Tag Archives: Jimmie Noone

“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!

BOBBY GORDON, POET-AT-LARGE

Over the past half-dozen years, it’s been a rare pleasure to see and hear Bobby Gordon at Jazz at Chautauqua.  Without making a fuss about it or announcing himself unduly, he has always been one of the poets of jazz — and not simply of the clarinet.  He takes his own unpredictable ways to get where he’s going, and when he arrives you find the journey has been both moving and surprising. 

It’s not surprising that one of Bobby’s clarinet heroes is that rare explorer Pee Wee Russell — but Bobby is too much in touch with his own essence to copy Russell’s leaps and weavings.  Bobby’s approach is also tempered by the deep-blue sounds and thought patterns of the great but not well-remembered Joe Marsala, a consummate melodist who much admired Jimmie Noone.

Here at Jazz at Chautauqua Bobby was joined by the nimble and down-home pianist Keith Ingham (who has wonderful stories of a career that began when he was a mere boy alongside the finest American and British improvisers), the splendidly multi-instrumental Vince Giordano, here toting his aluminum string bass, and the man of mysterious percussive rumbles and swooshes, Arnie Kinsella.  If they sound a little bit like Joe Sullivan / Jess Stacy / Artie Shapiro / Bob Casey / George Wettling / Dave Tough, we don’t mind at all.

Bobby began with a pretty but mobile AT SUNDOWN, a song recorded by an Eddie Condon group back in the halcyon Commodore days:

Another performance with a Commodore pedigree is KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, homage to Fats as well:

A tribute to the later life of Charles Ellsworth Russell (and his friend Nat Pierce), PEE WEE’S BLUES:

Keith, for his feature, thought of the brilliant and much-missed Mel Powell, who wrote this piece as a tribute to Earl Hines when Mel was with the Benny Goodman band — it’s THE EARL:

And Bobby closed his set with a limpid MY MELANCHOLY BABY, in honor of that pretty tune and of Joe Marsala, too:

Bobby’s style is so thoughtful, his voice so human — jazz poetry that comes straight from his heart.

THE CHALUMEAU SERENADERS at WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

Seeing jazz live means that the wonderful sounds that have previously come out of speakers or earbuds are magically transformed into people with instruments, creating music only a few feet away.  Could anything be better than having a favorite band materialize in front of you? 

That’s happened to me many times.  An especially pleasing instance took place at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, when the Chalumeau Serenaders — whom I’d only known as a recording band — played a live set.  The Serenaders emerged from Stomp Off Records’ producer Bob Erdos’ love of clarinet duets.  Bob put together two of the finest with a crackling rhythm section: that’s Norman Field and Matthias Seuffert on reeds, Nick Ward on drums, Keith Nichols on piano and vocals, Malcolm Sked on sousaphone and string bass, and Martin Wheatley on banjo and guitar.  

They began with that pretty Irving Berlin song, A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

Then, because Bix and Tram seemed to be everywhere in the ether, Keith Nichols opted for I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA and sang a chorus:

WHO? was the question (the Chalumeau Serenaders were the definitive answer):

MAORI, (subtitled A SAMOAN DANCE) — by William H. Tyers, who wrote PANAMA, was next:

Norman Field suggested (whimsically, as is his habit) that the Serenaders create a LOWDOWN BLUES.  Or perhaps it was a LOW-DOWN BLUES.  You’ll have to decide.  And even though it was a sunny afternoon in Newcastle, Keith’s piano choruses summoned up a dark Chicago basement.  Nick’s drumming is usually extraordinary (“Every move a picture”) but watch and listen closely — also to Martin’s wonderfully down-low solo.  A highlight of the weekend:

The lovely I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, echoing Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, Billie Holiday, Buck Clayton, and Lester Young, followed.  Bask in the warmth of Matthias’ tenor sound, so rhapsodically reminiscent of 1934 Coleman Hawkins:

And the set closed with a romping (and accurately titled) FINE AND DANDY:

Remarkable things happen at Whitley Bay!

WHO REMEMBERS ROD CLESS?

Many of the greatest artists make their creations sound simple.  Think of Bing Crosby, Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Count Basie.

Clarinetist Rod Cless belongs to their ranks, but seems a forgotten man.

And he deserves better.

In the ensembles, he has some of the daredevil quality one associates with Pee Wee Russell and Frank Teschmacher, diving-off-the-high-board descents from a quavering note.  But the rough edges are smoothed down, the vibrato more songful, less fierce.

In his solos, Cless sounds like someone who knows the beauty of the clarinet’s low register, the virtues of thoughtful space.  He takes his time.  He has something to convey, and it can’t be hurried; it needs a kind of plaintive candor.

And although his harmony is not abstruse, his phrases more regular than abrupt, what he has to tell us sounds familiar only because so many players coming after him have absorbed his message without even being entirely aware of it.

I hear the influence of Jimmie Noone in the full, round lower register, as well as touches of deep New Orleans blues.  But also — even though there are no phrases copied from the master, it is not hard to hear the ghostly influence of Bix in Cless’s soulful restraint.

Here are three more sides with Hodes from a 1942 Decca date with an illustrious personnel that didn’t otherwise gather in the studios: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Brad Gowans, valve-trombone; Cless; Hodes; Condon; Earl Murphy, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.

LIBERTY INN DRAG, another slow blues, where Cless gets only a chorus, but the rest of the band is so fine:

On a sprightly INDIANA, Cless sounds at his most Russelian.  Both he and Gowans play wonderful ensemble embroideries in the opening and closing choruses (the sound of Condon’s guitar thoughout is a special pleasure, as are Zutty’s drums behind Hodes):

GEORGIA CAKE WALK (also known as AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING) reminds of how well Sidney DeParis played in these settings.  A floating Hodes interlude leads into one of those Cless statements that seem perfectly simple until one listens closely:

Who was Cless?  Much of what I’ve learned comes from the biography by Bob Najouks to be found on http://www.kcck.org/iowa_jazz_connections.php.  I’ve added some details from other surveys written by Eugene Chadbourne (whose account is to be found on the fine ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC site):

Cless was born in 1907 in Lennox, Iowa.  He was a fine athlete and accomplished clarinetist who also doubled on saxophone.  The start of his enlightenment seems to have been a six-week engagement that Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverine Orchestra played in Riverview Park Ballroom in Des Moines in 1925: Cless came every night.

Frank Teschmacher, the brilliant young Chicagoan, befriended Cless, and Cless came to Chicago two years later as a professional musician — an intimate of Eddie Condon and Bud Freeman (Cless married Freeman’s sister).  I’ve read that Cless played in the Varsity Five, a hot band much admired at Iowa State University, but do not know if he attended college there.

In Chicago, both Tesch and Cless worked with Charles Pierce, whose name is on a number of famous hot recordings of that period.  He toured with Frank Quartrell’s band and visited New Orleans for the first time.  (Did he hear Raymond Burke and Johnny Wiggs, and did they talk about Bix?  One wonders.)

Returning to Chicago, he worked with trumpeter Louis Panico at the Wig Wam Club and found employment in reed section of dance orchestras.  He also made extra money teaching clarinet.

He may have gained the most attention as a member of Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band in 1939 — that band had an extended run at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago (where they played opposite Fats Waller and his Rhythm) and were enough of a sensation to make sixteen sides for the Bluebird label.  (A CD reissue of this material, with alternate takes, brings the total to 24.)

After Spanier disbanded the Ragtime Band, Cless worked with Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Ed Farley, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, and Bobby Hackett.

But Cless’s marriage failed, and his drinking grew heavier.  Walking home from the last night of a job at the Pied Piper (where he played alongside his friend Max Kaminsky) in December 1944, Cless fell over the balcony of his apartment building and died four days later at 37.  In his autobiography, Kaminsky blamed himself for not walking Cless home — even though Cless insisted that he could make it himself.

Here’s an extended solo by Cless on the Hodes-led FAREWELL BLUES, for Art’s short-lived Jazz Record label.  The casual listener may hear in it only variations on familiar arpeggiated patterns, with suggestions of Johnny Dodds, but there’s more:

And to conclude (for this post), here’s something quite atypical — JAZZ ME BLUES by Frank Teschmacher’s Chicagoans, recorded in April 1928.  Tesch plays clarinet and alto; Cless plays alto; Mezz Mezzrow is on tenor saxophone; the rhythm section is Joe Sullivan, Jim Lanigan, Eddie Condon, and Gene Krupa.  This track comes from www.redhotjazz.com: http://www.redhotjazz.com/ftc.html.

Those fascinated by the sound of Rod Cless can find several more examples on YouTube — where a number of the Bluebird sides from 1939 by Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band — are available.

Cless also turns up on a singularly relaxed session for Commodore which features Kaminsky, valve trombonist Frank Orchard, and James P. Johnson.  Nearly the same band — with Willie “the Lion” Smith on piano recorded for Decca and for Black and White.

And in Cless’s last year, ironically, he had his only opportunity to lead a record session — for the Black and White label, featuring James P., Stirling Bose, and Pops Foster.  Those four sides were once available on a Pickwick anthology CD.

Eight others (plus a few alternate takes) by a 1940 Hodes group called the CHICAGO RHYTHM KINGS (pictured at top) — one session featuring Marty Marsala, Cless, Hodes, Earl Murphy, and Jack Goss on guitar; four trio sides with Cless, Hodes, and Murphy (originally recorded by Bob Thiele and several of the trio sides reissued on Doctor Jazz) are difficult to find (the last complete issue of the issued takes was a 10″ Riverside lp, which is now fifty-five years ago).

More accessible are the recordings Hodes made for his own short-lived Jazz Record label, which have been reissued on a Jazzology CD.  (One of the ironies is that Hodes admired Cless greatly and used him on record dates whenever possible, which is a great blessing — although many Hodes recordings have extended outings from their leader, sometimes restricting the other members of the band in their solos on a 78 issue.)

I plan to return to Cless as a subject in a future post, although from a different angle.  I hope to interview one of the elder members of the jazz tribe, someone who actually took lessons from Cless in the early Forties.  Until then, I suggest that Cless is worth close and repeated listenings.

THE HOT ANTIC JAZZ BAND at WHITLEY BAY (July 9, 2010)

This one’s for Nancie Beaven, one of this blog’s most ardent readers, currently ensconced in Connecticut.  Nancie is a  great admirer of the Hot Antic Jazz Band and of its cornetist, Michel Bastide.  Several times during the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, I had ample opportunity to see why. 

The HAJB also sported Bernard Antherieu, clarinet; Philippe Raspail, saxophone; Martin Seck, piano; Christian Lefevre, brass bass; Philippe Guignier, banjo.  (The regular banjoist is Jean-Pierre Dubois but that week-end was attending his daughter’s wedding.  I apologize to all the musicians I omitted, mis-identified, or mis-named: it took the help of several people (Bill Lowden and JC from Les Rois de Fox-Trot) to get me this close to accuracy.  

A lovely melody by a composer new to me, called HOW STRANGE:  

SUNDAY, in honor of Bix, the Jean Goldkette band, and even the Keller Sisters and (their brother) Lynch:

CHICAGO RHYTHM, suggesting not only a time and place, but also Jimmie Noone in his heyday:

Finally, an enthusiastic solo piano reading of THE PEARLS, by “Jelly Roll Martin”:

Some band!

JIMMIE NOONE, JAZZ CLARINET PIONEER

For those unfamiliar with the sound of clarinetist Jimmie Noone, here he is with his 1928 Apex Club Orchestra — Doc Poston, alto sax; Earl Hines, piano; Bud Scott, banjo; Johnny Wells, drums — playing EVERY EVENING (I MISS YOU) courtesy of “ptm51” on YouTube:

Noone (1894-1944) should be known to a wider audience today, and a new bio-discography, JIMMIE NOONE, JAZZ CLARINET PIONEER, by James K. Williams with a discography by John Wilby, is just what is needed. 

Noone did not lead a melodramatic life (jazz musician as martyr) so the narrative is a compact one — but the book is evocatively documented with photographs and newspaper clippings, and Wilby’s discography is admirably thorough.  Noone was born in Louisiana and was playing Albert system clarinet alongside Freddie Keppard as early as 1913, working with a wide variety of New Orleans bands.  Going north to Chicago, he played and recorded with King Oliver and Doc Cook.  In 1926 Noone began leading his own groups — most notably at the Apex Club — which often moved away from the traditional instrumentation to an all-reed format, sometimes augmenting his band for recordings.  During the Thirties, Noone led a variety of touring bands, and he moved to the West Coast for the last three years of his life.  At the time of his death, he was being featured on radio broadcasts hosted by Orson Welles.  Had Noone lived longer, he would have been venerated much as Bunk Johnson and Kid Ory were for their part in playing “authentic” jazz. 

Noone’s influence goes beyond this rather limited summary of his travels and club dates.  He and a very young Benny Goodman went to the same classical clarinet teacher, Franz Schoepp, who often had Goodman linger to play duets with Noone.  And I can hear the echoes of Noone’s technical facility in Goodman’s playing — as well as the songs Goodman loved, SWEET SUE, SWEET LORRAINE, and I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, all Noone favorites.  (I hadn’t known until I read this book that Teddy Wilson had also worked with Noone.)  I think that there’s a clear line to be drawn from Noone’s Chicago bands to the Goodman trios and quartets. 

And Noone travelled in fast company: a record session for OKeh featuring a wonderful quartet of Louis Armstrong, Noone, Hines, and Mancy Carr has some fine playing.  Comments by other jazz musicians — Coleman Hawkins and Bud Freeman among them — testify to the effect Noone had on players such as Bix Beiderbecke. 

In our time, the Noone influence is clearest in the work of Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber, whose Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion owed a good deal to the hot polyphony of Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.  Other clarinetists, such as Frank Chace, admired Noone greatly (an early private recording of Chace has him taking his time through a slow-motion APEX BLUES).

Williams’ book is admirable in its reliance on documented evidence and the clarity of its vision.  He does not make exaggerated claims for Noone as a player or a trail-blazer, but every page has information that was new to me.   The book is 120 pages including more than 80 rare illustrations — photographs from the Frank Driggs and Duncan Schiedt collections as well as historic Noone documents, rare record labels, and pages from the Chicago Defender.  The price is $20 (US) per copy plus shipping ($4 to US; 4.50 to Canada; 8 overseas).  Order from James K. Williams, 801 South English Avenue, Springfield, Illinois 62704; email tubawhip@comcast.net; phone 217.787.3089.  Paypal preferred; personal US check or postal money order accepted.

COUNT ME IN (at THE EAR INN): June 13, 2010

None of the musicians at The Ear Inn last Sunday night consciously voiced the sentiment, “Hey, let’s put on a show of the music of Count Basie and his sidemen.”  That would have made the evening into a Tribute Concert.  Jon-Erik Kellso and Andy Farber didn’t go out of their way to adopt the mantles of Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, Lester Young, or Herschel Evans; Chris Flory didn’t offer Charlie Christian licks, and Neal Miner played himself rather than Walter Page or Oscar Pettiford. 

But for whatever happy reasons, the Basie spirit — light, floating, intense — was in the air, even without a piano or hi-hat cymbal.  I hear many rewarding echoes of the 1938 Kansas City Six in these performances, and I don’t know higher praise.  

The EarRegulars often begin by seeming to test a piece out, looking in its corners, considering its possibilities.  Someone plays the melody; the other horn hums an improvisation.  By the time the second ensemble chorus is done, they are ready!  Their ensemble momentum, solo building on solo and band choruses building, is extraordinary: there’s no exhibitionism, no excessively long solos, but this band rocks.   

Perhaps because some of the Ear Inn patrons bring their well-behaved dogs along, the EarRegulars offered DOGGIN’ AROUND:

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW was taken far from its earliest incarnations in Jimmie Noone’s band:

Another evocation of Herschel and Buck is BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, a song Ruby Braff played whenever he could:

And a pretty two-tenor feature (the invaluable Dan Block came in, and Fumi Tomita took Neal’s place) on THESE FOOLISH THINGS, a ballad I associate with Lester and Billie:

Swing, brothers, swing!

P.S.  This post is dedicated — in delight — to Peter Lind and Margareta Aberg Lind from Uppsala, Sweden, who visited with me at the set break and told me that they had found the Ear and The EarRegulars because of my blog-postings and videos.  Welcome, welcome!

“OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT?” REDUX

First, generous archivist / trumpeter / clarinetist / bandleader / drummer Chris Tyle offered me a photograph of the front cover of the sheet music:

I note with some amusement that the title lacks any punctuation — exclamation or interrogation — and that the cover illustration is fairly sedate, well-behaved, although the young woman’s limbs (as they might have said) are more explicit than implicit under her dress.  The dancers are Caucasian, too. 

And (just to show that I have transcended mere print) here is another YouTube performance of this song — by the French ONE MORE TIME band:

Recorded in 2004 at Le Petit Journal St Michel, Paris, this band features Sébastien Gillot, cornet; Guy Champême, clarinet;  Lou Lauprète, piano; Alain Marcheteau, banjo; Michel Marcheteau, tuba.

And here’s LES RED HOT REEDWARMERS, romping on the same tune:

This was recorded on “Doctor Jazz Day” in Wageningen, the Netherlands.  The personnel is Stephane Gillot, leader, reeds; Aurelie Tropez, reeds; Martin Seck, piano; Henry Lamaire, banjo;  Jean Philippe Palma, brass bass; Julien Richard, drums and percussion.  

My sole question — and it might be a naive one — is whether the Gillot boys are related.  Can anyone explain?

“OH, SISTER! AIN’T THAT HOT?” (The Ear Inn, May 23, 2010)

Befire we begin our almost-weekly celebration of high incendiary art in the West Village (that’s The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street in New York City, Sunday 8-11 PM), a little history.

The title I’ve chosen for this blog refers back to a spirited song first made famous in jazz circles through a 1928 recording by Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.  Later, Eddie Condon, who had an ear for good, nearly forgotten songs, brought it back through a 1940 Commodore recording that featured Pee Wee Russell and Fats Waller (transparently incognito as “Maurice,” his son’s given name).  Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern resuscitated it once more in performances as Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion.  Marty Grosz loves the song and has performed it at Chautauqua and with Frank Chace.  But it’s far from a part of the standard “traditional” repertoire, so I was delighted to hear the Ear Regulars begin their first set last Sunday, May 23, with it.

But here’s the history.  I searched for a copy of the sheet music online (wanting, among other things, to see how the cover artist handled this exuberant there) — with no success.  But the YouTube channel of “victrolaman” turned up something even better, perhaps more authentic: the 1923 Edison recording with vocal by Vernon Dalhart.  Some of the lyrics are slightly hard to follow, but the general idea is quite clear — a song celebrating just how good the music is!

History class concluded; everyone gets an A; have a wonderful summer!

Back to the present or at least the recent past.  Most ad hoc groups begin their first set of the night with something familiar, not too complicated — perhaps SUNDAY — but The Ear Regulars are more ambitious.  So even I, with nearly three years’ happy experience of watching them in action, can’t predict what Jon-Erik or Matt is going to pull out of their imaginary song-files.  I was thrilled to hear them launch into this song.  By the second chorus, this band was in overdrive or turbo-charged or whatever automotive metaphor might appeal:

And the answer to the title’s somewhat rhetorical question was, of course, “Yes!”

For contrast, the Regulars proceeded to make the very familiar ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET seem new and lively:

Harking back to the Thirties (to Billie and Lester, perhaps even to James P. Johnson), they then explored IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

They were taking their time, thankfully, so here’s the conclusion:

One of the band’s friends, the most gifted guitarist Julian Lage, came in at the start, and the Ear Regulars are very well-schooled jazz hosts, so they invited Julian to join the fun, which he did on a slow, rocking WABASH BLUES.  Please pay special attention to the ringing dissonances with which Matt begins his solo: he has an IMAGINATION, he does:

And here’s the second part, just as groovy, beginning with Jon-Erik’s plunger-muted magic:

They decided to finish the set with STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, a tune “all the musicians love to jam,” here in two parts:

And the conclusion:

I couldn’t stay for the second set, but was very pleased to have been there for this musicale.  Everyone was individually inspired, and inspired by their colleagues on the stand.  

If I haven’t gone on at length about Kellso’s intensity, Scott’s ability to play any instrument marvelously and his urging playing, Matt’s wise risk-taking, Neil’s lovely sound and solid tempo, Julian’s delving and swooping melody lines . . . it’s because I think all of that should be evident to anyone watching one of the performances above.

KENNY DAVERN, REMEMBERED

First, some comedy.  The last time I saw Kenny Davern in action was at Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party — only a few months before his death.  At the dinner for musicians and friends the night before the party started, Kenny took a napkin off one of the tables, draped it over his arm, and transformed himself into an elderly, mournful New York Jewish waiter, asking each table, “Is anything all right?”

Then, in the middle of a set, he told one of his many jokes.

Jake always wanted to be a professional actor and appear on Broadway, but the fates are against him.  Finally, his agent gets so tired of Jake’s begging, whining, and pleading that he arranges — as a favor — for Jake to have a one-line walk-on in a production far from Broadway.  Jake’s line?  “Hark!  I hear a cannon roar!”  Jake is thrilled and spends every minute before the production practicing in front of the mirror.  “HARK!  I hear a CANNON roar!”  “Hark . . . I HEAR a cannon ROAR!”  The big night comes, Jake is pinned into his costume and stands muttering his one line in the wings.  He’s pushed out on stage; the cannon fires a thunderous blast, and Jake says, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!”

But Davern was much more than a comedian, although his timing was impeccable — combined with his mobile face, his vocal inflections.

The Davern we remember is the peerless clarinetist, with a heroic top register and a lustrous chalumeau sound — with plenty of “grease and funk,” to quote Marty Grosz, in between.  Luckily for us, a great deal of Davern’s best playing is documented on Arbors record sessions.  (One of my favorites is EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, with a front-line of Dan Barrett and Joel Helleny.)

Even though at times I thought I knew what Kenny was going to play next — what variation on a Jimmie Noone passage he was going to use for those particular chords — he never coasted, even on the thousandth version of A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID.

I had seen him several decades earlier — in the very early Seventies — when his partnership with Bob Wilber was beginning.  Soprano Summit was a high-intensity group, and when its two horns got going on the closing ensembles of something like EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY they had the force of the great Spanier-Bechet Hot Four.  I also remember Davern as a regular member of the Sunday jam sessions put on by Red Balaban in 1972 — when Kenny was primarily playing the straight soprano with operatic (if not dangerous) focused intensity.  I remember his overwhelming less assertive trumpet and trombone players — as if saying “Get the hell out of my way, if you please.”

Courtesy of Bob Erwig, here is Kenny’s performance of TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE from the 1989 Bern International Jazz Festival — backed by Howard Alden, Milt Hinton, and Gus Johnson — where Kenny is ardent without being shrill, powerful while playing quietly.  No wonder John L. Fell, who knew about such things, called Davern “the Coleman Hawkins of the clarinet.”  We miss him.

And one more Davern-sighting.  In 1972, friends and I saw Kenny and company at a Sunday afternoon jam session at Your Father’s Mustache and we then went downtown to The Half Note where Ruby Braff was leading a quartet — possibly with Dill Jones, George Mraz, and Dottie Dodgion.  The door opened during a set break and Davern walked in.  I was excited and envisioned a wonderful jam session.  My exuberant college-age self got the better of me, and I greeted Davern with an enthusiastic “Kenny!” then realized that I had perhaps overstepped myself and retreated into a quieter, “Mister Davern.”  With his usual glint of a half-smile, he looked at me and murmured, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” and turned away.  I’m still decoding that one.

Part Two: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (Feb. 27, 2010)

Blessings on their heads, one and all. That’s Tamar Korn, vocals, impromptu dancing, mouth trumpet, air violin, percussive effects; Jake Sanders, banjo; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Marcus Milius, harmonica; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, electric mandolin; Gordon Au, trumpet. 

I cherish them all: their passionate seriousness and rhythmic drive.  Jake’s intelligent, quiet way of shaping an ensemble rather than letting everyone take two choruses; his powerful but never noisy playing.  Debbie’s swinging pulse; her good cheer.  Marcus’s intent candor.  Dennis’s big tone and shapely phrases.  Gordon, quietly majestic, roaming around in what I think are the most beautiful registers of the trumpet.  

Tamar isn’t the only one singing in this band.   And look at what a good time they’re having! 

A thousand thanks to Paul Wegener for bringing the Cards to the Shambhala Meditation Center on 22nd Street, which will be hosting other swing dance groups in future — with the Cards scheduled for an August return (they’re the toast of Shanghai as I write this!).  That’s http://ny.shambhala.org/music.php.  The Shambhala Meditation Center Of New York is located at 118 West 22nd Street, 6th Floor, New York,  New York 10011.  Tel. 212-675-6544    Email: // info@shambhalanyc.org

Now, four more performances from February 27, presented with pleasure:

Here’s the very pretty and optimistic APRIL SHOWERS, a song that inspires Tamar to take chances (as she does beautifully in the last sixteen bars) and there’s a nice extended dialogue between Dennis and Gordon that is reminiscent in spirit of Jimmie Noone and Guy Kelly, circa 1935 Chicago:

I had never heard the verse to SUGAR BLUES.  Another thing to be thankful to the Cards for!  It’s always a good sign in a band when musicians are smiing at what their colleagues are playing, and joy is contagious here.  Perhaps emboldened by Gordon’s utterly perverse reference to “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” at the end of his first chorus, Tamar embarks on her own chorus of mouth trumpet, sounding like a particularly expressive Siamese cat:

What happens when the beat gets to you?  CRAZY RHYTHM, of course.  Honors here might go to Marcus and Jake, as well as the Korn Percussion Section.  But be patient: there’s a rocking out-chorus to come:

A jaunty reading of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, featuring an adventurous exploration by Gordon and Tamar and her Magic Violin (or the 101 Strings, made much more personal):

Delicious!  And there’s more . . .

NO ONE ELSE BUT NOONE (2007)

Andred Growald (a major player in the international HOT conspiracy) whispered in my ear about these videos, so I pass them on to you.  Recorded in 2007 in Gottingen, German, they feature a combination of musicians from Holland and Germany paying tribute to clarinetist Jimmy Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra.  Originally the band included Noone, Doc Poston, Earl Hines, Bud Scott — and its later incarnations added a trumpet.  Their spiritual heirs are, among others, Soprano Summit. 

This band — they call themselves NOON ABER RICHTING — is made up of reedmen Matthias Seuffert (clarinet, at left); Claus Jacobi ( clarinet and alto sax, right), and a first-class rhythm section of Jan-Hendrik Ehlers (piano), Peter Bayerer (banjo), Marcel van de Winckel (brass bass), Gunter Andernach (washboard).

I’ve avoided my usual lengthy exegesis because the music doesn’t need much: listen and exult! 

The band’s pretty theme, SWEET LORRAINE:

Something spicy?  A song also recorded by Doc Cook and his Dreamland Orchestra, featuring Freddie Keppard, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

And that Vincent Youmas song celebrating simultaneous awareness, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW (with a stompiing piano solo!):

A change of mood, but not too morose, even though the title is sad, I GOT A MISERY:

Do you have an overheated sibling?  OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT?:

Another sad title, but the song is pretty lively — DEEP TROUBLE:

Mark your calendars — it’s OUR MONDAY DATE:

And (with its rollicking minor-hued verse), here’s SAN:

Extraordinary ensemble teamwork, drive, subtlety, and mastery of the idioms before and after 1928 — a pleasure to hear!  And the documentary-format, with witty clips from silent films, is diverting and more.  Thanks to all involved — the musicians, the filmmaker, Andre, and “santopec” for posting this.

TRAVELING BLUES: TOMMY LADNIER

Ladnier 5For the second time this season, a jazz book has so astonished me that I want to write about it before I take the time to read it at the leisurely pace it deserves.  This book is published in a limited edition of 500 copies, so I hope that someone might be moved sufficiently to order a copy before they are all gone.  TRAVELING BLUES: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF TOMMY LADNIER, byBo Lindstrom and Dan Vernhettes, is a lively yet scholarly study of the life and music of the short-lived trumpeter.  Many jazz books are enthusiastic but lopsided; books that collect beautiful photographs sometimes have minimal or unsatisfying text; scholarly books are often not appealing to the eye.  This book strikes sparks in every way: the diligent research that has gone into it, the expansive prose; the wonderful illustrations.  I have been reluctant to put it down.  Each page offers surprises.    Ladnier 1

Tommy Ladnier isn’t widely known: he has been dead seventy years.  The fame he deserved never came, even though he had enthusiastic champions in Mezz Mezzrow, Hughes Panassie, and Sidney Bechet.  But a brief list of the people Ladnier played alongside will testify to his talent: Bechet, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Jimmy Harrison, Coleman Hawkins, Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Noone, Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, Sam Wooding, Doc Cheatham, Noble Sissle, Chick Webb, James P. Johnson, Teddy Bunn, Walter Page, Jo Jones.  He was known as a “sensational” trumpeter in Chicago in 1921: he appeared in Carnegie Hall in 1938.   

The reasons he is so little known have nothing to do with the quality of his art.  Ladnier did not enjoy the high-pressure urban scene, and he occasionally retreated from it (in 1934-8, when he could have been playing more often in the city, he he lived upstate); he also spent a good deal of his playing career in Europe (including a sojourn in Russia) before it was fashionable.  And in a period when hot trumpet playing was fashioned in splendidly extravagant Louis-fashion, someone like Ladnier — quieter, even pensive, choosing to stay in the middle register — might have been overlooked.  (At times, he makes me think of a New Orleans version of Joe Thomas, Shorty Baker, or Tony Fruscella.) 

Ladnier 3

I first came to Ladnier’s music indirectly, by way of his most enthusiastic colleague, reedman, pot-supplier, and proseltyzer Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, who saw Tommy as someone with pure jazz instincts.  Mezzrow idolized Tommy as a quiet prophet of soulful New Orleans jazz, music not corrupted by the evil influence of big-band swing.  My youthful purchase of the RCA Victor record THE PANASSIE SESSIONS (circa 1967) was motivated by my reading of Mezzrow’s autobiography, REALLY THE BLUES.  But Mezzrow played and improvised so poorly, never stopping for a moment, that I could hardly hear Ladnier properly.   

Ladnier 4

Eventually I heard the 1932 New Orleans Feetwarmers session, where Ladnier and Bechet were effectively the front line, and too-brief live performances from John Hammond’s 1938 FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concert where Ladnier, Bechet, Dan Minor, James P. Johnson, Walter Page, and Jo Jones roared through WEARY BLUES.  Finally, I understood what it was that others admired so in Ladnier’s work.  A terse, nearly laconic player, he placed his notes and phrases perfectly.  His solos never overwhelm; his forthright earnestness is convincing; he doesn’t care to shout and swagger, but he is intense.  

As is this book.  Other scholars might have rearranged the easily accessible evidence: the recollections of Mezzrow, Bechet, and Panassie, written admiringly of Ladnier’s recording career, and left it at that.  Some writers might have brought melodrama to the facts of Ladnier’s life — his ambitious wife jeopardized a number of opportunities for him (one possible drama).  Ladnier died of a heart attack at 39, and could perhaps have been saved (another drama).  One could cast him as a victim of a variety of forces and people including the recording supervisor Eli Oberstein.  But the authors avoid these inviting errors.

They succeed not only in examining every scrap of evidence they could find — their research has been cautious, comprehensive, and lengthy — about Ladnier as a musician, born in Louisiana, migrating to Chicago, taking on the life of a jazz player in the Twenties and Thirties, dying in Harlem. 

But there’s more.  These scholars are also thoughtful historians who delight in placing the subject of their loving scrutiny in a larger context.  “What did it mean?” I can hear them asking.  So that their inquiry broadens beyond the simple chronological tracing of Ladnier’s life.  When we learn (through a beautiful reproduction of Ladnier’s draft card) that he worked for the Armour meat-packing company — so justly excoriated in Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE — we can read about Armour and what it meant to Chicago and Chicagoans.  What did it mean to be an African-American musician traveling overseas in the Twenties?  The appropriate footnotes are easily accessible on each page.  The book also concludes with a detailed discography — noting not only the labels and issues, but on which performances Ladnier has a solo, a break, accompaniment, and the like. 

And the book is also visually quite beautiful.  A large-format book (the size of a 12″ record, appropriately) it is generously illustrated in color, with fine reproductions, nicely varied.  I was happily reminded of a beautifully-designed history or biology textbook, where the book designers had sought to set up harmonious vibrations between print and illustrations.  Indeed, one could spend an afternoon immersed in the illustrations: maps, a handwritten letter from Ladnier, record labels, photographs of individual players and of bands.  One illustration I particularly prize is an advertising handbill for a dinner-dance, “A Night At Sea,” to be held at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights, New York, on January 22, 1939.  In part, the music was provided by “Milton ‘Mez’ Mezzrow and his Bluebird Recording Orchestra featuring Tommy Ladnier.”  Even better: heading the bill were Henny Youngman and Molly Picon.  Without this book, I would never have known.

The music?  Well, the authors have taken care of that, too.  As part of the complete Ladnier experience, they have created a CD containing all 189 of Tommy’s recordings in mp3 format.  I don’t entirely understand the technology, but the CD is certainly the ideal companion to the book — containing the equivalent of eight CDs of music. 

I urge you to visit http://www.jazzedit.org/Traveling-blues.html and see for yourself.  In this era of deeply discounted books, the initial price of this one might seem serious, but its beauty, thoroughness, and devotion make it a masterpiece.

As a coda: the noted jazz scholar and collector of rare photographs Frank Driggs wrote an introduction to the book.  Here’s its closing paragraph: “This remarkable book is loaded with details on the lives of Tommy Ladnier and most of the people he played with.  There are hundreds of illustrations, photos of people I’ve never even seen before and I’ve seen most of the photos of jazz musicians over the last fifty years.  The depth of research is I believe unparalleled.  God bless these two fanatics who have devoted so much of their time and energy to bring this work of love to fruition.”

My sentiments exactly! 

MARTY GROSZ LIKES IT HOT!

Since the mid-Seventies, when I first saw him as an integral part of Soprano Summit, Marty Grosz has been one of my heroes — although I know he would have something mildly comic to say about this.  I find his particular brand of hot jazz exquisitely moving in every meaning of that word: his ballads get at the heart of the lyrical sentiment allied to the jazz he loves, and his swinging creations have their own delightful momentum.

Thus I was once again thrilled to see him at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua — allotted a brief set (among several) on Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to one of his heroes, the singer / musician Red McKenzie.  People either adore McKenzie or his particular brand of “hot” and Irish sentimentality eludes them entirely.  But Red worked with the best musicians, got jobs and record contracts for them as well (if memory serves, he not only got Eddie Condon that pioneering 1927 date but also took Jack Kapp down to to the Apex Club to hear Jimmie Noone).  Although Marty is, in person, reasonably unsentimental, McKenzie’s brand of feeling appeals to him — balanced against the prevailing strain of mockery that has some of its roots in his own worldview and some in the music of Fats Waller.

This afternoon, Marty was surrounded by his greatly talented friends: Vince Giordano, keeping the beat and playing lovely melodies on bass sax and string bass; Andy Stein, doubling violin and baritone sax; Dan Block, alternating between clarinet and bass clarinet, and James Dapogny, calling up several dozen pianistic worlds with ease.  They performed three numbers in honor of Red McKenzie.  Each one has a certain on-the-spot quality (head arrangements getting worked out then and there) which leads to occasional tentativeness, but I didn’t care then and I don’t now.  As if to follow suit, my cinematography is much more experimental than usual — which is a polite way of saying that I found myself hemmed in between the light on top of the piano and a music stand . . . but there are some (to me) rewarding closeups, and I captured musicians smiling at each others’ solos, always reassuring.

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS began the set . . . with some stern leadership about when to stop (when the lyrics say “Stop!”) but no one was hurt.  And Dan Block swung out on his bass clarinet:

Then, a real jewel, even with a slightly uncertain beginning — I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, a song that gets performed at a quick bounce these days but began life as a yearning ballad.  And Dan Block throws himself into it body and soul:

Finally, FROM MONDAY ON, a cheerful remembrance of McKenzie, early and later:

As a coda: I would have my readers listen closely to the interplay within this group — Andy Stein’s lyrical baritone and pizzicato violin passages; Vince’s wonderful bass playing and lyrical bass sax solos; Dapogny’s “Spanish tinge” Morton-inspired passage on the first song; Marty’s delightful stage presence, and Dan Block, who has music flowing through him as if it were his soul’s electrical current.  A priceless band, I think, with each of its members an anointed prophet of Hot.

LES RED HOT REEDWARMERS, OH MY! (July 11, 2009)

By popular demand, here are five more hot numbers from Les Red Hot Reedwarmers, the band that lives up to its name, caught live at the 2009 Whitley Bay International Jazz festival, featuring Aurelie Tropez, Stephane Gillot, Martin Seck, and an enthusiastic rhythm section.  (I’ve posted a few performances from this set where Bent Persson joined them — see RED HOT AND BENT. . . ) 

From the book of their idol, Jimmie Noone, they perform IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (a phrase of enthusiastic celebration that has nothing to with Manhattan parking spaces or constricting waistbands):

And a rhetorical question anyone can answer in the affirmative, even if you’re an only child: OH, SISTER!  AIN’T THAT HOT?:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is now sometimes used to signal that the evening’s entertainment is over and that it’s time for well-behaved listeners to go to bed.  But in the Twenties, it was a brisk dance tune (think of the Henderson version with Louis), so the RHR weren’t ready to stop, as you’ll hear:

SAN was recorded not only by Noone, but by the Mound City Blue Blowers, and by a small band out of the Paul Whiteman organization featuring Bix Beiderbecke.  The RHR live up to their heroic antecendents with style:

And, finally, MY DADDY ROCKS ME — where the reference is neither to hammocks or to Pilates.  “With one steady roll,” say the lyrics.  You’ll figure it out once you’ve heard this rocking performance.  And that trumpet man?  None other than our hero, Mr. Persson:

The RHR’s two Stomp Off CDs are also splendid: the band comes through whole on every performance.  I admire the band tremendously for the fervency and beauty of their solo improvisations, but would call your attention to their exact, swinging ensemble playing — those unison passages are suely difficult to execute at any speed, and the band adores racing tempos! 

This post is for M. “Stompy” Jones, President and Treasurer of the Mlle. Aurelie Tropez Fan Club, Canadian Division.

RED HOT and BENT

I couldn’t resist the title.  Nor could I resist the music. 

Readers who have been following my Whitley Bay videos will gather that I am delighted by Swedish trumpeter / cornetist Bent Persson and by clarinet virtuoso Aurelie Tropez.  What could be better than to find them sharing a bandstand — Bent sitting in with the Red Hot Reedwarmers (including Stephane Gillot, alto, Martin Seck, piano)  on July 11, 2009.  It’s a natural blend: the Reedwarmers are inspired by the misic of Jimmie Noone, particularly of his Apex Club Orchestra, which used a similar blend of instruments.  And Bent’s hero (mine, too) — Louis — recorded with Noone a few times in the early Twenties, although Noone’s trumpet partners were usually lesser-known players, my favorite among them being Guy Kelly. 

First, the Reedwarmers perform the very sweet FOREVERMORE, wistful tremolos all over the place:

Then, after Bent had joined them and they had settled themselves, another late-Twenties hit (I think of it most often in Miff Mole’s and Ethel Waters’s versions), BIRMINGHAM BERTHA:

Bent sat out a request from the audience — the pretty LOVE, YOUR MAGIC SPELL IS EVERYWHERE:

Finally, they joined forces on LOOKIN’ GOOD BUT FEELIN’ BAD, which I associate with an explosively hot 1929 recording by Fats Waller and his Buddies . . . dare I say that this performance equals its noble predecessor:

Until next time . . . !

AURELIE TROPEZ / PAUL ASARO (July 12, 2009)

Near the end of the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, I left one session featuring a medium-sized band, preferring to be in a corner in the lobby of the “Cotton Club” bar. 

What awaited me there was a half-hour set of duets between clarinet goddess Aurelie Tropez (of the Red Hot Reedwarmers) and soft-spoken stride monarch Paul Asaro.  Their brand of chamber jazz was more than rewarding — but what amused me was the streams of people, leaving the “Cotton Club,” who paraded along while the music was playing, oblvious to the music or perhaps sated by what they had just heard. 

I wanted to call this post WALK ON BY or WALK THIS WAY, but decided that an excess of whimsy might be . . .  excessive.  So the first two performances here are punctuated by headless torsos ambling across the screen.  Viewers who are easily distracted by such things might choose to turn away from the monitor — but don’t be swayed, because the soundtrack is too good to pass by. 

They began with a slow-medium reading of SHOE SHINE BOY, much closer to Louis than to Jones-Smith, Inc.:

To change the mood, Aurelie suggested THEM THERE EYES:

A nearly ominous BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GAVE (or GIVES?) TO ME, a la Jimmie Noone:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, for Tom Waller:

And, finally, SHINE (or (S-H-I-N-E), depending.  They stomp it off, don’t they? 

 

Two players having a good time, listening to one another, with nary a cliche in sight.  Paul made that slightly recalcitrant piano sing, and Aurelie is long overdue for her own CD.  What tonation and phrasing! 

P.S.  This post is for Bridget Calzaretta, Martin Seck, Stompy Jones, and Boris, of course . . .

NICK WARD: PERCUSSION’S KNIGHT

I had heard the British jazz drummer Nick Ward on several compact discs before visiting the most recent Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, and looked forward to seeing him play.  (He has the Kevin Dorn Seal of Approval, which counts a great deal.) 

My drumming idols all were and are masterful sound-creators, varying timbres and emphases as they move from one part of their drum kit to another.  It isn’t a restless, impatient varying of sound — Jo Jones could stay on his hi-hat for choruses if it felt right to him and to the band — but these drummers are great listeners, commenting on and participating in the collective musical improvisation that flows from them and around them.

Nick Ward embodies what’s best in jazz drumming, empathic, swinging, never overbearing.  He’s not afraid to vary what he’s doing as the situation demands, but will explore the possibilities of one sound for a period of time, getting the beauty of it hot, as someone in a T.S. Eliot poem says.  His rimshots are perfect punctuations; his snare-drum roll is smoother than the law allows; he is visually as well as aurally gratifying. 

Here Nick is driving and encouraging a whole raft of clarinet players — some whose names have eluded me! — in a session, CLARINET CRESCENDO, led by the brilliant reedman Matthias Seuffert.  On the bandstand are Aurelie Tropez and Stephane Gillot, of the Red Hot Reedwarmers, Janet Shaw from Canada, and a rhythm section of Brian Chester, piano; Rachel Hayward, banjo and guitar, and Henry Lemaire, bass.  They romp through a nearly ten-minute heated tribute to Jimmie Noone and James P. Johnson, jamming happily on the latter’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID.  And all this musical bliss took place on July 11, 2009.  Not 1930, but now!

I read somewhere that the British monarchy awards knighthoods for “services rendered to society.”  Jelly Roll Morton wrote a song in which the King made Jelly a Lord for his hot piano.  I hope that the Queen sees this clip: arise, Sir Nick Ward!

OH, DIDN’T THEY RAMBLE!

I spent a few glorious hours last night (Sunday, May 24) at the Ear Inn — absorbing the sounds in two long sets by New Orleanian Evan Christopher (clarinet), Scott Robinson (trumpet, C-melody saxophone, and tenora), Matt Munisteri (guitar), and Danton Boller (bass) — the EarRegulars minus co-leader Jon-Erik Kellso, who was working his plunger mute at the Breda Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.

Candor compels me to say when I walked into the Ear, I found it noisy and crowded — as expected on the Sunday of a four-day weekend.  Finding no place to sit at first, I even entertained the cowardly thought of turning tail and heading back uptown.  But when I saw friendly faces — Jim and Grace Balantic, whose amiable presence I’ve missed for some time, Doug Pomeroy, jazz acupuncturist Marcia Salter, Conal and Vlatka Fowkes — I calmed myself and prepared to stay.

However, throughout the evening I kept noting the newest weird phenomena: photographers who have not yet figured out how to shoot without flash, thus exploding bursts of light a foot from the musicians.  Even more odd, I counted many young male faux-hipsters who now sport hats with tiny brims, rendering their skulls unnaturally huge.  Will no one tell them?  In my day, being Cool didn’t automatically mean looking Goofy.  But I digress.

The Ear Inn, incidentally, never turns into a monastic sanctuary — commerce, food, and drink are part of the cheerful drama of the evening . . . so one of the two hard-working waitresses was forever imploring the bartender (not Victor, alas for us), I need two Boddingtons, one Stella, two vodkas, one grapefruit tequila with salt!” In earnest near-shouts.

A word about the musicians.  Evan is one of the finest clarinet players I will ever hear: his command of that recalcitrant instrument from chalumeau to Davern-like high notes is astonishing, and he has a fat woody New Orleans tone, rapturous in the lower register, moving to an Ed Hall ferocity when he presses the octave key.  He is a fierce player in intensity and sometimes in volume, but he can murmur tenderly when he cares to.  And, although he is fluent — ripping through many-noted phrases — he doesn’t doodle or noodle aimlessly, as so many clarinetists do, filling up every space with superfluous rococco whimsies.

Scott Robinson, wearing his OUTER SPACE shirt, made by his multi-talented wife, Sharon, was in fine form: doubling trumpet and C-melody saxophone in the space of a performance, playing three choruses on the trumpet and then — without pause — going straight to the saxophone, magically.  Few payers (Benny Carter, Tom Baker, Smon Stribling) have managed to double brass and reeds; none of them have made it seem as effortless as Scott does.  And the tenora . . . a truly obscure Catalonian double-reed instrument that he had brought to the Ear on May 10 — which has an oboe’s insistent tone and timbre — is gradually becoming a Robinson friend.

Matt Munisteri was in fine form, even though the Ear gig was the second or third of the day (a concert for the Sidney Bechet Society in the early afternoon, then a 1:30 jam session with Evan in honor of Frankie Manning); he burned throughout the performance, with his humming-along-to-his-solos particularly endearing.

Young Danton Boller, quiet and unassuming, seemed to play his string bass without amplification, but swung heroically, reminding me at points of Milt Hinton or George Duvivier — his melodies ringing, his time flawless, his spaces just right.  One could transcribe a Boller solo for horns and it would be mightily compelling.  He is someone to watch, if you haven’t caught him yet — on CD, he is a delightful presence on the Kellso-Christopher-Munisteri CD, BLUE ROOF BLUES (Arbors).

The band began with a nearly slow AT SUNDOWN (perhaps in honor of the still light-blue evening sky?) which did that pretty tune honor, and then, perhaps in honor of togetherness to come, romped — and I don’t use that word lightly — through TOGETHER (“We strolled the lane to-geth-er,” etc.) in suggesting a modern version of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, with Scott riffing behind Evan, the two horns creating a rocking counterpoint.  A blistering THEM THERE EYES followed, with Evan and Scott swapping the lead in their opening choruses (this quartet showed it knew the value of old-time ensemble playing, something that some musicians have unwisely jettisoned in favor of long solo passages).  Evan, who has a comedic touch, then discussed the business of making requests of the band.  He laid out three conditions: the band had to know the song; the band had to be interested in playing the song; the band would be most knowledgeable and willing to play the request if some financial support was forthcoming.  A man sitting at the bar asked for the very unusual Bing Crosby JUNE IN JANUARY (1934) which Evan taught the band in a matter of moments, and the band learned it in performance, with its final choruses recalling the glories of Soprano Summit in years gone by.

At the end, Evan said, “That was a SPECIAL request!” — and some member of the quartet, primed to do so, asked, “Why was it SPECIAL, Evan?” to which he said, full-throttle, “Because it was PAID FOR!”  Making himself clear, you understand.

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET followed, beginning with hints of Johnny Hodges, then moving into Louis-territory, with Evan and Scott using the Master’s passionate phrasing and high notes in their solos.  And something unexpected had taken place: perhaps because this jazz oasis is called the Ear, the noisy audience had gradually changed into a room (mostly) full of listeners, who had caught the group’s drift.  Of course, there were still people who talked through each song and then clapped enthusiastically at the end because everyone around them was doing so — but I could sense more people were paying attention, always a reassuring spectacle.  And the set ended with a joyous JUNE NIGHT — with laugh-out-loud trades between the two horns, and a jovial unbuttoned vocal by Evan (a little Fats, a little Louis Prima) which surprised everyone.  Then the musicians retired to the back room to eat some well-deserved food.

Emboldened by the idea of JUNE IN JANUARY, before the second set started, I approached Evan with an appropriate portion of currency unsubtly displayed, and asked him, “Excuse me, Evan, would that buy me some SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE?”  Evan took in the bill, said, “SWEAT-HOGS ON PARADE?  OK?!”  And that’s how the set began, the band rounding the corners in wonderful style, Scott even beginning his trumpet solo with a nod to LOVE IN BLOOM, Matt playing a chorus of ringing chords, the band inventing one riff after another to close.  Scott, brave fellow that he is, took up the tenora for a feature on THE NEARNESS OF YOU — which had plaintive urgency as you could hear him getting more comfortable with his new horn.  (At the end of the night, when I talked with him about the tenora, he said, “I know it has a pretty sound, but I haven’t quite found it yet.”  He will, I know.)

HINDUSTAN was a highlight of the BLUE ROOF BLUES CD, with the nifty idea of shifting from the key of C to the key of Eb for alternating choruses, something I’ve never heard another band do, raising the temperature considerably; this performance ended with a serious of ecstatic, hilarious, and knowing phrase-tradings, with quotes from I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT, PAGILACCI, leading up to an urgent, pushing counterpoint, mixing long melodic lines with fervent improvisations, savoring the many textures of the quartet.  A waltz-time NEW ORLEANS cooled things down, beginning with a duet for clarinet and guitar that sounded like back-porch music for a warm night.  A riotous THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE took us back to Noone, to Soprano Summit, with Scott’s rocking solo pleasing Evan so much that he was clapping along with it.  Finally, a down-home MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR mixed operatic fervor and hymnlike unison playing, ending with the band getting softer and softer, as if they were walking slowly into the distance.

It was lovely music, fulfilling and fulfilled, and it has filled my thoughts a day later.  You should have been there!

CHARLESTON IS THE BEST DANCE AFTER ALL

A delicious interlude: Lynne Koehlinger and Peter Varshavsky do an inspired Charleston routine to  Jimmie Noone’s “Every Evening,” at the 2008 Gatsby Ball.   
 
Lynne and Peter defy the laws of physics.  At some points, they seem to be moving in slow motion, with every kick and turn clear, never blurred.  But you know that they’re really dancing at an exhausting pace.  Hard work made to seem effortless!  Their routine has a lovely shape: they begin as a couple in perfect physical harmony, then break out for inspired capers during Earl Hines’s solo and the stop-time chorus, and conclude as a pair.  It’s worthy of Olympic consideration.  Why there isn’t a category for Jazz Dance still mystifies me.  Let’s call it Hot Made Visible.
Thanks to SUN, the Singers’ Underground Network (I just made that up) of Meredith Axelrod and Melissa Collard, who passed this gem on to me.  And now, to you.   
Dramatis Personae:
Melissa Collard should be someone readers of this blog know and admire.  Her first CD, OLD FASHIONED LOVE, is a treasure.  Rumor has it that she and Hal Smith have completed a second one, which is great news. 
Meredith Axelrod, who often works with guitar genius Craig Ventresco, has thoroughly internalized the vocal styles of the early twentieth-century in a way both eerie and exhilirating. 
  

BASIE’S BAD BOYS: ADVENTURES IN LISTENING

In jazz, the most rewarding art combines mature technique, deep feeling, and the willingness of players and singers to become carefree children, trying new things with no censorious adults looking on.

Consider a four-song Chicago recording session that took place one day before Valentine’s Day in 1939.  In total, the results are slightly less than twelve minutes.  But what a memorable brief expression!  The players, perhaps named years later, are “Basie’s Bad Boys,” a title both accurate and inspired.  Basie played not only piano but organ (according to Jo Jones, the organ was particularly ancient, recalcitrant).

He was joined by the rest of his irreplaceable late-Thirties rhythm section: Walter Page, bass; Freddie Green, guitar; Jo Jones, drums.  Jimmy Rushing sang the blues on one number and trombonist Dan Minor accompanied him on it; trumpeters Buck Clayton and Shad Collins stood side-by-side with Lester Young, playing clarinet as well as tenor on “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Goin’ to Chicago,” “Live and Love Tonight,” and “Love Me Or Leave Me.”

I have occasionally been severe about John Hammond-as-mythologizer in this blog, but this session was one of his finest ideas, a worthy addition to “Jones-Smith, Inc.” and the 1940 rehearsal session that paired Goodman and Basie, Young and Christian.  The November 1936 session that produced “Shoe Shine Boy” and “Lady Be Good” was Hammond’s revenge on Decca, the company that had signed Basie to a restrictive contract, the payoff being $750, a paltry sum even in 1936 dollars.  I believe that the Basie band was just about to escape from its Decca servitude in early 1939, so this session might have been another naughty gesture on Hammond’s part – making recordings for Vocalion while the band was still under contract to Decca, sides that then could be issued once the band was free.  These sides were recorded in Chicago, in what Hammond remembered as a really terrible studio, making them impossible to issue.  Ironically, the studio was called United – and that the Basie small band certainly was on this date.

I first heard this music on a precious vinyl record issued in Sweden on the Tax label, “The Alternative Lester,” which contained, among other things, previously unissued takes of “Shoe Shine Boy,” “Dickie’s Dream,” and “Lester Leaps In,” heady stuff in the late Seventies.

Tidied up, all four sides then appeared on a two-record Columbia anthology, “Super Chief,” which had a color drawing of Basie’s smiling visage superimposed on the front of a locomotive (Basie, like Ellington, loved trains and the music they made).  This anthology also offered brilliantly idiosyncratic notes by Michael Brooks, a writer who took chances: some of his swooping metaphorical leaps are audacious.  Brooks had also interviewed Jones and other Basieites, and their recollections are priceless.

The four sides are now available on the Lester Young Mosaic box set (MD4-239), and they sound spectacular.  I had not heard them for a few years, having been separated from my copy of “Super Chief,” but they burst through the speakers.

They represent an Edenic glimpse into what the Basie band truly was – a good-natured, intense traveling jam session made up of supremely telepathic players.  For me, the great period of that band was delineated by Lester Young’s arrival and departure.  I can still marvel at individual solos recorded from 1940 onwards by Clayton, Dicky Wells, Buddy Tate. Don Byas, Vic Dickenson, that gliding rhythm section, Rushing and Helen Humes.  But the demands or expectations of the marketplace made the band outgrow itself.  What was a small group at the Reno Club in Kansas City was compelled to become a Swing Era big band – nearly doubling in size and heft.  It gained power yet lost mobility.  Some of the early Deccas show the ghost of the Reno Club band: “Panassie Stomp” and “Out the Window” come to mind.  But as arrangers came in, capable ones, and popular tunes became part of the repertoire in hopes of a hit record, the Basie band sounds like someone who has gained fifty pounds overnight.  On the 1938 radio airshots from the Famous Door (the two versions of “Indiana”) – soloists have room to invent, to play. Behind a trumpet solo, Lester creates a background, which the reeds fall in with instantaneously.  The two dozen-plus men on the stand function as a small group, musically jostling and joking.  The best recordings of the period balance soloists, the rhythm section, and spare riff backgrounds.  But as the Basie band became identified with “One O’Clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” those sliding trombones, trumpets fanning their metal derbies, saxes repeating patterns, became the norm.  What had been extemporaneous became more mechanical.  Arrangements might have been necessary as the band grew, to prevent small collisions, but no wonder Lester complained that rehearsals had become tiresome, that Vic Dickenson, legend has it, was fired for falling asleep on the stand.  The unthinkable had happened: the band had become dull.

But it had not happened yet at this session.  “I Ain’t Got Nobody” had been a favorite of both Basie and Hammond as a piano feature; on another clandestine 1938 session, Basie, Page, and Jones, strolled through that potentially lachrymose song, first as a meditative Fats Waller medium-tempo rhapsody, full of baroque excursions – a tribute to Basie’s friend and mentor.  Then, as if moving into Modern Times, away from His Master’s Voice, Basie played it in his own faster tempo, leaving spaces all along for Page and Jo to propel, to encourage.  This three-minute lesson in jazz piano history is available on the Vanguard “From Spirituals to Swing” set and the Phontastic “Lester – Amadeus” disc.

The 1939 “I Ain’t Got Nobody” from Chicago begins at the brisk tempo Basie had concluded with in 1938, yet with an unusual Basie-with-rhythm introduction: his first phrase a characteristic simple riff owing something to “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me.” I suspect that it was one of Basie’s beloved gestures, but it would have been a sly in-joke if he had been thinking of “Habit,” whose opening phrase states that the lover is addicted to the Love Object – while playing “Nobody,” whose lyrics drip lonely self-pity.  His second figure moves into an upwards chromatic run, something Basie would often use to end a number rather than begin it.  Even though Green’s guitar is deeply buried, felt rather than heard at best, the sound of the rhythm is so instantly infectious that a listener does not notice the oddity of Basie’s introduction at first.

Then he launches into the familiar melody, leaving only the most bare contours, stating the theme in widely spaced, ringing chords.  Basie casually alternates passages of embellished melody with his familiar catch-phrases: what makes this potentially threadbare style so winning is his rhythmic sense, as well as the nearly choral support the rhythm section gives, Page’s bass resounding like a reassuring heartbeat.  Even when the gesture Basie launches into (the phrase just before the bridge) is such a timeworn Waller phrase, his good humor and rhythmic delight maskits familiarity.  (Even when borrowing from Waller, Basie’s individuality is as strong as Louis’s or Bird’s: who, on hearing this, would mistake him for another pianist?)

During that bridge, I hear some talking, perhaps merely an affirmative grunt from Basie or one of the musicians?  Was Basie telling Lester that he was up next, or was Hammond directing traffic?  It’s clearly not a Fats-aside, meant to be heard, but a private nudge or reminder – teasingly audible but not decipherable, even given the clarity of the CD.  Readers with better hearing than mine — it has stumped fellow listeners! — are invited to send their conjectures for appropriate prizes.

But musicians did not give such verbal cues on record unless it was an informal session or if the take was to be scrapped.  This makes me wonder if this performance, the first one mastered that session, was originally a casual warm-up, a run-through to get a balance in this murky studio.  But I can imagine that the musicians and Hammond, at the end of this take, thought that this performance too good to discard.  Basie ends his chorus with a single repeated note, one of his trademarks (where else did Harry Edison get this ultimately irritating mannerism from?) that perhaps he used as a signal, “I’m finished.  Your turn now.”

Everything we might expect is transformed when Lester enters, not dancing in on a complex swooping tenor phrase, but announcing his presence on clarinet.  His announcement is a simple phrase followed by a rest, but it is arresting.  What strikes the listener is Lester’s particular tone.  Early in his career, he played a cheap metal clarinet – the kind of instrument students and band musicians, who marched outdoors, would have used instead of the more delicate wooden models.  And Lester’s particular sound is supposed to have been the result of this instrument.  Benny Goodman is supposed to have been so entranced with the way Lester played clarinet that he gave Lester a better one (one rebuttal to tales of Goodman’s stinginess).  This instrument was stolen some time during Lester’s stay with the band, but his colleagues say that he never played a metal clarinet on records.  But his tone, piping, narrow, almost shrill, forceful, is not like any other clarinetist’s, not Shaw, Bigard, Noone . . . .

A digression here.  While vacationing in Maine, the Beloved and I went twice to an open-air flea market, the most varied and intriguing one I ever saw.  There I saw not one but two metal clarinets for sale, and nearly succumbed to their lure.  Visible rust kept me from even inquiring the price.  If I could have been sure that a metal clarinet would enable me to approach Lester’s sound(s), I would have bought one happily.  But I remembered a conversation with a musician in his eighties, who said that everyone who plays an instrument inevitably sounds different, because of the shape of one’s skull and the cavities within it govern what happens when a player buzzes into a metal mouthpiece or makes the reed vibrate.  That anyone could sound like anyone else would be miraculous, and that someone like Paul Quinichette succeeded so well in copying aspects of Lester’s tone is remarkable rather than deplorable.

But back to Lester.  we hear that tone first, then his eloquent use of space, one tumbling phrase separated from the next by breathing-pauses.  Although his range is consciously limited (most clarinetists cannot resist the temptation to fill the air with ornamental notes that show off technique but destroy potential architecture) and his note choices restrained, he is bobbing and weaving over the background.  What we hear is greatly influenced by Basie’s spareness, translated into Lester’s vocabulary, sensibility, and instrument.

That background is both plain and propulsive: the muted trumpets of Clayton (left) and Collins (right)  doing four doo-wahs in succession behind him.  No doubt that phrase was a familiar one for jazz players well before Ellington popularized it in capital letters as part of the lyrics and music of the 1932 “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”  But one doesn’t notice its familiarity because it fits so well.  A listener senses only that something dynamic and irresistible has taken place, as the texture of the rhythm section (Basie’s treble line, Page’s steady tread, the whish of Jones’s hi-hat) has suddenly exploded into a much more richly textured sound, Lester’s thin, penetrating line undulating over the deeper, half-muffled choral punctuations of the horns.  Basie’s chorus was anything but monochromatic, but when the horns enter, color explodes in the listener’s consciousness.

And the dynamic contrast is not only strong but unexpected: often, recordings began with the piano or the rhythm section, then went to a chorus of a soloist over that rhythm, then (and only then) was the soloist joined by other horns in support.  Because of the time limitations of the 78 rpm record, everything seems telescoped: not overly fast, but moving at top speed with no time for elaborate transitions between one kind of display and the next.  As was common practice, the trumpets laid out during the bridge, their absence letting us hear the dry slap of Jo Jones’s wire brushes on his snare drum.  (In my mind’s eye, I see him, even late in life, boisterous, grinning, wrists and elbows in motion.) Lester remembered his childhood in New Orleans with affection, and here he offers his own version of the clarinet’s traditional place in the ensemble, dancing in arcs of notes over the brass.  The remainder of his solo, its balance between a bridge made up mostly of passages of repeated notes, the upward arpeggios that bookend that bridge (their highest note verging on the shrill) — could be committed to memory, genuinely his, simple yet inevitable.  And its tonal variations, so different from what a “better” clarinet player might have offered, and so much more rewarding. Another clarinet player might have worked up to a high note, a dazzling technical flurry to conclude his solo; Lester, making way for the next player, winds down into a sweet decrescendo, a musing figure, generously bowing out as if to prepare the way.

When he concludes, the transition is seamless and wondrous.  From clarinet-backed-by-trumpets, we have Buck backed by Lester and Shad, the two of them using another simple Swing Era convention that develops the earlier backing riff but doesn’t repeat it.  (This was the glory of the Basie “Kansas City” style that other orchestras tried to imitate but failed at, choosing instead to repeat the same riff for chorus after chorus.)  This figure seems an orchestral transcription of one of Basie’s favorite triplet figures.

In some ways, what one realizes in this performance is the strength and pervasive durability of Basie’s personality.  Although he was a modest, reticent man, his artistic identity was so strong that his soloists seem to share his most characteristic thoughts, shapes, and utterances, as he is drawing upon theirs.  This record is of course the triumph of individualists, having their instantly recognizable time to say their piece, but it is also the triumph of a completely integrated artistic community, where ideas have become generously-shared communal property.  And the two kinds of expression balance.  Soloists step forward, testify, and then take their place in the congregation so that the next person can speak.

Clayton’s solo is another triumph of what Louis called “tonation and phrasing,” Buck’s sound, his way of attacking his notes.  Like Lester, he announces himself – his choice being a punchy, staccato phrase reminiscent of the spare closing riffs of “Every Tub.”  Although the trumpet style of the late Thirties was often commanding, insisting, Clayton’s sound (his horn cup-muted as it often was) asks rather than demands, hitting some notes precisely, bending and slurring others.  But his originality is paramount.  Even when he fills his second phrase with one of the oldest motifs in jazz, a direct reference to Bolden’s “funky butt, funky butt, take it away,” the borrowing does not intrude.  The listener, again, doesn’t think, “Oh, that old thing?” because the notes tumble on, one of Clayton’s talents being in rhythmic placement, instinctively knowing how many notes would fit neatly in a scalar phrase.  His solo is not made of a series of ascents, but a progression of descending phrases, somewhere between Bill Robinson dancing down the stairs and a waiter with a full tray of dishes making his way, carefully but rapidly.  And Buck seems to improvise on his own ideas: the beginning of his bridge contains a clearly articulated descending figure, which he later turns into a half-comedic slide down an imagined slope.  At times, the solo uses repeated notes (not as Lester did) in a way that players like Muggsy Spanier would flatten into predictable pounding of simple ideas.  What makes Clayton’s work pleasing is his vocalized tone, his rhythmic subtleties.  And, as Basie had signaled the end of his solo by playing with one note, Clayton earnestly turns the same figure over and over as his thirty-two bars come to a close.

On a more predictable recording, with everyone given a turn, the next soloist would have been Collins, but that would have courted the monotony of one trumpet following another.  What comes next is a brilliant offering, something that didn’t happen often: Lester coming back for another solo, this time on tenor.  (It happens on the Kansas City Six recording of “Them There Eyes” and on the Glenn Hardman session, on “China Boy” and perhaps elsewhere.)  With feline grace, Lester doesn’t “leap in” immediately, but there is the pause of a short breath, the silence heightening our expectations: what will happen next?  And instead of a horn or horns backing him, there is only the rhythm section – but Basie has become his own orchestra, his simple bell-like rhythmic figures (new ones this time) urging Lester on.  Behind him, one must marvel at the supple, pulsing time that Jo, Walter, and Freddie grant – a rhythmic wave that could sustain a weaker soloist and push a strong one to creative heights.  Again, in Lester’s solo, one hears those arpeggios, up and down, his turning melodic lines into a blues.  This second solo seems to encapsulate all of his style.  It could be sung; it is full of unexpected pauses; it has its own wandering yet logical shape.  On tenor, he purrs, cajoles in a more mellow way.  I would love to hear his two solos on this recording played simultaneously, Lester as one-man band, playing counterpoint with himself.  I’d be nearly as happy to see the two solos notated in parallel, to see their shapes over the same chords.  Until then, I will simply play this record over and over.

Records made for issue on the expected 10″ 78 discs were planned to be somewhere between three and three-and-a-half minutes long.  Studios had clocks, but experienced musicians had to know how many choruses could fit at a particular tempo.  After Lester’s chorus, one way to conclude the record – with time for one chorus – would have been a collective improvisation, or a riff beneath another soloist leading to a final four bars of jamming.  (Think of the Holiday-Wilson “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” and how it ends, for instance.)  This record’s final chorus is an egalitarian one, audibly something worked out in progress, which completes the circle that records were.  In the first instance, Clayton’s chorus came between Lester’s two solos, affording him time to put down his clarinet and clip his tenor on to his neck strap – something that big-band reed players were expected to do with ease, even in the middle of an arrangement, although photographs show them having stands for their instruments on the job.  However, after Lester’s tenor chorus is concluded, there is a brief space, not quite strictly delineated, where all one hears is Basie responding with punctuations to the initial two-trumpet riff, Jones’s accents moving the music along.  It takes Lester four bars, more or less, to get his clarinet into play, and then we hear him begin to dance over the background again.  The listener who is prepared for another clarinet-with-rhythm bridge is in for a surprise, as that bridge is given over to trumpeter Shad Collins, a new member of the band whose style came out of the same roots as Clayton’s – but one would never mistake one for the other.  Jo Jones said that Shad made each note pop out as if he were making spitballs, but there is more to his style than a simple percussive attack.  As Clayton’s tone is beseeching, fragile, Collins’s tone is nearly derisive, needling, a buzzing that is, in some way, insect-like.  Yes, there is a stylized bit of Armstrong declaration, but also the teasing sonic play of Rex Stewart.  His solo goes by so fast but deserves a rehearing.  And, in the last eight bars, everything coalesces precisely because the band seems willing to go on forever, happily unchecked – Lester singing his wry song over the trumpets, Basie commenting and urging everyone on, and the rhythm pulsing without strain or exhaustion.  Everyone pedals happily off into some imagined swing paradise.

Ezra Pound, always writing manifestoes, had a simple one: MAKE IT NEW.  This 2:55 of recorded time is a true embodiment of that principle.  Take ideas going back to Economy Hall and make them ardent, emotionally strong, by blending individuality and community.  Synthesize without ever seeming synthetic.  All this in a badly-designed recording studio in Chicago one day in February nearly seventy years ago.

The other three sides will reveal their beauties with repeated listening, but I will suggest only these.  The sound that Basie got from the organ on “Goin’ to Chicago,” his familiar piano gestures transfigured by that instrument, and the beautiful depth of Page’s bass.  The way Basie and Jo accompany Clayton’s lovely open blues chorus; the sound of Lester’s clarinet behind Jimmy Rushing’s voice, veering in 1939 between entreaty and delicacy; Dan Minor’s plainer version of Dicky Wells’s familiar phrases behind Jimmy, and Shad’s commentary, which gives way to another rocking episode of Lester, on clarinet, riffing over the two trumpets in what was the simplest of blues riffs.  (Where was Dicky?  Had he misbehaved, or was Minor finally being given a chance to have a solo – a mere twelve bars of traditional blues accompaniment?  Hammond must have approved of Minor’s playing, because Minor stands alongside Bechet, Ladnier, James P. Johnson, Page, and Jo – some band! – on the 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert.)  On “Live and Love Tonight,” a 1934 movie song – recorded by the Ellington band and who else in a jazz context, and whose choice was it? – Basie’s organ introduction is melodramatic, suggesting the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Bijou, his volume nearly overwhelming the microphone, before it settles down into a marvelous Clayton melodic statement.  Listeners who don’t quite understand the reverence musicians had for Basie might listen closely to his accompaniment – on a bulky and balky instrument – behind Clayton.  It is a graduate seminar on how to guide, cheer, and raise a soloist and the band.  And Basie’s solo chorus that follows is anything but a solo – in fact, the soloists who should get our attention are Page and Jones.  February in Chicago might have been brutal, for someone coughs quietly during that bridge, too.  And the Waller-Basie trill that he can’t help inserting near the end of the chorus is hilarious: given the bulk of the organ’s sound, it is like Oliver Hardy on point, executing a pirouette.  Lester’s chorus is emotionally and rhythmically moving, apparently a series of easy ascents and descents through the chorus – but his tone is earnest and unfulfilled, as if whatever request he was making was, he knew, not going to be granted.  The ending is more pious than one might have expected, but I suspect it was a combination of time running out and no one having anything to say after Lester’s exposition.  Jo Jones said of “Love Me Or Leave Me,” happily, that he could be heard now, which is true, and we hear him closing his hi-hat cymbals decisively rather than keeping them part open, but the sound is crisp, especially considering the murk which dominated the previous three sides.  This version of Donaldson’s edgy lament predates “Dickie’s Dream,” but it suggests that these chord changes were meat and drink to this Basie band much as “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” also by Donaldson, pared down to “Moten Swing,” was for the 1932 band on into 1937 or so, as broadcast openings and closings show.  This, one feels, is what the band must have sounded like when everyone was fully warmed up: hear how Clayton manages to turn a phrase over and over in the middle of his solo, how Lester dances in to his, followed by a full Collins chorus, and then an abbreviated chorus, the sound of a band running out of time.  This recording – a simple series of solos over rhythm with a get-it-all-in final sixteen bars – is a banquet, even though it leaves us wanting more.

Artists at play, blessedly and brilliantly.

POSTSCRIPT: Both Dan Block and Doug Pomeroy, whose opinions I trust, feel that Lester was probably playing a metal clarinet on the 1938 Kansas City Six recordings.