Tag Archives: Joan Blondell

“FORGED IN RHYTHM”: KEENAN McKENZIE with LAURA WINDLEY, GORDON AU, LUCIAN COBB, CHRIS DAWSON, JONATHAN STOUT, SETH FORD-YOUNG, JOSH COLLAZO (AUGUST 2017)

To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, “To one who feels the groove, no explanation is necessary. To one who doesn’t feel it, no explanation is possible.”

This new CD is just wonderful.  Listen to a sample here while you read.  And  that link is the easiest way to purchase a download or a disc.

The irresistibly catchy songs are TRANSCONTINENTAL* / MY WELL-READ BABY* / PARTS AND LABOR / LIGHTS OUT / IF I WROTE A SONG FOR YOU / CINCINNATI / DOWN THE HATCH / CALLOUS AND KIND* / BUFFALO CONVENTION / FORGED IN RHYTHM* / WHEN I’M HERE ALONE* / POCKET ACES / CITY IN THE DEEP / EASTBOUND / THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA*.

I don’t write “irresistibly catchy” often, but I mean it here.  The lyrics are clever without being forced, sometimes deeply tender.  “Don’t send me names / Of potential flames,” is one tiny example of the Mercer-Hart world he visits. I emphasize that Mister McKenzie not only wrote music and lyrics, but arranged these originals AND performs beautifully on a variety of reeds.  He is indeed someone to watch, and admire.  He’s also a generous wise leader who gives his colleagues ample space, thus the CD is truly varied, each performance its own pleasing world.

The “tunes” themselves stick in the mind.  Some are contrafacts — new melodies built over sturdy lovable harmonic sequences (SUGAR BLUES, ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, INDIAN SUMMER, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA if my ears do not deceive me).  These hybrids work delightfully: it’s as if you’ve met beloved friends who have decided to cross-dress for the evening or for life: you recognize the dear person and the garb simultaneously, admiring both the substance and the wrappings.

The delicious band, sounding so much larger than a septet, is Keenan McKenzie, reeds; Gordon Au, trumpet; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Laura Windley, vocals*.  You might not recognize all the names here, but you are in for compact explosions of joy when the music starts.

The soloists are playing superbly — and that includes players Gordon and Chris, whom I’ve been stalking for what seems like a decade now (my math is wrong but my emotions are correct) as well as the newer members of the Blessed Swing Flock.  Although they don’t work together regularly as a unit, they speak the same language effortlessly and listen contentedly to each other: Soloist Three starts his solo with a variation on the phrase that Soloist Two has just played.  That’s the way the Elders did it, a tradition beautifully carried forward here.

The rhythm section has perfected the Forties magic of seeming to lean forward into the beat while keeping the time steady.  Harry Lim and Milt Gabler smile at these sounds.  This band knows all that anyone needs to know about ensemble playing — they offer so much more than one brilliant solo after another.  Yes, Virginia, there are riffs, send-offs, and all those touches of delightful architecture that made the recordings we hold dear so memorable.  Without a vibraphone, this group takes some spiritual inspiration from the Lionel Hampton Victors, and you know (or should) just how fine they are.  “Are,” not “were.”

And there is the invaluable Laura Windley, who’s never sounded more like herself: if Joan Blondell took up singing, she’d sound like Laura.  And Joan would be thrilled at the transformation.

The lovely sound is thanks to Miles Senzaki (engineer at Grandma’s Dojo in Los Angeles, California; Jason Richmond, who mixed the music; Steve Turnidge, who mastered the disc).  The nifty artwork and typography — evoking both David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld — is by artist-clarinetist Ryan Calloway.

The disc is also available through CDBaby and shortly on Amazon and iTunes: check here for updates on such matters.  And here you can find out more about Keenan’s many selves, all of them musical.

I end on a personal note.  I first began to enjoy this disc at the end of the semester for me (I teach English at a community college) — days that are difficult for me.  I had graded enough student essays to feel despondent; I had sat at the computer for so long so that my neck hurt and my eyes ached.  But this disc had come in the mail, and I’d heard TRANSCONTINENTAL and MY WELL-READ BABY already, so, feeling depleted and sulky, I slipped it into the player.  Optimism replaced gloom, and I played the whole disc several times in a row, because it made me tremendously happy.  It can do the same spiritual alchemy for you, if you only allow it in.

May your happiness increase!

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“WOULD YOU CARE TO SIGN OUR GUEST BOOK?” (Liberty Music Shop, 1956-57)

As of July 10, 2015, this was the eBay link for those who like an incredible collection of autographs — and who have $4500.

Here’s the description.

[Autographs] [Guest Book] Hemingway, Ernest. (1899 – 1961) & Barber, Samuel. (1910 – 1981) & Givenchy, Hubert de. (b. 1927) & Graham, Martha. (1894 – 1991) & Ferber, Edna. (1885 – 1968) etc.

Incredible 1950s Guest Book for the Liberty Music Shop

Guest book for the famed Liberty Music Shop of New York, containing approximately 200 autographs and inscriptions, signed by distinguished visitors, a virtual who’s who of the cultural life of 1950s New York. Written approximately 15 to a page on the first 14 pages, some with date or place or comments, concluding with a large bold signature by Marian Anderson, written diagonally across the blank page. Oblong 8vo, leatherette. New York, [1956-57]. The signers include Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Barber, Martha Graham, Anna Magnani, Hubert de Givenchy, Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire, Hoagy Carmichael, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Hayes (with an AMQS), Alan Jay Lerner (2x), Yul Brynner, Ogden Nash, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontaine, Andres Segovia, Margaret Hamilton, Tony Bennett, Myrna Loy, Edna Ferber, Zino Francescatti, Byron Janis, Farley Grainger, Rex Harrison, Broderick Crawford, Edward G. Robinson, George Szell, Jessica Tandy, Basil Rathbone, Claudette Colbert, Hazel Scott, Raymond Massey, Michel Auclair, Alexander Smallens, Kate Smith, James Mason, Ray Bolger, Benny Goodman, Noël Coward, Joan Blondell, Arnold Stang, Constance Talmadge, Garson Kanin, Mischa Elman, Erica Morini, Connee Boswell, Mario del Monaco, Robert Helptmann, Andor Foldes, Marta Eggerth, Vincent Price, Lillian Gish, Paulette Goddard, J. William Fulbright and dozens more.

The Liberty Music Shop was a fixture in the New York music scene from the 1930s through the 1950s, catering to cognoscenti and celebrities.

Why should this be on JAZZ LIVES?  One, it’s a spectacular rarity.  Some of the names above should excite people who apparently only listen to jazz, night and day.  But for the most seriously narrow readers, there’s also a genuine Benny Goodman signature and — happiness! — a Jo Jones inscription, which is how he signed two record jackets for me in 1981-2.  The seller offered photographs of sample pages — not all fifteen — which means that some of the signatures noted above aren’t visible.  But enough are to make it fascinating.

Here’s the first page, beautifully signed by Marian Anderson:

AUTOGRAPH BOOK NINE Marian Andersonand here I see Mischa Elman, Peter Lind Hayes, Alan Jay Lerner, Farley Grainger, Edward G. Robinson, and Joyce Van Patten, among others.

AUTOGRPAH BOOK TWOHere’s Jack Carter (who just left us), Bill Hayes, Garson Kanin, Herman Shumlin, and Earle Hyman . . .

AUTOGRAPH BOOK THREEAnd where else would you find Ray Bolger and Francoise Sagan in such proximity?

AUTOGRAPH BOOK FOURI love the strange combinations: Gene Tunney, Herb Shriner, Jo Jones, Margaret Hamilton, Tony Bennett, and Herb Shriner, the last asking for a discount.

AUTOGRAPH BOOK FIVE Jo Tony 1957Still more: David Rose and Chris Connor.

AUTOGRAPH BOOK SIX Chris Connor David RoseAnd Charles Boyer, an authentic Benny Goodman (unless he brought one of his staff to sign for him), Kevin McCarthy, Givenchy, and Anthony Perkins.AUTOGRAPH BOOK SEVEN BGFinally, Dorothy Gish, Hoagy Carmichael, Fred Astaire.

AUTOGRAPH BOOK EIGHT Gish Hoagy AstaireKeener eyes than mine will no doubt discern other famous names.  It’s an awful cliche to say that giants walked the earth, but I know for certain that they went to the Liberty Music Shop.

May your happiness increase!

CATNIP FOR HUMANS! (June 21, 2015)

You don’t have to be a cat or have one.  Just get comfortable and watch this extraordinary offering — joy doubled and tripled, in sound and motion.  I’m so delighted that this exists:

Thanks to Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls*: Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray, Hayden Nickel.

Thanks to James Dapogny and his Jazz Band: Tom Bogardus, clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; James Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Shannon Wade, string bass; Rod McDonald, banjo; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Thanks to Laura Beth Wyman, who filmed this delight at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Michigan on June 21, 2015.

And a few muttering comments.  One refers to the asterisk above, which leads the righteous among us to the Facebook page of Ms. Morris and her Ragdolls.  I’ve done my best — leaving aside threats and whinging as unseemly — but so far only 495 people have “liked” the Ragdolls.  Is this what Bill Robinson would have us do?  Or Walter Page?  Knute Rockne?  Joan Blondell?  William Carlos Williams?  Reginald Marsh?

I ask you.  Please, so that I sleep longer and happier, “like” them tonight.  Now.

I spent several hours in a waiting room today — for boring reasons, nothing serious — where there was the inevitable cable television on, bolted to the wall above our heads.  The E! cable channel.  I despair, when I think that there is no Dapogny – Morris channel, yet the E! channel blathers on.  Well, instead of succumbing to darkness and bleakness, I will watch the video of ST. LOUIS BLUES again.  It occurs to me that this package — band and dancers — could be wooed out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for someone willing to uplift the rest of the country.  Anyone daring reading this post?

May your happiness increase!

THE SHAPE OF A CAREER: RED McKENZIE, 1924-1947

Photograph thanks to Scott Black: a trio of solid senders, Frank Trumbauer, Red McKenzie, and their former boss Paul Whiteman

William “Red” McKenzie, born in 1899, had a career whose highs and lows might have made a good — and sad — film biography.  Let us begin with a phenomenal hit record, the 1924 ARKANSAS BLUES — a smash for the novelty group, The Mound City Blue Blowers (McKenzie on comb and newspaper, Jack Bland on banjo, Dick Slevin on kazoo):

A word about his musical abilities, unique to him.  McKenzie’s singing isn’t to everyone’s taste; he is earnest, declaratory, even tipping over into barroom sentimentality.  But he could put over a hot number with style, and his straight-from-the shoulder delivery is both charming and a product of the late Twenties.  As an instrumentalist — on the comb and newspaper, a homegrown kazoo with panache — he had no equal, and the remarkable thing about the records on which he appears is how strongly he stands his ground with Coleman Hawkins and Bunny Berigan, powerful figures in their own right.  Both singing and playing, McKenzie reminds me greatly of Wild Bill Davison, someone who had “drama,” as Ruby Braff said.

In the late Twenties McKenzie was not only a musician but an activist for the music, bringing hot jazz players — Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Jimmie Noone, the Spirits of Rhythm — to the attention of record companies and creating early record dates where Caucasians and African-Americans to record.  Without McKenzie, Coleman Hawkins would have waited a number of years to be allowed into the recording studio to perform with mixed groups.

Here is McKenzie in 1929 — out in the open in the short film OPRY HOUSE as a delightfully unrestrained singer, with Bland, banjo; Josh Billings, whiskbrooms and suitcase:

His popularity grew — as s singer and someone whose face might sell sheet music of a new song:

McKenzie was the featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra — an orchestra, we should remember, that had launched the careers of Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey — with a pretty 1932 tune, THREE ON A MATCH (featured in the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis):

He continued to be someone whose presence could help sell new songs — this 1936 number, that most of us know through Billie Holiday’s recording:

and this 1936 song, more famous in Bing Crosby’s recording:

At forty, McKenzie went into a temporary retirement — moving back to his hometown, St. Louis, to work at a brewery for four years.  Apparently he was one of the great heavy drinkers of his time, and only the support of his great friend Eddie Condon kept him in the limelight in the Forties, where he appeared now and again at a Condon concert or a Blue Network broadcast.  The latter, I think, accounts for McKenzie’s 1944 appearance on a V-Disc and a session for Commodore Records — where Milt Gabler also thought the world of him.  Gabler produced record sessions simultaneously for Decca Records and the World Transcription System: here’s a 1944 version of DINAH with McKenzie, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, and Pee Wee Russell:

Here’s McKenzie as captured by William P. Gottlieb in an October 1946 photograph:

But little was heard from McKenzie for the last years of his life, except for one 1947 record date — shown in a newsprint advertisement for four sides on the National label.  His obscurity is nodded at — another “comeback story” in the sad word REINTRODUCING:

By February 1948 McKenzie was dead — cirrhosis the official cause.  I find IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER and HEARTACHES sad reminders of what had happened.  I would hate to think that his life could be summarized as an equal devotion to hot music and hard liquor, the latter winning out over the former.

Had he been in better health, he could have been one of those apparently ancient but still vivacious stars who appeared on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW and the HOLLYWOOD PALACE alongside Crosby, Sophie Tucker, Durante, and Ted Lewis . . . but it was not to be.

May your happiness increase. 

A HOT BAND IS GOOD TO FIND (Part Two): CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at the WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP (August 1, 2012)

Jim Klippert said it best.  “I always wanted to play with a band like this.”

On August 1, 2012, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band rocked the house — the Cheryl Burke Dance Studio in Mountain View, California — at the “Wednesday Night Hop.”

The participants?  Clint on trumpet and vocal; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

Here’s where you can find out about future Wednesday Night Hops.

And here’s the first part of the evening.

Now, to the second.  The constant delights were beautiful ensemble energy and precision, wonderful hot playing — passion, relaxation, and intuition — no matter what the tempo.  More than one person let me know that the first set was so entrancingly distracting that it got them off track at work . . . . I have visions of people at their desks all over the world trying hard to stay focused while Sister Kate does her thing . . . . for Clint and his colleagues create music that is deliciously distracting.  Their music is a sure cure for gloom, tedium, ennui, Victorian swoons, pins-and-needles, existential dread, coffee nerves, the blahs, low blood sugar, high anxiety, and more.

SISTER KATE (or, for the archivists in the room, GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD):

Woe, woe.  It’s CARELESS LOVE.  Be careful, now!

Thanks to Puccini, here’s AVALON, not too fast:

For Bix, for Louis, for Papa Joe — ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

KNEE DROPS is an irresistible Louis Armstrong song from the Hot Five sessions. For this post, I tried to find more information on what the dance move would have looked like in 1926 . . .but I am not sure that the “knee drop” as practiced in break-dancing and ballet would have been recognized at the Sunset Cafe or other Chicago nightspots:

When in doubt, SHAKE THAT THING (defined loosely):

May your happiness increase.

A HOT BAND IS GOOD TO FIND (Part One): CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at the WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP (August 1, 2012)

What happened in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday, August 1, 2012, might have been noted by global weather scientists as the best kind of seismic alteration.  Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band played two sets for dancers at the “Wednesday Night Hop” held at the Cheryl Burke Dance Studio and they made the cosmos rock — as far as I and the dancers could tell.

The participants?  Clint on trumpet and vocal; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

Here’s where you can find out about future Wednesday Night Hops: the street address, the admission cost, directions.

And here’s the first part of the evening.

But a word before you immerse yourselves in the rocking hot sounds.

Some of my nicest readers gently write in, “Michael, you really should have put your camera here or there,” and I try not to let that SHOULD weigh too heavily on me. The gentle suggesters do not realize that I am at these gigs because the band members are generous kind people who put up with my presence and my camera.  But the world is not my personal video studio and I am trying my best to be unobtrusive — not the jazz world’s Erich von Stroheim.

So at Mountain View I could have set up my camera under a huge whirring electric fan (needed to keep the dancers from heatstroke) or over the drums.  I chose the latter and initially I was anxious.  But necessity is not only an inventive mother — sometimes Miss Necessity is a real pal (think of Joan Blondell in the Thirties movies where she tells the naive heroine what really needs to be said).

Setting up close to Steve Apple was a religious experience, for he played with such quiet strength,  such variety of sound and timbre, such deep swing that my vantage point was a true gift.  You can hear how the horns floated on top of and through this blissful rhythm section . . . . and how they mixed 2012 swing with a beautiful New Orleans splendor!  Clint’s solid lead would have made the masters grin; Bill Carter and Jim Klippert weave curlicues and romp on the harmonies in the best way — and those fellows in the back: Reinhart and Vanderford and Wilson would get my vote for Best String Trio anywhere.  The real thing, alive and well.

Clint called DALLAS BLUES to start, which is the hallmark of a man who loves the music — and he had been playing Luis Russell in the car on the way down to Mountain View, always a good idea:

ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY is a sweet Jabbo Smith tune that’s getting more play these days (Eddie Erickson does it, too!) — romance in swingtime:

WHISPERING shows, once again, how a band sensitive to the dancers can swing anything:

RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET brings back 1935 Louis (this is a Decca band) and the New Orleans tradition of playing pop tunes rather than sticking to a narrow repertoire of  “good old good ones”: I think of Bunk Johnson preferring PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA and MARIA ELENA on dance gigs:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, with the verse — and I swung my camera around to catch the expert hopping of Audrey Kanemoto, our heroine, and Manu Smith.  Watching this video, I thought of the Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who loved jazz and had been an amateur saxophonist in his homeland under a variety of occupations.  In one of his novels, he has a passage describing playing in a band while the current love of his life is doing a beautiful expert vigorous Charleston to the music.  He would have loved to see this band and these dancers:

There was no beer at Mountain View, although there were Fritos in little bags from the vending machine.  Perhaps that’s why THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT came to mind.  Or perhaps it was time for some Lowdown Groove, which I have not found in any vending machine:

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP, a fast blues for the Lindy Hoppers:

I love SOLID OLD MAN — a simple line from the session that Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor did with Django in 1939:

KRAZY KAPERS is, as Clint mentions, a line on DIGA DIGA DOO — recorded first by Benny Carter in 1933 with one of our dream bands, featuring Floyd O’Brien, Chu Berry, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Max Kaminsky, Lawrence Lucie, and Ernest Hill.  (Thank you, John Hammond!):

My goodness!  What a hot band!  And there’s more to come.

May your happiness increase.

I’M READY! (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 1-3, 2013)

I know it’s wise to live in the moment.  The time we rush away we don’t get back.  But there is a lot to be said for having something to look forward to.  I don’t have a 2013 wall calendar yet, but the first thing I will put on it will be

MARCH 1-3, 2013

DIXIELAND MONTEREY JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY.

“I’m ready, I’m ready.  So help me, I’m ready.”

Visit their website here.

And the punctual folks at the Bash have even posted a list of the bands and musicians who will be playing that weekend.  Here goes:

The Reynolds Brothers, The Pieter Meijers Quartet featuring Banu Gibson, The Au Brothers Jazz Band, Danny Coots, Jeff Barnhart, High Sierra, Big Mama Sue Quartet, Eddie Erickson,  Blue Street Jazz Band, Carl Sonny Leyland Trio, John Cocuzzi/ Allan Vaché Swing All-Stars, Crown Syncopators, Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, Ivory & Gold, Old Friends, The Original Wildcat Jass Band, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Titan Hot Seven, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Yve Evans & Company.  And an assortment of youth bands and (I am sure) more than a few surprises.

The 2013 Musician of the Year will be the deserving and much-loved Howard Miyata.

Rumors that Walter Page, Hot Lips Page, Bob Helm, Herschel Evans, Mildred Bailey, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell, and Myrna Loy will be sitting in are so far unsubstantiated.  I will let you know the details as they appear.

Anyone ready for a Bash?  I have a sentimental attachment to the Jazz Bash by the Bay — at my first and second Monterey Bashes, I had the time of my life. . . You can too!

May your happiness increase.