Tag Archives: Johnny St.Cyr

“ALL ABOARD!”: THE ROCK ISLAND ROUSTABOUTS VISIT the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 27-29, 2018)

A hot band is good to find, and the Rock Island Roustabouts answer to that description.  I’ll leave it to Hal Smith to explain how this band, which debuted at a Davenport, Iowa tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, came to be named after a Chicago train line . . . because he knows about these things.  Me, I come for the music.

And music there was.  I’ve done the unusual thing of sending out a full plateful — nine videos at once, recorded in three sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (July 27, 28, 29) so that you can experience this band’s power and versatility.  The Roustabouts are co-led by Jeff Barnhart, piano, and Hal Smith, drums, with — in this incarnation — Dave Kosmyna, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Bob Leary, banjo / guitar; Ryan Gould, string bass, and on the last three performances here, a guest appearance by Lauryn Gould, soprano sax.

The music goes deep and although there are some favorites, the Roustabouts like songs that don’t ordinarily get played.  So there’s Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, but also Frank Melrose, Jimmy Blythe, Johnny St. Cyr, and Tiny Parham.

Settle down in your seats.  Make sure you know where the fire extinguisher is, and check that it’s charged.

Kid Ory’s SAVOY BLUES:

THE GIRLS GO CRAZY when this band plays, but the enthusiasm isn’t gender-specific:

Frank Melrose’s MARKET STREET STOMP, scored for Messrs. Smith and Barnhart:

One composition titled MESSIN’ AROUND, this one by pianist Jimmy Blythe:

And Johnny St. Cyr’s song of the same name — to mess around was serious yet delightful business, as you can tell:

Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, at the nice 1929 tempo:

An incomplete but wonderful version of Tiny Parham’s WASHBOARD WIGGLES (blame the sun-blinded and exhausted man behind the camera) which adds Lauryn Gould, who plays that irascible saxophone beautifully:

A song that I’d never heard performed live, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT HURTS, which coalesces into a lovely rocking performance.  I did some small research, expecting that its source was an obscure Wingy Manone record, but no — the later New Orleans bands, who picked up good tunes no matter their source, found this one, from 1948, by Floyd Tillman.  I am not digressing when I offer the Patsy Cline version first (Ray Charles recorded it also):

Now, hear how the Roustabouts make it their own:

and William H. Tyers’ proven mood-enhancer, PANAMA:

May your happiness increase!

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“HISTORIC SCENES”: BILLIE SPEAKS, 1952. LOUIS on the RIVERBOAT, 1962

“A gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift,” writes Lewis Hyde.  The music we love immediately resonates with generosity, “those pretty notes” given freely from the musicians to us, as we give back our gratitude.

Generosity isn’t always restricted to the great players.  This morning, I must thank Nou Dadou (a fellow jazz-researcher) for letting us know about a rare radio interview Billie Holiday did in 1952.  Never mind that Billie has interpreted historical facts in a rather affectionately loose way; it is a joy to hear her speak, to hear the pleasure with which she pronounces the names of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Oscar Peterson.  The interview can be heard here.

My young friend Austin Casey — I can even say my young hero — then reminded me of some video footage of that Louis fellow, along with Kid Ory, Monette Moore, Johnny St. Cyr, and other home boys — at Disneyland in 1962.  It’s reassuring to know that even then the crowd couldn’t clap on the right beats, but no matter.  What a good time the band is having!  Click here to be dee-lighted.

Those gifts will never grow old, wear out, or have to be returned.  And if you’re in the holiday mood, send them on to someone you love . . . !

May your happiness increase.

NOT ONCE, BUT FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: MAL DOES MARTINEZ (August 23, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of this summer stay in California has been the opportunity to hear / enjoy / talk with / delight in the remarkable Mal Sharpe, larger than life and I don’t mean in height or girth.  His music, his wildly improvised deadpan comedies, his stage presence . . . a remarkable fellow indeed.

Once a month, on a Thursday, Mal brings his Big Money in Jazz Band to Armando’s in Martinez — a very pleasant place (more a social club than a nightspot) run by the amiable Roy Jeans.  August 23 was Mal’s “Dixieland” immersion — for our benefit.

He played trombone and sang; Dwayne Rambey played clarinet, tenor saxophone, and soprano, and also sang; Clint Baker sat in the back and directed jazz traffic while playing the banjo or the guitar; youngblood / swing star Sam Rocha gave his all on tuba; fiery Jim Gammon poured his heart into his trumpet; swinging Roy Blumenfeld, drums.  (Notice that a few performances begin with an impromptu Gammon – Baker duet, reminding me of 1928 Louis and Johnny St. Cyr, very happily).

Here are four musical treats and one avian interlude.  For your dining and dancing pleasure, of course.

HINDUSTAN (where there are still a few parking spaces for caravans and no meters):

A magnificent piece of musical architecture — FOUR OR FIVE TIMES — our delight, doin’ things right:

THE SHEIK OF ARABY, clothed or not:

An ancient folktale about a member of the avian family.  Caution!  It contains a naughty word:

And a beautifully earnest reading of JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

Wasn’t that nice?

May your happiness increase.

LILLIE DELK CHRISTIAN, CONTINUED

Here are Miss Christian’s recorded appearances (in brief), all in Chicago.

With Johnny St. Cyr (bj), c. March 5, 1926: SWEET MAN / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN

Add Jimmie Noone (cl), June 15, 1926: LONESOME AND SORRY / BABY O’MINE

With Albert Wynn’s Gut Bucket Five : Dolly Jones (cnt) Albert Wynn (tb) Barney Bigard (sop,ts) Jimmy Flowers (p) Rip Bassett (bj), June 25, 1926, WHEN

With Richard M. Jones’ Jazz Wizards : Artie Starks (cl) Richard M. Jones (p) Johnny St. Cyr (bj), May 6, 1927: IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOU / AIN’T SHE SWEET (possibly two takes)

With Noone, St. Cyr (g), December 12, 1927, MY BLUE HEAVEN / MISS ANNABELLE LEE

With Louis Armstrong And His Hot Four: Louis Armstrong (cnt,vcl) Jimmie Noone (cl) Earl Hines (p) Mancy Carr (g), June 26, 1928: YOU’RE A REAL SWEETHEART / TOO BUSY / WAS IT A DREAM? / LAST NIGHT I DREAMED YOU KISSED ME.  Same personnel, December 11. 1928: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / BABY.  Same, December 12, 1928: SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN.

From the fine writer and researcher Mark Miller, who searched the pages of the Chicago Defender and came up with a 1964 (!) mention of “LIL CHRISTIAN” and three photographs.  But I’ll let Mark speak for himself:

The only variation of the three names that yields results (40 hits) is Lil Christian, a singer who continued to be active into the mid-1960s, and is identified in one 1964 item (see immediately below) as having recorded for OKeh. Must be her, right? Strangely, the items begin in the 1930s; nothing from the 20s.  Attached, in addition to that clipping, are three photos that appeared over the years in the Defender — for comparison with the one that you have. Her high cheek bones are the clue.   So, where to from here? The Defender items are mostly references to engagements in Chicago and on the west coast. I’ve not been comprehensive yet in checking everything, but it doesn’t look as though here’s much in terms of background. But, it’s a start.

The first photograph:

Another:

And finally:

And a more impressionistic meditation on Miss Christian is provided in the notes to a Document CD collecting many of her recordings — a small overview by Fred “Virgil” Turgis, made available to us by jazz scholar Randy Stehle:

Lillie Delk Christian is more interesting vocally and her material is far superior (I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Ain’t She Sweet, I Must Have That Man). That’s probably explains why the band gives a better performance. Noone (clarinet) and St Cyr (guitar) enlivens the December 12th session featuring “My Blue Heaven” and “Miss Annabelle Lee” with gutsy accompaniment and fine solos. Armstrong appears six months later for the June 1928 session. This session features the best, “Too Busy” an uptempo number with Armstrong scatting, and the worst of Christian, “Was It A Dream” a waltz that doesn’t really give the Hot Four the possibility to express themselves.

The last recordings lack a bit of swing in the vocal but is saved by a good rendition of “I Must Have That Man”.

This selection is a nice addition to anyone who’s interested in Satchmo’s early years and work as a back up band. And despite some flaws and, let’s say it, the fact she isn’t a great vocalist, Lillie Delk Christian’s sides have a certain charm and are appealing enough for a curious listener.

And for anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is invaluable first-hand information relayed to us by Hal Smith:

I have a copy of an interview with St. Cyr where he said that Lillie Delk was his LANDLADY. He also said that she used to sing just to entertain the boarders.

Once when St. Cyr was offered a recording session and was asked to bring a vocalist, he asked Ms. Christian to join him. The A&R man liked her voice and hired her to do a second session. (First one was LDC, Jimmie Noone and St Cyr on banjo. On the second, St. Cyr played guitar. The Quartet sides were recorded later).

St. Cyr said that Lillie’s husband, Charlie, was a gambler and was often away from home. Apparently, he had little use for the boarders who asked LDC to sing, and never even offered a tip. When he found out that St. Cyr had gotten two paid record dates for her, he said, “You’re the only one who has ever done ANYTHING for Lil!” Obviously the other boarders had a “handful of ‘gimme’ and a mouthful of ‘much obliged’.”

All of this adds much evidence to our portrait of Miss Christian, but it also adds to the mystery and makes the gaps in her story so much larger.  It would have made some sense to assume that she was local talent — a strong-voiced Chicago singer, utilized by OKeh Records for two years in Chicago.  She could read lyrics, had a powerful delivery — qualities that would endear to the influential music publishers, who saw vocal recordings as ways to sell sheet music.  And it would also make some logical sense that her career would come to a halt in 1929, at least as far as recordings were concerned.  Louis and his friends went off to New York; the Great Depression hit with the stock market crash, which nearly stopped record sales.  It would be a pleasant invention to assume that Miss Christian went back to collecting rents and making sure the hallways were tidy.  But the Defender has her singing through the Thirties, and she is back — a known quantity — in 1964.  In the ideal world, one of my readers would have gone to that performance and asked her a few questions about the good old days.

A little knowledge might indeed be a dangerous thing!  Thanks to all the generous readers (Mark, Hal, Randy, and Sally Fee) who have added both information and intrigue!

May your happiness increase.

THE LILLIE DELK CHRISTIAN MYSTERIES

What we know about the singer Lillie Delk Christian is minute.  She doesn’t even have an entry in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ.  She recorded sixteen sides for OKeh Records in 1926-28 with some of the finest jazz players of the time in Chicago: Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Jimmie Noone, Johnny St. Cyr, Artie Starks, Richard M. Jones, Mancy Carr.  We know that she was St. Cyr’s girlfriend, which to some would explain her place on those records.  But she has a clear, ringing, nasal voice — one that could obviously be heard in the last row of a vaudeville theatre in those pre-microphone days.  It’s been fashionable to sneer at her as a vocalist who got in the way of the “artists,” but once you can get around the assertive frontal attack of her voice, she swings quite well:

On MY BLUE HEAVEN, she is clearly in command of the tune, and she swings quite respectably.  There have been far worse singers on record!

Here’s the pop tune LAST NIGHT I DREAMED YOU KISSED ME:

One can hear the instrumental lines that Louis, Earl, Noone, and St. Cyr are weaving behind her — and her delivery is straightforward but not stiff.  And she doesn’t get distracted by the sublime ruckus behind her.  I used to roll my eyes when she was singing on TOO BUSY, but Louis has the time of his life scatting above, below, and around her, so I have readjusted my scorn (always a good thing).

So where did she come from?  And where did she go?  Can anyone explain?

May your happiness increase.

FOUR BY FIVE: THE ABQ at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

One of the best small groups I know is the ABQ — the Alden-Barrett Quintet — originally Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone and cornet; Chuck Wilson, alto and clarinet; Frank Tate, string bass; Jackie Williams, drums.  Like the Ruby Braff – George Barnes Quartet and the various permutations of Soprano Summit, they had energy and delicacy, force, precision, and sweetness.  And they also swung like mad.

One of the pleasures of Jazz at Chautauqua through the seven years I’ve been attending is the reunions of the ABQ — usually with four of the original members onstage, romping through charts that they created or were done for the group by Buck Clayton (someone whose hundredth birthday just took place on the calendar).

At the September 2011 Chautauqua, Chuck Wilson couldn’t be there, but his place was taken — nobly — by the ever-ready Dan Block.  Here are four wonderful performances from their set:

Basie always merits first place: here’s Earle Warren’s 9:20 SPECIAL:

Buck Clayton’s BLACK SHEEP BLUES (perhaps referring to the necktie that used to be one of Dan Barrett’s sartorial trademarks, with an ebony fellow in the midst of the flock):

Something for Louis!  ORIENTAL STRUT, by Johnny St. Cyr.  Not to be pedantic, but I hear very little “Asian” in this composition: I think Johnny had been to the movies and seen some film with Rudolph Valentino in the desert:

And a mini-evocation of the 1940 Ellington band in COTTON TAIL:

The group doesn’t get many occasions to get together, which is a pity.  Come to the 2012 Chautauqua and — while you’re waiting — look for their CDs on Arbors and Concord Records.

Fifty-Second Street lives when the ABQ is playing.

I’VE BEEN TOO BUSY!

This post is to celebrate something I find sweetly amusing.  I came home late last night (or early this morning) from my very serious video-recording of four jazz gigs in a row, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.  You’ll see the results soon, but that isn’t the point of the anecdote.  I was greeted by a phone message and several emails — their substance was, “Michael, are you all right?  You haven’t blogged in days!”

Nice to be missed!  I’m fine.  A little sleepy, but fine, and happy, too.  But I’ve been too busy capturing music for the blog (and for the musicians, too) to be able to blog.  And the circular logic could provoke headaches, so I suggest you simply accept the statement.

To celebrate the state of being TOO BUSY, here’s some hot jazz on that theme:

Recorded by the Wizard of the Wide-Angle Lens, Rae Ann Berry (“Have Tripod, Will Travel“) on June 20, 2010, at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California — here are Leon Oakley and the Friends of Jazz.  The musicians are: Leon Oakley, cornet; Roy Rubenstein, trombone; Robert Young, soprano sax; Clint Baker, banjo; Marty Eggers, bass; and Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And the elder statesman seated at the far right — with trombone and cap — seems to me to be none other than Bob Mielke!

This one’s for Louis, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, Lillie Delk Christian, and Johnny St. Cyr — we’re never too busy for them.