my camera so that you can all delight in his warmth, his first-hand experience, and his beautifully articulated love for the music and the musicians . . . but here are two interview segments from my most recent visit, September 29, 2017.

The first, a belated celebration of reedman and splendid figure CECIL SCOTT:

Here’s Cecil in a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM:

and one of my favorite recordings ever, Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON (with Cecil and J.C. Higginbotham):

Here are Dan’s affectionate memories of someone who was much loved and is not, I fear, well-known today, pianist / composer DICK KATZ and the very much with-us NANCY HARROW:

On a personal note or two: I am more involved in this video than I usually am, and I hope our conversation bothers no one.  On the subject of conversation . . . as soon as I’d shut the camera off, I said to Dan, awe-struck, “YOU KNOW Nancy Harrow?” and through the kindness of Daryl Sherman and Dan, Nancy and I have met and exchanged compliments and gratitudes — a great blessing.

But back to DICK KATZ.  Here is Dick playing THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

and THREE LITTLE WORDS:

and with Nancy Harrow on a very touching rendition of IF YOU WERE MINE (I need no excuse to recommend Nancy to you):

Dan Morgenstern says, “Dick was a dear man.”  Dan Morgenstern is a dear man.

May your happiness increase!

RHAPSODIES BY BING and HAWK, 1933

Yesterday, May 3, would have been Bing Crosby’s birthday.  He doesn’t need to be defended, re-assessed, or re-evaluated, but it’s always a pleasure to remember his singing: his passionate ease, his swing, his beautiful dramatic sense.  I first fell in love with his voice in my childhood and it continues to thrill me.  Here are two (really, three) examples of how wonderfully he sang in the Thirties — and the lovely songs he was given, the first by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, the second by Al Dubin and Harry Warren.

Here is a clip from the film.  Bing’s acting is broad, reminiscent of his Mack Sennett days, but it could also be the way he was directed: listen to the voice:

and the issued recording, its subtleties showing that he knew how to improvise:

Here’s I’VE GOT TO SING A TORCH SONG, where Bing’s passionate delivery might make you forget the simple scalar quality of the melody line:

The question of “influence” is always slippery, unless A has written a letter that she is listening to the newest record by B and is impressed by it.  Those two songs were in the air, on sheet music, on the radio — this was popular music — so although I feel that Bing had a powerful influence on instrumentalists, I can’t prove it.  However, I offer these two instrumental versions — each a beautiful creation — to suggest that perhaps the most famous jazz players were listening deeply to Bing.  (We know Louis did.)  It gives me an excuse to share, without ideology, glorious rhapsodies.

That’s Hawk with a small group from the Fletcher Henderson band (Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Hilton Jefferson, Horace  Henderson, Bernard Addison, John Kirby, Walter Johnson); here he is as star soloist with the full orchestra, with brother Horace on piano, who may have done the arrangement:

Gorgeous music.  Sweet, hot, White, Black — who cares?  Just gorgeous.

May your happiness increase!

ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES: ANDY FARBER’S SEXTET at SMALLS (May 5, 2012)

Saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Andy Farber looked at me quizzically when I told him I was calling this blogpost ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES, but I’m sticking by it.

In this exhilarating session at Smalls (May 5. 2012), he casually proposed that we move the birthplace of jazz some eleven hundred  miles north and east (New Orleans to Detroit, according to Google Maps), and the energies that his Sextet generated were powerful and lovely.  Andy’s originals are meaningful — not just wanderings or new lines over very familiar chord changes.  He also gave some very pleasing attention to the compositions that his uncle, Mitchell Farber (more about him below**) — wrote for Donald Byrd.

The players were Andy, alto and tenor saxophones; Dominick Farinacci, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Xavier Davis, piano; Michael Karn, string bass; Ali Jackson, drums.  The rhythm section was delicious — three players listening to one another and to the horns.  I reserve my highest praise for Ali Jackson, who absolutely lifted me out of my seat through his wit, animation, and enthusiasm.  Had I not been anchored to my video camera, I would have been standing and cheering.  You’ll see why (especially on RECIPROCITY).  On both horns, Andy managed to offer a neat lyricism (with Pete Brown / Ben / Rollins grittiness) but he kept reaching forward to suggest phrases that were absolutely new but once heard, entirely comfortable.  Dominick can nimbly maneuver in the manner of Clifford Brown, but I also heard Harry Edison and Clark Terry — as well as a sweet yearning pathos on PENSIVE LEANING.  I knew Vincent Gardner from his intermittent appearances with David Ostwald at Birdland, and he did occasionally reach back into his own version of J.C. Higginbotham’s insistence, but more usually he took a rhythmic or melodic phrase and turned it up and down, delighting in it, having a wonderful time playing.

It is an extraordinary band, caught live, fresh, and vigorous in what I think is an extraordinary performance.

Andy began by calling WEST OF THE PECOS, a composition by altoist Sonny Red [Kyner]:

Then he tried out a new piece — a premiere! — with a title that has variant spellings, CHOTCHKES (meaning “trivial little things,” or “gewgaws” in Yiddish) — music for a hard-bop Tevye, perhaps:

Next, the blues!  But not the ordinary kind — no, this is a thirteen-bar blues in Eb minor, written by Mitchell Farber.  I think it has a distinct Middle Eastern flavor as well — illuminated from within by Vincent’s questions and implorings:

The first set closed with another of Andy’s originals, ROUTE 9A NORTH — the road you take to get to his house, although he didn’t provide more specific directions:

When the band returned, Andy pointed them into his own SCHMOOZEFEST, whose title is, I hope, self-explanatory (with fiery drumming from Ali).  Is it my fault that the opening motive reminds me of CARNIVAL IN CAROLINE?:

Mitchell Farber named EL DORADO for the Cadillac, not the far-off land, and wrote it for Donald Byrd.  Notice Michael’s double-stopping behind Andy, and the way these soulful performances come to resemble small symphonies, with a lyrical outing from Dominick.  You’ll hear Andy say that he and the band had decided that jazz really was born in Detroit.  A new idea, but the music certainly validated it for me:

Then, an absolute high point — not just for this session but perhaps for my recent years of live jazz experience — the eighteen-minute RECIPROCITY, delightfully propelled by Ali.  Mister Jackson is joyously ebullient, not afraid to be loud, but every accent and knocking-at-the-door has meaning and pleasure surrounding it.  I was watching his face — mobile, pleased, surprised, and thought, “He’s writing the punchlines to the jokes other players in the band start.”*  What Ali and Vincent create together is marvelous, and that’s not to take anything away from a wondrous Dominick – Michael duet.  Hear and see for yourself:

And Andy closed this glorious session with his own — quite relevant — question, OLIVE OR TWIST? (I didn’t get the pun until sometime today and that’s because Ricky Riccardi pointed it out to me):

If you don’t know why I proposed ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES as a title, your assignment is to go back and listen / watch very closely one more time.  The hints are this: 1) Detroit, and 2) if there’s ever an electrical outage in New York, I’m going to call Andy and ask him to get the guys together.  Wow!

May your happiness increase.

*A few more words about my new hero, Mr. Jackson.  At the end of the second set, I caught him for a moment — he was still wearing his hand-tied neat bowtie — and said, “I’m going to write a blogpost about this and put up the videos.  What do you think of this title: ‘ALI JACKSON COULD SWING THE DEAD BUT I HOPE HE NEVER HAS TO’?  And it amused him, too.  I also said, ‘My heroes are Sidney Catlett and . . . ‘ and before I could name anyone else, he said, most enthusiastically, ‘Mine too!'”  More than any other drummer I’ve heard these days, he suggests what it might have been like to sit eight feet in front of Big Sid — which is a splendid thing.

**About Mitchell Farber, from his nephew — the brilliant player who leads this Sextet.   “Mitchell Farber is my uncle, my father’s kid brother born in 1944.  He was a jazz saxophonist in high school where he spent his summers at jazz camp with people like Randy Brecker, Dave Sanborn, and Vinnie Ruggerio (the late drummer from upstate New York who was a Philly Joe Jones disciple).  Mitch met Donald Byrd at a summer jazz camp and worked with him on and off from the mid 1960s through the late ’70s. Donald recorded two of his tunes, “Eldorado” on Blackjack BLP 4259 (1967) and “The Uptowner” BST 84319 (1969).  In the 1960s, Mitch began to lean toward composition and studied with George Russell and Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau.  Mitch wrote and produced albums for Jackie McLean, Red Garland, Mark Murphy, Morgana King, Richie Cole, Pepper Adams, Walter Bishop Jr., and many others.  Some of his credits may be found here.  (Ignore the credits for guitar as that is another “Mitch Farber,” a guitarist in Florida.)   Mitch began a career in TV commercial underscore and jingle writing that lasted from the early 70s through the late 80s. He also wrote and/or orchestrated film scores with no credit or the wrong credit.   In the late 1990s he began teaching music is Ridgefield CT where he’s in his last year.   He recorded on album under his own name for Muse Records in 1983.”

Obviously someone we should know!  Talent, thy name is Farber.

LOVE IN SWINGTIME: “THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG,” THREE WAYS

One idyllic version of early twentieth-century modernism is the intersection of great artists considering the same theme.  Here, the lost paradise of 1933 where Bing Crosby and Coleman Hawkins could each rhapsodize beautifully on the same song.  It was THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG — a sweet romantic rhapsody of love’s fulfillment by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, a Crosby hit from the film TOO MUCH HARMONY.  Here’s Bing’s version, where sensuality and delight combine:

That same year, a small band of Coleman Hawkins, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Hilton Jefferson, Horace Henderson, Bernard Addison, John Kirby, and Walter Johnson devoted themselves to the same theme:

Nearly ninety years later, the Harlem Jazz Camels pay tribute to the song, to love in swingtime:

This performance (recorded by the very gracious “jazze1947”) comes from Aneby, Sweden, on Feb. 7, 2012.  The Camels are Bent Persson, trumpet; Göran Eriksson, alto / clarinet; Stephan Lindsein, trombone; Claes Brodda, clarinet / baritone / tenor; Lasse Lindbäck. string bass; Ulf Lindberg, piano; Sigge Delert, drums; Göran Stachewsky. guitar / banjo.

“What’s the most important day in history?”

“The day you came along.”

“Of course!”

SO SWEET: THE FIRST THURSDAY BAND (Feb. 2, 2012)

More from the First Thursday Band — a small hot jazz ensemble that appears on a particular day at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  They are Steve Wright on reeds and cornet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Dave Brown, string bass;  Mike Daugherty, drums.  Each member of the band occasionally takes a casual but expert vocal, and these four players swing as soloists — and, even better, as an ensemble.  Here are a few selections from their their Thursday date of 2.2.12 — a harmonious-looking date in itself.

A song I love deeply — could it be from hearing Louis, Bobby, Joe Thomas, Jack Teagarden, and others perform it? — HOME.  And this version perfectly balances Sweet and Hot:

SO SWEET comes from Jimmie Noone, and the title describes it perfectly:

Disorientation and perhaps even homelessness never swung so hard or sounded so good as in SONG OF THE WANDERER:

MOANIN’ should be a depressing exercise, but this performance is quite uplifting:

One of my favorite tunes — which other Thirties cowboy number has ties to Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and a doomed Bob Hoskins?  Take another one, Mike!  ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

To me, this compact little band is a triumph of both sound and intuition.  The players hark back to a time when you could tell an instrumentalist or singer in a few notes — instantly recognizable personal identities, like the great film stars.  No one ever confused Bette Davis or Benny Morton with anyone else!  Each member of this quartet has his own identity, and although the whole concept honors the past (so you could, if you liked, talk about Charlie Holmes and Jess Stacy, George Wettling and Al Morgan among a hundred other heroic figures), you hear Skjelbred’s traceries, Brown’s resonant pulse, Daughterty’s cornucopia of rocking sounds, Wright’s lyrical messages.  And the quartet is more than simply four great players bundled together onstage: they remind me of the great string quartets who worked together for years and played better than four individuals with bigger names.  Intuition is at work here — so that each player is both advancing his own vision and listening deeply to what the other fellow just “said,” or anticipating what he thinks is coming next.  A little family of people who know the same language and love its possibilities.

I don’t know when I will end up in Seattle, but I would like it to be a First Thursday.

These videos — and more! — are posted on YouTube by the very gifted Mr. Wright — you might want to subscribe to his channel, swr2408018 — so you don’t miss even a four-bar break.

ONCE THERE WAS A HOUSE ON FIFTY-SECOND STREET (Henry “Red” Allen, 1946)

The Soundies — a kind of early video jukebox — seem very primitive today.  Watch more than two at a time by the same band, and it’s clear they were done rapidly, cheaply, and without much emphasis on variety.  The same sets and presentation continue throughout a series,  and the musicians are clearly miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack.  But how else would we see Henry “Red” Allen and his sidekick J. C. Higginbotham in performance in 1946?

This Soundie — HOUSE ON 52nd STREET — was not intended as a follow-up to Red’s moody THERE’S A HOUSE IN HARLEM, but it seems an extension of songs like GIMME A PIGFOOT and THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ — efforts to invent a party scene in less than three minutes.

Its rather thin melody and lyrics already must have seemed nostalgic for a scene rapidly slipping away. By 1946, I think “the Street” was in decline: the returning servicemen had already decided to take their girlfriends to the suburbs, own some lawn, raise families — and I do not scoff at these activities, for they delineate aspects of my early life . . . but domesticity meant that you didn’t stay up late listening to jazz in the city.  And then there was television, a few years later . . .

In Manhattan, I believe that the block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on Fifty-Second Street is called SWING STREET on the green-and-white sign, but that’s possibly the only thing swinging there now.

But we can return to this invented scene — sixty-five years ago now! — and hear Red, Higgy, Don Stovall, alto; Bill Thompson, piano; Benny Moten, string bass; Alvin Burroughs, drums; Johni Weaver and Harry Turner, dancers.  And Red obviously didn’t develop his stage presence only at the Metropole: he has it here, exuberantly selling this song:

Thanks again to Franz Hoffmann for delving even deeper into his treasure-chest and letting us see and hear these prizes.

APRIL 23, 1941 at CARNEGIE HALL: CAFE SOCIETY CONCERT (featuring the COUNT BASIE BAND, RED ALLEN’S BAND . . . )

Jam session ecstasies, anyone?  Thanks to jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann, who has just started sharing his incredible treasures on YouTube . . . here are three recordings from an incredible jam session that concluded a Carnegie Hall concert that utilized the talents of musicians playing and singing at Cafe Society.

First, DIGA DIGA DOO by Henry “Red” Allen’s band, with Red, trumpet; J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Ed Hall, clarinet; Ken Kersey, piano; Billy Taylor, bass; Jimmy Hoskins, drums:

How about some BLUES?  And let’s add a few players: Red Allen, Buck Clayton, Charlie Shavers, Bunny Berigan, Henry Levine, Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Will Bradley, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Buster Bailey, Ed Hall, clarinet; Russell Procope, Tab Smith, alto sax; Don Byas, Buddy Tate, tenor sax; Eddie South, violin; Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Stan Facey, Ken Kersey, Count Basie, Calvin Jackson, Buck Washington, Billy Kyle, Art Tatum, piano; Freddie Green, Gene Fields, guitar; Walter Page, John Kirby, Billy Taylor, Doles Dickens, bass; Jo Jones, Specs Powell, Jimmy Hoskins, Ray McKinley, O´Neil Spencer, drums:

I didn’t have enough blues to satisfy me . . . so let the fellows play ONE O’CLOCK JUMP:

I first heard the latter two performances perhaps twenty-five years ago on cassette from another collector . . . they were perilously hush-hush and not to be distributed to others.  Now all can be revealed and shared, to our hearts’ content.  In the interests of accuracy, I have to point out that the visuals provided — the “silent”films — do not match up with the music, and in one case I believe altoist Tab Smith is soloing while tenorist Don Byas is onscreen.  But such things are infinitesmal when compared to the glory of the music . . . even when it seems as though everyone on stage is wailing away at once.

I wonder what treasures Professor Hoffmann has for us in the coming days!  (Even now, there’s the precious audio of Red, Clark Terry, and Ruby Braff playing LOVER, COME BACK TO ME for a Newport Trumpet Workshop . . . )

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.

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA” — JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

Marty Grosz is known for many things aside from playing the guitar and singing.  He always looks for new ways to present what looks to some like a tradition fixed — if not in stone, then in shellac.  He reveres Frank Teschemacher’s scant recorded work, for instance, but doesn’t want living musicians to be copying and reproducing those notes from 1928.

Thus, when Marty was found himself considering a performance of music associated with Bix Beiderbecke for the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua party, he left slow. elegiac readings of SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA alone . . . and reinvented a handful of Bix-favorites in styles that didn’t always come from 1923-31.

And he certainly saw to it that any resemblances between the original recordings and what happened on the stage on Sept. 17, 2011, were coincidental.  Marty surrounded himself with players who know Bix and his world deeply, but understand that they have their own songs to sing: Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums.

They began with one of the happiest bits of good cheer I know (which Bix recorded with Jean Goldkette for Victor), I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER.  But, Toto, it certainly doesn’t sound like that scroll 78.  Does anyone recognize the source of the romping phrase that begins this performance (somehow I think it’s a closing riff . . . which would suit Marty’s obstinate whimsies) — a performance full if little surprises:

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND has associations with Eddie Condon, Milt Gabler, and the Commodore Music Shop — but this lovely performance reminds me just as much of the John Hammond Vanguard sessions of the early Fifties, in the way it takes its time.  Up until the double-time passages (after the bass solo), you could easily be in 1953, in a Masonic Temple in Brooklyn:

OL’ MAN RIVER came from 1927, but this performance floats along from the start with borrowings from everywhere (isn’t that a mid-Forties “Keynote” riff I hear at the start — or is it the opening fidget from the ROUTE 66 television show theme, circa 1961?).  The overall feel here, with Pete Siers’ swishing hi-hat, is that of a Buck Clayton Jam Session, either the early ones supervised by Hammond or the later Chiaroscuros (thanks to Hank O’Neal for such blessings).  And the musicians float over those neat charts, sounding like themselves (or like Lester and Higgy, when the spirit moves them):

Finally, after some official Grosz-talk, we have COPENHAGEN, named for the Midwestern delicacy.  And look out for letter C!  This performance sounds more like the 1939-40 Bud Freeman band (“Summa Cum Laude” or “his Famous Chicagoans”) which doesn’t do anyone any harm:

One, two . . . they know what to do!

IT’S TOO HOT FOR WORDS: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at SWEET AND HOT 2011 (Sept. 4, 2011)

I was very happy at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, if my postings haven’t made that obvious.

But initially I was not terribly happy to watch the Reynolds Brothers in this outdoor venue — called RAMPART STREET because it seemed to be under a freeway ramp, which is either black humor or making the best of things.

A few minutes into the set I realized why the Brothers were playing outdoors.  I had seen various members of the Los Angeles Fire Department outside, and several parked trucks were there (with quietly observant firemen and women in uniform taking in the scene).  It made sense.

The people who operated the hotel had become aware that this band generated so much heat that it was thought better for all concerned if they performed outside.  I asked one of the firefighters and she agreed, but asked me not to tell people because there might be panic . . . but I can let the secret out now.

The Brothers, as always, lived up to their name — by featuring two men related by blood and parentage.  John (with the less effusive mustache) on National steel guitar, a tiny National ukulele, banjo, vocals, and whistling; brother Ralf on washboard and exhortation; Marc Caparone on cornet and vocal; Katie Cavera on string bass and vocal; guest star Larry Wright on alto sax, ocarina, and “vocal”; the gloriously down-in-the-gutter (only metaphorically) Clint Baker on trombone and vocal.

Here’s what they sounded like.  You might want to make sure that you know where your fire extinguisher is, or have a glass of water near the computer.

They began with CHINA BOY:

Then Clint was featured on I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME — dig the wonderful J. C. Higginbotham birdge he creates:

John sang I COVER THE WATERFRONT — so stylishly:

SAN (which always brings memories of Bix) had a whistling interlude from John, a “vocal” and ocarina display from Larry, and a wonderful duet for Marc and John:

Katie (having a good time) stepped forward for the pretty Walter Donaldson AT SUNDOWN:

And John offered CRAZY RHYTHM:

Marc, honoring Mister Armstrong, Mister Crosby, and indirectly Jones and Smith, gave out on a sweet, intense SHOE SHINE BOY:

John changed over to banjo for a hot lament about the BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

Note Marc’s beautiful lead playing on I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, so lovely:

And the Brothers scorched the stage with their closing HINDUSTAN:

Everyone thanked the firemen and women — who were wiping the sweat out of their eyes — for protecting us from what might have been a jazz inferno.  Our heroes on the stage, our heroes in uniforms outside.

WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO

Every jazz fan who’s’ ever owned a record, a CD, or even a download has a mental list of recorded music he or she has never heard but yearns to hear.  I’m not talking about the Bolden cylinder or the Louis Hot Choruses, but here are some new and old fantasies.  Readers are invited to add to this list (my imagined delights are in no particular order).

The 1929 OKeh recording of I’M GONNA STOMP MISTER HENRY LEE — what would have been the other side of KNOCKIN’ A JUG, with Louis, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang, Joe Sullivan, Happy Caldwell, and Kaiser Marshall.  Did Jack sing or did Louis help him out?  Was the take rejected because everyone was giggling?

The “little silver record” of Lester Young, circa 1934, probably one of those discs recorded in an amusement park booth, that Jo Jones spoke of as his earliest introduction to Pres.  When I asked Jo about it (more than thirty-five years later), he stared at me and then said it had disappeared a long time ago.

On the subject of Lester, the 1942 (?) jam session supervised by Ralph Berton, who broadcast some of the results on WNYC — the participants were Shad Collins, Lester Young, J.C. Higginbotham, Red Allen, Lou McGarity, Art Hodes, Joe Sullivan, Doc West . . .

UNDER PLUNDER BLUES by Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Hal Singer and Herb Hall: from the session released on Atlantic as MAINSTREAM.  We know that the tapes from this and other sessions were destroyed in a fire, but the fire seems to have happened almost eighteen years after the recording.  Hmmm.

The 78 album Ernest Anderson said he created — one copy only — for the jazz-fan son of a wealthy friend, a trio of Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, Bobby Hackett, and Sidney Catlett.

The 1928 duets of Red McKenzie and Earl Hines.

SINGIN’ THE BLUES, by Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, and Mezz Mezzrow.

DADDY, YOU’VE BEEN A MOTHER TO ME — by Lee Wiley, Frank Chace, Clancy Hayes, and Art Hodes, recorded at Squirrel Ashcraft’s house.  (I’ve actually heard this, but the cassette copy has eluded me.)

Frank Newton’s controbution to the 1944 Fats Waller Memorial Concert.

The VOA transcriptions from the 1954-55 Newport Jazz Festivals — Ruby Braff, Lester Young, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Jo Jones; Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson; Billie Holiday, Lester, Buck, and Teddy Wilson.  (I have hopes of Wolfgang’s Vault here.)

Some of these are bound to remain out of our reach forever; some are tantalizingly close.  But the Savory discs show us that miracles of a jazz sort DO happen.  As do the acetates Scott Black rescued from a dumpster in New Orleans.

What discs do you dream about?  This post, incidentally, has been taking shape in my mind for weeks, but what nudged it towards the light was our visit to a wonderful Berkeley, CA flea market / second-hand store called BAZAAR GILMAN, where there were records.  No revelations, but a splendid mix of oddities, including a few RCA Victor vinyl home recording discs and a few Recordio-Gay ones.  All full, with dispiriting titles such as WEDDING MARCH, BERCEUSE, and PIPE ORGAN.  But one never knows!

While you’re up, would you put on those airshots from the Reno Club, 1935?  (There was a radio wire: how else could John Hammond have heard the nine-piece Basie band in his car?)

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! — THE FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (ON DISC and VIDEO)

Imagine a jam session after hours in Chicago, circa 1934 or so (the date, being imagined, is flexible).  Waiting their turn to play are Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Omer Simeon, Boyce Brown, Guy Kelly, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, Cassino Simpson, Frank Melrose, Joe Sullivan, Wellman Braud, Truck Parham, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, and others.

No, the late John Steiner didn’t record such a gathering of saints and heroes. 

But a modern evocation of such a gathering is to be found when one of my new-irreplaceable-favorite jazz groups, the FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND, comes to play. 

They are Ray Skjelbred, leader, piano; Steve Wright, reeds, cornet; Dave Brown, string bass, Mike Daugherty, drums.  Everyone in the quartet has been known to sing a chorus or two.  It’s a thrifty, focused, engaging quartet — listeners get more than their money’s worth!

I’ve shared some YouTube videos of the band, performing at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington — and more are at the bottom of this blogpost. 

But there’s good news tonight, as a famous radio broadcaster used to say.  The First Thursday Jazz Band has just come out with their debut CD — drop evertyhing and pay attention, please! 

It’s an old-fashioned production: recorded on the job (but with a sweetly attentive audience) in good sound, with a variety of songs and approaches — one of those CDs you can listen to the whole way through and come back to again right away. 

If you know anything about Ray Skjelbred, you know that he rocks — and he loves both classic and unusual material.  And people who admire him can argue (in the nicest of ways) if he is a greater soloist than an accompanist.  Like Stacy, Ray is so fine backing up someone else that occasionally I want to listen to the track again just to hear his bubbling down-home fills and figures. 

Ray’s partner in the rhythm section is the quietly propulsive Dave Brown.  String bassists tend to get less respect than they deserve, but rhythm is Dave’s business.  And business sure is swell.  He has a big plush sound (no amps, thank you kindly) but he doesn’t need one.  And his time is neither stodgy nor over-eager: I think of the Blessed Walter Page when I hear Dave play.

Mike Daugherty (the man with the red drum) is a jovial player with fine time and a whole galaxy of sonic effects from his kit.  He doesn’t opt for the usual tricks, but often just stays on his snare with a rich, padding brush carpet, or moves around his set in a way that feels just right.  No showboating, no look-at-me, not ever.

Steve Wright should get triple or quadruple pay, but I don’t think he’d even entertain the notion of asking for it.  A sweet alto player (a style I miss a great deal) with deep but casual lyricism, a clarinet player who can be Russell-tart or Darnell Howard-smooth, and a neat, unflurried Bixian trumpeter — sweetly to the point.

That’s the band — and these fellows are having a good time purling through the repertoire.  Their quiet pleasure comes through from the first note.

The CD is called simple RAY SKJELBRED and the FIRST THURSDAY BAND, and it’s on the Orangapoid label (number 103).  It has a wonderfully diverse repertoire — Don Redman and Chris Smith, Louis and Red McKenzie, old favorites, oddities, and deep blues.  (JAMES ALLEY BLUES, sung guttily by Bob Jackson, is priceless — immediately identifiable as authentic.) 

The songs are YELLOW DOG BLUES / YEARNING AND BLUE / CAVERNISM / SOLID ROCK / TRY GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP / DON’T BLAME ME / LOVER COME BACK TO ME / FAR AWAY BLUES / NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART / HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY / JAMES ALLEY BLUES / CHERRY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL. 

I wish I could send you to your local record shop and be assured that it would be there — several copies! — but I think those days are gone, gone, gone.  However.  Obviously if you meet Ray at a gig (or the other FT chaps) you can buy a copy for the pittance of $15.  But for most of us, the idea of meeting Ray or the FTJB in person has a certain dreamlike quality.  So for $18, Ray himself will mail you a copy.  He promises!  The details go like this.  Ray Skjelbred can be found at 19526 40th PL. NE., Lake Forest Park, Washington 98155.  If you need more information or want to make a quantity order of a hundred copies, feel free to let me know and I will tell Ray immediately.  Here’s what the cover looks like.

Now.  I promised some new YouTube clips (I regret that they aren’t mine, but they are still lovely) recorded at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant on June 2, 2011.

Let’s begin with a ruminative PENNIES FROM HEAVEN that has all sorts of bonuses — Ray plays the verse in fine Crosby fashion, and Steve solos on clarinet and cornet:

Something in memory of Frank Melrose and George Wettling (with Tesch and Bud in the dim background), the WAILING BLUES:

Want to be some place where they huggy and kissy nice?  How about NAGASAKI?

And two highly reason-able songs, with connections to Red McKenzie, Wingy Mannone, Jack Teagarden, Fats Waller — the first being NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU (vocalizing by Mike Daugherty):

And that eternal plaint, WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?

ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON might have been just another Thirties cowboy song if Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham hadn’t been handed it in the Vocalion studios.  “Take another one, Higgy!”  I think also of the version with vocal by Al Bowlly to which Bob Hoskins emoted in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Vocal by Mike, doubling by Steve:

And THE SONG IS ENDED:

But that last song title (with apologies to Mr. Berlin) isn’t accurate.  There are more videos from this evening on YouTube, and — that new CD! 

Be the first one in your neighborhood to be walking around with a wide grin — and when someone says, “Why the hell are YOU so happy?” you can say, “Have you heard the new CD by The First Thursday Jazz Band?”  And — if you’re a really charitable spreader-of-the-good-word, you can share your headphones / iPod, or even invite them into your car for a few minutes of The Real Thing.

OUR GOOD FORTUNE!

Very simple, beautiful, swinging, and uplifting: a kind of SUNRISE SEMESTER in jazz.

The easy floating and unaffected sincerity (and understatement) of Miss Maxine Sullivan in Bern, 1986.

She’s singing one of my favorite songs;  even when the lyrics are a bit thin at points, the sunny affirmation is worth hearing.  It’s the Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY, from a Cotton Club show that featured both Maxine and that Louis fellow.  (His Decca recording of the song has a wonderful J.C. Higginbotham break and Sid Catlett accent that I can hear in my head right now.)

And alongside Maxine — as we say, “Couldn’t they get anyone good?” — a perfect rhythm section: Jack Lesberg on bass, Dick Hyman on piano, and Uncle Jake, Jake Hanna, on the drums.

Thanks to Bob Erwig for sharing this.  Breathing?  Have music?  We’re lucky!

FIRST-HAND: KEITH INGHAM AND THE JAZZ MASTERS

Happily for me, I have written the liner notes for pianist Keith Ingham’s new CD for Arbors — with Frank Tate and Steve Little, aptly called ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM. 

Keith invited me to his Manhattan apartment to talk about the songs he’d chosen for the date.  But once we had finished our official business, he was delighted to tell stories about the American jazz masters he had played alongside when he was a young pianist in England, before coming to New York in 1978.   

The first person Keith spoke of was the inimitable Henry “Red” Allen, someone not as well-remembered today as he should be, perhaps because he was having too good a time:

Oh, Red Allen was too upbeat.  There wasn’t that aura of tragedy about Red.  He was probably my first jazz gig in London, where I got a chance to play this stuff.  He had a quartet, and he heard me and said he wanted me to play.  I knew his tunes – SWEET SUBSTITUTE and a thing from a Tony Newley show, THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, something called FEELING GOOD.  I knew that song – a bluesy, lovely gospelly song . . . so when he had to guest with another band, it was very embarrassing, because he’d be guesting with one of the name bands like Humphrey Lyttelton, and he would insist that I play the piano when he was on.  So there was this awkward business of asking the regular piano player if he wouldn’t mind. 

You have to do it courteously.  I remember Dill Jones told me that he was playing somewhere and Martial Solal came in and just pushed him off the piano bench, just shoved him.  And Dill, in his inimitable way, said, “He doesn’t have to be so bloody rude!  He could ask me!” 

Red was a larger-than-life character.  When he came up on the bandstand, he wouldn’t count off a number with “One, two,” but it would be “WHAM! WHAM!” with his foot, and there it was!  And what a player – what technique and what chops.  I remember he had this wonderful red brocade jacket on, always a showman, and he looked great. 

Once he was with a band – no names – and the rhythm section thought he was a bit of a throwback, a ham.  And they wanted to be laid-back and play cool – and I remember Red actually getting down on his knees and put his hands together, almost imploring them, “Please!  Swing!”  They finally got the message. 

He loved Higginbotham, too.  I remember Red singing, in a wonderfully sad voice, Higgy’s chorus on FEELING DROWSY, that beautiful minor-key thing.  He loved Buster Bailey, too – was always on the phone to Buster, and he told me that Buster was a superb clarinet player who, but for being black, could have gone into the symphony, which was what he wanted to do, really.  Listen to Buster’s playing on Bessie Smith’s JAZZBO BROWN FROM MEMPHIS TOWN: his clarinet is pure and gorgeous, a wonderful sound. 

Touring with Red was wonderful: he was such a generous soul.  Like Roy Eldridge, the same sort of guy.  Great characters and human beings. 

Roy was over to the UK accompanying Ella, but he got some gigs on his own and I was lucky enough to be part of them, just a quartet.  He was still playing then, and fabulous. 

Roy loved hot food, and he said to me, “Hey, anywhere we can go for curry?”  There was an Indian restaurant, and when we got there, he said, “What’s the hottest thing on the menu,” and they told him.  He said, “I’ve got to have that.”  It was a chicken dish and when it came out it was violently red with peppers.  Then he went into his trumpet case and brought out the hot sauces he had with him, and threw them all over the dish.  Well, for three days he couldn’t play because he came out in blisters on his lips! 

I have happy memories of those days.  I was fortunate enough to play with Benny Carter – now, that was an experience!  I’d done my little bit of homework: he’d made a lovely record with mostly his compositions on it.  So I’d taken them off the record and came prepared – would he like to play any of those, as well as WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW?  And he still played some trumpet!  There was another guy – you couldn’t pick up a tab when Benny was around, any time you went out, he was that generous.  I asked him to tell me how he’d broken into the Hollywood scene, writing scores for movies.  I asked him about some of the other writers – Bronislav Kaper, who wrote INVITATION, ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET, and ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM – for Ivie Anderson in that Marx Brothers movie – and Benny said, “Oh, Bronnie?  Yes, I’ll tell you about Bronnie!” 

What a great arranger – those things he did with Coleman Hawkins in Paris, amazing.  And I knew people in England who had played in that big band, the one that recorded SWINGING AT MAIDA VALE, and they said Benny played every instrument in the band better than anyone – except perhaps the piano and the double bass.  He could play chords on the guitar.  One of the ultimate geniuses of the music.  Wonderful to have that experience.

When Pee Wee Russell came over to tour, he was quite eccentric.  People didn’t quite know what to make of him.  Then, of course, everybody associated him with Eddie Condon, and he hated that – he said, “Condon was always making fun of me, making me out to be a fool or a clown.”  The sound he got on the clarinet in the low register was just wonderful – he just projected across a big basement club like the Manchester Sporting Club.  He didn’t need a microphone.  He was just remarkable. 

He took a liking to me, and I was very pleased.  “Chum, meet me in the bar tomorrow around noon.  I want to talk to you.”  I was down there in the bar at lunchtime and somebody had hijacked him – they wanted Pee Wee so they went and collected him from the bar, and of course he wouldn’t say no – so before I got there, he’d disappeared with this bunch of characters, who took him to see the sights in Manchester, the fancy sights.  Later he came back and found me, and I asked, “Well, what was the day like?”  Terrible,” he snorted.  “I’m glad to be back on concrete again.  I saw a lot of leaves!”  That was the last thing he wanted.

Everybody has a Ruby Braff story, but this one the wonderful clarinetist Sandy Brown in it.  Ruby had no sense of humor about himself – he had almost no sense of humor at all, unless he was knocking someone or something.  We were playing in the 100 Club, a basement club in Oxford Street, quite a big space downstairs, just a quartet.  I was lucky enough to be on piano, with Dave Green on bass and Alan Ganley on drums.  And Ruby was always perfect on the stand – excellent! 

But when he got off, the club owner, at intermission, decided he’d put on some music.  He pressed the button and on came the Woody Herman band – the First Herd with Dave Tough and Bill Harris, APPLE HONEY and that sort of thing, the trumpets shouting.  And Ruby goes over to the owner and says, “What’d you put that fucking shit on for?  It has nothing to do with what I play!  I hate big bands!”  And he started to go on and on, how he hated every big band except Duke’s and Basie’s. 

Once you got him on a roll he would just keep going – a torrent of abuse would come out.  So Sandy was standing there, listening to all this, and finally he said, in his Scottish accent, after Ruby finally got finished spitting out all his venom, “Hey, Rooby,” he said, “Why don’t you eat some of those chips instead of stackin’ ‘em up on your shoulder?” 

Sammy Margolis, the great clarinet and tenor player, Ruby’s friend from Boston, would tell me things that Ruby said that would curl your hair.  The two of them shared a house at one point – each of them had one floor, but there was only one phone line with an extension.  One day the phone rang and it was Joe Glaser.  Ruby had picked up the phone but Sammy was silently listening in.  This would have been in 1957 or so, and it was something to do with a tour.  Max Kaminsky didn’t want to do it, and would Ruby do it?  And that set him off.  “I’m not subbing for that son-of-a-bitch.  He can’t play anyway.  And who else is in the band?”  And Glaser said, “Well, there’s Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.”  “They can’t play either!”  And then he started to attack Glaser.  “Well, you don’t know anything about jazz,” and Sammy said that was very dangerous.  Ruby didn’t always work, and Glaser was not a man you’d cross. 

I remember one story about Sammy.  We’d gotten a trio gig at — of all places — Aqueduct Racetrack in the winter.  Myself, Sammy, and a drummer named Nat who used to work with Eddie Condon.  (Nat had terrible time, and Condon used to say, “Where you AT, Nat?”)  But Nat was a genuine guy, a real New Yorker.

I arranged to meet Sammy, who used to live on the West Side in the Forties.  And he’d been to the dentist that morning, had a shot of Novocain, and couldn’t feel anything — which must have bugged him.  We got in the car and we’re about halfway there, and suddenly Sammy wants us to stop — he hadn’t remembered putting his tenor sax in the car.  And it wasn’t there.  So we went all the way back to his apartment.  And there’s the case with the tenor, still on the sidewalk!  Wonderful. 

We get to the gig, and start playing away.  All of a sudden, there’s this terrible commotion, people shouting, “Shut the fuck up!”  The guys were watching the racing, but it was so cold that they’re watching it on television.  They can’t hear the odds on the horses, because we’re playing too loud.  So we had to play in between their calling the odds.  Every time the intercom would come on, they’d holler, “Shut UP!” and we’d stop.  We’d play forty seconds and have to stop, and we’d hear, “Rosebud.  Twenty to one,” and then we could start up again.  It was the funniest gig. 

The greatest thrill was when I got the gig with Benny Goodman.  We were playing a gig in Vermont, an open-air thing, and they wouldn’t let the bass on the plane, leaving New York.  So it was just Benny, Chuck Riggs, Chris Flory, and me.  And Benny wasn’t happy.  So what I did was give him those chords in the left hand, paddling, you know — and he was happy.  I had the room before we went on, and I was listening to him warming up — what a master musician!  It was like listening to Horowitz playing scales. 

So at the end of it, I wish I’d had a tape recorder, because he asked me to sit with him while he visited with his two sisters — they were pretty old ladies by that time.  So he was talking to me, “I’m going to be calling you, Keith.”  And I said, “May I ask you something?” And Benny said, “Ask me anything you like!”  So I said, “Can I ask you about Chicago?  Did you like Johnny Dodds?”  And he said, “I loved Johnny Dodds.  I used to go and hear him with King Oliver’s band at the Lincoln Gardens.  That band was fabulous!  But one thing you won’t know.  They played a lot of waltzes.  For the dancers.”  He loved Kid Ory.  They were people who weren’t perhaps of his stature technically, but he loved them.  I wasn’t able to work more with Benny, because I had a steady gig at the Regency — security was important — but I’ve never forgotten this time with him. 

PAPER, NOT EPHEMERAL

This piece of paper comes from the collection of Boston jazz aficionado Samuel Prescott, and it’s an absolute Who’s Who of jazz stars who came through that city in the Forties.  The Prescott papers (and discs) are now held by the University of New Hampshire Library, and they took good care of this piece of paper, crowded with signatures of great men and women:

On the back (invisible at the moment) is the autograph of one Duke Ellington.  And here are the names that the librarians found: a good pastime for a rainy day with a magnifying glass: 

Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines (twice).  Al Morgan.  Pete Brown.  Joe Battaglia (piano).  Shirley Mhore (vocal).  Gene Sedric.  Art Hodes.  Vic Dickenson.  J. C. Higginbotham.  Roy Eldridge.  Erskine Hawkins (twice).  Joe Marsala.  Adele Girard.  Jimmy Shirley.  Jess Stacy.  Ev Schwarz (pian0).  John Kirby.  James P. Johnson.  Edmond Hall.  Louis Armstrong.  Billy Kyle.  Bob Wilber.  Frankie Newton.  Willie ‘Bunk’ Johnson (twice).  Baby Dodds.  Johnny Windhurst.  Johnny Field (bass).  Sparky Tomasetti.  Jack Teagarden.  Dick Wellstood.  Pops Foster.  Sidney Bechet.  Sandy J. Williams.  Jimmy Archey.  Howey ‘Peacoo’ Gadboys.  Sidney de Paris.  Rex Stewart.  ‘Wild’ Bill Davison.  Pleasant Joseph.  Henry ‘Red’ Allen.  Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow.  Pee Wee Russell.  Don Kirkpatrick.  Max Kaminsky.  Paul Watson.  Bob Guy.  Charlie Holmes.

Amazing, no?

ON AND OFF eBay: THE PORTRAIT GALLERY (November 2010)

More from eBay!

On the left, Al Hirt (possibly during his fame in the Sixties).  More interesting is a very thin Bobby Hackett on the right, working hard, with someone I can’t identify standing behind him, looking quizzically at the invisible photographer.

At top, the King of Swing, possibly at the Madhattan Room — on the air for CBS.  Below, circa 1948: is that Wardell Gray to the extreme left in the saxophone section?

Early Thirties, on the West Coast — CREOLE REVUE . . .

Ellington in the Forties (the first band shot has Ben Webster, Sonny Greer, probably Junior Raglin — 1943?); the second is twenty years or so later, with Lawrence Brown, stalwart, on the far left.

Probably Chicago?  Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine on trumpet, Budd Johnson on tenor saxophone.  Are the two other musicians Scoops Carey and Shorty McConnell?

I have to say very quietly that I am less interested in Glenn Miller and his many orchestras than many people: what interests me here is not the ghost band below, but the top portrait that has a portly Irving Fazola sitting in the reed section on a gig in Texas, early in Miller’s bandleading career.

Who’s the pretty lady with the astounding hat sitting with Glen Gray on the right?  Looks like Miss Mildred to me, grinning happily.  Whatever Glen said to her must have been delightful!

Two unrelated Johnsons, J.J. and Gus (they both swung)!

Circa 1937 or 38 — Teddy, Hamp (concentrating hard), and Benny (paying attention): Gene got cut off, but we know he was having fun, too.

The top portrait is just amazing to those of us who are deeply immersed in this art — an autographed picture of Kaiser Marshall in 1938, in Europe (wow!); the second is listed as guitarist Jimmy McLin and saxophonist Earl Bostic, when and where I can’t tell.  The beautiful double-breasted suits say “late Thirties,” but that’s only a sartorial guess.

This portrait of the John Kirby Sextet lets us see the diminutive O’Neill Spencer in action — something more unusual than seeing Charlie Shavers, Russell Procope, Buster Bailey, and a pianist who’s not Billy Kyle. 

Clockwise: Benny Carter in a familiar publicity pose; a small band featuring Fats Waller’s reliably swinging drummer Slick Jones, and a famous shot from the Columbia studios, 1940, of John Hammond’s noble experiment melding the Basie and Goodman stars in what might have been the world’s finest small jazz band.

A famous Chicago studio portrait from 1936 but still gratifying: the rhythm section of Fletcher Henderson’s Grand Terrace Orchestra: Israel Crosby, bass; Bob Lessey, guitar; Horace Henderson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums.

Late Twenties, early Fifties, perhaps for Ben Pollack?  Jack Teagarden and Benny in the first photo, perhaps Charlie Teagarden (and the Pick-A-Rib Boys) in the second.

Lee Young and J. C Higginbotham, both middle Forties if the suits are evidence.

There’s that Louis fellow again!  Ecstatically with Trummy Young (and an invisible Barrett Deems) at top, with Danny Kaye in THE FIVE PENNIES (1959) below.

GOING PLACES indeed!  Louis, Maxine Sullivan, Johnny Mercer . . . no doubt rehearsing JEEPERS CREEPERS.

And a delightful piece of memorabilia from Phil Schaap’s new website — which not only features artifacts autographed by Wynton Marsalis and jazz broadcasts from WKCR, but also tangible morsels of jazz history.  Can you hear Lips Page and Johnny Windhurst swapping lead and improvised countermelody?  I certainly can imagine it!  Visit http://www.philschaapjazz.com for more.

JAMAICA SHOUT: BENT PERSSON PLAYS RED ALLEN (July 9, 2010)

As promised, the second half of the glorious session (inventive yet very free-minded) that was Bent Persson’s tribute to Henry “Red” Allen’s early recordings — captured at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, in a downstairs room that was part of the hotel’s health club.  Healthy music, though — seriously aerobic for players and audience!

The players were Bent and Michel Bastide, trumpets; Paul Munnery (standing in for Red’s pal, J.C. Higginbotham), trombone, Robert Fowler and Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds, Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocals; Jacob Ullberger, guitar and banjo; Henri Lamaire, bass; Josh Duffee, drums. 

The second half began with one of the atypical small-group recordings with men from the Luis Russell band, issued under the euphonious title J.C. HIGGINBOTHAM AND HIS SIX HICKS — playing a serious blues, HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES:

Then, moving forward to one of the Russell recordings less celebrated than their characteristic rompers — a sweet ballad, HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (originally recorded in 1931 with a lovely, earnest Vic Dickenson vocal — here reimagined by Jeff Barnhart):

Bent scaled down to a rocking small group to give his own version of the incendiary Rhythmakers records (the originals were Philip Larkin’s favorites):

WHO’S SORRY NOW? had a Barnhart vocal (instead of Billy Banks’ warbling):

I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU (which became Claude Hopkins’ theme):

YES, SUH! (a piece of spirited hot vaudeville):

In 1933, Allen and Coleman Hawkins — comrades from the Fletcher Henderson band — teamed up for a series of recordings aimed at the jukebox market.  Some of the songs they recorded were charmingly ephemeral, among them MY GALVESTON GAL, HUSH MY MOUTH (If I Ain’t Goin’ South).  Bent chose to revisit three classic recordings:

SISTER KATE (an old-time tune in 1933):

HEARTBREAK BLUES (where one can hear the cross-fertilization of influence between Hawkins and Bing Crosby):

JAMAICA SHOUT:

The program ended with the moody THERE’S A HOUSE IN HARLEM FOR SALE — a somber conclusion to an uplifting program of hot music: 

You’ll notice that although the players reflect back on the original recordings and the fabled players, there is very little direct imitation of Red, Hawk, Higgy, Pee Wee, Dicky Wells, etc. — the way it’s supposed to be.  Bravo, Bent!

SWING OUT!: BENT PERSSON PLAYS RED ALLEN (July 9, 2010)

Bent Persson never lets us down — as a trumpeter or a jazz scholar who teaches by his own example. 

One of the high points of this year’s Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival this year was his two-hour presentation of the music of Henry “Red” Allen from 1929 to 1934.  The concert emphasized the music Red made (often under his own name) as a member of the incredibly swinging Luis Russell Orchestra, with the wildly heated recording group the Rhythmakers, and a few of his early Vocalions. 

Bent’s group had Michel Bastide, trumpet; Paul Munnery, trombone, a reed section of Michael McQuaid, Jean-Pierre Bonnel, Robert Fowler; Jeff Barnhart, piano / vocals; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar; Henri Lamaire, bass; Josh Duffee, drums; Cecile Salvant, vocals. 

Here’s Bent — one of my heroes — with a band full of splendid soloists and sight-readers (!) playing music that I have been admiring for a long time — hot, rhapsodic, always surprising.  Although record companies looked to Red as “the answer” to Louis Armstrong, Red always went his own way, a sort of delightful sideways approach to familiar phrases and harmonies.  And Bent and the band do him justice here, honoring the shades of J. C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin, and other giants. 

The program began, most appropriately, with SWING OUT:

Feeling poorly?  Consider the DOCTOR BLUES (although one never knows if the title refers to a healer or the need for one:

Bent called upon his impromptu vocal trio (Cecile, Jeff, and Michel) for the refrain in NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS.  Who knew that New Orleans musicians were so deeply involved in recycling programs?

SUGAR HILL FUNCTION celebrates good times uptown:

And for the theologically-minded, Cecile offers ON REVIVAL DAY (with delightful echoes of Bessie Smith, too):

LOUISIANA SWING was the title of a fine Luis Russell collection, and it is apt here, considering that the Russell band was filled with New Orleans masters:

POOR LI’L ME again features the soulful Cecile:

SINGING PRETTY SONGS is, always surprisingly, exuberant rather than balladic:

Watch out for the law!  Cecile offers an admonitory PATROL WAGON BLUES:

And a true romper from a King Oliver Victor session (its title in the spirit of an unsupervised terrier puppy) SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT:

Hot enough for anyone!  And there’s more to come in Part Two – – –

LISTENING TO LOUIS?

I’ve just read David Rickert’s assessment of “The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946)” issued by Mosaic Records in 2009, an essay published in ALL ABOUT JAZZ.  Rickert’s on the right path, but I found many of his statements confusing, even contradictory.  But before some eager commenters leap to his defense, I am not in the ad hominem trade, merely puzzled.

Here it is, unedited:

As far as recordings by trumpeter Louis Armstrong go, the Decca recordings don’t generate much interest. Prior to them came the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, the most influential jazz recordings ever made and the template for everything that was to come. Afterward came the superb pop recordings for RCA, which showed a masterful entertainer more respected for his vocal prowess than his trumpet playing. The Decca years represent Armstrong’s adolescence: a bit gangly, sometimes awkward, and filled with questionable choices amidst the bold assertions of identity. Part of the problem may be that the Decca recordings have been available somewhat helter skelter over the years. Who better to provide some coherence than Mosaic? The label has compiled everything that Armstrong recorded for Decca, brilliantly remastered from the original metal parts or discs, and with thorough liner notes from jazz veteran Dan Morgenstern to boot. With this seven CD set, it is finally possible to assess this set completely and perhaps more firmly establish them as the great records they are. Critics of these recordings gripe about the subpar quality of the song choice, which is surprisingly inferior given the astounding amount of good songs that were written at the time. A quick glance at the tracks will confirm this suspicion; there are quite a lot of second tier songs (you can often spot them just from the title.) At the time, Joe Glaser had recently become Armstrong’s manager and quickly obtained the services of Jack Kapp at the newly launched Decca label to record him. And record they did—166 tracks over 11 years that also span the infamous recording ban. Kapp saw Armstrong as a novelty act, someone whose numbers might be a little corny and superficial and easy on the ear. In this regard he had much in common with pianist Fats Waller, another mugger who recorded piffle. But also like Waller, Armstrong was always able to turn even the most insignificant material into something special, even if it wasn’t perhaps high art. He also correctly assumed that his performance would carry the material, and more often than not it did. There are some undeniable misfires here, such as a few numbers with a Hawaiian theme, and some gospel numbers, along with a few numbers like “When Ruben Swings the Cuban” that even Armstrong can’t redeem. But there are also quite a few numbers that Armstrong absolutely nails and turns into masterpieces, such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Tiger Rag,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Satchel Mouth Swing” and “Jubilee” proving that a terrific song and superb musicianship can always combine to make musical gold. Anther problem for some critics is the quality of the sidemen. There are really no stellar musicians on the stand, but rather serviceable sidemen capable of playing the charts and managing a decent solo when prompted. Clearly the focus here was on Armstrong and the rest of the band was only called upon to provide sturdy accompaniment and little else. Thus, unlike the Hot Five and Seven Recordings, there’s no pianist Earl Hines or trombonist Kid Ory to keep Armstrong on his toes and match his chops (although truth be told, few could keep up with him). The novelty here is hearing Armstrong navigate the world of big band coming from the smaller groups he had employed earlier. The recordings start out startlingly sweet and progressively get hotter, matched by terrific charts from Sy Oliver and Joe Garland. Armstrong was also paired with other artists from the Decca label such as saxophonist Glen Gray, reed player Jimmy Dorsey and bassist Bob Haggart, all white musicians, and pairings that helped erase the color lines that existed. There are also a few visits with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and a reunion with soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet, as well as early appearances with guys like guitarist Dave Barbour who would go on to greater things. Oh yes, and the first pairing of Armstrong and singer Ella Fitzgerald. Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great. A sampling of the best of these records would show how truly great this period was. Mosaic’s warts and all approach necessarily includes some questionable material. But with the Mosaic touch, don’t be surprised if these recordings reemerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.

Rickert ends his piece generously: he won’t “be surprised if these recordings emerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.”  But he begins with the rather curious statement that these same recordings “don’t generate much interest.” 

I wonder if the second statement is a matter of commerce rather than artistic merit.  The Deccas were never reissued intelligently at home.  Rather, they came out in blurts, “Jazz Classics,” “Collector’s Items,” “Golden Favorites,” and several well-meanin but incomplete attempts.  It was left to Gosta Hagglof  to issue the Deccas logically and completely on CD.   

It’s always tempting to see a jazz artist’s career in terms of the progression of record labels, but in doing this, Rickert presents some debatable generalities.  The Hot Five and Seven recordings are “the most influential jazz recordings ever made”; the later Victor sessions produced “superb pop,” where Armstrong’s singing overshadowed his trumpet playing. 

How about the “influential jazz recording, BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and the “superb pop” of JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES or PENNIES FROM HEAVEN? 

Rickert’s underlying assessment of Armstrong’s career might be something like this: “Louis played pure New Orleans jazz up until 1929, and then was corrupted into “pop” commercialism, with short detours back to Eden when he recorded with homeboys like Bechet and when he played W.C. Handy.  But had he stuck to POTATO HEAD BLUES, what a body of work he might have created!  Alas, poor Satchmo!  I knew him well, before he became popular, that is.” 

This harks back to the ideological wars of the Forties, Moldy Figs arguing with Be-Boppers over whose music was “authentic,” over how one defined “the real jazz.”  I thought we were past those quarrels.

Louis didn’t elevate jazz to the pantheon while lamenting that he was forced to play “pop.”  I doubt that he ever complained in the studio, “Hey, Mr. Kapp, this is piffle you’re asking me to mug.”   

In fact, if you admire what creative improvisers do with their material, what could be better than Louis did with ON A COCOANUT ISLAND?  Did it take more inventiveness for Fats Waller to swing THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART than the MINOR DRAG?  I would think so, but for these musicians, it was all music.  Perhaps even trying to play WHEN RUBEN SWINGS THE CUBAN is a heroic act in itself, and the discographies of many revered jazz musicians show equally unpromising titles. 

To his credit, Rickert recognizes that Armstrong was able to “redeem” many of the song choices and make them “something special.”  But he may confuse the musician, the record company, and the song. 

It is easy to view Armstrong as a good-natured pawn in the hands of White manipulators Jack Kapp and Joe Glaser, Kapp coming in for special excoriation for trying to make Louis a “novelty act.”  But record companies then and now wished to sell records — and, after years when companies went bankrupt, one can hardly blame Kapp for trying to ensure broad popular success. 

If Kapp viewed Armstrong as a “novelty act,” he also did so with his best-selling and most popular artist Bing Crosby, who recorded an even wider range of material with great success.  And the idea of “questionable material” might be one that the artists rarely asked.  And the idea of good songs and bad might be undercut by the results.  Does Billie Holiday sound less like herself on WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO than on YESTERDAYS?  The genius of jazz musicians lies in their ability to transform and transcend the most banal material — it is only in retrospect that jazz critics, praising “forward-looking” and “harmonically adventurous” music, make such distinctions.  I GOT RHYTHM and the blues were perfectly satisfying for Charllie Parker and Sonny Rollins to improvise on.  So, rather than assume that nefarious forces compelled Louis to record SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, we should marvel at what he did with it.  (As an aside, some of his recordings I find most gratifying are the least “jazz-inflected”: consider his Fifties recording of TREES, for one.)    

Rickert, as I do, teaches English, and I admire his equating Louis with Shakespeare.  But I find what follows condusing: “Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great.” 

Should we care how many people admire a particular piece of art?  What has popularity to do with merit? 

And if Rickert could point out to me where “academia” and “Pottery Barn,” meet, I’d be grateful.  I’d even meet him at the clearance sale table.  I applaud the idea of Louis as King Lear — majestic, commanding the winds.  But I don’t think that Louis had to pass through suffering to arrive at true awareness: his music shows that he had reached a deep awareness early.

Ultimately, I wonder if Mr. Rickert was victimized by circumstances in writing his review.  Mosaic box sets — in this case, seven compact discs — are initially overwhelming, not well-absorbed in one or two hurried gulps.  I wonder if he was sent this box with perhaps two weeks to listen to it and write about it.  He would either have had to work his way through the set — rather like doing homework — or to listen to it in pieces, hoping to find the figure in the carpet. 

In either case, I admire his fairness: praising Mosaic, attempting to situate Louis in a cultural context.  But he’s missed some of the beauties of these recordings. 

It’s perfectly understandable to look back to Louis’s partnership with Earl Hines as a high point.  But the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings are in some sense artificial, because Louis never worked with those groups.  The Deccas, for better or worse, represent some of the material Louis was performing every day with working bands.  But to become nostalgic for Kid Ory is to neglect J. C. Higginbotham.  And if you’re looking for a musician perfectly paired with Louis, able to keep up with him and to spur him to new heights, I would submit that Sidney Catlett is the man. 

I would ask Mr. Rickert to listen to WOLVERINE BLUES for Catlett alone, to THANKS A MILLION and SOLITUDE for the beauty of Louis’s expressive singing and playing.  Follow that up with the sides recorded with the Mills Brothers, those dreaded Hawaiian sides, and more.  Only then can he or anyone get a true picture of Louis’s achievement . . . and that might take a good deal of time.