Tag Archives: Jeanie Gorman Wilson

WHEN THEY WERE ALL VERY YOUNG (Part One): MISS LEACOCK, MR. GIFFORD, AND THE FELLOWS

Barbara Lea and the Crimson Stompers, 1948:

LEA AND STOMPERS 1948 HARVARD

That’s Miss Leacock, Barbara Lea to you, singing as if her life depended on it, with the Harvard small hot jazz band, the Crimson Stompers, in 1948.  Bill “Hoagy” Dumham is at the piano; Walt Gifford is at the drums; Larry Eanet is on trombone; Ollie Taylor is one of the clarinetists . . . and the rest are not known to me, at the moment.  The photograph originally belonged to Gifford, then was passed on to the late Joe Boughton, and it now resides in the Barbara Lea Archives, tenderly maintained by Jeanie Gorman Wilson — and is reprinted here with her kind permission.  Here’s a story from the Harvard student newspaper, which explains everything:

Stompers Have Brought Basin Street to College

By EDWARD J. COUGHLIN,

October 11, 1950

Back in the days when the Crimson Stompers were getting organized, they held their practice jam sessions down on Coolidge Hill Road behind Stillman Infirmary at the home of Charles H. Taylor, professor of History. And they had a cornetist sitting in with the band whose playing Walter H. Gifford, Jr. ’52, drummer and manager of the group, describes as a “mean cornet a la Max Kaminsky.” The horn-player’s name was Sargent Kennedy ’28, Registrar of Harvard College.

During the summer of 1948, Gifford went to a musicians’ hangout in his home town of Washington, D. C., and met a heavy dark-haired young trombonist-pianist named Laurence J. Eanet ’52. It didn’t take long for them to discover two important facts about each other–that they were both starting at Harvard as freshmen that fall, and that they both loved Dixieland jazz.

It was quite natural that, when they came up to Cambridge in September, the two started shopping around for enough men to fill out a little “amusement only” jazz ensemble. Friends told them about a fine guitar player who was a junior at the time–David Sutherland ’50, who is now at the Law School. And then there were three.

“Through the College grapevine” they heard about a fine young clarinetist, Oliver S. Taylor ’53, Professor Taylor’s son, who was then attending the Belmont Hill School. They found that Taylor was not only enthusiastic about joining their group, but that he could also recommend a good trumpeter, a Milton Academy boy named Bruce Elwell. (Elwell, relatively young and inexperienced compared to the others, has since moved on to Rollins College in Florida).

The unit was rounded out by the addition of two classmates, bassist Herbert Levin ’52 and pianist Hoagie Dunham ’52.

Proving Ground

They used to go down to Taylor’s home evenings and shake the house with their practice sessions. “The Taylors’ was a proving ground for our band,” Gifford explains. “We really started to play well in ensemble there.” During this period Kennedy enjoyed going to the house at night to sit with the boys.

They started to make trips to the Savoy on Massachusetts Avenue to listen to trumpeter “Red” Allen and the Searsdale (New York) High School sensation, clarinetist Bob Wilber. After a time, when they became known at the Savoy, they would climb up on the stand and take over the nightclub.

One night Dunham showed up with a girl who could sing. He had met Barbara Leacock, Wellesley ’51, on a blind date. The good-looking brunette had a voice that pleased Dunham’s fellow musicians and she became a featured vocalist on the band’s College engagements during the following year. They put on two concerts in the Lowell House Junior Common Room and broadcast Monday nights.

Union Was Watching

The day before they played at the Freshman Smoker, the entire group trooped down to join the musicians’ union, because New Orleans clarinetist Edmond Hall was coming out from the Savoy to play with them “and the union was watching us like a hawk.” Shortly afterwards they played for the Radcliffe freshmen at Agassiz Hall, where they were paid off in rye smuggled in by an admiring Cliffe girl.

Last year the band started off at the Savoy with the trumpet played by 20-year-old. Tufts graduate Paul Gibson, whom Gifford calls “the best jazz trumpeter this side of New York.” Then they branched out. They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby). And they found another faculty supporter in Roy Lamson, Jr. ’29 clarinet-playing professor of Sociology at Williams.

They played the college circuit from a house party at Dartmouth to a performance in a baseball cage at a Spring Country Fair at Wesleyan in Middletown, Connecticut. Sandwiched in between were a number of Monday night sessions at the Savoy with bands led by Hall, trombonist Vic Dickenson, and pianist Joe Sullivan.

I was too young to be in that group, but I have heard the Stompers (Frank Chace played with them, and there is a riotous long ROYAL GARDEN BLUES from the session with Ed Hall — alas, neither of these delicious combinations are available on CD for the masses thirsting for the Real Hot Stuff) and wish that such impudent explosions of joy, collective and singular, were happening on college campuses all over the world.  When I go back to teaching, I would give extra credit to any group of students who could play COAL CART BLUES.  That’s a promise.

And Bill Dunham, happily, is still with us, beating it out on Monday nights with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street off Seventh Avenue in lower Manhattan.  Stop by and tell him you saw his back on JAZZ LIVES.

May your happiness increase!

THE NEWTON-LEACOCK PAPERS

Having good friends is a delight in themselves.  When the friends are generous, that’s more than one can hope for. Here’s evidence: Jeanie Gorman Wilson, who took very good care of the singer Barbara Lea in Barbara’s last years, shared these pieces of paper with me . . . and with the readers of JAZZ LIVES.

What you’ll see below is admittedly a small collection but absolutely irreplaceable: two 1951 missives from trumpeter / composer Frank Newton to the youthful but impressive Miss Barbara Leacock.  These aren’t simply rare pieces of paper, but artifacts from a gifted man, his life too short — but testimony to his humanity, his affectionate wisdom.

The envelope, please:

NEWTON letter 1 envelope

And the contents:

NEWTON letter 2 first

Dear Barbara:

     Here’s thanking you for whatever contribution you made toward the wonderful birthday party.

     Let me wish you lots of success with your singing. Don’t be discouraged by a lot of your friends’ opinions, neither feel too exalted by their compliments, but try to work as hard as time will allow, out of which will come something of which you are deserving and will be proud of.

     Give Larry [Eanet] my regards.

     As ever, your well-wishing friend.

                                          Frankie Newton

Eight months later, when Newton was working as a counselor at KIDDIE KAMP in Sharon, Massachusetts (the postcard’s motto is “Thanks feller, for the swell vacation!”):

NEWTON letter 3 front of Kiddie Kamp

And his note, which ends “hurry and write”:

NEWTON letter 4 Kiddie Kamp

Hello Barbara: — Just to let you know where I am, and what I am doing. I am counsler at this camp for kids and I am having a ball.  I shure wish you could drive over here and see the camp it is only 20 some miles from Boston George Wein and the band were up here last week. If you can write me and tell me what’s what is happening to you

hurry and write

love

Frankie Newton

Yes, Newton’s handwriting, spelling, and punctuation are much more informal, but I imagine him dashing off this note, leaning against a tree, while children around him demanded his attention.

More information on KIDDIE KAMP can be found here — thanks to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Thanks to Jeanie for allowing us to read some of Newton’s words.  He has been gone for nearly sixty years. If his sound isn’t distinctive in your ears, here is a deep, mournful sample: his 1939 THE BLUES MY BABY GAVE TO ME (with Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Brown, James P. Johnson, Al Casey, John Kirby, and Cozy Cole — the session supervised by Hughes Panassie):

Barbara Lea is nearer to us: December 26 was only the second anniversary of her death, but it’s always a privilege to hear her remarkable voice once again. Here she is, with Dick Sudhalter and James Chirillo, performing the uplifting IT’S ALL IN YOUR MIND:

And since we can all dream of hearing Mr. Newton and Miss Leacock together, I offer here (yet unheard) evidence of such a musical meeting. Newton’s actual birthday was January 4, so it is possible that this disc was cut at the birthday party he mentions in his first letter.  Someday . . .

May your happiness increase!