Tag Archives: Jimmie Noone

SWINGING “POP SONGS” in SEATTLE (Sept. 6, 2012)

The subject today is The Illusion of Musical Purity in Jazz.

I think it began in the Twenties, when jazzmen themselves made divisions between “commercial” and “hot” music.  The former was what you were paid to play — often trivial, unswinging, unimaginative — reading stock arrangements while someone in a tuxedo waved a baton.  The latter — the ideal — was what you played at 4 AM with enough gin or muggles or spaghetti (or all three) to make sure that everyone was mellow.  Later on, when the fans started to anatomize the music in ways the musicians had never cared to, the fans and journalists built walls stronger than the Berlin version.  “Commercial” music was “Swing,” where good guys played insipid pop tunes and took eight-bar solos once a night; “the real thing” was an ideal, rarely achieved.

Think of the posthumous scorn heaped on Paul Whiteman because his Orchestra wasn’t Bix and his Gang; think of those serious jazz fans who traced The Decline of Louis Armstrong to I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE taking the place of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP.

But the musicians themselves — while preferring looseness, open-mindedness, swing, and an escape from the paper — never much cared what songs they were playing.  Was PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA unworthy of Bunk Johnson?  He didn’t think so.  Did John Coltrane disdain MY FAVORITE THINGS, or Charlie Parker A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA?

I have remembered, more than once, Wild Bill Davison’s comment to an interviewer that he never learned or knew THAT’S A PLENTY until he came to New York: in Chicago, he and his friends played swinging improvisations on current and classic pop tunes.  As did Eddie Condon, Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey.

These thoughts were especially prominent in my mind when I found the latest videos from the estimable First Thursday Band — led by pianist Ray Skjelbred — at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington . . . on September 6, 2012.  The other members of the FTB are drummer Mike Daughterty, skilled at roll play; bassist Dave Brown, whose beat can’t be beat; multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright.  Some of the tunes you will see and hear below — by virtue of jazz instrumentalists playing them memorably — have become “jazz classics.”  But they were all popular tunes, premiered in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, the movies, around the parlor piano.

The ambiance here is so reminiscent of an otherwise unknown Chicago club, circa 1934, with the good guys having the time of their life playing requests and songs they like.  Close your eyes and you’ll hear not only Wright, Brown, Daugherty, and Skjelbred, but Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Alex Hill, Zinky Cohn; Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschmacher, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett — the list of happily approving ghosts is very long.

I begin this history / music theory lesson with Wayne King’s theme song — in the wrong hands, as soggy as uncooked French toast, but here snappy and sweet:

THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME :

Richard Whiting’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, which had a life long before John Hammond handed it to Billie Holiday:

A zippy Harry Barris song from the film extravaganza THE KING OF JAZZ — in our century, adopted as music for penguins — HAPPY FEET (with the verse — and then Skjelbred leaps in like a man possessed):

Isham Jones’ pretty, mournful WHAT’S THE USE? (with a rhythm section that won’t quit):

And from 1919, one of those songs suggesting that happiness could be conveyed by facial expressions, in fact, by loving SMILES:

Purists, begone!  Visit here to see more.

May your happiness increase.

“NAUGHTY / PLEASURE”: ATLANTA 2012: BOB SCHULZ, ALLAN VACHE, JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, MARK SHANE, FRANK TATE, CHUCK REDD (April 21, 2012)

Swinging the Twenties in the twenty-first century!  Bob Schulz, cornet; John Allred, trombone; Allan Vache, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums, treat these venerable jazz tunes — associated with Jimmie Noone, Bix Beiderbecke, and Eddie Condon — as fresh material for idiomatic improvisation, which made everyone at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party happy.

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE”:

May your happiness increase.

ASHERIE-KELLSO, UNLIMITED (Smalls, May 10, 2012)

Wonderful music from a duet session (with noble guest in the second set!) on May 10, 2012 — pianist Ehud Asherie and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso at play, brilliantly, at the happy space that is Smalls, 183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City.  They made, as they always do, timeless music: you hear echoes of Louis, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Dizzy, and Ruby Braff — but ultimately what they create is heartfelt and so personal.

In honor of the charming bartender (guess her name?), Ehud and Jon-Erik swung into a rendition of MARGIE:

Ehud is a friendly fellow — why else would his fingers turn to a few measures of SOCIAL CALL? — but both players were thinking about the Eternal Feminine, and a deeply felt SWEET LORRAINE was the result.  How wonderfully Jon-Erik expresses himself and that familiar melody at once in the opening chorus and then moves deeper.  Lovely!

I thought the set might turn thematic — Songs Named for Women (i.e. DIANE, ROSETTA, and so on) but my idle silent guess was wrong; Jon-Erik suggested they talk about the larger metaphysical subject of Knowing and Not-Knowing, with Jimmie Noone as spiritual guide . . . thus, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

Something new for this inspired duo — a 1940 Swing Era favorite recorded by Basie and Duke, THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE — its theme being the lame explanation of a factory worker who stays out until 2 AM and then tells his wife that he is late because that whistle never blew.  Don’t try this one at home!  And I keep returning to Ehud’s “Yeah!” at 1:05.  Notice that Jon-Erik has a new mute?  It’s Spring, you know — a new season for trumpet fashion.  But he is the Onlie Begetter of this invention: its main assembly is the top of a metal cocktail shaker with other secret ingredients to create a growly buzz.  Call the Patent Office!  And while you’re on hold, enjoy this:

And these two Heroes of Swing closed their first set with a tribute to the smiling man in back of them — Mister Strong — with a 1928 composition called HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YOU.  I especially enjoy the trading of phrases near the end:

I hear them talkin’ to us, I say.  And there’s another set to come!

May your happiness increase.

LILLIE DELK CHRISTIAN, CONTINUED

Here are Miss Christian’s recorded appearances (in brief), all in Chicago.

With Johnny St. Cyr (bj), c. March 5, 1926: SWEET MAN / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN

Add Jimmie Noone (cl), June 15, 1926: LONESOME AND SORRY / BABY O’MINE

With Albert Wynn’s Gut Bucket Five : Dolly Jones (cnt) Albert Wynn (tb) Barney Bigard (sop,ts) Jimmy Flowers (p) Rip Bassett (bj), June 25, 1926, WHEN

With Richard M. Jones’ Jazz Wizards : Artie Starks (cl) Richard M. Jones (p) Johnny St. Cyr (bj), May 6, 1927: IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOU / AIN’T SHE SWEET (possibly two takes)

With Noone, St. Cyr (g), December 12, 1927, MY BLUE HEAVEN / MISS ANNABELLE LEE

With Louis Armstrong And His Hot Four: Louis Armstrong (cnt,vcl) Jimmie Noone (cl) Earl Hines (p) Mancy Carr (g), June 26, 1928: YOU’RE A REAL SWEETHEART / TOO BUSY / WAS IT A DREAM? / LAST NIGHT I DREAMED YOU KISSED ME.  Same personnel, December 11. 1928: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / BABY.  Same, December 12, 1928: SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN.

From the fine writer and researcher Mark Miller, who searched the pages of the Chicago Defender and came up with a 1964 (!) mention of “LIL CHRISTIAN” and three photographs.  But I’ll let Mark speak for himself:

The only variation of the three names that yields results (40 hits) is Lil Christian, a singer who continued to be active into the mid-1960s, and is identified in one 1964 item (see immediately below) as having recorded for OKeh. Must be her, right? Strangely, the items begin in the 1930s; nothing from the 20s.  Attached, in addition to that clipping, are three photos that appeared over the years in the Defender — for comparison with the one that you have. Her high cheek bones are the clue.   So, where to from here? The Defender items are mostly references to engagements in Chicago and on the west coast. I’ve not been comprehensive yet in checking everything, but it doesn’t look as though here’s much in terms of background. But, it’s a start.

The first photograph:

Another:

And finally:

And a more impressionistic meditation on Miss Christian is provided in the notes to a Document CD collecting many of her recordings — a small overview by Fred “Virgil” Turgis, made available to us by jazz scholar Randy Stehle:

Lillie Delk Christian is more interesting vocally and her material is far superior (I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Ain’t She Sweet, I Must Have That Man). That’s probably explains why the band gives a better performance. Noone (clarinet) and St Cyr (guitar) enlivens the December 12th session featuring “My Blue Heaven” and “Miss Annabelle Lee” with gutsy accompaniment and fine solos. Armstrong appears six months later for the June 1928 session. This session features the best, “Too Busy” an uptempo number with Armstrong scatting, and the worst of Christian, “Was It A Dream” a waltz that doesn’t really give the Hot Four the possibility to express themselves.

The last recordings lack a bit of swing in the vocal but is saved by a good rendition of “I Must Have That Man”.

This selection is a nice addition to anyone who’s interested in Satchmo’s early years and work as a back up band. And despite some flaws and, let’s say it, the fact she isn’t a great vocalist, Lillie Delk Christian’s sides have a certain charm and are appealing enough for a curious listener.

And for anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is invaluable first-hand information relayed to us by Hal Smith:

I have a copy of an interview with St. Cyr where he said that Lillie Delk was his LANDLADY. He also said that she used to sing just to entertain the boarders.

Once when St. Cyr was offered a recording session and was asked to bring a vocalist, he asked Ms. Christian to join him. The A&R man liked her voice and hired her to do a second session. (First one was LDC, Jimmie Noone and St Cyr on banjo. On the second, St. Cyr played guitar. The Quartet sides were recorded later).

St. Cyr said that Lillie’s husband, Charlie, was a gambler and was often away from home. Apparently, he had little use for the boarders who asked LDC to sing, and never even offered a tip. When he found out that St. Cyr had gotten two paid record dates for her, he said, “You’re the only one who has ever done ANYTHING for Lil!” Obviously the other boarders had a “handful of ‘gimme’ and a mouthful of ‘much obliged’.”

All of this adds much evidence to our portrait of Miss Christian, but it also adds to the mystery and makes the gaps in her story so much larger.  It would have made some sense to assume that she was local talent — a strong-voiced Chicago singer, utilized by OKeh Records for two years in Chicago.  She could read lyrics, had a powerful delivery — qualities that would endear to the influential music publishers, who saw vocal recordings as ways to sell sheet music.  And it would also make some logical sense that her career would come to a halt in 1929, at least as far as recordings were concerned.  Louis and his friends went off to New York; the Great Depression hit with the stock market crash, which nearly stopped record sales.  It would be a pleasant invention to assume that Miss Christian went back to collecting rents and making sure the hallways were tidy.  But the Defender has her singing through the Thirties, and she is back — a known quantity — in 1964.  In the ideal world, one of my readers would have gone to that performance and asked her a few questions about the good old days.

A little knowledge might indeed be a dangerous thing!  Thanks to all the generous readers (Mark, Hal, Randy, and Sally Fee) who have added both information and intrigue!

May your happiness increase.

THE LILLIE DELK CHRISTIAN MYSTERIES

What we know about the singer Lillie Delk Christian is minute.  She doesn’t even have an entry in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ.  She recorded sixteen sides for OKeh Records in 1926-28 with some of the finest jazz players of the time in Chicago: Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Jimmie Noone, Johnny St. Cyr, Artie Starks, Richard M. Jones, Mancy Carr.  We know that she was St. Cyr’s girlfriend, which to some would explain her place on those records.  But she has a clear, ringing, nasal voice — one that could obviously be heard in the last row of a vaudeville theatre in those pre-microphone days.  It’s been fashionable to sneer at her as a vocalist who got in the way of the “artists,” but once you can get around the assertive frontal attack of her voice, she swings quite well:

On MY BLUE HEAVEN, she is clearly in command of the tune, and she swings quite respectably.  There have been far worse singers on record!

Here’s the pop tune LAST NIGHT I DREAMED YOU KISSED ME:

One can hear the instrumental lines that Louis, Earl, Noone, and St. Cyr are weaving behind her — and her delivery is straightforward but not stiff.  And she doesn’t get distracted by the sublime ruckus behind her.  I used to roll my eyes when she was singing on TOO BUSY, but Louis has the time of his life scatting above, below, and around her, so I have readjusted my scorn (always a good thing).

So where did she come from?  And where did she go?  Can anyone explain?

May your happiness increase.

SEATTLE SUNSHINE: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (March 16, 2012)

Image courtesy of SWING FASHIONISTA (www.swingfashionista.com)

You’ll need these to watch the videos below.  Now, don’t fuss.  Put them on.  There!

I now have yet another Favorite Band.  In case you wonder, one can have a whole cornucopia of Favorites — and the Rain City Blue Blowers are just another example of what Roswell Rudd calls “playing your personality.”  The videos below come from their appearance at the Seattle Jazz Party on March 16, 2012.

Here they are, tenderly (but with a beat) exploring the possibly dark Jimmie Noone classic READY FOR THE RIVER:

Who ARE these gently brilliant folks?

Closest to us is the absurdly talented Steve Wright (cornet, trumpet, clarinet, vocal).  Hidden behind a forest of reeds is the delightful Paul Woltz (clarinet, soprano, tenor, alto, bass sax, vocal); the inquisitive Ray Skjelbred (piano); the unerringly rhythmic Candace Brown (banjo, guitar); the Swing Superhero Dave Brown (string bass, vocal); the rocking Mike Daugherty (drums, vocal).

An ebullient reading of one of my favorite songs — the happy shade of Louis stands behind it always — SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, with the rhythm section romping like the Luis Russell band, 1929:

Since humility and a readiness to admit you’ve made an error are among the most prized virtues, how about a smoothly hot I MAY BE WRONG to keep us in the mood?  It was the theme song of the Apollo Theatre when it opened in 1934, and the RCBB bring us back there with no hint of museum-stuffiness:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS is or are the place I wish I was right now, even if her embrace would slightly impede my ability to type and blog.  Sing it, Mister Woltz!:

Truly wonderful!  In the groove, too: ARKANSAS BLUES:

I’ve been humming this tune all morning: no reason why you shouldn’t join in the cyber-chorus.  It’s MY SYNCOPATED MELODY MAN (think 1929, Lang, Venuti, and Red McKenzie, if you will):

One more — let the RCBB whisper swing in your shell-pink ears with WHISPERING.  (The front line knows the old trick of having one horn play a swinging version of the melody while the other horn dances around it — exhilarating!):

And just because we tend, naturally, to focus on the brilliance of the soloists — horns and reeds are shiny and catch our attention as if we were children in a toystore — may I quietly point out that the beauty of the RCBB starts in the rhythm section?  I have heard Paul and Steve generously and mightily lift bands where not everyone was on the same spiritual or rhythmic wavelength, so I greet them as epic heroes of hot jazz.

But what Candace, Dave, Mike, and Ray do on each number here is frankly magical.  “A house without a strong foundation cannot stand.”  It may be coarse of me to say that this rhythm section could “swing the dead,” but that is how I feel.  As an experiment in Rhythm, may I urge my readers to revisit the video they liked best — if they can make such hard choices — and listen hard, all through it, to The Groove that this foursome creates?  Better than a Master’s in Jazz Studies, I think.

The city that is home to such a band can’t be quite so damp and foreboding as popular myth would have it.  When the RCBB plays, the sun blazes.  A nice coat of sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

And there’s more!  Visit swr2408018 for more meteorological wonders.

P.S.  If I were in charge of a jazz festival, I would be tripping over myself in my eagerness to book this band . . . am I being sufficiently subtle?  Please consider it!

May your happiness increase.

SO SWEET: THE FIRST THURSDAY BAND (Feb. 2, 2012)

More from the First Thursday Band — a small hot jazz ensemble that appears on a particular day at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  They are Steve Wright on reeds and cornet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Dave Brown, string bass;  Mike Daugherty, drums.  Each member of the band occasionally takes a casual but expert vocal, and these four players swing as soloists — and, even better, as an ensemble.  Here are a few selections from their their Thursday date of 2.2.12 — a harmonious-looking date in itself.

A song I love deeply — could it be from hearing Louis, Bobby, Joe Thomas, Jack Teagarden, and others perform it? — HOME.  And this version perfectly balances Sweet and Hot:

SO SWEET comes from Jimmie Noone, and the title describes it perfectly:

Disorientation and perhaps even homelessness never swung so hard or sounded so good as in SONG OF THE WANDERER:

MOANIN’ should be a depressing exercise, but this performance is quite uplifting:

One of my favorite tunes — which other Thirties cowboy number has ties to Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and a doomed Bob Hoskins?  Take another one, Mike!  ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

To me, this compact little band is a triumph of both sound and intuition.  The players hark back to a time when you could tell an instrumentalist or singer in a few notes — instantly recognizable personal identities, like the great film stars.  No one ever confused Bette Davis or Benny Morton with anyone else!  Each member of this quartet has his own identity, and although the whole concept honors the past (so you could, if you liked, talk about Charlie Holmes and Jess Stacy, George Wettling and Al Morgan among a hundred other heroic figures), you hear Skjelbred’s traceries, Brown’s resonant pulse, Daughterty’s cornucopia of rocking sounds, Wright’s lyrical messages.  And the quartet is more than simply four great players bundled together onstage: they remind me of the great string quartets who worked together for years and played better than four individuals with bigger names.  Intuition is at work here — so that each player is both advancing his own vision and listening deeply to what the other fellow just “said,” or anticipating what he thinks is coming next.  A little family of people who know the same language and love its possibilities.

I don’t know when I will end up in Seattle, but I would like it to be a First Thursday.

These videos — and more! — are posted on YouTube by the very gifted Mr. Wright — you might want to subscribe to his channel, swr2408018 — so you don’t miss even a four-bar break.

FROM THE HEART, FOR THE HEART: RAY SKJELBRED’S “FIRST THURSDAY BAND” (Dec. 1, 2011)

Feeling low?  Got a parking ticket?  Can’t shake that nasty cold?  Worried about the bills?  Did you burn the toast?

It’s going to be all right.  In fact, it’s already all right. 

Make yourself to home and listen to this music.  Or — if you’re swiffing around, turn up the volume and feel the deep swinging joy this band creates.

They’re Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, caught live at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington, on December 1, 2011.  They are Ray Skjelbred, piano / leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxes; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums.

And — in the spirit of the season — do you hear what I hear?  I hear a real jazz band.  “What’s that?” I hear someone in the back saying.  Well, that’s an improvising group where all the members love the music and work together towards the same purpose, supporting one another in a gritty joyousness appropriate to the song, picking up each others’ cues, playing witty follow-the-leader so that one hears simultaneously a quartet and four strong-minded individualists taking their own path to get to their own versions of Jazz Paradise.

I also hear echoes of Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Fud Livingston, Guy Kelly, Doc Poston, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Wellman Braud, Milton J. Hinton, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty (a relation, perhaps?), George Wettling — all embodied on December 1, 2011, by living creators who have absorbed the tradition and made it their own.  Who cares if people fight cyber-skirnishes in the blogosphere about whether “J**z” is alive or dead?  Call this by whatever polite name you like: it is most certainly alive.

The first song and performance that caught my attention was LOVE ME TONIGHT, which is associated in my mind with Earl Hines and Bing Crosby — one hell of a pair!  It is a lovely song: with lyrics, one of the most insinuating seduction lyrics I know (perhaps more wooing than A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY): a carpe diem pointed towards the bedroom.  But here it’s a bit more lowwdown, suggesting that Chicago jazz was a powerful aphrodisiac as well:

And here’s a lowdown Commodore JADA:

Something unusual from Mister Piano Man — a little solo tribute to someone quite forgotten, Cassino Simpson.  All most of us know of him is that he worked with Tiny Parham and did his own Chicago gigs, before succumbing to mental instability.  After he unsuccessfully tried to kill Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, he was institutionalized and I believe he spent the rest of his life there.  The noble John Steiner took recording equipment to Simpson and recorded him playing piano in 1942: the results, very hard to find even fifty years ago, appeared on a Paramont 10″ lp, which I’ve heard but never seen.  Mister Skjelbred gives us a window into the blues — the Cassino Simpson way:

And something pretty, soulful, as well as funky: Ellington’s BLACK BEAUTY:

Here’s a truly mournful TRAV’LIN ALL ALONE (Ethel Waters – Jimmie Noone – Kenny Davern tempo, not Billie’s ironic bounce):

And a rather obscure tune from 1936 — I associate it only with Henry “Red” Allen, but that’s sufficient pedigree for anyone — NOTHING’S BLUE BUY THE SKY:

Something else from Red (circa 1933), his affirmation that everything is really OK — THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME:

And the song that could stand as the band’s secondary title, summing up their attitude towards their work and their art, LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (think of Bill Robinson, Fats Waller, and Jeni LeGon in STORMY WEATHER).  Ray sings the delectable lyrics softly, but you might consider memorizing them — you could do far worse for a mantra to get you through every day:

What exquisite music — delicate and raunchy at the same time!

P.S.  I don’t want to be especially preachy, but I would like all the youthful musicians in the house to watch and listen closely to these clips — for the deep unspoken unity of the quartet, the shifting sound-textures, and numberless virtues.  Mister Skjelbred doesn’t cover the keyboard with runs and arpeggios (unless he wants to); his left hand is integral to his playing; he could be a whole orchestra but doesn’t trample on anyone.  Mister Wright knows everything there is to know about “tonation and phrasing”: not a note is out of place and each one has its own purpose, its own sound.  And, children, there were ways of playing the alto saxophone that Charles Parker did not render obsolete.  Mister Daugherty does so much with so few cymbals — bless him! — he knows what his snare drum and bass drum are for; he swings those wire brushes, and he is always listening.  And Mister Brown, whether plucking or bowing, gets a deep resonant yet flexible sound out of his bass.  Want to know what kind of amplifier he uses?  It’s called LOVE.  And although he can play the guitar beautifully, he doesn’t turn his string bass into one.  There!  I have spoken.  Learn it to the younguns!

CLASSIC SONGS MADE NEW: RANDY SANDKE, HARRY ALLEN, ANDY SCHUMM, JIM DAPOGNY, GLENN HOLMES, BILL RANSOM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

One of the eternal pleasures of jazz improvisation is that — as Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, “the material is immaterial.”  So in the hands of inspired improvisers, it doesn’t matter how elderly or familiar the song is: their task and delight is to reimagine and levitate what we thought we already knew by heart.

This happened when Randy Sandke, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor sax; Andy Schumm, cornet; Jim Dapogny; Glenn Holmes, bass; Bill Ransom, drums, took the stage in mid-September 2011 at Jazz at Chautauqua for three “good old good ones.”  Listen closely: there’s an innate respect for the original songs and their associations, but an inventive originality throughout.

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (for Bing Crosby and the many musicians inspired by him):

SWEET LORRAINE (music for sensitive brass, by way of Jimmie Noone and Nat Cole):

THE SHEIK OF ARABY (for Valentino and the aforementioned Lips Page):

Old chestnuts made fresh and lively!

ALL THE CATS JOIN IN (at SWEET AND HOT 2011): MOLLY RYAN, DAN LEVINSON, MARK SHANE, DAN BARRETT, MARC CAPARONE, COREY GEMME, CHLOE FEORANZO, CONNIE JONES

It began, as many good things do, with just a trio performing a late-night set (Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011) in the sports bar “Champions” at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  But by the end of the hour, the band had expanded considerably, with many delightful surprises.  The trio was reedman Dan Levinson, singer and guitarist Molly Ryan, and peerless pianist Mark Shane.  To me, that’s a full orchestra — as you can hear for yourself on their version of Jimmie Noone’s EL RADO SCUFFLE, named for a Chicago jazz club:

Molly sweetly sings (no surprise here) the national anthem of hot jazz fans, GET RHYTHM IN YOUR FEET — reminding me of the mid-Thirties Red Allen recording:

That would have been fun enough for anyone with ears!  But sharp-eyed viewers will notice two superheroes coming in to the Champions sports bar — cornetist Marc Caparone and trombonist-plus Dan Barrett.  Since Dan had been exploring the Jimmie Noone repertoire, he called READY FOR THE RIVER (one of those I’m-going-to-kill-myself-in-swingtime songs, which has the singer threatening to drown himself).  Watch closely, as the three members of the front line discover that 1) they have something in common, and 2) great minds think alike, even if Dan Barrett later characterized their shared knowledge as evidence of misspent childhoods.  (See below* for additional information!)

Perhaps that is true, but I got delighted chills up and down my spine, and it wasn’t the air conditioning:

This happy quintet (three horns, two rhythm, no waiting) then proceeded into SAN:

Molly honored a request for the lovely / wistful / witty song about dreams coming true when there’s no money to help them along (I know it from an Eddie Cantor record), WHEN MY SHIP COMES IN.  Talk abuot music that makes the most delicious lemonade when there are no lemons to work with!

Other musicians had obviously heard the good vibrations (one of the nicest aspects of both Sweet and Hot and Dixieland Monterey is the cross-fertilization, or — in less scientific terms — the exalted sitting-in): how about Chloe Feoranzo on clarinet and Corey Gemme on C-melody saxophone for that immortal yet nagging question, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

Then, presumably with pants on, the SHEIK OF ARABY:

And (in preparation for his set, which followed, but also because he wanted to get in on the fun), the superb cornetist Connie Jones joined in for Molly’s exultant rendition of CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME!  I would suggest that the state tourist board needs her to sing this song, but perhaps the people in power already know this:

Sweet and hot and irreplaceable, too.

*Some kind soul / hot music scholar transcribed the lyrics — verse and chorus! — for the Coon-Sanders recording, and I print the transcription below.  Possibly a song for group harmony on long car trips?

VERSE: Tell the world that I’m all through with it.
No more will I moan.
Burn my home. What can I do with it?
Can’t live all alone.
No use wastin’ time,
For I just know that I’m—

CHORUS: Ready for the river, the shivery river,
The river that goes down to the sea.
Gonna drown my troubles, and leave just the bubbles
To indicate what used to be me.
Made my will, wrote some notes,
Gonna keep a-walkin’ ’til my straw hat floats.
I’m ready for the river, the shivery river,
So get the river ready for me.

SWING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER: DAN LEVINSON, MARK SHANE, MOLLY RYAN, BANU GIBSON, JOHN REYNOLDS at SWEET AND HOT 2011

Although I had heard them on record for some years, I first encountered reedman Dan Levinson and pianist Mark Shane in 2004 at the tenorist / jazz maven Ray Cerino’s birthday party.  Not surprisingly, they were even better in person than on records.  Levinson could and can execute anything he thought of (and that was plenty) with a true swing phrasing and melodic shapeliness.  Shane was and is a subtle master of swing piano — not a thumping Strider but someone who’s made the influences of everyone from Teddy Wilson to Mel Powell and Tommy Flanagan into his own quietly intense style.

I had to wait a few years more before having the pleasure of hearing Molly Ryan sing — her voice so earnest yet so supple, her delivery unaffected and warm.  She’a a straightforward, easy rhythm guitarist as well.  Readers of JAZZ LIVES know how I revere the guitarist / singer / whistler John Reynolds, and Banu Gibson can’t say “Good morning!” without turning it into a lilting expression.

Dan, Molly, and Mark played a set at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival on September 3, 2011, which I present here in all its sweet and hot glories.  And later on, John and Banu dropped by — not for tea, but for swing.  See and hear for yourself.

They began with that simple declaration of intent, I WANT TO BE HAPPY — the overall effect combining Noone and Goodman in the best modern way:

After years of being played and sung by everyone, I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE has often seemed blunted — but Molly brings it into sharp relief, with light-hearted playing from Mark and Dan:

Dan is on a Jimmie Noone kick — immersing himself into the repertoire and approach of the great Chicago clarinetist, which produced this lilting performance of the rarely-played CHICAGO RHYTHM (with an especially true-to-life second chorus):

Here Molly tenderly swirls through an Artie Shaw song — (WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE THE) LOVE OF MY LIFE — how believably romantic she is!

With all its noble Billie Holiday – Teddy Wilson – Roy Eldridge antecedents, WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO is troublesome for singers (how to handle the “Oo, oo, oo,” without sounding ridiculous?) and for musicians, because the original recording is so strongly imprinted on everyone — but this trio makes their own version seem newly-minted:

Molly passed her guitar to John Reynolds: he and Dan played a pretty tune that Dan’s father (in the audience, celebrating his birthday) wanted to hear — as we all did — THESE FOOLISH THINGS.  A very sweet Lestorian tribute:

I was very happy to have John Reynolds call PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY — one of my favorite songs in any version.  (Don’t I look familiar to you?)  If Bing had done this whimsical sweet song, it would have sounded much like this:

One of the nicest things about the Sweet and Hot Music Festival is that players drop in on each other’s gigs — as did John — and here came the sweetly witty Banu Gibson to offer Fats Waller’s I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING (with the verse).  Banu had fun and the feeling was mutual.  I love John’s whistled half-chorus — he’s got such courage:

Molly came back for the closing song, that rocking sermon on candor in romance, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE:

Who needs more people on the stand when you’ve got such empathic players and singers?

BLUES FOR BOYCE

Boyce Brown (1910-1959) is a tantalizing, elusive figure.  Although he played hot jazz with the great Chicagoans, he was not one of them — hard-living and hard-drinking.  The picture above shows him in 1956, surrounded by Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Eddie Condon, and George Wettling, at his final recording session.

Scott Yanow calls Boyce “eccentric,” “outlandish,” “an erratic individual,” although those characterizations sound ungenerous.  I think of the famous lines from T. S. Eliot’s THE FAMILY REUNION, “In a world of fugitives, it is those that turn away that appear to run away.”

In the case of Boyce Brown, it is difficult to know if he chose to turn away from the world of musicians and gigs for the world of the spirit, or if the earthly world scorned him.  All we know are the facts of his short life.  He became a professional musician at 17 and recorded with some of the greatest Hot players — but his path was an unusual one outside the clubs and recording studios.

Boyce loved marijuana and what it could do, but it didn’t contribute to his death.  He didn’t die of tuberculosis or freeze on a Harlem doorstep, but prejudice and sorrow seem to have shortened his life.  He is certainly underrated and not well-known or well-remembered.  I agree with Jim Denham (of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST) who thinks that Boyce should be both remembered and celebrated.  And although I’ve never met Jeff Crompton (of HELLO THERE, UNIVERSE) I and other jazz fans are indebted to him for his generosities.  (You can find the blogs written by Jim and Jeff on my blogroll.)

What facts I have collected seem at first an assortment of weird personality traits, but viewed lovingly, they are the markings of a rare bird.

Boyce was someone who “saw” musical notes as colors.  He nearly died at birth; the midwife saved him by reshaping his unformed skull.  His parents encouraged him to take up the saxophone in hopes that it would strengthen his weak chest.  When he played, he had a habit of stretching his neck out like a bird — causing him to be rejected at an audition for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.

Eddie Condon said Boyce was “a slow reader,” Condon-speak for partial blindness.  Boyce lived with his mother, wrote poetry, listened to Delius.  Condon’s SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ contains Boyce’s whimsical poem about ROYAL-T (slang for the best marijuana), hilarious and tenderly decorated by Boyce himself — a Hot illuminated manuscript.

He named his alto saxophone Agnes, and thought deeply about her personality and moods; if a recording disappointed him, he blamed himself for not being in harmony with his instrument.  All of this might seem freakish on first perusal, but other musicians have spoken of their synesthesia (Marian McPartland, whom no one considers an eccentric, told Whitney Balliett that the key of D was daffodil yellow), and Ben Webster, hardly an introvert, called his saxophone Betsy or Ol’ Betsy.

But before we get caught up in the debris of habit and personal history, let us — as Al Smith used to say — look at the record.  Or listen.  Two, in fact, from 1939: CHINA BOY and JAZZ ME BLUES:

Boyce sounds like himself.  Those rolling, tumbling figures are the playing of a man on a mission, someone with a message for us in the eight or sixteen bars allotted him.

The critic Dave Dexter, Jr. got excited about these recordings, hearing his volatile style as a precursor of Charlie Parker.  I don’t find that assessment valuable (must all roads in jazz lead to a Greater Master?) preferring to hear Boyce as someone whose phrases had a certain winding urgency, his notes poised on the front end of the beat.  More than a fledgling bopper, Boyce seems to have deeply understood the impulsive leaping playing of 1927 Louis and Frank Teschemacher.  Hal Smith calls him “the hottest alto saxophonist in jazz.”

(Boyce’s descendants in this century might be Michael McQuaid and John “Butch” Smith — players who know that the alto saxophone needs a great deal of punch to keep it from sounding like a polite older relative.)

Here is a link to Jeff Crompton’s excellent, generous survey of Boyce’s life — where he shares with us a rare disc, I SURRENDER DEAR and ON A BLUES KICK, where Boyce and Wild Bill Davison are the front line:

http://jeffcrompton.blogspot.com/2010/05/brother-matthew.html

The Boyce Brown discography is brief — his recordings could fit on three compact discs — but it is choice.  His better-known associates surely valued the reticent altoist.

I apologize for the onslaught of data, but in trying to explain something about Boyce Brown, the details of his recording sessions are valuable when we have so little else.  As far as I can tell, no one interviewed him during his playing career, and the press coverage he received at the end of his life emphasized (however gently) his uniqueness: the lady preacher with an alto saxophone.

Boyce was first recorded as a member of a working band, Paul Mares And His Friars Society Orchestra (a John Hammond idea?) : Paul Mares (tp) Santo Pecora (tb) Omer Simeon (cl) Boyce Brown (as) Jess Stacy (p) Marvin Saxbe (g) Pat Pattison (b) George Wettling (d).  One session, the results unissued in the 78 era, took place on January 7, 1935.  (The music came out on Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society # 6, twenty years or so after Boyce’s death.)  The same four songs were re-recorded on January 26, and were issued on two OKeh 78s that I imagine were quite hard to find even in 1935: NAGASAKI, REINCARNATION, MAPLE LEAF RAG, THE LAND OF DREAMS (the last based on BASIN STREET BLUES).  These four (and a MAPLE LEAF RAG from the first date) have been issued on the 2-CD Retrieval set of the complete New Orleans Rhythm Kings.  Theoretically all eight titles have been issued on “Chicago 1935,” a CD on the Gannet label, but I’ve never seen it.  REINCARNATION, possibly a composition of Boyce’s, was named for one of his spiritual beliefs — unusual but not unknown in 1935 Chicago.

On March 11, 1935, Boyce returned to the studios with Charles LaVere And His Chicagoans : Johnny Mendell, Marty Marsala (tp) Jabbo Smith (tp,vcl) Preston Jackson (tb) Joe Marsala (cl,ts-1) Boyce Brown (as) Bud Taylor (ts-2) Charles LaVere (p,vcl) Joe Young (g) Leonard Bibbs (b) Zutty Singleton (d) The Chicagoans (vcl) for BOOGABOO BLUES and UBANGI MAN, neither title issued on 78. On April 5, the LaVere band tried again, without Jabbo Smith;  Joe Masek (ts) Israel Crosby (b) replaced Bud Taylor, Leonard Bibbs.  They recorded I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, SMILES, ALL TOO WELL, and BOOGABOO BLUES.  Again the sides were not released on 78, but several lp issues exist — one of the strangest issues a later dub (a copy given to me by Ralph O’Callaghan) — a 16 rpm 7″ record labeled “Black Diamond.”  On the other side was a 1933 Reuben Reeves session.

Four years later, on October 11, 1939, Boyce was recorded again, and these sides had wider distribution; he was a member of Jimmy MacPartland’s band: Jimmy McPartland (cnt) Bud Jacobson (cl) Boyce (as) Floyd Bean (p) Dick McPartland (g) Jim Lannigan (b) Hank Isaacs (d).  These sides have been made possible by the Friend of Jazz George Avakian and Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft and George Avakian, and they appeared in the Decca CHICAGO JAZZ album:JAZZ ME BLUES, CHINA BOY, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, and SUGAR.

Hank O’Neal tells me that Boyce joined in on the private sessions at Squirrel Ashcraft’s house in the late Thirties, and that one track from these sessions was issued on a 1965 collection called MORE INFORMAL SESSIONS AT SQUIRREL’s, a recording worth searching for.  Hank also recalls that Squirrel, thirty years later, characterized Boyce as gifted but troubled.

Boyce’s most hard-to-find session (also in Chicago, February 12, 1940) was as a member of THE COLLECTOR’S ITEM CATS, which featured the then also little-known Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Boyce; Mel Henke (a pianist who gained later fame on the West Coast); Walter Ross on bass; Joe Kahn on drums.  Two sides, I SURRENDER DEAR and ON A BLUES KICK, came out on Collector’s Item 102: a 78 issue — shared with us by Jeff Crompton.

Boyce also worked in the “ideal” band co-led by cornetist Pete Daily and pianist-composer Frank Melrose.  A good deal of their privately recorded music has been released on the Delmark CD BLUESIANA.  (The thought of Boyce and Kansas City Frank on gigs — creative individuals who did not fit the stereotypical idea of the hard-drinking Chicago jazz musician — is intriguing, and it makes me regret, not for the first time, that few fans at that time carried stenographer’s notebooks to interview these men.)

The late Bob Thiele spent some time in Chicago (where he recorded a band with clarinetist Bud Jacobson and Frank Melrose, something to bless Thiele for).  An unissued 1945 session for Bud Jacobson and His Hot Club Orchestra includes Bill Stapleton (cnt) Jacobson (cl,ts) Boyce (as) Mel Grant (p) Dick McPartland (g) Pat Pattison (b) Lew Finnerty (d), playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE, WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING, INDIANA, and HOT CLUB BLUES.  Does anyone know who or where the Signature masters are held, and have any of my readers ever heard this music?

Also in 1945, the jazz scholar / collector / recordist John Steiner held a series of concerts at the Uptown Playhouse Theater in Chicago.  His Jimmy Noone Memorial Concert (in August) featured Darnell Howard (clarinet), Boyce, Baby Dodds (drums), Gideon Honoré (piano), Jack Goss (guitar), Tut Soper (second piano), and Pat Pattison (bass).   On another occasion, Steiner sponsored a “jamboree” resulting in forty-five minutes of recordings of Lee Collins, Boyce, Darnell Howard, Volly DeFaut, pianists Gideon Honoré, Tut Soper, Jack Gardner, Mel Henke, and Chet Roble, among others.  and drummer Jim Barnes were among the contributors.  But in April 1946, a fire destroyed the Playhouse, and Steiner lost 150 unissued sides by Jack Gardner and groups, 20 sides by groups led by Boyce, a few by Frank Melrose, and location recordings by Honoré, Zinky Cohn, Punch Miller, Bobby Hackett, Joe Sullivan, Jimmy Yancey.  (A sorrowing moment of silence is appropriate here.)  This information comes from the fascinating website devoted to S D (Steiner-Davis) Records: http://www.hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/sd.html.

Boyce’s last session was a decade later.  His absence from the recording studios might have been in part the result of changing fashions in music; what had been sought-after Hot Jazz was soon pushed aside with the popularity of bop, but I imagine that Boyce became more reclusive.  All this is supposition, but he seems to have been unfitted with the survival skills jazz musicians require: call up a club owner, create an opportunity to record.  One thinks of the nearly-blind Art Tatum and the completely blind George Shearing and Jeff Healey, but they might have been recognized as stronger personalities with more audaciously commanding technique than Boyce’s subtle ways.

Boyce seems always to have been contemplating the eternal rather than the quotidian, and he was baptized a Catholic in 1952.  The LIFE magazine story notes that a club owner “objected to” Boyce’s habit of for blessing himself before beginning to play.  I can only imagine that scene, and JAZZ LIVES readers might write the dialogue — the club owner astounded and irate, Boyce gently explaining that this was what he did before he played.  I have written of other musicians (Frank Newton as my prime example) who loved the music without reservation but recoiled from the business of music, and Boyce seems to be one of that tender breed.  Putting his beliefs into action, Boyce entered the Servite monastery as a friar in 1953 — devoting himself to chastity, poverty, and the contemplation of spiritual ideals and sorrows.

When Boyce went into a New York recording studio on April 2-3, 1956, he was no longer “Boyce Brown” but “Brother Matthew,” a monk, someone who wanted his royalties from the sale of the recording to go to missions in Africa.  The session was the idea of a record company executive, and certainly it had journalistic potential as good copy in that era of “comeback” stories, reuniting a monk who still could play Hot with his internationally famous colleagues.  Boyce was showcased with the Eddie Condon band of the time, and a LIFE photograph shows him gingerly accepting a drink from Wild Bill Davison, peering tentatively into the glass — whether from blindness or caution, one cannot say.

Since Condon was under contract to Columbia Records (thanks again to Avakian) he may not have played guitar on the sessions — guitar credit goes to Paul Smith, Eddie’s brother-in-law, but Condon “conducted,” which is what he did so well.  This group was Wild Bill Davison (cnt) Cutty Cutshall (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Boyce (as) Ernie Caceres (bar) Gene Schroeder (p) Bob Casey (b) George Wettling (d) Eddie Condon (cond), and they recorded OUT OF NOWHERE, I NEVER KNEW, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, MY BLUE HEAVEN, LINGER AWHILE, BLUES FOR BOYCE, SISTER KATE, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.

Those who collect Fifties television kinescopes may have seen Boyce on the Garry Moore Show (Moore loved hot jazz) or I’VE GOT A SECRET.  I can’t envision Brother Matthew being comfortable on show as a genial oddity — the jazz-musician-monk — but perhaps he did it because it would bring good publicity and contributions to the Order.

This link contains the LIFE story (pages 173-6) on that final session: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SE8EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA173&lpg=PA173&dq=Boyce+brown+alto+sax&source=bl&ots=_QEpuuHPor&sig=TbeyWW0CUzC6-OjG8fS09vtg03k&hl=en&ei=eP9ATvOOHM-whAfYxP2xCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CFsQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=Boyce%20brown%20alto%20sax&f=false.

Note: the link above opens most easily if one is willing to copy it whole and paste it into a new browser; then you will be able to peruse 1953 weekly pictorial journalism, including ads for durable house paint and Blue Cross hospital insurance.

After the session, Boyce went back into the monastery to devote himself to things of the spirit; pictures show him playing music with the other monks and making sandwiches in the kitchen.  He remained there until his death three years later.  Jim Denham believes that the Servites wouldn’t give Boyce final confirmation as a priest and he died of a heart attack shortly after that bitter disappointment in the monastery outside Granville, Wisconsin.

George Avakian told the late Richard M. Sudhalter in Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, “Looking back, I think he’s just as interesting now as I thought he was then.  The things he did, people are doing that kind of thing much more now.  But at that time nobody was: the element of surprise was a big factor. People hearing him for the first time were just flabbergasted.  I know I was. Where did this guy get this odd way of playing?  Where did it come from?  I guess there was a rather mysterious quality in all that.  Part of what makes it so interesting.”

Interesting, but tragic as well.  In a society that prides itself on cherishing the appearance of individualism, it is sad that Boyce Brown — surely an individualist with something beautiful on his mind — became marginalized as freakish, not only because he looked different, but because of his piety.  And although the jazz world prides itself on music and behaviors that go against the grain; it didn’t always do so effectively in this instance.  Thoreau’s different drummer didn’t get the gig.

But perhaps Boyce was fortunate that he had a monastery to retreat to, and spiritual things to which he could devote himself.  I think ruefully that had he been born fifty years later, he might have borne the weight of the popular-psychological tags we now take for granted.  Would we have classified him as a depressive, as differently abled, as someone suffering from social phobia, someone exhibiting Asperger’s, a victim of low self-esteem?  Birdlike and half-blind, he seems to me a creative spirit who turned away from this coarse world of fleshly realities to contemplate larger things, someone who wanted to do good for those who could not help themselves.

This post would not have been possible without the information from and gracious help of Jim Denham, Jeff Crompton, Robert Pruter, Robert L. Campbell, Konrad Nowakowski, Tom Kelly, Hank O’Neal, Hal Smith, David J. Weiner, and Aunt Ida Melrose.  I have remembered (perhaps hazily) information I read long ago in Dave Dexter, Jr.’s THE JAZZ STORY, and a February 1999 profile in THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, whose author I cannot trace.   If any JAZZ LIVES readers have more information or links to people who knew or knew of Boyce, I would be delighted to read their comments or to incorporate them into a future post.  Boyce Brown deserves more than partial oblivion.

CHICAGO CLARINETS: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (Sacramento Jazz Jubilee 2011)

This little map celebrates the intersection of 35th Street and Calumet Avenue in Chicago, a place Jess Stacy called “the center of the universe.”  Cosmologically he may have been inexact, but in jazz terms in the Twenties and early Thirties, he was precisely correct — especially when it came to clarinet players.  How about Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Leon Roppolo, Volly de Faut, Rod Cless, Benny Goodman, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, and two dozen more?

At the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, drummer Hal Smith took the stage with his International Sextet to commemorate this reedy legacy.  And he had swinging, creative players around him — reed wizards Kim Cusack and Anita Thomas, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland, guitarist / banjoist Katie Cavera, and bassist / tubaist Clint Baker.  Here’s the vivid, rocking jazz history they offered at the Sheraton ballroom, miles away from Chicago on the map but right there in spirit.

Nothing says “Chicago hot” more than I FOUND A NEW BABY:

BLUE CLARINET STOMP doesn’t stomp in the formal sense of the word — a fast tempo — but Anita’s evocation of Johnny Dodds (or “Dotts,” as he and friends pronounced it) is full-blooded and blue:

For Jimmie Noone and Joe Poston, that hymn to simultaneous enlightenment, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

An extra-groovy slow-drag version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ classic, FAREWELL BLUES:

“She’d be out of place in her own home town,” the twenties version of Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid,” but she was having a really good time — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

One of my favorite naughty-but-nice songs, about a Chicago Clark Kent who turns into Harry Reams when the time is right — HE’S THE LAST WORD — sung most engagingly by the winsome but well-informed Katie Cavera:

In honor of a great and less-heralded session in 1935, featuring Omer Simeon, Paul Mares, Santo Pecora, Jess Stacy, Marvin Saxbe, Pat Pattison, and George Wettling (have I got that right?), NAGASAKI:

And when “Chicago style” moved to New York City, it was caught hot and fresh on Commodore Records in 1938, with Pee Wee Russell’s marvelous star turn on LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

As Art Hodes sadi so often, “Man, I remember Chicago!”

REASONS TO CELEBRATE at THE FAMOUS EAR (June 19, 2011)

Being alive is cause for celebration.

And being someplace where beauty is being created is even more reason to feel joy.  Last Sunday, June 19, 2011, was a happy time at The Famous Ear (The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) for many reasons.  The EarRegulars knew it was Father’s Day and played one song — you’ll hear it here — to celebrate our Papas (whimsically, mind you).

The EarRegulars that night were co-founders Matt Munisteri (guitar); Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); Pete Martinez (clarinet); Jon Burr (bass) — with a visit from Andy Stein, often playing his violin with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, but here toting his tenor saxophone for the first set (a surprise!) and his baritone for the second.   

The EarRegulars are not a group of antiquarians, “playing old records live.”  Nay, nay.  But they do honor their creative parents all the time: their jazz Dads and Moms — with great love, in the best way . . . by making something new and fresh and striking out of their own experiences.  Every Sunday at The Famous Ear is a kind of spiritual Father’s Day, because Louis and Bix, Roy and Ruby, Eddie and Django, and a hundred others are remembered and cherished in the solos, the ensembles, the tempos, the swing.

And there was another reason to celebrate: the EarRegulars marked a run of steady gigs — four years of glorious Sunday evening sessions — that June 19.  Was it their fourth birthday or their fourth anniversary?  I can’t tell (someone will surely write in to explain which it was) but it was a sweet occasion, especially in a world where a “steady gig” is usually measured in shorter timespans.

Here are some soul-uplifting performances from that night:

A lilting, sweet SLEEPY TIME GAL that had the pleasure of staying at home with the Beloved in every note:

For Jimmie Noone and all the jam sessions that followed him, a profoundly swinging statement of mutual knowledge, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

From that certainty, a troubling question: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And a cheerful THREE LITTLE WORDS:

Then (a request from JAZZ LIVES), that romantic entreaty — LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART:

A groovy I COVER THE WATERFRONT, suggesting that the waterfront in question was Danish, circa 1933:

For Fathers everywhere (or forefathers?): I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS, with an utterly unexpected vocal chorus by Herr Stein:

Jon Burr, brave explorer, led everyone into a deep IT HAD TO BE YOU:

And there was HAPPY BIRTHDAY (TO US)* — but since that song is only eight bars long, which is rather like a soliloquy of ten words, Matt led the EarRegulars into adding an I GOT RHTYHM bridge, for variety — I thought of Lester Young’s BLUE LESTER, but there was nothing seriously historical in the air, just jubilation, well-deserved:

May the EarRegulars and The Famous Ear prosper and continue to spread joy!

*I called this version on YouTube LET’S GET HAPPY, in honor of the 1938 Commodore recording featuring Bobby Hackett and Leo Watson, a stunning combination.

THOSE RHYTHM MEN: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (May 5, 2011)

Here are some more uplifting moments in jazz, courtesy of  on YouTube. 

The prime movers here are Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, performing at Seattle’s New Orleans Restaurant, on May 5, 2011.  That’s Ray on piano and vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

I would write “Four minds with but a single thought — to swing,” but that would be an oversimplification.  The beauty of this little band is that they are unified, presenting something irresistible, but each player shines through, his individual sensibility intact yet happily part of the group.  Ray, Steve, Dave, and Mike surely rock — in the best old-time-modern ways.  Savor those tempos!  Many bands with less feeling for the music play only Fast or Slow . . . . not this quartet.  But you don’t need me to tell you how good this band is: the music will do that in a minute. 

THAT RHYTHM MAN — connected to Louis and Fats in 1929 — was originally a dance number for the chorus line, I recall, so its tempo would have been hot.  The FTB takes it at an insinuating medium-tempo, just intoxicating:

Something for Bix — even if the debate goes on whether he is on the Irving Mills 1930 recording of this song — LOVED ONE:

Jelly Roll Morton’s tune WHY asks that puzzling question:

And for the vipers in the house . . . here’s a Thirties paean to the joys of muta.  Mike shows how it would feel to be Tall: he’s VIPER MAD:

More delights await — video performances of AVALON, STUMBLING, MOANIN’, ONE HOUR, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and a favorite of mine, the lovely FOREVERMORE.

But wait!  There’s more!  “Informed sources,” as I used to read about in the New York Times, have told me that there is a First Thursday Band CD in the works.  What good news!  Watch this space!

TRULY WONDERFUL: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (May 7, 2011)

The post’s title isn’t hyperbole.  A friend sent me a few YouTube videos of this new band — holding forth on May 7, 2011, at the Bellingham Jazz Club (in Washington State).

I got through about fifteen seconds of the first clip before becoming so elated that I stopped the clip to make a few phone calls . . . their import being “You HAVE to see this band!  You won’t believe how wonderful they are!”

For a change, let’s begin with the rhythm section.  You can barely see Candace Brown, but you can hear her firm, flexible pulse — she’s playing a Thirties National steel guitar.  On her left is her husband Dave on string bass — strong yet fluid.  Closer to the camera is that monument of unaging swing, Ray Skjelbred on piano — the hero of the steady, varied left-hand and the splashing, striding right hand.  (His right hand knows what his left is doing: no worries!)  The front line is a mere duo but with multiple personalities — great for Jimmie Noone / Doc Poston ecstasies — of two gifted multi-instrumentalists.  On the left is Steve Wright — cornet, clarinet, soprano sax, vocal; to his right is Paul Woltz, bass, alto, soprano, tenor sax, and vocal.  Their repertoire moves from New Orleans / ancient pop classics to Bix and Tram to Condonite romps with a special emphasis on Noone’s Apex Club.

You’ll hear for yourself.  I began with MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (homage to Bing and to Cutty Cutshall, who called this tune MAHONEY’S . . . . ):

Pee Wee Russell had a girlfriend named Lola (this would have been in the late Twenties and onwards, before Mary came along); legend has it that Lola was violently jealous and when she got angry at Pee Wee, she’d take a big scissors and cut his clothes to bits.  The Mound City Blue Blowers (with Coleman Hawkins and Glenn Miller) recorded a wonderful song and called it HELLO LOLA — were they glad to see her or merely placating her, hoping she hadn’t brought her scissors along?  We’ll never know, but this version of HELLO, LOLA (with comma) has no sharp edges — at least none that would do anyone harm:

The young man from Davenport — forever young in our imaginations — is loved so intensely that the RCBB offer two evocations of his music.  Young Bix Beiderbecke is on everyone’s mind for a romping IDOLIZING (memories of those Goldkette Victors):

And we think of Bix at the end of his particular road — with I’LL BE A FRIEND (WITH PLEASURE):

Now do you understand why I find these performances so enlivening?  This band has tempo and swing, heart and soul, rhythm in its nursery rhymes!  Seriously — what lovely rocking ocean-motion, heartfelt soloing and ensemble playing.  This band knows and plays the verse and the tempos chosen are just right.  And that beat!

I want Ralph Peer or Tommy Rockwell to hear the RCBB and I want them to be under contract to Victor or OKeh right this minute!  I would invite John Hammond to hear them, but John tends to meddle so – – – he’d want to replace half the band with people he liked better.  And I can’t think of people I would prefer . . .

How about two more selections?

This one’s for Mister Strong — his composition, you know! It’s MUSKRAT RAMBLE at the nice Hot Five tempo:

And just for fun (and because Red McKenzie sang it so wonderfully), the DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — with the verse:

By day and by profession, I am an academic — which explains the didactic streak in my character — but this is a suggestion aiming my readers towards happiness rather than a graded assignment.  You might want to consider visiting Steve Wright’s YouTube channel — “” and indulging yourself in the other performances by this band.  How about SWEET SUE, EVERY EVENING, KING JOE, ONE HOUR, STACK O’LEE, CHANGES MADE, GEORGIA CABIN, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, and I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY.

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright told me this about the band’s instant creation, gestation-while-you-wait:

“We pulled this together in a hurry.  Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Band was originally booked, but Chris got a call for some work in Europe and gave the gig to Dave and Candace (who play with him in Silver Leaf).  I play occasionally with the three of them in Candace’s Combo De Luxe, so I was looped in, and then we decided to pull in a second horn player (Paul) and Ray on piano.  I pulled together some leadsheets and two-reed arrangements from previous bands, and off we went.  Even the name was a rush job: I got a call from the Bellingham folks needing a band name for their publicity, and an hour to figure something out. Since I was already planning to use some Red McKenzie material from the First Thursday book (Hello Lola, for example), I thought of taking off from the Mound City Blue Blowers.”

Now . . . suppose the names of these players are new to you?  Ray Skjelbred has his own website — go there and feel good!

http://www.rayskjelbred.com/

— but Wright, Woltz, and the Browns might be less familiar to you.  Don’t fret.  Here are some facts for the factually-minded.

DAVE BROWN began his musical career decades ago, on banjo and guitar, later expanding his impressive talents to string bass.  He lays down solid rhythm with an energetic style influenced by Steve Brown and Pops Foster. Dave’s credits include membership in the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, Stumptown, Louisiana Joymakers, Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Combo de Luxe, Glenn Crytzer’s Syncopators, Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, Gerry Green’s Crescent City Shakers and others.  Many West Coast bands call Brown for gigs, including Simon Stribling’s New Orleans Ale Stars, Red Beans and Rice, Vancouver Classic, Solomon Douglas Sextet, and Jonathan Stout’s Campus Five.  Over the years he has appeared at national and international jazz festivals and has been privileged to play alongside jazz greats “Doc” Cheatham, Spiegle Willcox, Jim Goodwin, and others.

STEVE WRIGHT has been a sparkplug of many fine bands, including the Paramount Jazz of Boston, the Happy Feet Dance Orchestra, the Stomp Off “studio” band (The Back Bay Ramblers).  He’s even substituted a few times with the Black Eagles on clarinet.  After moving to Seattle in 1995, he  joined the Evergreen Jazz Band as a second reed player and then moved to mostly playing cornet as personnel changed.  In the last few years, he’s played a great deal with Candace’s and Ray’s bands, as well as with a local Lu Watters-style two-cornet band, Hume Street Jazz Band.

CANDACE BROWN is one-half of the Jazzstrings duo with husband Dave, Combo de Luxe, Louisiana Joymakers, and she has subbed in many other bands (including Simon Stribling’s Ale Stars and Mighty Aphrodite) as well as playing in the pit orchestra for musical theater. Candace has been heard at a number of festivals including the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, on an Alaskan jazz cruise, at several jazz society concerts, and in July of 2007 she was a member of the pit orchestra for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”  Candace is also a splendid writer — if you haven’t read her inspiring blog, GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST, you’re missing out on deep pleasure:  http://goodlifenw.blogspot.com/

PAUL WOLTZ began playing music in his youth, in California.  He performed frequently at Disneyland for a decade, worked as a studio musician in Hollywood, and was a member of the Golden Eagle Jazz Band.  In the Seattle/Everett area, he is a member of the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band (with whom he has performed at countless jazz festivals and on jazz cruises) is principal bassoonist in the Cascade Symphony, occasionally performs with the 5th Ave Theater, and is called as a sub in numerous bands in the Puget Sound area and beyond — all over the United States and abroad.

TRULY WONDERFUL!

I’VE BEEN TOO BUSY!

This post is to celebrate something I find sweetly amusing.  I came home late last night (or early this morning) from my very serious video-recording of four jazz gigs in a row, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.  You’ll see the results soon, but that isn’t the point of the anecdote.  I was greeted by a phone message and several emails — their substance was, “Michael, are you all right?  You haven’t blogged in days!”

Nice to be missed!  I’m fine.  A little sleepy, but fine, and happy, too.  But I’ve been too busy capturing music for the blog (and for the musicians, too) to be able to blog.  And the circular logic could provoke headaches, so I suggest you simply accept the statement.

To celebrate the state of being TOO BUSY, here’s some hot jazz on that theme:

Recorded by the Wizard of the Wide-Angle Lens, Rae Ann Berry (“Have Tripod, Will Travel“) on June 20, 2010, at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California — here are Leon Oakley and the Friends of Jazz.  The musicians are: Leon Oakley, cornet; Roy Rubenstein, trombone; Robert Young, soprano sax; Clint Baker, banjo; Marty Eggers, bass; and Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And the elder statesman seated at the far right — with trombone and cap — seems to me to be none other than Bob Mielke!

This one’s for Louis, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, Lillie Delk Christian, and Johnny St. Cyr — we’re never too busy for them.

THE FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (April 7, 2011)

The First Thursday Jazz Band — a delightful small group paying homage to Pee Wee Russell, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis (Armstrong and Prima) among others — was caught live for five video performances at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington.

The quiet heroes up there are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Steve Wright, trumpet, reeds; Dave Brown, bass; Mike Daugherty, drums.  For further information, visit the “islandstarfish” YouTube channel, where you can hear and see this band perform HELLO, LOLA!, CHASIN SHADOWS, a groovy BLUES IN THIRDS, and a tender IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.

Here’s a sweetly meditative I’M ON THE CREST OF A WAVE — for Bix and Bing and the King of Jazz:

http://youtu.be/4PBw_dcvF8E

I hope to see more of this band!

HOT JAZZ FOR SALE: HOLLYWOOD’S “JAZZ MAN” RECORD SHOP

That’s the title of an irresistible new book by Cary Ginell.

If I’m going to spend time with a new jazz book, I want it to be original, not a recycling of other writers.  An ideal book is full of first-hand narrative, it’s well-documented, without a limiting ideology, enjoyably written, full of surprises.

Ginell’s book was particularly interesting to me because I knew something about West Coast jazz (the pre-Chet Baker variety) but not much about this fabled record shop.  From the years I spent in New York record stores, I know that each one was its own anthropological microcosm, an eccentric cosmos in itself.  So I was prepared to learn a great deal about this manifestation of jazz culture when I opened this book.

But I didn’t expect to enjoy myself quite so much.

On the surface, Ginell’s book is the story of a record shop — as it passes from one set of owners to another, a dozen moves, from 1939 to 1984.  But that record shop also had its own label, a spiritedly unusual clientele, and it was a thriving part of the West Coast jazz scene.

The book floats along from one first-hand story to another, and some famous names pass through its pages (not simply as casual mentions): Orson Welles, Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun, Dave Stuart, Don Brown, Lu Watters, Reb Spikes, Bill Russell, Marili Morden (the seductive although restrained amorous cynosure of the traditional scene), Duke Ellington, Turk Murphy, George Avakian, the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Joe Venuti, the Rolling Stones, Bukka White.

But some of the most satisfying moments are frankly impossible to imagine: the story of Stravinsky coming to the Jazz Man Record Shop, listening happily to King Oliver (and not buying anything).  The tale of Harry “the Hipster” Gibson and his son — the only anecdote in the world bringing “the Hipster” and “Hare Krishna” into the same paragraph.  And then there’s the terrible story of Don Brown, a Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers record, and a hammer . . . avert your eyes.

Ginell is a clear, enthusiastic writer; his narrative moves eagerly along.  It’s clear he isn’t a chronicler-for-hire (we all know those people, who assemble the facts without having their heart in the subject); he is someone deeply involved in the shop, the music, and the scene from 1971 on.  But the book isn’t about him, nor is he trying to prove a particular point.

The book concludes with a useful bibliography, discography of the JAZZ MAN label, and an index.  It’s beautifully illustrated with clear reproductions of many rare photographs, advertising flyers, letters, and fascinating paper ephemera.

Better yet — in addition to the book, Ginell has put together a fine CD anthology — including Morton, Bunk, Watters, Johnny Lucas, Pud Brown, Ory, Pete Daily, Darnell Howard, Bukka White (a previously unissued recording), George Lewis, Joe Venuti, Jack Teagarden, Jess Stacy, and others.

I found the book / CD combination a delightful experience and predict that you will, too.  To purchase the book, you can visit http://www.lulu.com; for the CD by itself, visit http://www.originjazz.com (which has a link to Lulu), or contact the author directly at originjazz@aol.com.

And thanks to Bob Porter for pointing me to this book.

TESCH, EDDIE, JOE, GENE (July 28, 1928)

You might want to sit a careful distance away from the monitor: the music that follows is vigorously exuberant.

Eddie Condon and Red McKenzie had many good ideas, but this was one of their finest — to show OKeh recording supervisor Tommy Rockwell that they had just as good a small hot band as Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (recording for a rival label).

Their idea obviously pleased Rockwell, not the least because it would cost less to record a quartet.  This band didn’t copy Noone’s, and its rough energy is dazzling even now, with Frank Teschemacher doing the work of two men on clarinet and alto; Joe Sullivan on piano; Condon on his Vega lute (I believe) and in some part responsible for the vocal explosion that begins the record, and the mighty Gene Krupa pushing it all along ferociously.  Hear Tesch’s bright sound, Sullivan’s orchestral fervor, Condon’s rhythmic mastery, Krupa’s bass-drum.  Not music for the timid, and it’s clear why the Chicagoans got fired from so many “respectable” gigs and why (perhaps) they didn’t fit in with the more well-behaved Red Nichols groups, although Nichols put up with them and kept hiring them back.  Here’s what the boys could do with a contemporary pop tune: flash with lots of essential improvisation under it.

OH, BABY! indeed:

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“CHICAGO CLARINETS” (San Diego, Nov. 26, 2010)

I don’t necessarily associate Chicago solely with clarinets, since so many other jazz players made it their home, physically or spiritually, from Art Hodes to Marty Grosz to Sidney Catlett to the Armstrongs, Louis and Miss Lil . . . the list could go on for a long time.

But reed players seem to have found that city and its environs congenial, even though the winds coming off the Loop must have dried out freight trainloads of reeds.  Think of Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Omer Simeon, Frank Teschmacher, Bud Jacobson, Benny Goodman, Frank Chace, Franz Jackson, Joe Rushton, Joe Marsala, and many more.

Drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith led a small group at the 2010 Dixieland Jazz Festival (the thirty-first!) in San Diego, featuring Kim Cusack on clarinet and vocal; Anita Thomas on clarinet and saxophone; Bobby Gordon on clarinet; Chris Dawson on piano; Marty Eggers on string bass and sousaphone, and Katie Cavera on guitar, banjo, and vocal.  Here are four selections from their set, each one splendid in its own way.

The first one is a real surprise.  PRETTY BABY, the aesthetic offspring of Tony Jackson, is usually done as a langorous rhapsody: not Kim Cusack’s romp, which has a decidedly Condon flavor to it, thanks to that rhythm section, which could move mountains:

Katie sings one of my favorite period songs — HE’S THE LAST WORD — another evocation of the innocent-looking but seductive male swain, with intertwining commentaries from Kim and Anita.  (Katie’s amused mock-naivete is perfect for this set of lyrics!):

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW takes us back to the Apex Club Orchestra (with Chris filling in neatly for Earl Hines) — Anita and Kim play at being Doc Poston and Jimmie Noone before Bobby cuts his own ferociously individualistic path through the performance, reminding us that even though Pee Wee Russell said he had no Chicago union card, he did touch down there for periods of time:

Finally, Anita’s gutty tribute to Johnny Dodds — BLUE CLARINET STOMP — that gets down in the emotional depths and stays there, with help from that wonderful rhythm section:

Meet me in Chicago!  Or is it San Diego, next Thanksgiving?  Heartfelt thanks to the tireless and on-target Rae Ann Berry, chronicler of all things swinging.

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE! — at THE EAR INN (Nov. 14, 2010)

Two reeds and a rhythm section! 

Not the sweet crooning of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the jostling-around of Bechet and Mezzrow, or the outright can-you-top-this of Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion.

No.  Dare I say it . . . something better.  Dan Block (clarinet and tenor), Pete Martinez (clarinet), Matt Munisteri (guitar), and Jon Burr (bass).  Cornetist John Bucher looked in for a brief visit, but otherwise it was a reeds-and-rhythm soiree, and a very lovely one at that. 

When I listen to these performances again, I think of songbirds having a deep conversation, or vines intertwining, gracefully and ardently.  Four of the most thoughtfully compatible jazz improvisers, reveling in the sounds they could make together, their lines complementing and completing each other’s spur-of-the-minute inventions, never colliding or overriding.   

Dan and Pete admire each other too much to be competitive, so the ensembles were riffing contrapuntal delights rather than a cutting contest between their Albert system clarinets (thanks to Michael McQuaid for the identification), and when Dan picked up the tenor, it was jazz with a great deal of swinging courtesy: “You play the melody and I’ll improvise around it, and then we’ll switch.” 

And the other members of the quartet were having a wonderful time: Jon and Matt, working hard, creating long lines and rocking propulsion.  Don’t let the darkness of their corner at The Ear make you miss out on the strong melodies they create!

Here’s a sample of the delights last Sunday at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City):

Although the dawn wouldn’t break over Soho for hours to come, Dan suggested MARIE:

Fats Waller’s encomium about his Baby (complete with exultant verse), I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

A logical development on the amorous theme, a slow, swaying LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, with nods to its early, memorable singer (Mr. Crosby) and improviser (Mr. Russell):

Hark, a hot cornetist — over my shoulder!  John Bucher joins in for THREE LITTLE WORDS, with riffs that evoke the 1943 Commodore recording with Lester Young and the Kansas City Six:

RUSSIAN LULLABY is a song near to my heart — it works well at so many tempos, and has echoes of Ed Hall, Ruby Braff, Teddy Wilson, Joe Thomas, and Vic Dickenson attached to it (what could be wrong?) — and this version is a classic on its own terms:

And an extra minute, too good to leave out:

Dan Block suggested I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (or BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES) which turned out to be an excellent idea:

In keeping with the generally romantic repertoire and Dan’s love of Irving Berlin, A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

Memorable creative improvisation — with more surprises to come!