Tag Archives: Johnny Wiggs

THE FROLICS AT FRAUNCES (Part One): ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO (July 25, 2015)

Fraunces Tavern

To some, Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan is most famous as the spot where George Washington held a farewell dinner for his troops in 1789.  Others like it because of their wonderfully extensive beer list and straightforward food — nice servers always, too.  Also, it’s a fine place to bring the family if you’re coming or going to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.

For me, it’s a little-known hot spot of rhythm on Saturday afternoons from 1-4. I came there a few months ago to enjoy the hot music of Emily Asher’s Garden Party Trio [plus guest] — which you can enjoy here — fine rocking music.

But let us live in the moment!  Here are four performances by Rob Adkins, string bass; Craig Ventresco, guitar (the legend from San Francisco and a friend for a decade); Mike Davis, cornet AND trombone.

“Trombone?” you might be saying.  Mike is very new to the trombone — a number of months — and he was playing an instrument not his own.  So he was a little sensitive about my making these performances public (those dangerous eyebrows went up and threatened to stay there) but I assured him that his playing was admirable, even if he was severe on himself.  His cornet work is a complete delight.  The music Rob, Craig, and Mike make is delicate and forceful, incendiary and serene.  You’ll see and hear for yourself on these four performances.  Rob swings out with or without the bow, by the way.

LILA, which I associate with a Frank Trumbauer / Bix Beiderbecke OKeh — a song I’ve never heard anyone play live, so thank you!

WHISPERING, which was once one of the most-played songs in this country and is now terribly obscure:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, with memories of Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Andy Secrest, Bix Beiderbecke, and Irving Berlin:

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, another Berlin classic, this performance evoking Red Nichols and Miff Mole:

And although it gets me in trouble with some people every time I write it, these three musicians are not necrophiliac impersonators.  They know the old records — those cherished performances — intimately and lovingly, and the records might act as scaffolding, but they are not restricted to copying them. (Ironically, this session reminds me more than a little of the lovely impromptu recordings made by Johnny Wiggs and Snoozer Quinn, although those two musicians didn’t have the benefit of a wonderful string bassist of Rob’s caliber in the hospital.)

There will be more to come from this Saturday’s glorious hot chamber music performance.  And this coming Saturday (August 1) Rob Adkins has asked trombonist Matt Musselman and guitarist Kris Kaiser to start the good works.  I know they will.

May your happiness increase!

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A COMFORTABLE PASTORAL: JOHNNY WIGGS and RAYMOND BURKE on CD

The recordings that cornetist Johnny Wiggs, clarinetist Raymond Burke, guitarist / singer Dr. Edmond Souchon, and string bassist / singer Sherwood Mangiapane made in two sessions in New Orleans (in 1952 and 1955) have been both glorious and elusive.  Issued on two ten-inch microgroove recordings on the even more elusive Paramount and Steiner-Davis labels, they were wonderful yet invisible.  I first heard some of this music on a cassette copy made for me by the late Bob Hilbert, and I knew much more existed but had never heard it.  A year ago, I saw one of the records on eBay at a low price and (atypically) was able to buy it without eroding my savings. I thought the front was very impressive.

WIGGS-BURKE 10

But the reverse was a real surprise (the eBay seller either didn’t turn the record over or wasn’t interested): it was autographed by Doctor Souchon to Pinky Vidacovitch:

WIGGS-BURKE 10 back

But this is a post about music, not about record collecting, so I hope my digression is pertinent here. I should say that the sessions were originally envisioned by collector / archivist / scholar John Steiner as trios — clarinet, guitar, bass — echoing the recordings of George Lewis that William Russell had made earlier.  Russell agreed to record the Burke-Souchon-Mangiapane trio, but — happily for us — Johnny Wiggs came by with his horn and the group became a quartet.  The two vinyl issues collected sixteen performances.

I — and no doubt others — have been waiting, hoping for this music to be effectively issued on compact disc. And it happened!  The American Music label has issued a two-disc set of the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR. Not only does it offer the original sixteen tracks but a good many alternate takes, performances that didn’t make the original issues, and three tracks from 1957 that bring together Burke, Wiggs, Souchon, Art Hodes, and Freddie Moore. On one or two tracks, Raymond plays the harmonica (not a high point in recorded music, but we needed to know about it, and a tin flute.  Wise notes by the deeply-involved Butch Thompson and some rare photographs make the set complete.  The recorded sound is fine and the discs are well-programmed, so each disc sounds like a small rewarding session on its own.

BURKE-WIGGS CD

The songs are (asterisks denoting a title with more than one version) PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET / ALL NIGHT LONG* / AT SUNDOWN / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES* / MEMORIES / RAY’S TUNE* / CONGO SQUARE / BUCKTOWN BOUNCE / I CAN’T USE IT / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?* / MAMA’S BABY BOY* (a/k/a DO WHAT ORY SAY) / ALL THE WRONGS YOU’VE DONE TO ME / MILENBERG JOYS / POSTMAN’S LAMENT* / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / SMILES / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / SPANISH TINGE* / HARMONICA BLUES / WALKIN’ THE DOG / TULIP STOMP (a/k/a WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP) / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / GOING HOME / CHINATOWN / JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE / BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / JOHNNY’S BOUNCE / BUCK TOWN / HEEBIE JEEBIES / MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR / SISTER KATE / TIN CAN ALLEY / UNKNOWN TUNE / CITY OF A MILLION DREAMS.

Here  is Jazzology Music (the GHB Jazz Foundation): the primary site where the discs can be bought — and if you notice the Index, bottom right of the page, with a careful scrolling motion you can hear the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR play PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET.  If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

I don’t usually become hyperbolic and tell my readers that this is “the one disc they must buy,” “the one festival they must go to,” etc., because there is so much enticing and enduring music both being reissued and being made live even as I write this.  Yet I think that the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR has given me an extraordinary amount of the pleasure in the months that I have had and played it . . . and played it.  And I certainly think that the musicians who think of themselves as “traditionalists” and beyond should be listening intently to this music for its lightness, its depth of feeling, and its expertise. Let me explain.

Although I don’t identify myself as purely a New Orleans jazz aficionad0 (in my mind, the Armstrong Town Hall Concert, Jones-Smith Inc., the 1938 Basie band, the Goodman Trio, the 1940-1 Ellington band, the Keynotes, the Vanguards . . . all have their assured places in my affections) but I do love collective improvisation as a musical way of life.  In fact, some of my favorite moments in hearing / video-recording live jazz in 2013 are provided by those groups that understand their existence as BANDS — improvising, creating backgrounds, playing riffs, working as ensembles — whether they model themselves on Bunk’s Last Testament band or much more “modern” in their approach.

Wiggs, Burke, Souchon, and Mangiapane very occasionally present themselves as a single-soloist-with-rhythm; more often, we hear four sweetly idiosyncratic voices going their own ways while fulfilling their roles as members of a band.  So “there’s always something going on” to interest a close listener.

Souchon and Mangiapane create a firm, fluid, old-time but swinging acoustic rhythm: the way guitar and bass used to be played before the late Thirties (guitar) and Forties (string bass).  They don’t push or drag; they provide the most delightful swing counterpoint.  As well, Souchon (especially) is an instantly compelling, saucy singer — with a wink or a twinkle for the listener. I doubt that a few of his naughty vocals (hardly so by 2013 standards) are his own invention, but the metaphors of the songs are hilarious in the fashion of mid-Twenties blues.  Since I carry a backpack for work and play, I empathize with his earnest reading of POSTMAN’S LAMENT, whose refrain is “Lord, take this pack off my back.”

The great voices on this disc are paradoxically the sounds that come through Burke’s clarinet and Wiggs’ cornet — sounds I found endearing as soon as I heard them, years back.  Wiggs heard Joe Oliver in the flesh in the very early Twenties and was impressed by the King for the rest of his life — thus he has some of Oliver’s terse power.  But he also heard Bix, and I think the latter’s lyricism won out: Wiggs (although not as harmonically ambitious as Bobby Hackett) captured something of Bix’s brief epigrammatic ways: a Wiggs phrase is like a great, sometimes sad, utterance: it hangs in the air the way a Joe Thomas phrase did, and we are musing over its meaning while he is eight bars away.  In his own fashion, Wiggs is a great sad poet: his melancholy is always lightened by his joy in the rolling rhythms beneath him, but his sound is autumnal, dark red and gold.

Burke, for his part, can at first sound like an elliptical version of the great New Orleans clarinetists — I am thinking specifically of Ed Hall, of Bujie Centobie — but he has his own phrasing and his own, always surprising sound.  And, just in passing, I must say that the most famous group with this instrumentation was the Bechet-Spanier Big Four of 1940, but the Wiggs-Burke quartet is far more easy, less pugilistic. Friends playing for their own enjoyment, weaving melodies for the sake of song, not musicians out to show who’s boss of the session.

My friend Joe Shepherd made available two videos of Johnny, Raymond, Danny Barker, Graham Stewart, Bob Green, and Freddie Moore and he shot at the 1972 Manassas Jazz Festival.  Time hasn’t treated the visual image well, but the music is eternal:

OLD STACK O’LEE BLUES:

TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL:

Why my title?  The music on the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR discs suggests a kind of informal play among friends that very rarely takes place in a recording studio — more often in a living room or on a porch when only the musicians and their friends are there.  Certainly this would be a perfect set of CDs for a backyard party . . . sweet melodies in swing.

May your happiness increase!

ON MY CAR — OR YOURS

After I had posted this set of ruminations about certain kinds of prejudice, a posting which used Jimmy Rushing as a noble example, the Esteemed Mal Sharpe wrote in.  I’m always glad to encounter Mal — he has original ideas!  This time, he suggested a bumper sticker he would like to display:

HONK IF YOU MISS JIMMY RUSHING

I feel it is a wonderful idea, mixing celebration and regret.

I was sufficiently moved to spend half an hour on a site that lets you design your own bumper sticker in quest of this idea, but calmed down when I saw what my impulse might cost.  I imagined having a boxful of stickers and pressing them on people I thought might share the same impulse.  Would I ever see one on someone’s car?

But Mal’s idea wouldn’t stay quiet, so I came up with other possibilities, of course reflecting my personal leanings.  See if any of them appeal to you, or perhaps you have ones you like better.

I BRAKE FOR LEE WILEY

JOHNNY WIGGS WAS MY TEACHER

HEALED BY LOUIS 

SIDNEY CATLETT IS STILL BIG

FORTY-SEVEN WEST THIRD STREET

“YEAH, MAN!”

I also think my closing line would do well . . .

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: “OLD STACK O’LEE”: THE BLUES at MANASSAS (December 2, 1972): JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, BOB GREENE, DANNY BARKER, FREDDIE MOORE

Through the kindness of Joe Shepherd, we have another trip backwards in time to view and hear the magic of the music.  In case you missed the first excursion, do visit here.

Be forewarned: the visual quality of this video is quite murky — almost twenty thousand leagues under the sea, although Verne never heard such music.  One can get used to it.  This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.

This video is a valuable document, because it and its predecessor from the same session are (as far as I know) the only performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.  They play a nice old blues (close to MAKE ME A PALLET ME ON THE FLOOR) at a sweet tempo, the beat marked off in a special old-time way by Freddie.  And Raymond Burke’s sliding, gliding feet (in very shiny loafers) are a visual treat in themselves; even the cameraperson thought so.

Burke and Wiggs are uplifting poets of the music: sad but not maudlin or frozen in time, playing the blues from deep knowledge of what they are, where they came from, and how they feel to listeners.  There’s a good deal of Jelly Roll Morton here, too, which is always uplifting.

This video — although its originator is not known to me — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music.  Thank you, Joe!  And this one’s for you — John Gill and Leon Oakley, Roger Wade, Doug Pomeroy, Chris Tyle, Sam McKinistry, Trygve Hernæs, and Hank O’Neal!  (“By popular demand” — more from Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke!)

May your happiness increase.

RUEFUL AND LOVELY: “TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL”: JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, DANNY BARKER, BOB GREENE, FREDDIE MOORE (Manassas Jazz Festival. December 2, 1972)

Be forewarned: the visual quality on the performance that follows is sub-standard, although you can get used to it.  This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.

This video is a valuable document, because I don’t know of any other performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.

The song is elusive — TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL — and I couldn’t find any lyrics online, but the opening phrase so neatly fits the title that I am sure JAZZ LIVES readers can (silently) invent their own narratives with the proper scansion.

I am amused by Raymond Burke’s endearing personal choreography — his body mirrors what he is playing more than is true with many players.  And his tone is so singular, sweet-tart in the manner of Ed Hall — but you wouldn’t mistake one player for the other.  A great underacknowledged poet of the clarinet.

Wiggs continues to astonish.  He saw Joe Oliver in New Orleans (I seem to remember this was 1919) and Oliver left a lasting impression.  But then Wiggs heard Bix and those wandering odes took over — haunting but always mobile.

I hear in Wiggs, who was 73 at the time of this video, a sweet, sad evocation of what Bix might have sounded like had he lived on this long.  Wiggs’ music plunges forward while looking over its shoulder in a melancholy, ruminative way.  And although Wiggs recorded early (1927) and from 1949 into the fifties, his late work fully expresses a kind of autumnal sensibility, delicate without being timid or maudlin — the sweet voice of an elder who has seen a great deal and knows that life is sadly finite but celebrates that life with his cornet.

One other thing occurs to me, with special relevance to my own video efforts, where musicians justly want the performances that will be disseminated and preserved for posterity to be as free from flaws as possible.  Anyone who watches this video to the end — and why wouldn’t you? — notices a small train wreck (with no one hurt) because the band is not clear whether to go on or stop. I find this, like Burke’s body language, quite endearing.  I’d rather have imperfect Wiggs and Burke than know that this flawed performance had been consigned to the trash.

This video — although I do not know the originator — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music.  Thank you, Joe!

May your happiness increase.

THE SOUNDS OF NEW ORLEANS (on DISC)

Three recent CDs from the George H. Buck family of labels are unusual sound-pictures of the riches of New Orleans jazz.

GEOFF BULL IN NEW ORLEANS (GHB BCD 203) is a CD reissue of trumpeter Bull’s first American session (October 1977, first issued December 1999).  Although Bull says that his first influences were George Lewis and Bunk Johnson, the music he made at Preservation Hall on this recording is far from what we would expect: light, floating, subtle.

A good deal of this is due to his beautiful playing, at times reminiscent of Bunk at his most lyrical (think of the American Music trios with Don Ewell); Bull can also sound like Marty Marsala or Henry “Red” Allen, but he is his own man, with a relaxed conception.  Making this session even more memorable is clarinetist Raymond Burke, free to roam in the front line alongside Bull.  Bassist James Prevost is a melodic swinger, and the rhythm section is completed by two strong individualists: Sing Miller, piano and vocal*; Cie Frazier, drums.

Rather than choose a program of Preservation Hall favorites, Bull and friends opted for pretty tunes not often played: PECULIAR / DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / ONE FOR THE ROAD (a leisurely blues) / I’M NOBODY’S BABY / ALL ALONE / NEVERTHELESS / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME* /JEEP’S BLUES / ZERO (I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO) / THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN* / LET JESUS FIX IT FOR YOU* / HONEY – WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM*.The results are sweet thoughtful jazz, conversational music that musicians play for their own pleasure.

My own Geoff Bull tale is musically rewarding: I hadn’t heard him play before encountering him (unbeknownst to me) in an after-hours jam session during the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival.  Here’s his performance (with Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys) of MAMA INEZ — Geoff’s rangy, relaxed lyricism is a standout:

Two volumes of rare, previously unheard material from producer Joe Mares’ archives (he was the younger brother of trumpeter Paul) are fascinating, and not only for their rarity (GHB BCD 522 and 530, available separately).  Almost all of the material is in excellent fidelity, and this selection from Mares’ collection — which, when transferred to CD, filed twenty-seven discs — comes from concerts and local clubs as well as radio broadcasts between 1948 and 1953.  Students of New Orleans jazz will be thrilled by new material from their heroes, captured live; others will simply find the music energetic, varied, and refreshing.

Volume One begins with the hilarious HADACOL RAMBLE — with an ensemble vocal chorus — that is somewhere between folk-song, medicine show, down-home comedy, and vaudeville routine advertising the miraculous benefits of Hadacol, a New Orleans patent medicine apparently far more efficacious than Geritol or Serutan.

Other delights on this disc include appearances by Johnny Wiggs, Irving Fazola, Bujie Centobie, Raymond Burke, and Dr. Edmond Souchon.  The repertoire is often familiar, but the musicians play INDIANA (for instance) as if it had not been worn out by decades of bandstand tedium.  The songs are HADACOL RAMBLE / HADACOL RAMBLE (vocal) / I’M GOIN’ HOME / BASIN STREET BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / TIN ROOF BLUES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SAVOY BLUES / THAT’S A PLENTY / HIGH SOCIETY / BASIN STREET BLUES / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BILL BAILEY — and the collective personnel is Sharkey Bonano, Tony Dalmado, George Hartman, Johnny Wiggs, Pinky Vidalcovich, Irving Fazola, Harry Shields, Raymond Burke, Bujie Centobie, Julian Laine, Emile Christian, Jack Delaney, Roy Zimmerman, Bill Zalik, Burt Peck, Stanley Mendelsohn, Frank Federico, Edmond Souchon, Sherwood Mangiapane, Chink Martin, Arnold Loyocano, Johnny Castaing, Fred King, Roger Johnson, Monk Hazel, Abbie Brunies — a fine mix of veterans and less-familiar players — but everyone solos with fine brio and no one gets lost in the ensemble.

The second volume is equally good — with most of the same players remaining.  (This selection adds Tony Almerico, Tony Costa, and Lester Bouchon.) Three standouts are the fine Stacy-inspired pianist Jeff Riddick (heard on seven selections), inspired work from drummer Ray Bauduc (on five), and Jack Teagarden — whose performance of BASIN STREET BLUES is especially inspired and happy, contrary to my initial expectations.

The songs are CLARINET MARMALADE / ALICE BLUE GOWN / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE /PECULIAR / THE LAND OF DREAMS / INDIANA / SHE’S CRYING FOR ME /MISSOURI TWO BEAT / BASIN STREET BLUES / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / TIN ROOF BLUES / MARIE / HIGH SOCIETY / I’M A DING DONG DADDY / I’M GOIN’ HOME.

If you find yourself tired of routine performances of the “classic” repertoire, these three discs will be a refreshing corrective.

May your happiness increase.

THE REAL THING: CHRIS TYLE’S SILVER LEAF JAZZ BAND

Often, the best music doesn’t get the most intense publicity.  This is especially true for Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Jazz Band — a flexible down-home band that could play hot and sweet, and specialized in music that was authentically from the heart — not from someone else’s recordings.  If you don’t know Chris, you’ve missed out on a great deal of memorable jazz: he is one of the finest hot cornetists on the planet, a gutty singer, a splendid clarinetist, and a drummer other drummers speak of admiringly.  He’s also a fine scholar and researcher, so his music projects are based on a deep love of the music rather than simply getting a group together in the studio and saying, “What’s next?”

The compact discs his Silver Leaf Jazz Band recorded are among the most refreshing I know . . . but not enough attention has been paid to them.  I recall, some years ago, being in the car with a musician-friend, who said, “Listen to this and tell me what you think . . . don’t try to identify the musicians, just enjoy the sounds.”  By the time the band was sixteen bars in, I was hooked.

I think JAZZ LIVES readers should be, too.

One of the ironies of the “jazz audience” is that often it gravitates to the Officially Old — those Sam Morgan or Ellington-Blanton discs, or the Brand New — Exx Why and her Girls, recorded in 2012 . . . and what’s in the middle gets forgotten, even by listeners with a wide reach.  This would be a wrong turn . . . !

The first CD I would draw your attention to is by the smallest group: a quartet of Chris, clarinetist Orange Kellin, pianist Steve Pistorius, and drummer John Gill — everyone also takes a turn at the vocal microphone except Orange.  The disc is called NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE (GHB BCD-347) and it features good songs that haven’t been exhausted through overexposure, including a substantial portion of music associated with Armand Piron, Lovie Austin, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Dick Oxtot, and others: NEW ORLEANS WIGGLE / ST. LOUIS BLUES / STOCKYARDS STRUT / RED MAN BLUES / TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ / PONCHARTRAIN / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / AIN’T NOBODY GOT THE BLUES LIKE ME / YEARNING (JUST FOR YOU) / MESSIN’ AROUND / NEW ORLEANS BLUES / DOWN WHERE THE SUN GOES DOWN / BOUNCING AROUND / MAMMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / MANDY LEE BLUES / STEPPING ON THE BLUES.

A quintet is featured on STREETS AND SCENES OF NEW ORLEANS (Good Time Jazz GTJCD 15001-2): Chris, Jacques Gauthe, clarinet; Dave Sager, trombone; Tom Roberts, piano; John Gill.  They play CONGO SQUARE / SILVER LEAF STRUT / FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE / WEST END BLUES / WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / WHY DON’T YOU GO TO NEW ORLEANS? / PERDIDO STREET BLUES / GALLATIN STREET GRIND / BLUES FOR RAMPART STREET / NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES / BORDER OF THE QUARTER / DECATUR STREET BLUES / WE SHALL WALK THROUGH THE STREETS OF THE CITY / TIN ROOF BLUES / CANAL STREET BLUES / BASIN STREET BLUES / GRAVIER STREET BLUES / BACK O’TOWN BLUES / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE.  Some familiar tunes here, but none of them rendered in a formulaic way — along with less-played compositions associated with Johnny Wiggs, Johnny Dodds, Ida Cox, and others.

On GREAT COMPOSERS OF NEW ORLEANS JAZZ (Good Time Jazz GTJCD 15005-1), Chris and a larger ensemble offer the most entertaining history lesson I can imagine.  The band is Chris, Mike Owen, trombone; Orange Kellin, Steve Pistorious, piano; Craig Ventresco, guitar / banjo; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / washboard — with guest appearances from Duke Heitger, trumpet, and Tom Fischer, clarinet / alto sax.  The tunes are a wonderful education in hot jazz: PAPA’S GOT THE JIM-JAMS / WEARY CITY / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / YOU CAN HAVE IT / GHOST OF THE BLUES / ISN’T THERE A LITTLE LOVE? / EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY BLUES / KLONDYKE BLUES / IT ALL BELONGS TO YOU / RAMBLING BLUES / NUMBER TWO BLUES / I MUST HAVE IT / PECULIAR / COOKIE / PAPA, WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO TO ME I’VE BEEN DOING IT FOR YEARS — music composed by Alcide “Yellow” Nunez, Wingy Manone, Sidney Bechet, Larry Shields, Nick LaRocca, King Oliver, Sharkey Bonano, and a young fellow named Armstrong.

By the time I came to Chris’ Jelly Roll Morton tribute, I had heard a great many of them . . . some stiffly “correct,” others weirdly “innovative.”  But JELLY’S BEST JAM (Good Time Jazz 15002-1) lives up to its name, with Chris, Orange, John Gill (on trombone this time); Tom Roberts, Vince Giordano, string bass, and Hal Smith.  Interspersed among the band performances are four solos Jelly Roll recorded in 1938: CREEPY FEELING / FINGER BUSTER / WININ’ BOY BLUES / HONKY TONK MUSIC.  The band sides are EACH DAY / THE PEARLS / IF SOMEONE WOULD ONLY LOVE ME / MAMA’S GOT A BABY / JELLY ROLL BLUES / SHREVEPORT STOMP / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / KING PORTER STOMP / MISTER JOE / BIG FAT HAM / JUNGLE BLUES / GOOD OLD NEW YORK — all performed with a flair and imagination that Jelly Roll himself would have enjoyed.  For myself, I can testify that this CD is dangerously swinging: I got caught up in KING PORTER STOMP while driving to see the Beloved and missed my exit completely . . . still, it was worth it.

Recently, I asked Chris to tell us something about the birth of this band:

I started working at the Can-Can Cafe, in the Royal Sonesta Hotel [in New Orleans], in early 1992.  I was playing trumpet with clarinetist Barry Wratten’s band.  Barry’s band was there for a few months, was laid-off, then Clive Wilson came in.  After a few months they were laid off.

After Barry’s band got their walking papers, I went to the management and mentioned I had led bands in the past and would be interested in the job if they ever wanted to make a change.  In October, 1992, I got the call to start working there, six nights a week.

I wanted the band to be a success, not only with the public but also with the management.  Luckily, managment were pretty much “hands-off,” leaving me to run things as I thought appropriate.  My vision was for the band to be a “classic” jazz group, not a Bourbon Street dixieland band.  Bearing the latter in mind, however, when we had tour groups I tailored our repertoire to the chestnuts: Bill Bailey, Muskrat Ramble, Saints, etc.  But we played these things in our style, and the people I hired were on the same page as myself, musically. The tourist set(s) aside, there was an incredible amount of quality music played there.  Once the tour group sets were over, we played music written or recorded by King Oliver, Louis, Jelly Roll Morton, the ODJB.  I love obscure pop songs of the 1920s and 1930s, so we’d do those, too.

George Hocutt, a producer who had been involved with the record business for decades, liked the band and encouraged Fantasy Records in Berkeley to ressurect the Good Time Jazz label for new recordings.  Fantasy had been issuing material from the Good Time Jazz catalog for awhile.  So George talked them into recording the Silver Leaf Jazz Band.  We ended up doing three recordings, and George also recorded cornetist Scott Black, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, and clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Jacques Gauthe’.

The band at the Can-Can was always a quartet – which was all the hotel could budget.  But I’d add players for the recordings.  The first, “Street and Scenes of New Orleans”, was the regular band plus trombonist David Sager.  With the Jelly Roll Morton tribute we did a six-piece band, and a seven piece band for the “Great Composers of New Orleans Jazz” CD.

The “Composers” cd is my favorite – mainly for the selection of tunes but also for the playing of the other musicians.  That’s not to say the others aren’t good – they are, and they all got excellent reviews when they were released.  

We also did some nice recordings for Stomp-Off and for George Buck’s label, GHB.  The one we did for George got an incredible rating from the Penguin Guide to Jazz.  There’s only a few recordings in the book that get a special “rosette.”  So our recording, with a quartet, was given the same rating as “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis and “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane.  A few years ago Concord Records bought Fantasy, and even though the Silver Leaf Jazz Band is listed on their website, the CDs are out-of-print.

Fortunately, these four superb discs are still available through Chris — and buying discs direct from the artist is the method I recommend!

They can go to my site – www.tyleman.com, and click on the CD photos.  It will take them to Paypal.  If they want to pay some other way, like check or money order, they can just send me an email: chris@tyleman.com.  I’m asking $14.95 each, but it they order three or more I’ll send the CDs post paid. They would need to contact me for the “special offer.”

I urge you to get these good sounds!

May your happiness increase.