Tag Archives: John Clark

“PEOPLE SEEMED TO LIKE IT”: A VISIT TO MRS. CHRISTIAN (Chicago, April 25, 1961)

“You have an awful good voice,” Johnny St. Cyr told Mrs. Christian, “Why don’t you do something with that voice?”

Mrs. Christian said, “Why don’t you help me do something with it?” and Johnny replied, “Well, I will.  I’ll see what I can do.”

And here’s what happened:

A few days ago, the fine reedman John Clark of the Wolverine Jazz Band sent me an information-present that I will share with you.

Eight years ago, I published a post about Lillie Delk Christian, who recorded sixteen sides with the finest musicians on the planet (Armstrong, Hines, Noone), and then seemed to vanish — here.  I was asking questions, and my friend, scholar-drummer Hal Smith, provided answers; four days later I had more answers and photographs, thanks to the splendid writer-researcher Mark Miller and Dan Morgenstern, who actually met Lillie in the 1960s: read here.

But John has topped them all by pointing out an audio interview Mrs. Christian gave on April 25, 1961. You can listen to it just below, but if you haven’t got sixty-four minutes to spare, I can offer some highlights.  Unfortunately, the interviewer stops the flow of Mrs. Christian’s story to deal with a particular hobby-horse.  Pro tip: stay quiet or say “And then what happened?” rather than intruding.  Alas. I believe the interviewer may be Samuel Charters; the later male voice is surely Mr. Christian, Charles, no relation to the guitarist.

Lillie Delk Christian 1961-04-25

The conversation takes place in the Christian house, their residence for twenty-seven years, presumably not with the same barking dog nearby.  Mrs. Christian  was born in Mobile, Alabama, and chooses not to tell her birth year; the Delk family moved to Chicago in 1915.

Her singing career started with the OKeh recordings.  Her friend, Johnny St. Cyr, heard her when they were all living at 3938 Indiana Avenue, singing around the house — without training, but it “went over all right.”  She seems to have had no public career between 1929 and 1934, and we do not find out whether she retreated from show business or that gigs dried up during the hard times of the Depression, but mentions that she toured in the summer of 1935 with Carroll Dickerson’s Orchestra and had an engagement in a club in Stockton, California.

But she cannot remember every detail the interviewer wants to know, although she recalls that she and her husband ran a “tea-house” restaurant around the corner, with the piano played by Ellington and other famous musicians.

Eventually, she sang at the Club De Lisa with reedman Dalbert Bright, drummer Jimmy Hoskins and guitarist Ike Perkins, perhaps trumpeter Guy Kelly, then Red Saunders led the band.  Another gig was at the Cotton Club, the band possibly led by Thamon Hayes.  A later stint at the Club De Lisa was with Eddie Cole (without brother Nat) and then Horace Henderson, at a club with a white orchestra in Springfield, Ohio — the Continental Club, where Lillie’s accompanist was pianist Marlow Nichols.   (All spelling errors are my fault.)

It puzzles me that the interviewer didn’t ask Mrs. Christian, “Whose idea was it for Louis to scat on TOO BUSY?”  “What was it like to record for OKeh?”  At least we get a few words about Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, “in his highest bloom” in the Thirties.

“When my kind of singing came out, it was kind of unusual.  And the people seemed to like it.”

Mrs. Christian sounds as if she would be willing to be recorded again, but only as part of her church choir.  And for those who think of her voice as being brash and brightly-colored, it is delightful to hear her speaking voice: sweet, moderated, gently nuanced.

A glimpse, occasionally frustrating, into the world of someone legendary to us.

May your happiness increase!

HEATING THE PEAKS: WOLVERINE JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL: JOHN CLARK, JEFF HUGHES, TOM BOATES, BOB BARTA, ROSS PETOT, RICK MacWILLIAMS, DAVE DIDRIKSEN (July 27, 2019)

Meteorologists would tell us that as one gains altitude, the temperature drops: in the mountains, one should bring a sweater.  But this theory would have been disproved by the Wolverine Jazz Band‘s appearances at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival, where this hot, disciplined yet energetic band heated things up noticeably.

This session in the nearby church sounds clear although echoey, and you can barely see banjoist-vocalist Bob Barta, but the delightful character of the band does come through.  They are John Clark, clarinet and reeds; Jeff Hughes, cornet; Tom Boates, trombone and vocal; Ross Petot, piano; Rick MacWilliams, tuba; Dave Didriksen, drums, and the aforementioned Prof. Barta, filling in for the eminent Jimmy Mazzy.

The Wolverines romp effectively and energetically, but you’ll also hear the polish and variety that comes with a regularly working band — not just ensemble / solos / ensemble, and also a wide-ranging repertoire, full of surprises.

MILENBERG JOYS:

DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS, with the verse, featuring Bob Barta:

AT THE CODFISH BALL, with Bob remembering Shirley Temple and Edythe Wright, but in his proper vocal register:

HONEY PIE, yes, by Lennon and McCartney, sung by Tom Boates:

CHEROKEE MAIDEN, again by Tom — from the Bob Willis book:

Johnny St. Cyr’s ORIENTAL STRUT:

BLUE PRELUDE, featuring Tom:

DIP YOUR BRUSH IN THE SUNSHINE, featuring everyone:

And if that wasn’t enough, the WJB recorded a splendid CD in 2018, called TELL ME, with an even more glorious array of songs (the same personnel except Jimmy Mazzy is there on banjo and vocals, and Herb Gardner appears three times as trombonist, pianist, composer, vocalist): IN OUR COTTAGE OF LOVE / IF I KNEW THEN / TELL ME / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BABY BROWN / TAKE YOUR TOMORROW / I AIN’T GONNA TELL NOBODY / ROSE ROOM / KICKIN’ THE GONG AROUND / I’M GONNA CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / LONELY MELODY / GUNSHOTS AND SIRENS / SWEET MAMA, PAPA’S GETTING MAD / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? / FROGGIE MOORE RAG.  Buy, download, and listen here.

Here’s a sample:

May your happiness increase!

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY: October 2012, April 2013, and BEYOND

The word that comes to mind about Jeff and Joel’s House Party is a Yiddish one that has entered the common language in some places — haimisch — meaning “like home,” “comfortable,” “easy to love.”  All of these things apply to the rollicking weekend that Jeff Barnhart and Joel Schiavone have created in Joel and Donna’s beautiful farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut.  I was a happy member of the group last October, and I will be there again for April 20-21, 2013.  (They are already veterans at this, having hosted a successful February 2012 party)

Continuing the secular-Hebraic theme, “Why is this jazz gathering different from all jazz gatherings,” the youngest son asks.

Even the most convivial jazz parties or festivals remind the listeners that they are not at home.  Most sets are played in large rooms; sometimes there is a raised stage.  Yes, the barriers between musicians and fans are less obvious than at, say, Carnegie Hall, but the illusion of welcome-to-my-house is impossible to sustain.

Not so at Jeff and Joel’s House Party, which is what it purports to be.  I think it might be exhausting for the musicians, but everyone hangs out in the same place — playing, listening, chatting, laughing, telling stories, snacking . . . for three sessions — a Saturday afternoon fiesta, one at night, and a Sunday afternoon cookout.

The other remarkable difference is that the musicians don’t play “sets,” which is standard practice elsewhere . . . half-hour or forty-five minute gatherings for anywhere from a duo to twelve or more players and singers.  At this House Party (again, possibly exhausting for the musicians but never ever dull for anyone) there is a constant changing of the guard, as musicians come and go for each new  performance.  Variety is the key, and no one yawns.

And without leaving anyone under-praised, I have to say that Jeff and Joel strike a remarkable balance.  Jeff — the most serious clown, the deepest philosophical trickster it has been my pleasure to know — is a splendid singer, pianist, bandleader, archivist of lost songs, sixty-second cousin of Thomas Waller you could imagine.  In fact, you can’t imagine Jeff.  He surpasses anything you could think up.  And Joel is making the world safe for sweet / hot banjo playing and group singing.  Don’t scoff: SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON softly sung by a roomful of sympathetic adults is worth decades of therapy or cholesterol-lowering drugs.  (The results of a study done using IF YOU KNEW SUSIE are inconclusive.  I will keep you informed.)

The April 2013 party will have many new faces — in the most gentle sense of that phrase, since many of them are heroic figures and friends to those of us in the tri-state area.  Consider this list (aside from Jeff and Joel): Lew Green, Gordon Au; cornet / trumpet; Craig Grant, Paul Midiri, trombone; Noel Kaletsky, Joe Midiri, reeds; Ian Frenkel, piano; Bob Price, banjo; John Gill, banjo / vocal / drums; Brian Nalepka, Frank Tate, string bass; Kevin Dorn, Tom Palinko, drums.

With that group, you just know that things will swing — and there will be interesting side-discussions about James Bond, James Whale, and other pressing philosophical matters.

The October party was an unusual one for me.  Usually, these days, I arrive with a camera, a tripod, batteries, a marble-covered notebook, and go away with an elevated sense of well-being, a stiff neck, drained batteries, and a hundred or more videos.  Not this time, and for the best reasons.  J&J HP already has its own videographer, Eric Devine (his YouTube channel is CineDevine), a very nice fellow and a splendid video professional.  Two cameras, no waiting; a good recording system.  And the fellow knows how to edit.  I must apprentice myself to Mr. Devine someday.  But I was free to roam around, to listen, to stand outside (the weather was lovely), to talk to people . . . knowing that Eric was on the job.  His videos are super-special, and he’s posted a goodly assortment.

Here are a nifty seven videos from that October weekend . . . to make some of you recall the pleasure of that time; to make others think, “Why did I miss that?”; to make others say, “Have to get there in April.”

Musical evidence, Maestro! The noble players who amused, elated, and delighted us for three sessions in October 2012 were pianist / singer / philosopher Jeff Barnhart, pianist Ross Petot; reed wizards John Clark, Noel Kaletsky; Renaissance man Vince Giordano; trombonist / singer / euphonist Jim Fryer, trombonist Craig Grant; trumpeter / tubaist Paul Monat, trumpeter Fred Vigorito, banjoist / singer Bob Barta, string bassist Genevieve Rose, banjoist / singer Joel Schiavone, drummers Sal Ranniello, C.H. “Pam” Pameijer.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, as they used to do it in old Chicago — with the law firm of Clark and Kaletsky:

DARKNESS ON THE DELTA, featuring Bob Barta:

A serious exploration into romantic cosmology, Thirties-style — WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN?:

A heroic STEVEDORE STOMP, romping:

YOUNG AND HEALTHY: a collaboration between Jeff, a somewhat bemused Joel, and yours truly (“our blog guy”) — not yet the Lorenz Hart of the blogosphere:

Jim Fryer shows off his remarkable talents on THE GYPSY:

JAZZ ME BLUES, properly Bix-and-Rollini-ish:

You can read what I wrote about the pleasures of that party here.

Here you can find out more information about the April 20-21, 2013 shindig.  You can email here or call Maureen at (203) 208-1481.  For those whose day isn’t complete without a soupcon of social networking, the Party has its very own Facebook page.  I know I “like” it.  Seriously.

And there might even be a few seats left.  But “a few” is no stage joke.

May your happiness increase.

“LET’S PLAY BALL!” or STILL SPINNING WITH PLEASURE-VERTIGO: A REPORT FROM JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY (October 13-14, 2012)

Before I go on, here’s the very first song of the party, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, recorded by Eric Devine, master videographer:

Last weekend, in an 1804 farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut (home of Joel and Donna Schiavone), hot music filled the air from noon – 10 PM Saturday, from noon to late afternoon Sunday.  And it wasn’t in sets with breaks: twelve hours or so of fairly continuous and certainly inspired music.

The creators were pianist / singer / philosopher Jeff Barnhart, pianist Ross Petot; reed wizards John Clark, Noel Kaletsky; Renaissance man Vince Giordano; trombonist / singer / euphonist Jim Fryer, trombonist Craig Grant; trumpeter / tubaist Paul Monat, trumpeter Fred Vigorito, banjoist / singer Bob Barta, string bassist Genevieve Rose, banjoist / singer Joel Schiavone, drummers Sal Ranniello, C.H. “Pam” Pameijer.

They performed one hundred selections in those three sets (yes, I was counting).  The repertoire went all the way from sweet solo piano serenades to set-this-house-on-fire incendiary ensembles.  Two trombones, two sopranos, two trumpets; many banjos, much cheerful momentum.  Paul Monat played fours with himself on tuba and trumpet, stopping the show. Jim Fryer sweetly sang THE GYPSY (with verse) and soloed fore and aft on euphonium.  Genevieve Rose gave a pensive yet swinging rendition of JADA as her solo feature.

Pam Pameijer switched from drums to washboard and kept things moving. Bob Barta cooled us off with a heartfelt DARKNESS ON THE DELTA; John Clark and Noel Kaletsky had a wailing two=clarinet discussion on APEX BLUES; Fred Vigorito increased the temperature of the room (we were peeling off layers of clothing) every time he stepped forward and began to play.

Craig Grant, new to me, played beautifully in ensembles and as a soloist; Sal Ranniello (whom I’d heard on recordings) kept the ship on a straight course. Joel sang and played many nifty old songs that I’d nearly forgotten, delighting us all — a very generous man.

More?  Unlike some “jazz parties,” where the musicians are far away on a stage, this was as informal as could be.  There was a trotting parade of players through rooms — not exactly second-lining with parasols, although that did happen once.  The barriers between Musicians and Audience were broken down early and stayed down.  (This accessibility might have been exhausting for the musicians, but I didn’t see anyone complaining.)

The music was blissfully wide-ranging, from Hot Five and two-trumpet King Oliver to Twenties New Orleans and early Ellington, an interlude of Joplin as it might have been played in “Disneyland for adults” (a bordello circa 1904), a good deal of Bix-related music, evocations of early Bennie Moten and Willie the Lion Smith ensembles, a Chopin waltz turned into Don Lambert ecstasy.

Joel treated us to I ONLY WANT A BUDDY, NOT A GAL and THAT LUCKY OLD SUN.  Jeff, for his part, sang / played / embodied DAPPER DAN FROM DIXIELAND as well as his tour de force on YOUNG AND HEALTHY (more about that in a future post).

A fourteen-year old piano wizard brought the blues to the room — in the nicest of ways: his name is ANDREW FERMO and you will be hearing from him, I predict.  The musicians tried to terrify us with THE YAMA YAMA MAN but Bob Barta told us it was all going to be fine with YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU.  Ross Petot, not well-enough known outside his neighborhood, hit home runs with LIMEHOUSE BLUES and GONE WIH THE WIND.  Leonard “Red” Balaban, who made so many good things happen with his bands, sat in for a gracious version of A PORTER’S LOVE SONG and followed with a sweet I COULD WRITE A BOOK.  (We hope he does.)  Paul Monat impersonated Wild Bill Davison on BLUE AND BROKENHEARTED . . . but he sounded (impious as it is to write these words) better.  Yes, better.  You’d have to hear it to believe it.

There was a good deal of unforced wit in the air.  Jeff Barnhart is a hilarious force of nature; luckily for us, he can’t help it.  After his opening invocation, “Let’s play ball!”  he headed the musicians into what is ordinarily the closing song, AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Someone’s cell phone rang, and he turned from the piano and said, “If you have a cell phone, please turn it off or make sure it rings in the key we’re playing in.”  If he weren’t such an extraordinary pianist, singer, raconteur, he could certainly make a living by making us laugh . . .

Here’s the second treat — BREEZE (BLOW MY BABY BACK TO ME):

In addition to the lovely music, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with sweet people: Joel and Donna foremost among them, an assortment of Jazz Spouses — Anne Barnhart, Carol Hughes, and Micki Balaban, Sherrie Barta; Sherral Devine, Maureen Cunningham, Judy Postemsky, Marce Enright, Rutj Miller, Mairi Bryan (and her mother), Irene Cowen, my pal Nancie Beaven, the well-met Bill Bunter, and many others.  Lovely food (generously available) and an enlivening air of joy throughout the weekend.

Because Joel is the guiding spirit behind YOUR FATHER’S MUSTACHE (where “the time of your life is under your nose,” for sure) — bringing together banjos in profusion and gleeful audience participation, there were several extended medleys of songs familiar and obscure.  Had you asked me my opinion of such frolics before this party, I would have extended my nose skyward and done my best to imitate patrician hauteur.  But something surprising happened (it happened once before, when John Gill called SHINE ON HARVEST MOON, sang the first chorus, and then led us in the second — I was in the presence of something sweetly spiritual and the room vibrated with good feeling).

I was in the rear of the room when the medley turned to BYE BYE BLACKBIRD, a song I have heard musicians treat with some violence.  At a nice easy tempo, surrounded by people obviously on the same sweet path, I found myself singing along to Maureen Cunningham who was standing near me, and — driven by what nostalgic version of Jung’s collective unconscious — making the vaudeville gestures that point up the lyrics.  “Make my bed” (putting thumb in mouth, cocking head, eyes closing = naptime) “and light the light” (pulling the imaginary lightbulb’s chain), “I’ll arrive late tonight” (pointing to our watches and tapping on them with index finger), “Blackbird, bye, bye!” (huge waving motions with right arm and hand).  I wouldn’t have believed it myself, and if Eric Devine, expert videographer, had caught this, he would be running for his life — but it was an unforgettable reminder of what music can do and does!

At times, when I needed a change of scenery, I walked outside and sat on a little porch.  The sky was bright blue with wispy clouds; I looked up through the remaining orange-tan leaves on the trees and sunk into the music.

The party ended with a very sweet WE’LL MEET AGAIN.

And we will: April 20-21, 2013.  Tickets on sale on December 1.

Watch this space, and subscribe to “CineDevine” on YouTube for more, more videos — beautifully done by Eric Devine! — from 2012 (and some from 2011).

And for more information on the party — and parties to come — click here.

Taa-daah!  Simply wonderful!

May your happiness increase.

JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY STILL HAS ROOM FOR YOU (Guilford, Connecticut, Oct. 13-14, 2012)

Don’t miss out!

This October 13-14 (Saturday and Sunday), pianist / singer Jeff Barnhart and banjoist Joel Schiavone are holding another JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY at Joel and Donna’s beautiful 1804 farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut.

Some seats are still available.  

The musicians are Joel Schiavone, Jeff Barnhart, Paul Monat, Pam Pameijer, Noel Kaletsky, Genevieve Rose, Ross Petot, Fred Vigorito, John Clark, Craig Grant, Bob Barta, Sal Ranniello . . . and two up-and-coming New Yorkers — young fellows with bright futures in the music business, Vince Giordano and Jim Fryer.

There are three sessions: Saturday 11-4, Saturday 5-10, and Sunday 11-4. The afternoon sessions include lunch or brunch; the Saturday evening set will include dinner. The liquid portion of the house party is up to you (a roundabout way of saying it’s BYOB, but there will be all the necessary improvements).

I will be there, but in an unusual capacity — sans video camera, actually able to use both hands to applaud — because this House Party has the great jazz cinematographer Eric Devine behind the cameras.  (Note plural.)  So I’ll be able to relax, although I will report on the festivities when I return to New York.

Tickets are on sale now — for single sessions as well as for the two-day fiesta, so don’t wait!  Click SIT! for pricing and ordering and all those needful things. Tickets for the whole extravaganza are $225; individual sessions are $80.

Legal disclaimer: ACTUAL CHAIRS MAY NOT BE AS PICTURED.

May your happiness increase.  

DID SOMEONE SAY A PARTY? (Yes, JEFF and JOEL!)

I don’t want to suggest that Artie Shaw will be playing music anywhere soon, nor that my women readers should aspire to the Petty Girl . . . but this phrase is apt:

I have always thought that musicians play their very best when the surrounding environment is relaxed and they feel that they are among friends.  This isn’t to say that clubs, concerts, parties, and festivals are bad — perish the thought.  But some of the most uplifting music I’ve ever heard has been at house concerts, where the musicians are actually in someone’s living room, playing for appreciative friends.

This October 13-14 (Saturday and Sunday), pianist / singer Jeff Barnhart and banjoist Joel Schiavone are holding another JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY at Joel and Donna’s beautiful 1804 farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut.

There’s only good news to follow.  The musicians are Joel Schiavone, Jeff Barnhart, Paul Monat, Pam Pameijer, Noel Kaletsky, Genevieve Rose, Ross Petot, Fred Vigorito, John Clark, Craig Grant, Bob Barta, Sal Ranniello . . . and two up-and-coming New Yorkers — young fellows with bright futures in the music business, Vince Giordano and Jim Fryer.  To read the biographies of the players, click here.

There are three sessions: Saturday 11-4, Saturday 5-10, and Sunday 11-4.  The afternoon sessions include lunch or brunch; the Saturday evening set will include dinner.  The liquid portion of the house party is up to you (a roundabout way of saying it’s BYOB, but there will be all the necessary improvements).

I will be there, but in an unusual capacity — sans video camera, actually able to use both hands to applaud — because this House Party has the great jazz cinematographer Eric Devine behind the cameras.  (Note the plural.)  So I’ll be able to relax, although I will report on the festivities when I return to New York. Tickets are on sale now — for single sessions as well as for the two-day fiesta, so don’t wait!  Click here  for pricing and ordering and all those needful things.  Tickets for the whole extravaganza are $225; individual sessions are $80.

I’m expecting that this will be a Jazz Band Ball!

Here’s some delicious video evidence from the first House Party — February 2012 — Bria Skonberg and Jeff Barnhart duetting on a lovely Django Reinhardt song, JE SUIS SEUL CE SOIR (I’M ALONE TONIGHT):

May your happiness increase.