Tag Archives: Jimmy Bertrand

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

HOT ETYMOLOGY at WHITLEY BAY: The WINTELER-PERSSON-NICHOLS-WARD WASHBOARD WIZARDS (Oct. 26, 2012)

The song is called FORTY AND TIGHT — at the time, this expression was the highest expression of slang praise . . . an in-group encomium for absolute perfection.  What did it refer to?  Even today, a cohesive band refers to itself as “tight,” but what scale had forty at the very top?  One can privately construe all sorts of potentially lewd meanings — but JAZZ LIVES requires the services of some hot etymologist with solid Chicagoan credentials.

While we’re waiting, here are the Whitley Bay Washboard Wizards — Thomas Winteler, clarinet; Bent Persson, cornet; Keith Nichols, piano; Nick Ward, washboard.  They evoke the Johnny Dodds Washboard Stompers (recording for Victor) and Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards.

“Forty and tight,” indeed.  (Incidentally, the neatly coiffed woman sitting to the right told me that she was Tommy Rockwell’s great-niece, but this hasn’t been verified yet.)

May your happiness increase.

HARLEM MAD: GLENN CRYTZER AND HIS SYNCOPATORS

The stuff is here and it’s mellow!

Many jazz musicans present themselves not only as players but as composers, with varying results. 

Seattle-based Glenn Crytzer — guitarist, banjoist, singer — is one of those rare creative beings who beautifully fills both roles.  The evidence is on YouTube, and most recently on a new small-band CD, HARLEM MAD, which presents twenty (count ’em) originals by Glenn, with star turns by Meschiya Lake, Solomon Douglas, and Ray Skjelbred. 

Instead of brooding “compositions” that serve only as jumping-off places for long solos, or thirty-two bar borrowings that take their A section from something familiar and their B from something even more so, Glenn’s songs have real shape and authenticity. 

On HARLEM MAD, you’ll hear a broad variety of performances that could be taken from the archives — unissued takes and masters from 1926 to 1949, from Glenn’s own take on rough-hewn South Side Chicago of the Twenties (Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Bertrand) to cheerfully lopsided jump tunes that nod to Monk as well as Jacquet and Byas. 

And there are vocals as well — for the justly-praised Meschiya Lake, who comes through on this CD as a fully-developed star personality, whether moaning the blues or suggesting that we get rhythm and jump with her.  The songs romp, groove, and moan — there are paeans to getting frisky on the dance floor, as well as heartbroken blues and naughty laments about making love to the wrong woman in the dark . . . all genres are more than adequately spoken for!’

I thought of Rod Serling — a jazz fan wanders into a diner where he’s never been, in an unidentified time and place.  The coffee is hot; the apple pie is fine . . . . and the jukebox needs no coins and plays one wildly appealing yet unfamiliar song after another . . .  But this isn’t the Twilight Zone, and HARLEM MAD isn’t a science-fiction dreamlike artifact.  

Here are Glenn, Meschiya, and the Syncopators performing one of Glenn’s originals from HARLEM MAD, NEW YEAR BLUES.  (And, yes, who could mistake the trumpet player in the clip?  That’s our own Bria Skonberg.):

And TEN ‘TIL FIVE, which suggests both the 1941 Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian and one of the Minton’s sessions recorded that same year by Jerry Newman:

See what I mean?  The compositions on HARLEM MAD are the title song / TEN ‘TIL FIVE / YOU DON’T SAY / WITCHING HOUR BLUES / FORTUNATE LOVE / BARNEY’S BOUNCE / PAYIN’ NO MIND / CENTURY STOMPS / NEW YEAR BLUES / WALLINGFORD WIGGLES / I GOT NOTHIN’ / LAZY / THE CLAWJAMMER / MR. RHYTHM / FUMBLIN’ AROUND / THE DEPRIVATION BLUES / RAINIER VALLEY RHYTHM / PARC ON SUMMIT / THE BEAVER BUMP / NICE AND SLOE. 

The multi-talented musicians on the CD are Steve Mostovoy, trumpet / cornet; Dave Loomis, trombone; Craig Flory, clarinet / tenor; Paul Woltz, alto / brass bass; Ray Skjelbred or Solomon Douglas, piano; Glenn Crytzer, guitar / banjo / vocal; Dave Brown or Matt Weiner, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums / washboard; Meschiya Lake, vocals. 

It’s not nice to tease people, but if you’re feeling whimsical when one of your jazz pals is visiting, you might pick a track from this CD and put it on, unannounced and unidentified . . . when the eyebrows go up and the friend wants to know exactly what that music (newly encountered) is, see how far you can go with a straight face, “Oh, that’s an unissued 1930 Champion by an otherwise unknown Chicago band,” or “That’s something they dug out of the Savoy vaults from 1947.  Like it?” 

Glenn  Crytzer and the Syncopators are just that good, just that swinging. 

There’s a great interview with Glenn at SWUNGOVER: http://swungover.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/interview-with-glenn-crytzer-of-the-syncopators/

and for more information about HARLEM MAD, visit Glenn’s website: http://www.syncopators.com.  Mellow indeed.

FRANKLY RESTORATIVE

While looking for something else, I stumbled onto the YouTube channel of “blindleroygarnett,” which features a good many rare 78s from the Twenties and Thirties — the focus here is on rollicking blues piano. 

The site is full of wonders, but the treasure for today is TRANSATLANTIC STOMP, by E.C. Cobb and his Corn Eaters, recorded for Victor on December 10, 1928. 

I will assume that the title has something to do with the nation’s delight at Lindbergh’s accomplishment the previous year, but will leave speculation beyond that to the cultural historians.

The Red Hot Jazz site lists the personnel as Junie Cobb, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jimmy Bertrand, drums and xylophone, Frank Melrose, piano, and possibly Punch Miller or Jimmy Cobb, cornets.   

For me the great attraction of this record is its ebullience, its unflagging bounce — much of it due to Melrose’s sparkling piano in the ensembles.  Melrose, who died young in mysterious circumstances, has been a legendary figure in jazz for some time, but a few years ago two CDs were issued (one on Delmark, one on Solo Art) that do as much as anything could to illuminate the life and music of this joyous improviser.*   

That’s Frank Melrose, hat tipped at the proper angle, in the tinted portrait. 

The recording of TRANSATLANTIC STOMP has a place in medical triage: the patient who doesn’t respond it needs emergency room care immediately.

The Melrose CDs are JELLY ROLL STOMP (Black Swan BSCD-35, available through www.jazzology.com).  It’s produced by the drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith — with liner notes by Hal and by Frank’s daughter Ida — both of whom read this blog! 

The second half of the Melrose bonanza is contained on a CD called BLUESIANA (Delmark DE 245), available through www.delmark.com.  And there’s more of Frank to be heard on other sessions with a variety of hot Chicagoans — but these two CDs are a good start, including solo, duo, trio recordings, most of the Bud Jacobson Jungle Kings rarities, and the previously unissued recordings with cornetist Pete Dailey from 1940. 

O RARE BENT PERSSON (and FRIENDS)!

Last night — Thursday, July 9, 2009 —  I witnessed the kind of jazz creativity and bravery that at times left me with tears in my eyes. 

The occasion was a concert organized by the Swedish trumpeter / cornetist / Louis Armstrong scholar Bent Persson, one of my heroes, in tribute to his hero Louis: “YOUNG LOUIS,” which — in two hour-long sets — demonstrated much about Louis’s first six years of recordings as well as the majesty of players now alive. 

The band was a stellar international crew: Mike Durham, tpt, joining Bent at the start and finish, as well as being a most adept and witty master of ceremonies; the gruff trombonist Paul Munnery; the brilliant reedman (clarinet and alto this time) Matthias Seuffert; the nimble pianist Martin Litton; the remarkable plectrist (banjos and guitar) Jacob Ullberger; the very fine brass bassist Phil Rutherford; the frankly astonishing percussionist Nick Ward.  The concert took place at the very modern Sage Gateshead in Newcastle, UK — lovely acoustics and a sound engineer at the back who was truly paying attention!  I attempted to videotape the whole thing (being a man of daring but not much discretion) but was stopped by an usher who whispered ferociously that there was NO photography of any kind allowed and I would have to leave if I continued . . . so I stopped.  But I did capture the band’s second song, a stately rock through King Joe Oliver’s WHERE DID YOU STAY LAST NIGHT? — much as it might have sounded in Chicago, 1922-23.  My video doesn’t capture everything — but you can see the graceful arcs of Nick Ward’s arms behind his drum set: I had a hard time taking my eyes off of him.   

Lovely as it is, that performance can’t summon up all of what I found so moving in this concert.  It wasn’t a pure repertory performance, where musicians strive to reproduce old records “live”; no, what was fascinating was the fervent interplay between the Past and Now, between the Great Figures and the living players onstage.  Everyone in this band knew the original records, but they were encouraged to dance back and forth between honoring the past by playing it note-for-note and by going for themselves.  Thus, Bent created solos that sounded like ones Louis might have — should have! — recorded, and his bravery and risk-taking were more than heartening.  I have never seen him in person, and he would give the most timid of us courage to learn the craft, to shut our eyes, and to make something new.  His playing on POTATO HEAD BLUES was immensely moving — watching him dare the Fates and declare his love for Louis in front of our eyes.  Bent also sang in several performances — mostly scatting, but once or twice delivering the lyrics in a sweetly earnest way — another example of an artist going beyond the amazing things we’ve already come to expect.  It was also delightful to watch the musicians grin broadly at each other as the beautiful solos and ensemble work unfolded.   

The concert moved briskly from Louis’s sojourn with Oliver to his work with Clarence Williams small groups, his own Hot Five and Seven, an evocation of Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards, Louis’s duet with Earl Hines, his Hot Choruses (as reimagined by Bent over a thirty-year period), with more than a few surprises.  One of them — gloriously — was the appearance of bass saxophone titan Frans Sjostrom for a version of BEAU KOO JACK by the trio called, so correctly, the Hot Jazz Trio (their one CD is under that name on the Kenneth label): Bent, Jacob, and Frans.  Wonderful both in itself and as a reinvention of that brightly ornate recording.  Sjostrom stayed around for the final ensemble celebration on HIGH SOCIETY, which brought tears to my eyes.   

I am posting this on Friday morning, hours before the Whitley Bay extravaganza — some 130 bands playing in rotation for three days in four simultaneous locations — is scheduled to begin.  There’ll be more magnificent, moving jazz, I am sure!  It promises to be both uplifting and overwhelming.  (And, as an extra delight, I am joined here by two of my three Official British Cousins — Bob Cox and John Whitehorn — men of great humor, generosity, and sensibility — whom I first met at Westoverledingen, Germany, in 2007, when we were rapt attendees at another Manfred Selchow jazz festival.  Always nice to have friends nearby!)

A postscript: at the concert, copies of an otherwise unknown compact disc were for sale — a recording of a similar YOUNG LOUIS concert from 2002, with many of the same players.  I snapped up one copy (paying for it, of course) and by the end of the concert, the CDs were all gone.  Let us hope that Bent and Co. choose to reissue that one and other versions.  I’m going to treasure it, as well as my memories of the concert I experienced.