Tag Archives: Jim Robinson

NAT HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

 

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin divided everyone into two types: those whose knowledge was broad but not deep, and the reverse.  One he characterized as a hedgehog, the other a fox, and I do not remember which animal reportedly had which intellectual profile. 

But yesterday the Beloved and I met a man who knows many things well AND deeply, and I celebrate him.  He’s BOB WIRTZ, and he’s on his way to Ohio to look at another huge record collection. 

While we were in Portland, Maine, a lovable town, I spied a used record store on Congress Street.  ENTERPRISE RECORDS was closed whenever I walked by, and it became even more enticing: records arranged neatly in browsers, a Jim Hall – Bill Evans issue in the window.  On our last day in town, I walked over and stood in front of the window, disappointed that I wouldn’t get in.  As I was about to turn away, the door opened and a compact, thoughtful man in a red floral shirt asked quietly if he could do anything for me.  I identified myself as a jazz collector and asked if I could come in for a few minutes if I promised not to talk to him.  He grinned, waved me in, saying that talking was OK, although he was on his way to Ohio. 

Since I get overwhelmed easily, I was happy he didn’t have acres of jazz records — but (to paraphrase Spencer Tracy) what he had was choice: from Sweet Emma Barrett at Preservation Hall to Herman Foster to Sun Ra and beyond.  I gleefully found a reissue of one of the Dicky Wells Felsted sessions (Benny Morton, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones), a Columbia two-record Jimmy Rushing reissue which contained a few duets with Helen Humes backed by Ben Webster, and a Jim Robinson record that had the poetic Raymond Burke in the band — all for less than twenty dollars.  My kind of music!  When we fell into collectors’ conversation, I learned that Bob had run this store for twenty-one years and was interested in most kinds of music. 

The conversation turned to more normal matters — like food — when the Beloved entered, and we told him that we were on our way north and had been told to stop at a famous tourist spot, Moody’s Diner, for its good food, its local color, its popularity.  Bob said with great intensity, “You don’t want to go THERE!  Everything there is straight out of the freezer!”  He was fervent and compelling and offered an alternative in Gardiner, the A-1 Diner.  And anyone who worries that people will eat poor food and warns them away from it is someone to treasure. 

We found Moody’s Diner en route, and stopped in to see if Bob was right.  Oh, was he ever!  The iced coffee was distinguished only by being brown and wet; the packaged slices of pie had been left over from a James Whale film shoot, and the best thing was the restroom . . . .

Thank you, Bob Wirtz!  May all your enterprises prosper.

BOB WIRTZ, ENTERPRISE RECORDS, 650 CONGRESS STREET, PORTLAND, MAINE 04101 (207.773.7672).  enterpriserex@aol.com; www.enterpriserecords.net