Tag Archives: Johnny Hodges

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!  

A LITTLE EPIPHANY: “JEEP’S BLUES,” THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH: May 11, 2019)

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.

May your happiness increase!

IN SWING WE TRUST: CANDY JACKET JAZZ BAND: “UNSTUCK IN TIME”

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.

May your happiness increase!

HAMP AND DOC: LYNN “DOC” SKINNER and the LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL: A MEMOIR (by DR. LYNN J. “DOC” SKINNER as told to ALAN JAY SOLAN)

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 DOC is 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:

Fifty years later, on the David Letterman Show:

May your happiness increase!

TRICKY SAM’S EXUBERANT SOUNDS (1940)

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:

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS DUKE ELLINGTON, LOUIS, BASIE, AL HIRSCHFELD, BENNY, and ARTIE (March 9, 2018)

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.

May your happiness increase!

DUKE WITH A DIFFERENCE, NO, SEVERAL DIFFERENCES

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.

May your happiness increase!