Tag Archives: Johnny Marvin

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

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THRIFT as a VIRTUE

The record collectors used to call it “junking,” but it’s more elevated (cleaner, brighter lighting, safer environs) these days.  Goodwill and the Salvation Army are usually well-stocked with Andy Williams and Donna Summer vinyl, although oddities still pop up — SONGS OF THE RED ARMY, for one.

But the Beloved and I like thrift stores — for wardrobe choices that go beyond the Ralph Lauren racks at Macy’s, for odds and ends (a salad spinner, an unusual coffee mug, intriguing books).  And their supply of records is usually more interesting.

Here are the rewards from a tour of thrift shops in the Mill Valley – Larkspur – Fairfax – San Rafael area in California, the records ranging from the common to the unusual, one dollar or less each:

As Marc Myers would say (he loves the subtexts of odd Fifties record covers), we hope she is enjoying the music — another bachelor pad fantasy, but the woman who liked Clyde Hurley playing a ballad would be a real keeper.

A very different approach to female pulchritude and the male gaze, no?  I might have this music on CD, but felt it would be terribly disloyal to be in the SF area and pass this record by.  Madam here likes jazz piano!

With this one, we’re clearly into the unusual — even though it seems to be a supermarket label and I’ve never heard Billy Franklin play.  (Is it possible that it was a pseudonym?)  But the accompanying band is first-class: Mousey Alexander, drums; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Hary DiVito, trombone; Whitey Mitchell, bass, and a very young Johnny Varro, piano.  I don’t think I’ll be sufficiently organized to bring this disc to the Sweet and Hot festival to show Johnny, but perhaps.  And the songs are hopeful, too: I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU / INDIANA / SOUTH OF THE BORDER / THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER / SHINE / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / MEMORIES OF YOU / SWEET SUE.

In many thrift and second-hand stores, the 78 rpm records there are often ancient classical, overpriced Edisons, Teach Your Canary To Sing, 4 Top Hits, or the like.  One of the stores had three paper albums and a number of loose records — the usual Sinatra and Gene Autry, but someone’s favorites from 1930-1, which I bought indiscriminately.  Who knows which Columbia or Victor dance band record is hiding a yet-undiscovered Jack Purvis bridge?

Oscar Grogan?  But the other side is Richard Whiting’s HONEY, which is usually performed at a medium tempo, so it’s hopeful.

Now, there’s a prize!  The reverse is MY MAN.

Probably quite sweet rather than hot, but for a dollar, everyone might take a risk.  The other side is INDIAN LOVE CALL, and I hope it’s a precursor of Louis with Gordon Jenkins, Tony Pastor with Artie Shaw.

One other photographed poorly, so the titles will have to suffice:  ME AND MY SHADOW (Johnny Marvin: “The Ukulele Ace,” with Clarinet Accompaniment) / MY SUNDAY GIRL (Charles Kaley, with Violin, Saxophone, and Piano): Columbia 1021-D.  The heart imagines Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti or Matty Malneck, Arthur Schutt . . .

And two ringers — in that I paid more than a dollar for each one in an actual used record store.  But you’ll understand the reason for this sudden profligacy immediately:

I had this a long time ago, and it disappeared under unhappy circumstances: although Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones should have recorded in every decade prior to this, it’s a blessing that Hughes and Louis Panassie got them into a studio for this and another session as well.

I have heard the music from this two-band-spectacular, but it’s nice to have it on disc — with George Wettling, Nappy Trottier, Jack Maheu, Georg Brunis, Pee Wee Russell, Johnny Frigo, and Vic “Dickinson.”  The photograph of Jimmy and Art giving each other some skin is a good one, even if it’s a tossup whether the pretty model at rear left or the “redcap” looks less convincing.  Maybe Method acting hadn’t hit the Chicago studios yet?

I can’t wait until I encounter a three-speed turntable!