A dell is a small, secluded valley, often with trees. Then there’s the children’s song, recorded almost two hundred years ago in Germany:
Then, there’s the piece of music that ran through my thoughts this morning:
Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra, August 1, 1938: Johnny Hodges, alto and soprano saxophone; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Duke Ellington, piano; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Sonny Greer, drums.
“You play your personality,” Roswell Rudd told me.
Jazz musicians of this caliber didn’t need sophisticated melodies or chord changes to make memorable — perhaps whimsical — music. And I wonder. Did someone [possibly Helen Oakley Dance] in the studio say, “You fellows can swing anything. Even nursery rhymes,” before everyone began to improvise variations on the theme?
Of course, there’s always the idea that the Rabbit would have been at home in the Dell, but I digress.
Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Cait Jones, vocal. Fine and Rare, November 21, 2022.
I’m late to the party, because Cait Jones has been singing and leading small swinging bands in New York City and around the world for more than a half-dozen years; she has YouTube videos and several CDs as “Cait and the Critters.”
But what I heard in person last Monday night convinced me thoroughly that she has and is a rare talent.
In the course of a set-and-a-half, Cait sang a baker’s dozen classic songs: YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / JUST IN TIME / WHERE OR WHEN / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / FOOLIN’ MYSELF / ZING! WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART / I HADN’T ANYONE TILL YOU / BLUES IN THE NIGHT / THEM THERE EYES // NICE AND EASY / YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME / ALL TOO SOON / WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW //
(I noted with pleasure the absence of GOD BLESS THE CHILD, MY FUNNY VALENTINE, and WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO — marvelous songs done threadbare through repetition. And because this post is about Cait, I am not writing at length about the superb intuitive playing of Michael and Neal, two heroes of the art. But you know.)
Because Cait has a background in swing dancing and music for those agile people, each song had a pulse, which enabled her, Michael, and Neal to explore the endless variations in Medium Tempo. No “racetrack tempos” (to quote Jimmie Rowles) and no sentimental dirges. In another singer’s hands, a dozen vintage affection-themed songs might have sounded too similar. But Cait had a clear idea of what I will call the landscape of each song, or perhaps its interior decor. So the mood of each song was unique unto itself. I never thought to myself, “Well, we just heard that,” because each pearl was remarkable on its own terms.
Her approach is at once plain and filigreed.
Plain in that she respects the composers’ intentions without melodramatic ego-displays. The result is a friendly convincing understatement, where the song itself is the star. She has a lovely voice, splendid clear diction, admirable microphone technique (somewhat of a lost art) dead-on pitch, and subtle swing. Her first choruses honored the melody; her second choruses wandered in the meadow of possibilities, changing a pitch here and there in a manner that would have pleased Richard Rodgers or Ann Ronell.
The filigree entered in her small but moving variations on the melodic line, and — even better — her delightful way of handling the lyrics as if they were emotive speech, compressing a phrase into a few beats and elongating another over the rhythm — as if the words had just occurred to her as needing to be shared, said, sung. I felt that she had moved into each song, made herself comfortable, and delicately rearranged its moving parts so that we could hear it anew. To me that is an art both considerable and subtle, never in capital letters but affecting nonetheless.
As you can tell, I was impressed. And I don’t impress easily these days. A publicist recently sent me a CD by a well-advertised young singer, and I put it in the player with the best expectations. Midway through the first chorus, I thought, “This young woman is doing a superb job of impersonating Sarah Vaughan — a great feat — but I can listen to Sarah unadorned whenever I like.” Cait Jones sounds like herself, although it’s clear she’s heard the masters. But delightfully, I think her inspirations are also the great instrumentalists, more Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges than cloning singers.
Cait has two new CDs coming out. On one, she composes lyrics to the music of Mathieu Najean; on the other, she is accompanied by Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Greg Ruggiero . . . none better. I will keep you informed about both issues, which I am looking forward to.
Yes, Vic Dickenson. You know, the “Dixieland” trombonist known for his “wry humor.”
A small sweet surprise: Vic Dickenson, trombone; Earl Hines, piano; Harley White, string bass; Eddie Graham, drums — playing an Ellington ballad, perhaps THE Ellington ballad. So many writers made so much of Vic’s “dirty” style, his growls, that they forgot his deep heart, his deep feelings for pretty songs . . . his love of melody, of pure sounds. And although no one was wise enough to ask Vic to make a recording of Ellington and Strayhorn, he called IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD as his feature night after night when I saw him.
The first thing an attentive listener might notice is Vic’s slowing-down the tempo: he’s not about to be rushed into baroque Hines flourishes. A stately yet passionate exposition of the melody, growing more fervent in his second chorus. Then a coda-cadenza, rhapsodic and bluesy all at once. A masterpiece from the Grande Parade du Jazz at Nice, France, performed on July 20, 1975.
Hank O’Neal told me that one of his dream projects was to record Vic with strings. Such a pity that didn’t happen. Listen to I GOT IT BAD again and realize that, as a ballad player, Vic is at the level of Ben and Pres, Hodges and his dear friend Bobby Hackett. Thank goodness we have these four minutes of Vic, quietly reminding us of what he did and could do: wordlessly touch our hearts without making a fuss of doing so.
I did not take the pandemic lightly, and I spent a good deal of last year scared to bits . . . but I’m going. And I hope you will also, if you can.
Details here — but I know you want more than just details.
Although for those who like it very plain, some elementary-school math: four days, more than a hundred sets performed at eight stages, from intimate to huge. Dance floors. And the festival is wonderfully varied, presenting every kind of “roots music” you can imagine: “jazz, swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, Americana, Western Swing, country.”
Off the top of my head — when I was there in 2019, I heard the music of Charlie Christian, Moon Mullican, Pee Wee Russell, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Pete Johnson, Billie Holiday, and much more. Bob Wills said howdy to Walter Donaldson, which was very sweet.
And here are some of the jazz and blues artists who will be there: Carl Sonny Leyland, Duke Robillard, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Jonathan Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, Dan Walton, Marc Caparone, Joe Goldberg, Bill Reinhart, Joshua Gouzy, Joel Patterson, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Kris Tokarski, Nate Ketner, Brian Casserly, Josh Collazo, Ryan Calloway, and two dozen other worthies whose names don’t yet appear on the site. And of course, bands — ad hoc units and working ones.
For the justifiably anxious among us, here is the RCMF’s Covid update: several things stand out. First, California has mandated that ticket sales must be in advance. And understandably, there will be fewer people allowed in any space . . . so this translates for you, dear reader, as a double incentive to buy tickets early. I know that festivals always urge attendees to do this, but you can see these are atypical reasons.
How about some musical evidence?
CASTLE ROCK, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:
WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, by Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet:
REACHING FOR SOMEONE, by the Doyle-Zimmerman Sextet:
HELLO, LOLA! by Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:
SAN ANTONIO ROSE, by Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith’s Western Swing All-Stars:
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, by Marc Caparone and his “Louis Armstrong All-Stars”:
If the videos don’t act as proof, my words may be superfluous. But to paraphrase Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog and I’ll write if I want to.”
I come to this festival-jazz party circuit late — both late for me and for the phenomenon — September 2004. Chautauqua, California, Connecticut, Newcastle, Westoverledingen, and others. I’ve attended a hundred of them. Meaning no offense to any festival organizer, I think Redwood Coast delivers such quality and such range that it is astonishing. I told Mark Jansen that it was the SUPERMARKET SWEEP of festivals: so much to pick up on in so short a time. And readers will understand that my range is narrow: there is much music on the list of genres above that doesn’t stir me, although it might be excellent.
However: in 2019 I came home with over 150 videos in four days of enthusiastic observation-participation. I slept as if drugged on the plane ride home. I’d been perforated by music of the finest kind.
I also need to write a few darker sentences.
There is a blessed influx of younger people — dancers, often — to music festivals like this one. But festivals are large enterprises, costly to stage and exhausting to supervise. Those of us who want to be able to see and hear live music must know that this phenomenon needs what realistic promoters call Asses in Seats.
So if you say, “Well, I’ll come in a few years when I’m retired,” that’s understandable. But Asses at Home mean that this festival, and others, might not wait for you. Grim, but true.
So I hope to see you there. There are a million reasons to stay at home. But who will come in and dust you?
The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip. (You can look that up on YouTube. I’ll wait.) By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.
Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.
The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.
The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski, piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.
And the delicious repertoire is CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.
Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.
Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam. And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”
Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once. One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances. But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness. And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.
The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive. This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.
And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction. She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed. I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles. Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.
This CD is a great gift. It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives. THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.
Are you ready to join me on our Sunday pilgrimage to the Shrine of Sounds, where the EarRegulars and friends gambol and inspire? I hope so.
Let us begin with music from the second set at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, on Sunday, April 25, 2010: Ben Webster’s line on IN A MELLOTONE, which was based on ROSE ROOM — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass — asking the musical question, DID YOU CALL HER TODAY?
and the second part, the length of a 10″ 78 rpm record:
Then, another hint of Ellingtonia — Johnny Hodges’ line on I GOT RHYTHM, called THE JEEP IS JUMPIN’ — which adds Danny Tobias, trumpet, and Andy Farber, tenor saxophone to the mix . . . for ten minutes:
because it would be cruel to leave out the final forty-five seconds, here they are:
Mr. Tobias calls his favorite tune, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, where he’s joined by Andy Farber, Harry Allen, Matt Munisteri, and Jim Whitney, string bass:
A new constellation of brilliant friends plays COMES LOVE: Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Chris Flory, guitar, and Jim Whitney:
and we know LOVE takes its own time to . . . . arrive:
Finally, the song that always amuses me by its paradoxical nature when it’s the last tune of the night, LINGER AWHILE, a gift from Messrs. Kellso, Tobias, Allen, Farber, Flory, and Miner:
Joy. And while we contemplate the joys of a decade ago, let us keep our eyes comfortably fixed on a future not yet realized, but one we hope for.
The astonishing eBay treasure chest called jgautographs has opened its lid again. Apparently the trove is bottomless, since the latest offering is 118 items under “jazz,” with only a few debatable entries. “Donovan,” anyone? But the depth and rarity and authenticity are dazzling.
Consider this Ellington collection, including Joe Nanton, Billy Taylor, Fred Guy, Juan Tizol, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and the Duke himself:
The appropriate soundtrack, give or take a few years — Ellington at Fargo, 1940 with the ST. LOUIS BLUES (wait for “WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK”):
Incidentally, someone wrote in and said, “Michael, are they paying you to do this?” and the answer is No, and that’s fine. Imagine my pleasure at being able to share Joe Nanton’s signature with people who just might value it as I do.
Here’s Meade Lux Lewis:
And his very first Blue Note issue, from 1939, MELANCHOLY BLUES:
Taft Jordan, star of Chick Webb, Duke, and his own bands:
Taft in 1936, singing and playing ALL MY LIFE with Willie Bryant:
“Mr. Rhythm,” Freddie Green, with an odd annotation:
a 1938 solo by Freddie (with Pee Wee, James P. Dicky, Max, and Zutty):
Tyree Glenn, a veteran before he joined Louis (Cab Calloway and Duke):
Tyree’s ballad, TELL ME WHY:
The wonderful Swedish singer Karin Krog:
Karin and Bengt Hallberg, joining BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL and SENTIMENTAL AND MELANCHOLY:
The link at the top of this post will lead you to more than a hundred other marvels — the delighted surprises I will leave to you. And as in other eBay auctions, you or I are never the only person interested in an item . . .
Less than a week ago, I published a post here, marveling at the riches made available in an eBay auction by “jgautographs” which have been all bought up now, including this glorious relic.
I don’t know how much Lester’s signature fetched at the end of the bidding, but Mr. Page’s (with the telltale apostrophe, another mark of authenticity) sold for $147.50, which says there is an enlightened and eager audience out there. That auction offered more than 200 items, and I would have thought the coffers were empty.
Now, the gracious folks as “jgautographs” have offered another seventy items for bid. I can say “gracious with certainty,” because I’ve had a conversation with the head benefactor.
Thisis the eBay link, for those who want to get in line early. The new listing has only one item held over from the past sale, and it is full of riches (including blues luminaries). I’ll mention only a portion: Ellington, Brubeck, Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Sippie Wallace, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Jay McShann, Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Woods, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Benny Carter, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Charlie Ventura, Teddy Wilson, Eubie Blake, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Erroll Garner, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins — you can explore these delights for yourself, and if you have disposable income and wall space, some treasure might be yours. Those whose aesthetic scope is larger than mine will also see signatures of Chick Corea, Archie Shepp, and Keith Jarrett among others . . .
For now, I will offer only five Ellingtonians. And as David Weiner pointed out to me years ago, a sloppy signature is more likely to be authentic, since musicians don’t have desks to sit at after gigs.
Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.
We all know what a ballad is — a rhapsodic experience, possibly melancholy, played or sung slowly. But a “rhythm ballad” is something created in the Thirties: a sweet ballad played at a danceable tempo, so that you and your honey could swoon while doing those steps you had practiced at home. Even when the lyrics described heartbreak, those performances had a distinct pulse, or as Marty Grosz says below, “I gotta wake up.” Here are some moving examples of the form, performed during the closing ballad medley at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2012. First, Marty evokes 1931 Bing Crosby, then Rossano Sportiello honors Hoagy Carmichael, and Dan Barrett tenderly expresses a wish for gentle romantic possession:
Howard Alden’s melodic exposition of an early-Fifties pop hit:
Finally, Dan Block — incapable of playing dull notes — woos us in a Johnny Hodges reverie over imagined real estate:
It’s appropriate that this post begins with THANKS — words cannot convey my gratitude to these artists who continue to enrich our lives. And I am particularly grateful to those who allowed me to aim a camera at them . . . so that we can all enjoy the results.
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.
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.
What does one say when the Divine decides to pay a social call? I don’t know if there’s only one answer, but mine was a quiet “Thank you,” and held-back tears.
JEEP’S BLUES — if examined analytically — is a mixture of the simplest blues phrases, phases that were part of the common musical lexicon in 1938. But what transforms it as a composition and a performance is what Louis called Tonation and Phrasing— which I translate as musicians achieving vocalized sounds through their instruments, singing with deep feeling, becoming a wordless choir.
The Jonathan Doyle Swingtet (for this set at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Jonathan, tenor saxophone and arrangement; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums) sang their pure and impure songs to us, to the heavens, and for the musicians present, past, and future. . . . secular hymns that elated us.
I’m sure some listeners will say, “Oh, that’s just a blues.” Too bad for them, say I. Blessings on these musicians, on Mark and Valerie Jansen of the Redwood Coast Music Festival (hint: May 7-10, 2020!) on Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington, all of whom make holy music and make holy music possible.
Yes, another wonderful new CD. But remember: I told you to save your spare change, to make coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks, that there would be great pleasures in store. But enough of that. The four-minute video that follows might make prose superfluous: watch and listen to the end:
Josh Collazo is a magnificent jazz drummer: I had a great deal of gleeful first-hand evidence at the Redwood Coast Music Festival a short time ago to reinforce what I already knew. He listens, he makes thrilling sounds, he leans forward into the beat so that any band he’s part of levitates. But better than that, he has a huge imagination based in swing and melody, in danceable new music. This is an elaborate prelude to say that his new CD, UNSTUCK IN TIME, by the organization he calls the CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND, is an unerring delight.
This was no surprise: here is my delighted reaction to the CJJB’s first disc.
But let us return to whimsical-completely serious video:
Facts? Eleven original swing compositions by Josh, Dan Weinstein, Albert Alva, and Seth Ford-Young alone or in combination; a lovely small band of Josh, drums, vocal; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Dan Weinstein, trombone, vocal; Corey Gemme, cornet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone; Nate Ketner, alto saxophone, clarinet; arrangements (and they’re important, since UNSTUCK IN TIME is not a jam session) by Albert, Dan, and Josh.
And a few words about this disc’s glorious antecedents. For me, one of the unheralded peaks of jazz happened while the official “Swing Era” was no longer at its apex: the period between 1942-7, more or less, that coincided with the more dramatic recording ban. Because of that ban, small record companies had their pick of jazz artists — think Keynote, Blue Note, Comet, Savoy, Regis, Jamboree, HRS, Jazz Record, Musicraft, Black and White, Apollo, Sittin’ In, and a dozen others. The music as passed down to us on recordings, loosely defined, moves from Art Hodes to early bebop, but the middle ground is what attracts me: small groups with a few horns, ample space for solos, but intelligent arrangements. Why do I write of this?
Simply, because UNSTUCK IN TIME by the Candy Jacket Jazz Band seems to my ears a glorious extension of the best Keynote sessions. I will even write that were someone able to narrow the sound and add some surface noise, many of the tracks on this CD could pass as previously-unheard and intensely refreshing Forties gems that had been overlooked. It’s just that warmly idiomatic, sweetly rhythmic, and full of improvisational delight.
And the title is more than a verbal two-bar tag. Josh and the band value time highly in the sense of knowing where “one” is, in keeping the rhythm going in the nicest ways (did I point out how splendid this CD is as dance music?) but they are not tied down by clock and calendar: this disc is not a poker-faced science experiment in the Jazz Lab, bringing 1944 forward by cloning it, but rather a blend of present and past swinging into the future, free to groove without concerns of “repertory” or “authenticity.” I think of Golden-Era science fiction, full of alternate universes: “What kind of tune would Johnny Hodges like?” And that spirit — to honor a Hodges-universe — lifts the music in performance after performance, honoring the innovators by refusing to imitate them except in exuberant playful ways.
I’ll stop here, so that you can get to pleasure as quickly and directly as possible. You can hear the music here. You can buy a digital download or CD here. You can hear the CJJB’s first CD here.
I’m so grateful this light-hearted free-wheeling yet level-headed band exists. Their inventive music is the very heart of what I hold dear.
News flash: I started to review this seriously entertaining book a few months ago, lent it to a friend who promised to return it after a weekend, then didn’t . . . so this review is, with apologies, late. But I offer this anecdote to show I am not the only person who found the book irresistible.
Some books, full of invaluable information, are austere and forbidding. “Do you dare to approach, ignorant mortal? Are you worthy of opening my pages? Don’t even think of removing my dust jacket.” Other books, equally worthy or perhaps more so, are casual and welcoming. Reading them is like having a very relaxed old friend over to your house for a meal, and the friend — never boring — is a treasure chest of pleasing stories you’ve never heard before.
HAMP AND DOCis a marvelous example of the second kind of book. I’ve said it often, but books that tell me new stories are enticing reading, as are books that are narrated by the participants. And, I never thought of it as a criteria, but if a book has a great deal of affection in it — in this case, someone’s hugging or getting hugged every few pages — that, too, is a winner.
Lionel Hampton is deservedly well known, not only for his long career, his many talents, his ebullient musicianship, the hundreds of musicians whose lives he touched — so this book has a kind of anchor in its story of Hamp’s last years, from 1984 to 2002, years full of playing and energetic involvement in the lives of everyone he encountered.
Lynn “Doc” Skinner would not be well known, I think, outside of Idaho, but he also has touched many lives — as a musician, multi-instrumentalist and composer, a music educator, a festival organizer, an ingenious and kind man never at a loss for an idea, and ultimately as a friend to hundreds, perhaps thousands — some of them famous, others not known to us. Born in 1940, he is still with us, and HAMP AND DOC is his engaging story as well.
Engaging stories are at the heart of this affectionate, vivid book, and the ones that I find memorable reveal character. Many know that in 1997, a fire in Hamp’s New York apartment destroyed everything he had. He was 88, had had two strokes, and was sitting outside his apartment on the sidewalk in a wheelchair, clad in pajamas and robe, having been helped outside by two attendants. What you won’t know is this telling anecdote. Watching the fire from the street, Hamp calls Doc, who knows nothing of what is going on, and asks him, “Doc, are you okay?” and getting an answer in the affirmative, then tells him about the fire.
Of course, not everyone in this book is a saint (although most of the cast of characters are eminently nice): Doc tells the story of Sarah Vaughan refusing to get in the student’s four-door sedan that is picking her up from the airport because her contract specifies a limousine, and, later, refusing to go on because she does not have her $10,000 fee (cash) in her hand. Other sharp and tender vignettes have Stan Getz, Al Grey, Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Claudio Roditi, Clint Eastwood, Dizzy Gillespie, or Bill Charlap at the center. But the affectionate relationship between Doc and Hamp is the book’s backbone, and the wonderful things that resulted — the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival (the first jazz festival aimed at students, the first one named for a musician, the first one named for an African-American) and later, the Lionel Hampton School of Music.
The book is free from ideological bias or theorizing — in that regard it is blissfully old-fashioned, but it is as if we are privileged to spend some delightful afternoons with Doc as he shares his crystal-clear recollections reaching back to his childhood and forward into the present. Like Hamp, he comes across clearly, as a man with a purpose, devoid of artifice or meanness. He is ambitious, but his ambition is for the music alone and what it can do to reach others.
It’s a welcoming collection of lovely stories, well-edited, with beautiful photographs, many in color, and a lively design overall. Not incidentally, the book benefits hugely from the unseen talents of Alan Jay Solan, the man to whom Doc told his stories. The book works wonderfully as a book — not simply as a collection of associated memories — because of Solan.
Any jazz fan who loves Lionel Hampton, who feels good after reading stories where kind people treat each other kindly, or who wants to see lovely candid photographs will love this book.
Here‘s a link to Inkwater Press, although I am sure that the book is available in many other places (there’s a Kindle edition also).
And in case you have done the unthinkable and taken Hamp for granted, here are two pieces of evidence to prove that a truly bad idea.
Hamp and a stellar cast of Ellingtonian friends (Carney, Hodges, Cootie) and Jess Stacy in 1937:
JOSEPH “TRICKY SAM” NANTON, 1904-46, thanks to Tohru Seya.
One of the great pleasures of having a blog Few jazz listeners would recognize is the ability to share music — often, new performances just created. But I go back to the days of my adolescence where I had a small circle of like-minded friends who loved the music, and one of us could say, “Have you heard Ben Webster leaping in on Willie Bryant’s RIGMAROLE?” “Hackett plays a wonderful solo on IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN (IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE).” Allow me to share some joy with you, even if we are far away from each other.
Some of the great pleasures of my life have been those players with sharply individualistic sounds. Think of trombonists: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Bennie Morton, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Harrison, Bill Harris, Trummy Young, J.C. Higginbotham, Miff Mole, Sandy Williams, and more. And the much-missed fellow in the photograph above. This high priest of sounds is a hero of mine. He left us too young and he loyally refused to record with anyone except Ellington. I don’t ordinarily celebrate the birthdays of musicians, here or in other neighborhoods, but February 1 was Mister Nanton’s 115th, and he deserves more attention than he gets. He was influenced by the plunger work of Johnny Dunn, a trumpeter who is far more obscure because he chose a route that wasn’t Louis’, but Tricky Sam was obviously his own man, joyous, sly, and memorable.
Here he is with Ellington’s “Famous Orchestra” band on perhaps the most famous location recording ever: the November 7, 1940 dance date in Fargo, North Dakota, recorded by Jack Towers and Dick Burris on a portable disc cutter. ST. LOUIS BLUES, unbuttoned and raucous, closed the evening, with solos by Ray Nance, cornet; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Ivie Anderson, vocal; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; and Tricky Sam — before the band combines BLACK AND TAN FANTASY and RHAPSODY IN BLUE to end. (The complete band was Duke, Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, Wallace Jones, Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Otto Hardwick, Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Fred Guy, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries. And the whole date has been issued on a 2-CD set.)
It says a good deal that Duke saved Tricky Sam for the last solo, the most dramatic. Who, even Ben, could follow him?
You will notice — and it made me laugh aloud when I first heard it, perhaps fifty years ago, and it still does — that Tricky Sam leaps into his solo by playing the opening phrase of the 1937 WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK (Larry Morey and Frank Churchill) from the Disney SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. How it pleases me to imagine Ellington’s men taking in an afternoon showing of that Disney classic!
Let no one say that Sonny Greer couldn’t swing, and swing the band. To paraphrase Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD, “They had sounds then.”
And just on the Lesley Gore principle (“It’s my blog and I’ll post if I want to”) here’s a full-blown 2013 version of WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK by John Reynolds, guitar and whistling; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, clarinet — recorded at the 2013 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California . . . another stop on the 2019 JAZZ LIVES hot music among friends quest. No trombone, but Joseph Nanton would have enjoyed it for its headlong verve:
I invite JAZZ LIVES’ readers and viewers to join Dan Morgenstern and myself for an afternoon conversation about Duke Ellington which took place a few months ago in early March 2018. I don’t ordinarily post ninety-five minutes of video in one heaping serving, but Dan’s narrative is so comfortably wide-ranging and expansive that I couldn’t cut it into sections.
Part One, where Dan begins by remembering himself as a young Danish record collector, comments on various Ellingtonians and admirers, and loops around to the 1938 Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing:
Here’s DUSK — for your spiritual edification, from a HMV 78, too:
Part Two is focused on Duke in the recording studio, with quick asides about Willie Cook, Norris Turney, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson, and Mercer Ellington:
Part Three begins with Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer, detours to ripe tomatoes, and returns to Billy Strayhorn, Bob Wilber, and Barney Bigard:
Part Four starts with one of my heroes, Ray Nance, then Cootie Williams, Toney Williams, and offers the famous story about disciplining a wayward Paul Gonsalves:
Part Five again recalls Duke in the recording studio, next to Basie, next to Louis. I wish there were some documentation of Louis sitting in with Duke’s octet!
Finally, Dan’s tale, very amusing, of three bandleaders in one night, which ends with Johnny Hodges on the AT THE BAL MASQUE Columbia lp:
and here is the very pretty ALICE BLUE GOWN:
Blessings and gratitude to the very generous Dan Morgenstern.
Jack Hylton meets Ellington at Waterloo Station, 1933
This disc pictured below is a serious Holy Relic — a RCA Victor Program Transcription with autographs — Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Hayes Alvis, Rex Stewart and Ivie Anderson. The seller candidly says, “E- condition. Rough start on ‘East St. Louis.'”
The price is $400, but shipping is a bargain: “Buyer to pay $5.00 shipping (which includes $1.00 for packing material) in the United States. Shipping discount for multiple 78s. Insurance, if desired, is extra.”
Here‘s the link. Too late for Christmas, but always a thoughtful gift for the Ellingtonian in your house.
And perhaps you don’t have $405.00 for this. There’s no shame. I don’t either. So here’s the music:
and here’s the “stereo” version. This was created in the Seventies, I think, when Ellington collectors discovered two versions of this performance, each recorded with a different microphone setup, then stitched them together to create a binaural recording. No autographs, though:
This post is for my dear friend Harriet Choice, who always knows the difference.
The Frank Roberscheuten Hiptett, led by Frank on alto and tenor, did the lovely magic of honoring an ancestor and a tradition without copying the records note-for-note. This magic took place at the Classic Jazz Concert Club in Sassenheim, in the Netherlands, on October 28, 2017, and it appeared — magically! — on YouTube this morning. I couldn’t resist, and I hope you can’t either.
The other creators are Aurelie Tropez, clarinet; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Chris Hopkins, piano (his accompaniments especially subversive and delicious), Mark Elton, string bass; Stan Laferrière, drums. And there’s a surprise vocal trio — always a treat.
The songs they chose are familiar, yet the light of individuality shines through these performances, even when the ghosts of Ellington, Procope, Cootie, Nance, Hodges, Gonsalves, are visiting.
Mariel Bildsten’s grandfather was an architect, as is her mother. Mariel, a brilliant young trombonist, doesn’t construct buildings. She makes them rock.
I first met Mariel underground — less ominous than it sounds — about two weeks ago, when she and the wonderful guitarist Greg Ruggiero were setting up to play duets in TURNSTYLE, beneath the Time Warner Center, more or less. They made delicious music while, on either side, shoppers and eaters and commuters rushed by. I already knew Greg as a player both lyrical and swinging, from his work with Michael Kanan and Neal Miner, but Mariel — born in 1994 — was a pleasing revelation.
She has a big beautiful tone, facility without glibness, a mature sense of phrasing (you can feel her thinking about what the next note might be — no hesitation, but a thoughtfulness), and an unerring swing.
So when Mariel said she’d have a septet playing Ellington and Basie at the free Tuesday late-afternoon sessions at the Time Warner Center (sponsored by the Eileen Fisher clothing company) I wanted to be there, and was able to video-record the session, which was a delight. With Mariel were Patrick Alexander Bartley Jr., alto Saxophone; Ruben Fox, tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Evan Sherman, drums; Mathis Jaona Jolan Picard, keyboard, and Barry Stephenson, string bass.
I knew everything was going to be all right when the band played ninety seconds of DICKIE’S DREAM for a soundcheck. You won’t hear that, but here’s the full performance that followed after Mariel had introduced the band:
and then the Ellington small-band classic, first known as SUBTLE SLOUGH, then as JUST SQUEEZE ME when lyrics were added:
Later-period Basie (1962), SENATOR WHITEHEAD, on familiar changes:
From Ellington’s 1967 COMBO SUITE, the justly-famous THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES (first simply called “Billy Strayhorn’s riff” at the record date):
Also from the COMBO SUITE, TELL ME ‘BOUT MY BABY:
Finally, from the Suite, NEAR NORTH:
Mariel’s tribute to Lawrence Brown, clearly one of her inspirations, was her improvisation on LET’S FALL IN LOVE, which Brown played so splendidly on the Johnny Hodges session called SIDE BY SIDE:
Patrick Bartley’s wonderful evocation of that same Hodges on Billy Strayhorn’s PASSION FLOWER:
TICKLE-TOE, one of the high points of Western Civilization, by Lester Young:
And another nod to later Basie, WHAT’CHA TALKIN’?:
I don’t pretend to be an expert on the jazz scene as it is unfolding in New York City or elsewhere; I know my musicians and I revere them. But it was a great pleasure to meet and hear so many young players, so expert, who were new to me. The next time I read some journalist who wants to convince me that jazz is dead, I will think of this session and these players, providing living rebuttals.
The song IF I WERE YOU, by Buddy Bernier and Robert Emmerich, might have vanished entirely if not for memorable recordings. I feel it comes from that postage-stamp of inspiration where songwriters seized on a commonplace conversational phrase for a title and made a song out of it. I’ve not been able to find out much about it, nor has sheet music surfaced online. But it has a wonderful auditory lineage: it was recorded in quick succession — between April 29 and July 1, 1938 — by Nan Wynn with Teddy Wilson (featuring Johnny Hodges and Bobby Hackett), Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, and by Hot Lips Page’s band, although he left the vocal to one Dolores Payne.
In our time, it’s also been recorded by Dawn Lambeth and Rebecca Kilgore. Beautifully.
Now we can add warm-voiced Dawn Giblin to that list, as of August 20 of this year, where she and eminent friends performed the song at the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dawn is accompanied by Mike Karoub, cello; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Gwen MacPhee, string bass. And, fortunately for us, this and another performance was filmed by Laura Wyman for Wyman Video.
Here’s a swing instrumental, with neatly gliding dancers Robin and Lois, Grotto regulars who obviously love to dance and love music by Dapogny and friends:
The new Person in the band (to me, at least) is the admirable string bassist Gwen MacPhee, of whom Dawn says, “I met Gwen at Wayne State University. She was in my ear training class and took me under her wing. She was the first friend I made there.” And now she’s a friend of ours.
I’m happy in New York, but I wish Ann Arbor were closer. However, it’s delightful to have Wyman Video on the scene for all of us. Laura, modestly, says she doesn’t deserve to be in the credit line with the musicians, but as a fellow videographer, I politely disagree. We may not bake the cookies, but we make it possible for you to have a taste.
I first encountered the pianist-composer Michael Bank sometime in late 2004 or early 2005, at a Basque restaurant called BAR TABAC in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when he was pianist in a little band that had some of my — now lasting — friends in it: Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, Jesse Gelber, among others. When I heard Michael play — evoking Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and his own original thinking — I was impressed, and when he introduced the band’s version of ALL OF ME by quoting Teddy from PRES AND TEDDY, I went over to him at the set break and said, having introduced myself, “Excuse me, what the hell was that intro figure you did on ALL OF ME?” and we established its provenance (I am afraid I showed off by telling him I’d gotten Teddy’s autograph on that album) and I knew he was someone to pay attention to.
But I knew only a fraction of the totality of Michael Bank, and my admiration grew when I heard him lead his Septet. The official press release calls this band “a four-horn group in the mainstream jazz tradition,” but that is a serious understatement. For this gig, the Septet is Tony Speranza, trumpet; John Ludlow, alto saxophone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Ben Rubens, string bass; the esteemed Steve Little, once again playing a set of drums not his own, with one happy exception being a beautiful snare drum lent for this gig by our friend Kelly Friesen.
Michael is an intriguing composer of originals that sound, at first, familiar, but then take their own twists and turns: not into dissonance, but into surprising melodies and voicings. I think of his compositions as beginning in the 1951-55 Johnny Hodges band book and then deciding to move around by visiting Jaki Byard (a model and mentor to Michael), and going their own ways. What underpins all of this is Michael’s delighted commitment to a rocking swing motion rooted in Ellingtonian momentum. The Septet’s modernism is curious and amiable; the dissonances or unusual voicings do not treat the audience unkindly. One could dance to this band, and that impulse comes from the Septet’s roots as a backing band for The Silver Belles, a veteran tap dance troupe. But like Ellington, Michael sees the beauty in simple forms: he loves the blues and how they can be asked to soar; he doesn’t find the Past something to be rejected but he conceives of ancient inspirations in his own ways.
Having taken the wrong subway line (Michael suggested that this post should be called TAKE THE 2 TRAIN, which amused me but would require too much explanation) I went up hill and down dale to be at this one-hour gig at the Shrine Music Venue at 134th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, but I was seriously rewarded for my aerobics with music that balances lightness and density.
Here are four extended highlights of this all-too-brief gig:
FALL AND RISE:
THE AZTEC TWO-STEP, which is its own kind of choreography:
Jaki Byard’s ONE NOTE:
TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:
I know it is hard to keep a band together without regular gigs, but I certainly think that Michael’s Septet is eminently worthy of a comfortable venue, a nice piano. If you swing it, they will come. Or perhaps.
My fascination with Joel Forrester and his music goes back more than a decade. I would guess that I heard the quizzically entrancing orchestra THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET on WKCR-FM and was intrigued by its unpredictable mixture of new and old. And then I heard Joel in person with a few small bands he’d assembled — one called THE TRUTH, which was an accurate description.
Joel doesn’t strive to shock the listener, but he doesn’t follow predictable paths — which is, in an era of reproducible art, an immense virtue. His playing and his compositions can be hilarious, angular, tender — sometimes all at once, and his music is vividly alive, which is no small thing.
I write not only to celebrate Joel — in all his surprises that invite us in — but to remind New Yorkers of opportunities to savor his art. Every Saturday, he is playing a solo piano gig at Café Loup, 105 West 13th St. at 6th Avenue, in Greenwich Village, from 12:30—3:30 PM.
On Tuesdays, from 6-10, Joel plays solo piano at the Astor Room (located in the Kaufman Studios complex) 34-12 36th St. in Astoria, Queens. I suggest you mark your calendars for Tuesday, June 6, when there will be a special — no, remarkable — happening, where Joel will begin with a solo piano set (his custom on Tuesdays) and then there will be two sets by The Microscopic Septet with Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone (visiting from Australia!); Don Davis, alto saxophone; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Joel, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.
And their latest CD — thirteen variations on the blues, with echoes of Johnny Hodges, a Basie small group, Mingus, rhythm ‘n’ blues . . . titled BEEN UP SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE DOWN TO ME — is frankly extraordinary. Read more here.
and here’s DON’T MIND IF I DO from that new CD:
And I am not surprised that Joel is a fine writer — think of Joseph Mitchell at a tilt, an affectionate chronicler of urban scenes: read his “Three Memorable Drunks.”
Finally, since I expect that this will awaken some of you to the whimsical glories Joel so generously offers us, hereis a link to Joel’s website and gig calendar. As for me, I have new places to savor, which, even in New York City, is a wonderful thing.
The late clarinetist Alan Cooper deserves to be better-remembered. Here he is in 1991 (courtesy of John Jamie Evans, who is not only the pianist in the photograph but also maintains the site devoted to Cooper and contemporaries, Alan Cooper Remembered.
To begin, here is Cooper’s obituary in The Guardian, by the fine jazz writer and scholar Peter Vacher:
The early 1960s was the era of the curious and brief British “trad jazz” boom. In those years the Temperance Seven, who played a version of 1920s white American dance music, achieved such success that in 1961 they had a British No 1 hit, You’re Driving Me Crazy, produced by George Martin in his pre-Beatles days. The follow-up, Pasadena. made No 4, and there were two other top 30 hits.
The clarinettist Alan Cooper, who has died of cancer aged 76, was a founder member of the group in 1957. Usually a nine-piece, and invariably billed as “one over the eight”, the Temps wore Edwardian clothes, played bizarre instruments, and projected vocals through a megaphone. Most of the band could play a variety of instruments, and Cooper – who arranged Pasadena – doubled on clarinet, bass-clarinet, soprano saxophone and the obscure phonofiddle. The band appeared on television shows such as ITV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars and a special featuring Peter Sellers – with whom they recorded. Cooper’s quirky playing style and wheezy sound were exactly right for the band. Even so, he left in 1962 after “internal dissensions”.
Born in Leeds, he fell in with traditional jazz at the city’s college of art, where aspiring guitarist Diz Disley was a fellow student. They played together in the college jazz band, the Vernon Street Ramblers, and were founder members of the Yorkshire Jazz Band, with which Cooper turned professional, recording in London in 1949.
After national service as a flying officer, Cooper moved to London in the mid-1950s. Initially a Royal College of Art student, he became a part-time lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art and at Chelsea Art School. He also performed in a quartet with bassist Bernie Cash and drummer Lennie Hastings, and recorded in 1958 with trombonist Graham Stewart’s Seven.
After the Temperance Seven, Cooper freelanced as a musician and lecturer, deputising in the Alex Welsh and Freddy Randall bands, and also appeared regularly with the Anglo-American Alliance alongside his old Temps bandmate John RT Davies (obituary, May 29 2004) and sundry Americans then resident in London, notably cornettist/journalist Dick Sudhalter. This informal outfit were the ideal backing band for the veteran blues singer Eva Taylor and former Paul Whiteman trombonist Bill Rank when they performed and recorded in London in the 1960s.
It was during this time that Cooper created his monument to Edwardian design and style with his three-storey house in Wandsworth. Formerly owned by the water-closet pioneer Thomas Crapper, it was taken over by Cooper on the understanding that it would be left untouched by modernity. He filled it with period artefacts and statues, vintage equipment including gramophones, and old instruments. He also kept open house for musician friends but moved, after a series of burglaries, to a tower in Hay on Wye, Herefordshire, which he restored, and where he recreated the Edwardian ambiance of his former home.
Cooper joined the revived New Temperance Seven in 1969 and recorded with them before working regularly with pianist Keith Nichols and touring overseas with drummer Dave Mills. He was also an occasional guest with Bob Kerr and His Whoopee Band, and led his own small groups.
He is survived by his second wife Jenefer and sons Boris and Rollo.
· Alan Swainston Cooper, musician, born February 15 1931; died August 22 2007.
An interlude for music and for a few words of my own. I first heard Cooper on several recordings featuring Dick Sudhalter and his father, with John R. T. Davies, Henry Francis, and others — issued as “Sudhalter and Son” on the “77” label and (perhaps without a band title) on Davies’ own “Ristic” label. [The Sudhalter and Sons records disappeared in one or another seismic life-change and I miss them.]
Cooper was impossible to ignore, difficult to describe, more eccentric than Pee Wee or Chace, often sounding as if he had sunk his clarinet into a bowl of soup and was playing the liquefied version. Gurglings, mutterings, and other sounds made perfect sense, and I remember feeling admiration and hilarity and befuddlement all at once. Bent Persson, who knows and feels the music deeply, has told me of his appreciation of Cooper’s true originalities.
Here, thanks again to Mr. Evans, is a sample of Coops at work on the closing choruses of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:
Mr. Evans has posted seven such rare and delicious effusions hereon his YouTube channel, well worth subscribing to.
Effervescent tributes, the first by Ray Smith, from Just Jazz Magazine in November 2007:
Alan always answered the ‘phone, in a rather dignified voice, by stating simply: “Cooper”. He always signed his letters “Coops”. I once made the mistake of introducing him as “My old friend, Alan Cooper”; “I’m not old” came the reply. Indeed, he wasn’t ever old. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up,” was one of his observations during a discussion about young children. We were playing, as a duo, at a school in the Middle East. I don’t quite remember why we were without the other members of the British All-Stars, but we had to play for a half hour to 5-10 year-olds. At the end of the informal concert, the children’s appreciation was loud and long. I glanced at Alan, and I believe I saw tears glistening in his eyes. Warm-hearted wouldn’t begin to describe him, as any one of his many friends will confirm.
Spending time with Coops was always good value, and we had plenty of time on the various Middle-East tours that Dave Mills put together. There are dozens of stories…. Bruce Turner was guesting on one trip. It was like working with Jimmie Noone and Johnny Hodges in the front line. Alan’s feature number was Strangler on the Floor (with apologies to Mr. Acker Bilk). Resplendent in his white dinner jacket, black bow tie, etc., his attire was completed – for said solo outing – by a battered bowler-hat which perched on the top of his head, looking slightly embarrassed by being there.
The routine went something like this: The first chorus – in the key of Eb – was played most beautifully in tribute to the original version. In the second chorus, Alan changed to the key of E Major. However… the rhythm section section stood its ground, and continued on its way – in Eb. The effect of the resulting non-euphonious sounds registered disbelief on the faces of the audience. On completing the second chorus, the clarinet was building-up for the big finish, when Dave Mills – secreted in the audience with a bird call about his person – started twittering on that very instrument. Alan – head cocked to one side – twittered back. This went on for some time; most of the audience had realized by this time that it was a spoof. Cooper remained dignified, as always, even after the big-finish – or rather “the business” to quote a Cooperism.
Unfortunately, on one occasion, a member of the audience was a native of Pensford – Acker’s home town – and set about Alan verbally, accusing him of insincerity, amongst other things. He just wouldn’t listen to Alan’s reasoning – or ‘piff-paff’, as he would have described it. Bruce Turner was jumping up and down saying, “Hit him, Dad, hit him” to no-one in particular. I had affected a burnt-cork mustache for that particular evening. Alan pointed at said affectation. “Would you say that was displaying insincerity?” “Well no, I suppose not.” “I rest my case,” and so saying, Alan strode off in the direction of the bar. The following year, we toured in the summer time, which was stiflingly hot. Alan and I shared hotel room for four or five days in Abu Dhabi. Two single beds, one on either side of the room. The air-conditioning could be adjusted easily enough – there was a small light over the box on the wall – but knowing whether it should be left on… halfway… or turned off completely was a subject for experiment. On the first night, I adjusted the air-conditioning, and on the second night, Alan adjusted it. By the third night – my turn again – I forgot about until in bed with the lights out. I said something profane, and, without turning on the light, made my way noisily to the air-conditioning controls. Not being able to remember what the setting had been the previous night, I said, “Coops… did wehave it off last night?” There was a brief silence whilst we both thought about the question. Suddenly, a sort of gurgling noise issued from the direction of Cooper.. and then gales of laughter from us both. We didn’t actually stop laughing for an hour… Well, about twenty-five years really.
The following story illustrates the regard in which Alan was held by his fellow musicians… We visited the Pizza Express one evening to listen to Kenny Davern. Having found a seat not too near the orchestra, Kenny Davern saw Coops, and whilst announcing the next number, said “Ladies and Gentlemen, there is only one clarinetist in England who scares the hell out of me, and he’s here tonight. Sitting over there – Alan Cooper.” Alan raised his hand, and sort of wiggled his fingers in acknowledgement.
The voice at the end of the telephone is no more. Thankfully, Alan’s clarinet playing can be heard on a host of recordings. It’s safe to say that we will always remember him. God Bless, Coops.
And from Johannesburg.. (by David Mills)
On the 15 February, 1931, Gordon Alan Cooper, Alan Swainston Cooper, The Professor, and Coops – all one person – entered this world on the same day and year as Claire Bloom. Coops, as I remember him, brought with him a wealth of talent – as a painter, sculptor, teacher and musician, became one of the most original Classic jazz clarinetists in the UK and Europe – if not the World! I have very many fond memories of Coops and I list but a few. We formed the British All Stars Band in 1979, primarily to tour the Gulf States, the first time any British entertainers, let alone jazzers, had done this. Prior to that, Coops and I dreamed up the idea of taking The Temperance Seven on to Concorde, to be the first musicians to play at the speed of sound. In fact, Coops composed the Mach 2 March to celebrate this. After two years of planning and negotiating with BA, on the 31 March, 1976, we all boarded the BA Concorde flight to Bahrain and, an hour into the flight, the Chief Steward asked if the two of us would like to look at the flight deck. When Coops and I went to the flight deck, the Captain and Coops greeted each other: “Inky!” “Stinky!” Both had been pilots in the RAF at the same time, so Stinky asked Inky, “Would you like to fly us to Bahrain?” Coops took over, from Cyprus, and did! The following 25 years work in the Middle East was the result of that trip.
I’ll never forget in Muscat, Oman, on one occasion, when he rushed around all the band members’ rooms at the Ruwi Hotel saying, “Quick, quick, you must come. The Ruler is about to open the country’s first traffic light!”
Coops was a multi-talented, eccentric, loveable character whom no-one will forget, and whose presence made my, and many other lives much richer. Coops, we loved you and will continue to do so.
More music — the performance that sticks in my psyche as well as my ears and is the inspiration for this long tribute. It was recorded at the 100 Club in London on June 10, 1984, by Dave Bennett. The band, in addition to Coops, is Ken Colyer, trumpet; Graham Stewart, trombone and vocal; Johnny Parker, piano; Jim Bray, string bass; Dave Evans, drums; guests Wally Fawkes, clarinet; Diz Disley, guitar — and they embark on a leisurely GEORGIA GRIND. Not only do you hear Coops’ singular weird majesty on clarinet, entering through the window at :41, and he continues to enhance the solos and ensemble for the remaining eight minutes, masterfully:
In the past year, I’ve seen Coops’ house in Hay-on-Wye and had tea with his widow, the charming Jenny (thanks to Martin Litton and Janice Day) who showed me some intriguing Cooper-objects and told stories. I’ve learned even more from my dear friend Sarah Spencer, who knew Coops well, and I present these fragments.
Coops added “-iness” to words (hungriness instead of hunger and the like) and he used to say “Hem Hem,” which came from a book of tales of schoolboy mischief, when talking about anything of a slightly risque nature. He used to ingest Fisherman’s Friends lozenges by the handful constantly and so seemed, when his temperature reached that zone, to sweat or exude that scent from his pores. For those of us fond of Coops, the smell of Fisherman’s Friends may make us slightly nostalgic. For others, they may smell somewhat vile. I remember, with myparents being from Yorkshire (as was Coops), we took a trip ‘oop north’ to Sheffield and came back with some local candy. I brought him some. When he popped them into his mouth, the look on his face was one of utter nostalgia. “I doubted I would ever taste this again!” He played a Clinton system clarinet, a Boosey and Hawkes variant of the Albert system and practically unheard-of outside of the U.K. I have found it almost impossible to find photographs of them online.
Sarah told me, before I’d ever heard GEORGIA GRIND, that Cooper’s term of affection and esteem for men was “Dear Chap,” or sometimes “Dear Boy.”
Dear Coops, I am sorry that I never got to admire you at close range, in person. This blogpost will have to do as one tribute to someone who went his own way always and always spread joy.