Tag Archives: Jimmy Yancey

THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE: A NEW BOOK BY DEREK COLLER and BERT WHYATT

Before you read another word: if you know the remarkable work of Derek Coller and the late Bert Whyatt, you can skip to the bottom for details on how to buy it: you won’t need me to convince you of its worth.

Full disclosure, for those who like FD: I corresponded with Bert and exchanged information and tapes for the Bobby Hackett book he and George Hulme did, and I am mentioned in this new book as a source pertaining to Frank Chace.

Now for larger matters: when I pick up a book purporting to be on jazz, I value clear presentation of information, at best first-hand narrative or close informed analysis, any ideological basis (if there must be one) aboveboard.  I should come away from any reading feeling that I know many new things or have been given new ways of perceiving what I know.

Here’s what repels me (details omitted to avoid legal action):

During the twentieth century, jazz was at the center of multiple debates about social life and American experience. Jazz music and its performers were framed in both positive and negative manners. The autobiographies of _____ musicians _____ and ______ provide insight into the general frames they used to frame jazz experience and agency sometimes at odds with dominant discourses. Through Michel Foucault’s notion of ethical substance, I analyze the way in which jazz is constructed in their autobiographies. Several themes are used by both autobiographers to frame their actions, which are constructed in a complex and ambivalent manner revealing both the ethics of jazz and its covert culture.

A long pause.  Happily, I can leave Foucault to his own devices, and enthusiastically recommend CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE, the opposite of the miasma in italics.  And, for the curious, the picture above is of Sig Meyer and his Druids, c. 1924 — including Volly De Faut, Arnold Loyacano, Marvin Saxbe, and Muggsy Spanier.  In itself, that photograph says everything you might need to know about the depth of research in this book.

Coller and Whyatt come from the old school of scholars — note I don’t write “critics” — who believe that the stories musicians tell about themselves and others are more worthy than what listeners believe they hear.  This is a collection of articles — essays, portraits, studies — by both authors, published in Storyville, The Mississippi Rag, the IAJRC Journal, Jazz Journal, and as liner notes — between 1983 and 2016.

For once, I will quote the publisher’s copy, because it is so apt:

When Derek Coller decided to pay tribute to his late friend – the author, biographer, discographer and researcher, Bert Whyatt – he looked for a common theme under which to group some of the articles they had written together over the years. He found it in Chicago where their research activities had gravitated towards the style of music created by the young white musicians from that city and its environs – particularly those who rallied around the figurehead of Eddie Condon – as they listened to and learned from the pioneer black stylists, many of them the greatest jazz players to emigrate from New Orleans, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny and Baby Dodds and Jimmy Noone. Two trips to the USA, made by the authors in 1979 and 1992, led to meetings and correspondence with some of the musicians in this compilation, and to learning about many others. There are connections between most of these articles, interviews and notes, with an over-lapping of jobs, leaders and clubs. Some of the stories are about pioneers: Elmer Schoebel, Jack Pettis and Frank Snyder, for example, were in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923. Trombonist George Brunis, chronicled here, was also a member of that band, though his long career – during which he played with Muggsy Spanier, as did Rod Cless and George Zack, in the Spanier Ragtime Band of ‘Great Sixteen’ fame – has been more widely documented. Floyd Bean and Tut Soper, here too, were also Spanier alumni. The articles originally appeared variously under a dual by-line, or by either Whyatt or Coller, but always with consultation and discussion prior to publication. Here they become a lively mix of the voices of the authors as well as the musicians and their families, building a story through biography, reviews and discography. The book is illustrated with evocative black and white photographs and images, and there is an Index of names and places to help the reader keep track of the musicians, composers, producers, promoters and writers who created this part of the history of jazz.

“A lively mix” is an understatement. First off, the book is full of wonderful anecdotage, primarily by the musicians themselves.  And it helps to explicate Chicago — which is often legendary but certainly under-documented — as its own world of jazz, where one could encounter Jimmy Yancey, Brownie McGhee, Bud Jacobson, Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes — see the 1949 photo facing the table of contents.

For me, the complete and absorbing charm of the book and the research under it is in the focus on those musicians whom I’ve known as names on record labels or in discographies.  Yes, there is coverage of Muggsy Spanier and George Brunis (the first already the subject of a fine biography by — no surprise — Bert), but the other portraits are welcome because the musicians depicted never got the attention during or after their lifetimes.  I will simply list them: Jack Pettis, Frank Snyder, Elmer Schoebel, Rod Cless, George Snurpus, Maurice Bercov, Floyd O’Brien, Oro “Tut” Soper, Floyd Town, Johnny Lane, George Zack, Jack Gardner, Chet Roble, Floyd Bean, Bill Reinhardt and his club Jazz Ltd., Dan Lipscomb, Frank Chace, Jimmy Ille, Art Jenkins, Doc Cenardo, Freddy Greenleaf, and Paul Jordan.

And that is surely not all.  Photographs new to me, of course.  And when I open the book at random, gems leap out: on page 202, pianist Tut Soper describes Chicago as “the center of gravity as far as jazz is concerned.”  On page 63, we are in trombonist Floyd O’Brien’s datebook for 1928, describing gigs and who was in the band.  On page 227, jazz writer Larry Kart recalls hearing (and recording) clarinetist Frank Chace and pianist Bob Wright playing Coltrane’s LAZY BIRD and Tadd Dameron’s IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW.

I mentioned anecdotage earlier in this post, and will add a few excerpts from string bassist Harlow Atwood (201-2), talking of clarinetist / clubowner Bill Reinhardt and early rehearsals (Fall 1932) for Charlie Barnet’s first big band:

(. . . Charlie then was a 17 years-old pothead fugitive from Moses Brown Prep in Providence, R.I.) which boasted the legendary Jack Purvis on trumpet and Scoops Thompson (he sold drugs by the scoopful!) on guitar.  The two wildest dudes I ever met in the business.  That band, by the way, opened the brand-new Paramount Hotel, owned by Charlie’s family, on New Year’s Eve of ’32-’33 and lasted exactly one set.  Barnet’s mother, shocked to her socks by Purvis’ romping charts, fired Charlie herself.  I was sitting at Charlie’s table and heard the conversation.  

And, later, Atwood’s memories of valve-trombonist Frank Orchard (memorable for appearances on Commodore Records — I also saw him at Jimmy Ryan’s in the Seventies) who also acted as M.C., played piano, guitar, and sang — and who installed “a 2 1/2 times life-sized photo of himself at the club’s street entrance”:

The sets were pure Mack Sennett.  Frank would tinkle a piano intro, then switch to rhythm guitar for the opening chorus, grab his guitar and up to the mike to sing / play a chorus, then do the sock chorus on trombone lead and finally sprint back to the piano for the ending.  Plus, of course, introductory blather.

That’s purest jazz catnip to me, and I hope to you also.

If you’d told me a few years ago that I would hold a book with a detailed portrait of the pianist Jack Gardner in it, or a reference to tenorist Joe Masek, I would have thought that impossible.  And I have taken so long to review this book because of its irresistible nature.  When I received it in the mail, I left it visible in my apartment, and when I passed by it, I would stop to read a few pages: its distracting force was just that powerful.  I apologize to Derek and to the shade of Bert for being so tardy, but if you are in the least curious about Chicago jazz — from the teens to the Seventies — you will find CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE fascinating, quotable, and invaluable. I wish there were a bookshelf of volumes of equal merit.

Buy a copy here or here .  Alas, the book doesn’t come with a I BRAKE FOR SIG MEYERS AND HIS DRUIDS bumper sticker or a multi-volume CD set of previously unheard live sessions recorded by John Steiner, but we will make do with this lovely collection.

May your happiness increase!

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TWO CHAMPIONS: “FLEA CIRCUS,” PETE SIERS DUO FEATURING MR. B

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Now I have to narrate, with embarrassment, how I waited some time to review an excellent jazz CD because its title made me itchy all over.   Here’s Exhibit A:

FLEA CIRCUS

Before you start scratching, too, use those hands to click here for sound samples from this disc. (It’s also available through iTunes and Amazon.)

The duo here — really a trio, but with two musicians, which I call good conservation of energy, is Pete Siers, drums, and “Mr. B,” who is Mark Lincoln Braun, piano, vocals, and perhaps a little more.

I relaxed when I read in the excellent notes by arwulf arwulf, that Pete has always wanted to play in the circus — or is it “with” the circus?  No matter.  So I assume that FLEA CIRCUS refers only to the compact size of the enterprise.

Enough of that.  FLEA CIRCUS is a deeply felt album of deep blues and related songs, sung* and played by two men who are wholly in the tradition.  The sixteen titles here are varied not only in tempo,  key, and composer, but also in mood. Each one is a small dramatic playlet, intense or free-wheeling, with its own mood: funky, rueful, hilarious, romping, woebegone, tender, Friday-night-paycheck-at-the-bar.  No listener would find an hour with these two creative spirits too much: rather, when the disc was over, I said, “Is that it?” which speaks well for a return engagement for Pete and Mark.

Here are the songs: VICKSBURG BLUES (in honor of Little Brother Montgomery) / SHE’S TOUGH* / JIMMY’S SPECIAL (for Jimmy Yancey) / WHAT WAS I THINKING OF?* / I LIKE WHAT YOU DID (WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT) a variation on Roosevelt Sykes’ immortal theme / KIRKSEY FLASH, for Web Kirksey, pictured above / TREMBLIN’ BLUES / MOJO HAND* / COW COW BLUES (for and by Cow Cow Davenport) / LITTLE BROTHER / TEXAS STOMP / TOO SMART TOO SOON* / WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER (in honor of Albert Ammons) / WHEN I LOST MY BABY (for Blind John Davis) / NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT (with a guest appearance by trombonist Christopher Smith) / YPSI GYPSI (a world of its own) //

Both of these musicians know how to take their time, so this isn’t a boogie-woogie extravaganza with Niagara Falls of notes that overwhelm the listener. Were I introducing the CD to someone new to it, I would start off with what I believe is Mark’s original, SHE’S TOUGH, where the Love Object stops clocks, distracts college professors, and silently effects a cease-fire.  The lyrics are delightful, but the piano playing is even better, and Pete’s silken accompaniment is a lesson for all drummers.  TOO SMART TOO SOON should have been recorded by Walter Brown with Jay McShann, if you know that reference.  Mark’s singing, throughout, is perfectly focused — honoring rather than copying — and the recording adds just a touch of what I hear as Fifties reverb to his voice, adding a good deal to the atmosphere without making this an exercise in play-acting.

Even though Pete is the nominal leader on this disc, it is not a percussionist’s narcissistic dream.  I heard only two drum solos — very brief but delightful, but what I truly heard and appreciated was his unerringly thoughtful and swinging support, nothing formulaic or mechanical.

Together, Pete and Mark evoke the very best of vocal blues, piano blues, boogie-woogie, with sweet nods to R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll.

The result is delightful, and I hope many people listen, download, purchase.  Don’t be like me and be put off by the idea of dancing insects, please.  FLEA CIRCUS is the real thing, full of flavors.  It rocks.

May your happiness increase!

UNABRIDGED and UPLIFTING: CARL SONNY LEYLAND and RAY SKJELBRED at MONTEREY (March 19, 2014)

There are occasions when we have two pianos on stage, and two pianists. Perhaps it’s not so unusual these days. But I submit to you that the pairing of Carl Sonny Leyland (on the right side of your screen) and Ray Skjelbred (left) is remarkable for its wit, depth, and playful inventiveness.  It happened on March 9, 2014, at the Jazz Bash at the Bay in Monterey, California, and I present the results here now in all their splendor.  Unabridged, unexpurgated, unedited, and full of life. I apologize that my camera’s wide-angle lens wasn’t sufficiently ample to keep both Masters in the shot, but the sound is I hope compensation for the visual limitations.  (I was seated in the first row and kept swiveling my head back and forth, so my camera followed suit.)

I think it was an absolute honor to be there, and that this is unrivaled music.

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

WININ’ BOY BLUES:

FAN IT / OH, BABY!:

HOW LONG BLUES:

CHINA BOY:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

OUR MONDAY DATE:

SUGAR:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

Both of these great musicians — strong-minded individualists — reveled in this opportunity to create something larger than themselves, something warmly alive and unforgettable. To echo Carl’s words after the end of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, “Yeah. Fun.”

May your happiness increase!