Tag Archives: Joe MArsala

I GOT IN THE GROOVE(S) AT DOWN HOME

I went record-shopping yesterday (January 11, 2014) at one of my favorite places on the planet, the Down Home Music Store on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito, California — details here.  The only fault I’ve ever found with DHMS is that they are only open from Thursday through Sunday, so I have to plan my life accordingly.  But I came home with a cardboard box of 78s, one 45, 10″ and 12″ lps.  Total price: less than a hundred dollars for hours of fun and amazement.

A brief list follows, just to encourage all of you who have such leanings to pay the lovely amiable folks at the DHMS a visit soon.  Of course, the records I bought aren’t there in multiple copies, but they have an astonishing selection of new compact discs covering every kind of music I can think of, and some I haven’t even imagined.

One 45 EP of the late-Forties West Coast Fletcher Henderson band with Vic Dickenson as prominent soloist.

Several 10″ lps: Paul Lingle solo on Good Time Jazz; Pee Wee and Ruby at Storyville, 1952; early Artie Shaw with strings;

12″ lps: a Queen-Disc Italian bootleg of Goodman 1938, all with Dave Tough; another copy of the Harry James 1937 Brunswicks on Tax; Edmond Hall’s PETITE FLEUR on United Artists; Eddie Barefield with Vic and Taft Jordan on UK RCA Victor’s SWING TODAY series; the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Jazz collection of 1949 airshots from the Savoy in Boston with Hall, Windhurst, and Vic; Wingy Manone’s late-Fifties Deccas as TRUMPET ON THE WING; TUTTI’S TRUMPETS on Buena Vista; Jimmy Rowles playing Ellington / Strayhorn on Columbia . . .

78s: a 12″ Commodore of MEMPHIS BLUES / SWEET SUE with Muggsy and Pee Wee; the Asch album set of Mary Lou Williams with Bill Coleman and Al Hall; two copies of THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / MOOD AT TWILIGHT by Mel Powell and a clarinetist (one for Kati P); I WANNA WOO by Joe Haymes; Musicrafts by Joe Marsala and Joe Thomas, by Teddy Wilson’s Quintet; late-Twenties Brunswicks by Nick Lucas; early-Twenties ditto by the Cotton Pickers; Tab Smith and Trevor Bacon on Decca; Betty Roche with Earl Hines, Pettiford, Hodges, and Catlett on Apollo; several Forties sides by the Charioteers, one “with orchestra directed by Mannie Klein”; an Edison 78 of some hopeful dance tune; an early Vocalion of TESSIE! STOP TEASING ME; one of the Bluebirds with Peg La Centra and Jerry Sears and Carl Kress . . . and more.  (I am doing this from memory and haven’t even looked at the box.)

And the experience of buying records is so sweetly nostalgic for someone like myself who found great pleasure in stores like the DHMS.  The results are more than “collecting,” “amassing,” and “having”; I learn something every time.  For instance: the soundtrack to this post is the 1938 Goodman band, with glorious work from the Man Himself, Bud Freeman, Vernon Brown, Dave Tough, and Jess Stacy — but did you know that when DON’T BE THAT WAY was announced for a repeat performance on Camel Caravan, it was credited as being “Professor Goodman’s own tune.”  I feel very sorry for Edgar Sampson and hope that the royalty checks made up for the erasure.

Some of the records had identifying labels on them; many were well-played and well-loved.  I thank you, dear Collectors with Taste whose possessions I am now enjoying.  What gifts you pass on!

And as far as record-buying, I know that someone could read this as another example of excessive materialistic self-gratification, when there are people on the planet so much less fortunate.  I know I do not need more music, but I retreat into KING LEAR mode and mutter, “O, reason not the need!”  Records are less expensive than bringing a hundred knights with me wherever I go.

So, if you can get down to the Down Home Music Store, I commend it to you.  If you can’t, I understand, so play some music for yourself today.  It lifts the heart.

May your happiness increase! 

PAINTING WITH SOUND: BOBBY GORDON (1941-2013)

The ranks of the Elders are thinning: Bobby Gordon has left us. He died peacefully last night (December 31, 2013).

If you saw the outside only, Bobby was a frail-looking clarinetist and occasional vocalist.  Hearing his playing, you might have thought, “lyric poet,” with unpredictable measures of tenderness, swing, and surprise.

But Bobby’s music was a matter of constantly shifting shadings — words would have been too coarse for him — so I think of him as a great painter, offering us in one chorus the quiet tints of a Turner watercolor, then shifting to the spiky abstractions of a Kandinsky.

Two choruses by Bobby could be a whole world of sound, echoing his mentors Joe Marsala and Pee Wee Russell, but with his own distinctive enthusiasms and investigations.

I had heard Bobby on record and private tapes from the early Seventies on, but had the good fortune to hear (and video-record) him in person at what was then Jazz at Chautauqua.  We only had one conversation (instigated by him in an empty hotel lobby at 2 AM because he had noticed that I was living one suburban town away from his birthplace) but he sang his melodies with sweet intensity, the intensity of a man who knew full well that every note counts.

I wrote a brief biography for Bobby’s Chautauqua appearances:

I first heard Bobby Gordon play in the early 1970s – not in person, but on a tape which included his friend, the great New York drummer Mike Burgevin, where Bobby was teamed with that dynamo, Kenny Davern, in a two-horn quartet. Playing sweetly, quietly, and soulfully, Mr. Gordon cut the extrovert Mr. Davern decisively without having to exert himself. His art is a subtle one – but attentive listeners know just how hard it is to play melodies so simply, with such feeling, so many subtleties of tone and shading. Even when Bobby appears to be hewing closely to the notes we know, he is creating an impressionistic masterpiece. Happily, his quiet brilliance is no longer a secret, nor has it been for some time. Since he moved to San Diego in 1979, where he met his English-born wife, Sue – the reason Bobby often calls the tune “Sweet Sue” — and he began to record prolifically with Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Hal Smith, and Rebecca Kilgore among others, listeners have gotten tangible, permanent evidence of his warm musical individuality. We can’t have too many CDs that feature Bobby, but his performances make a reassuring section on anyone’s alphabetically-organized CD shelves. And the good news is that he continues to record regularly, still making San Diego his home base, although fans in England, Japan, and Scotland have showed their enthusiasm for his work as well. Arbors Records has recognized Bobby as a treasure, and his sessions have teamed him with everyone from Joe Marsala’s widow, the harpist Adele Girard Marsala, to Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and Bob Wilber: Don’t Let It End (1992), Pee Wee’s Song (1993), Bobby Gordon Plays Bing (996), Clarinet Blue (1999), and Yearnings (2003). But my favorite Gordon CD, I confess, is his JUMP trio with Keith Ingham and Hal Smith – such a popular issue that it is now only available on cassette. Bobby was born in Manhasset, New York, in 1941. Happily for him, his father worked for RCA and sold Tommy Dorsey records for them. Through these connections, young Bobby met the uniquely soulful clarinettist Joe Marsala, becoming what Marsala called his “most gifted student and protégé.” In 1957, Bobby won a scholarship to the Lenox School of Jazz in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, and continued his studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’s been lucky to work with many of the original masters: Muggsy Spanier, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy McPartland, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell. For a time, he was the house clarinetist at the last Eddie Condon’s on 54th Street in Manhattan, as well as working with Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band, The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, and varying Marty Grosz units, all with original names. One opportunity that didn’t materialize was his replacing Buster Bailey in the Louis Armstrong All Stars in 1968. Bobby remembers being measured for the band uniform and learning the repertoire. But Louis suffered a heart attack, “and I never got to play with him.” Bobby has ambitions to be a better songwriter and “to really let my influences come out more…to play like Hackett and Louis and Pee Wee and Marsala and Condon; and I’d like to be able to sing like Red McKenzie.” Audiences at Chautauqua have shown their approval of Bobby’s mastery in set after set.

Bobby’s music — the song not ended — is so much more affecting than my words:

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

AT SUNDOWN:

PEE WEE’S BLUES:

His melodies linger on, and Bobby Gordon taught us so much about the courage it takes to create beauty every time he played or sang. We thank him. We miss him.

May your happiness increase!

WINGY and IVIE ASK THE SAME DEEP QUESTION, 1936

What a lovely song this is — by Benny Davis and J. Fred Coots in 1936.  I heard it first on record (the second version below) and then I was charmed by it in person when Marty Grosz sang and played it with Soprano Summit in 1976. Characteristically, Marty introduced it by saying it was written by a house detective in a famous St. Louis hotel.  (That version of the Summit had Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Marty, Mickey Golizio, and Cliff Leeman.  Yes indeed.)

Here’s Wingy Manone in an uncharacteristically serious, tender performance (even though the lyrics elude him about two-thirds through) both on trumpet and vocal.  The other philosophers are Joe Marsala, clarinet; Tom Mace, alto saxophone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sam Weiss, drums:

Then, the masterpiece: Ivie Anderson with the Duke, featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, and Barney Bigard:

Wishing you love that is anything but puzzling.  You can have it as strange as you want it, but I hope it’s always rewarding.

Postscript: later versions of this song were recorded by two other fellows named Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.  Quality!  I know more than a few fine singers — at least — who would have a fine time with this song. Any takers?

May your happiness increase!

RIFFING ON FILM: JOE MARSALA and ADELE GIRARD, 1946

Thanks to the tireless and exacting Mark Cantor, we have this 1946 Soundie of clarinetist Joe Marsala and his wife, harpist Adele Girard, performing MILLENIUM JUMP — familiar chord changes in a swinging way — with fine assistance from musicians who didn’t become famous.

The most well-known is drummer Buddy Christian; then there’s trumpeter Quentin Thompson, guitarist Salvatore Mancuso; pianist Lou Bredice; string bassist Emil Powell.  And the lovely and talented dancer Judy Bakay, adding a subtle touch of high-school terpsichorean ecstasy to the proceedings.

All brought to you in under three minutes.  Get your change ready.  Play it again!

Be sure to visit the Facebook page devoted to Adele and Joe — surprises await here.

May your happiness increase!

WOW! BRIA SWINGS IT at THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE (July 4, 2013)

“Yeah, man!” is the only apt response to this performance — captured live at the Louis Armstrong House in celebration of the day Louis believed was his birthday.  Here the effervescent Miss Bria Skonberg swings out (thinking of Valaida Snow, perhaps) with Dalton Ridenhour, keyboard; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Darin Douglas, drums; Jared Engel, string bass:

The sound of muted trumpet and clarinet over a rocking rhythm section is so warmly a reminder of Swing Sessions — think of Joe Marsala’s bands.

Recorded and preserved by Jim Balantic — another errand boy for Rhythm!

May your happiness increase!

THE WONDERS CONTINUE!

A few hours ago, I was able to see silent color footage of Sidney Bechet on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — check it out here — and now I can tell you that there is a Facebook page devoted to Adele Girard and Joe Marsala, harpist and clarinetist, wife and husband — created by their daughter Eleisa Trampler in honor of Adele’s upcoming centennial.  Facebook has eaten up at least ninety minutes of every day, but this is one of many reasons to join in.

What next?  Stores selling Rod Cless t-shirts?  Frank Teschemacher refrigerator magnets?  The Complete Works of Frank Melrose?

I can only imagine!  (“I ‘like’ it, I ‘like’ it!”)

May your happiness increase!

THE POET, GRIPPED BY PURE LOVE, EARNESTLY STATES THAT HE WOULD RATHER HAVE THE COMPANY OF THE BELOVED THAN ANY OTHER PERSON, EVEN ONE OF GREATER WEALTH AND FAME, AND THESE WORDS ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A PLEASING AIR

What follows is the Official JAZZ LIVES Love Song.  It captures my feelings exactly and deeply, and the music that accompanies it is perfectly delightful.

The song is I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU — composed by Harry Akst, Lew Brown, and Elsa Maxwell for a night club “revue” for the Casino de Paree.  (I have read that the New York club Studio 54 occupied the same space, decades later.)

My guess about the composition of this song is that Akst created the melody, Brown the lyrics, and that they called on Ms. Maxwell for the details of Society that would make it authentic.  (I can invent the dialogue for their meeting, and I am sure you can also.)  I’ve not seen the film nor a copy of the sheet music, but the song was recorded in Chicago by Charles LaVere and his Chicagoans, and we have the performance I love through a series of nearly miraculous kindnesses.

The jazz connoisseur Helen Oakley Dance arranged for this racially mixed band — not yet accepted as the norm — to record for the nearly-dead OKeh label, and the records were not issued at the time.  (Thanks to hal Smith for this detail.)

Some thirty years later, Columbia Records was cleaning house and someone decided to dispose of a number of unlabeled one-sided vinyl test pressings. Helene Chmura, blessed be her name, asked collector Dan Mahony if he wanted them before they were thrown away; he agreed, and among them were the seven sides from the LaVere sessions of March 11 and April 5, 1935 — this performance comes from the latter.  I read that these were “test-only” performances, which means that they were the Thirties equivalent of audition “demo” recordings. Given the circumstances, we are so lucky — beyond lucky — to have them. (Mahony passed them on to the fine UK collector and gentleman Bert Whyatt; the discs now are held by Charles LaVere’s son Stephen.)

Before I write more, you should hear the music.  The video below was created by the exceedingly talented Chris Tyle (cornet, clarinet, drums, vocal, jazz scholar, bandleader, archivist, writer . . . . ) as a special commission for JAZZ LIVES. Alec Wilder would have called the song “notey,” and deplored the repeated notes; I am amused by the way the lines spin out to accommodate the lengthy lyrics . . . but it goes right to my heart.

The musicians are Charles LaVere, vocal (and possibly trumpet); Johnny Mendell and Marty Marsala, trumpets; Joe Marsala, clarinet / alto; Joe Masek, tenor; Boyce Brown, alto; Preston Jackson, trombone; Jess Stacy, piano; Joe Young, guitar; Israel Crosby, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.  That’s some band.

I find the lyrics particularly charming.  Of course the notion that “I like you a lot” is a familiar refrain in love songs.  “I like pie, I like cake, I like you best of all,” another.  “It all depends on you” and “I wanna go where you go — then I’ll be happy,” other variations.  But this song, where the singer says “I prefer your company to that of famous members of the upper class who would offer me unique experiences so far beyond the ordinary,” is offering a special kind of love-bouquet.  And it is witty and sweet that the singer doesn’t say, “Mrs. Astor wanted to sleep with me but I told her NO because I like you better.”  No, the lyrics advance a series of whimsical rhetorical possibilities — which must have been especially striking in the Depression: IF Mrs. Vanderbilt invited me to dine . . . and I think we are expected to know that this is a dream rather than a real invitation, and that the singer and the Beloved do operate in the world of the shared hot dog at Coney Island.

But love often is charmingly hyperbolic, and the singer insists, “My preference for you, my fidelity to you, is not a simple matter of preferring you more than your real peers.  I’d rather be with you than with anyone else, no matter how rare and glittering the experience anyone else could offer.”  That, to me, makes it a deep and authentic — even while whimsical — offer of love.

And the music!  It might be too much for some when I say I love every note of this performance, but it’s true — from the repeated vamp capped with a Zutty accent (sounds like his pal Sidney) into Boyce’s melody statement, so sweet yet never sentimental, with that rhythm section, Stacy bubbling, beneath.  Marty Marsala takes the bridge in an impassioned way, with the saxophones playing a written figure to emphasize his statement; a break from Boyce leads into an even more beautiful exposition of the melody.  (If anyone doubts that Boyce was a remarkable player, soulful and precise, let the skeptic listen to that chorus a few times.  It stands alongside the best alto playing I know.)

This — eighty seconds — is a fully satisfying musical offering.  But there’s more. After an interlude concluded by Zutty and a two-note phrase from Preston Jackson, Charles LaVere begins to sing.  (Is it Marsala or  Mandell echoing and improvising around and under him?)  His diction is refined; he is offering us the story in the clearest way.  But the vibrato-laden way in which he ends phrases is both intense and heartfelt; his reading of “be” in the song’s title is so touching. We know he cares!  On a second or third listening, we can honor Jess Stacy, stealing the show yet again.  Tenorist Joe Masek brings out his best early-Thirties Hawkins, and one of the musicians (or a studio onlooker) lets out a fervent yell of approval at 2:37.  I agree with the anonymous emoter.  And the final eight bars are a full-band ensemble, both tender and rocking, driven on by embellishments from Preston Jackson and Zutty’s cymbal.

It’s the combination — witty lyrics without a hint of satire, delivered with the utmost feeling over a hot jazz background — that does it for me.

(In this century, James Dapogny urged Marty Grosz to record the song — which he did, splendidly, on an Arbors CD called MARTY GROSZ AND HIS HOT COMBINATION.)

I send this to performance and video to the lovers in my reading audience, and I encourage you to send it to your Beloved.  If you don’t have a Beloved at the moment and would like one, play this over and over until the music and the lyrics are brilliantly resonant in your head, then hum and sing it under your breath as you go through your day.  It will, I am sure, attract love to you.

May your happiness increase.

SOULFUL ELEGANCE: JOE THOMAS, TRUMPET

The trumpet master Joe Thomas, aplacid, reserved man, didn’t make as many recordings as he should have.  But he played alongside the finest musicians: Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Herman Chittison, Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, Joe Marsala, Buck Clayton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Edmond Hall, Art Tatum, Pete Brown, Claude Hopkins, Kenny Kersey, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Russell, Buddy Tate, Tony Scott, Dicky Wells, Oscar Pettiford, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon.  Harry Lim (of Keynote Records) was a special champion of Joe’s and featured him on many sessions.

Here is a 1945 recording — during the great flourishing of small independent jazz labels — on the Jamboree label, which issued perhaps twenty discs in all, most featuring Don Byas; one session under Horace Henderson’s name; another was the only session under Dave Tough’s name — featuring our Mr. Thomas.  One of the Byas discs, recorded by Don, Joe, and the mighty rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri, Billy Taylor, and Cozy Cole, is JAMBOREE JUMP — a groovy 32-bar head arrangement:

My ears tell me that JUMP has a close relationship with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, exceedingly familiar chord changes for that period. The line sounds at first simple, something out of a child’s scale exercise — but it turns more adventurous.  There is a suggestion of a phrase we know from DIZZY ATMOSPHERE as well.  Swing and Be-Bop were adjacent, simultaneous, rather than two epochs as the journalists wanted us to believe.

Byas swoops and hollers, evoking Ben, over that concisely effective rhythm section, with Guarneri offering his own synthesis of Waller and Basie over Taylor’s powerful bass and Cole’s restrained drums — their sound somewhat swallowed by the whoosh of the 78 surface, although his bass drum is a swing heartbeat.

The quartet glides for two minutes until Thomas announces himself with one of the upwards arpeggios he loved, a sea creature leaping gracefully through the ocean’s surface.  His repeated notes never seem mechanical or over-emphatic: he just states he has arrived!  Joe, as Whitney Balliett pointed out, had listened hard to the Louis of the Hot Seven period, although Joe always kept his cool.  What follows might seem simple, undramatic for those anticipating the attack of an Eldridge or an Emmett Berry.  But Joe knew how to structure a solo through space, to make his phrases ring by leaving breathing room between them.  Like Bix or Basie, Joe embodied restraint while everyone around him was being urgent.  His pure dark sound is as important as the notes he plays — or chooses to omit.  Although his bridge is a leisurely series of upwards-moving arpeggios, it is more than “running changes.”

A simple phrase, in Thomas’s world, is a beautifully burnished object.  And one phrase flows into another, so at the end of the solo, one has embraced a new melody, resonant in three dimensions, that wasn’t there before, full of shadings, deep and logically constructed.  The band returns for the last statement of the theme, but it’s Joe’s solo I return to.

Louis, speaking about playing the trumpet, praised as the greatest good “tonation and phrasing.”  Joe’s tone, dark and shining, makes the simple playing of a written line something to marvel at, and each of his notes seems a careful choice yet all is fresh, never by rote: someone speaking words that have become true because he has just discovered they are the right ones for the moment.

I offer JAMBOREE JUMP as prelude to something even more marvelous.

Harry Lim, the guiding genius of Keynote Records — which, session for session, was consistently rewarding — loved Joe and featured him often.  The Pete Brown All-Star Quintet had a splendid rhythm section and the contrast between Joe’s stately sweetness and Pete’s lemony ebullience.  IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN shows off not only the contrast between them, stylistically, but also in tempos — this 12″ 78 (another one of the independent labels’ of the time’s great ideas — thank Milt Gabler and Alfred Lion) contrasts sweeping elegance with double-time romping.

That song might well have been Joe’s choice.  I was fortunate enough to see him in person a few times in the early Seventies, and he took this song as a kind of personal utterance.  I don’t know if the lyrics meant something deep to him — he was happily married to the singer Babe Matthews for many years — or if he associated the song with some event or place in his past, but he played it and sang it as if he had composed it.  And given Joe’s delight in the possibility of repeated notes in his soloing, TALK provides ample opportunities in its written melody.  (Like DARN THAT DREAM, it is a song that — played mechanically — could grow wearisome quickly.)

Here’s the Keynote recording, beautifully annotated by its generous YouTube creator:

If you’ve heard little of pianist Kenny Kersey, his chiming, serious solo introduction is evidence that he is another unheard master.

Then Joe comes to the fore in a sorrowing embellishment of the theme.  Hear his vibrato, his tone — without stating anything in melodramatic capital letters, he says, “What you are hearing is very serious to me.  It comes from my heart.”  Indeed, I think of the great later Louis of THAT’S FOR ME.  Joe is somber and tender at once, lingering over a note here, adding a small ornamental flourish, as he does at the end of the first sixteen bars, almost in a casual whisper, his brass voice trailing away.

Around him, the elements are in place: the warm resonance of Milt’s notes; the gentle timekeeping of J.C. Heard; Kersey, pointing the way; the sweet understated agreements provided by Pete’s alto.

When Joe would sing TALK OF THE TOWN, he would get even more emphatic on the bridge.  A song that begins, “I can’t show my face” already starts passionately, but the bridge is a drama of disappointment and betrayal: “We sent out invitations / To friends and relations / Announcing our wedding day. / Friends and relations gave congratulations. / How can you face them? / What can you say?”  Here, Joe’s trumpet rises to depict this heartbreak without increasing his volume or adding more notes.  The run that begins the second half of the bridge is Joe’s version of an early Thirties Louis phrase in sweet slow-motion.

Something startling comes next, and although I have known this recording for several decades, I can’t prepare myself for it: Pete Brown and the rhythm section go into double-time.  Pete loved to push the beat, and perhaps the idea of playing TALK OF THE TOWN as an extended ballad seemed too much of a good thing.  I also wonder if Pete knew that to follow Joe in the same fashion was not a good idea*.  Whatever the reason, the spirit of Roy Eldridge playing BODY AND SOUL at double-time is in the room.  Although Pete’s rough bouncy energy is initially startling, his bluesy vocalized tone is delightful, and the rhythm section digs in (Heard’s soft bass drum accents suggest Catlett).  And there’s the SALT PEANUTS octave jump at the end of the bridge, too.

It’s left to Kersey to return everyone to the elegiac tempo set at the start, and he does it beautifully, although the section has to settle in.  Joe returns, declamatory and delicate.  Where many trumpeters of the period might have gone up for a high one, Joe repeats the title of the song as if to himself.

I have loved Joe Thomas’ work for forty-five years, having heard him first on an Ed Beach radio show with the Keynote SHE DIDN’T SAY YES and then on a Prestige-Swingville session led by Claude Hopkins and featuring Buddy Tate.  His playing still moves me.  Although his simple notes are not difficult to play on the trumpet, to play them as he does, to learn how to sing through metal tubing is a lifetime’s work.  There were and are many compelling Louis-inspired trumpeters, and they all brought their own special joy.  But there was only one Joe Thomas.

Thanks to SwingMan1937 for posting JAMBOREE JUMP and to sepiapanorama for IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN.  These generous YouTube folks have excellent taste!

*About Pete Brown’s double-time section.  I came across another YouTube presentation of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — Connee Boswell’s lovely 1933 reading with the Dorsey Brothers in an orchestra directed by Victor Young — and she lifts the tempo, too.  Perhaps it was a swing convention when the song was first introduced?  (The picture of the singer isn’t Connee but Jo Stafford, by the way.)

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.

TAKE ME TO THE LANDS OF JAZZ — 1948 and 1949

These postcards (being sold on eBay) have a certain poignancy for me — not only because I can’t get to these occasions by any means short of the paranormal — but because when I go down to Greenwich Village in New York to hear jazz at Smalls, for instance, I could walk to these fabled sites.

Read the postcard, close your eyes, and imagine the band!

I can hear Benny Morton and that rhythm section . . . and I’ll bet there were some serious blues played that night.  Worth $1.25.

Three of the finest cornetists / trumpeters one could imagine — with Gowans and Marsala, James P., and that Bechet fellow.  Have mercy.

Well, it is reassuring to know — even at this distance — that such things happened — not once but often.

May your happiness increase.

I CAN HEAR THIS NOW

An extraordinary trio — captured on a still photograph but not (alas) at a recording session.  I think the stage was at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., before 1941 — at one of the concerts staged by the Ertegun brothers, Ahmet and Nesuhi.

And the players?  Joe Marsala, Zutty Singleton, Teddy Wilson.  What an answer to the Goodman Trio and the Shaw Gramercy Five . . . !

SWINGING FOR JOHN PENDLETON: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET at SACRAMENTO (May 27, 2011)

What better way to honor a beloved jazz friend, now gone, than with the music he loved so much?  And played so eloquently by the people he admired so deeply. 

The man: John Pendleton, whom you’ll hear spoken of in the videos that follow.

The musicians: Hal Smith’s International Sextet, recorded on May 27 at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  That’s Hal (drums), Katie Cavera (guitar / vocals), Clint Baker (string bass / vocals), Anita Thomas (clarinet, alto, vocals), Kim Cusack (clarinet, tenor, vocals), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano, vocals).

“Music speaks louder than words,” Charlie Parker told condescending Earl Wilson in that famous film clip, and Bird was right, so I won’t elaborate the virtues of this rocking group at length: viewers can find their own pleasures for themselves. 

But I would point out that Hal, Katie, Sonny, and Clint make a peerless rhythm section, with their four sonorities weaving together, their pulses aligned without their individualities being flattened for some specious idea of the common good.  Hear the ripe-fruit sound of Katie’s guitar; the swish and flow of Hal’s cymbals, the deep commentaries of Clint’s bass, the down-home rock of Carl’s piano.  And the horns intertwine with each other and float over this sweet propulsion: Kim, bringing his own perspective to Bud Freeman, Eddie Miller, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and Frank Chace; Anita, completely in control but entirely fearless, following her impulses in the best self-reliant way.  And the vocalizing is wonderful (jazz instrumentalists make the best singers!) neither slick nor amateurish.

Watch everyone on the stand smiling — always a guarantee of heartfelt music and deep gratifications being spread all around. 

Katie and Anita tell us all about the new dance craze that everyone’s doing — or should be doing — that’s TRUCKIN’:

RIDIN’ ON THE L&N celebrates a train that ran between Louisville and Nashville, according to Brother Hal, who knows these things:

John loved baseball and swing.  Hence this funny, surprising TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME:

A hot one!  RUNNIN’ WILD (hear Clint’s bass behind Kim):

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY is such a simple song, but it works so well on our deepest impulses to go home, or some imagined version of it.  Katie and Anita remind us that Doris Day had a great hit with this song; the rest of the band says (implicitly), “Hey, remember the great Buck Clayton Jam Session?”  Works perfectly:

Here’s Carl’s version of the 1949 hit by Sticks McGhee (younger brother of Brownie), DRINKIN’ WINE (SPO-DEE-O-DEE).  Original lyrics — according to Nick Tosches and Wikipedia — reprinted below, definitely unvarnished and unsanitized.*

Katie is not salacious in person, but she loves songs about Twenties flirtation — perhaps she was a naughty flapper in a past life?  Here’s MA! (HE’S MAKING EYES AT ME):

I couldn’t abide THIS OLD HOUSE even when I owned one (no real-life workmen were ever such models of decorum and skill) but I love LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, and it’s clear that Anita does too.  Music by J. Fred Coots, Danny’s uncle:

And a little Basie is always good for the soul, as Hal reminds us with JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE:

I never met John Pendleton, but he must have been what the Irish call a grand fellow to have these candid people so deeply devoted to him.  And to have such wonderful music played in his memory!

======================================================

*”Drinkin’ that mess is our delight, And when we get drunk, start fightin’ all night. Knockin’ out windows and learnin’ down doors, Drinkin’ half-gallons and callin’ for more. Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Pass that bottle to me!”

JUST DANDY: THE JOHN REYNOLDS TRIO

Do you like your swing intimate but hot?  How about some echoes of Bing and Eddie Lang, of Django and Louis Vola, of Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud?

I could go on naming names and posing rhetorical questions, but I’d rather direct you to these three YouTube videos — hot from the press! — recorded beautifully by Katie Cavera (string bass and video camera), Larry Wright (clarinet and other surprises), and John Reynolds (National steel guitar, singing, and whistling).  And in an ear where everyone looks as if they’re dressed for mountain climbing or dog grooming, those crisp outfits are an extra added attraction.

How about AFTER YOU’VE GONE?

Something more romantic — dim the lights and take your Beloved for a tender spin around the kitchen while the trio plays and sings and whistles OUT OF NOWHERE:

And to close off this delightful little presentation, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, where Larry breaks out his ocarina and then his alto saxophone:

I can’t wait — there must be more!  When’s the CD release party?  And I hear that this group has four new features in the Paramount picture, THE BIG BROADCAST OF 2012. . . . coming soon to a multiplex near you!

And there’s more fun — musical and cinematic — to be found on Katie’s YouTube channel, kcavera

JOE LICARI / MARK SHANE: SWEET MUSIC

Clarinetist Joe Licari has been a fixture on the New York scene for a good long time now and he shows no signs of slowing down or of losing his light touch.  Tangible proof of this can be heard on his latest compact disc (recorded in December 2010), ALL MY LIFE — a series of duets with the irreplaceable Mark Shane on piano.

The standard repertoire — ALL MY LIFE, BODY AND SOUL, CHINA BOY, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, and MOONGLOW — would suggest that this is very much in the mood and style of the greatest early Goodman small groups.  And indeed it is easy to close your eyes and to think that the King of Swing and Teddy Wilson have come back for a visit to this century.  The light touch, the easy, flowing melodies, the respect for the composers’ intentions, the delicate yet convincing swing are all there.  The longest track is five minutes and it seems too short.  But there’s more here than just another “let’s pretend to be Benny and Teddy” project.  This CD is more than Goodman Lite or Tofu-based Swing Era, especially when we move into Django (DJANGO’S CASTLE), a jointly-composed blues that begins with a minor theme that reminds me of KING OF THE ZULUS, a Bob Wilber original and two of Joe’s own compositions — all of the three with simple, haunting melodic lines.

Listened to closely, Licari brings much more than the usual pastiche of Goodmania to his playing.  In fact, his woody lower register suggests those two less-heralded masters, Joe Marsala and Rod Cless.  And where other clarinetists need to dazzle (or occasionally pummel) us with their facility, running up and down the keys, this is not Licari’s way.  He is not overcautious or tentative — he knows where he’s going at every turn of phrase — but he is sparing with his notes and he uses them to construct logical, sweetly balanced phrases that fit in to one another to create fulfilling solos, never getting too far from the melody but enlivening it nonetheless.

And Shane remains a wonder.  Yes, his style owes a great deal to Teddy and Fats Waller and Earl Hines . . . but it’s clear that he has also listened hard to the masters Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones.  This is particularly evident in his unaccompanied introductions, each a four or eight-bar jewel, a little resonant composition that would be complete and satisfying in itself.  He never rushes, never drags, never overacts . . . he is the very model of a delicious, fully formed composer-at-the keyboard.  And Joe and Mark make a wonderful team: no one steps on the other one’s lines.  The CD has a lovely homelike natural sound, and it is thoroughly heart-warming, rather like having the good fortune to hear Joe and Mark in your living room.  It is available at http://www.joelicari.com., and I think every house should have not one but several copies.

On that same site, you can find a whole big handful of compact discs Joe has recorded with a wide variety of musicians, and his own book — his delightfully down-to-earth memoir, THE INVISIBLE CLARINETIST.  Most memoirs are exercises in self-absorption and self-praise or there’s some wrenching trauma at the center.  Not so for Mr. Licari — his book is a series of cheerful tales of encounters with Benny Goodman (on record), Bob Wilber, Wild Bill Davison, Dill Jones, Kenny Davern, Larry Weiss, Bernie Privin, Cliff Leeman, and many more.  It’s very entertaining because it’s so unaffected — rather like having Joe come over to your house and tell you stories.  A delightful experience — and it’s also available on Joe’s website.

Joe Licari is not invisible: he’s alive and well and playing beautifully.

CELEBRATE THE LIVING MUSICIANS: CLICK HERE!

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GOT A MATCH? JOE MARSALA, 1938

Ah, the golden past — even for people who don’t smoke. 

Imagine a time when you could hear “Joe Marsala’s Chicagoans” three times a week on the radio.  Where were all those now-departed jazz fans with their disc cutters?  Oh, perhaps the swing electrons are still circling the universe somewhere.  (Like the matchbook, those electrons are up for sale on eBay.)

HONOR THE MUSIC!  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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VINTAGE MARSALA

Joe Marsala and Adele Girard at the Hickory House. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb

Who remembers Joe Marsala (1917-78)? 

He was a clarinet player (doubling alto), Chicago-born, who made his reputation in the middle Thirties to the late Forties, usually in small improvising groups. 

He had splendid intuitive taste in the musicians he associated with — Wingy Manone, Joe Thomas, his brother Marty Marsala, Pee Wee Erwin, Max Kaminsky, Bill Coleman, Bobby Hackett, and an upstart named Dizzy Gillespie; Eddie Condon, Dave Tough, Dave Bowman, Carmen Mastren, Eddie Miller, Ray Bauduc, Buddy Rich (a kid given his first professional jazz job on Fifty-Second Street by Joe), harpist Adele Girard (who became Joe’s wife) and others.

Billie Holiday told a story of being broke and hungry and coming into the Hickory House and having Marsala buy her a big steak dinner . . . obviously a man whose soul was generous as well. 

To my ears, what distinguishes Marsala from the crop of wonderful clarinetists playing in that period is his combination of tone, phrasing, and the undefinable thing called “soul.”       

Consider this:

and this:

and this, from the same 1940 date:

And another surprise V-Disc effort which suggests that Marsala was deeply aware of the “new jazz” of 1945, even more than simply hiring Dizzy Gillespie for a record date.  (In writing this, I do not raise Marsala above his fellow “Condonites” because he was “hip” enough to listen to Bird and Dizzy — my world is not restricted to bebop.  But I find it intriguing that he made friends across the soon-to-be divided jazz landscape.) 

At first hearing, some might think this performance an unabsorbing piece of early Forties pop.  But wait for Joe’s brief interlude, his warm tone, his delicate phrasing:

And a rare record from the collection of another gifted clarinetist Norman Field:

To learn more about Joe Marsala and his wife — jazz harpist Adele Girard, heard above — visit this site, which contains a lovely extended interview with Adele done by Phil Atteberry, a treasure:

http://www.pitt.edu/~atteberr/jazz/articles/Girard.html

Bobby Gordon, who studied with Joe, keeps his spirit alive.  But perhaps you’d never heard of Joe, so I hope this blog will act as a little gift: there are more wonderful musicians out there, uncelebrated, than you know in your philosophy, Horatio. 

Musicians who play so beautifully need to be celebrated in a world that seems to have forgotten them.

HONOR OUR LIVING JAZZ HEROES.  CLICK HERE: ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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“YEAH! TAKE ANOTHER!” MARTY GROSZ and the ORPHAN NEWSBOYS, 1997

Videographer and radio broadcaster Don Wolff is my idea of a jazz philanthropist. 

After I posted one performance that Don had published (as “MrDonwolff”) on YouTube — by Marty Grosz, Peter Ecklund (cornet), Bobby Gordon (clarinet), and Greg Cohen (bass) —       https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/characteristically-marty-grosz-the-orphan-newsboys-1997/ — I asked Don if there were any more at home like that.  There were and there are. 

This set came from the 1997 Mid-America Jazz Festival, and it finds the quartet in wonderful form.  The rhythm pulse is something to marvel at, thanks to the fine teamwork of Marty and Greg; the horns are splendidly lyrical and hot.  And Marty’s inimitable commentaries are here preserved for future cultural historians. 

Bobby Gordon wears his emotions proudly — no more openly than in a ballad performance such as IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, that Thirties narrative of heartbreak and hoped-for reconcilliation.  Who needs more than two choruses?:

DON’T BE THAT WAY is such a pretty song when removed from big-band performance ritual (there’s a touching version from 1938 — one of John Hammond’s many fine ideas — featuring Lester Young and Buck Clayton, approaching this song as a sweet rhythm ballad).  Here, Peter’s pastoral whistling sets the mood instantly, leading to a gentle vocal.  The often acidic Mr. Grosz is — to my ears — a peerless singer of love songs at this tempo and even out-and-out ballads, and he outdoes himself here.  Peter suggests 1928 Bix at points, and Bobby, in his inimitable tender wanderings, evokes and outdoes his mentor Joe Marsala before the eloquent Greg Cohen has his say before Marty (imploring his favorite “fat mama” to be gentle) leads into a fade-out with a surprise:

And to close — a paean to romance of a different kind, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Peter growls the message to us through that archaic but useful jazz fashion accessory, the metal derby, before Bobby takes a more tender approach to his amorous declarations, before Marty and Greg show us why rhythm was born. 

This performance, by the way, is the source of my title — a Grosz exhortation from the old days:

As I write this, Don is getting ready to record more of Marty and his esteemed friends at the 2011 Arbors International Jazz Party in Florida — I can’t wait!

“CHICAGO CLARINETS” (San Diego, Nov. 26, 2010)

I don’t necessarily associate Chicago solely with clarinets, since so many other jazz players made it their home, physically or spiritually, from Art Hodes to Marty Grosz to Sidney Catlett to the Armstrongs, Louis and Miss Lil . . . the list could go on for a long time.

But reed players seem to have found that city and its environs congenial, even though the winds coming off the Loop must have dried out freight trainloads of reeds.  Think of Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Omer Simeon, Frank Teschmacher, Bud Jacobson, Benny Goodman, Frank Chace, Franz Jackson, Joe Rushton, Joe Marsala, and many more.

Drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith led a small group at the 2010 Dixieland Jazz Festival (the thirty-first!) in San Diego, featuring Kim Cusack on clarinet and vocal; Anita Thomas on clarinet and saxophone; Bobby Gordon on clarinet; Chris Dawson on piano; Marty Eggers on string bass and sousaphone, and Katie Cavera on guitar, banjo, and vocal.  Here are four selections from their set, each one splendid in its own way.

The first one is a real surprise.  PRETTY BABY, the aesthetic offspring of Tony Jackson, is usually done as a langorous rhapsody: not Kim Cusack’s romp, which has a decidedly Condon flavor to it, thanks to that rhythm section, which could move mountains:

Katie sings one of my favorite period songs — HE’S THE LAST WORD — another evocation of the innocent-looking but seductive male swain, with intertwining commentaries from Kim and Anita.  (Katie’s amused mock-naivete is perfect for this set of lyrics!):

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW takes us back to the Apex Club Orchestra (with Chris filling in neatly for Earl Hines) — Anita and Kim play at being Doc Poston and Jimmie Noone before Bobby cuts his own ferociously individualistic path through the performance, reminding us that even though Pee Wee Russell said he had no Chicago union card, he did touch down there for periods of time:

Finally, Anita’s gutty tribute to Johnny Dodds — BLUE CLARINET STOMP — that gets down in the emotional depths and stays there, with help from that wonderful rhythm section:

Meet me in Chicago!  Or is it San Diego, next Thanksgiving?  Heartfelt thanks to the tireless and on-target Rae Ann Berry, chronicler of all things swinging.

PAPER, NOT EPHEMERAL

This piece of paper comes from the collection of Boston jazz aficionado Samuel Prescott, and it’s an absolute Who’s Who of jazz stars who came through that city in the Forties.  The Prescott papers (and discs) are now held by the University of New Hampshire Library, and they took good care of this piece of paper, crowded with signatures of great men and women:

On the back (invisible at the moment) is the autograph of one Duke Ellington.  And here are the names that the librarians found: a good pastime for a rainy day with a magnifying glass: 

Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines (twice).  Al Morgan.  Pete Brown.  Joe Battaglia (piano).  Shirley Mhore (vocal).  Gene Sedric.  Art Hodes.  Vic Dickenson.  J. C. Higginbotham.  Roy Eldridge.  Erskine Hawkins (twice).  Joe Marsala.  Adele Girard.  Jimmy Shirley.  Jess Stacy.  Ev Schwarz (pian0).  John Kirby.  James P. Johnson.  Edmond Hall.  Louis Armstrong.  Billy Kyle.  Bob Wilber.  Frankie Newton.  Willie ‘Bunk’ Johnson (twice).  Baby Dodds.  Johnny Windhurst.  Johnny Field (bass).  Sparky Tomasetti.  Jack Teagarden.  Dick Wellstood.  Pops Foster.  Sidney Bechet.  Sandy J. Williams.  Jimmy Archey.  Howey ‘Peacoo’ Gadboys.  Sidney de Paris.  Rex Stewart.  ‘Wild’ Bill Davison.  Pleasant Joseph.  Henry ‘Red’ Allen.  Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow.  Pee Wee Russell.  Don Kirkpatrick.  Max Kaminsky.  Paul Watson.  Bob Guy.  Charlie Holmes.

Amazing, no?

RINGSIDE AT RANDY’S: JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

Here’s another tangible reminder of how wonderful the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua experience was.  

In four songs, cornetist Randy Reinhart created a rewarding reflection of the jazz played by Eddie Condon and friends.

I can’t say for sure that Randy had this theme in mind at all.  Perhaps he thought, “OK, here’s the band I’ve been asked to lead — great soloists and a cooking rhythm section.  Let’s make it easy for the guys to have fun and the audience, too — a reliable swinger to start with, a pretty change of pace, a feature for someone, and a hot one to go out on!” 

But much more happened on that bandstand.  First off, Randy had prime melodists and swingers around him: Bob Havens, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass and bass sax (Vince never sidled over to the tuba on this set); Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

A band like that can do anything — especially with a leader who has the good sense to keep things reasonably uncomplicated (save the fugues for later) and to give his players — almost all of them leaders on their own — space to invent.

Randy began his set with a Gershwin classic, another piece of music whose title is a witty affirmation, ‘S’WONDERFUL, and kicked it off at a nice tempo, not too fast.  You’ll notice that although no one is consciously “modernistic,” the harmonic vocabulary here hasn’t stopped at 1936.  Hear the wonderful teamwork between Bobby and Marty when Bobby takes his winding, musing solo.  Bob Havens here reminds me of the great and under-celebrated Lou McGarity, and Vince (in his own way) summons up both Adrian Rollini and Ernie Caceres in his bass sax solo.  Everyone gets aphoristic in the four-bar trades that follow before the final sauntering ensemble:

Randy featured himself — but in a very modest fashion — in duet with the thoughtfully swinging John Sheridan on something that was the very opposite of formulaic: a wonderful song from the 1933 Bing Crosby book, LEARN TO CROON — and the duet showed that they, too, had already passed the graduate course with honors: Randy’s ringing tone, John’s harmonic subtleties show that they’ve eliminated each rival immediately:

Turning to one of the sidemen and saying, “Here’s your turn; do whatever you’d like,” might lead even the most creative musician into His or Her Feature.  Vic Dickenson played MANHATTAN for years, alternating with IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD; Jack Teagarden had his half-dozen specialties. 

Bob Havens always surprises — not only with his super-gliding technique — but this choice was extra-special: BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILV’RY MOON, a pretty song that used to be part of the American musical landscape (and was parodied in cartoons) before lesser music came along.  I suspect that Bob, a solid product of the sweet Midwest, had heard, sung and played the song, through childhood and adulthood.  And what he and the immensely melodic Mr. Giordano did here is priceless and touching.  I only regret that there wasn’t time for us all to sing along, two choruses — one to fumble, one to sing out now that everyone had recalled the words.  No matter: you can harmonize with the video; thinking of people here and there singing along with Bob and Vince will please me for a long time.  Even Arnie’s train whistle doesn’t intrude on the sweet moment.  And for those who are taking notes, Bob had turned eighty a few months before, which makes his continued mastery an astonishment:

Affirmation, crooning, sweet sentimentality . . . how to conclude this session?  How about a hot Chicago-style paean to the beauty and charms and fidelity of one’s Beloved — EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (But My Baby Loves Nobody But Me):

Early in this posting, I mentioned the name of Eddie Condon.  I don’t want that man and his music ever to be forgotten, or for our recollection to be eroded by time and inaccurate recollection.  Watching these videos again, I thought how well — and without fanfare — Randy and his friends had made the spirit of Condon alive and vigorous: tributes to friends George and Bing, to Louis and Bechet, to sweet sentimental music.  

And the ambiance — hot playing, correct tempos, sweet melodies, easy improvisation — brought back the various Condon clubs, Commodore Records, Town Hall, the Floor Show, the Deccas and Columbias. 

To paraphrase Eddie, whose understatements were high praise, that set didn’t harm anyone!

BOBBY GORDON, POET-AT-LARGE

Over the past half-dozen years, it’s been a rare pleasure to see and hear Bobby Gordon at Jazz at Chautauqua.  Without making a fuss about it or announcing himself unduly, he has always been one of the poets of jazz — and not simply of the clarinet.  He takes his own unpredictable ways to get where he’s going, and when he arrives you find the journey has been both moving and surprising. 

It’s not surprising that one of Bobby’s clarinet heroes is that rare explorer Pee Wee Russell — but Bobby is too much in touch with his own essence to copy Russell’s leaps and weavings.  Bobby’s approach is also tempered by the deep-blue sounds and thought patterns of the great but not well-remembered Joe Marsala, a consummate melodist who much admired Jimmie Noone.

Here at Jazz at Chautauqua Bobby was joined by the nimble and down-home pianist Keith Ingham (who has wonderful stories of a career that began when he was a mere boy alongside the finest American and British improvisers), the splendidly multi-instrumental Vince Giordano, here toting his aluminum string bass, and the man of mysterious percussive rumbles and swooshes, Arnie Kinsella.  If they sound a little bit like Joe Sullivan / Jess Stacy / Artie Shapiro / Bob Casey / George Wettling / Dave Tough, we don’t mind at all.

Bobby began with a pretty but mobile AT SUNDOWN, a song recorded by an Eddie Condon group back in the halcyon Commodore days:

Another performance with a Commodore pedigree is KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, homage to Fats as well:

A tribute to the later life of Charles Ellsworth Russell (and his friend Nat Pierce), PEE WEE’S BLUES:

Keith, for his feature, thought of the brilliant and much-missed Mel Powell, who wrote this piece as a tribute to Earl Hines when Mel was with the Benny Goodman band — it’s THE EARL:

And Bobby closed his set with a limpid MY MELANCHOLY BABY, in honor of that pretty tune and of Joe Marsala, too:

Bobby’s style is so thoughtful, his voice so human — jazz poetry that comes straight from his heart.

WOW! MORE SAVORY SNIPPETS

Last Tuesday night at the Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg played us Teddy Wilson, Bob Zurke, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie recordings we had never heard before (and he’s going to keep it up for three more Tuesday evenings in a row).  And today he and Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong Archive at Queens College (a most inviting and convivial place) did a radio show for NPR’s WBUR.  Click on the link below and hear these tantalizing excerpts —

a searing passionate blues chorus by Bunny Berigan which will astound you, followed by Slam Stewart creating the blues in his own image (this from a Martin Block radio program);

a version of SING SING SING by the 1939 Benny Goodman band;

almost all of a very famous and brief HONEYSUCKLE ROSE from another Block show, featuring Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, Bud Freeman, Al Casey, and George Wettling;

and a sweetly charging medium-tempo chorus of ROSETTA for Gene Krupa and an unknown clarinetist who might be Joe Marsala, again from 1938.

WOW! might be the only possible response.  Visit http://www.onpointradio.org/2010/09/new-jazz-gems and you’ll say it, too!