It wasn’t, as the expression goes, a “one-shot deal” when the EarRegulars lit up both the street and our hopes by playing two glorious sets at 326 Spring Street on May 2, 2021. Nay nay, as Louis says. Rain got in the way the next week, and a few inhospitable droplets spattered the faithful on May 16, but the skies cleared and the EarRegulars did it once again — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass. Here are three marvels from their first set. And before you immerse yourself in video-recorded joys, let me point out that Jon-Erik, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, and Chris Flory will be playing there again on May 23, 1-3:30. Neato, peachy keen, and just swell.
LULLABY OF THE LEAVES, featuring the eloquent Neal Miner:
And musically saying the YES! we all felt, ‘DEED I DO:
There’s more to come from this session, but if you can make it to 326 Spring Street on Sunday, May 26, from 1-3:30, joy and swing will be there to greet you in a now-permitted embrace. No livestream at the moment, but if you want to contribute to a virtual tip jar, let me know and I will pass the information on to The EarRegulars’ Accounting Division.
A scholarly friend recommended Patricia A. Martin’s 2003 doctoral dissertation, THE SOLO STYLE OF JAZZ CLARINETIST JOHNNY DODDS 1923-1938 (Louisiana State University) which you can read here. She has created transcriptions and analyses of solos, erudite discussions of clarinets, comparative analysis of Dodds and Noone, and more.
But an insight on page 44 stopped me right there: Dodds was the consummate professional. Most people who knew Dodds thought of him as quiet, serious and, unlike most musicians of the time, a man who drank very little (only a little beer, according to his son John). He took care to maintain his 5′ 8″ 210 pound frame, generally looking fit and trim all in all his pictures. Dodds always considered himself first and foremost a musician. John Dodds II recollects:
Father impressed on us by his personal care (chap-preventative to his lips; wearing gloves in the cold; and dieting to avoid unsightly bulges) that his occupation was solely that of a musician!
(Martin’s source is John Dodds Jr.’s 1969 liner note to the Milestone Records issue, CHICAGO MESS AROUND.)
This character study is now incredibly relevant, not only for those of us who have gained weight during quarantine. Another collector-friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous told me of a previously unseen pocket notebook that Dodds kept. John Dodds, Jr., let the collector copy down a few relevant sentences.
What was important to the great New Orleans clarinetist? Joe Oliver’s business practice? Reed stiffness? Compositions? A gig diary?
No. Johnny Dodds was focused on was not gaining weight, staying trim. Here are some of his entries, so appropriate today.
Instead of Pie, an Apple. Instead of a Cookie, have half an Orange. Instead of a Roll, Melba Toast.
Leave space on your Plate. If you can’t see the dish, there is Too Much Food.
Half Grapefruit at every meal. Black Coffee, please. Hot Water with lemon.
“Clothes too tight? You ain’t Living Right!”
They used to say when I was a boy, “All that Gumbo making you Jumbo!”
Don’t eat just because everyone else is. Stop before getting full. Take a Walk!
Beans and Greens, our Grandparents said.
Say NO THANK YOU to Whisky, Butter, Cream, Sugar!
I am the Boss of my Stomach, my Stomach won’t tell Me what to Do.
One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band. Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers. The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.
A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it. But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there. Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm. Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics. So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.
DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:
SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:
Feeling low? Feeling sore? Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:
ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:
A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:
A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:
MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:
More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:
The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing. You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here. “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.
I saw a bumper sticker here in California that read JOE OLIVER IS STILL KING. I might take issue with that, since Papa Joe has many heirs, including that young man from back o’town, but I understand the sentiment.
The Yerba Buena Stompers share that feeling but they do better than just nostalgic affection: in their hands, King Oliver’s music comes alive, and I’ve closed my eyes at a YBS gig and thought, “This is what it must have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens!” (Listen closely to the two-horn duet on DIPPERMOUTH if you doubt me.)
I know other bands are playing these tunes — somewhere, even as my fingers race across the keyboard — but no band sounds like the Stompers.
The Stompers are Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, banjo, leader, vocal; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone. And this is how they looked and sounded on November 27, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, playing three Oliver-associated songs. Beautifully.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It’s the CHIMES BLUES:
And the RIVERSIDE BLUES by Thomas A. Dorsey:
Finally, for the young man mentioned above, the DIPPERMOUTH BLUES:
Spike Wilner, pianist, clubowner, and a true Disciple of Swing, has another bold idea: a new New York City jazz club that presents genuine improvised music in kind settings.
Simple facts first: the club opens on September 3, 2014. It will thrive in the basement of 163 West 1oth Street, steps away from the happily thriving SMALLS, co-piloted by Spike and Mitch Borden. (For those who worry about such things, both clubs are a few minutes’ walk from the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station on the Seventh Avenue subway line. And it’s a calm area to be in.)
The club is a “piano room,” which is a term that needs a little explanation. I don’t mean a “piano bar,” where people accost the pianist at close range and insist (s)he play songs whose title they half know, or where sing-alongs explode like small wildfires — with much the same result. No.
Once upon a time, New York City had a number of such rooms, usually small, with well-tuned pianos where solos and duos were what you came to hear. I saw Jimmy Rowles at Bradley’s, Ellis Larkins and Al Hall at Gregory’s. Although horn players might sit in, these rooms were meant for thoughtful improvisation. In this century, where patrons have a hard time keeping still, paying attention, turning their phones off, Spike’s determination to make such a spot possible is a beautiful and courageous act — in a city that prides itself on having every kind of entertainment and enlightenment in profusion, his new club is a rarity if not a solitary gem. (Yes, there is the Knickerbocker, and thankfully so, but that large room is a different species entirely.)
MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios
Spike has named the club for one of his musical heroes, the clarinetist / saxophonist / organizer / man with plans Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Mezzrow was a fascinating figure, someone whose deep-hued nearly-surrealistic autobiography REALLY THE BLUES made a profound impression on me when my sister gave it to me as a birthday gift (I was, I think, 14). The dream of this century and the preceding one is “You can be anything you want to be if you only want it fiercely enough,” and Mezz — in his own way — exemplified that romantic notion. Mezz was a White Jewish Chicago kid (those identifiers are important to the story) who was so entranced by the Black music he heard that he knew that was what he wanted to play. More importantly, he knew that “that” was the person he wanted to be, the life he wanted to lead.
So, although he was never a great musician, he became a friend to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier; he heard and hung around Bix, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, and the rest. He organized record dates with Teddy Bunn, Bechet, Hot Lips Page, Chick Webb, Frank Newton, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Benny Carter, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney Catlett, Art Hodes, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more. He was deeply involved in a near-religious crusade to offer marijuana as a more healthy alternative to whiskey or hard drugs.
And he crossed the color line early and without pretense. In an era when having mixed-race record sessions was rare, Mezzrow (like Eddie Condon) pushed this idea forward with historic results. He led a band, the Disciples of Swing, where “white” and “colored” musicians played together. And more seriously, he identified as Black — marrying a woman of color, and taking his convictions into everyday life.
I think (although I could be presuming here) that this latter figure — the man so deeply committed to a music and the ideas behind it: community, equality, creativity — is the man Spike honors by naming this new club MEZZROW.
Hereis the club’s website, where you can learn more about it — the schedule, ticketing, about Mezz himself, and more. I don’t know when I’ll make my first visit, but since I see my friends Rebecca Kilgore, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Michael Kanan, Scott Robinson, Neal Miner . . . I expect to be there often, and it may well be a deeply needed oasis of quiet creativity in New York. And https://www.facebook.com/mezzrowclub is the club’s Facebook page.
I received a fascinating letter some days ago from John Cox, a musician from Melbourne, Australia, who has played with Len and Bob Barnard and many other traditional / New Orleans / swing bands.
John told me that he has a signed banjo head from the Twenties with members of the King Oliver band, that he would like to sell and have go to a good home. Several New Orleans authorities including Greg Lambousy have said they thought it was genuine. John says he has a Gretsch tenor banjo which the head came from. He’s looking to sell both for a starting bid of $1800 (he has had offers from interested people and institutions) and you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From what I can see, the Louis signature is genuine. And it appears that the original owner of this holy relic offered it to musicians in 1923, 1926, and 1928 for their signatures. I see Freddie Keppard, Sippie Wallace, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Honore Dutrey, Manuel Perez, Bud Scott, and one other (top left) that I don’t quite recognize. (News flash! Kris Bauwens, who knows a great deal about these things, has suggested that it is Bunk Johnson. Indeed!)
I asked John about the provenance of this object, to learn more about it, and to sense its authenticity, and he told me that he bought the head from a man named Sampson, living in Queensland. Sampson told John that the banjo had belonged to his father. When Sampson’s father was about 15, Sampson’s grandfather would take him to the United States from England by ship to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Chicago. They would stay in a hotel and get contraband to take back to England. In the hotels were jazz bands, and he befriended Bud Scott, who looked after him and gave him the banjo, which he had musicians sign over the years. The banjo would have been fairly cheap at the time. The boy was nicknamed “Mississippi Sam,” which was shortened to “Sippi Sam.” John believes the story to be true as Sampson’s father had died but Sampson said he could always remember the banjo at the family home. Sampson had come out to Australia as a child and was about sixty when John met him.
I don’t ordinarily turn JAZZ LIVES into a hot market, but this object is so enthralling on its own that I felt drawn to do so. Please do get in touch with John if your budget can tolerate the purchase of such a beautiful artifact.
Although the physicists explain gravely that time — make that Time — is not a straight line but a field in which we may meander, it often feels as if we are characters in a Saul Steinberg cartoon, squinting into the looming Future while the Past stretches behind us, intriguing but closed off. We anxiously stand on a sliver of Now the thickness and length of a new pencil, hoping for the best.
Jazz, or at least the kind that occupies my internal jukebox, is always balancing (not always adeptly) Then and Now. For some, Then is marked in terms of dates: this afternoon in November 1940, or this one in July 1922. The most absorbed of us can even add artifacts and sound effects: uncontrollable coughing, a trout sandwich, the sound of dancers’ feet in a ballroom.
But for me, Then is a series of manifestations, imagined as well as real, that have no particular date and time.
Bix and Don Murray watching a baseball game. The Chicago flat where Louis and friends drank Mrs. Circe’s gin and told stories. Mezz Mezzrow on the subway. Strayhorn auditioning in Ellington’s dressing room. Mystics Boyce Brown, Tut Soper, and Don Carter, each imagining the universe in his own way. Eddie Condon picking up the tenor guitar. Hot Lips Page shaking a Texan’s hand. Art Hodes and Wingy Manone politely deciding who gets to wear the bear coat tonight. Francene and Frank Melrose having Dave Tough and friends over for a scant but happy meal of rice and peppers. E.A. Fearn making a suggestion. Billy Banks arriving late for the record date. Bird washing dishes while hearing Art Tatum. Joe Oliver having a snack in a Chinese restaurant.
Any jazz fan who has read enough biography can invent her own mythography of the landmarks of Then.
Now, although it recedes as I write this, is a little easier to fix in time and space, in the way one pushes a colored push-pin through a map.
Andy Schumm, cornet and archives; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Howard Alden, banjo; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums: late in the evening of September 20 at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua, now reinvented as the Allegheny Jazz Party.
OLD MAN SUNSHINE (LITTLE BOY BLUEBIRD):
SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL:
LITTLE WHITE LIES (in an arrangement inspired by British Pathe sound film of the Noble Sissle band — and piling rarity upon rarity — giving us a glimpse of Tommy Ladnier playing):
GET GOIN’ (in honor of the Bennie Moten band, which also had spiders to deal with in Kansas City):
KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Sheridan’s verse gets everyone in the right mood):
18TH AND RACINE (a street intersection in Chicago / an Andy Schumm original / the title track of the Fat Babies’ delicious new CD on Delmark Records):
SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a wonderful surprise at 3:00 — why isn’t there a whole CD of this?):
See you in Cleveland, Ohio, between September 18 and 21, 2014, for more of the same delicious time-superimpositions, courtesy of the Allegheny Jazz Party, where such things happen as a matter of course.
I feel as if I’ve been listening to recorded music all my life, and the discs and tapes I’ve managed to acquire certainly testify to this.
Long-time listeners like myself are also involuntary editors, revisers, and critics. Put on a new CD and we want to enjoy it wholly, but often the small whirring section of the brain that points out details comes in to play. “I’m so glad they are playing that song, but why at that tempo?” “Great band, but adding a trombone would have been even nicer.” “Did that soloist have to stop after one chorus?” You get the idea.
We can’t help ourselves, and the Ideal Sound we hold in our heads — imagined, rarely heard — can be an awful burden.
Thus, it’s a real pleasure to alert you to a new CD, so special that I could instantly tell the critical cortex to take a nap. It’s that good.
I had heard and admired Steve for some years through recordings, but when I heard him in person for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp, I was even more impressed with his depth of feeling and immersion in the music.
He doesn’t offer anything formulaic; he creates wonderful melodies and generous, leafy counterpoint; his pulse is always irresistible, even on a slow blues. Many capable players build little stylistic boxes and settle in for the duration: it could be their planned approach to the material, their choice of songs, the way they envision their bands.
Steve is more a free-floating spirit, with his goal being to inhabit every song fully as its own musical performance. No artifice, nothing but a kind of light-hearted yet inense candor, which makes his work sing . . . even when he isn’t. What he creates isn’t “traditional” or “New Orleans” or “Dixieland” jazz — but swinging dance music with a new rhythm for every track.
All of that would sound as if this were another Pistorius solo recital: rocking piano that bridges old traditions and new energies, and witty yet heartfelt singing of ballads, blues, naughty songs, and stomps.
But there’s much more on NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE, because it’s a quartet with Orange Kellin, clarinet; James Evans, clarinet and alto saxophone; Tyler Thomson, string bass. To the purists, that might seem like an incomplete band, but this quartet is richly fulfilling. They don’t strive to offer contemporary copies of anyone from the Apex Club Orchestra to Soprano Summit: they sound like four generous fellows having a wonderful time in an informal setting. Not the clamor of angry stellar jays fighting for primacy in a nearby tree; nothing shrill or loud, just communal fun in sweet exploration.
The quartet neatly and surprisingly balances the rough, even raw possibilities of the clarinet with the elegance of the alto, and it’s all supported by Steve’s left hand and the buoyant playing of Thomson, a gifted player in the school of Pops Foster and Milt Hinton. I’ve always admired the fierce honesty of Orange Kellin’s playing: he plays like a man speaking his inmost thoughts — but those thoughts swing as they tumble out of him. James Evans is new to me, and he is also a fine clarinetist, but I was even more impressed by his honeyed alto playing — the way people who weren’t wooed away by Bird stuck to their original impulses about saxophone playing.
The quartet is a model small community, where something engaging is always going on, players trading melody and improvisation, lead and counterpoint. And the beat goes on from the first note to the last. The repertoire is immensely delightful — songs by Bechet, Dodds, Tony Jackson, Jelly, Natty Dominique, Bill Whitmore, Joe Oliver, but also by Berlin, Carmichael, Lorenzo Barcelata, Albert Howard, and Paul Dresser — a far cry from the done-to-death songs that characterize “traditional” playing: NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE / BABY, I’D LOVE TO STEAL YOU / DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES / BECHET’S FANTASY / BULL FIDDLE BLUES ? WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / WORKING MAN BLUES / MARIA ELENA / LADY LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / JUBILEE / AS TU LE CAFARD / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME / GEORGIA CABIN / MY GAL SAL. Nicely recorded in several 2013 sessions. Honest, lively, feeling music.
I wish this were a working and touring band, and that I had a whole sheaf of videos of it to share with you. But I don’t. You’ll have to trust me about just how good this disc is.
To purchase a copy, please send $20 to the Man Himself (no rolls of quarters, please — check or IMO): Steve Pistorius, 306 Florida Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124. And something better than the usual bills will soon be in your mailbox. “I guarantee it,” as Justin Wilson used to say.
Louis Armstrong reached his artistic peak somewhere before 1929, when his recording of commercial songs — I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE as opposed to POTATO HEAD BLUES — was ruinous. Right?
As we say in my country, “Oh, please!”
You play what you are! And Louis in 1954 and 1960 still embodied the deepest human truths of joy and sorrow.
These two videos are now available widely thanks to the tireless collector, historian, and archivist Franz Hoffmann.
The first, from May 9, 1954, is part of a wonderfully odd CBS-TV program,
“YOU ARE THERE: “THE EMERGENCE OF JAZZ,” which purports to recreate the closing of Storyville as if it were a news story happening at the moment. In 1954, I wasn’t sufficiently sentient to have been watching this episode, but I gather that this neat gimmick allowed various actors to recreate events in history — with light brushes with accuracy and the help of Walter Cronkite to make it seem “real.” Here, Louis was asked to become King Oliver, fronting his own All-Stars . . . all African-Americans, with the exception of drummer Barrett Deems, who had his face blacked to fit it. The other band members are Barney Bigard, Trummy Young, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw. In other segments, Louis Mitchell was played by Cozy Cole and Jelly Roll Morton by Billy Taylor. No doubt. Here, much of the fun is that the Oliver band is “challenged” by an offstage White band — the Original Dixieland Jazz Band — impersonated by Bobby Hackett, Bill Stegmeyer, Lou Stein, Cliff Leeman, and Lou Mc Garity. To see and hear Louis play BACK O’TOWN BLUES and read his lines is enough of a pleasure; to hear Louis and Bobby improvise on the SAINTS is a joy.
Six years later, with no faux-news report, just a substantial production for a BELL TELEPHONE HOUR (January 1, 1960), we see Louis in magnificent form (although this segment is taxing). After SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and LAZY RIVER — with the plastic mute Jack Teagarden made for him — there is one of the most touching episodes of Louis on film, beginning at 3:30. If you ever meet anyone who doubts Louis’ sincerity, his acting ability, his skill in conveying emotion, please play them this video and let them hear and see the ways he approaches SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD, intensely moving. Then the mood switches to an early-television meeting of Louis with an unidentified vocal quartet for MUSKRAT RAMBLE. In all, eight minutes plus of wonderful music.
Louis sustains us as he sustained himself.
Thanks to Franz Hoffmann and of course to Ricky Riccardi, who has done so much to remind us that Louis never, ever stopped creating.
Be forewarned: the visual quality on the performance that follows is sub-standard, although you can get used to it. This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.
This video is a valuable document, because I don’t know of any other performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.
The song is elusive — TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL — and I couldn’t find any lyrics online, but the opening phrase so neatly fits the title that I am sure JAZZ LIVES readers can (silently) invent their own narratives with the proper scansion.
I am amused by Raymond Burke’s endearing personal choreography — his body mirrors what he is playing more than is true with many players. And his tone is so singular, sweet-tart in the manner of Ed Hall — but you wouldn’t mistake one player for the other. A great underacknowledged poet of the clarinet.
Wiggs continues to astonish. He saw Joe Oliver in New Orleans (I seem to remember this was 1919) and Oliver left a lasting impression. But then Wiggs heard Bix and those wandering odes took over — haunting but always mobile.
I hear in Wiggs, who was 73 at the time of this video, a sweet, sad evocation of what Bix might have sounded like had he lived on this long. Wiggs’ music plunges forward while looking over its shoulder in a melancholy, ruminative way. And although Wiggs recorded early (1927) and from 1949 into the fifties, his late work fully expresses a kind of autumnal sensibility, delicate without being timid or maudlin — the sweet voice of an elder who has seen a great deal and knows that life is sadly finite but celebrates that life with his cornet.
One other thing occurs to me, with special relevance to my own video efforts, where musicians justly want the performances that will be disseminated and preserved for posterity to be as free from flaws as possible. Anyone who watches this video to the end — and why wouldn’t you? — notices a small train wreck (with no one hurt) because the band is not clear whether to go on or stop. I find this, like Burke’s body language, quite endearing. I’d rather have imperfect Wiggs and Burke than know that this flawed performance had been consigned to the trash.
This video — although I do not know the originator — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music. Thank you, Joe!
It’s always a pleasure to encounter a new jazz book that’s not a rehash of overexposed source materials or burdened by academic ideologies, and John McCusker’s fresh look at the life and music of trombonist / composer / bandleader Edward “Kid” Ory (1886-1973) is just such an engaging book.
In CREOLE TROMBONE, McCusker carefully documents Ory’s roots, his development as an artist, and the scenes in which he lived and workd — not only rural Louisiana and New Orleans, but California in the early years of the twentieth century and Chicago in the Twenties.
We learn a great deal about a variety of subjects — life on a sugar cane plantation, New Orleans band battles and etiquette, early recordings and the music business. And there are portraits, some of them from an unusual angle or an unexpected perspective, of Joe Oliver, young Louis Armstrong, Mutt Carey, Jelly Roll Morton, Freddie Keppard, Buddy Bolden, and others.
McCusker is praised for his “meticulous research” in three of the back-cover blurbs, and the book does not disappoint here. Not only does he make use of published work by scholars including David Sager, Henry Kmen, Al Rose, and interviews with the surviving musicians held in the Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, but he has spoken to Ory’s relatives and drawn liberally on Ory’s unpublished autobiography (made available to him through the generosity of Ory’s daughter Babette). As usual, there are brief “historical” passages in which the author works to set the scene for those unfamiliar with it, and the expected use of census and baptismal records.
The book offers thirty pages of endnotes, contains twenty photographs of Ory, his family, and the bands — only three of which will be familiar. CREOLE TROMBONE also reproduces lead sheets from six unpublished Ory songs — the most intriguing being MUSSOLINI CARRIES THE DRUM FOR HITLER and DON’T FORGET THE SANTA FE TRAIN AND BUS. (Do I hear a CD project, “The Unrecorded Kid Ory,” in the works?)
I came away from the book with an increased awareness of and respect for Ory — not only as independent and ambitious, but someone with a keen eye for making his musical activities pay off. I was struck by Ory the entrepreneur (circa 1912-13) who not only booked his own dances — arranging for his band to play in a hall he had rented — but because he was worried about competition, paying to rent a hall two blocks away and keep it dark that night.
The most animated parts of the book, of course, are the first-hand recollections of the musicians: a leisurely word-picture of the worst place Ory ever played, Spano’s, that catered to prostitutes and “freakish” men and women; his depiction of life in a Storyville brothel, where a customer who hung his trousers over a chair would find himself wishing he had been more cautious. McCusker’s research delves into the musical communication between more formal ragtime-dance music and hotter jazz, between Ory and his colleagues and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Ory and Joe Oliver were advertising their band as playing “Jazz” as early as November 1917; in 1922, “Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra” was broadcasting on the radio in California.
McCusker is by profession a photographer and journalist, someone obviously wanting to add to the record and to make it accurate, so that Ory would not be overshadowed, forgotten, or ignored — very good reasons to research and write a book. McCusker clearly admires Ory but the book is not worshipful. His writing is lively and the book moves quickly; although he relies greatly on sources, it does not resemble an academic thesis.
Because McCusker sees Ory as a seriously influential figure, I was not surprised to find a great deal of study devoted to the years before Ory made his first recordings in 1922. Ory’s musical career continued until 1933 or so, then — after a decade of non-musical work) it resumed for nearly two decades. But CREOLE TROMBONE covers the years from 1943 to Ory’s death in a few quick pages.
Had Ory retreated into an old man’s obscurity, I could understand this, but in that period Ory made more than two-thirds of his recordings, many for major labels (Columbia, Decca, Victor, and the Norman Granz conglomerate) toured Europe several times — and was more popular than ever before.
Since I first encountered Ory’s music in this period — as a member of a 1946 Armstrong group and on two Verve recordings that paired him effectively with Henry “Red” Allen, I find the omission curious, and the book feels to me hurried or deflating. This could have been an economic decision (a press choosing a manuscript of X words only and its author deciding to concentrate on the less explored early period), but the last pages of this otherwise rewarding book feel truncated.
But here’s my offering to make up for it:
Another view of the authorship of MUSKRAT RAMBLE from Louis himself — twice (thanks to Ricky Riccardi) — here. Who knew that fried muskrat had such powers?
First off: the High Sierra Jazz Band is color-coordinated. They have red shirts for one gig, teal (or is it mint green?) for another. Very snappy. Nattily dressed. It also makes it easy to identify the guest star, who has different plumage. In these five performances from Dixieland Monterey 2011, that stellar personage was our friend, cornetist Marc Caparone, standing next to Bryan Shaw to give the music a wonderful Louis (Armstrong) and Papa Joe (Oliver) flavor.
The High Sierra Jazz Band is led by reedman Pieter Meijers — very articulate and witty, even when he is measuring out the amount of applause he expects for the next song and threatening the audience (gently) that he will speak more if the applause is inadequate. The front line is filled out by the beaming Howard Miyata on trombone, euphonium, and vocals. Clint Baker calls Howard “the happiest man in Dixieland” and that might be an understatement or it might unintentionally restrict Howard’s range: he glows like the sun. The rhythm section is a fraternal affair, with Bruce Huddleson on piano and Stan Huddleston on banjo and guitar. Then there’s the singing tubaist Earl McKee and drummer Charlie Castro.
This session began with a nicely rocking ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, in what I think of as Joe-and-Bessie Smith tempo (and it is one of the lesser-known Louis Deccas):
Then, after an elaborately funny Pieter Meijers shaggy-dog-in-Dixieland announcement, we had FIDGETY FEET:
Howard came into his own with a soulful A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON: another Louis-homage, full of sweet feeling:
We never did find out Pieter’s explanation of what Mabel was dreaming of, but the band played MABEL’S DREAM (with its down-home hymnlike trio strain) with mutes in, passions to the forefront:
Finally, a romping CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME:
They do take the cake, don’t they? And Marc Caparone is the fellow who’s not wearing a red shirt. All hail the rest of the band, but the interplay between Bryan and Marc brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know which of them is Little Louis and which is Papa Joe (my guess is that the roles, after nearly ninety years, have fused into one Mobius strip of hot cornet / trumpet) but they sound lovely!
SWING OUT TO GENEROSITY: CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS YOU SEE IN THESE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):
Clint Baker is an inspiring multi-instrumentalist (everything from brass to reeds to strings to drums to vocals) and here at Dixieland Monterey 2011, he contented himself with leading a small hot group from his drum set — he is a master of percussive sounds and propulsions. With him were hot cornetist Marc Caparone, pianist / singer Dawn Lambeth (united in connubial bliss), trombonist and euphonist Howard Miyata (that’s Uncle Howie to Gordon, Brandon, and Justin Au), reedman Mike Baird, bassist Paul Mehling, and guitarist / banjoist Katie Cavera.
Oh, they did rock!
Their first selection was a request — from Dottie Baird, Mike’s wife, who always asks for WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME, on which Mike has to play saxophone. A wonderful idea:
One law of performance is “Get the crowd involved: engage the audience!” So here’s a bit of audience participation — feel free to join in at home in the HOLLER BLUES with shrieks or howls:
Dawn Lambeth (who is moderately pregnant — we wish her the world’s easiest delivery!) is also a spectacularly gifted singer. Here she introduces IT HAPPENED IN MONTEREY, written by Mabel Wayne, as a song with a great deal of sentimental depth for Marc and herself — the sad lyrics notwithstanding. Even with a terrible cold, Dawn sounds so fine:
A good old good one — what could be better than PANAMA by William H. Tyers, king of the Exotic Landscape (he also wrote MAORI):
And a tribute to Papa Joe Oliver, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong’s spiritual father, SNAG IT (An idle thought: where did the inspiration for that slang phrase come from? I take it to mean “Oh, get it!” From fishing? From baseball?):
Finally, something personally pleasing. SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is one of my favorite songs — even though it’s not exactly harmonically taxing — perhaps because I heard Louis’s recording of it early in my life. And I felt very much embraced at and by Dixieland Monterey (a weekend of many hugs, all given and received happily), no more so than when Marc asked me if I had any requests and then played this one. You know you’ve arrived! Two by two, they go marching through:
This band is the absolute equivalent of a big plate of down-home red beans and rice: spicy, colorful, hot, satisfying for a long time afterwards. And look how happy they look!
A footnote: JAZZ LIVES readers who energetically watch “SFRaeAnn”‘s channel will see her videos of these performances. She is Rae Ann Berry, a wonderful archivist and deep friend to me and to many musicians . . . and we were often sitting at the same concert in Monterey and videotaping. Why, then, you might ask, why post my versions as well as hers? I have this fantasy that someone more technically gifted than myself will find a way to screen both her video and mine on a particular song – – – synchronized, to provide something like Dixieland Cinerama, or Hot Technicolor. Just imagine!
GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE LIVING MUSICIANS! ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM:
Names to conjure with — the classic monickers of two New Orleans brass giants, Willie “Bunk” Johnson (1879 or 1889-1949) and John Wigginton Hyman (1899-1977). Bunk is widely-known; Wiggs should be.
Two new compact discs present these men in very congenial settings.
Let’s take “Johnny Wiggs” first. Wiggs is yet another living proof that there are second and third acts in American lives: he recorded in 1927 and then not again for two decades (in the meantime, he had a successful career as a teacher and home-builder); he continued playing until his death. Wiggs also fascinates me because of his deep lyrical strain: his early influence was Joe Oliver, but he fell under the spell of Bix Beiderbecke and (to my ears) he often sounds the way I imagine an elder Bix would have sounded: melancholy, introspective, singing softly to himself.
Wiggs has often been represented on record as the lead horn in a traditional New Orleans ensemble, and these settings haven’t always done him justice, because the energetic bandsmen have sometimes created a raucous good-time environment. Best of all are his chamber sessions with only clarinetist Raymond Burke (another poetic soul), guitar (often Dr. Edmond Souchon), and bass — recorded on the Paramount label in the Fifties and I think impossible to find.
But the Wiggs sessions collected on a new CD show his deep feeling and wide range. Some of this music was issued on an lp — also called CONGO SQUARE — but this CD issue adds previously unissued material. Here’s one of the original 78s:
The music on the CD covers the years 1948-73, and was primarily recorded in New Orleans — one particularly exuberant small group includes Wiggs, clarinetist Bujie Centobie, tenorist Eddie Miller (their limpid sounds intertwining), and the Stacy-Bix pianist Armand Hug. But to me the most interesting combination was suggested by the ever-inventive Hank O’Neal, who set up a date for Wiggs to record four of his own compositions . . . in New York, with a “New York” quartet of Dill Jones (from Wales), Cliff Leeman (from New England), and Maxine Sullivan (from Baltimore). The results are special, making me wish that Wiggs had been transported out of his native element more often. He’s worth discovering or rediscovering.
Bunk Johnson is a different case entirely: someone who has his own mythology, a figure with such a clearly defined identity that there were pro-and-anti Bunk forces at work. I first heard Bunk on his earliest recordings, and was unimpressed: he seemed a rudimentary player doing his best but not always being able to break free from the near-amateur musicians surrounding him.
It was only later when I heard his “Last Testament” recordings for Columbia in 1947 that I could hear what he was doing and revel in his beautiful melodic simplicity, the emotional directness of his lines, the delicacy of his embellishments.
But it was clear to me (although some disagree) that Bunk was a more sophisticated musician than the contexts he was often placed in. Put next to the vehemently competitive Sidney Bechet in Boston, he often held his own but sometimes sounded as if he had been dropped into the Golden Gloves.
In front of a sympathetic, swinging band, he blossomed and relaxed. He had just that setting in the recordings now issued on an American Music CD — a 1947 concert with cornetist Doc Evans’s rocking little band and the perfect support of pianist Don Ewell.
Ewell hasn’t been celebrated enough — certainly not sufficiently in his lifetime. But he was an elegantly swinging pianist, his subtle approach encompassing Jelly Roll Morton’s ruffles and flourishes and the later swing of Hines, Stacy, Fats, and James P. Johnson. It says a good deal about Ewell that he seemed to be the favorite pianist of both Jack Teagarden and Frank Chace. And Bunk Johnson. A year before this concert, Bunk, Ewell, and drummer Alphonso Steele had recorded as a trio in New York for American Music — playing pop tunes and old favorites: WHEN THE MOON COMES OVER THE MOUNTAIN, I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN KATHLEEN, IN THE GLOAMING, OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL, JA-DA, YOU’VE GOT TO SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, POOR BUTTERFLY, and WHERE THE RIVER SHANNON FLOWS.
At the Minneapolis concert, there are vibrant full-band versions of traditional standards such as HIGH SOCIETY, THE SHEIK OF ARABY, and SISTER KATE, but there are also wonderful examples of the Bunk-Ewell partnership. (One elaborately wayward performance after hours, where Bunk is trying to teach Ewell the harmonies to HEARTACHES, both of them having imbibed more than they should, has been preserved in the Jazzology book on Bunk: SONG OF THE WANDERER, by Barry Martyn and Mike Hazeldine, as is their IN THE GLOAMING.)
But this concert presents what is, to me, the clearest representation of what Bunk could do — out of the recording studio, having a wonderful time, inspiring and being inspired by a first-rate group.
And now for some compelling musical evidence (music also available from the George H. Buck family of labels):
Bunk, Ewell, and Alphonso Steele in New York City, 1946:
Wiggs with the legendary guitarist Snoozer Quinn in 1948:
The sheet of manuscript paper below — with thanks to Norman Field and David Weiner, rescuers and researchers both — is my idea of Holy Writ: the lead sheet for Joe Oliver’s composition DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, registered with the Library of Congress in 1923. Does it get more magical than that? And Norman thinks that “by Joseph Oliver” in the upper right is in the King’s hand. (All that is missing is the royal seal, methinks.)
This page originally belonged to or passed through the hands of Turk Murphy — who knew something about playing the blues in a style the King would have liked — thus the signature in the bottom right corner, in a handwriting that isn’t the same as that found top right. JAZZ LIVES readers should consider themselves encouraged to play, sing, or hum along. As for rehearsals, you’re on your own.
It’s very important to me that the musicians I love never get forgotten.
I know that the man-and-woman-on-the-street in 2011 don’t recognize the names Joe Oliver or Herbie Nichols. That might be inevitable, but I don’t want these figures and a thousand others to be forgotten even more than they are now.
So I am sending out a global cyber-request. Send no money, clicks, tweets, proofs of purchase, or boxtops.
But if your Mom or Dad was a musician or singer of note, your Uncle or Aunt or Grandpa . . . would you get in touch with me and consider telling your stories?
I would be delighted to use JAZZ LIVES to celebrate my artistic heroes and heroines. We could do a telephone interview (to be transcribed and printed here); we could talk face-to-face; I could take photographs of memorabilia; I could even bring my videocamera if you don’t live more than ____ hours away from New York City.
And I understand that there are many jazz-children who would regard this request with puzzlement or suspicion, if their experiences made them sad. I was once given the telephone number of the daughter of a musician, then dead, whose name you would recognize. I called her and asked if she would be willing to talk to me about her father, and she was very politely puzzled, “What would I say to you?” she asked. And she asked if I could call her back some other time, which I took (perhaps correctly) as a very veiled “No, thank you.”
I promise I am not looking to pry or to uncover traumas. But I am a born hero-worshipper, and I think many of my readers are too.
And — if you are reading this entry and thinking, “Well, I didn’t have the good fortune to be Henry “Red” Allen’s son, but I did see him play,” I would be delighted to hear or read and print that story too.
Consider this blog a collective memory bank: no minimum deposits, everything repaid with grateful interest.
The Scandinavian Rhythm Boys are a deeply rewarding hot band, and they’ve just come out with a new CD, CHARLESTON MAD. I’ve been excited by the band for a few years now. And I was delighted to be able to write a short liner note for this new release, which I’ve reprinted below.
I first encountered the SRB on YouTube and was astonished and delighted by their skill and feeling, their wit and casual intensity. I didn’t feel the need for a pianist, a trombonist, a drummer. They swung; they were complete; they lived within the jazz tradition without imitating its recorded artifacts. Even better, they had solved the problem common to musical groups and larger communities (world leaders take note): how to gather individuals with strong personalities and blend them into a cohesive whole without trampling on anyone’s identity.
Who are the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys? I’ll start with the one musician I’ve been privileged to meet: reed master Frans Sjostrom. (I’m especially happy that I’ve learned how to pronounce his name correctly.) Frans’ rhythm is irresistible; his solos are haunting songs. The easy assessment on hearing Frans play the bass sax is to compare him to Adrian Rollini, but why define his creativity in such a narrow way? When I hear Frans play any saxophone I think of Coleman Hawkins; I think of Pablo Casals.
Then there’s Ole Olsen, whose clarinet playing has the deep feeling and down-home ease of Louis Cottrell and the New Orleans masters. On string bass, he supports and guides the group with his simple, neat lines, his woody sound, his strong pulse. His partner is the splendid Michael Boving, whose banjo rings and whispers – never a threat to communal serenity. Ole and Michael could rock a seventeen-piece band and have energy left over after the gig. Michael is also an astonishing singer whose vocals come from his heart. When he sings, “How long will I have to wait?” it has the mournful shouting force of a soul in torment; when he tells you he’s “Charleston mad,” we know it’s true.
Robert Hansson must have daredevils and acrobats in his genetic makeup, because he knows no fear: his spinning, shining lines, light as air, leap and dance high above the crowd. I think of early Bill Coleman, of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard when I hear Robert – and of bright traceries in the twilight sky.
These four players combine to make lovely music, an art that doesn’t show off how difficult its achievements are. Whether they’re playing the classic jazz repertoire of Joe Oliver, Clarence Williams, Lovie Austin, or the ODJB, or Scandinavian pop classics – they spread joy and inspire us to smile, to dance, to exult. What a delicious accomplishment this CD is!
The website for the SRB is http://www.srbjazz.com. There you can hear two performances from the CD, HESITATING BLUES and CLARINET MARMALADE, and there you can buy the CD. Or, as Michael Boving suggested, “JAZZCLUB Copenhagen is our best jazz record shop in town. They have
got the CD and it can be ordered now – your readers can find Jazzclub Copenhagen on Google and it’s there.”
Here are two video clips recorded by our mutual friend Flemming Thorbye — of the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys on a harbor cruise in Copenhagen. One of the sweetest things about this CD, by the way, is that the SRB create swinging versions of Scandinavian classic pop tunes — giving listeners like myself something new to hum (something new that we can’t get out of our heads no matter how hard we try)!
And here’s the title tune, with a thrilling, rough-cut vocal by Michael Boving, CHARLESTON MAD:
There are many video clips of the SRB on YouTube, including a few with the esteemed Joe Muranyi, but none of them will substitute for the pleasure of this CD — which I’ve been playing while driving through Central Park, for instance, with my window rolled down and the volume up to respectable (I hope not annoying) levels, sending this Good Hot Music out into the world. It deserves to be heard! (One of the best vignettes on this disc is the Richard M. Jones song — I associate it with the Oliver band — I AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY — which I’ve never heard with lyrics. That is the very opposite of the way I feel about this music.)
If the Doc in question is ophthalmologist Michel Bastide, the answer is going to be idiomatic hot jazz. Michel is a licensed medical practitioner by day, a searing cornetist / trombonist / singer / bandleader of the Hot Antic Jazz Band by night (or when he’s not in the office).
At the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, I had another delightful opportunity to hear Michel in a perfectly balanced hot group — four virtuosi with but a single thought — which festival organizer Mike Durham called DOC’S NIGHT OWLS because they began their hour-long session at 11 PM. (For jazz musicians, of course, that time is rather like brunch, but no matter.)
The other OWLS were Matthias Seuffert on clarinet and tenor sax; Jacob Ullberger on banjo; Christian LeFevre on brass bass. Martin Seck, the pianist with the Hot Antics (and last year with Les Red Hot Reedwarmers) joined in on washboard for the final number as prelude to the jam session that followed.
They began their session with a tune associated with Johnny and Baby Dodds, PIGGLY WIGGLY. Until I hear evidence to the contrary, I will assume that it celebrates the famous Chicago supermarket (was it the first one in the United States?) now famous for its design and floor plan which compelled people entering to walk past every item in the store before they found the way out, something that I assume guaranteed many more purchases:
MESSIN’ AROUND followed — a hot tune recorded by Freddie Keppard:
I CAN’T SAY, another Dodds-related opus, must have been named in one of those classic recording-studio moments:
Michel showed himself a fine, amused singer on a very hot I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (the band knew chapter and verse!); this song reminds me of the brief Victor recording career of trumpeter Bubber Miley and his Mileage Makers, an idea of recording executive L.R. “Loren” Watson, who was cultivating Miley as hot player supreme, perhaps another version of Louis. I don’t always find myself able to take notes while video-recording, but I wrote down in my notebook “Matthias on fire.” See if you don’t agree:
A gutty E FLAT BLUES (what session is complete without one?) was very gratifying:
WA WA WA, presumably celebrating the sound of Joe Oliver’s plunger mute, is not the usual official jazz chestnut:
SISTER KATE (or her cousin) followed:
And the session concluded with RED HOT HOTTENTOT, possibly politically incorrect but no less rewarding:
The Doctor is in — as are these fine consulting specialists. (Thanks to the erudite Michael McQuaid for some correct song titles.)
It was in the eighties outside last Sunday — but the unsually high temperature isn’t the subject of this post. I’m sure that the warmth in the West Village was emanating from inside The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) where fervent jazz was once again being played.
This edition of The Ear Regulars had co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, joined by tenor saxophonist Andy Farber and bassist Danton Boller. Jon-Erik was stuck in traffic (coming straight from gigging in his home state, Michigan) so the trio began the festivities with a medium-tempo exploration of THE MAN I LOVE. Andy’s sound is big, reminiscent of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, but he is an individualist, approaching his horn with a mix of seriousness and delicacy. Danton is a serious storyteller: his swinging pulse was steady and buoyant; his solos rang and climbed. And Matt, as always, is a whole orchestra in himself:
Late in the first set, Jon-Erik proposed a favorite Ear Regulars gambit — take a “Dixieland” tune and see what would result. In this, he has heroic antecedents. SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL was memorably done by Fats Waller and Count Basie (to say nothing of Bix Beiderbecke) and it lends itself to this band’s relaxed yet energetic approach:
To close the set, Jon-Erik suggested BEALE STREET BLUES, which lends itself to an easy, rocking motion. He delights in a variety of mutes (often using the rubber plunger) but took a new tack — using his empty beer glass to create hallooing sounds worthy of Joe Oliver. In his honor, I have retitled W.C. Handy’s composition BEER STREET BLUES, in two parts:
I thought of “Old Time Modern” while watching a wonderful new concert DVD. That title originally was from a Nat Pierce composition recorded for Vanguard in the Fifties, blending boppish harmonies with a Thirties Basie feel.
Now it perfectly summons up the inspired pairing of Eddy Davis, banjo, vocals, and badinage, and Conal Fowkes, piano, vocals, and commentary. This duo had a wonderful opportunity to appear in a Barcelona club for an extended run; they found a most hip Brazilian filmmaker, Arturo Querzoli, and the results are now available.
Most jazz videos (including mine) suffer from the demands of impromptu recording: poor lighting, people walking in front of the camera, extraneous noise. Devoted types like Rae Ann Berry and myself grin and bear it and call the results “cinema verite.” But how rewarding it is to see two completely relaxed musicians captured from every angle with beautiful sound in high-definition video.
And what musicians they are! I know that some people get pale and anxious when they even hear the word “banjo” in a sentence, and I can hardly blame them. Badly played, the banjo can provide hours of painful listening experiences. Many banjo players seem to have modeled their approaches on power tools, giving their instruments a metallic twang. Not Eddy Davis. His approach is subtle but his rhythm propulsive, and although he doesn’t look the part of a Thirties romantic hero, he has a deep sentimental streak. Eddy writes his own appealing tunes and digs out those you’d forgotten or never heard. Where Eddy looks much like a small-town pharmacist with a decided FDR image, Conal could pass as a multi-lingual European statesman. A diplomat, perhaps, or even the head of a large bank. But beneath that sedate exterior there is a fine, stomping Jelly Roll Morton – Joe Sullivan – Fats Waller pianist, a singer both hilarious and tender, and a wonderful accompanist to Eddy. In fact, one of the great pleasures of this duo is watching two fine soloists who are also splendid accompanists. This duo isn’t a cutting contest; it’s a friendly conversation, with one egging the other on.
By the way, I first saw (and met) Conal and Eddy sometime in 2005 when Eddy’s multi-named small group (eventually called WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM) had the Wednesday-night spot at the now-vanished Cajun. Most nights, Debbie Kennedy was on string bass and occasional vocal; Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin were the hot winds, and the group rocked as few others I’ve ever heard have done. If you weren’t sitting near me to hear this group, you definitely need this DVD. And if you were at one of the front tables, you won’t need any convincing.
And (for me) the best part — including the musical intimacy, the beautiful recording, the fine camerawork — is the amazingly broad repertoire. Most groups limit themselves: the Fowkes-Davis collective is happy playing Morton, Ory, Oliver, Eubie Blake, Morton, Ellington, Henderson — but these musicians have a deep streak of sentiment, so you’ll also hear I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY, LA VIE EN ROSE (with a tender reading of the original French lyrics by Conal), and MY FOOLISH HEART, crooned in a near-whisper by Eddy.
And here’s some brilliant musical and visual evidence from the DVD:
Here are WILD MAN BLUES and MEMORIES OF YOU:
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES and DINAH:
SNAKE RAG and I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY:
Henderson’s THE STAMPEDE:
ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE and MY FOOLISH HEART, surely a surprising pair:
LA VIE EN ROSE and HANG OUT THE STARS IN INDIANA:
Finally, there’s CRY ME A RIVER:
Now. that’s a generous helping of music for free. But there’s more! The DVD includes a dozen selections (some of them lengthy medleys) and one bonus track with an appearance by A Famous Mystery Guest. You can find out how to buy this at www.davisfowkes.com (a little Barelona bird told me that the price is $20.00 plus shipping, certainly cheaper than the round-trip flight). It’s a consistent pleasure.
Often of late I have noted jazz treasures for sale on eBay — and posting them here becomes a substitute for attempting to possess them).
But here is a delightful artifact I found and bought. It’s a 10″ red vinyl Paramount long-playing record (a John Steiner production) featuring cornetist Johnny Wiggs, clarinetist Raymond Burke, bassist Sherwood Mangiapane, and guitarist / singer Dr. Edmond Souchon. Recorded in 1955, it is wonderful chamber jazz, with Wiggs’s mixture of Oliver and Bix, somewhere between sad and jaunty, mixing perfectly with the limpid, gutty sound of Burke — resting most comfortably on the rhythmic cushion of acoustic guitar and string bass. Living-room jazz. And the repertoire is wonderful — a medley of MEMORIES / SMILES / SINGIN’ THE BLUES; HEEBIE JEEBIES (with a raucous Louis-inspired vocal by Souchon), TULIP STOMP (also known as WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP), MAMA’S BABY BOY, MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, CONGO (or CONGO SQUARE), and PRETTY BABY (in honor of Tony Jackson).
You can’t see it, but the record label itself credits everything to “Ray Burke and the New Orleanians”: did Wiggs and Burke flip a coin to decide who would get credited outside and inside?
That would have been more than enough for me: the seller offered this at a reasonable price, and I was eager to get it. True, I had the music on a cassette somewhere (courtesy of the late and generous Bob Hilbert) but I wanted the artifact itself.
It came in a soft cardboard envelope with a flap holding the record in, so to remove the disc I had to turn it over . . . and this greeted me, in careful fountain pen:
May 14 / 55
To Pinkey – with apologies for the Bourbon-seared vocal cords!
Edmond Souchon M.D.
I don’t think the seller had seen the back of the sleeve or, if he had, hadn’t made the connection (or hadn’t been trying to raise the price). Thank you, Sir, for your generous offering — whatever the reason! Other sellers, more observant or more avaricious, would have advertised this as RARE! and had a minimum bis of $299.
“Pinkey,” I assume, is clarinetist Pinky Vidacovich . . . and a closer inspection revealed that Souchon had glued a name / address label on the front cover and a small red oval sticker “Souchon” on the record label. Was it his own copy? I don’t know, but I treasure the signature and the sentiments as much as the music.
I’m not offering a splendidly energizing bottle of cayenne peppers and vinegar — but its musical equivalent, designed to make everything taste better.
Here, courtesy of Rae Ann Barry, roving videographer, are performances by Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, recorded live on December 20, 2009, at the monthly jazz party of the Basin Street Regulars in Pismo Beach, California.
The eloquent down-home players are Clint Baker, trombone, trumpet, and bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Mike Baird, clarinet; Carl “Sonny” Leyland; Mike Fay, bass; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar, vocal; Hal Smith, drums, and two surprises.
PANAMA (not PANAMA RAG) is where Stompy Jones — and STOMPY JONES — come from. Not only is this song often played too fast; some of its strains are left out or forgotten by bands eager to get to the familiar refrain. Clint’s band knows all the ins and outs, and the tempo is just right. Catch Hal Smith’s tom-tom accents and his homage to Zutty and Baby Dodds! Marc sounds like a very hip Joe Oliver . . . perhaps a King Joe who had lived on to play more in 1938. And Rae Ann is intrepid indeed, never flinching away from what must have been perilous proximity to those umbrellas. (Note to self: Call to find cost of liability insurance for jazz videographers.)
And here’s BIG CHIEF BATTLE AX, a song — with several strains — that Bunk Johnson loved to play, in a performance that lets everyone romp, with special praise for Carl’s righteous piano. I tried to find the lyrics, but only come up with the wonderful sheet music cover. Can anyone help?:
UP JUMPED THE DEVIL reminds me of DO WHAT ORY SAY with a dash of SISTER KATE (or GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD, if you prefer) stirred in at the end. But what I find captivating — aside from Marc’s fervent lead throughout, is the wonderful ensemble rock: not faster, not louder, just cumulatively intensifying:
And a delightful surprise — one of my favorite singers, Dawn Lambeth, comes to sing ALWAYS, first as it was written, and then courtesy of Mr. Leyland, as a Fifties boogie. Watch Dawn sway happily as Marc aims for the stars (and gets there)! And Mike Baird takes a few Pee Wee Russell turns. I love Dawn’s third chorus — she’s subtle but she really improvises:
CANAL STREET BLUES takes on a different flavor with Clint switching to trumpet and Marc’s father, the estimable Dave Caparone, coming in on trombone. Dave is a renowned winemaker, but I first admired him not for his big reds, but because he could sound like Benny Morton — a great virtue! You can hear a bit of his neat Thirties glide here. Love that rhythm section!:
And a neat change of pace: Katie Cavera brings her guitar and sweet voice for the late-Twenties version of “Shut up and kiss me!” — DO SOMETHING, with the band coming together in a great loose way as the performance proceeds, the hot honors going to Clint at the start:
MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND (turned into MARCH OF THE BOB CATS by the Crosby-ites) has the benefit of a fine trombone section. Mike Baird makes me think of HIGH SOCIETY, and Katie swings out most musically. Let’s hear it for Hal’s melodic snare-drum chorus, and also for the red-shirted man who gives Rae Ann an astonished look the first time he walks in front of her lens. Maybe he had forgotten his umbrella? If that closing ensemble doesn’t move you, perhaps you need cayenne peppers:
COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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