Tag Archives: Jean Goldkette

THE EASY WINNERS FILL THE AIR WITH LOVELY MELODIES

There are so many names for the music The Easy Winners create (is it string-band music, ragtime, roots music, Americana, or venerable popular song?) that I have given up the quest to name it.  But it’s light-hearted, sweet, sometimes hilarious, sentimental in the best ways, old-fashioned without being stuffy.

THE EASY WINNERS, photograph by Wendy Leyden.

Here’s RAGGED BUT RIGHT, swinging and comedic at once:

Who are these gifted and friendly people?  In the middle, that’s Nick Robinson, to his left is Zac Salem; for this appearance at the 2019 Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival they are joined by Robert Armstrong — you’ll know which one he is because he sings with great subtle skill.  I’m also pleased to point out that the very fine videos are the product of Unigon Films: video and audio by Rob Thomas, edited by Lewis Motisher.
To me, this music is completely charming — what I envision people who lived some distance from cities playing and singing at home (ideally on the porch in summer), old songs, pop songs, swinging without trying hard to, joining their individual string sounds and vocal harmonies to entertain family, friends, neighbors.  They feel a million miles away from music funneled through the iPhone into earbuds or blasting from someone’s car speaker: they remind me of a time when people made music on their own and they were expert at it even when Ralph Peer didn’t offer them a record contract: a landscape full of wonderful sounds, people creating beautiful melodies for their own pleasure.
One of the additional pleasures of this group is their varied library, “ragtime era music of the Americas on mandolin and guitar . . . classic rags, waltzes, cakewalks, tangos, marches, and songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”  For those whose little “is this jazz?” alarm bells are going off, calm down and remind yourself that Oliver, Henderson, Gioldkette, and other fabled bands (we celebrate them as hot ensembles) played tangos and waltzes because the crowd wanted them and expected them — as delights for the ears and intriguing dance music, variety over the course of an evening.
A little personal history: in 2013 I delighted in Nick’s former band, The Ragtime Skedaddlers, at the Cline Wine & Jazz Festival, and it was my pleasure to write about them and post video from their performance here.  Nick happily reminded me that I called the R.S. “old-fashioned melodists,” true then, true now, no matter what the band is called.
The R.S. gave way to The Easy Winners — an optimistic title with echoes of Joplin (and much easier to spell).  I wasn’t at the Sutter Festival, but 17 (!) beautiful videos have emerged and I am delighted to share a few with the JAZZ LIVES audience in hopes of introducing them to this beautiful expert unaffected group.  You can see them all
here or here (the first is Nick’s playlist; the second the filmmakers’ channel).
But here are two more that I particularly like because the songs have deep jazz connections for me and perhaps you as well:
DIANE always makes me think of Jack Teagarden, although the verse is new to me — as is Robert’s fine playing on that home-improvement item (he doesn’t sing “Did you see what I saw?” but perhaps he should):

BREEZE, which I associate with Clarence Williams and Jess Stacy:

I didn’t have the good fortune to grow up among people so talented (although my father played a round-back mandolin in his youth) but the Easy Winners are not only a musical delight but a kind of spiritual one.  Although we are listening to them digitally through our computers, they link us to a time and place where sweet music helped us to perceive the world as a benevolent place.  I hope they prosper.
If I had a house with a porch (my apartment complex has unyielding concrete benches) I would want to hire The Easy Winners for late-spring serenades.  There could be pie and lemonade, too.
May your happiness increase!

FLYING, GLIDING: THE JACOB ZIMMERMAN 3: JACOB ZIMMERMAN, COLE SCHUSTER, MATT WEINER (July 2019)

Some ensembles need many people to make a statement: Jacob Zimmerman, Cole Schuster, and Matt Weiner (reeds, guitar, string bass) create memorable vignettes in a small space: it’s a band that could travel comfortably in a subcompact car.  They have a new CD coming out, and Jacob has posted two selections recorded last month — what ease and grace, what quiet impact.

Jacob wrote of the first selection, LANTERN OF LOVE (a 1925 tune),
A few weeks back my trio that plays Tuesdays at IL Bistro got together to rehearse some of the fancier arrangements I’ve written. I first heard this song on a Roger Wolfe Kahn record. I love the elegance of this melody. I tried to channel the spirit of the Jean Goldkette orchestra and feature Matt Weiner playing his version of Steve Brown style slap and arco bass playing.

and here’s the more familiar THE SONG IS ENDED — a remarkable treatment of a lovely Berlin melody which makes me think of Ruby Braff at the start and then segues into what I think of as 1945 Jamboree Records swing, up on the aesthetic mountaintop in less than four minutes (I kept waiting for Joe Thomas to appear and take the bridge):

I don’t see a trip to Seattle soon (although anything is possible) but I believe I will see Jacob again as part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet at the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza in November, and I certainly look forward to that new CD!

May your happiness increase!

A YOUNGBLOOD SERENADE: GUILLERMO PERATA and FERNANDO MONTARDIT (June 14, 2019)

These Youngbloods give me hope — people who make lovely music and have a long way to go before asking for the senior discount at the movies.  They are Guillermo Perata, cornet, and Fernando Montardit, guitar: here making merry and making art on the Goldkette-associated pop tune, HOOSIER SWEETHEART at an informal duo session of June 14, 2019.

You’ll also notice (when you listen) that they don’t treat this 1927 song as a holy relic of the Roaring Twenties, but, rather, as a piece of music to improvise on, with lyricism, swing, and a deep love for the melody:

This approach (think Louis, Hackett, Braff, Vache, Tobias, Kellso, Gordon and Justin Au, Caparone in the brass line; think Reuss and Grosz on guitar) never gets old.

I understand that Guillermo and Fernando will be visiting New York City and then New Orleans in the first half of August.  I haven’t seen Fernando in a few years, and I look forward to meeting Guillermo.  They are real, and the music they make is both tangible and memorable.

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC, GOOD STORIES, LASTING FRIENDSHIP, KINDNESSES: HANK O’NEAL RECALLS SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT (Nov. 2, 2018)

Here is one perspective on Hank O’Neal — writer, archivist, record producer, photographer, friend of Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbott . . . and many jazz musicians from Willie “the Lion” Smith to Borah Bergman.  Hank is also an incredible resource and storyteller, someone I am thrilled to call a friend: reasons that Hank visits JAZZ LIVES, as he speaks with great fondness of Squirrel Ashcraft.  If you say, “Wow, Squirrel!” then you have come to the right place.  If you say, “Who IS that?” you’re also in for pleasure and enlightenment.

Hank O’Neal by Annie Tritt for the Boston Globe, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And since Hank is a masterful photographer, here is another character study, one I like even more — shot by Sherry Sereboff (2017, near Fort Worth, Texas) even better.  When I meet Hank next, I will ask what was on his plate:

I had asked Hank to speak about Squirrel for JAZZ LIVES, and the conversation began very informally, as he was paging through Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft’s scrapbook.  I just started videoing . . . with happy results — little anecdotes about sacred objects connected to Bix, Tesch, and Dick Voynow.  But for future researchers, any time someone you respect says the words, “Letters from Brad Gowans,” you know something important is being revealed:

“Who was Squirrel Ashcraft and how did I meet him?”:

Paging through Squirrel’s 1928-9 notebook, “JAZZ MUSIC,” with entries devoted to the Wolverines, Hoagy Carmichael, Benny Goodman, the Georgians, Jack Pettis, Leon Roppolo, Henderson’s adaptation of RHAPSODY IN BLUE, and more:

I first learned about Squirrel through EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ (a book Eddie did with Hank) and then through Squirrel’s home recordings, later issued on rare lps by . . . Hank.  Here’s the story of Squirrel’s career — about fifteen years — as an archivist of home recordings, often aluminum, including performances by Johnny Mercer, Joe Rushton, Jimmy McParland, George Barnes, Boyce Brown, Bob Zurke, Spencer Clark, Rosy McHargue, also Joe Rushton, his motorcycle, and Pee Wee Russell, and Squirrel’s later playing career in Washington, D.C., and sidelights on Jean Bach, Jimmy Dorsey, and jazz reunions at Princeton University from 1975-79:

Finally . . . Hank brings us up to date (Squirrel died in 1981, but his relics are going to a good place.  And don’t miss the story about the Bob Crosby band: Squirrel and friends obviously knew how to live:

The best part of this story, just over an hour with Hank, is his obvious affection and indebtedness to Squirrel, and Squirrel’s sweet feelings for the music and musicians.  Thank you, Hank, for making the reclusive Squirrel appear to us in this century.

And . . . because Hank is a wonderful writer, here’s his “little piece” on Squirrel from his book on pianists. Some of the stories you will have heard from the videos above, but they don’t wilt with a second telling:

SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT
September 20, 1905 – January 18, 1981

Edwin Maurice Ashcraft III, better known as “Squirrel”, is the least known pianist in this book, but he was by far the most important to me. It all started because of two courses I’d taken at Syracuse University; one in Russian Studies and another in African Studies. The Russian Studies course ultimately led me to be employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The African Studies course, particularly one taught by Eduardo Mondlane, who was later to lead and win the revolution in Mozambique, led me to the CIA’s Office of Operations, where Squirrel Ashcraft was the Director.

Though forgotten today, Squirrel was a legendary figure in the world of jazz, at least into the mid-1970s, but much can be lost and forgotten in a quarter of a century. He was, for example, the only person I knew who had heard Louis Armstrong and King Oliver at the Lincoln Gardens, and had known and associated with a host of other legendary players from the 1920s, who were just names in a book or music in the grooves of old records to me. He was the kind of man who could make a simple telephone call and John Hammond, Neshui or Ahmet Ertegun would welcome me warmly. The same was true of any number of musicians of a certain age, i.e. the Austin High Gang, and their musical associates or disciples.

He was the first jazz artist I ever heard perform in an informal setting, that is away from a concert hall or club, where I was a paying spectator. By that time, he was in his 60s, hadn’t played regularly for years, never had been a first rank player anyway, and now had an affliction in one of his hands that affected his dexterity. But for someone of my age, and limited experience, it was more thrilling to be standing two feet from a legendary figure in his living room than hearing a great pianist from the top balcony in Carnegie Hall.

He was also the man who first introduced me to an active jazz musician, in this case, Jimmy McPartland. Later, he would introduce me to many others, and simply because he made the introduction, I was accepted by these men and women without question.

A little background is in order. Squirrel was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1905. His family was socially prominent and well situated. In the early 1920s he discovered jazz and became as deeply involved with it as possible. He was active in Chicago in the same way John Hammond was in New York, and he met many of the up and coming young jazz musicians in that city long before they had come up, befriended them, helped them whenever possible, and continued to for years and years.

Squirrel came east in the late 1920’s and attended Princeton. He played both piano and accordion, was part of Princeton’s Triangle Club, wrote songs, recorded with the Triangle Jazz Band, was known to and played informally with such legendary figures as Bix Beiderbecke, and even corralled the elusive cornet player one night, convincing him to record with the Princeton band. It almost came off, but not quite; Bix was there when everyone fell asleep but had vanished when they woke up. He continued at Princeton, but eventually returned to Chicago in the early 1930s, and took up his post in the family law firm.

He opened his home to every jazz musician who could find their way to Evanston, and hundreds did, usually on Monday nights. The sessions at Squirrel’s featured a who’s who of whoever was in Chicago at the time. He began to record these proceedings in about 1933 and, until he left for World War II, hundreds of private discs were made, sometimes with the help of his friend John Steiner. Steiner eventually issued some of the goings-on on Paramount 78 rpm discs and later on 10” LPs.

World War II closed down the Monday night sessions; Squirrel was inducted in the U.S Navy, and assigned to naval intelligence. After the war, he returned to Chicago, his law practice, and the music and recording began again, this time on a crude tape recorder that used paper tape. The music didn’t last long, however, because in the late 1940s Squirrel was selected by the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency to run its Chicago field office, and the music slowed down once again. He was so good at the CIA game, he was urged to become the Director of all domestic operations in the early 1950’s.

Squirrel accepted the challenge, closed down the house in Evanston, moved to Washington, and vanished into another world, his whereabouts unknown, except to the musicians and friends with whom he kept in touch. There were no sessions at Squirrel’s massive apartment in Washington. When I arrived on the scene in 1964, his piano sounded a bit like one from a Charles Addams’ haunted house. But that was soon to change.

Suddenly there was someone around who knew his past, and even had one of those old John Steiner-issued Paramount records to prove it. I was the junior guy in the Office of Operations, but I had immediate access to the Director because of the music. This is when I learned that love of jazz of a certain sort could cross any cultural divide, regardless of age, race, or anything else.

It didn’t take long before the piano was tuned and regulated, and informal musical gatherings began. The first was with Jimmy and Marian McPartland, and two wonderful local Washington musicians, clarinetist Tommy Gwaltney (who founded and owned Blues Alley) and guitarist Steve Jordan. Squirrel got his hands back in shape, so he could spell Marian when she wanted to relax and, just like in the old days, everything was recorded. The first “new” informal session was eventually issued as a record that was given away to anyone who wanted one. I cut my recording teeth on Squirrel’s Ampex F-44 and two Electrovoice microphones.

Listening back to the old acetate and aluminum recordings from the 1930s, Squirrel reminds me of a pianist like Frank Melrose. A great deal more passion than technique, but good enough to get the job done. He was a better than average amateur in those days, and could easily hold his own with his peers, and provide good accompaniment to A-list artists when it was required. I remember him telling me that one night the entire Bob Crosby band came out to his house for a Monday night session. The thing that pleased him most was that the first complaint was from a neighbor whose house was three blocks away. And he got to play with the band when Bob Zurke was doing something else.

Squirrel’s influence in the jazz world was not as a pianist. He was always behind the scenes and, eventually, way behind the scenes. If Eddie Condon couldn’t get a liquor license to open Condon’s; Squirrel could make the call to the right person so it could be worked out, despite the checkered past of some of the club’s owners. If a certain player were down on his luck, there would be a check in the mail. There were any number of people he supported for life. He was a safety net for many, many of the first generation of jazz musicians, and probably some of the second and third. My guess is he was a safety net for a lot of people I didn’t know about, musicians, old friends down on their luck, or even a struggling bullfighter.

After he officially retired in the late 1960’s, Squirrel spent less and less time in Washington and more time at his home in Spain. Sometimes a year would pass and I wouldn’t see him, except perhaps to see him off on either the ocean liners Michaelangelo or Rafaello, his favorite modes of transportation between New York and Spain. When in Spain, he had little time for music, but towards the end of a letter from there, dated November 12, 1969, he says, “We are listening, which we do seldom at all, to Miles’ Sketches, and I wish so very, very much that Bix could have heard it…. We think about you often. Please write the whole story.” I’m not sure I ever did, but in the 1970s, and early 1980s, he had a burst of musical energy, at least every June, for half a dozen years.

In 1975, Jack Howe liberated a funny little band, affectionately called The Sons of Bix, from cornetist Tom Pletcher. Jack was an amateur tenor saxophone player, who’d been part of the in the Princeton Triangle Jazz band with Squirrel in the 1920s. He augmented the SOBs with Princeton alumni musicians, aided by the likes of Spencer Clarke, Bob Haggart, Max Kaminsky, Maxine Sullivan and others. The band only had one certain engagement each year, to play a class reunion at Princeton. It turned out, however, the band played the reunion of the Class of 1929 or the Class of 1930, every year until at least 1982. Squirrel actually played a little piano on all the dates until 1981. I recorded the performances, which, as often as not, were presented in tents. Squirrel and Jack then chose their favorite tunes, and I arranged for a few LPs to be pressed up and distributed to the dwindling faithful. The records are often spirited, but not landmark recordings. A friendly souvenir, but little more. Much to my surprise, some of them have been listed in Tom Lord’s landmark The Jazz Discography.

In those years, if I had to be in Washington, for whatever reason, Squirrel’s Watson Place apartment was always open, whether Squirrel and his wife, Patter, were in residence or not. I haven’t stayed in a hotel in Washington since 1960; but to confess, I only went back a few times after Squirrel died in 1981. The last time I was there was at the urging of his wife. She telephoned in the mid-1980s and said she was cleaning out files and had found some correspondence from me in a box of music-related junk in the back of a closet. Would I please come down and save all these found items from the trash collector? I was also urged to pick up the crank-up Victrola with the bamboo needle cutter that was now stored in the basement. I’d first seen it at an old filling station somewhere in Virginia in the mid-1960s, offered the owner $10, which he was happy to have, and had passed it on to Squirrel, so he could play his old Hot Five 78s as he played them in the 1920s, when they were fresh and new. I was happy to have it back, and it still works just fine.

I drove down, had a nice visit with Patter, and loaded all the papers, the boxes of stuff she’d found in the closet, and the old Victrola in the back of my car. I had a last look around, and never went back, but stayed in touch with Patter until she became ill and her Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where she didn’t know who I was.

When I got home after that last trip, I had a good time looking at the correspondence, the old clippings from the 1930’s and 1940s. At the bottom of the box I saved from the trash man, I found the bell of a battered cornet, with a note from Jimmy McPartland. This was all that was left of the cornet Bix had bought him, when Jimmy replaced Bix in the Wolverines. This was the kind of thing that turned up at Sqiurrel’s house. And I’ll bet things like that don’t turn up too many other places.

Squirrel Ashcraft was a kind and generous man who touched the lives of many men and women in a positive way. When he found time to touch a piano, it was equally positive. I never heard him play the blues.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU CAN GO AS FAR AS YOU LIKE WITH ME.”

JAZZ LIVES has not changed its nature to advertise automobiles, but this is one instance where the music related to the car is memorable to those who remember and I hope it will become irresistible to those who have never heard it.

Sheet music, 1931

From the subversive geniuses at the Fleischer Studios, in the early Thirties, this tuneful piece of advertising (as old as 1905) — thanks to Janette Walker:

I always hear the invitation of the lyrics as not too subtly lascivious, because I dimly remember the statistics that showed the birth rate in this country ascended once more people had automobiles . . . but the couple in the song is also headed for marriage, lest you worry that this blog condones sinful behavior.

Thanks to Emrah Erken, the beautiful transfer of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra’s 1927 version:

and the first take:

and a sweet-hot version from this century, by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society on December 18, 2011, with Ray Skjelbred, piano, leader; Chris Tyle, trumpet; Steve Wright, reeds; Jake Powel, banjo; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal:

and a two-minute wartime coda, reminding me of the days when music was our common language, when everyone knew the words and the tune:

The song suggests that one could have fun being with one’s sweetheart, which is always a wonderful goal.  The couple in the Oldsmobile were even speaking to each other — cellphones not being in evidence when the song was new.

Sheet music, 1905

Incidentally, this post is in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who understand.

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA”: “I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER” (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2011)

Days gone by, but not days beyond recall — afternoons and evenings in September 2011 at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York — for the late Joe Boughton’s annual jazz weekend.  Because I am feeling more than a little melancholy at the news of the end of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I thought I’d share some music from the glory days — to ease the feelings.

Here is one stomping example of the goodness that I was privileged to witness from 2004 to 2017.  It comes from a Marty Grosz set devoted to songs associated with Bix Beiderbecke, performed in styles he wouldn’t necessarily have known.  (Marty’s opening interlude reminds me pleasantly of Alex Hill’s MADAM DYNAMITE, recorded two years after Bix’s death.)

The band includes Marty, guitar and inventive arrangements; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing a song I know from the Goldkette Victor — a song of romantic optimism that is perhaps now best known in the banjo-and-let’s-all-sing genre, but it gets up and moves around nicely, not only because of the hot solos, but because of the truly varied and rich arrangement:

“We’ll always have Chautauqua.  And Cleveland,” says some famous film actor.

May your happiness increase!

“FROGGIE MOORE” and SO MUCH MORE: HOT CLASSICISM ON THE RIVER (KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH) SEPT. 23, 2016

hot-classicism

What’s hot, has six legs, and floats?  Easy.  HOT CLASSICISM, the trio of Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, when they’re on board the steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River — in this case, Saturday, September 23, 2016, as part of last year’s Steamboat Stomp.  But you knew the answer already.  (And in the name of accuracy, they float even when on dry land — musically, that is.)

Here’s the first half of a hot, historical but expansively creative set that this trio performed for us on the boat: with admiring glances at Jelly Roll Morton, Tiny Parham, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Doc Cooke, Freddie Keppard, Albert Wynn, Sidney Catlett, Punch Miller, and dozens of New Orleans and Chicago hot players whose names you would also know.

This Morton tune is called FROG-I-MORE or FROGGIE MOORE RAG (I think those are all the variants) and Mister Morton said it was named for a vaudeville contortionist.  No doubt:

SUNDAY, a tune that all the musicians in the world love to play, takes me back to Jean Goldkette in 1927, even though the Keller Sisters and Lynch didn’t make it to the boat:

Are your tamales hot?  They should be.  Freddie Keppard’s were:

A beautiful slow groove:

I could be wrong, but I think PARKWAY STOMP is a romp on the changes of DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — something that was being done long before ANTHROPOLOGY and ORINTHOLOGY.  The Albert Wynn recording with Punch Miller is also an early Sidney Catlett recording, something the Honorable Hal Smith knows well:

Who remembers Tiny Parham?  Jen Hodge does, and I do, and Milt Hinton did.  So does HOT CLASSICISM:

What a wonderful hot band!  There’s another serving to come, but until then, you might investigate this delight.  And HOT CLASSICISM has gigs to come: follow Kris, Hal, Andy on Facebook.  You will be rewarded for diligence.

May your happiness increase!