“Benny Goodman stories” are legendary, and since tales of odd or mean behavior are good copy, they are durable. There’s the man who couldn’t remember his daughters’ names, the villain of the Ray, the man who put on a sweater when the sidemen were cold . . . if you care to, you can add to the list.
But for every truth there is a counter-truth, so here are two brief interview segments I did with the Eminence Dan Morgenstern in 2019, resetting the balance in ways that will surprise anyone committed to the idea of the wicked King of Swing.
I think the emphasis on a cruel miserly inexplicable Benny has also led to a meager assessment of his gifts. Consider these examples. If you played them for someone who knew nothing of the legends and gossip, I think they would be astonished by the music made by the Unknown Clarinetist — and the music he made possible.
and a few years later, in two versions:
I could expound at length on the reasons Benny has been attacked as a person (and he had his failings: no bandleader is always a hero to the people he employs) but that’s another blogpost, one I will leave aside for the moment. For one thing, he became prosperous, which is at odds with the myth of the jazz creator as suffering doomed outsider. Ultimately, though, mocking someone as emotionally lacking or imbalanced is an easy way to undermine the validity of their art. Benny should be regarded for his work — on the level of, let us say, Benny Carter and Bobby Hackett — rather than for his foibles. Who among us doesn’t have them?
Fairness, not vindictiveness. The time is ripe for a balanced view.
The song is CHINA BOY and I believe the next words of the chorus are GO SLEEP, but you couldn’t find a finer example of being brilliantly awake than this performance.
These five musicians are billed as RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS, with Ray at the piano, the occasional vocal, arrangements and spiritual-ethical leadership; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. (Study Hamilton’s melodic accompaniment and solo!)
This performance comes from the Sacramento Music Festival (although I may have the rapidly-changing name wrong) in a delightfully compact room on May 24, 2014:
That is compelling evidence of the magnificence of this little band: hot and delicate all at once, plunging forward with the greatest relaxation. I hope our paths intersect before too long.
In 2014, I had the serious luxury of encountering Ray in a variety of settings at a number of festivals and gigs: I look back on those days and those sounds with wonder — both that they occurred and that I was able to witness them and capture them.
While I was sauntering through my archive of unreleased performances by Ray and friends, I found something unusual — although not unusual for those of us who honor and follow him, those of us who have seen him at jazz festivals, moving from one venue to another, becoming friends with each new piano, taking its pulse by playing it, meditatively yet with strong emotions. During the Jazz Fest by the Bay in Monterey, I knew his meditative ways well enough to turn my camera on him before he became part of the ensemble — Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band, in red polo shirts. And I was rewarded.
Ray told me, “The piano interlude is sort of what I like to do as I adjust to a new piano and setting.” I’ve heard him explore rare Ellington, a Monk blues, Thirties pop songs, and more. I hear the laandmarks of a characteristic blues strain and Bud Freeman’s AFTER AWHILE.
But the interlude so strongly made me think of someone who probably spent no time at the keyboard and who died long before Jess Stacy was born . . . I mean Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote in SELF-RELIANCE, the source of these lines: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.“
Yes, perfect sweetness, mixed with Chicago grit and California musing. Thank you, Cubs. Thank you, Ray.
No, not Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, but my idea of a short intermittent series of self-contained musical performances shorter than, say, twenty minutes.
When I think of the marvels of my jazz immersion — being the recipient of a Jo Jones monologue; Kenny Davern showing me that my microphone placement was all wrong; speaking to and hearing Bobby Hackett and Teddy Wilson — I come around to Jess Stacy, a true hero. I didn’t get to exchange a word with him or get his autograph, but I was in the same room with Jess Stacy when he played solo piano. Never mind that the “room” was hardly intimate — Carnegie Hall has more than 3500 seats. I was there, with my little semi-concealed cassette recorder.
The sound is boomy and mushy (complainers will be cut out of my will) but those tremolos and ringing single-notes are still clear as day, and the shift from his semi-rubato introductions into tempo is like sunrise in Hawaii. He was a little slower, but he was himself.
This was another “SO-LO PIANO” concert at Newport in New York, and Jess played HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON, LOVER MAN, and I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU. The familiar voice at the start is of course Marian McPartland:
It’s amazing how tiny relics carry such weight and hint at such stories. Here’s a small collection of autographs for sale (for the moment) on eBay, and the link is here:
If possible, the back sides of these slips of paper — eighty years old — are even more revealing:
I wrote to the seller who promptly and politely told me that Maxwell’s was in St. Joseph’s, Missouri (although a few might be from his father’s move to Los Angeles), and that these were his father’s treasures — and that “Albertina” might have been an example of his “off-the-wall humor.” So there you have it — a little in-person slice of life documenting what it would be like to stand in front of the band and ask Mr. Miller or Mr. Cole for an autograph — when the Cab Calloway band played the “Frog Hop” — an actual place, a ballroom built by one Frank Frogge.
What a wonderful thing that these pages survive!
In the same eBay sweep, I found these portraits of Miss Lee Wiley, who obviously might have been a film siren if the circumstances had been different. Rumor has it that her one film appearance (circa 1936, in a variety short with Woody Herman) never was seen because she was so difficult to work with. But these photographs are powerful evidence of her beautiful sensuality — even when she wasn’t singing.
Here’s Lee with Leo Reisman in 1931, singing Vincent Youmans:
Thanks to eBay, the world’s attic, and to the sellers who keep finding things for us to rhapsodize over.
I offer the keys to an Easter Sunday compact outdoor jazz festival in New York City — like water for people who have been parched by deprivation far too long — and Easter celebrations of the hallowed past. Yes, JAZZ LIVES is your full-service Easter jazz blog. Did you doubt it?
The good news for Sunday, April 4, 2021, for those people within easy reach of Manhattan, is that what Jay Rattman modestly calls “the little gig at the church” is going to happen. Hark! It’s 2-3 on Sunday in front of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 81 Christopher Street. (Take the #1 subway if you are so inclined.) Danny Tobias on trumpet, Jay on soprano saxophone assuming it’s a little too chilly for clarinet, Josh Holcomb on trombone, James Chirillo on banjo, and Brian Nalepka on tuba. I won’t be there with a video camera . . . other commitments . . . . so you have to make the scene yourself. And that, as E.B. White’s Charlotte says, is SOME BAND.
Here’s music to get in the mood, no matter what your Sunday plans are.
The live performances below combine all sorts of pleasures: Irving Berlin, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Pee Wee Russell, Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Sidney Catlett, and more. Eddie liked the song — he loved American pop music of the highest order — as you can hear, he didn’t save it for the one spring Sunday.
I have another EASTER PARADE that didn’t get shared with the troops, but that will appear as part of a Condon concert that only a handful of people have ever heard. Watch this space.
Back to the issued music: if it needs to be pointed out, these performances stand alongside the more-heralded jazz recordings of the time, the small-group sides of the middle Forties, for delight, ingenuity, swing, and feeling. Let no one characterize Eddie and his friends’ music as “Dixieland”; let no one stereotype it as too-fast renditions of traditional warhorses. There’s elegance and lyricism here, exploration of the subtle variations possible within medium and medium-fast tempos. I think those truths need to be said repeatedly, to re-establish a proper hierarchy of great jazz performances.
Bobby Hackett, Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Gene Krupa (d). Town Hall, New York, Sept. 23, 1944:
Max Kaminsky (tp) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (cl,bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Bob Casey (b) Joe Grauso (d). November 11, 1944:
Billy Butterfield (tp) Lou McGarity (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar,cl) Gene Schroeder (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Sidney Catlett (d). March 31, 1945:
Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Jack Lesberg (b) George Wettling (d). Audition for a Chesterfield cigarette-sponsored radio program, Spring 1945:
People who celebrate Easter as the most serious Christian ritual may do it in their own way; perhaps some families will still get together for closeness and food; some will just take the occasion to get dressed up or to watch others, so spiffy in their spring finery. Wise types who understand the importance of pleasure will get themselves down to 81 Christopher Street between 2 and 3 on Sunday. Heretics like myself may entertain themselves by thinking that chocolate bunnies will be half-price on Monday.
At least for now, face-to-face meetings still seem fraught. So this wonderfully sweet song seems an alternative, perhaps. Whether “Dreamland” was an actual amusement or an imagined nocturnal lovers’ rendez-vous, I leave to you. In either case, the song presents possibility, more so than I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, where dreams must suffice because there’s no chance of an actual meeting. But enough philosophy.
From 1909 (one of Tim Gracyk’s beautifully detailed presentations):
Fifty years later, Bing and Rosie, with strings attached:
And the 1938 explosion that started this chain of thought, the delightful Condon-Gabler alchemy that turned old sweet songs into Hot Music for the ages:
As an aside, Allen Lowe’s CD sets and book, THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE, have brought me much pleasure: well worth investigating here.
First, Wally Fawkes, clarinetist and cartoonist, 95 in June 2019, interviewed here. It’s lovely to know he is still with us.
Wally in 2013. Photograph by the fine jazz historian Peter Vacher.
This has the look of an authentic signature: paper taken from someone’s pocket notepad, the calligraphy of someone not lifting the pen a great deal from letter to letter. No date, no place, but it doesn’t inspire skepticism:
and a vignette from Wally’s most recent recording (2003) — with Doug Murray, piano; Eddie Taylor, drums. He doesn’t come in immediately, but when he does!
My hero Buck Clayton, with Charlie Shavers at the Esquire record date of 1946:
and here’s a remarkable autograph:
and a smaller, complete version:
Obviously this is a page from a deep fan’s autograph book –(s)he taped the signature to the page and then annotated it. What’s most intriguing to me is that the city and date are noted: the night before (or in the same 24-hour period) the JATP assemblage had played and been recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York City: Buck, Trummy Young, Willie Smith, Flip Phillips, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Kersey, Benny Fonville, and Buddy Rich — BELL BOY BLUES, HOW HIGH THE MOON, and an unissued FLYIN’ HOME.
You can hear BELL BOY on YouTube for yourself. I chose something more focused on Buck and less violent: Buck, in France (October 1949) BLUES IN FIRST with Charlie Lewis, piano; Georges Hadjo, string bass; Wallace Bishop, drums. Don Byas and Merrill Stepter were on the session but don’t play here:
Coming back to this page, the eBay seller has noted the signature of “Ken Kenny” on the other side — obviously Kersey. If this could be more authentic, I don’t know how. Even the decaying Scotch tape speaks of years.
Here’s another beautifully annotated holy relic:
and an inset:
If there is a date on this page, the seller did not photograph it — but it is also Boston. And on the other side, there’s “Sonny Green,” which should be “Greer.” Ray Nance is quite a hero of mine, and I had the honor of seeing him perform several nights in a row with a local rhythm section in suburbia, 1975 (and Sonny, in the same period, in New York City).
Here’s Ray in 1942 with the Duke and Sonny, espousing strategic reticence:
One more, from a man who probably signed his name as many times as any movie star (which he was, also), Gene Krupa:
and the larger image:
I wonder what the owner blanked out at top, but this is as authentic as one could want. The seller doesn’t say anything about a signature on the reverse; perhaps Gene got his very own page. And here, for me, is the great Krupa moment, from the rather unsatisfying film — as a film — BOY, WHAT A GIRL! (1947) with Sidney Catlett, Dick Vance, Bennie Morton, Don Stovall, and others, and “You are Gene Krupa!”:
I didn’t buy the Wally Fawkes autograph, but I did bid on the others and win: to keep my spirits up until the days get brighter and my feelings follow suit. And at least you can look at the holy relics and (I hope) murmur admiringly. The eBay seller —alvarez1 — is a very gracious fellow, who has two more pages from that same book for bidding: one Charlie Shavers (backed by Charlie Queener), the other Jess Stacy (backed by Cy Baker). . . .as well as many fascinating non-jazz signatures. I don’t need to have everything, so if you move quickly, they might be yours.
The splendid people at jgautographs (on eBay) have reached into the apparently bottomless treasure chest and come up with an assortment of photographs for sale. The auction has a time limit, so don’t (as we say) dither.
Bill, Kenny, and Bob, also riding the range, although dressed like city slickers.
Question: what do Bobby Hackett, George Barnes, Flip Phillips, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Connie Jones, Max Kaminsky, Joe Venuti, Lou Stein, Joe Wilder, Zoot Sims, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Greg Cohen, Dick Hyman, Urbie Green, Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Bob Haggart, Dick Cathcart, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, John Best, Franz Jackson, Wild Bill Davison, Butch Miles, Jack Lesberg, Dick Johnson, Bob Havens, and a few others have in common . . . . aside from their musical glories?
Urbie, the one, the only.
Answer: They were all caught in performance by Al White and his roving camera (many of them at Dick Gibson’s Colorado jazz parties) — asked to sign the photos — the ones I’ve seen have all been inscribed to Al — and these 8 x 10″ black and white beauties are now being offered at the site above.
In 2000, Al and Ralph Sutton’s biographer James D. Schacter created a large-format book, JAZZ PARTY, with over a hundred of these inscribed photographs, but that book is now out of print, although copies can be found.
Al started life as an amateur drummer and jazz fan, then put on concerts and parties in Arkansas . . . . and at some point began to specialize in candid shots of the musicians he admired.
The noble Dick Cathcart.
The photographs offered on eBay have, for me, a special resonance. For a moment in time, Bobby or Urbie had to touch this piece of paper to sign it, so they are beautiful artifacts or relics or what you will.
I’ve been running out of wall space for some time now (and it would be disrespectful as well as damp to start hanging photographs in the bathroom) so the field is clear for you to visually admire and place bids, even though I might be tempted in two days and twenty-something hours.
I thought you might like some jazz-party-jazz, so here is the priceless 1977 color film (102 minutes) of the Dick Gibson party, “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party,” featuring everyone:
I am slowly getting back into 78-record collecting, thanks to Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, and I emphasize “slowly”: no bidding wars, and many of the records I’ve purchased would be considered “common” by more well-established collectors, although I will — immodestly — begin with a picture of a record I treasure, bought a few years ago.
However, this post isn’t primarily about the recorded obsession. It is about the beauty of the ordinary: the paper sleeves once personalized by record stores. I saw an eBay site devoted to jazz records from Denmark, and was thrilled by the more ornate labels of the records themselves and the beautifully creative sleeves. There will be only three minutes of music on this post, but you can follow my lead to YouTube, where many of these recordings are waiting for your tender, approving touch. Today my subject is advertising art at its most sweetly distinctive.
The eBay seller I directed people to in April 2020 has stopped selling his wares, but he has begun compiling Danish shellac sleeves: see more here.
Tommy Ladnier, in high style:
Billie, originally on Commodore:
Louis, for my friend Katherine:
Hawkins, solo, a two-sided meditation:
This (below) is my absolute favorite of the whole series, and it it were not $10 for the Morton disc and $18 for the shipping, it would be on its way to me now. Please, someone, buy this so I don’t have to?
Ella and Louis:
Fats meets Freddy:
I don’t know the artist but could not resist the sleeve:
and here Aladdin points the way to swing:
I think ten of these beauties is enough for one post, but if there is interest, I have nineteen or twenty more sleeve-images to share with you. And would.
I promised you three minutes of music, so that no one would go to bed feeling deprived. Here’s REINCARNATION by Paul Mares and his Friars Society Orchestra : Paul Mares, trumpet; Santo Pecora, trombone; Omer Simeon, clarinet; Boyce Brown, alto saxophone; Jess Stacy, piano; Marvin Saxbe, guitar; Pat Pattison, string bass; George Wettling, drums — January 1935, Chicago:
The eBay seller “jgautographs,” from whom I’ve purchased several marvels (signatures of Henry “Red” Allen, Rod Cless, Pee Wee Russell, Pete Brown, Sidney Catlett, among others) has been displaying an astonishing assortment of jazz inscriptions. I haven’t counted, but the total identified as “jazz” comes to 213. They range from “traditional” to “free jazz” with detours into related musical fields, with famous names side-by-side with those people whose autographs I have never seen.
As I write this (the early afternoon of March 21, 2020) three days and some hours remain.
Here is the overall link. Theoretically, I covet them, but money and wall space are always considerations. And collectors should step back to let other people have a chance.
The signers include Benny Carter, Betty Carter, Curtis Counce, Jimmy Woode, Herb Hall, Bennie Morton, Nat Pierce, Hot Lips Page, Rolf Ericson, Arnett Cobb, Vernon Brown, Albert Nicholas, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Margolis, Ed Polcer, Ed Hall, Billy Kyle, Sam Donahue, Al Donahue, Max Kaminsky, Butch Miles, Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Arvell Shaw, Barrett Deems, Buck Clayton, Babs Gonzales, Benny Bailey, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Burrell, Reggie Workman, Stanley Turrentine, Louis Prima, Wayne Shorter, Tiny Bradshaw, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Bea Wain, Red Rodney, Frank Socolow, Bobby Timmons, George Wettling, Roy Milton, Charlie Rouse, Donald Byrd, Kai Winding, Kenny Drew, Kenny Clarke, Steve Swallow, Shelly Manne, Frank Bunker, Charlie Shavers, Ben Pollack, Jess Stacy, Ron Carter, Bob Zurke, Jimmy Rushing, Cecil Payne, Lucky Thompson, Gary Burton, Jaki Byard, Noble Sissle, Muggsy Spanier, Don Byas, Pee Wee Russell, Slam Stewart, Hazel Scott, Ziggy Elman, Buddy Schutz, Ernie Royal, Boyd Raeburn, Dave McKenna, Claude Thornhill.
And signatures more often seen, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Gerry Mulligan, Cab Calloway, Rosemary Clooney, Wynton Marsalis,Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Chick Corea, Count Basie.
In this grouping, there are three or four jazz-party photographs from Al White’s collection, but the rest are matted, with the signed page allied to a photograph — whether by the collector or by the seller, I don’t know. And there seems to be only one error: “Joe Thomas” is paired with a photograph of the Lunceford tenor star, but the pairing is heralded as the trumpeter of the same name.
My head starts to swim, so I propose some appropriate music — sweet sounds at easy tempos, the better to contemplate such riches, before I share a half-dozen treasures related to musicians I revere.
Jess Stacy’s version of Bix Beiderbecke’s CANDLELIGHTS:
Harry Carney with strings, IT HAD TO BE YOU:
Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones, PRISONER OF LOVE:
Here are a double handful of autographs for your amazed perusal.
Charlie Shavers, name, address, and phone number:
Lucky Thompson, 1957:
Jimmy Rushing, 1970:
Hot Lips Page (authentic because of the presence of the apostrophe):
Benny Carter (I want to see the other side of the check!):
And what is, to me, the absolute prize of this collection: Lester Young, whom, I’m told, didn’t like to write:
Here’s music to bid by — especially appropriate in those last frantic seconds when the bids mount in near hysteria:
Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters — a Louis Armstrong trumpet — a few years ago.
I don’t know if people look to pianist Jess Stacy as a model for spiritual enlightenment, but perhaps they should. Yes, he’s rightly known for his solo on SING SING SING at the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, and for subtle but memorable playing for decades, but he had a revelation in mid-life that has been one of my cherished stories since I first read it. I am paraphrasing because the book it comes from is in New York and I am in San Diego, but I have it close to my heart.
He had been successful as a Goodman sideman but had made the mistake of marrying Lee Wiley — they were spectacularly unsuited for each other, a story you can explore elsewhere on the blog — they had divorced, unpleasantly. And as Jess tells it, he was sitting on the bed in a hotel room, ruminating, despairing, feeling that there was little point in going on. He could, he thought, follow the lead of his friend Bix Beiderbecke, and “crawl into a bottle and die,” which had its own appeal, its own seductive melodramatic pull. But Stacy, although in misery, was curious about life and what it might offer. Musing more, he eventually came to a decision, and spoke to himself, briskly not not sternly, “All right, Stacy. Time to make new memories!”and he got off the bed and lived a fulfilling life.
I hear in that story something that we all have faced whether we are sitting on a hotel bed or not: stuck in our own lives, do we hug the past like a cherished stuffed bunny or do we “move on,” and see what happens? It’s not easy. Despair has a powerful attraction, and memories can feel like a suit of clothing that weighs tons — stifling ye familiar. And let us say what no one wants to say, that the future is always mildly terrifying as well as alluring.
All of this has been running through my own mind (I am not in danger of ending it all through alcohol, never fear) and I have told the story to a few friends in the past week. The wonderful trumpeter Marc Caparone provided a musical illustration of it just a few days ago at the San Diego Jazz Fest — with Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums — in his performance of MEMORIES OF YOU, a very dear song by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf. We don’t hear Razaf’s lyrics, but those who know the song well will have them as a subliminal second theme.
And here’s Marc’s very personal exploration of these themes: a model of passion and control, Louis-like but not Louis-imitative, music that I found very moving, as did others at the San Diego Jazz Fest . . .beauty at once somber and uplifting:
I think of Bobby Hackett, saying of Louis, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”
Thank you, Marc, Brian, Steve, and Danny — as well as Eubie and Andy, and of course Mister Stacy.
Let us hold the past for what’s dear in it, what it has to teach us, but let us not sit on the edge of the bed, musing, forever. Make new memories.
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
hereor 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.
News flash: I started to review this seriously entertaining book a few months ago, lent it to a friend who promised to return it after a weekend, then didn’t . . . so this review is, with apologies, late. But I offer this anecdote to show I am not the only person who found the book irresistible.
Some books, full of invaluable information, are austere and forbidding. “Do you dare to approach, ignorant mortal? Are you worthy of opening my pages? Don’t even think of removing my dust jacket.” Other books, equally worthy or perhaps more so, are casual and welcoming. Reading them is like having a very relaxed old friend over to your house for a meal, and the friend — never boring — is a treasure chest of pleasing stories you’ve never heard before.
HAMP AND DOCis a marvelous example of the second kind of book. I’ve said it often, but books that tell me new stories are enticing reading, as are books that are narrated by the participants. And, I never thought of it as a criteria, but if a book has a great deal of affection in it — in this case, someone’s hugging or getting hugged every few pages — that, too, is a winner.
Lionel Hampton is deservedly well known, not only for his long career, his many talents, his ebullient musicianship, the hundreds of musicians whose lives he touched — so this book has a kind of anchor in its story of Hamp’s last years, from 1984 to 2002, years full of playing and energetic involvement in the lives of everyone he encountered.
Lynn “Doc” Skinner would not be well known, I think, outside of Idaho, but he also has touched many lives — as a musician, multi-instrumentalist and composer, a music educator, a festival organizer, an ingenious and kind man never at a loss for an idea, and ultimately as a friend to hundreds, perhaps thousands — some of them famous, others not known to us. Born in 1940, he is still with us, and HAMP AND DOC is his engaging story as well.
Engaging stories are at the heart of this affectionate, vivid book, and the ones that I find memorable reveal character. Many know that in 1997, a fire in Hamp’s New York apartment destroyed everything he had. He was 88, had had two strokes, and was sitting outside his apartment on the sidewalk in a wheelchair, clad in pajamas and robe, having been helped outside by two attendants. What you won’t know is this telling anecdote. Watching the fire from the street, Hamp calls Doc, who knows nothing of what is going on, and asks him, “Doc, are you okay?” and getting an answer in the affirmative, then tells him about the fire.
Of course, not everyone in this book is a saint (although most of the cast of characters are eminently nice): Doc tells the story of Sarah Vaughan refusing to get in the student’s four-door sedan that is picking her up from the airport because her contract specifies a limousine, and, later, refusing to go on because she does not have her $10,000 fee (cash) in her hand. Other sharp and tender vignettes have Stan Getz, Al Grey, Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Claudio Roditi, Clint Eastwood, Dizzy Gillespie, or Bill Charlap at the center. But the affectionate relationship between Doc and Hamp is the book’s backbone, and the wonderful things that resulted — the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival (the first jazz festival aimed at students, the first one named for a musician, the first one named for an African-American) and later, the Lionel Hampton School of Music.
The book is free from ideological bias or theorizing — in that regard it is blissfully old-fashioned, but it is as if we are privileged to spend some delightful afternoons with Doc as he shares his crystal-clear recollections reaching back to his childhood and forward into the present. Like Hamp, he comes across clearly, as a man with a purpose, devoid of artifice or meanness. He is ambitious, but his ambition is for the music alone and what it can do to reach others.
It’s a welcoming collection of lovely stories, well-edited, with beautiful photographs, many in color, and a lively design overall. Not incidentally, the book benefits hugely from the unseen talents of Alan Jay Solan, the man to whom Doc told his stories. The book works wonderfully as a book — not simply as a collection of associated memories — because of Solan.
Any jazz fan who loves Lionel Hampton, who feels good after reading stories where kind people treat each other kindly, or who wants to see lovely candid photographs will love this book.
Here‘s a link to Inkwater Press, although I am sure that the book is available in many other places (there’s a Kindle edition also).
And in case you have done the unthinkable and taken Hamp for granted, here are two pieces of evidence to prove that a truly bad idea.
Hamp and a stellar cast of Ellingtonian friends (Carney, Hodges, Cootie) and Jess Stacy in 1937:
James Dapogny died yesterday. He was 78 and had been keeping cancer at bay for nine years until he could do it no longer.
Because the absence of people I love is deeply painful, I have embraced the notion that the dead don’t go away, that their temporal selves leave us but they merely move into other neighborhoods. With Jim’s death, I cannot keep that illusion afloat. There is a void much larger than his human form that will never be filled. No parade of clicked-on Facebook sad emojis can express this. And this sorrow isn’t unique to me: ask anyone who knew him, who learned from him, who savored his creativity and his company.
Prof. and still-active cellist Mike Karoub to Prof’s left. Photograph by Laura Beth Wyman, 2014.
An expansive, restlessly diligent and curious person, he had several names. When I first met him (at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2004) I timidly called him “Mr. Dapogny,” and because I was shy, my voice was low and he referred to me — just once — as “soft-voiced Professor Steinman” while we were both leafing through Thirties sheet music. Later, I bought all his records and CDs, where he was “James,” but I summoned up the courage to call him “Jim” to his face and — referring to him in the third person, I took on the affectionate coinage that Laura Beth Wyman, whom he called “my best student in thirty years,” and his dear friend, had created: “Prof.”
I will hand off to Prof.’s friend Kim Cusack for his memories:
Jim was puckish, never morose, so my first musical example is a jam-session rouser. Keep your ears on the pianist, who explodes into a solo at 4:14:
Although he was characterized as a stride pianist and he loved the music of Fats Waller and Alex Hill, he dismissed that categorization, and told me that his mentors were Stacy, Sullivan, and Morton. In the fashion of those three great individualists, his playing was full of spiky surprises — arresting commentaries that could woo and distract in the ensemble or when he accompanied a soloist. I think he found stride conventions constricting, possibly monotonous, so I hear him as a Pee Wee Russell of the piano: going his own completely recognizable ways while uplifting all around him, creating bright-sounding treble lines but also providing solidly original harmonic support and rhythmic propulsion. He was never predictable but always heroically satisfying.
But LADY BE GOOD, because it was impromptu (rain and wind made reading charts impossible) was not what Prof. liked best. He delighted in “paper,” that is, arrangements — but they were charts with plenty of breathing room for the splendid soloists he hired and nurtured. Here’s his powerfully blue version of the Ellington-Stewart MOBILE BAY, also from Evergreen 2014:
and another 2014 romper — this time, because the weather was better, the band could use Prof.’s charts:
Here is Prof. and a band in 2012 — note his dry whimsical introduction:
and a piano solo on one of the most familiar jazz ballads, uniquely Dapogny:
Jim (I have shifted to the non-academic because it feels warmer) was also terribly funny, in person and in print. David Sager says he had “a sly and delicious wit,” which all of us experienced. He was a wordsmith, a jester, a stand-up comedian, a sharp-edged deflater, a Michigan S.J. Perelman. A deadpan improvising comedian, he didn’t mug and pander on the stand, preferring to let the heartfelt music speak.
He and I exchanged emails from 2011 to October 2018: a coda from one of his:
P.S. I don’t know if you ever read the columns of humorist Dave Barry, but I did because Wayne Jones used to send me bundles of them. The ones I liked best were those entitled “Ask Mr. Language Person,” in which Barry answered usage questions ostensibly sent in by readers. One asked about rules for the use of quotation marks in small-business signs. Barry answered that quotation marks were to be used on words chosen at random. Then he gave three examples. Try Our “Pies” Try “Our” Pies “Try” Our Pies To me this is absolutely hilarious. It still makes me laugh.
My relationship with Jim grew and deepened. When I first met him, I was intimidated by his comic rapier, and when I got to know him a little better, I asked him to put it down, which he did without fuss. The more I encountered him, the more I admired him. And finally I — like everyone else who knew him — loved him.
I took him on as one of my not-so-secret spiritual fathers, even though he was only a dozen years my senior. The blend of humor and toughness (he could have shown up in a 1935 Warner Brothers picture, although not as the gangster lead) reminded me of my own father, so he was dear to me. I originally wrote, “I hope I didn’t embarrass him too much with my direct affection,” but on second thought I hope I did embarrass him: that way I would know he had received the message I was sending.
He was extremely kind, superbly generous. I had asked him to write a letter for me in support of a sabbatical I was hoping for, and I dare not read that letter now because I would not be able to write through tears. And every so often he would praise something I’d written, which would make me feel like a peculiarly graceful colossus of words and insights. (Of course, now and again, he corrected my wayward grammar, which made me wince and then rush to fix the lapse.)
Although he knew his own worth, he was infuriatingly modest. I, and then Laura, shot videos of him in performance at Jazz at Chautauqua, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. The last email response I got from Jim — late October 2018 — concerned a trio video I had sent him to see if he would agree to my posting it. (Sometimes when I sent him videos, the answer was silence, which I could never tell whether it was “God, no!” or “I am too busy doing other things more important than considering my own performances.) His response, the names redacted in true CIA fashion, was, “OK with me, but this doesn’t scream out for preservation except by being documentation that I once weaseled my way into the company of H- and R-.”
He was always busy transcribing charts for PORK, researching new old music, and more. But I think his secret passion was in what we call, for want of a more gracious term, mentoring. Ask any musician who played or sang with him: Jon-Erik Kellso to Dawn Giblin to Mike Karoub to Erin Morris to the members of his bands. Like Ellington, he saw very clearly what strengths we had, and worked tirelessly to bolster us — offering the most gentle helping hand to make people more glorious versions of their natural selves.
One of my great pleasures, was my being able to visit him and Laura and Erin for a few days in 2016. Yes, Jim was a scholar of all things musical — not just Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson’s operas — and his range was broad. When I visited Ann Arbor, the plan was that I would stay in a quietly nondescript motel, and work on my blog over breakfast (instant oatmeal from paper envelopes, and coffee) and then Jim and I, sometimes Laura along as well, would eat deliriously good ethnic food in some restaurant that only Jim knew — Indian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese — and the conversation would become expertly culinary as well, because he could cook, away from the piano. He was truly insightful but ready to applaud others’ insights.
I dreamed of visiting him again, but missed my chance, just as I missed the opportunity to help bring Jim’s band once again to the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado.
It would please me immensely if others who knew Prof., or James, or Jim, would add their voices to this post. I will close with one of the great beautiful moments captured by video. I am particularly proud of this 2015 performance because of the lovely music and that it was recorded by my friend Laura Beth Wyman. Jim’s own FIREFLY:
The moral that James Dapogny’s life and art and generous friendship offers us is very simple. We are fireflies. At our best, we are brilliant: we trace paths along the summer night sky. But we are fragile. What can we do but live our lives so that when we depart, we are irrevocably missed? As he is.
I will eschew my usual closing — consider it here but unsaid — to send love and sorrow to Jim’s wife, Gail, to his family, to his friends, to all the people he touched.
Like other jazz fans and collectors, I have had many dreams of music I would like to hear, and in my lifetime many of those dreams have come true: the alternate takes of the Jones-Smith, Inc. session; airshots of the Basie band at the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing; the Ellington Fargo concert; the Jerry Newman uptown recordings; more Louis and Big Sid, on and on.
Earl Hines and Ray Skjelbred
The pianist Ray Skjelbred — treasured courageous explorer of beauty — is part of this story of dreams taking lovely shape. I heard him on recordings perhaps fifteen years ago, and I encountered him in videos perhaps eight years ago, first in those of Rae Ann Berry, then in my own attempts, having met him, to capture him with appropriate skill and reverence.
In whatever medium I found him, I was astonished by the spacious, emotionally dense worlds he invented at the keyboard. I still am. And although Ray allowed me to capture individual performances that he approved of, solo and in duet; Ray leading his own Cubs — I am proud of the results, but they are beautiful snapshots for the most part. In my videos, the sound might be imperfect; the audience might be chatting or moving in and out; Ray would speak, memorably, but briefly.
I came to dream of a Skjelbred film, a recital-explanation that would help us capture his secrets and his deep essence, as much of his history and magic that he cared to reveal. But it remained a dream until Ray’s friend John Ochs, with Ray, created a profound but never sententious portrait of Ray and the musical atmosphere he both swims in and has enriched for decades. It exists, and it can be seen.
From the first pearly notes of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES to Ray’s reminiscences-with-music of Burt Bales, Johnny Wittwer, Earl Hines, Joe Sullivan, Art Hodes, Jess Stacy, stride piano, octaves, tenths, the blues, tremolos, a stomping LITTLE ROCK GETAWAY, anecdotes of Sullivan — among well-trained kindergarten children, or listening to Bob Zurke play GETAWAY, a brilliantly meandering chorus of ROSETTA which reminds me of someone picking up glittering beach glass at the ocean’s edge, and a riotous BEAU KOO JACK, and so much more — the film is a treasure. It is both the chronicle of a questing artist and his interactions with Hines, Sullivan, Stacy, Hodes, and a series of casual lessons from a Master about other Masters.
I admire it tremendously. Ray’s deadpan puckish humor animates all of his conversation with us, as when he describes a heart attack at the keyboard turning, for seconds, into stride piano . . .his description of a poor traditional band as “six people with shotguns.” I encourage viewers to savor his after-midnight introduction to I FOUND A NEW BABY and the last minutes of MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY.
It isn’t a how-to film that entices the viewer with the kinds of promises historically made on matchbooks, “See, you can play _____ too if only you learn these sixteen gestures,” nor is it a chronological autobiography of gigs and encounters, but a warming combination of sounds, techniques, memories and music created right at the moment. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ray’s story of Jess Stacy’s summation of a visit from jazz acolytes, at first unfamiliar to him, as “Those nice boys.”
The film is emotionally filling without being overwhelming: when I finished watching for the first (of several times) I felt as if I had spent a month with Ray, yet it felt like a seamless easy journey, over too soon.
Recorded in one sitting, at a fine piano, with subtle, telling editing, it is so far beyond my best videos that I am both thrilled it exists and slightly embarrassed by my own earnest amateur sallies.
I am not the only person to appreciate this film: it has been selected by the New York Jazz Film Festival and will receive an award for HISTORY / DOCUMENTARY at the end of August.
I am able to share the film with you — and frankly I would find it inexplicable if hundreds of people did not take advantage of the opportunity — but I do not know for how long this will be possible. These things are mysterious, but Imight not be able to share this film indefinitely.
So I urge and beseech my viewers to be with Ray Skjelbred, man and artist of independent spirit, for one hour (and twenty-three minutes and fifty-eight seconds) tonight, or, if not tonight, then tomorrow night.
Early on in the film, Ray says, as if to himself, “All music is a narrative of some kind — it starts somewhere and it goes somewhere.” He could have been describing this very fulfilling film as well.
The facts are: Lee Wiley, vocal; Sterling Bose, Tommy Dorsey, Sid Stoneburn, others; Ernie White, Larry Gomar, Justin Ring or Victor Young, directing. New York, August 13, 1934 38298-B.
And nearly twenty years later:
Lee’s voice had changed, predictably, as had the band, but I like the new, tougher approach just as much.
We enter the magical world of sheet music covers. This song is familiar, with the distinct connection to Victor Young — with whom Lee enjoyed a long relationship. I reprint the cover for comparison:
Although I can’t offer a recording of Lee singing LOVE ME, how about two versions by Jack Teagarden — the first with ornamentation by Sterling Bose, Jimmy Dorsey, Perry Botkin — again directed by Victor Young? I knew you wouldn’t object:
This is, again, twenty years later, swinging as well as romantic — from the sextet that Jack led after he’d left Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. This 1953 band was a family affair, with brother Charlie on trumpet, sister Norma on piano:
Back to Lee.
This piece of sheet music is new to me, and I haven’t found any recordings of the song to offer you:
This song is known to me because Red Allen recorded it at the time, but no recording of Lee singing it exists. Still, it’s pleasant to hear her voice in one’s mental recording studio:
and, in case you’ve never seen it, hereis the justly famous film — silent but with a soundtrack added later, both thanks to Josh Rushton — of Lee and then-husband Jess Stacy, out and about.
When I looked up “Benny Goodman” and “1938” in preparation for this blogpost, Google quite naturally led me to the Carnegie Hall concert of January 16. But there was wonderful music made later in the year, by a band elevated by Dave Tough, drums, and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone. Here’s a sample:
The link between that performance and my odd title might not be clear, so here’s the answer key: the title is the convoluted language of eBay, that odd treasure house. And thanks to David J. Weiner, scholar and friend (pal of my childhood days, to be precise) I have the treasure below to share with you. It’s a remarkable photograph — the negative of one — of the 1938 band, dressed up in performance garb, but not on the stand, and not holding instruments. And even better, the normally somber-looking Dave Tough has just heard something funny or said something of the same kind (I think that Lionel made Dave laugh): a visage rarely if ever captured on film.
The bad news is that I did not win this photograph for my very own. The good news is that someone who wanted it even more fervently did . . . to the tune of $105 and some change. I hope (s)he enjoys it tremendously and hangs it in a place of honor. For us, the magic of “Save image” means that we can hitch a ride for free, and moral questions aside, that is a great thing.
Now, I will confess ignorance and say that I cannot identify everyone in the picture, and I solicit the assistance of the readers of JAZZ LIVES who know more than I do — when they are irksome, I silently call them The Corrections Officials, but today I invite informed responses.
Here’s what and whom I know.
Front row left, unknown; Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; unknown woman who doesn’t look like Martha Tilton or, for that matter, Gladys Hampton, at all; Lionel Hampton, vibraphone; Dave Tough, drums; unknown (is that Chris Griffin, trumpet?)
Back row left, Vernon Brown, trombone; unknown; unknown; Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; unknown; Harry James, trumpet.
Where’s Benny? Where’s Jess Stacy? I assume some of the heroes I couldn’t identify are a second trombone, perhaps Noni Bernardi and Dave Matthews, guitarist Benny Heller. Does anyone recognize the room? The fireplace suggests a hotel rather than a recording studio, but that is a guess, nothing more.
And while you’re scrambling to prove your Benny-knowledge is just the best, here’s a soundtrack to inspire you, the deliciously loose rendition of SUGAR by Benny, Lionel, Teddy Wilson, and Dave:
This post is in honor of David Weiner, Kevin Dorn, and Richard Salvucci. Of course!
I saw and heard Helen Humes in person only once, in 1975, but she made a lasting impression. When Ed Polcer was leading the band at the last “Eddie Condon’s,” marvelous players and singers were invited to get up on the narrow bandstand and astonish us. I was there because Ruby Braff was leading the group; Helen came up and sang IF I COULD BE WITH YOU and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and I have a clear memory of her beautiful smile, heartfelt delivery, and warm voice.
At the early peak of the Swing Era, John Hammond had yet another one of his good ideas: to feature Harry James (then in his first year as a star of the Goodman band) with a small group drawn from the Basie band. There was a clear rapport, and these under-acknowledged records stand alongside the more heralded Wilson-Holiday sessions. Helen had recorded a decade earlier, but she was then perceived as a classic blues singer, and those records show only one side of her considerable talent. In these 1936-38 sides, we hear what made her memorable. (On YouTube, you can hear the other sides from the James sessions.)
The first session (on December 1, 1937) had Harry, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones. Helen sang several songs; here is I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:
On January 5, 1938, the same group reassembled, with Vernon Brown replacing Eddie Durham, and Helen sang IT’S THE DREAMER IN ME:
Other aspects of these recordings (of the two glorious sessions) are memorable: the warm sounds of Harry and Herschel, the beautiful distractions of Jess Stacy at the piano, joined by Walter Page and Jo Jones . . . but at this remove, Helen wins my heart — her deep sincerity, her vibrato, the way she delivers two love songs with complete conviction, even at the faster tempo of the first. She’s been overshadowed for decades, but what a great artist she is. In a few minutes, she invites us to live her dreams.
In the dozen years I’ve lived here, my apartment has slowly morphed into a combination library / computer workshop / recording studio / and who knows what, based in the living room, with various effusions of CDs, books, external hard drives, cassettes, photographs — generally confined to the living room. To my left, cassettes from the late Seventies on; to my right, a four-speed phonograph with (as I write) a Jess Stacy Commodore 78 of RAMBLIN’ and COMPLAININ’ on the turntable, adjacent to a newer stereo system. Also on my left, long-playing records and hard drives; to my right, a wall of CDs.
There are rules: a new CD will migrate to the kitchen counter, but it knows it shouldn’t be there and it tends to hide and look abashed when discovered. The bathroom and bedroom are off limits to music-infestation. No, don’t ask for photographs.
But having JAZZ LIVES since February 2008 is like living inside a giant multi-sensory photograph album. Insubstantial in some ways, seriously substantial in others. I’ve posted nearly six thousand videos on YouTube, which means I’ve been a busy tech-primate. And some more videos haven’t been posted, so the bits of information are thick in this one-bedroom palace of sound and sight.
Photograph by Michael Steinman
Every so often I want to hear and see something that gave me pleasure several times: at the moment of experience and, later, in writing about it, posting it, and enjoying it. One that came to mind today was a performance I witnessed and savored in California at San Francisco’s The Lost Church, almost four years ago: Tamar Korn, Craig Ventresco, Jared Engel, Gordon Au, and Dennis Lichtman — mellowly celebrating the lunar power of love with SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON:
Awfully sweet, this speaks of a world where young people could ask the cosmos for help in romance and receive it. Life before phones.
I will indulge myself in this again, and I encourage you to do so also. When I take a day off from blogging, the search bar on front page will lead you to treats.
Eddie Condon and his friends made hot music lyrical and the reverse, so what they played and sang always makes me glad. And Eddie loved to improvise on the best popular songs of the time, not just a dozen “jazz classics.”
I think most people associate EASTER PARADE with the film starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but the song was from the 1933 show AS THOUSANDS CHEER — as the sheet music indicates. Here is a very sweet contemporaneous version by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, with Joe very reserved. In addition to a nice orchestral sound, fine lively piano (Schutt?) and guitar (McDonough,Victor, or Kress?) — both unidentified in Lord and Rust — there is a gorgeous vocal by Dolores Reade, who gave up her singing career to marry Bob Hope. Nothing against the comedian, but that was a real loss to everyone else. (I found a copy of this 78 in a California thrift store, so it might have enjoyed some popularity.)
Here are several “Americondon” improvisations for this holiday, taken from the 1944-45 broadcasts of segments of Eddie’s Town Hall Concerts. Some of these videos end with the introduction to another song, but you can — I believe — find much more from these concerts on YouTube, almost always mysteriously labeled and presented. (Performances featuring Hot Lips Page are presented on a channel apparently devoted to Willie “the Lion” Smith, for reasons beyond me — whether ignorance or deceit or both, I can’t say. But if you know the name of a song performed at a Condon concert, you have a good change of uncovering it there.)
Those who listen attentively to these performances will find variations, both bold and subtle, in the four versions that follow — tempo, solo improvisations, ensemble sound.
Here’s that Berlin song again, featuring Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Jess Stacy, Sid Weiss, Gene Krupa:
and featuring Max Kaminsky, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Bob Casey, Eddie, Joe Grauso, at a slower tempo, with wonderful announcements at the end.
and featuring Max, Miff, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and happily, a much more audible Eddie — doing an audition for a Chesterfield (cigarette) radio program:
and from the very end of the broadcast series (the network wanted Eddie to bring in a comedian and he refused), here are Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee, Ernie, Gene Schroeder, Sid Weiss, and my hero, Sidney Catlett, whose accompaniment is a lesson in itself, and whose closing break is a marvel:
You’ll hear someone (maybe announcer Fred Robbins?) shout “WOW!” at the end of the first version: I agree. Happy Easter in music to you all.
Talent runs in the family, they say. And in this case, they’re right. Brian Nalepka, string bassist, tubaist, accordionist, singer, and sage jester, is someone I admire: when he’s on the scene, I know the beat will be there too, and it will be swinging. His wife, Mary Shaughnessy, doesn’t sing; nor, as far as I know, does daughter Ella. But Nora Nalepka does, and she’s very good at it. This isn’t a post about swing nepotism, but one about music.
On the most recent appearance of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) — Sunday, December 18, 2016 — I was there to document and enjoy not one, but two Nalepka musical offerings.
Here’s Brian — “asking the musical question” HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?, a Walter Donaldson melody and one of the witty and relevant hits of 1919, after the Great War had ended. His colleagues are Terry Waldo, piano; John Gill, banjo; Jay Lepley, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet (for the occasion); Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds. If you haven’t noticed it this far, Brian is not only a great rhythm player and soloist, but he is that most rare thing, a swinging entertainer.
Nora — more modern, a child of the late twentieth century — picked a more “contemporary” song . . . from 1934: the Nacio Herb Brown – Arthur Freed ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU, which many of us know from its delightful part in the 1952 film SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.
and, for a reason, here is the first page of that folio:
Although this sweet song is a love ballad, most bands and singers take it at a brisk tempo, which flattens its yearning appeal. Note “Slowly (with expression),” which is the way Nora sings it.
She knows how to convey feeling; she improvises gently; she swings. Not surprising, perhaps, but immensely pleasing.
This is my second Nora-sighting (I wish it would happen bi-annually at the very least); here is my first, eleven months ago, her sweet rendition of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME.
And — a secret pleasure — the phrase that Terry improvises on in his solo is Jess Stacy’s introduction to the issued take of DIANE (Commodore, 1938) featuring Jack Teagarden. Years of obsessive listening pay off.
Dear Ms. Nalepka, if you plan to make a CD — call it, perhaps, NORA NALEPKA SINGS ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE — let me know and I’ll contribute to the crowdfunding. And Father Brian, keep on doin’ what you’re doin’!