Tag Archives: Jimmy Dorsey

WHEN LOVE GETS HOT, SPECIAL INSTRUMENTS ARE REQUIRED

ROSES OF PICARDY was a famous ballad of the First World War, composed by Frederic Weatherly (lyrics) and Haydn Wood (music), gracefully describing the lasting love of an Englishman and a Frenchwoman . . .

Verse: She is watching by the poplars, / Colinette with the sea-blue eyes, / She is watching and longing, and waiting / Where the long white roadway lies, / And a song stirs in the silence, / As the wind in the boughs above, / She listens and starts and trembles, / ‘Tis the first little song of love.

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

Verse: And the years fly on forever, / Till the shadows veil their skies, / But he loves to hold her little hands, / And look into her sea-blue eyes, / And she sees the road by the poplars, / Where they met in the bygone years, / For the first little song of the roses, / Is the last little song she hears:

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

For the full effect, here is a glorious reading of the song by Ben Heppner:

But my subject is a recording of PICARDY by Red Nichols — full of surprises.  I first encountered the Nichols records of this period when I was young; I was especially intrigued by them because of my childhood affection for the film THE FIVE PENNIES.  My local suburban librarian was hip: the library’s holdings included Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Rushing, THE SOUND OF JAZZ, Ellington, and a Brunswick reissue of Nichols circa 1927-30, where I first heard IDA, AVALON, CHINA BOY, THE SHEIK, and others.

I hadn’t heard ROSES OF PICARDY until my recent purchase of the very gratifying sets of the Nichols Brunswicks (1926-32) on the Jazz Oracle label.  It became one of those essential recordings for me — one that I could play ten times in a row on the way to work.

I haven’t found a good explanation for Nichols’ fondness for what might be called “chestnuts” or “good old good ones” — solidly established classic pop hits of ten or more years earlier: IDA, MY GAL SAL, JAPANESE SANDMAN, WHISPERING, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, MARGIE, ALICE BLUE GOWN, INDIANA, SMILES, DINAH, WHO.  In this, he wasn’t so different from other jazz players, then and now, who knew that familiar favorites would both attract an audience and be part of the common knowledge.  (if the leader suggests SWEET SUE — in 1929 or 2013 — few musicians look puzzled or uncomfortable.)

But ROSES OF PICARDY had a sentimental identification, and I wonder if Nichols’ “jazzing” it struck some older listeners as heretical: “That’s not the way to play that pretty song!”  It might serve as a reminder that improvisation, no matter how established and safe it seems to our ears now, always sounds radical to some listeners.

This version was recorded on February 16, 1929, as the fifth performance of a date where the musicians had already completed two takes apiece of ALICE BLUE GOWN and ALLAH’S HOLIDAY.  I wonder if they had some time left at the conclusion and decided to create a head arrangement — somewhat less complex than the Glenn Miller charts for the preceding songs.  The personnel for the first four songs was Nichols, Mannie Klein, Miller, Dudley Fosdick, Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingston, Adrian Rollini, Arthur Schutt, Carl Kress, and an unidentified drummer.  I hear a smaller group on PICARDY and we know for sure that Miller was not present, but whether there was a second trumpet is not certain.

The band charges into the song, Nichols presenting the melody in a clear, assertive way — more like a wonderfully adept cornetist at a band concert than a hot jazz player leaving the melody behind.  One hears the dry slap of the drummer’s wire brushes, the sound of the bass saxophone (could it be anyone except Rollini?).  Apparently there is a high-pitched trombone playing staccato phrases and a thin but graceful clarinet line.  I take it on faith that there is a pianist (I do not hear a guitar) but the former is simply laying down the plain harmonies in support.

I also notice that the band — in subtle opposition to Nichols’ chosen tempo or perhaps simply finding a better groove — gently slows down as it proceeds through the two minutes and thirty-one seconds.  (The piano-drum duet in the first half of the final chorus is especially leisurely.)  I would not have noticed this so much had I not played the recording over and over and heard that the opening chorus was taken at a much brighter tempo than the closing.  The first chorus is very satisfying: one could use it is a compact example of simple melodic embellishment (in terms of ornamented melody) and neat ensemble playing.

Just as a listener might be settling into complacency, Rollini leaps in with a break, a marvel in itself.  One could point to its simplicity — arpeggios and repeated notes — but the combination of grace and ferocity is delightful.  It also suggests the small devices that Nichols and his contemporaries set up for variety, so that a recording was more than four or five choruses of ensemble – solo – ensemble.

The first half of the second chorus is given over to another embellished improvisation on the theme — by a brass player over a slightly ornate piano, bass saxophone, and drums.  On first hearing, one automatically assumes “trombone in the Miff Mole style, staccato yet elegant,” but the range is somewhat higher, the tone lighter.  The player’s approach is close to Nichols’ opening exposition, yet the second solo is slightly more fluid, punctuated by the pianist’s upward arpeggios.

In the second half of this chorus, we hear Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone over an even lighter background.  For some reason, there is no bass saxophone, so the texture is much lighter — and, listening closely, one has the delightful sensation of expectations being reversed.  Instead of textures becoming more rich, volume and density increasing, we are hearing the instruments of the orchestra — Papa Haydn in Hot — taking a break, leaving the stand.  The Incredible Shrinking Orchestra!

And then someone takes another break — with key change — to lead us into a world of even more playful marvels.  We’ve just heard the sonorities of Dorsey’s alto (the rich yet light sound that other players delighted in) — what is this squeaky thing that follows?

It might be a clarinet — Nichols often employed Pee Wee Russell and Fud Livingston, both of whom departed from orthodox clarinet sound in favor of explorations — but it sounds stranger than strange, even a bit elementary.  Did someone’s kid brother or sister bring a student model clarinet into the session to sit in for a chorus?

The ear is first mystified, then delighted.

And for a moment it seems as if all the other musicians have fled, leaving only the unusual reed player and the pianist, chiming behind perfectly, the drummer, hitting a cymbal (this has been worked out, one senses in retrospect) in front of the microphones.  Bass saxophone, alto, possibly other reeds, cornet and other brass — everyone’s in the alley next to the Brunswick studios taking a break, trading gossip or lighting up.

But no.  The third chorus is given over to a duet for two instruments that sound almost familiar — trombone and clarinet, we assume — for sixteen bars. For forty seconds — a short interlude in anyone’s lifespan but a substantial part of this 78 RPM recording — these two instruments cavort deliciously.  The “trombone” continues an ornamented exploration of PICARDY — in case listeners might have been led so far astray by the uncontrollable impulses of Reckless Jazz to forget where land is — as the “clarinet” dances overhead.  That “clarinet” has an oddly choked sound and a small range, so the player contents himself with deeply swinging emphases, rather like a speaker who has a small vocabulary but is vigorously concerned that the audience miss the point: here it is, and here it is again — getting somewhat more adventurous as the chorus continues, even venturing a series of upward plaintive phrases, the “trombone” sounded muffled but still agile beneath.

On my first hearing, driving to work as I was, I couldn’t check the personnel listings, but I played this exuberantly odd interlude over and over, thinking, “Is that Fud on clarinet and Miff on trombone?”  But I felt as if something otherworldly was taking place: had I been transported to an alternative realm, or was this soundtrack music for a pre-FANTASIA fantasia, where an animated lemur hopped around with a giraffe?

What has happened — bewitching and mystifying the ear for forty seconds — is so weirdly distant from what we might expect to hear (rather like the first appearance of Herschel Evans on clarinet on a Basie recording) that the piano half-chorus that follows seems theatrical, even stagy by comparison — with the drummer’s flourishes matching the pianist.  Again, we might wonder, “Where did everyone go?  Did these musicians have some urgent need to leave the studio at intervals?  Was there food poisoning from the previous night’s chili at Plunkett’s?”)

Before we have sufficient time to consider all these mysteries, the opening ensemble reasserts itself for a closing sixteen bars.  No tags, no flourishes, everything is as it was.  We awake from young Robin Molyneux’s dream — did those forty seconds happen?  Are we back in a Red Nichols session at the Brunswick studios?

Happily, the mystery I have encouraged here has tangible answers, and they take the shape of the ever-inventive Adrian Rollini and his “hot fountain pen,” the forgotten Dudley Fosdick and his mellophone.  Thanks to Albert Haim for the Melody Maker pages below — now it can be told!

HotFountainPen

and here is more gossip about the hot fountain pen:

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And even more here about the hot fountain pen from Sandy Brown’s website.

A fine explanation of the mellophone can be found here.  But the most engrossing reading on the subject can be found in the Nichols Jazz Oracle notes — a three-page essay by Phil Melick, witty and informed, on Dudley Fosdick (whose first recorded solo on the instrument is on the 1924 Ted Weems record of BIG BOY) and the mellophone itself.

Incidentally, the Incredible Shrinking Orchestra and the piano-drum duet make sense in retrospect as brief interludes enabling Rollini to leave his bass saxophone and approach the microphone alongside Fosdick.  And unlike the 1928 recording of BASIN STREET BLUES featuring Louis, Earl, and Zutty, no one stumbles audibly on the way.

This record of ROSES OF PICARDY is a joy.  Perhaps the musicians thought of it as an end-of-session romp: “We have a little time.  Let’s jam PICARDY, and do a whole chorus on your pen and your ‘phone.  OK?”  But that forty-second conversation between two unexpected jazz horns, played by two masters, resonates long after the performance is over.  Woe and alas that there wasn’t a Rollini-Fosdick Quintet under contract to Brunswick.  But I could live comfortably in the universe of those forty seconds.  ‘Tis the chorus that I keep in my heart.

(A digression: Fosdick recorded actively with Weems, Nichols, “the All Star Orchestra,” and Roger Wolfe Kahn for a ten-year period ending in December 1933, according to Tom Lord’s discography.  Then, he worked in Henry King’s orchestra and Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians, eventually migrating into studio work and teaching before his death in 1957.  It would be lovely if someone had interviewed him.)

And for my friend and mentor Reb Malcolm, a small offering — Frankie Laine with Buck Clayton, Ray Copeland, Lawrence Brown, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Hilton Jefferson, Budd Johnson, “Big Nick” Nicholas, Dave McRae, Al Lerner, Skeeter Best, Milt Hinton, Bobby Donaldson.  I see the inspired hand of George Avakian in this, although Laine had been working with jazz players for years, as Jess Stacy remembered:

Thanks also to Messrs. Riccardi and Sammut, whose posts provide the inspiration for this one.

May your happiness increase!

THE ASTONISHING WORLDS OF TEDDY WILSON

For some, my title may sound hyperbolic — a sideways glance at a Fifties science-fiction anthology.  But it represents accurately the way I feel about Wilson’s best playing.

In a jazz landscape that occasionally seems dominated by the Coarse (showy playing and singing for effect), Wilson’s solo recordings seem the lyrical embodiment of delicacy.  By that I don’t mean effete playing, a series of tiny gestures, the aural equivalent of someone hunched over the harpsichord keyboard, making almost no sound.

Wilson was clearly a definite player: his rhythms move; his single-note lines gleam; he swings from start to finish at any tempo.  But he doesn’t come out in clown costume and wave his arms wildly for our attention.  His lovely multi-layered playing is there for us, should we choose to give it our ears and hearts and minds.

Teddy Wilson was a man of astonishing gifts, although he offered them in the middle register; he was soft-spoken in person and in his playing.  A YouTube benefactor named sepiapanorama has quietly been very generous — creating two videos that offer eighteen pearly Wilson solos from his great period.  Here are the first ten “issued” performances:

and eight alternate takes:

For those readers who think, “Where did this music come from?” here is an answer.

In the Twenties and beyond, music publishers saw that there was a market for music books that would help you play more like Red Nichols, Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Miller, Art Tatum, Louis, and so on.  You can find them on eBay.  (I wish you good luck — both in the quest to find these books and then to absorb their knowledge.)  Wilson had published one such collection in 1937 — a series of transcribed solos — but he then had the bright entrepreneurial idea of creating the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists”: a business located in midtown Manhattan — probably simply an office where someone received checks and sent out packages.

What seems to have happened was that Wilson went into the Brunswick studios — the company for whom he was already recording — or stayed there after a Billie Holiday date was over — and recorded several solo improvisation on classic pop songs.  They were not issued by the company for general purchase, but given a special yellow label.  These 78s are now exceedingly rare.

One could become a student at the School (details unknown) and receive a record of, say MY BLUE HEAVEN and one other song — along with printed commentary on what to listen for in the performance.  I once thought that complete transcriptions of the solos were offered, but have been told that I was misinformed.  The School didn’t last long, but those chroniclers who champion the efforts of musicians, twenty years later, to form their own record labels and publishing companies, to take charge of their own economic destinies, should look to Teddy Wilson as an early prescient pioneer in this.

In the Seventies, I found a copy of a bootleg 10″ lp on the Jolly Roger label which contained Teddy Wilson performances I had never heard of before — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE stands out in my memory — and I bought it.  I then learned that the eight sides were from the School.  Later, Jerry Valburn issued a Merrit Record Society of all eighteen sides, and even later they came out on three European CDs (Classics and Neatwork).

Some friends have suggested that Wilson “simplified” his style for the prospective students.  I don’t know — these seem like incredibly complex recordings, and I think they would be difficult to imitate.  For myself (a very amateurish pianist) I listen to and marvel at the apparent simplicities of Wilson’s melody statements — say, the first eight bars of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS — and think that these performances are marvels: intricate, delicate, beautifully crafted.

These sides make me very happy and I hope they do the same for you.  And each one is the result of a long period of study, so try to listen to them one at a a time — otherwise they might become glittering Swing background music.

May your happiness increase.

“SAN” (Oriental Fox Trot) EXPLAINED

I asked in a post some months back whether anyone knew the lyrics or the story to SAN, that 1920 hit by Lindsay McPhail and Walter Michels.

Most of us, I think, know the song from Paul Whiteman’s 1927 recording featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmy Dorsey, among others, or the Jimmie Noone recording . . . or versions by groups into this century.

John Cooper, pop culture sleuth, came up with the answers — to be found in the lyrics:

First Verse

King San of Senegal

Sat on the shore

At Bulamay,

Singing a sad refrain.

To his dear queen who’d gone away,

This was his lay.

Second Verse

One day the queen came home

Saw San in sadness on the shore,

Told him she’d no more roam.

Only her San would she adore,

Then came this lore.

Chorus

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Why have you gone away?

You said you loved me,

But if you loved me,

Why did you act this way?

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But my heart aches, dear,

And it will break, dear,

If you don’t come back home again to San!

Chorus 2

Oh, sweet heart Lona, my darling Lona,

Have you come back to stay?

You said you loved me,

I knew you loved me,

I knew you’d come some day.

If I had ever been untrue to you,

What you have done would be the thing to do;

But now you’re mine, dear,

For all the time, dear,

And you’re forgiven by your loving San!

Now we know.  And even though “San” and “Lona” sound to me like a post-retirement couple — the kind who would run a small ice-cream stand or candy store at the beach — they are presumably Senegalese (West African) which, I guess, explains the camels on the cover.

And a postscript from a banjo-playing friend, Bob Sann: “There is a river in southeastern Poland called the San.  Perhaps Walter Michels, who wrote the music, had relatives there?  I did.”

May your happiness increase.

AVALON, WITHIN REACH: THE MUSIC OF LORING “RED” NICHOLS and HIS FIVE PENNIES at WHITLEY BAY (October 27, 2012)

I hope sufficient time has passed for cornetist / bandleader / composer Loring “Red” Nichols to be assessed fairly, his music heard and appreciated for its merits.  Let us hear no more of Nichols as an uncreative Bix imitator, a musical martinet.  Since I first heard a selection of the Nichols Brunswicks forty years and more ago, I have wondered at the mean-spirited attacks on him.

Of course he committed the great sins in Romantic Jazzdom: he expected his musicians to read charts; he was successful; he wasn’t an alcoholic; he lived a reasonably long life.  More power to him.

His music is receiving the recognition it should have gotten decades ago as an engaging mixture of the ornate and the heated, the arranged and the free-wheeling.  Here at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (on October 27), a great band takes on some of the best Nichols music: Andy Schumm, cornet; Michael McQuaid, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Keith Nichols, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo / guitar; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Nick Ward, drums.  If you hear reverent evocations of Miff Mole, Jimmy Dorsey, Vic Berton, Pee Wee Russell, Chauncey Morehouse, and Eddie Lang, it’s not by accident.

And “watch the drummer,” please: heroic Nick Ward!

AVALON, that magical island celebrated in a 1920 song whose melody borrows substantially from Puccini:

THAT’S NO BARGAIN (Alistair sits this one out):

Fud Livingston’s marvelous IMAGINATION, well-named — in a performance that makes me wonder if Lester Young had heard this record in his youth:

A 1919 hit, ALICE BLUE GOWN:

With thanks to Frans Sjostrom, doing his best Rollini — IDA — dedicated by me to my Auntie.  And Michael McQuaid’s playing is beautiful and unusual both:

SLIPPIN’ AROUND, for Miff Mole, the underrated master:

A diversion: Alistair’s I’M GETTIN’ SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU, or JAZZ BY THE FOOT.  When faced with such brilliance, what can one say?:

Duke Heitger, Rico Tomasso, trumpets, came along for ECCENTRIC:

Now that you’ve had a chance to hear this contemporary evocation of 1927-30 “modern sounds,” aren’t they rewarding music, full of innovative harmonies and orchestral variety — how much is packed into THAT’S NO BARGAIN, for instance.

The whole subject of Nichols and his music and these performances is, to me, another lesson: listen to the sounds rather than the ad hominem portraits or the biased ideologies that sustain them.

This post is dedicated to one of my mentors, the eminent A. J. S. Figg, who is sustaining the musics all the time.

May your happiness increase.

JOSH DUFFEE’S “TRUMBOLOGY” at the 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY — STARRING ANDY SCHUMM as BIX, PRODUCED by EMRAH ERKEN

One of the niccest moments at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party was being able to finally meet the generous jazz scholar Emrah Erken (you may know him as Atticus70 on YouTube).

Emrah is one of those enlightened souls who not only loves the music but wants to share it with all of us.  Not only is he a delightful person, he’s also a fine cinematgorapher — all of the videos below were created with his iPhone5 (and are best viewed in 1080).  I’m thrilled to have such a gifted brother with a video camera!  You’ll love the results.

The band Emrah captured was drummer / leader Josh Duffee’s TRUMBOLOGY — a logical and heartfelt tribute to Frank Trumbauer and his colleagues.  The award-winning 2012 creators are Andy Schumm, cornet;  Kristoffer Kompen, trombone;  Norman Field, Michael McQuaid, Stéphane Gillot, Mathias Seuffert, saxes, reeds;  Keith Nichols, piano; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Martin Wheatley, guitar / banjo; Josh Duffee, leader, drums, with a  guest appearance by Emma Fisk, violin.   Recorded on October 28, 2012.

OSTRICH WALK:

CRYIN’ ALL DAY:

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

CHOO CHOO (the soundtrack for a futuristic Thirties cartoon)

TURN ON THE HEAT (with a lovely wooing vocal by Spats Langham after Norman Field’s wonderful C-melody chorus):

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

THREE BLIND MICE:

BORNEO:

SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

WRINGIN’ AND TWISTIN’ (performed by Andy, piano / cornet; Michael, C-melody, Martin, guitar):

CLARINET MARMALADE (listen for Matthias in the first chorus and later):

Well-played, gents!  And well-captured, Emrah!  Thanks also to Mike and Patti Durham for making such good music (in such welcoming circumstances) possible year after year.  Don’t miss out on the 2013 delights: click  jazzfest.

May your happiness increase.

MORE HOT NOTES (Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, Oct. 27, 2013)

More random impressions from the second day of the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

The elegant Martin Litton merging himself and Teddy Wilson for the first set of the day, a solo recital of pretty songs (BODY AND SOUL) and more energetic ones (LIZA);

a ferocious evocation of the New Orleans Bootblacks and Wanderers (recording aliases with not a little of the expected condescension of the time featuring Lillian Hardin Armstrong, George Mitchell, Johnny Dodds) — by Bent Persson, Jens Lindgren, Stephane Gillot, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Seck, Martin Wheatley, and Malcolm Sked — music that nearly unsettled the foundations of the Village Hotel Newcastle (PAPA DIP, DROP THAT SACK, TOO TIGHT, GEORGIA BO BO, MY BABY, and two others).  Down-home exuberance!  I was delighted by Gillot’s alto playing, which (from my perch) made the band echo the late-Twenties Sam Morgan recordings . . . with magnificent ensemble and solo work from the others;

a tribute to Red Nichols from 1926-30, with Andy Schumm stepping into the role masterfully, Alistair Allan summoning up the Master Miff Mole (shoes off or on), Michael McQuaid reminding us, once again, how much Lester Young must have learned from Jimmy Dorsey, Frans Sjostrom singing pretty songs through his bass saxophone, and Nick Ward creating hot castles in the air.  That would have been sufficient pleasure for anyone, but when Rico Tomasso and Duke Heitger joined for the trumpet trio on ECCENTRIC, it was nearly too much pleasure to bear;

reed wizard Thomas Winteler sitting close to the bandstand, smiling;

Rene Hagmann, on cornet; Jean-Froncois Bonnel, soprano, giving their own individualistic version of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four — the expected songs, but full of surprising light and shade — the landscape we expected but seen anew, with Hagmann suggesting not Muggsy but Cootie, marvelously;

Spats Langham singing the songs of Al Bowlly (accompanying himself on guitar) so tenderly that I thought I saw tears in many eyes — but also suggesting that Bowlly could easily have visited the ARC studios in 1937 and made himself at home with a small elegant hot band;

a wonderfully romping evocation of the Graeme Bell-Humphrey Lyttelton collaborations led by Michael McQuaid, with fires stoked by Duke Heitger, Bent Persson, and Nick Ward;

Josh Duffee’s loving and energized McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (all new songs) with vocal refrains by Mike Durham, Spats Langham, and Keith Nichols — reminding us that there are rainbows around our shoulders when we know how to do the ZONKY;

trombone hero Kris Kompen donning the mantle of Jack Teagarden — for a sweetly swinging DIANE and a BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME that truly cut loose;

Cecile McLorin Salvant, Bent Persson, Thomas Winteler, Keith Nichols, and Martin Wheatley suggesting that the 1928 OKeh studios had moved right next to the local Marks and Spencer, with visits from Lille Delk Christian and Little Louis;

I missed the tributes to Mary Lou Williams (at the head of the Andy Kirk band) and the Missourians, as well as what I was told was an exuberant jam session in the Victory Pub — video-recording and note-taking can be draining, too — but what I did see was choice and more.

A continued pleasure was the beautiful natural sound provided by Chris and Veronica Perrin — I’d hire them for every jazz party!

People are already reserving their places for 2013.  You come, too.

May your happiness increase.

SWING SIBLINGS TAKE MANHATTAN: THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS

Let’s assume you had an urge to put on a show celebrating the music and lives of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.  You’d need at least fourteen musicians, and they’d have to be versatile — a reed wizard able to duplicate the curlicues of JD on BEEBE and OODLES OF NOODLES, to sing soulfully on his more romantic theme song.  You’d need a trombonist who could get inside TD’s steel-gray sound, perhaps someone to evoke Bunny Berigan, a drummer who understood Dave Tough and Ray McKinley, vocal groups, singers . . . a huge undertaking.

Those energetic young fellows, Pete and Will Anderson, twins who play a whole assortment of reeds from bass clarinet and flute to alto, tenor, and clarinet, have neatly gotten around all these imagined difficulties to create a very entertaining musical / theatrical evening doing the Fabulous Dorseys full justice.  It’s taking place at 59E59 (that’s the theatres at 59 East 59th Street in New York City) and you can see the schedule there.

The Anderson Twins have two kinds of surprising ingenuity that lift their tribute out of the familiar.  (You know — the PBS evening where a big band with singers walks its way through twenty hits of X and his Orchestra, punctuated by fund-raising.)  They’ve assembled a sextet of New York’s finest musicians — great jazz soloists who can also harmonize beautifully: Pete and Will on reeds; Ehud Asherie on piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Clovis Nicolas, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  No, there’s no trombonist — but our man Kellso does a wonderful job of becoming TD on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU — a tribute to both of them.  And rather than being a parade of the expected greatest hits, this is a musical evening full of surprises: a few rocking charts by Sy Oliver that remind us just how hard the Forties TD band swung; a beautiful piano solo by Ehud in honor of Art Tatum; several of the arrangements that Dizzy Gillespie wrote for JD’s band, and a few improvisations that show just how this sextet, alive and well in 2012, can rock the house: DUSK IN UPPER SANDUSKY, HOLLYWOOD PASTIME, and more.

But the evening is more than a concert — the Andersons have a fine theatrical sense of how to keep an audience involved.  In 1947, Tommy and Jimmy starred in a motion picture that purported to tell the story of their lives — THE FABULOUS DORSEYS.  On the plus side, the movie has the two brothers playing themselves as adults, and some extremely dramatic performances by the stars of the Abbey Theatre, Sara Allgood and Arthur Shields, as Mother and Father Dorsey.  It also has on-screen footage of Art Tatum, Ray Bauduc, Ziggy Elman, Charlie Barnet, Mike Pingitore, Paul Whiteman, Henry Busse . . . a feast for jazz film scholars.  As cinema, it verges on the hilarious — although I must say that its essential drama, the rise to fame of the Brothers, is helped immensely by their true-to-life inability to get along.  In the film, they are finally reconciled at their father’s deathbed . . . which makes a better story than having them join forces because of the economics of the moribund Big Band Era.

The Anderson boys use clips from the film as a dramatic structure to keep the tale of the Dorseys vivid — and it also becomes a delightful multi-media presentation, with the Andersons themselves pretending to feud (with less success: sorry, boys, but you lack real rancor), pretending to break the band in two and then . . . but I won’t give away all the secrets.  My vote for Best Speaking Part in a Musical Production goes to Kevin Dorn, but, again, you’ll have to see for yourself.  It’s musically delightful and — on its own terms — cleverly entertaining.

I will have more to say about this production in the future, but right now I wanted to make sure that my New York readers knew what good music and theatrical ingenuity waits for them at 59E59.  This show will conclude its run on October 7 — don’t miss it!

May your happiness increase.   

JAZZ FAMILIES: THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS (September 11 – October 7, 2012)

Coming in September and October to New York City!  Will and Peter Anderson, who play a whole menagerie of reed instruments and are always thinking up inspiring new projects . . . have come up with what is sure to be an enlivening musical experience.  Experiences, I should say.

“The ANDERSON TWINS Play The FABULOUS DORSEYS” runs September 11th-October 7th @ 59E59 Theaters!

Saxophonists/clarinetists Pete and Will Anderson tell the riveting story of two bandleaders, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, who rise to the top, then split up the act over sibling rivalry.  This truthful, historical tale is highlighted by a blazing six-piece jazz band and footage from the 1947 film, “The Fabulous Dorseys.”  In addition to the Anderson Twins, the cast features Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, Kevin Dorn, and Clovis Nicolas. Tickets: $25.

Shows:  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 7:30.   Friday 8:30, Saturday 5:30 & 8:30, Sunday 3:30.   Additional Shows: September 23 and 30 at 7:30.

All this is taking place at 59E59 Theaters, Theater C.  59 East 59th St, NY, NY 10022.   www.59e59.org

The Beloved and I enjoyed Will and Peter’s Benny Goodman / Artie Shaw extravaganza a great deal, and this one promises to be even more fun — although the Anderson boys are sweetly mild-mannered and show no inclination to Dorsey-styled violence on the bandstand.  And nary a trombone in sight.  Make reservations early!  59E59 is a cozy space and will sell out, I predict.

To follow the Anderson boys (there are also free concerts in NYC. . .) visit their site here.

May your happiness increase.

PHYLLIS GER RECALLS HER FATHER, MORT STULMAKER

Can you identify the players in this 1939 Charles Peterson photograph?

Readers will recognize (from left) Eddie Condon, exhorting; Bobby Hackett and Jimmy Dorsey, keeping an eye on their leader, Zutty Singleton, peering around the corner; Pee Wee Russell, aiming for the clouds.

But the left-handed and bespectacled string bassist in the rear of the ensemble is less familiar.  His name?  Mort or Morty Stulmaker.  Although his jazz career was brief, he played and recorded with the best musicians and vocalists of the time: Bunny Berigan, Red McKenzie, Condon, Joe Marsala, Stan King, Jack Teagarden, Dave Tough, Max Kaminsky, Bud Freeman, Brad Gowans, Billy Butterfield, Lee Wiley, Red Nichols . . .

I thought he would be one of the mysterious, shadowy figures of jazz, not only because he was a bassist, but because apparently no dramatic story attached to his life.  I was delighted to meet Phyllis Ger, a jewelry designer who also volunteers at the Louis Armstrong House Museum — and to find out that she was Mort’s only child.

Phyllis and her father, 2012

Here is what Phyllis told me on a pleasant afternoon recently.

My father liked to be called Mort or Morty. His first name was Morton, but the only person he allowed to call him that was his sister. The family name is German, practically always misspelled with an “H” (Stuhlmaker) which would always aggravate my mother but never seemed to bother Dad.

He was born in Albany, New York, in 1906 and had two brothers and one sister. Dad came from a musical family. His mother played piano, his father and two brothers played the violin. There must have been piano lessons because Dad was a trained musician. He started his career playing piano accompanying silent movies when he was in his teens. I don’t know how he made the transition to bass from piano. He was a left-handed bassist which was not that common.

Both sides of my family were from the Albany-Troy, New York area. But, of course, Dad could not make a living as a musician up there, so he moved to New York City. Although I was born in Manhattan, I was two years old when we moved to Albany. Dad would spend weekends at home and travel back to the city during the week to pick up some gigs. After six years of a fabulous time growing up in Albany surrounded by all my cousins, aunts, and uncles, my parents made the decision to move back to NY where we could all be together permanently.

Dad was very unpretentious. He didn’t speak about his life as a musician to me very often. He said it wasn’t a profession that he was that proud of even though he played with some of the greats. He felt that musicians were never given the credit they deserved. But, he never said that there was anything else he had wanted to do; you make a living at something and you stay with it. So, when he married at age 39, he left the life of a traveling musician and became an organ teacher and salesman at Macy’s 34th Street in  New York City. Dad also taught at Aeolian on 57th St. for several years. In addition, he had many private students.

My Dad was a very sensitive and compassionate person. He was not good with handling financial matters and left that to my mother. I could never see him actively promoting himself. That was just not his personality. He was devoted to Mom and me. I am an only child (and not spoiled). They were determined not to spoil me. When I asked Mom why she waited until she was 39 to marry, her response was: “I was waiting to meet your father.” And, so, a marriage of 44 years resulted.

Mort and Ruth on their wedding day

I started to do research about my Dad about five years after his death in 1988 at the age of 82. Since I knew so little about his background, I was amazed at the amount of material I discovered. I didn’t know he played bass with Benny Goodman, Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, Bunny Berigan, and many others. When Did did speak sparingly about his background, Bunny’s name came up quite frequently. As part of my discoveries, I was fortunate to get to know Bob Dupuis, author of the first biography about Bunny entitled: BUNNY BERIGAN: ELUSIVE LEGEND OF JAZZ,. From 1998-2001 I attended the Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee in Fox Lake, Wisconsin (Bunny’s hometown). This tribute weekend was originally organized by Bunny’s daughter, Joyce and her husband, Ken Hansen. What a thrill it was for me to be a part of that weekend! Sadly, both Joyce and Ken have passed. But, the Jubilee is still taking place each year (May 18th-20th, 2012) under the very capable leadership of Julie Flemming. I will be attending this year after an absence of 11 years. Even though I do not play an instrument, I got Dad’s creative genes in another way. I am a jewelry designer and will be displaying my music-themed pieces at the Jubilee. Please come and join us for a wonderful weekend of jazz.

I knew Dad played with Artie Shaw. I contacted Mr. Shaw who was in his eighties at the time. An assistant to him answered my letter but unfortunately Mr. Shaw had no recollection of my father. I think I may attribute that to the aging process. I also spoke with Joe Dixon when he was presenting a concert at a library on Long Island. I was able to visit with Buddy Koss and his wife for a lovely visit and that was very nostalgic for me. But, sadly, nobody’s left now. Dad was very much respected by other musicians. He played at Hoagy Carmichael’s wedding, who had handpicked the musicians he wanted. Dad was part of the first mixed band to play on 52nd St. with Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Joe Marsala and Red Allen. Dad was quite friendly with Joe. That’s me proudly pointing to my Dad in the photo.

Mort, smartly dressed, in later life

Here’s Mort as a member of the Tempo King band — clearly a Fats Waller-inspired group, oddly enough, recording for Bluebird in 1936 (Waller’s label) with Marty and Joe Marsala, Queenie Ada Rubin, Eddie Condon, Mort, and Stan King:

And with the pride of Fox Lake, Wisconsin, Bunny Berigan, late in 1936 — where you can really hear his strong rhythmic pulse on THIS FOOLISH FEELING:

I’m hoping that some JAZZ LIVES readers have other information to add to our knowledge of Mort Stulmaker: send it here as a comment or if  you’d like to get in touch with Phyllis, email me at swingyoucats@gmail.com. and I will pass it along to her.

May your happiness increase.

MR. MASSO CAME TO TOWN (March 6, 2012)

I would have been eager to visit clarinetist Ron Odrich’s monthly session at San Martin on East 49th Street, New York City (it happens the first Tuesday of each month) for his swooping playing — and the lovely work of his colleagues James Chirillo (guitar); Gary Mazzaroppi (string bass); “Cenz” (drums).  But last Tuesday’s session was even more special because it allowed me to hear one of the quiet masters of jazz in person.

I refer to trombonist George Masso: veteran of the late Forties Jimmy Dorsey band (a band whose trumpet section had Charlie Teagarden and Maynard Ferguson!) and then right-hand man to Bobby Hackett, Ken Peplowski, Barbara Lea, Spike Robinson, Harry Allen, Wild Bill Davison, the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, Warren Vache, Ed Polcer, Joe Wilder, Urbie Green, Helen Ward, Al Klink, Scott Hamilton, Ruby Braff, Tom Pletcher, Maxine Sullivan, Mike Renzi, Kenny Davern, Carl Fontana, Dave McKenna, Eddie Higgins, Randy Sandke, Charlie Ventura, Dan Barrett, Dick Hyman, Bob Wilber, Lou Columbo, Ralph Sutton, Jake Hanna, Woody Herman, and the King of Swing himself.

Obviously, if all those people had called upon Mr. Masso, he was special: this I already knew from the recordings: his accuracy and fine, broad tone — his remarkable combination of swing-time and ease with a broad harmonic palette and astonishing technique, always in the service of melody and logical improvisations.

Two additional facts you should know before you watch the videos that follow (featuring superb playing by everyone in the group).  George Masso is one of the most gentle, humble people it will be my privilege to know — so happy that a fan (myself) would make a small pilgrimage to hear and capture him (his lady friend June is a dear person too, no surprise).

Mister Masso is eighty-five years old, obviously one of the marvels of the age.  Cape Cod and Rhode Island must agree with him.  And his playing certainly agreed with everyone there.

They began their set with TANGERINE:

I’M OLD-FASHIONED, taken at a walking tempo:

BLUE BOSSA, lilting and graceful:

A romping I FOUND A NEW BABY:

And — not dedicated to anyone in the room! — George’s ballad feature on OLD FOLKS:

Masterful.

P.S.  I hope George comes back to New York City — with his trombone — soon!  In April, Ron’s guest star will be baritone saxophone wizard Gary Smulyan.

THAT RHYTHM MAN: BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye and Elin Smith)

Even though I think he finds it mildly embarrassing, I hold the cornetist / trumpeter / bandleader / jazz scholar / occasional singer Bent Persson in awe.  He isn’t the only brassman who has studied and emulated Louis Armstrong — but when he plays, young and middle-period Louis comes alive, gloriously.

In this set at the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (on Friday, November 4) he and an all-star band evoked some music from 1929, when Louis was often accompanied by the Carroll Dickerson and Luis Russell — a period of his career that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

The band had Bent, Andy Schumm, and Michel Bastide on trumpets; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Michel Bescont, Matthias Seuffert, and Mauro Porro, reeds; Martin Seck, piano; Mike Piggott, violin; Jean-Pierre Dubois, guitar; Richard Pite, sousaphone and string bass; Debbie Arthurs, drums; vocals by Rico, Cecile McLaurin Salvant, and Michel Bastide.

SYMPHONIC RAPS is more good-natured than symphonic, although it occasionally gives the impression of a Hot Seven line scored for large orchestra. I admire the way the sections play off each other at the start, then the exchanges between Seck’s properly skittering Hines-styled piano and the band.  Because this band isn’t constrained by the recording studio, Bent opened up the arrangement for a few more solos — the first being the nimble Matthias on alto, then an off-camera Kristoffer on trombone (catch Debbie Arthurs rocking the proceedings all through this), before he comes on with some organic, locally sourced Louis. Bent knows Louis so well that he seems to move around freely in the great man’s imagination, leaving the impression of a newly-discovered alternate take, say, on Argentinian Odeon — before Debbie wraps this package up neatly with comments on the temple blocks:

The Waller-Razaf lament about what they now call “colorism,” BLACK AND BLUE, remains deeply moving.  Everything here is in place, with the comfortable feeling of musicians who know the original so well that they can bring to it their own individualities — Bent, Kristoffer, that reed section, and an understated but impassioned vocal from Rico that summons up the Master, leading to an early-Thirties Hawkins interlude from Bascont, and Bent rising above the band and Debbie’s most empathic drumming:

Another Waller-Razaf song, THAT RHYTHM MAN, its basic conceit going back to Renaissance poetry, that the whole world is an orchestra, is clearly a dance number.  The band swings out from the start, with Kristoffer doing his special J.C. Higginbotham magic on the bridge. Michel Bastide shows that rhythm can triumph over every obstacle, even a recalcitrant microphone; he’s followed by rocking solos from Kristoffer, Bascont, Bent, and Matthias, before the whole rollicking performance winds down.  I wonder how many jazz players and singers across the country had this black-label OKeh in their collection, a record worn to a low gravy:

The most famous of the Waller-Razaf trilogy is of course AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (Elin) and this version follows the less well-known Seger Ellis small band recording, which featured Joe Venuti, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Lang, Arthur Schutt, and Stan King — here the compelling Cecile McLorin Salvant stands in for Ellis, to great effect:

DALLAS BLUES (Thorbye) shows the band ready to swing — propelled by Debbie and her colleagues — even before Kristoffer and Richard play the blues and Bent sings them.  An inspired Kristoffer returns for a substantial outing and wows both the crowd and the band, before the trick ending that catches almost everyone by surprise:

I AIN’T GOT NOBODY (Thorbye) is given a performance at odds with the melancholy lyrics. Rocking interludes for the band, Rico, Mauro Porro and his metal clarinet, and Bent, suggest that everyone here indeed has somebody:

THANKS A MILLION (Elin), with both Rico and Bent invoking and evoking Louis, makes me feel so grateful for this set of music.

Thanks, once again, to Flemming Thorbye — check out his treasures   here

and Elin Smith, whom you can visit here

JAMES DAPOGNY AND FRIENDS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 16, 2011)

This hot chamber jazz session took place at Jazz at Chautauqua on September 16, 2011, and the estimable participants are James Dapogny, piano; Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor sax; Andy Stein, violin; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums. 

DOIN’ THE RACCOON dates from the late Twenties, and is one of those spirited songs chronicling the floor-length raccoon coats that were the height of college fashion.  I would ordinarily hear in my mind’s ear (or mental jukebox) the Eddie South version . . . but this happy twenty-first century effusion now stands alongside it:

Frank Signorelli and Matty Malneck’s pretty LITTLE BUTTERCUP (later titled I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME) was first recorded by Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, then by Billie Holida, Buck Clayton, and Lester Young — a beautiful rhythm ballad with a sweet yearning at its center:

And the theme song for all discussions, I MAY BE WRONG, which was also the song chosen for the Apollo Theatre productions:

Thanks to the gentlemen of the ensemble for creating and evoking music that will outlive the discourse that swirls around it.

“THE LAST WORD IN HOT”: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Eight)

New tidings from the world of McConvilliana — always delightful and surprising!

Leo Jr. told me at our last meeting that his father was famous not only for his beautiful lead playing but also for his mastery of half-valve playing!  Who would have thought Leo McConville a precursor of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN?

And — on a more personal note — Leo Jr. said that his father had a substantial and beautiful HO train layout, complete with wooden houses, in a large upstairs room in their three-story house.  Leo Sr. was so proud of his autographed photographs that he had built picture molding for top and bottom, up at the ceiling and running around the four walls of the room, his pictures there on display.

Thus I am happy, in some small way, to recreate that display in installments on JAZZ LIVES.

A less happy story concerns Leo Sr.’s terror of bridges (I’ve also heard that his fears included high buildings) — so much so that his fellow passengers would have to lock him in the car trunk when they went over a bridge.  The solution seems as painful as the problem, but I can’t say — bridges aren’t one of my phobias.  It is possible that the only way Leo could endure going over a bridge would be in an utterly dark place where he couldn’t see what terrified him.

But enough of such matters.

Here’s another half-dozen friends of Leo — some famous, some whose name in the autograph calls up some dim recognition, some obscure.

Let’s start with someone who used to be famous, although you’d have to be a film buff or of a certain age to recognize him instantly:

The publicity still is from later in Powell’s life — did Leo meet him while playing in a radio orchestra, or had their paths crossed earlier, when Powell was a hot banjoist / guitarist (and perhaps cornetist, saxophonist) and singer in hot dance bands — including the Royal Peacock Orchestra and the Charlie Davis Orchestra?

Next, someone far less well-known these days:

The man above is Canadian-born, a saxophonist and bandleader — someone Leo would have known in radio.  He had connections to Sam Lanin and Bing Crosby, and made a few records with an all-saxophone ensemble that backed Seger Ellis on disc.  Or so I think — but there’s another man with the same name, born in 1897, died in 1978, whom I’ve read was “born in Watertown, New York.  Attended Clarkson Institute of Technology.  Teacher of Larry Teal. First American saxophonist to teach regulated vibrato and founder of the New York school of saxophone playing.”

Please advise!

How many readers have heard anything by the tenor saxophonist Jim Crossan (one of the section on a number of OKeh hot dance recordings) much less seen a portrait of him?

Frank Parker — radio singer!  Is this the Irish tenor associated with jack Benny, Harry Richman, and Arthur Godfrey?Now, “the last word in hot” — that’s more like it as a Homeric epithet for our Leo!  The handsome tenor saxophonist here is Dick Johnson — someone who played clarinet with Red Nichols and the Red Heads.  (Obviously “good-fellowship” in those days meant that trumpet players hung out with saxophone players: Leo Jr. remembers meeting Jimmy Dorsey, who was an old friend of his father’s.)

For a perceptive piece on the Red Heads, see Andrew Sammut’s review of the Jazz Oracle reissue: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=39412

Perceptive readers will notice that Johnson autographed his photo to “Wilbur,” which Leo Jr. said was a teasing name for his father.  I imagine (it is speculation) that Leo Sr. made it known to everyone he talked to that he really wanted to leave the music business, buy some land, and have a chicken farm.  “Wilbur” must have been the sharply-dressed New Yorkers’ nickname for a deep-down hick.

And someone I really knew nothing of:

My friend Rob Rothberg — deep jazz scholar and long-time collector — helped me out here, “The face is unfamiliar, but there was a Cecil Way who played trumpet in Charlie Kerr’s band in the mid-twenties;  I’m not sure what happened to him after that.  Leo and Cecil played alongside an up-and-coming banjoist named Eddie Lang in Kerr’s band in the early twenties.  I think I see some lip muscles, so I’ll vote for that Way.”

We are indeed known by the company we keep, and Leo had a wide range of musical friends!  Not all of them had lip muscles, but Leo was an easy-going fellow. . . .

“WELL, THIS’LL BE FUN”: MEMORIES OF JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, 2004

I have a special place in my heart for Jazz at Chautauqua: it was the first jazz party I’d ever attended, an uplifting experience in every way.

The 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is taking place this year — September 15-18.  Details to follow.

This is the piece I wrote after my first experience of Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton is no longer with us, but the elation remains the same.

Well, This’ll Be Fun

On a Thursday evening in September 2004, two jazz musicians decided on Eubie Blake’s “You’re Lucky To Me” to begin their performance, set an affable, conversational tempo, and started – moving from embellished melody to more adventurous improvisations before coming back down to earth.  They stood at one end of a small rectangular mint-green hotel dining room elaborately decorated with nineteenth-century chandeliers and moldings.  The tall young trumpet player, apparently a college fullback, wore jeans and an untucked striped dress shirt; the pianist resembled a senior account executive for a firm that knew nothing of casual Fridays.  As the applause slowly diminished, Duke Heitger, trumpet held loosely at his side, looked slyly at John Sheridan, the other half of his orchestra, grinned, and said, “Well, this’ll be fun.”  They had just played the opening notes of the seventh annual Jazz at Chautauqua, a four-day jazz party held at the Athenaeum, the upstate New York site of the Chautauqua Institution – now a hotel unused for nine months of the year (no heating system).  Appropriately, the site reflected something of the Chautauqua ideal of entertaining self-enrichment, now given over to a weekend’s immersion in the music once our common colloquial language.

The imaginary map of American culture might seem a homogenous cultural landscape of Outkast, Diet Coke, press-on nails, and Paris Hilton.  But there are millions of smaller, secret cultural nations pulsing all at once: people subversively playing Brahms at home, wearing hemp clothing, and making sure that what commercialism has consigned to the past is kept alive.  One of those underground institutions is the jazz party – an idea quietly subsisting for forty years, now one of the only venues for this music.

If a newcomer assumed that a “jazz party” is nothing more than two or three semi-professional musicians playing background music for a roomful of people, perhaps a singer seated atop a piano, Jazz at Chautauqua would be staggering.  It featured nearly thirty-three hours of nonstop music played to two hundred and fifty people between Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon by twenty-six musicians: Bob Barnard, Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, and Joe Wilder (trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn); Dan Barrett and Bob Havens (trombone); Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bobby Gordon, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson (reeds); Johnny Frigo (violin); Jim Dapogny, Larry Eanet, Keith Ingham, and John Sheridan (piano); Howard Alden and Marty Grosz (guitar); Vince Giordano, Nicki Parott, and Phil Flanigan (bass); Arnie Kinsella, Eddie Metz, Jr., and John Von Ohlen (drums); Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, and Parrott (vocals).  These players are unknown to a general audience but are both remarkable and sought after.  Except for Wilder, the musicians were white, (which didn’t bother him: he was delighted to be playing among friends) and many hailed from the tri-state area, with a few startling exceptions:  Barrett and Reitmeier flew from California, Kilgore from Oregon, and the winner for distance, Barnard, from New South Wales.  Most of them were middle-aged (although Parrott and Heitger are not yet forty), looking oddly youthful (I think that joy transforms), but jazz musicians, if fortunate, live long: Frigo is 87, Wilder, 82.

A listener, fortified by food at regular intervals and consistently available drinks (for me, an excess of caffeine for medicinal purposes – a jam session started while I was asleep on Thursday night, and I was anxious that I miss nothing else) may sit in a comfortable chair and listen to eight hours of jazz in short sets, from fifteen minutes for duets to an hour for a larger band.  It was overwhelming, as though someone who had only read about model trains or Morris dancing had wandered into a convention of enthusiasts where everything in the ballroom focused on the chosen subject, non-stop.  But Chautauqua was more than a museum: it offered the art itself in action, unfettered and created on the spot.

All this is due to its creator and director, Joe Boughton, who feels a moral compulsion to preserve the music he first heard in the Boston area in the late 1940s.  Boughton is a solidly packed man who in profile resembles a Roman general, but his more characteristic expression is pleasure when his musicians are playing well and his audience is reverent.  He is the enemy of needless chatter unless it comes from the bandstand, and printed cards decorated each table, reading, “Afford our artists the respect they deserve and be considerate to those at your table and surrounding tables who have come from long distances and paid a lot of money to hear the music and not be annoyed by talking.”  That contains Boughton’s voice – low-key but impatient with nonsense.  He is also a one-man campaign to rescue jazz from the deadening effects of a limited repertoire.  Jazz musicians who are thrown together on the stand choose familiar songs: variations on the blues, on “I Got Rhythm,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” as well as crowd-pleasers “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” which Boughton calls “Satin Dull.”  At Chautauqua, now-rare melodies filled the air — jazz standards ranging from King Oliver’s “Canal Street Blues,” circa 1923, to the Parker-Gillespie “Groovin’ High” of 1945 and John Lewis’s “Skating In Central Park,” but rare once-popular surprises, including “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Smiles,” “Ida,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” and “Moon Song.”  Although the songs might seem antique, the approach is not self-consciously historical: the young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (to cite only one example) who delivers eloquent solos while standing motionless, once leaning against the bar, would fit in well with the bebop legend Clifford Brown or the Harlem stride master James P. Johnson.

Each of the four days was full of highlights, rarely loud or at a high pitch, but emotionally exhilarating all the same, from the first set on Thursday, as the Heitger-Sheridan duet became a trio with the addition of drummer John Von Ohlen (who resembles Ben Franklin in coiffure but Franklin, from eighteenth-century reports, tended to drag at fast tempos – something that Von Ohlen, sharp and attentive, never does) on a Benny Goodman Trio –tempoed “Liza” that blossomed into a quintet in mid-performance with tenor saxophonist Dan Block and bassist Phil Flanigan joining in because they couldn’t wait until it concluded.  Block looks as though he had slipped off from his professorship at an esteemed university, but has (unlike Allen) all the archetypical tenor saxophonist’s violent physical gestures, moving his horn ecstatically as his phrases tumble out, adopting a hymnlike tone on a ballad or floating at a fast tempo in the best Lester Young manner.  Flanigan hoisted this band (and others) on his shoulders with his elastic, supple time and when it came to his solo, no one succumbed to bass ennui, for his choruses had the logic and emotion of Jack Teagarden’s architectural statements.  (Flanigan is married to the eloquent singer Hanna Richardson, who had been at Chautauqua in 2003 and was much missed this year.)

Thus, Thursday night, an hour along, had become 52nd Street or Minton’s again, with no cigarette smoke or watered drinks in sight.  No one got up and danced, a pity, but no one clapped to an imagined beat while the musicians played – an immense relief.  What made the music memorable might have escaped a casual listener who expected jazz performances to be lengthy, virtuosic solos.  The players were concise, saying what they had to say in two or three choruses, and the technical brilliance was usually in making the difficult seem easy, whether on a racing hot performance or a tender ballad (although perfectly placed high notes did ornament solos).  What distinguished the performances was a joyous, irresistible forward motion – listeners’ heads steadily marked the beat, and everyone had their own sound: I could tell who was taking a solo with my eyes closed.  And there was an affectionate empathy on the stand: although musicians in a club chatter during others’ solos, these players listened intently, created uplifting background figures, and smiled at the good parts.  Off-duty players stayed to admire.  And when the last set of the night ended, the players gathered around the bar to talk about music – but not predictably.  Rather, they swapped stories about symphonic conductors: Joe Wilder sharing Pierre Boulez anecdotes, Dan Block giving us Fritz Reiner gossip.  The general bonhomie also turned into friendly banter with their colleagues and the audience: most musicians like to talk, and most are naturally witty.  The unstoppable Marty Grosz, beginning to explicate the singing group the Ink Spots for a late-evening tribute, said, “I’ll make this short, because I already hear the sounds of chins hitting breastbones.”  (He was wrong: the crowd followed every note.)

Some stereotypes are truer than not, however: I overheard this conversation between a musician I’ll call “M” and a solicitous member of the Chautauqua staff:

“M, would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you!  Gin.”

“A martini?  With ice?  Olives?  An onion?  Some tonic?”

“No.  [Emphatically.]  Gin.

Gin in its naked state was then provided.

On Thursday evening, I had talked with Phil Flanigan about the paying guests.  I had brought with me gloomy doubts about the aging, shrinking, and exclusively white audience, and the question of what happens to a popular art when its supporters die off, envisioning nothing but empty chairs in ten years.   I had expected to find a kindred pessimism in Flanigan, earnestly facing his buffet dinner, but it didn’t bother him that the audience that had once danced to Benny Goodman had thinned out.  Flanigan told me, emphatically, how he treasured these people.  “They’re dedicated fans.  They come to listen.”  “What about their age?” I asked.  “Lots of age,” he said.  “This is a good thing.  Think of the accumulated wisdom, the combined experience.  These are the folks who supported the music when it was young.  When they were young!  What do you know? They just happened to be loyal and long-lived.”  (Flanigan’s optimism, however, would have been tested to the limit by the affluent, fiftyish couple who shared our table and seemed to ignore the music in favor of the New York Times, barely looking up.)

Flanigan’s commentary was not the only surprise – especially for those who consider jazz musicians as inarticulate, concerned more about reeds than realities.  The next day, I had attached myself to Joe Wilder for lunch.  The conversation, steered by Wilder, weaved around memories of his friends, famous and not – but he really wanted to talk about Iraq and eco-devastation, and his perspective was anything but accepting.

Friday began with rain, and the hotel corridors were ornamented by white plastic buckets; from one room I heard an alto player practicing; behind another door trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso was turning a phrase this way and that in the fashion of a poet accenting one word and then another while reciting the line half-aloud.  I spent some costly time entranced by the displays of compact discs, buying and considering.

Later, the party began officially in the main ballroom with fourteen musicians (six brass, four reeds, four rhythm), stretched from left to right, jostling for position on the stage of the main ballroom, played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” at its original, yearning tempo, with the trumpeter Randy Reinhart directing traffic, the musicians creating simple chordal backgrounds of organ tones played in whole notes (called “footballs” for the way they look on music paper) and the brilliant anachronism Vince Giordano switching from his bass saxophone (an instrument out of fashion by 1935) to the only aluminum double bass I have ever seen, as the spirit took him, the convocation suggesting Eddie Condon meeting Count Basie in 1939.

The set that followed was a masterpiece of small-band friendship, featuring Allen, Wilder, Block (on alto), the underrated Washington, D.C., pianist Larry Eanet, Howard Alden, Flanigan, and Von Ohlen.  In forty minutes, they offered a strolling “If Dreams Come True,” with Flanigan beginning his solo with a quote from the verse to “Love in Bloom,” a speedy “Time After Time,” usually taken lugubriously, with the melody handed off among all the horns and Alden in eight-bar segments, an even brisker “This Can’t Be Love,” notable for Eanet, who offered his own version of Hank Jones’s pearls at top speed and for Wilder – who now plays in a posture that would horrify brass teachers, his horn nearly parallel to his body, pointing down at the floor.  His radiant tone, heard on so many recordings of the Fifties, is burnished now into a speaking, conversational one – Wilder will take a simple, rhythmic phrase and repeat it a number of times, toying with it as the chords beneath him go flying by, a Louis Armstrong experiment, something fledgling players shouldn’t try at home, and he enjoys witty musical jokes: quoting “Ciribiribin” and, later, “Mona Lisa,” in a solo on “Flyin’ Home.”  Often he brought out a bright green plastic cup and waggled it close to and away from the bell of his horn, creating growly, subterranean sounds Cootie Williams would have liked.  (“From the five and ten,” he said, when I asked him about the cup.)  Wilder’s ballad feature, “I Cover the Waterfront,” was a cathedral of quiet climbing phrases.  And the set closed with a trotting version of “The Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges riff on “I Got Rhythm” changes, played the way it was in 1941, before musicians believed that audiences needed to hear everything faster and louder.

A series of beautifully shaped impromptu performances followed, including a Bobby Gordon – John Sheridan duet full of Gordon’s breathy chalumeau register, and a Rebecca Kilgore set.  Kilgore has a serious, no-nonsense prettiness and doesn’t drape herself over the microphone to woo an audience, but she is an affecting, sly actress, who uses her face, her posture, and her hands to support or play off of what her beautiful voice is offering.  She is especially convincing when she is acting herself and her twin at once: on “Close Your Eyes,” a song full of serious assurance that the hearer will be safe forever in the arms of the true love, Kilgore managed to suggest that the lyrics were absolutely true while she audibly winked at the audience, as if to say, “Do you believe this sweet, silly stuff I’m singing?”

Friday closed with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, an explosive ten-piece band, replicating late Twenties and early Thirties jazz and dance orchestras.  Giordano, who resembles a movie idol who could have partnered Joan Blondell, is remarkable – an eloquent melodist and improviser on his unwieldy bass saxophone, where he gets a room-filling tone both sinewy and caressing; his aluminum string bass, ferociously propulsive tuba, and boyishly energetic vocals.  The Nighthawks reunion band featured whizzing tempos, bright solos, and on-target ensemble passages on a for-dancers-only repertoire, circa 1931, Savoy Ballroom.  Most listeners have never heard a band like the Nighthawks live – they shout to the heavens without being extraordinarily loud, and their ensemble momentum is thrilling.  Hoarse and dizzy, we climbed the stairs to our rooms at 1:30 AM.

Saturday morning began sedately, with solo piano, some pastoral duos and trios, and then caught fire with a Kilgore-James Dapogny duet.  Dapogny is a rolling, rumbling pianist in the style that used to be called “Chicagoan”: right-hand single note melody lines, flashing Earl Hines octaves, stride-piano ornamentations supported by a full, mobile left hand, and he and Kilgore had never played together before.  Kilgore let herself go on the nineteenth-century parlor favorite “Martha,” subtitled “Ah! So Pure!” which Connee Boswell took for a more raucous ride with the Bob Crosby band sixty-five years ago.  Kilgore’s approach was gliding and swinging, with hand gestures that would not have disgraced a Victorian songstress or a melodramatic 1936 band singer (a raised index finger for emphasis, a gentle clasp of her own throat), but the sly glint in her eye and the sweetly ironic quotation marks in her delivery suggested that Martha’s purity was open to question.  Then came a trio of Dan Barrett and Bob Havens on trombones, backed only Marty Grosz, someone his Chicago comrade Frank Chace has called “a one-man rhythm gang,” in a short set notable for fraternal improvising and Barrett’s interpolating one vocal stanza of a lewd blues, “The Duck’s Yas Yas” into “Basin Street Blues.”  More brass ecstasy followed in a trumpet extravaganza, ending with a six-trumpet plus Barrett version of Bunny Berigan’s famous “I Can’t get Started” solo, by now a piece of Americana, with the ballroom’s walls undulating with the collective passion.  The Nighthawks played an afternoon session, full of exuberance and wit: Giordano, calling a difficult tune for the band, smiled at his players and said, “Good luck, boys,” in the manner of Knute Rockne encouraging Notre Dame, before they leapt in to the forests of notes.  And it wasn’t all simply hot music: where else in America, I wondered, could you hear someone sing “Okay, Baby,” with its deathless, funny lyrics about the romantic couple: “The wedding ring I’ve bought for you / Fifty-two more payments and it’s yours, dear”?  Grosz followed with a set devoted to those musicians who would have turned 100 this year – Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Dorsey, and Fats Waller, where Grosz (who knows these things, having come here from Berlin as a child in 1930) commented, “America is the land of easy come, easy go,” before singing a Waller ballad, “If It Ain’t Love,” as tenderly as if he were stroking the Beloved’s cheek.

Sunday morning began with a solo recital by guitarist Howard Alden, which itself began with a rueful “Blame It On My Youth” – Alden also had elevated all the rhythm sections of the bands he had been in, as well as being a careful, lyrical banjo soloist with the Nighthawks – but the temperature of the room soon rose appreciably.  A nearly violent “It’s All Right With Me” featured three storming choruses of four-bar trades among Harry Allen, Wilder, Barrett, and Dan Block; Duke Heitger closed his set with an extravagant “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” with its seldom-played stomping verse, here played twice before the ensemble strode into the chorus; the band supported by Grosz, constructing chordal filigrees at a very fast tempo; Giordano, slapping his aluminum bass for dear life, and Ed Metz, Jr., recalling Zutty Singleton, Armstrong’s drumming pal of the late Twenties, if Singleton had gone to the gym regularly.

Then it was time to go, to close with another Boughton extravaganza – a ballad medley lifted up greatly by Scott Robinson’s “Moonlight Becomes You” on bass flute, Jon-Erik Kellso’s “Willow Weep For Me,” growled as if he had become one of Ellington’s brass in 1929, and the clarinetist Bob Reitmeier’s soft “Deep Purple.”  These heartfelt moments gave way to the true closing “After You’ve Gone,” which featured impromptu piano duets among the many pianists, and an uproarious enthusiasm – greeted with the cheers it deserved.

I wasn’t surprised that on Sunday afternoon, driving back through Erie, Pennsylvania (where Lloyd’s Fireworks advertised “pepper spray, stun guns, sale on Lord of the Rings tape”) that my thoughts drifted back to Heitger’s Thursday-evening prediction.  Yes, there had been too much white and blue hair to make me feel confident about the future of the audience, Flanigan notwithstanding; there had even seemed to be too much music, pushing me to the brink of satiety, and it had all been evanescent – but Heitger had been right: it had been fun.

And just so my readers don’t forget the present and future while celebrating past glories: this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua will include (in egalitarian alphabetical order) Alden, Allen, Barrett, Block, Jon Burr, Dapogny, the Fauz Frenchmen, Grosz, Havens, Heitger, Glenn Holmes, Ingham, Kellso, Kinsella, Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Bill Ransom, Reinhart, Robinson, Sandke, Andy Schumm, Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate, Von Ohlen, and Chuck Wilson.  That should provide sufficient music for a weekend!

FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part One)

Last week, I met Leo McConville, Jr. and his wife Linda in New York City . . . they are warm, friendly people and we had a laughter-filled time.

Leo brought copies of some photographs that included his father, and I was able to identify a few more characters — Vic Berton, Miff Mole, Red Nichols, possibly Larry Binyon (these photos will emerge on JAZZ LIVES in time).  But here are several photographs that would benefit from collective explication.

What can my readers tell us?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Let’s start with a fairly straightforward one:

I’d say Miff Mole, then the pride of Ogden, Utah — Loring “Red” Nichols, and Leo.  I originally thought the mellophone player was Dudley Fosdick, but Enrico Borsetti explained that this was the brass section of Don Voorhees’ EARL CARROLL’S VANITIES orchestra and that the mellophonist (?) was Bill Trone.

Recognize anyone?  I’d place this — at the latest — 1934 — but that’s only because Leo left New York City and the music business around then.  He is standing in the middle, behind the right shoulder of the seated man (the leader?).

News flash from a friend in 2014: that’s the Paul Specht Orchestra with guitarist Roy Smeck as featured soloist.  

And something charming but more mysterious.  Who are these people?  Jimmy Dorsey is the driver.  But the ladies?

Here’s Jimmy and “Jamie” on their wedding day, Valentine’s Day, 1928:

As an experiment, here are the photographs at double the size above to aid JAZZ LIVES readers reaching for magnifying glasses.  The ratio is distorted, but the details are larger.  Here’s the Peerless Quartet:

And that mysterious band:

What car is Jimmy driving?

I couldn’t omit the happy couple — watch fob and bouquet in full splendor.

Your thoughts, fellow scholars?

HOT, MELODIC, ELUSIVE

All right, class.  Are you ready for this week’s Jazz Quiz?  (Put that phone away, please: you won’t find the answer there.)

Name a jazz trumpeter who worked and recorded with Eddie Lang, Jean Goldkette, Paul Specht, Don Voorhees, Emmett Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Gene Krupa, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Vic Berton, the Georgians, Adrian Rollini, Mannie Klein, Stan King, Ben Selvin, Eugene Ormandy, Jack Teagarden, Eva Taylor, Fred Rich, Sam Lanin, Dick McDonough, Bunny Berigan, Carl Kress, Babe Russin, Hoagy Carmichael, Glenn Miller, Elizabeth Welch, Benny Goodman . . . .

OK.  Hand your papers in.  Who knows the answer?  Henry?

“Is it Jack Purvis, Professor?”

“A very good answer, but no — this trumpet player never went to jail.”

“Yes, Jennifer?”

“Leo McConville, Professor?”

“Good job, Jennifer!”

Here’s a sample of Leo at work and play:

And a more elusive one, where the listener is waiting for Leo to emerge into the open — which he does in the last seconds of the record:

And another (with lovely still photographs of Clara Bow to muse on):

McConville comes across as a very “clean” player, capable of a strong clear lead, accurate and correct, but also comfortable with a Bixian kind of melodic embellishment that could be very heated and relaxed at the same time.  He was born in 1900 in Baltimore and began playing professionally in 1914, working and recording with the Louisiana Five.  At some point, he was one of the very busy New York studio musicians and he seems to have raced from one record session to the next with stops in between for radio work.  (It’s difficult for modern listeners to imagine that radio was so important as a medium for live music, when each network had a large orchestra on staff, but it’s true.)

McConville had the good or bad fortune, depending on how you look at it, to work often in the groups of Red Nichols.  Good — in that this was steady, well-paying work; bad in that he was not going to get to play hot choruses and make a name for himself.  There are no LEO AND HIS GANG sessions for OKeh.  He did not record after 1930, and four years later he retired from the New York music scene, preferring the more tranquil life of raising chickens in Maryland to standing around at the bar with the Dorsey Brothers in Plunkett’s.  But he continued to play gigs with local bands — so his retirement seems to have been his choice rather than a matter of a failing lip.  And he lived until 1968.

I hope to be able to tell you more about the elusive Mr. McConville in days to come.  For the moment, I offer these pages from the September 1931 RHYTHM magazine — courtesy of my generous friend, the brass scholar Rob Rothberg — which show that Leo was taken very seriously in his lifetime.  And there are many more recordings with Leo to be heard on YouTube.

It interests me that Leo was being featured in this magazine even when he was no longer recording . . . or is it that his post-1930 recordings have not been documented?  Anyway, I would like a subscription to RHYTHM and would be more than happy to pay six pence a month for the privilege — look at that snappy Deco cover!

and . . .

and . . .

Leo comes across as poised, polite, with his own views — his own man, admirably so.  We should know more about him . . .

I ASK YOU. WAS IT?

The same deep moral question, asked twice:

Connie, Martha, and Vet Boswell, with Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, Dick McDonough, Stan King and other luminaries.  The annotation above is enticing but not correct: this is (I believe) recorded for Brunswick Records in 1932, but it was so “unconventional” — hear the dead march interlude — that recording supervisor Jack Kapp (who hung the WHERE’S THE MELODY? sign in the Decca studios) insisted that the Sisters remake this song:

The issued version is much more bouncy, its message slightly muted by the faster tempo — but the improvisations can’t mask the seriousness of the essential question, can they?  It’s not simply a song of romantic wounds and betrayal, I believe. 

CLICK HERE TO THANK THE LIVING MUSICIANS

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

FEELING BIXISH?

By the time everyone gets to read this post the eBay article below will have been sold.  Still, I think it’s worth noticing.  When I was first visiting New York City on my own — intermittently and as part of a high-school independent study group, I found a shop still selling 78 rpm records in midtown.  Was it the Merit Music Shop?  It isn’t clear in my memory, and I thought the owner might have been a Mr. Meltzer.  Details gratefully appreciated from any New Yorkers! 

Mr. Meltzer wasn’t all that welcoming, although he wasn’t any worse than superficially gruff.  I bought a number of Commodore 78s for three dollars apiece, and a Disc three-record Pee Wee Russell set that I wish I had today (although I have the music on CD).  But I had read, somewhere, of the fabled Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Set on Victor — circa 1936 — and I asked him about it on my first visit to the shop.  “That?” he said derisively.  “That was gone thirty years ago!” and thus the conversation came to an abrupt halt and I went into the shelves to look for marvels (which were to be found).

Thus, while idling through eBay this evening, it was a remarkable shock to come across this same set — advertised as never played (why? under what circumstances?).

Feast your eyes.  All the music is no doubt available in a hundred issues, but this is rather touching — with the names of the SWING players there for the unaware buyer.

I love the Deco typeface!

When 78 record “albums” came with separate explanatory brochures.

Heartfelt — even if inaccurate — no doubt.

The seller wants (or wanted) $45.00, which seems far less extreme than other prices.  I will forego the pleasure of buying something as an adult that was beyond my reach in childhood, but I find the sight of this album moving.  I am happy to have seen it, even now.

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY COLLECTED ON THIS SITE GOES TO THE MUSICIANS WE LOVE!

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww 

ANDY STEIN and JOE WILDER at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2010

The pairing of violin and trumpet as a jazz front line might initially seem odd until one thinks of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones, Stephane Grappelli and Bill Coleman, even Joe Venuti and Jimmy Dorsey.  Then, of course, there’s Ray Nance, who was his own pairing.

Someone at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua had the good idea of putting violinist (and vocalist and saxophonist) Andy Stein together with trumpeter-fluegelhornist Joe Wilder for a set, and backing them with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Keith Ingham, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass and more — all New York friends and long-time associates.  Andy and Joe had worked together for Garrison Keillor on the PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION show, and (as the Irish say) this band “worked a treat.”

Here’s what happened!  I first must note — admiringly — the way Andy and Joe play so beautifully as front-line partners, each allowing the other space, their lines intertwining beautifully. 

They began with the jazz standard CHEROKEE, played at a tempo more easy than blistering, with the original melody being heard:

I suspect that Don Redman understood that GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? was one of those rhetorical questions: if the object of one’s affection replied, “I don’t think so,” the relationship was in trouble.  But this performance of this mournful song is anything but that:

Joe spent many years in the pit orchestras of Broadway shows, although I don’t know if he was there for Irving Berlin’s CALL ME MADAM.  But the duet YOU’RE JUST IN LOVE is, well, lovely:

Andy’s BLOZIN’ — as he explains — is his own satire on the pretentions of the bebop generation.  You’ll have to listen twice to catch all his funny, snide lyrics:

Finally, the old jazz chestnut BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA — but with the proper melody line, as Andy (he’s quite exact) explains it to us, to conclude a winning set of sweet Mainstream jazz:

And — is it too unsubtle to point this out?  Joe Wilder was eighty-eight years old when he performed this set.  He is one of the marvels of the age, no question!

MOODY, MAXINE, MUGGSY, J.D., ERROLL, SLIM

It has its own rhythm, doesn’t it?  Here are the latest delicacies up for bid on eBay.

James Moody, who just left us, with his whimsical signature:

Dear Maxine Sullivan, giving someone her home address, once upon a time:

Kid Muggsy, faithful to the spirit of Joe Oliver to the end:

Jimmy Dorsey, his coiffure gleaming:

Very unusual — an Erroll Garner inscription:

And finally, the uncontrolled and perhaps uncontrollable Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, posing with a more serious young couple, circumstances unknown:

Now . . . shut your eyes and imagine the sound of this collective ensemble.  I hear Maxine carrying the melody line, Moody and Slim improvising vocal counterpoint behind her; Muggsy, Erroll, and Slim keep the rhythm going. 

That should take your mind off of holiday shopping!

LISTENING TO LOUIS?

I’ve just read David Rickert’s assessment of “The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946)” issued by Mosaic Records in 2009, an essay published in ALL ABOUT JAZZ.  Rickert’s on the right path, but I found many of his statements confusing, even contradictory.  But before some eager commenters leap to his defense, I am not in the ad hominem trade, merely puzzled.

Here it is, unedited:

As far as recordings by trumpeter Louis Armstrong go, the Decca recordings don’t generate much interest. Prior to them came the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, the most influential jazz recordings ever made and the template for everything that was to come. Afterward came the superb pop recordings for RCA, which showed a masterful entertainer more respected for his vocal prowess than his trumpet playing. The Decca years represent Armstrong’s adolescence: a bit gangly, sometimes awkward, and filled with questionable choices amidst the bold assertions of identity. Part of the problem may be that the Decca recordings have been available somewhat helter skelter over the years. Who better to provide some coherence than Mosaic? The label has compiled everything that Armstrong recorded for Decca, brilliantly remastered from the original metal parts or discs, and with thorough liner notes from jazz veteran Dan Morgenstern to boot. With this seven CD set, it is finally possible to assess this set completely and perhaps more firmly establish them as the great records they are. Critics of these recordings gripe about the subpar quality of the song choice, which is surprisingly inferior given the astounding amount of good songs that were written at the time. A quick glance at the tracks will confirm this suspicion; there are quite a lot of second tier songs (you can often spot them just from the title.) At the time, Joe Glaser had recently become Armstrong’s manager and quickly obtained the services of Jack Kapp at the newly launched Decca label to record him. And record they did—166 tracks over 11 years that also span the infamous recording ban. Kapp saw Armstrong as a novelty act, someone whose numbers might be a little corny and superficial and easy on the ear. In this regard he had much in common with pianist Fats Waller, another mugger who recorded piffle. But also like Waller, Armstrong was always able to turn even the most insignificant material into something special, even if it wasn’t perhaps high art. He also correctly assumed that his performance would carry the material, and more often than not it did. There are some undeniable misfires here, such as a few numbers with a Hawaiian theme, and some gospel numbers, along with a few numbers like “When Ruben Swings the Cuban” that even Armstrong can’t redeem. But there are also quite a few numbers that Armstrong absolutely nails and turns into masterpieces, such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Tiger Rag,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Satchel Mouth Swing” and “Jubilee” proving that a terrific song and superb musicianship can always combine to make musical gold. Anther problem for some critics is the quality of the sidemen. There are really no stellar musicians on the stand, but rather serviceable sidemen capable of playing the charts and managing a decent solo when prompted. Clearly the focus here was on Armstrong and the rest of the band was only called upon to provide sturdy accompaniment and little else. Thus, unlike the Hot Five and Seven Recordings, there’s no pianist Earl Hines or trombonist Kid Ory to keep Armstrong on his toes and match his chops (although truth be told, few could keep up with him). The novelty here is hearing Armstrong navigate the world of big band coming from the smaller groups he had employed earlier. The recordings start out startlingly sweet and progressively get hotter, matched by terrific charts from Sy Oliver and Joe Garland. Armstrong was also paired with other artists from the Decca label such as saxophonist Glen Gray, reed player Jimmy Dorsey and bassist Bob Haggart, all white musicians, and pairings that helped erase the color lines that existed. There are also a few visits with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and a reunion with soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet, as well as early appearances with guys like guitarist Dave Barbour who would go on to greater things. Oh yes, and the first pairing of Armstrong and singer Ella Fitzgerald. Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great. A sampling of the best of these records would show how truly great this period was. Mosaic’s warts and all approach necessarily includes some questionable material. But with the Mosaic touch, don’t be surprised if these recordings reemerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.

Rickert ends his piece generously: he won’t “be surprised if these recordings emerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.”  But he begins with the rather curious statement that these same recordings “don’t generate much interest.” 

I wonder if the second statement is a matter of commerce rather than artistic merit.  The Deccas were never reissued intelligently at home.  Rather, they came out in blurts, “Jazz Classics,” “Collector’s Items,” “Golden Favorites,” and several well-meanin but incomplete attempts.  It was left to Gosta Hagglof  to issue the Deccas logically and completely on CD.   

It’s always tempting to see a jazz artist’s career in terms of the progression of record labels, but in doing this, Rickert presents some debatable generalities.  The Hot Five and Seven recordings are “the most influential jazz recordings ever made”; the later Victor sessions produced “superb pop,” where Armstrong’s singing overshadowed his trumpet playing. 

How about the “influential jazz recording, BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and the “superb pop” of JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES or PENNIES FROM HEAVEN? 

Rickert’s underlying assessment of Armstrong’s career might be something like this: “Louis played pure New Orleans jazz up until 1929, and then was corrupted into “pop” commercialism, with short detours back to Eden when he recorded with homeboys like Bechet and when he played W.C. Handy.  But had he stuck to POTATO HEAD BLUES, what a body of work he might have created!  Alas, poor Satchmo!  I knew him well, before he became popular, that is.” 

This harks back to the ideological wars of the Forties, Moldy Figs arguing with Be-Boppers over whose music was “authentic,” over how one defined “the real jazz.”  I thought we were past those quarrels.

Louis didn’t elevate jazz to the pantheon while lamenting that he was forced to play “pop.”  I doubt that he ever complained in the studio, “Hey, Mr. Kapp, this is piffle you’re asking me to mug.”   

In fact, if you admire what creative improvisers do with their material, what could be better than Louis did with ON A COCOANUT ISLAND?  Did it take more inventiveness for Fats Waller to swing THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART than the MINOR DRAG?  I would think so, but for these musicians, it was all music.  Perhaps even trying to play WHEN RUBEN SWINGS THE CUBAN is a heroic act in itself, and the discographies of many revered jazz musicians show equally unpromising titles. 

To his credit, Rickert recognizes that Armstrong was able to “redeem” many of the song choices and make them “something special.”  But he may confuse the musician, the record company, and the song. 

It is easy to view Armstrong as a good-natured pawn in the hands of White manipulators Jack Kapp and Joe Glaser, Kapp coming in for special excoriation for trying to make Louis a “novelty act.”  But record companies then and now wished to sell records — and, after years when companies went bankrupt, one can hardly blame Kapp for trying to ensure broad popular success. 

If Kapp viewed Armstrong as a “novelty act,” he also did so with his best-selling and most popular artist Bing Crosby, who recorded an even wider range of material with great success.  And the idea of “questionable material” might be one that the artists rarely asked.  And the idea of good songs and bad might be undercut by the results.  Does Billie Holiday sound less like herself on WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO than on YESTERDAYS?  The genius of jazz musicians lies in their ability to transform and transcend the most banal material — it is only in retrospect that jazz critics, praising “forward-looking” and “harmonically adventurous” music, make such distinctions.  I GOT RHYTHM and the blues were perfectly satisfying for Charllie Parker and Sonny Rollins to improvise on.  So, rather than assume that nefarious forces compelled Louis to record SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, we should marvel at what he did with it.  (As an aside, some of his recordings I find most gratifying are the least “jazz-inflected”: consider his Fifties recording of TREES, for one.)    

Rickert, as I do, teaches English, and I admire his equating Louis with Shakespeare.  But I find what follows condusing: “Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great.” 

Should we care how many people admire a particular piece of art?  What has popularity to do with merit? 

And if Rickert could point out to me where “academia” and “Pottery Barn,” meet, I’d be grateful.  I’d even meet him at the clearance sale table.  I applaud the idea of Louis as King Lear — majestic, commanding the winds.  But I don’t think that Louis had to pass through suffering to arrive at true awareness: his music shows that he had reached a deep awareness early.

Ultimately, I wonder if Mr. Rickert was victimized by circumstances in writing his review.  Mosaic box sets — in this case, seven compact discs — are initially overwhelming, not well-absorbed in one or two hurried gulps.  I wonder if he was sent this box with perhaps two weeks to listen to it and write about it.  He would either have had to work his way through the set — rather like doing homework — or to listen to it in pieces, hoping to find the figure in the carpet. 

In either case, I admire his fairness: praising Mosaic, attempting to situate Louis in a cultural context.  But he’s missed some of the beauties of these recordings. 

It’s perfectly understandable to look back to Louis’s partnership with Earl Hines as a high point.  But the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings are in some sense artificial, because Louis never worked with those groups.  The Deccas, for better or worse, represent some of the material Louis was performing every day with working bands.  But to become nostalgic for Kid Ory is to neglect J. C. Higginbotham.  And if you’re looking for a musician perfectly paired with Louis, able to keep up with him and to spur him to new heights, I would submit that Sidney Catlett is the man. 

I would ask Mr. Rickert to listen to WOLVERINE BLUES for Catlett alone, to THANKS A MILLION and SOLITUDE for the beauty of Louis’s expressive singing and playing.  Follow that up with the sides recorded with the Mills Brothers, those dreaded Hawaiian sides, and more.  Only then can he or anyone get a true picture of Louis’s achievement . . . and that might take a good deal of time.

MILDRED BAILEY by JULIA KEEFE

Mildred Rinker Bailey

“The Rocking Chair Lady”

February 16, 1900 – December 12, 1951

Mildred Rinker was born one hundred and ten years ago today in Tekoa, Washington.  Her mother, Josephine Lee Rinker, was an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe.  Mildred’s early childhood was spent on the family’s tribal allotment near DeSmet, Idaho, where she spent many happy hours riding her pony, Buck.

The Rinker family moved to Spokane’s North Central neighborhood when Mildred was thirteen, and she graduated from St. Joseph’s School. Mildred and her younger brother Al spent many happy hours singing and playing piano under the instruction of their mother, an excellent pianist who could play both classical and ragtime music.

Mildred’s musical talent inspired both her brother Al and one of his band mates, a singing drummer named Bing Crosby, who once said, “I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life.  I learned a lot from her.  She made records which are still vocal classics, and she taught me much about singing and interpreting popular songs.”

Shortly after her mother’s death from tuberculosis in 1917, Mildred moved to Seattle and found work singing from sheet music at a local music store.  Her career path led her throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, eventually settling in Los Angeles, where she joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and became the first full-time female big band singer in America.  Mildred Bailey’s groundbreaking achievement opened the door of opportunity for later jazz greats including Billie Holiday, Helen Ward, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Mildred Bailey’s earliest recordings were made in 1929, and she recorded nearly three hundred songs over the years, several of which became best-sellers.  Mildred had her own radio show in the 1940s, and was voted either first or second most popular female jazz vocalist in the first three annual Esquire Magazine jazz polls. The most famous artists from the swing era recorded and performed with Mildred, including Benny Goodman, Art Tatum, Mary Lou Williams, Coleman Hawkins, the Dorsey brothers, and Artie Shaw.

In 1944, Time magazine reviewed her show at the Café Society in New York and called her “just about the greatest songbird in the U.S.”  Mildred and her husband, pioneer xylophone and vibes great Red Norvo were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing” during this phase of her career.

Mildred Bailey died on December 21, 1951 in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she lived on a farm with her beloved dachshunds, Spotty and Susan.  In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of stamps honoring legendary jazz and blues singers, including “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey.  One jazz historian said of Mildred, “She had a magic. So many people down the line, so many singers, benefited from her, owe debts to her – and they don’t even know it.”

Thank you, Mildred, for the trail you blazed and the beautiful songs you left behind.  You demonstrated that a little girl from an Idaho Indian reservation can dream big dreams, and make those dreams come true.  We’ll never forget you. Thanks for the memory!

Julia Keefe, Nez Perce tribal member

www.juliakeefe.com

(For those of you who haven’t heard of Julia Keefe, I promise that you will.  She’s more than an articulate Mildred Bailey fan; more than a diligent researcher — who provided these pictures of a seventeen-year old Mildred about to leave Spokane for the big time (the pictures came from Mildred’s niece, Julia Rinker Miller, whose father was Al Rinker) . . . she’s also a 20-year old jazz singer with a future.   She reveres Mildred and sings some of her songs, but Julia is wise enough to know that imitation is both impossible and no one’s idea of flattery.  More from and about her in future!)  And Julia went to the same Spokane high school, Gonzaga Prep, as that fellow Crosby . . . it’s a small world after all.