Tag Archives: Joe Louis

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part One)

A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
Three more performances from the second half (after a quiet intermission) will be offered in the near future.
May your happiness increase!
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LOVE SONGS AND SOME RHYTHM: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS SWING BAND at the WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOP (August 14, 2013)

This music makes me feel very nostalgic for summer in California with the Beloved and among friends, and happy to know I will be out there again in 2014. One of our staunch musical friends is the eminent Clint Baker.

These performances take me back to an evening in Mountain View, at “the Wednesday Night Hop,” where Clint and his New Orleans Swing Band gave us all, not just the dancers, reason to be very happy.  The NOSB was Clint, of course, trumpet and vocal; Benny Archey, trombone; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jason Vanderford, banjo / guitar; Sam Rocha, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

YEARNING:

JOE LOUIS STOMP:

Trombonist Benny Archey was new to me.  He could be drummer / pianist Jeff Hamilton’s brother, so strong in the resemblance, but Mr. Archey is a retired Wyoming orchid grower, visiting California intermittently, who plays serious trombone.  I was very glad to meet and hear him.  And the rest of the band!  The distinctive voices of the front line players, weaving and bobbing expertly, and that rhythm section!  Dance music of the highest order. Thanks, as always, to these brilliant navigators of melody, and to Audrey Kanemoto and the people who create and sustain the Wednesday Night Hop.

May your happiness increase!

CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at SAVANNA: THE FIRST SET (July 10, 2013)

The jazz musicians I know get a special pleasure from playing for dancers — watching the moving figures both reverberate and reflect the music — and wise swing dancers know there’s a particular delight dancing to a live band instead of an iPod . . .

Clint Baker and his New Orleans Jazz Band proved this one night not long ago at the Wednesday night swing dance session held at Savanna in San Francisco’s Mission District –known as Cat’s Corner.

Clint, cornet and vocal, was joined by Jim Klippert, trombone and vocal; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Marty Eggers, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.  Here’s the first of two sets — suitable for at home swing dancing as well — which draw happily on pop tunes of the remembered past:

DINAH:

ONE HOUR:

THE SECOND LINE:

SISTER KATE:

MY BLUE HEAVEN:

TISHOMINGO BLUES:

WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME:

IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON:

JOE LOUIS STOMP:

May your happiness increase!

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING (February 24, 2013)

Yesterday, your grateful / intrepid videographer took his new knapsack, camera, tripod, and microphone to a live jazz event, set up, and recorded. . . . after a month’s hiatus in the schedule.

The event was the Sunday afternoon gig of Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band — that entertaining group no longer at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, but now taking up a serious weekend residence (Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 PM) at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, 1434 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, California.

Mal’s colleagues were Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, reeds; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; guest Waldo Carter, trumpet on JOE LOUIS STOMP.

I chose two selections from the afternoon’s performances not only because they felt so fulfilling, but also because I had not captured either song on video for JAZZ LIVES.  The first, a mixture of wistfulness and comedy (that’s the Mal Sharpe way!) is the song Billie Holiday and Lester Young made immortal in 1937 — FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And the second, a walloping tribute to the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis (with a side-glance at Bill Coleman, having a good time in Paris) is JOE LOUIS STOMP:

I’m ready! — for the Jazz Bash by the Bay / Dixieland Monterey 2013 . . .  Hope to see you there.

May your happiness increase.

BARNEY JOSEPHSON, CAFE SOCIETY, and MORE

It’s a long time since I got so wrapped up in a book that I didn’t want to stop reading it — but CAFE SOCIETY: THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE (Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2009) is just that book.

Who was Barney Josephson (1902-88)?  If he hadn’t worked very hard to make his dreams become reality, we would only know him as a successful businessman: his specialty, stylish shoes. 

Happily for us, Barney had thoughts beyond Cuban or French heels: a yearning to run a nightclub in New York City, a keen sensitivity to talent, a hatred of social injustice.  And CAFE SOCIETY is the book his life and accomplishments deserve.  It could have been dull, academic, or third-hand.  But it’s a lively memoir of Barney’s life, taken from the tape recordings he made — he was a born raconteur — subtly annotated and expanded by his widow Terry Trilling-Josephson.  

CAFE SOCIETY (like the Downtown and Uptown nightclubs that had that name) is energetic, memorable, full of memorable anecdote and gossip.  Josephson was someone who had good instincts about what artists — musicians, comedians, or actors — whose work had substance.  He said he viewed himself as a “saloon impresario”: “I love it when people say that because I’m not more than that.  It’s the way I view myself.  In this business if you’re an ‘impresario,’ I say that with quotation marks around the word, you have a feeling.  You hear something, and you say, ‘This is it!’  You go ahead and you do it.  You don’t analyze.  You have to follow your hunches.”

Josephson had the good fortune to have John Hammond as his guide, instigator, and occasional arm-twister.  When Barney wanted to start a New York night club with music, it was Hammond who urged him to hire the three boogie-woogie pianists, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, the blues singer Big Joe Turner, and Billie Holiday. 

Cafe Society is remarkable for the improvisers who played there: Teddy Wilson with a band including Joe Thomas, Emmett Berry, or Bill Coleman; Benny Morton; Ed Hall or Jimmy Hamilton; Sidney Catlett.  Frank Newton with Sonny White, Kenneth Hollon, Tab Smith, Eddie Dougherty, Johnny Williams.  Ed Hall with Mouse Randolph and Henderson Chambers.  Ellis Larkins with Bill Coleman and Al Hall. 

Later on, at the Cookery, Teddy Wilson, Mary Lou Williams.  Josephson brought back Helen Humes and Alberta Hunter for successful late-life “comebacks.”  And it wasn’t simply jazz and popular songs: think of the Revuers (with Judy Holiday and Adolph Green), of Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel, of the now-forgotten Jimmy Savo, all given encouragement and room to develop by Josephson.   

But this isn’t purely a list of who-sang-what and how they were received, a collection of press clippings and schedules.  Josephson was a first-class storyteller with a remarkable memory, and the stories he remembered are priceless.  Nowhere else would I have learned that Emmett Berry, when trying to get someone to take a drink, would ask, “Will you have a drink of Doctor Berry’s rootin’ tootin’ oil?”  For me, that’s worth the price of the book.  Wonderful photographs, too. 

And the stories!

Billie Holiday, at first not knowing what to do with the lyrics of STRANGE FRUIT when they were handed to her, and showing her displeasure in the most effective non-verbal way when an audience annoyed her.

Zero Mostel, always onstage, making life difficult for the man trying to fit him for clothing.

Barney’s firing of Carol Channing and his missing a chance to hire Pearl Bailey.

Tallulah Bankhead complaining — at high volume — about what she’d encountered in the ladies’ room.

Teddy Wilson’s drinking problem, late in his career.

The dramatic entanglements of Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell.

The amorous hopes of Joe Louis for Lena Horne.

Big Joe Turner and the magic bean.

Mildred Bailey’s religious beliefs.

 And there is a deep, serious undercurrent throughout: the difficulty of having an establishment where neither the bands nor the audiences were segregated, and the looming shadow of the House Un-American Activities Committee.  (Leon Josephson, Barney’s brother, was a particular target, which cast a shadow over Barney’s endeavors.)

Ultimately, the book is delightful for its stories (and the wonderful photographs) and the way Terry Trilling-Josephson has woven recollection and research together.  And the book is — on every page — the embodiment of Barney’s achievements and of the deep love he and Terry shared.  Not to be missed!

FAULTY TECHNIQUE (by John McWhorter)

In the December 14, 2009 issue of THE NEW YORKER, the book review is given over to Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong biography, POPS, which has received unprecedented media coverage.  The review is titled “THE ENTERTAINER,” which gave me pause. 

Its author is John McWhorter, “a Senior Fellow of Public Policy at the Manhattan Institute and a lecturer at Columbia University.”  Thus, he seems not to be an official “Jazz Critic,” which is fine, and his prose is commendably clear.  And the review is mostly an overview of Armstrong’s life, with comments on Teachout’s book sprinkled here and there.  McWhorter closes by quoting alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes, a commendable act.

I suppose I should confess (although close readers will have guessed it by now) that I am what some uncomprehending writer referred to as “guilty of Amstrongidolatry,” although I do not value all of Louis’s performances equally.  But he seems monumental.   

Halfway through the review, nine words leapt out at me:

“Armstrong, like many self-taught geniuses, had a faulty technique. . . .”

Lest I seem to be quoting out of context, I will add that McWhorter then speaks of the scar tissue on Armstrong’s upper lip, and that the result of his “faulty technique” was audible in the Fifties, when “rapid-fire cascades of notes no longer came as easily.”

All of this is true, although I will leave aside the question of whether Arnold Palmer or Joe Louis would have been reproached for, later in life, having less muscular ability than in their youth.

But “faulty technique” sticks in my throat, or my craw, or wherever irritating half-truths can be said to stick.

“So!” I said to myself.  “That “faulty technique” must be the reason Louis’s playing on HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH and AFTER YOU’VE GONE and GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR is so . . . . “faulty.” 

Had Louis, instead of being placed in the Colored Waifs’ Home, been fortunate enough to master legitimate trumpet technique . . . had he been able to spend several years in a Jazz Studies program . . . had he been able to master the proper rudiments of brass playing with teachers more well-trained than Peter Jones and Joseph Oliver. . . well, then.  Then we would have heard some great music, instead of these flawed performances.

I was a very very bad trumpet player in fifth grade, and my later attempts at the brass family would impress no one.  But I do know how difficult it is to play the trumpet at any level, and thus Louis’s playing strikes me as astonishing.  And it might seem to some to be ad hominem to ask on what instrument McWhorter has distinguished himself, and is his technique beyond reproach?

And before any reproachful readers write in to (of course) deliver reproaches, I would ask that they listen to at least three minutes of an Armstrong performance they hold dear and work diligently to uncover the faults in its technique.  Only then might we be able to discuss this in some informed way.

HOT STORIES, LIMITED EDITION

 I confess that the title of this post might be seen by some as intentionally misleading.  But when a Hot Man like Jim Goodwin writes a book, it should be Hot, too.  I’m taking it on faith.  Here’s the word from my friend Barb Hauser of San Francisco (and I’ve already placed my order):

As you know, Jim Goodwin was a person of many talents; the most widely known being his unique musical abilities. You probably know too that he was very funny, a fan of the absurd and off-the-wall humor. Jim also had a magical talent for putting his humorous thoughts on paper. His personal letters were the kind one saved. They were typed on a manual Royal; sometimes on a proper letter-size sheet of white paper, other times on a torn odd-size piece of recycled paper. If you were lucky an original drawing was tucked into a corner to illustrate something related, or not – but always funny.  

A couple of years ago, Jim and I were talking about his writing skills and fantasizing about his work being published. Afterward I pondered the conversation a while and thought, “Why not compile a book of Jim’s ‘letter stories’?” We could self-publish and sell them to friends and fans. Charge just enough to cover expenses and put a little in the retirement kitty for Jim. 

 We kicked the idea around and completed a mock up. We were on our way to a book! I use the term loosely, as it was really a neatly done binder. The pages were typed with a font that most closely resembled Jim’s old typewriter and the titles and signatures were done in a font that most closely resembled his recognizable style of hand printing – those “small caps,” as they say in the trade.

We needed a title. Jim mentioned that it was easier to write his stories to a person, as in a letter, and came up with “Letters to Ralph.” Ralph Parsons was a close friend of Jim’s with whom he corresponded quite a lot before Ralph’s passing in 1990.

Jim was working on the 11th story and hoped to have an even dozen, plus supply a few of his wonderful cartoons before we considered the book complete. He didn’t quite make it before he passed last April but he did give the mock up a hearty stamp of approval. And so, it is with confidence that Jim was proud of his accomplishment that I present a booklet version of his work. The cartoons were not completed but I included a page with some of Jim’s “J-card Art” as a small representation of the visual humor he put on cassettes he recorded for friends.

The titles by Jim include:

George Probert & The Ice Bears

IMP After Sunrise

The Ambassador of Noise – An Opera Text

Granite Jaw Guenther

The Triple Man

One Louis Armstrong Story

The Story of Joe Louis – A Biography

The Snowman That Wouldn’t Melt

Do You Have a Cat in Your Pocket?

Profile on Edward MacDowell (1534-1923)

If you would like to order one (or some – don’t forget, Christmas is just around the corner!) here is the order information:

Price is $10 each. Please add $3 for shipping (plus $1 for each additional copy). Please send check to:  Barb Hauser, 328 Andover Street, San Francisco, California 94110.

All profits originally intended for the aforementioned “kitty” will be donated toward reimbursement of expenses for the September 09 “Jim Party” incurred by his friends and/or in Jim’s memory to the Forest Park Conservancy he loved in Portland. (If you are in San Francisco, perhaps we can arrange personal delivery. If you are in Portland, Oregon, you may contact Aretta Christie (ARChristie@aol.com) as she has a supply.