Tag Archives: Joe Thomas

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS IRA GITLER (March 22, 2019)

Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews.  I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long.  It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.

Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).

Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him.  The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:

Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:

and a brief coda:

More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Sixteen) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Brothers and Sisters, here‘s last week’s prayer meeting, in case any of you were otherwise occupied — at your country retreat or perhaps hiding behind the towels, praying for deliverance.  After fifteen weeks of this series, you wouldn’t need a map to find 326 Spring Street, New York City, but it’s pleasing to the eye:

I take you to the Ear Inn, where the EarRegulars play on Sunday nights — for one of those time-bending moments of THEN and NOW . . . in this case, May 9, 2010, “Mother’s Night,” where the inspired core quartet is Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pat O’Leary, string bass, and Jim Masters, trombone.

For the cinematographers in the JAZZ LIVES audience, I point out that I had purchased a more light-sensitive camera, so we have emerged from the darkness, always a good thing.

From Mothers to Babies, in this case I FOUND A NEW BABY:

IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, so pretty, always makes me think of Joe Thomas, who loved to play and sing it.  The EarRegulars catch the mood.  And the core quartet changes a bit: Chris Flory sits in for Matt, and Dan Block sings out on the alto saxophone:

The quintet stays for PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

The closing performance is LAZY RIVER, by Jon-Erik, Matt, Pat, and Jim:

As my friend, the Listening Woman (the title of a superb short story by Sylvia Townsend Warner) suggests, rapt attentiveness is the one true way, and it will help us get through the days and nights to come.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING IT SOUND EASY: BILLY BUTTERFIELD

The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others.  But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.

Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.

Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.

Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough” (who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.

Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:

And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:

and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:

My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.

And one other piece of beautiful evidence:

How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?

Here is an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.

Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless.  I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted.  Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.

But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session.  I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff.  He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.

And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt.  When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn.  Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.

Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.

Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:

Billy should be more than a half-remembered name.

May your happiness increase!

A MAGICAL SESSION IN JAM: JUNE 27, 1945

 

 

 

In case you can’t read the label, these four sides — two 78 discs — were created by the Don Byas All Stars: Byas, tenor saxophone; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Eddie Safranski, string bass; Denzil Best, drums, in New York City on June 27, 1945, almost seventy-five years ago.

This session has been part of my consciousness for a long time, perhaps going back before 1980.  Don Byas doesn’t get his name written large in those jazz-history-trees I have seen recently, and in the taxonomy of jazz Stars of the tenor saxophone, he’s rarely noticed in the rush to oversimplify: it’s Hawk and Lester and Ben — leaving out Don, Chu Berry, Dick Wilson, Bud Freeman, Gene Sedric, Video Musso, Prince Robinson, George Auld, Herschel Evans, Eddie Miller, Buddy Tate, Robert Carroll, and many others.  But Byas continues to amaze: his lovely expressive ballad playing, his indefatigable work at fast tempos, and his intense swing in general.  He knew his harmonies, and his arpeggios never put a foot wrong.  You might know his early work on a 1938 record date for Victor under the nominal leadership of Timme Rosenkrantz, or his classic opening solo on the 1941 HARVARD BLUES with Basie, but he made perhaps a hundred consistently realized small band sides for small independent labels between 1944-46 before leaving for Europe, where he spent the rest of his life, coming back to New York a few times before his death.

On these four sides, he’s in the company of giants who also rarely get their proper recognition.  Eddie Safranski, then a young bassist in Hal McIntyre’s big band, was at the start of a long career — his last recordings are in 1975 — and he played and recorded with everyone from Stan Kenton to Teresa Brewer.  Denzil DaCosta Best began at the top — his playing career ended in 1962 and he died a few years later, sadly, but he also recorded with everyone from Ben Webster to George Shearing to Erroll Garner to Sheila Jordan.

Johnny Guarnieri is one of the finest pianists and musicians, but he also seems neglected.  An ebullient virtuoso, he was a regular life-enhancer on small-group dates going back to the Benny Goodman Sextet: he could do so many things beautifully that he might not be well-known for his delightful swing.

I left the graceful and astonishingly consistent Buck Clayton for last: his autobiography tells of his long career better than I could (BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD) but I can’t think of an uninspired performance in his forty-plus years of recordings.  I have some late-career trumpet videos I will post, and even when his embouchure was not completely certain and his range was seriously limited, he made lovely melodies out of the fewest notes and he always swung.

As to the recordings themselves: you must discover their marvels on your own, but each is both wonderfully impromptu and a careful orchestral composition on its own, their texts being familiar pop songs from 1930-1, with DEEP PURPLE being the newest theme (a piano solo in 1934, a hit with lyrics in 1939).  I can imagine them discussing tunes, tempos, and approach briefly before making a take.  They knew how many choruses would fit on a side; someone took the lead and someone improvised a countermelody; someone took the bridge; they decided on how to begin and how to end — but the records document a peak of this music, the great meeting of experience, professionalism, and passion.

Walter Donaldson’s ode to candor:

and the lovely violet ballad, so rarely played or sung these days:

The eyes are the windows of the soul, aren’t they?

and a more hopeful ballad, about a sudden magical romantic appearance:

Now, a different perspective on these lovely creations.  I never knew anything about the Jamboree Records issues except that they must have sold well — there’s one label in red and silver, another in red and gold — and used copies continue to be offered for sale.  The label had a short run: three four-song sessions with Byas as leader (one where he is the only horn, this one with Clayton, and a third with Joe Thomas), a Dave Tough-led session (with Thomas and Ted Nash), a Horace Henderson-led date featuring Clayton, Eddie Bert, and two reeds (recorded for Harry Lim’s Keynote label and sold to Jamboree), a trio session recorded in Detroit in 1947 featuring pianist Willie Anderson and one vocal by Kenny Hagood, and finally a 1949 date led by pianist Skip Hall, featuring Clayton, Buddy Tate, Walter Page, with six issued and two unissued sides.

Jazz fans deep into the wonderful music of this period know that small labels with terrible pressings were frequent, owing to the number of brilliant improvisers at large (without recording contracts with major labels) and the end of the first Petrillo record strike or ban . . . think of Regis, Manor, Session, Guild, National, Apollo, Signature, Comet, Hub, and a dozen others.

I’ve been aided in my fragmentary research into Jamboree by Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of The Hot Club of New York, so thanks to him.  The head of Jamboree Records was one Morty Kline, who ran Melody Record Supply and Record Associates on 314 West 52nd Street, although another address has it on Tenth Avenue.

Where Melody Record Supply once stood.

That address allows one of my favorite hypotheses (“favorite” because I find it plausible but lack any specific evidence that it happened).  Did jazz musicians walk into Melody Record Supply, talk to Morty, and walk out with a handshake agreement to cut four sides next Thursday — bring a quintet at 9 AM for scale, or words to that effect?  Had Morty known Byas’s recordings from his Basie days, or from those on Savoy in 1944, or had he been in the audience for the Town Hall concert produced by Timme Rosenkrantz?  Or did Morty walk east after he closed the shop to have a drink on Swing Street and offer some of the musicians on the stand a record date at the bar?  I don’t know if Morty took a hand in the music’s direction (as did people like Harry Lim and Milt Gabler) or if he was simply the businessman-producer.  I suspect that it was an excellent business move for Melody Record Supply to have its own issues to sell: “product,” as we now say. I can’t ask Morty: he died in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1997.  But I can thank him for the commerce that allowed these beautiful minutes of imperishable music to exist and live on.

May your happiness increase!

HEROES WITH FOUNTAIN PENS AND MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

The eBay seller jgautographs continues to delight and astonish.  They (she? he?) have several thousand items for sale as I write this, for auction or at a fixed price, and even if the later items are unusual yet unsigned photographs, what they have to show us is plenty, from Jacquelie Kennedy Onassis’ stationery, a Playbill signed by Arthur Miller (DEATH OF A SALESMAN, of course), Joey Heatherton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Redford, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Frederick Douglass, Stephen Sondheim, and more.  When people signed their name in cursive, and often before ballpoint pens were ubiquitous.

And did I mention they have jazz autographs for sale?  I remarked upon such wonders here and here about ten days ago.  I’ll leave it to you to search the thousands of items, but here are some of very definite jazz interest.  (This time, the seller is not showing the reverse of these signatures, as (s)he did earlier, so there is a slight air of mystery to these offerings.  But someone was hip.)

There must still be thousands of Tommy Dorsey signatures still circulating, but this one’s unusual: did TD sign it for a family friend, or for someone who asked what his middle name was?  I’ve not seen another like it, and the flourishes mark it as authentic.

Coleman Hawkins had gorgeous handwriting, which does not surprise me.  I have no idea if the signature and photograph are contemporaneous, though:

Someone who worked on and off with Hawk, including time in the Fletcher Henderson band and reunions in the 1956-7 period, my hero, Henry “Red” Allen:

and a signature rarely seen, Leon “Chu” Berry — also from the time when musicians not only signed their name but said what instrument they played:

So far, this post has been silent, but it would be cruel to not include the two small-group sides that bring together Hawk, Red, and Chu — under the leadership of Spike Hughes in 1933 (also including Sidney Catlett, Lawrence Lucie, Wayman Carver, Benny Carter, and Dicky Wells — truly all-star!

HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

SWEET SUE, JUST YOU (with a glorious Carver flute chorus):

Back to Chu Berry . . . he was playing in Cab Calloway’s band at the end of his life; in the trombone section was Tyree Glenn, who lived much longer (I saw him with Louis):

A star of that orchestra and a star in his own right, trumpeter Jonah Jones:

Here’s BROADWAY HOLDOVER, originally issued on the Staff label under Milt Hinton’s name, featuring Jonah, Tyree, Al Gibson, Dave Rivera, and J.C. Heard:

Our autograph collector friend also made it to a club where Pete Brown was playing — again, another signature rarely seen:

Pete, Tyree, Hilton Jefferson, Jerry Jerome, and Bernie Leighton join Joe Thomas for one of my favorite records, the Keynote YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

And (exciting for me) our collector made a trip to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, from whence the signatures of Pee Wee Russell and Miff Mole came.  Now, two musicians from the same schools of thought — the short-lived Rod Cless:

and trumpet hero Sterling Bose:

and because they have been so rare, here are the four sides by the Rod Cless Quartet with Bose, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster on the Black and White label — I am told that the Black and White sides will be a Mosaic box set, which is fine news.  Here’s HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? (with verse):

MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

FROGGY MOORE:

and James P., brilliantly, on I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

If I could play clarinet, I would like to sound like Cless.

And a postscript of a personal nature: the auction ended a few minutes ago.  I bid on the Cless, the Pete Brown, the Bose, and on a whim (because I knew it would go for a high price) the Chu Berry.  Chu went for nearly $171; someone beat me by a dollar for Sterling Bose, but my bids — not exorbitant — won the Cless and Pete.  When they come in the mail, I envision a frame with Pee Wee, Rod, and Pete.  It will give me pleasure, and some years from now, it will give someone else pleasure also.

May your happiness increase!

MR. WILBER, THE SAGE

Days gone by: December 1946, Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Glasel, Charlie Trager, Eddie Phyfe. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Robert Sage Wilber, born in 1928, who never played an ugly or graceless note in his life, has left us.  I first heard him on recordings more than fifty years ago, and saw him in person first in 1970 with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  He was a magnificently consistent player — his time, his intonation, his creativity, his vital force, his melodic lyricism — and one of the world’s most versatile.  He didn’t care to be “innovative” in the best modern way, but kept refining his art, the art of Louis and Bechet and Teddy Wilson, every time he played.

People who didn’t quite understand his masteries (the plural is intentional) thought of him as derivative, whatever that means, but even when he was playing SONG OF SONGS in the Bechet manner or WARM VALLEY for the Rabbit, he was recognizably himself: passionate and exact at the same time, a model of how to do it.  And if you appreciate the jazz lineage, a man who performed with Baby Dodds, Tommy Benford, Kaiser Marshall, Joe Thomas, Sidney Catlett, Billy Strayhorn, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Leeman . . . so deeply connected to the past while remaining fiercely active, has moved to another neighborhood.  I send my condolences to his wife, the singer Pug Horton, and his family.

I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Bob — not only as an admiring spectator of Soprano Summit, where he and Kenny Davern were equally matched — but as an admiring jazz journalist and videographer.  He was not worried about what I captured: he was confident in himself and he trusted that the music would carry him.  Here are some glimpses of the Sage in action, in music and in speech.

Rare photographs and music from 1947 here.

A session with David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band (2010) and Daryl Sherman here.

Two parts of an intimate session at Smalls in 2012 with Ehud Asherie and Pug Horton as well here and here.

And a particular prize: a two-part 2015 interview session (thanks to Pug!) here and here.

More than a decade ago, when I began this blog, I worked hard to keep away from the temptations of necrology — my joke is that I didn’t want it to be JAZZ DIES — but if I didn’t write and post something about Robert Sage Wilber, I’d never forgive myself.  We will keep on admiring and missing him as long as there is music.

May your happiness increase!  

FLYING, GLIDING: THE JACOB ZIMMERMAN 3: JACOB ZIMMERMAN, COLE SCHUSTER, MATT WEINER (July 2019)

Some ensembles need many people to make a statement: Jacob Zimmerman, Cole Schuster, and Matt Weiner (reeds, guitar, string bass) create memorable vignettes in a small space: it’s a band that could travel comfortably in a subcompact car.  They have a new CD coming out, and Jacob has posted two selections recorded last month — what ease and grace, what quiet impact.

Jacob wrote of the first selection, LANTERN OF LOVE (a 1925 tune),
A few weeks back my trio that plays Tuesdays at IL Bistro got together to rehearse some of the fancier arrangements I’ve written. I first heard this song on a Roger Wolfe Kahn record. I love the elegance of this melody. I tried to channel the spirit of the Jean Goldkette orchestra and feature Matt Weiner playing his version of Steve Brown style slap and arco bass playing.

and here’s the more familiar THE SONG IS ENDED — a remarkable treatment of a lovely Berlin melody which makes me think of Ruby Braff at the start and then segues into what I think of as 1945 Jamboree Records swing, up on the aesthetic mountaintop in less than four minutes (I kept waiting for Joe Thomas to appear and take the bridge):

I don’t see a trip to Seattle soon (although anything is possible) but I believe I will see Jacob again as part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet at the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza in November, and I certainly look forward to that new CD!

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE WETTLING’S MANY SELVES

Some artists are too big to fit into one designated category or title: drummer George Wettling is one of them, even though his name is left out of many histories of the music, and when he is mentioned, it is as a “Dixieland” musician or one of “Eddie Condon’s barefoot mob,” both designations either condescending or arcane at this remove.  He was one of those players whose energies went to the band, so I think he was often taken for granted — but replace Wettling in any situation with a lesser drummer, and the change is immediately not only heard but felt.  I proudly say that I was listening to Wettling on records in my childhood, and continue to do so with pleasure. Consider this one.  I know it’s difficult to put Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, and Joe Thomas to one side, but listen to Wettling’s drumming: intuitive, thoughtful, joyous, propulsive without being narcissistic:

Here is a post I created ten years ago, with more evidence of Wettling’s flexible, uplifting playing.  And here‘s another — with more video and audio. Wettling was quite the painter — a student and disciple of Stuart Davis — as explained  here, beautifully, by Hank O’Neal, in 2017.

But the occasion for this post is something new and wonderful — a living lesson in what Wettling DID, offered to us by the wonderful musician (and dear friend) Kevin Dorn, whose bright light is always visible in the night sky:

I had the immense good fortune of hearing Kevin swing out last night with a stellar band led by Evan Arntzen at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Evan, Kevin, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mara Kaye, Harvey Tibbs, Rossano Sportiello, Adam Brisbin, Tal Ronen) and in the best Wettling tradition, he sounded like himself without having to try hard to do so.

May your happiness increase!

“SUPERSTRIDE: JOHNNY GUARNIERI” by Derek Coller (Jazzology Press)

I know it’s not true of other art worlds (say, literature and painting) where a proliferation of deities is not only allowed but encouraged, but jazz seems to want a very small number of Stars.  Singers? Billie and Ella.  Trumpet players?  Miles and Louis.  Saxophonists?  Trane and Bird.  And so on.  This reductionist tendency makes me sigh, especially when it comes to pianists, because there are so many more to celebrate than (let us say) Fats, Monk, Tatum.  You don’t want to get me started, from Clarence Profit to Sam Nowlin to Alex Hill to Frank Melrose to Nat Jaffee, and so on up to the present day.

Someone who deserves more attention is the expert and rollicking Johnny Guarnieri, whose recording and performance career covers forty-five years, from 1939 to 1984.  When I think of Johnny, I think of irresistible swing, lightness of touch, beautifully perceptive ensemble playing, amazing technique both in and out of the stride idiom, and (perhaps not an asset) stunning mimicry of any pianist or style you’d want.  I heard him live once, at Newport in New York, and even given the hall’s terrible acoustics and amplification, he was dazzling: it was clear why Eubie Blake called Johnny the greatest pianist he had heard.

And on any Guarnieri recording — with Goodman, Lester, the Keynote aggregations, Ziggy Elman, Artie Shaw, both the big band and the Gramercy Five, Cootie Williams, Ben, Hawk, Rex Steart, Benny Morton, Louis, Lips, Bobby, Don Byas, Slam Stewart, Red Allen, Ruby Braff, Joe Venuti, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Stephane Grappelly, solos and small bands on his own — he is instantly recognizable and enlivening: he turns on the light switch in a dim room.

Yes, he sounds like Fats in the opening chorus of SHOULD I — but his comping behind the soloists is immaculate, displaying a strong terse simplicity, propelling Joe Thomas and Don Byas along.  If you have him in your band, it’s a given that the performance will swing.

Guarnieri’s life and music are documented beautifully (typically so) in a new book — an  bio-discography, SUPERSTRIDE (Jazzology Press) by the fine writer and careful researcher Derek Coller.  The compact book — around 260 pages — is full of new information, first-hand reminiscence, splendid source materials including photographs.  Best, not only is it a satisfying five-course dinner of fact and information, but it presents Guarnieri as one of those undramatic people who behaved well to others, was a professional, and didn’t demand attention to himself through narcissism or self-destructive tendencies.  He comes off as someone I regret not meeting, generous, gracious, an old-fashioned gentleman and craftsman.  (Read the story of his generosity to then unknown actor Jack Lemmon, who was himself quite a pianist; read the recollections of Johnny’s “boys,” who learned from him.)  He had one vice: he smoked a pipe; one physical problem, seriously poor eyesight, which kept him out of the military during the war.

Because Johnny led a quiet life, his biography is more brief than the record of high dramas and crises other musicians present.  Coller’s chronological overview is detailed although not overly so, and it moves very quickly for just over a hundred pages.  I remember saying to myself, “Wait!  We’re in 1947 already?”  But the speed and the lightness of the narrative — Coller is an old-fashioned plain writer who wants the light to shine on his subject, not on his linguistic capers — make it delightful and a quiet reproach to other writers whose ego is the true subject.  The book slows down a bit, a pleasant change, when we get to the longtime residency Johnny had at the Tail of the Cock in Los Angeles, but it is much more a narrative of a professional taking whatever jobs came his way rather than psychobiography or pathobiography.  I’ve left out the fascinating exploration into his family — both his father and mother and the information his daughter provides — and his interest in playing, with such elan, in 5/4.

Also . . . there are pages of musical analysis of Johnny’s style by someone who knows how the piano can be played, Dick Hyman; reminiscences and reviews by musicians and journalists; a very thorough discography and a listing of Johnny’s compositions . . . and more, including fascinating photographs and newspaper clippings.

The book is to the point, as was its subject, and in its own way, it swings along superbly.  Anyone who’s thrilled to the playful brilliance of a Guarnieri chorus will enjoy it.  And it sends us back to the recordings, a lovely side-effect.  Here’s a later solo performance, so tender:

The Jazzology website is slightly out of date, but I am sure that the book can be purchased directly from them, and it is worth the extra effort to have a copy.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET LESSONS IN MELODIC EMBELLISHMENT (1946)

I woke up yesterday morning with the melody of SHE DIDN’T SAY YES in my head — as performed in 1946 by Joe Thomas and his Orchestra for Keynote Records — and that performance insisted that I share it and write a few words in its honor.  The song comes from the 1931 Jerome Kern – Otto Harbach musical comedy THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE, and it is limited in its ambitions (words and music) but it is also irresistible.  The steplike melody is difficult to get rid of once one hears it, and the coy naughtiness of the lyric — raising the question of being “bad” when badness seems so delightful, but tossing the moral question back at the listener — combine in a kind of musical miniature cupcake.

Here is a video clip from the 1934 film version of the play — Jeanette MacDonald, looking lovely, sings SHE DIDN’T after a large clump of cinematic foolishness, including post-Code dancing, has concluded. (My contemporary perspective makes this scene slightly painful to watch, as Jeanette is bullied by the crowd into declaring a love that she seems to feel only in part.)

The song was recorded a number of times in the early Thirties (by Leo Reisman and Chick Bullock, among others) but may have surfaced again with the 1946 film biography of Kern, who had died suddenly the year before, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY.  However, since its performance in the film by the Wilde Twins goes by quickly, I think other reasons may have led to its being chosen for this Keynote Records date.  Did Harry Lim hear something in its melody — those repeated notes that Alec Wilder deplored — or did Joe Thomas like to play it?  We’ll never know, but it is a recording both memorable and forgotten.

The band was “Joe Thomas And His Orchestra,” itself a rare occurrence.  Lim had used Joe on many sessions for Keynote (the Forties were a particular period of prominence on records for him, thankfully — where he recorded alongside Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Roy Eldridge, Don Byas, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Ed Hall, Barney Bigard, and other luminaries).  The band was  Joe Thomas, trumpet; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophone; Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophone; Bernie Leighton, piano; Hy White, guitar; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Lee Abrams, drums, and it was done in New York on August 16, 1946.  I don’t know who did the backgrounds and introduction, but the recording is a small marvel of originalities.  I listen first for the soloists and their distinctive sounds and then consider the performance as an example of what one could do with texture and small orchestral touches with only an octet.

I first heard this record coming out of my radio speaker when Ed Beach did a show devoted to Joe Thomas — perhaps in 1969 — and then I got to see Joe both on the stage of Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls (with Benny Carter and Eddie Condon, consider that!) and at much closer range in 1972-74, thanks to the kindness of my dear Mike Burgevin.

I don’t want to subject this recording to chorus-by-chorus explication, but I would ask listeners to hear the individual sounds and tones these players had: Joe, Tyree, Hilton, Jerry — each man singing his own distinctively recognizable song — and the perky unflagging rhythm section, with Leighton beautifully doing Basie-Wilson-Guarnieri, and the lovely support of Billy Taylor, Sr., who had kept the Ellington band swinging.

“We had faces then!” to borrow from SUNSET BOULEVARD.

I keep coming back to the gleaming warm sound of Joe Thomas — in the first chorus, outlining the melody as if nothing in the world were more important; in the closing chorus, flavoring and shading it as only he could.  And the rest of the band.  As a friend said to me recently, “They were pros.  They really knew how to do it.”  And bless Harry Lim: without him, we would know such things happened but they would now be silent and legendary rather than tangible and glowing.

This music says YES, no hesitation.

May your happiness increase!

“THE SAVORY COLLECTION 1935-1940” (Mosaic Records MD6-266, 6 discs)

Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.

Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.”  And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.

You can learn more and hear something Savory here.

This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them.  In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible.  Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.

A Savory Disc

I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.

Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.”  Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience.  Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on.  Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.

Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome.  And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.

On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring.  Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down.  Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set).  I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.

I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time.  (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.)  And the rhythm section!  Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations.  Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.

And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc.  The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large.  I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.

The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.

To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized:  Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide.  Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly.  And I am sure I’ve left someone out.

These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.

I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can.  But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music.  When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons.  Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect.  Check the Mosaic discography.

I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.

Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser.  And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat.  I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat.  Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets.  Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months.  You’ve been warned.

And, by the way, visit here.

Loren’s thank-you note!

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.

The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.

And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN”: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY BROWN, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 14, 2017)

In his seriously masterful AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder was unkind to “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN,” calling it “nostalgic,” but adding that “its melody simply isn’t that good.”  Songs have feelings, too, and I disagree.  I’ve never been jilted at the altar (or a week before) but I always find the song touching and it works well as a ballad or in medium tempo.  In my mind’s ear I hear Joe Thomas playing and singing it, getting particularly impassioned in the last eight bars.  I wish he’d recorded a long vocal version.  And that Louis had done so also.

First, the song as a new pop hit, performed by the marvelously emotive Connie Boswell (sweet and then swung gently):

Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson, 1933:

and with Sir Charles Thompson, 1945:

and from this century — September 14, 2017 — at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, a version nicely balancing melancholy and swing, by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet.  Keynote / Vanguard style, with split choruses, easy rocking lyricism, climbing to the stars:

May your happiness increase!

“DIASPORA”: MICHAEL McQUAID, ANDREW OLIVER, NICHOLAS D. BALL

A few nights ago, I was sitting in my apartment, entertaining friends (one of them the fine guitarist Larry Scala) and I was playing 78s for them.  After a particularly delightful performance, which may have been the Keynote I WANT TO BE HAPPY with Roy, Emmett Berry, and Joe Thomas, or 46 WEST 52 with Chu Berry, Roy, and Sidney Catlett, I turned to them and quietly said, “Music like this is why some bands that everyone else goes wild about do not appeal to me.  I’ve been spoiled by the best.”

But there are glorious exceptions to my assessment of the present.  One of the shining musicians of this century is  Michael McQuaid — heard on a variety of reeds and cornet, even possibly breaking in to song when it seems right.  I first heard him live in 2010 and admired him powerfully, and although our paths don’t cross often (we meet every few years, not only in Newcastle but also in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and in New York City) he remains a model to me of what can be created within and without those venerable musics.  (Full disclosure: he quotes from JAZZ LIVES on his blog, but I simply take that as evidence of his good taste in literature.)

Michael, informally

If you’d like to read a brief biography of Michael, you can do just that here, but I will offer three salient facts: he is Australian by birth; he has been playing professionally for twenty years even though he is a mere 35; he and the lovely Ms. Anna Lyttle will take up residence in London in November 2017.

Michael, feeling the spirit

His newest CD, DIASPORA, is an exceptional pleasure.  It’s a trio CD — Michael’s first as a leader in this format — where he is nobly paired with pianist Andrew Oliver and percussionist Nicholas D. Ball.  When you click on the title above, you can hear selections from the disc, and if so moved, then purchase it from Bandcamp or CDBaby.

But enough commerce.  I’ve found it daunting to review this CD in a hurry, not, I assure you, because I had to dig for adjectives, but because each performance — none of them longer than a 12″ 78 — is so dense with sensation, feeling, and music, that I feel gloriously full and satisfied after each track.  I couldn’t compel myself to listen to this disc, stuffing in track after track at one sitting: too much glorious stuff was going on.  So I promise you that it will not only appeal at the first listening but for many more to come.  Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. are strong personalities but willing to merge their egos into a band, which in itself is a deep reward for us.

The music here is nicely contradictory: comforting but full of surprises, aesthetically familiar but never rote.  “Clarinet, piano, and traps,” as they would have written in 1928, lends itself to all sorts of formulae: the Goodman / Dodds / Noone “tribute” album.  Or, more loosely, “Chicago jazz.”  DIASPORA, it is true, nods affectionately to early Benny, Wingy, Leon, the Halfway House boys, Fats, Bud Jacobsen, Charles LaVere, and others, but it is not a series of copies: it’s as if Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. have made themselves so familiar with the individual songs and the idioms they came from that they are at ease and can thus speak for themselves.  There is so much shining energy in their playing: nothing seems forced or tense.  And although this would be marketed as “hot jazz,” some of the finest moments in this recital are sweet, rueful, tender: Fats’ CHELSEA, for one.

I asked Michael for his thoughts about the CD, especially because there are no liner notes, and he told me that he wanted to let the music speak for itself, and that DIASPORA has been on his mind for some time: “I wanted to do a project featuring my OWN playing rather than a larger group with a more democratic purpose. I also wanted to record in a very good studio, because I think the clarinet is rarely recorded well . . . it’s just me and my Albert system clarinet! And my colleagues, of course.”  [Note from Michael: the recorded sound is superbly natural.]

The songs Michael chose are admiring homages to various clarinetists without imitating them.  “For instance, ‘Do Something’ was imagined as a hypothetical Don Murray/Arthur Schutt/Vic Berton collaboration; ‘Tiger Rag’ asks ‘what if Rappolo and Jelly Roll made a trio side?’.”

I’d asked Michael about his original compositions.  “‘Black Spur’ takes its name from a treacherous mountain road to the north east of Melbourne, while ‘Diaspora’ is a Beguine/Jazz mix, paying tribute to the musical styles (and peoples) scattered widely throughout the world by the time of the 1920s/30s.  Of course, there’s a link there to the album title as well; an Australian, playing music of American origin (broadly speaking) with an American and a Briton, recorded and mixed in London and mastered in Helsinki!”

I hope all my readers take the opportunity to hear DIASPORA: it’s music that travels well.

May your happiness increase!

MR. CARNEY TAKES A HOLIDAY OR THREE

Regally, Harry Carney played baritone saxophone and other reeds in the Duke Ellington Orchestra from his adolescence to his death, a record of loyalty I think unmatched, even by Freddie Green with Basie.  But even he could be wooed into other people’s record sessions now and again. An early and glorious appearance is on this 1936 Teddy Wilson date, where he sounds positively limber on WHY DO I LIE TO MYSELF ABOUT YOU?

On this side, Billie Holiday sat out, or went home, but the instrumental performance of June 30, 1036, is priceless: Jonah Jones, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Teddy Wilson, Lawrence Lucie, John Kirby, Cozy Cole.

On this Edmond Hall session, Carney majestically states the melody of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at the blissfully romantic tempo I think is ideal for the song:

The date is from May 5, 1944.  An anecdote I cannot verify is that Hall wanted Tricky Sam Nanton to play trombone but that Nanton’s loyalty to Ellington so strong that he would not.  This record is an astonishing combination of timbres nonetheless, with Alvin “Junior” Raglin aboard as well.  And Sidney Catlett, for whom no praise is too much.

Finally (although I could offer many other examples) one of  Harry Lim’s wonderful ideas for Keynote Records — he also created a trumpet choir of Roy Eldridge, Emmett Berry, and Joe Thomas; a trombone one of Benny Morton, Vic Dickenson, Claude Jones, and Bill Harris — this extravaganza of sounds with Carney, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Johnny Guarnieri, Al Lucas, Sidney Catlett, recorded on May 24, 1944.  Whether it was the tempo or the imposing members of the sax ensemble, Carney seems ever so slightly to lumber, like a massive bear trying to break into a lope, but his huge sound carries the day.  Tab Smith arranged for the date, and on this side he gives himself ample space: he sounds so much like our Michael Hashim here!

The inspiration for this blogpost — did I need a nudge to celebrate Harry Carney?– was, not surprisingly, an autographed record jacket spotted on eBay:

Wouldn’t it be so rewarding in whatever our line of work might be to be so reliable and sought-after as Harry Carney was to Ellington and everyone else?

May your happiness increase!

MISS LIL, FOREMOTHER

I like the universe I was born into, but I imagine alternate ones all the time — the debt I owe to my Big Sister, who introduced me to Golden Age science fiction in my late childhood.  So I imagine one where this woman — pianist, singer, composer, bandleader, natural leader, innovator — was a star of the magnitude she deserved.

Lillian Hardin

Lillian Hardin is ill-served as being perceived primarily as just “the second wife of Louis Armstrong.”  My admiration and love for Louis is beyond the normal measuring tools, but Lil is someone and would have been someone if she’d never devoted her energies to that chubby young man from the South for a decade or so.  She herself didn’t have a substantial ego, which may have accounted for her somewhat shadowy presence in jazz history.  How she would have been celebrated had she not been female is something to consider.

You could ask one of the heroes of this music, Chris Albertson, about Lil, for sure. Here — on Chris’ STOMP OFF blog — is a trove of information, all enlivened by his love for Miss Lil.  (His memories of Lil — including a three-part audio interview — are treasures.)

Rather than write about her in ways admiring or polemical or both, I offer a banquet of her Swing Era Decca recordings, which — I know it’s heresy — stand up next to the Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and Henry “Red” Allen small groups of the period for swing, charm, melodic inventiveness, and fun.  On these discs, I know our ears go automatically to the horn soloists — but imagine them with a flat rhythm section and inferior tunes.  Lil’s exuberance makes these recordings much more memorable.  Although none of her original compositions had much longevity except for JUST FOR A THRILL, sixteen of the twenty-six are hers, and I’d guess the effective arrangements are hers as well.

Underneath the picture on the YouTube posting are all the titles: further details here: Lillian Armstrong And Her Swing Band : Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) Huey Long (g) John Frazier (b) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  Chicago, Oct. 27, 1936.  OR LEAVE ME ALONE / MY HI-DE-HO MAN / BROWN GAL / DOIN’ THE SUZIE-Q / JUST FOR A THRILL / IT’S MURDER /

Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Robert Carroll (ts) James Sherman (p) Arnold Adams (g) Wellman Braud (b) George Foster (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, April 15, 1937: BORN TO SWING / I’M ON A SIT-DOWN STRIKE FOR RHYTHM / BLUER THAN BLUE / I’M KNOCKIN’ AT THE CABIN DOOR /

Shirley Clay (tp) replaces Joe Thomas, Prince Robinson (ts) replaces Robert Carroll, Manzie Johnson (d) replaces George Foster.  New York, July 23, 1937:
LINDY HOP / WHEN I WENT BACK HOME / LET’S CALL IT LOVE / YOU MEAN SO MUCH TO ME /

Ralph Muzzillo, Johnny McGhee (tp) Al Philburn (tb) Tony Zimmers (cl) Frank Froeba (p) Dave Barbour (g) Haig Stephens (b) Sam Weiss (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, Feb. 2, 1938: LET’S GET HAPPY TOGETHER / HAPPY TODAY, SAD TOMORROW / YOU SHALL REAP WHAT YOU SOW / ORIENTAL SWING /

Reunald Jones (tp) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) O’Neil Spencer (d).  September 9, 1938: SAFELY LOCKED UP IN MY HEART / EVERYTHING’S WRONG, AIN’T NOTHING RIGHT / HARLEM ON SATURDAY NIGHT / KNOCK-KNEED SAL (is the unidentified male voice on the last track Clarence Williams?) /

Jonah Jones (tp) Don Stovall (as) Russell Johns (ts) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) Manzie Johnson (d) Midge Williams, Hilda Rogers (vcl).
New York, March 18, 1940: SIXTH STREET / RIFFIN’ THE BLUES / WHY IS A GOOD MAN SO HARD TO FIND? / MY SECRET FLAME /

I salute Lillian Hardin as a joyous Foremother.  Her virtues should be celebrated on many other days of the year.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS FIFTY-SECOND STREET, SIDNEY BECHET, DICK WELLSTOOD, KENNY DAVERN, ALONZO LEVISTER, KANSAS FIELDS, and MORE (April 21, 2017)

Here is another unique interlude generously offered to us by Dan Morgenstern. I’ve posted earlier segments here and here — with immense pleasure.

In pursuit of the fine surprising stories that have delighted us so, I’d asked Dan to recall his experiences on Fifty-Second Street, slightly after that street’s legendary height . . . and here’s what he recalled, with portraits of Sidney Bechet, Alonzo Levister, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood among others.

I will have the mental-emotional image of a set-long Bechet / Dickenson blues forever.  And since Dan was close to both Kenny and Dick, here’s a wonderful performance, little-known, recorded by the very gracious Joe Shepherd at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978. I WANT TO BE HAPPY, with Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Spiegel Willcox, Spencer Clark, Dick Wellstood, Marty Grosz, Van Perry, Tony Di Nicola.

The video quality is a little fuzzy, but the music is memorable and more.  And thank you, Dan, for insights and generosities.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS BIG SID CATLETT and JOE THOMAS (April 21, 2017)

I’m thrilled that I could visit Dan Morgenstern again at his apartment and we could talk and create something permanent that people could enjoy and learn from.  The first session took place on March 3, 2017, and the results are here.

About six weeks later, we got together again so that Dan, an enchanting storyteller whose stories have the virtue of being true, could share his love for his and our heroes.

The first segments we did that April afternoon were tributes to mutual deities, Sidney Catlett and Joe Thomas.  First, Big Sid:

and then the lyrical, melodic trumpeter Joe:

with a sweet postscript:

Here are Joe, Big Sid, Teddy Wilson, and Ed Hall on a 1943 V-Disc session:

and the Keynote Records side Dan refers to, with Joe, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Trummy Young, Earl Hines, Teddy Walters, and Billy Taylor:

and Louis’ Decca WOLVERINE BLUES with Big Sid:

There’s much more to come.

May your happiness increase!

SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE IN WHISPERS: “BON BON,” JOE THOMAS, EDDIE DURHAM, and BUSTER SMITH, 1941

Sometimes great art flourishes in corners where it is not at all expected even to survive.

George “Bon Bon” Tunnell (1912-1975) was an engaging singer — yet not well-remembered.  He was first a member of The Three Keys, and from 1937-42, he was the first African-American male singer to appear with a Caucasian band: Jan Savitt and his Top Hatters.  Incidentally, he was heavily featured with the band — and — one of the trombonists there was Cutty Cutshall (1939-40) something that would interest Condon scholars like myself.

The two sides below come from Bon Bon’s early solo career — four sides from this date, two the next year (where Decca seems to have wanted him to be an African-American Bing, or at least a Chick Bullock or Dick Robertson) and then some solo features with Steve Gibson’s Red Caps.  But with no disrespect to Bon Bon’s very nice singing, the two sides offer a rare combination — two musicians who, at this point in the Swing Era, did not receive all the opportunities to record their talents warranted.

They are guitarist / trombonist / arranger Eddie Durham, whose guitar sound is instantly recognizable — swinging but with sharp corners — and trumpeter Joe Thomas, also instantly recognizable and inimitable.  The second song, I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, is also Durham’s — although there are three other names on the label.  And, on clarinet, the”Prof” of deep Kansas City jazz, Buster Smith.   New York City, July 23, 1941: Tunnell, Joe Thomas, Eddie Durham, Buster Smith, Jackie Fields, alto saxophone; Jimmy Phipps, piano; Al Hall, string bass; Jack Parker, drums.  The other two sides — which you’d have to track down on your own (they are on the THREE KEYS CD on the Chronological Classics label) are BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, and Fats Waller’s ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES.

SWEET MAMA  (from 1920, I believe, and recorded by the ODJB) has lyrics that suggest domestic abuse and a real need for anger management, but the band is splendid.  But first we hear Durham’s spiky arpeggios, a very dark and threatening orchestral passage featuring growl from Thomas (not his usual approach) and leafy clarinet from Smith — a passage reminiscent of Durham’s approach to GOOD MORNING BLUES for Basie.  I find Bon Bon hilariously sweetly unconvincing in his gentle singing: this man couldn’t do damage to a sandwich, but we will let that pass.  (When he returns for his second vocal, he wants to convince us: “Papa’s really gone mad,” but his heart isn’t in it.  Too kind to make anyone cower.)

The half-chorus Thomas solo that follows is quietly magnificent: even through his mute, the steady glow of his tone comes through, as does his fondness for repeated notes, his love of 1927 Louis; his stately glide.  Where other trumpeters shout, Thomas caresses, and his solo winds down rather than moving out of the middle register.  It is equally affecting for what he doesn’t care to do — remember, 1941 was the age of great brass virtuosity — as for what he does. Thomas whispers sweet epigrams to us, and their impact is only felt on the third or fourth hearing.  I’d also call your attention to the strong but not overdone rhythm that Hall and Durham offer, as well as Smith’s sweet commentaries.  Bon Bon returns to assure us of his menace, but no one would be all that scared of “the fine undertaker,” which seems like a Waller touch.

The more famous song, justly, begins with an orchestral introduction that borrows quietly from THE MOOCHE, and we then move to a love song — where Bon Bon sounds more comfortable.  Durham’s arpeggios threaten to take our attention away: he’s not aiming to copy Charlie Christian’s smoothness, but he makes a deep impression.  Eddie is much more prominent here — it was his song and I wonder if he’d brought a small-band chart to the session. Then, less than half a minute of Thomas, but his sound, even muted, is like sunshine coming through the windows in late afternoon.  His gentle intensity; his love of the melody — and that upwards arpeggio in the middle is purest Joe (and purest Louis, if you need to find an ancestor) — quite touching.  When the band and Bon Bon return, the blending is completely polished and fetching.

(Joe gets three more extroverted outings on BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, which he executes nicely, and Bon Bon scats in the best almost-Leo-Watson manner.  ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES bounces along pleasantly, but once again Bon Bon must pretend to menace — “I’m fit to fight” — which is sweetly unconvincing.  Durham is delightfully in evidence and the other horns show their individual voices — but the two sides here are, to me, the standouts. Tunnell’s final side for Decca, before the recording ban, SLEEPY OLD TOWN, could pass for Bing, and it is delightful — with Russ Solomon doing a commendable Bobby Hackett.  But it’s no longer on YouTube.)

And just because it exists on eBay, a little more Bon Bon memorabilia — a signed contract, with amendments.

and the reverse:

I haven’t analyzed the contract.  Perhaps Laura Windley, our swing star and lawyer, might have something to say about it.  Until then, I will cherish those two Decca sides, full of instrumental surprises and engaging singing.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part Three: March 3, 2017)

Dan Morgenstern is a remarkable person, lively and kind, and would be so if he had been a veterinarian with only a passing interest in music.  But even better for us: he hung out with [and wrote about] some of the greatest artists we know and still revere.  I continue to feel immensely fortunate that I could visit him, and that he so generously shared some candid loving stories of people who many of us know only as a photograph or a sound emerging from a speaker.

For those of you who have been otherwise occupied, and I understand, I have posted videos where Dan speaks of Tommy Benford, Frank Newton, Al Hall, Mary Lou Williams and her friends, Donald Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Nat Lorber, Buddy Tate, Gene Ramey, Lester Young (twice for Pres).

But before you leap in, a small caveat.  Dan is soft-spoken, and my few comments from behind the camera are louder.  Friends have pointed this out, and I have been penitent, citing inexperience rather than ego and I will balance the audio better on our future encounters.  The first five videos are here.

More friends and heroes.  Eddie Condon (and I had to say a few things, given my reverence for Eddie):

Buster Bailey, Stanley Dance, Coleman Hawkins, cameos by Milt Jackson, Roy Eldridge, Joe Thomas, John S. Wilson, Billy Kyle, Louis, and Dan’s thoughts on writing about artists:

More about Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, with comments about Sir Charles Thompson, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker as well:

Notice in the second interview that Dan took an unpaid gig because “it will be good for the musicians.”  And I am touched by Coleman Hawkins’ generosities (acceptance in to the tribe) to Dan — which Dan has repaid us ten thousandfold.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part One: March 3, 2017)

On Friday, March 3, 2017, I had the immense honor of visiting Dan Morgenstern at his home on the Upper West Side of New York City.  I brought my video camera.  Dan and I sat in his living room and he graciously talked about the wonderful people he has encountered.  I am writing this simply, without adjectives, because I truly don’t know how to convey the pleasure of being able to ask this delightful man questions about his friends and heroes.  Our heroes, too.

Dan offered telling portraits of Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, Tony Fruscella, Brew Moore, Lee Wiley, Donald Lambert, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Dick Wilson,Olivia de Havilland, Andy Kirk, Ben Webster, Curly Howard, Bud Powell, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Rushing, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Joe Thomas, Jimmy Rowles, Buster Bailey, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, and more.

My premise, which Dan had approved of, was that I would ask him about people, “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” in the DOWN BEAT phrase, who didn’t get the attention they deserve.  I thought it best to speak of musicians who have moved on, because if the conversation was about the living (who are also deserving of recognition!) someone’s feelings might be hurt by being left out.

We spent more than four hours together, and the cliche that the “time just flew” is appropriate.  I recorded twelve segments, and present the first three here. Look for the others soon.  If you’ve never heard or seen Dan in person, you will soon delight in his enthusiasm, wit, sharp recollection of details — the kind of telling details that a novelist would envy — and graciousness.  And he was seriously pleased to be able to tell true first-hand stories to you — this audience of people who know who Hot Lips Page is.

and!

and!

We have another afternoon session planned, with a list of  people we did not talk about the first time.  As I say, I have kept my language restrained for fear of gushing, but we are blessed to have such a generous wise unaffected fellow in our midst.  Of course he has great material to share with us, but he is a magnificent storyteller.  And for those who savor such details: Dan is 87.  Amazing, no?

May your happiness increase!

“LAUGH MY WEARY BLUES AWAY: ST. LOUIS JAZZ OF THE 20’S”: THE SIDNEY STREET SHAKERS

This one’s a keeper.

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Before you ask, “Who are they and if they’re any good, why haven’t I heard of them?” please listen to their version of BLUE GRASS BLUES:

Now, that’s seriously interesting to me because it sounds genuine — it’s not 1925 heard through the perspective of 2017 (no one inserts a favorite Real Book lick in where it doesn’t belong).

St. Louis jazz is not the subject of too much historical analysis: the attentive among us know about Charlie Creath and Clark Terry, Joe Thomas, Dewey Jackson, Trumbauer’s orchestra with Bix and Pee Wee, even the upstart son of Doctor Davis the affluent dentist. I knew the Mound City Blue Blowers, Gene Rodemich, the Arcadian Serenaders, and the Missourians, but I’d never heard of the Searcy Trio, Powell’s Jazz Monarchs, or Harry’s Happy Four.

Here’s a “live one,” wordplay intentional:

The players on this 2016 CD are TJ Miller, trumpet, comb, vocal; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, C-melody saxophone; Kellie Everett, bass saxophone, tenor saxophone, kazoo; Jacob Alspach, trombone, tenor banjo, vocal; Kyle Butz, trombone; Joe Park, plectrum banjo, guitar; Mary Ann Schulte, piano; Ryan Koenig, washboard, percussion, vocal; Matt Meyer, drums; Joey Glynn, upright bass.  Our friend Mike Davis brings his cornet for A LITTLE BIT BAD.

Because the repertoire chosen by the SSS is often so obscure, it feels new.  So it’s almost like discovering a new hot band playing authentic music that hasn’t had the shine rubbed off of it through overexposure.  (JAZZ LIVES readers can compile their own — silent — list of famous although overplayed songs.)  OZARK MOUNTAIN BLUES / THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS / SOAP SUDS / BLUE GRASS BLUES / RED HOT! / MARKET STREET STOMP / GO WON TO TOWN / SWINGING THE SWING / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / A LITTLE BIT BAD / AH! AH! ARCHIE / EAST ST. LOUIS STOMP / YOU AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ I WANT / HOT STUFF / LAUGHING BLUES.  (I consider myself knowledgeable about this period, but only a third of the titles immediately came to mind with connections to a particular band or recording.)

And it should be obvious that there’s beautiful energized hot music on this disc, the product of deep loving study to create artistic authenticity.  This band has the Twenties in their bones, and no one — out of force of habit — brings a favorite Lee Morgan lick to a solo on a 1926 piece.  Their playing feels real: no Dorothy Provine here, and the hot numbers romp and frolic, but without any over-respectful museum dustiness.  I also note the total lack of condescension — some bands, when they go back before Basie or Bird, let a little hauteur be heard and felt in their work, as if saying, “Gee, these old guys were so primitive: no one would play with that vibrato today, but I will do it for this date” — not so the Shakers.

You should enjoy this one for yourself.  The band’s Facebook page is here; the site for Big Muddy Records is here; you can download the session here.

You can fly to St. Louis very easily, but you can’t always visit the Twenties on your own: the Shakers are excellent tour guides.

May your happiness increase!

“SOUNDS LIKE”

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If we would generally agree that jazz is an art form where individuality is prized, why is so much praise expressed in terms of one musician’s likeness to a more famous one?  Or, a living musician to a dead one?

When one is new to a certain art, like jazz, one instinctively gravitates to certain sounds, certain personalities, as those sensations offer great pleasure.  Early in one’s aesthetic / critical development, one might assess each new experience by how closely it comes to the great ideal, the source of pleasure. Years ago, deeply in thrall to Louis (this hasn’t stopped) I remember listening to a particular Buck Clayton or Joe Thomas solo among other enthusiasts, and we would shout or cheer when Buck or Joe was most Louis-like.  As a youthful pastime in private, it harmed no one.  But as a formalized kind of appreciation and analysis, it would have serious, even damaging limitations.

When this impulse emerges into public speech or prose, it’s most often attached to the phrase “sound[ing] like.”  Not long ago, I posted a video featuring a young brass player, not well known but superb.  And the response to her was strongly positive.  But more than one jazz fan and musician wrote, “Wow! She sounds just like [insert Famous Name here]!”

I understand that unsophisticated but sincere reaction.  Famous Name always made me  happy; New Person makes me happy, too.  But I wonder if the praisers are able to hear the New Person at all, or only the memory of the pleasure brought by Famous Name.

I can imagine the thoughts passing through the head of an artist who has been thus praised, “Gee, don’t you love ME at all?”  — as if improvisers were impressionists who had spent decades perfecting their Jimmy Stewart.

Another anecdote: a friend of mine has made a deep study of certain New Orleans instrumental styles that not everyone is familiar with.  She could explain chapter and verse the origins of her style, its antecedents, its heroic figures.  But she’s been on gigs where other musicians, assuming that her style was a matter of ignorance, not choice, have asked her, “Excuse me, have you ever heard of [another Famous Name}?  You really ought to listen to Famous Name?”  That takes aesthetic oppression to new heights: “You play in a way I don’t quite like.  If you knew better, you would play differently.”

Over such offenses we draw the veil.

When I was young and socially raw, I believed that the highest praise one could give a living musician was by comparing him to the dead.  Yes, I know, phrased that way, it sounds deeply foolish, but how many liner notes and CD reviews and Facebook postings do just this?  In my defense, I was sincere, assuming that everyone felt as I did.  If I told a trumpeter, “You really sounded like Frank Newton on that blues,” it was the greatest compliment.  [To jump ahead, I now say, “That blues was really moving,” and that’s it.]

I’ve even heard the wonderfully silly extension of that, “You must have been thinking about Mouse Randolph in that last chorus,” which, translated, says, “Your playing made me think of something I heard Mouse Randolph create on a record.  You and I must have been thinking of the same thing.”  Musicians have practiced their best vacant polite smiles in the face of such adoration.

Now, when I assess an artist’s work in print, I work to avoid the simple and ultimately demeaning equation: X’s ballad chorus on DANNY BOY sounds just like Ben Webster . . . because I really should be praising the individual for herself.  If your stated goal is to sound exactly like Ben or Billie, then the rules change.  But how many artists strive to be exact copies?

Moreover.

We have no problem going to a new restaurant, ordering, and sinking into a happy swoon, mumbling through food, “My goodness.  Doesn’t this fennel salad remind you of the wonderful one we had at that little taverna years ago?” and we know we are not only eating today’s fennel but the emotional memory of an experience.  But the fennel salad, as far as I can tell, is long past finding such comparisons demeaning.

Imagine, though, that one meets a new Love and falls into a first entrancing embrace.  Consider the effect of saying, “Oh, my God — you kiss just like the _____ I was in love with in eleventh grade!”  Such an utterance would seriously impede the flow of future kisses.

I think of Barbara Lea’s wry salty wise comment in the liner notes for the Dick Sudhalter / Connie Jones recordings, “If you want to talk about Sounding Like, you’re on your own.”  And I take that second clause as a polite way of stating, “Don’t do it here, please.”

Jazz cherishes and celebrates the individual.  Let us not lose the individual in our eagerness to place wreaths on the statues of the Great Ones.

May your happiness increase!