Tag Archives: Jimmie Blanton

SOME RARE STUFF

That’s Stuff Smith, one of the supreme beings of jazz violin, who deserves more attention than he received in life and does now.  An audio sample from 1936 with Stuff playing and singing (with Jonah Jones, Jimmy Sherman, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, Cozy Cole):

This little remembrance of Stuff is because I found two rare paper items on eBay — which you shall see.  But before I completed this post, I checked everything with Anthony Barnett, the reigning scholar of jazz violin, who’s issued wonderful CDs, books, and more about Stuff, Eddie South, Ginger Smock, and many other stars and hidden talents.  More about Anthony’s ABFable projects below.

Here is a 1947 Associated Booking Corporation (that’s Joe Glaser’s firm) magazine advertisement for both Stuff and Eddie South — Eddie has Leonard Gaskin, string bass; Allen Tinney, piano:

Music instruction books linked to famous artists proliferated from the Twenties onwards, and here is one I had never seen before.  I don’t know how deeply Stuff was involved with the compositions and arrangements, but this 1944 folio is a fascinating curio:

Characteristically and thriftily, a mix of public domain songs and a few originals:

The composition looks unadventurous, but this is only the first page.  “Who is Lee Armentrout?” is the big question on JEOPARDY, and the answer is here:

How about some more music?  “Can do,” we say — a lovely rendition of DEEP PURPLE, a duet between Stuff and Sun Ra, recorded on July 29, 1948 by drummer Tommy Hunter. Ra is playing a solovox which was a piano attachment.

Anthony tells me, “There is a lost recording by Ra and Coleman Hawkins from around the same period (but not the same session).  Stuff and Hawk led a band for a couple of weeks around that time with Ra on piano.”

I’ve been writing ecstatically about Anthony’s ABFable discs for more than a decade now: they are absolute models of loving presentation of rare music.  How about this : a CD of 1937 broadcasts of a big band, led by Stuff, its members drawn from the Chick Webb band plus other stars — with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald?  Stuff leading a septet drawn from the 1942 Fats Waller band while Fats was touring; a Ray Nance compilation that features acetate recordings of Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, Sonny Greer — oh, and Ben plays clarinet as well as tenor; more from Ray Perry, Eddie South, and glorious violinists you’ve never heard of.  Helen Ward, Rex Stewart, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones  . . .

It’s self-indulgent to quote oneself, but perhaps this is forgivable: I don’t ordinarily endorse the productions of an entire CD label, but Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable series of reissues is something special: rare music, beautifully annotated and transferred, delightfully presented.  Barnett’s notes are erudite but never dull. Each CD I’ve heard has been a joyous experience in preconception-shattering. I used to think of jazz violin improvisation beyond Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli as a mildly inconvenient experience. Grudgingly, I acknowledged that it was possible to play compelling jazz on the instrument, but I was politely waiting for Ray Nance to pick up his cornet. Barnett’s CDs have effected a small conversion experience for me—and even if you don’t have the same transformation take place, they are fun to listen to over and over again.

And — as a musing four-bar break: we are, in 2017, caught between the Montagues and the Capulets, the people who say, “Oh, CDs are dead!” and those who say, “I’ll never download a note.”  These CDs are rare creations, and those ignorant of them might be unintentionally denying themselves joy.  For more of the right stuff and Stuff — books, CDs, accurate information galore — visit here.

May your happiness increase!

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THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART TWO): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN sign

I was at The Ear Inn last Sunday night, delighting in the sounds so generously offered by The EarRegulars.  So it seems the most natural thing to share with you the second half of my post on the beauty laid before us on May 15, 2016, and its implications for people devoted to that beautiful phenomenon, jazz as created by living musicians in front of an appreciative audience.

In that post, you’ll hear two glorious performances by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, octavin, bass taragoto; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Here are two more extended musical journeys — with a small travelogue by Scott Robinson about his unusual instruments in the middle.

Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES, beautifully presented. Pay close attention to the closing minutes, where the gentlemen of the ensemble add some wonderfully surrealistic ornamentation to the familiar themes.  At the close, you’ll hear an excited voice adding an unexpurgated affirmation: that’s the young reed wizard Evan Arntzen, seated to my right at the bar:

That deserves more than one viewing / hearing.  And I agree with Evan.

Scott Robinson is always asked about his magical musical implements, and this time I captured his words and gestures on video:

And, finally, the wistful question, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? — served hot:

I think that what the EarRegulars (and many other noble strivers) create is life-enhancing.  But without getting too didactic, such beauty deserves and needs our tender care, which takes the shape of active participation and personal support. You know how to do that.

May your happiness increase!

THE GOLDEN AGE IS HERE AND NOW (PART ONE): JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, GREG COHEN at THE EAR INN (May 15, 2016)

EAR INN signMany people devoted to certain art forms are afflicted with incurable nostalgia. “What wouldn’t I give to hear Henrietta McGillicuddy play the blues on her Eb alto horn?  They say she could play a whole year without repeating herself!” And it doesn’t limit itself to jazz.  “Oh, yeah?  Pergolesi could kick your guy’s ass! And on a bad day Stuart Davis was better than anything now hanging in MOMA.”

I could go on, and possibly I already have.

But I remember a refrigerator magnet I saw in the very early Eighties, that had these words on it:

TIME TO BE HAPPY

Sage advice.  I understand the deep longing to hear one more note of Bix, of Bird, of Billie — to time-travel back to hear Louis in 1929 or Blanton with Jeter-Pillars.  But while some are busily dreaming of such things (I think of Miniver Cheevy with his collection of Black Swan acetates), the present is both glowing and going.  As in going away.

So I am always urging the people who love this art form to enjoy what is happening in the present moment rather than licking the dust off the statues. A hundred years from today, should we survive as a species, I suspect that cultural historians will be writing about the Golden Age of the early twenty-first century. And if they aren’t, they will be ignoring some irreplaceably precious evidence.

Here are two glorious examples (with two more to come) of the superb art that is happening now.  The artists are Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and unusual reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Greg Cohen, string bass — recorded just this month at the Soho Savoy, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) at one of the regular Sunday-night epiphanies from about eight to about eleven PM.

WHEN I  GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

 

A “peppy” LOUISIANA:

Yes, we could all sit at home and play our records.  But beauty, completely satisfying, is happening all around us.

May your happiness increase!

WORDS AND MUSIC BY RAY SKJELBRED (and HIS CUBS) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015

norwegian-farm-photos

There’s a particularly hurried or perhaps impatient species of video-critic who comments on many of my YouTube productions when the musicians have the temerity to speak before playing, “Music starts at 2:30.”  That particular kind of data-notation is true enough, but I like to keep my video camera running, because many musicians are fascinating raconteurs and verbal improvisers. And I think of future generations : what wouldn’t we give to hear Alex Hill say, “Wow, it’s cold in here,” or Jimmie Blanton say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” So the passages of musician-monologue or -dialogue are always interesting to me.

Ray Skjelbred is a thrillingly individualistic pianist — he loves the tradition and it courses through him, but he knows that all journeys are wildly irregular.  So his little band, his Cubs, is always surprising.  They rock, also, at any tempo.  Here’s their performance of SUGAR from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest: that’s Ray, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass — from November 28, 2015.  (Jeff’s face is hidden by the music stand but you certainly hear and feel him — all to the  good.)

Public service announcement for the unusually restless.  The music in the video below begins at 1:40.  But if you skip it, you will have missed an opportunity to learn a great deal about an arcane but relevant subject:

Wherever Ray and his Cubs are, there’s lovely music and wondrous surprises. And I hope to see you at the San Diego Jazz Fest this Thanksgiving.

May your happiness increase!

IN A WARM EMBRACE

BEN in color

Imagine a sound that conveys love to the listener without a single syllable. Then, look at this man, who — by his physical aspect — might seem an unlikely prophet of such deep feeling.

BEN

He is Ben Webster, Ellingtonian, swing star, ballad player supreme.  You can find out about him in many ways, and I don’t intend to write his biography here, or even an appreciation.  But I will share a small story.

Last night I was on a plane from New Orleans to New York, where I had enjoyed a glorious weekend of friends, music, and food, because of Duke Heitger’s STEAMBOAT STOMP.  (Long may it stomp.)  Seated next to me was a cheerful woman perhaps in her forties, travelling with her husband and son in the row behind us; I asked if she wanted one of them to switch with me, but she didn’t.)

Planes are claustrophic and air travel is tedious, so in the past decade when I’ve been flying more often than ever before, I’ve drifted into conversations with the stranger sitting next to me.  I usually don’t start the conversation, but once it begins it is often surprisingly deep and open.  My theory about this is that in the dark confines of the plane, somehow untethered to the earth and all that’s familiar, we feel safe to tell others our secrets.  The plane becomes a flying confessional, with no penance and no expectation that the conversation will continue once we land.  The woman and I spoke of colleges, of education, of jobs, of modern life — all familiar territory — and then she said her son played the saxophone, currently the alto, but might be switching to tenor.

“OK,” I said, “I have a name for you.  [She took out her iPhone and went to the page for notes.]  BEN WEBSTER.  Ben Webster With Strings.  Imagine a huge warm sound.  In fact, imagine being in the warm embrace of a huge stuffed bear. That’s what those records sound like.”

[For the jazz-fetishists out there, I do know that Ben’s nickname was FROG and that BEAR was the satiric monicker for Jimmie Blanton, who might have weighed a hundred pounds, but somehow I thought explaining Ben’s sound as the loving embrace of an amphibian might not be so effective.]

This morning, as I awoke from a dream of dear friends and a bowl of shrimp with grits — the food the down-home angels eat — I thought, “I would bet that some people who read JAZZ LIVES have never heard Ben Webster with strings. Inconceivable!  Impossible!”  So this post is to send Websterian love all around. The original recording (as you will see) was called MUSIC FOR LOVING, and never was a title more apt:

May your happiness increase! 

 

A HALLEY’S COMET OF HOT (July 20, 2015: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola)

Halleys Comet

I know that even the most devoted jazz fans get complacent.  “Oh, we have to go to my sister-in-law’s that night.  We can always see that band.”  Or “She’ll be coming back to [insert your city or favorite jazz club] in a few months.  I’m tired.  I have a headache.  It’s raining.”  I’ve done it myself.  But I think — in what I admit is a rather gloomy way — what if someone had said, “Oh, we can always hear Bix / Charlie Christian / Jimmie Blanton / Sidney Catlett / Clifford Brown,” and then woke up to the newspapers a few days later.

Now, here is a band portrait.  Each of these gentlemen has many decades to go, to spread joy, to fill the air with beautiful sounds.  So I am not writing a morbid post.

If you don’t recognize them, they are known as THE HOT JAZZ ALLIANCE, which is an accurate name.

HJA picture

BUT.  This band — an Australian-US conglomeration of the highest order — is not a group that you can see every Monday and Thursday, wherever you live. Two of its members, Andy Schumm, cornet and miscellaneous instruments; Josh Duffee, drums, come from the United States.  Yes, I’ve seen them in the UK, but not as part of this group.  The other four luminaries hail from Australia, and although I’ve met Michael McQuaid, reeds; Jason Downes, reeds, and John Scurry, banjo / guitar, also in the UK (I apologize to Leigh Barker, string and brass bass, for not having bowed low before him.  Yet.) this group took a good amount of will-power and diligence to assemble.

So they are playing three shows in the United States, unless my information is faulty.  One is Josh’s July 22 tribute to Chauncey Morehouse in PoPa’s home town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania — details here — I wonder how many Hot devotees in the tri-state New York area have plans to attend the HJA’s delicious two-show offering at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola?  One night, July 20.  Two shows, at 7:30 and 9:30.  You can read about the event here and you can purchase tickets (which I suggest you do while they are still available) here.

Now, it is possible that someone reading this post is already impatient.  “What? Does Michael think I am made of money?  The kids need braces; Mama needs to finish her post-doc in Spenser, and our ancient Toyota is falling apart as I sit here.”  I apologize.  I have a mortgage and an ancient car, and the orthodonture my parents paid for in my childhood has not stayed where it was put.  I understand other people’s bills.  But this is a once-in-a-who-knows-how-long event.

I’ll be at Dizzy’s . . . but without video camera.  Draw whatever conclusions you like, but if you are depending on me to be the Frank Buck of Hot (you could look it up) it won’t happen.  My apologies.

On another note.  “Michael, why should I go to hear a band I don’t know, when I can hear the Elastic Snappers any time I want?”  Good question.  Valid objection. But take an aural sniff of this:

Frank Melrose’s FORTY AND TIGHT:

CHICAGO RHYTHM:

TEXAS MOANER BLUES:

What I hear here is intense, passionate, “clean” and dirty all at once, expert and casual.  The HJA harks back to the beloved Ancestors but they aren’t in the business of reproducing old discs right in front of us.  They enliven and cheer.

And — just for a thrill — here is the cover photo, the gents all spiffy! — of their debut CD.  I’ve heard it and the glasses in the kitchen cabinet are still rocking. The CD will be on sale at Dizzy’s too, so you can take home a souvenir.

HJA CD coverEnough loving bullying for one post, one month, perhaps for ever.

But I think of a line from a late-Forties Mildred Bailey blues: “If you miss me / you’ll be missing that Acme Fast Freight.”  I am not a connoisseur of Forties freight shipping . . . but obviously the AFF was something special, perhaps the FedEx of 1947:

Acme Fast FreightI quietly suggest that the HJA is even more special, its New York appearance even more a rarity . . . who cares if there is not yet a special Hot Jazz Alliance matchbook?

I hope to see you at Dizzy’s!

May your happiness increase!

 

CONSIDERING THE MYSTERY: “THE BOSWELL LEGACY,” by KYLA TITUS and CHICA BOSWELL MINNERLY

I prize books that offer new information, solidly documented, instead of conjecture and syntheses of well-known data.  Books about departed jazz musicians often have trouble presenting new information or new interpretations of already-established information, because many musicians received little press coverage in their lifetime, did not leave behind correspondence.  So the subjects take their mysteries with them, leaving us to speculate.

After much investigation, we can be reasonably certain why Lester Young quit the Count Basie band in 1940.  We know much more about the last days of Bix Beiderbecke, Billie Holiday, Jimmie Blanton; we’ve learned much about the private life of Louis and Lucille Armstrong.

The Sisters when young.

The Sisters when young.

But one mystery has only been nibbled at — why the glorious Boswell Sisters separated after national and international success. A new, invaluable book, THE BOSWELL LEGACY, written by Kyla Titus, granddaughter of Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, from research and information gathered by Chica Boswell Minnerly (mother of Kyla, daughter of Vet) is a prize.

BOSWELL LEGACY cover

The mysteries that surround the Boswells is not what we expect of other revered artistic figures.  During their very short heyday, they were more in the public eye than, let us say, almost any brilliant African-American musician.  (Who interviewed Herschel Evans, for example?)

But for all the newspaper coverage and media attention, the Sisters had been raised early to follow “the Foore Code,” “Foore” being a family name.  The Code had many positive aspects: self-reliance; kindness; decorum . . . but it also emphasized privacy and strongly-stated boundaries.  “Never expose private family business to anyone outside the family.”

Even though Connie lived until 1976 and Vet to 1988, they kept the Code in place, gently turning aside the question, “Why did the Sisters break up?” as if indiscreet.  So Boswell admirers like myself could chart the trio’s ascent from 1925 to 1936 through their recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances, and paper ephemera, but we had no insight into the transformation.  Some may have surmised that Connie’s career was so successful that she and her manager / husband intended that she be a solo attraction.  In addition, the Sisters married in the last years of their stardom.  But the separation continued to puzzle and irk us, especially because we want to know more about the lives of the people we admire.

THE BOSWELL LEGACY does the best job possible of making the mysterious accessible.  And it does so from the inside, rather than assembling rumors and constructing hypotheses. It has the depth and intelligence of a scholarly biography with no academic dryness.  Rather than start as so many biographies do, with the birth of the subjects’ ancestors, this book starts at a place few will be familiar with — Jimmy Fazio’s Supper Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 29, 1955 — with the Sisters assembling on stage for an impromptu reunion during Connie’s engagement (singing HEEBIE JEEBIES as if they had never stopped performing).

(I thought at this point — and I cannot have been alone — of all the stars of the Twenties and Thirties who continued to appear on television in the Sixties and Seventies, and wished for an alternate universe where we could have seen the Sisters on THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE or THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW.)

The book then shifts back to the past, exploring the family as far back as the start of the nineteenth century . . . then to their eventual move to New Orleans and their involvement in music there.  The book takes on its true strength as the pages turn, and that strength is in well-utilized first-hand evidence, particularly correspondence.  We do not get long letters, which might stall the narrative, but we get dated excerpts in proper contexts.  Thus we hear, as well as we can, the vivid voices of the participants.

I commend Kyla Titus’ honesty throughout.  One of the inescapable facts of Connie Boswell’s life was that, although able, she could not walk.  No single clear explanation of this exists, and Titus handles the two hypotheses — a childhood accident or polio — gracefully and candidly.  When we finish reading her presentation of the evidence, we may feel that the answer remains elusive, but we never feel that the author is ill-informed or keeping anything from us.

The book begins to move rapidly through the Sisters’ musical education, Martha’s deep love for the short-lived cornetist Emmett Hardy (dead at 22), and the gestation of the Sisters as a trio.  Success mounts steadily — at their first New York City record date, the musicians stand up and applaud when their first successful take is concluded.  They appear on radio, in film, and on a 1931 experimental broadcast of that new invention, television.  But even at that point, a reader can see tension as the Sisters’ manager, Harry Leedy, is also Connie’s manager, with conflicting allegiances. The Sisters cross paths (and sometimes work with) luminaries Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, Russ Columbo, the then-unknown comedian Bob Hope, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong; they tour England and Holland, triumphantly.

But by 1936, the Sisters — as if by erosion rather than by a definite blow — have become three separate married women.  And although they speak happily of this in public, it appears that Martha and Vet wait for a reunion, which becomes less likely . . . returning the book to the one song in Milwaukee in 1955.

At the end of the saga, it is not entirely clear what happened.  Was it Connie’s steely ambition, her desire to be a star on her own, that cracked close harmony into three pieces?  Was it the divided loyalty of Harry Leedy?  Once again, I admire Titus’ refusal to force the conflicting evidence into one answer, and I think her fairness admirable, her unwillingness to assign the actors in this play roles as Victims and Villains.

Although the breakup of the group is perhaps the single greatest mystery for us, the book is not obsessed throughout with the collapse of Sisters as a trio; that occupies us for the last segment.  It is ultimately a loving look at three innovative, independent women who made their own way, both as individuals and as musicians, at a time when women were not thought to influence the men in their field to any great extent.

The book is wisely titled THE BOSWELL LEGACY, and Titus balances her and our sadness at the end of the Sisters’ career with our awareness that the “three little girls from New Orleans” left us so much — not only in recordings, airshots, and film appearances, but a living tradition for swinging, inventive close harmony groups.  To some, they live on in the energetic, witty, sweet voices of new generations.  I found the book’s ending melancholy, but I am looking forward to the film documentary about the  Sisters, CLOSE HARMONY (here you can view the trailer) as an emotional corrective.

THE BOSWELL LEGACY is a large-format paperback, nearly two hundred pages, clearly written, generously illustrated with rare photographs and documents.  Anyone who has gotten a thrill from “Shout, Sister, Shout” will find this book essential. I don’t think a better or more informative book on the Boswells can be written.

Here you can read the introduction to the book by Boswell scholar David McCain, and the preface by Kyla Titus, and here you can buy a copy of the book ($21.95 USD including shipping.)

Enough words.  Here are the Sisters in their first film appearance, CLOSE FARMONY:

No one’s replaced them; no one ever will.

May your happiness increase!