Vic Dickenson has been a hero of mine for decades and continues to be one. I’ve tried to chase down everything he recorded, which is a substantial amount — so I was very pleased to encounter music of the highest quality, recorded under ideal circumstances, that I’d never heard before. By “ideal circumstances,” I mean live — not in the studio — among musicians of his caliber, and at leisure.
The peerless Black and Blue record label recorded many performances both during the Grande Parade du Jazz (informally, the Nice Jazz Festival) and in the studio, when visiting musicians could be brought together. A CD series devoted to July 1978 Nice performances has been issued yet elusive. Vic appears on CDs headed by Harry “Sweets” Edison, Helen Humes, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Jonah Jones. A few days ago, these CDs were shared — complete — on YouTube, and I can now present those performances on which Vic is, properly, given time to shine. Details, in brief, below.
BYE BYE BLACKBIRD (Sweets Edison, Lockjaw Davis, Vic, Gerry Wiggins, Major Holley, Oliver Jackson):
TANGERINE (and the two following selections: Sweets, Jaws, Vic, Hank Jones, Major, J.C. Heard):
STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:
ROMPIN’ WITH J.C.:
IF YOU’RE A VIPER (Helen Humes, Paul Bascomb, Wiggins, Holley, Oliver Jackson):
BILL BAILEY (and the four following: Jonah Jones, Wiggins, Pierre Michelot, Jackson):
DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / POOR BUTTERFLY (mislabeled):
ALL OF ME:
ST. LOUIS BLUES:
YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (Jonah, Vic, Wild Bill Davison, Claude Gousset, Johnny Mince, Bob Wilber, Bob Fields, Jerome Darr, Ivan Rolle, Clyde Lucas):
ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (as YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU):
Even if you’re not a viper, these are remarkable performances. Those who have heard hours of “festival jazz” or “jazz party jazz” know that it is always expert — these people are professionals beyond dispute — but sometimes with an air of “Well, I guess we have to play INDIANA for the millionth time. You go here, I’ll go there, and eventually we can relax offstage.” But these performances show Vic and others, energized, no matter how familiar the chosen repertoire.
Bless Vic Dickenson and his lovely friends is what I say. And thank you, unknown YouTube benefactor, for these gifts.
That’s a very important question, I think. Sincerity leads to shared joy; duplicity to heartbreak. Popular song of the great period revels in the second (think of Bing singing WERE YOU SINCERE?) but we know the delight of being told the loving truth.
Helen Ward, aglow.
We all have recordings that touch us, for a variety of reasons. I have too many “desert island discs” to consider the possibility to transporting them all, even metaphysically, somewhere else. But this post celebrates one of them. The song is the clever and touching DID YOU MEAN IT? from 1936. The title had been used nine years earlier and there is a contemporary version, but this song may be most familiar in a recording pairing Ella Fitzgerald with Benny Goodman, a joint venture that happened only once.
But with all respect to Ella and Benny, this is the version that touches me deeply: I have been playing it over and over.
On this venerable disc — part of a copy of a radio broadcast from March 1937 — Helen Ward’s voice comes through with the most earnest candor. You can believe that she believes what she is singing: no tricks, no gimmicks. She is sincere through and through, and she has the most wondrous band of musicians having the time of their lives around her.
The recording has a good deal of surface noice but one can ignore that easily. It’s what was called an “airshot,” in this case, a recording made of a live performance “off the air.” We don’t know the source and the date is not certain, but whoever had the disc prized it and played it often.
We can hear it now, eighty-five years later, through the brilliant diligence of the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett, who has devoted decades to the reverent study of well-known figures Stuff Smith and Eddie South, less well-known ones Johnny Frigo, Ginger Smock, Harry Lookofsky, Dick Wetmore, Henry Crowder, Juice Wilson, and dozens of others. His CDs are models of presentation of the rarest (and most entertaining) material; his books are serious but never ponderous studies in which the people chronicled are instantly alive in evidence and good stories. Learn more here.
Now, to the music.
The band is Helen Ward, vocal; Teddy Wilson, piano; Stuff Smith, violin; Jonah Jones, trumpet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums.
After a declamatory introduction by Jonah, three choruses: one by Helen (obbligati by Stuff and Teddy), one split between Teddy (thank you, Kirby) and Ben at his best pre-1940 rhapsodic, the last for Helen, even more earnest and tender, if such a thing could be imagined, with Jonah making derisive noises behind her as the room temperature rises and she — without changing very much at all — becomes trumpet-like in the best Connie Boswell manner. Please notice the way the band stops, to hold its breath, perhaps, at 2:42. Was this an arrangement based on Helen’s having performed it with the Goodman band, even though Ella made the Victor record?
The applause that closes this performance sounds artificial, but mine is genuine.
This was broadcast on the radio in March 1937. Listen and ponder: do we have it so much better? I wonder.
Thank you, Helen and colleagues. Thank you, Mort Dixon and Jesse Greer.
So much heat in a small space. No, I’m not referring to some stove or portable heater, but this new group, the VIPER CLUB 4: Dave Kelbie, guitar; Tcha Limberger, violin and vocal; Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Sebastien Girardot, string bass. Think of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones, Frank Newton and Teddy Bunn.
And you don’t have to imagine what this summit meeting of European swing stars sounds like, because Dave Kelbie has generously posted three videos. These three wonderful performances were done — in rehearsal, which accounts for the comfortable clothes and the splendid relaxation — on November 22, 2022, and the superb video work is by Francesca Musetti @Fra.
‘T’AIN’T NO USE:
ONYX CLUB SPREE:
I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:
And it’s so nice: they have a touring schedule, which you can read about here, also with biographies of the four players and many photographs. AND the site also has new issues by Martin Wheatley and Thomas (a/k/a “Spats”) Langham, Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow, Don Vappie, and other luminaries. Fascinating music on all sides. (I am writing a post about the memorable CDs by the Wheatley-Langham duo, so delicious.)
I know this group will find the audiences its swinging good humor deserves.
Today I present two seriously undervalued musicians: Jonah Jones, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone, playing a brief set with Jonah’s working band — Jerome Darr, guitar; Ivan Rolle, string bass; Bob Fields, piano; Clyde Lucas, drums, at the Grande Parade du Jazz, July 8, 1978.
AT SUNDOWN / the first part of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:
ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (concluded) / ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE (closing theme):
Wonderful musicians, but oh so neglected.
Jonah was typecast as a muted-trumpet-for-easy-listening, even as his audiences loved him. He was successful and steady, which goes against the stereotype of the jazz musician as suffering outsider-rebel. Popularity seems a millstone around the neck: “If it sells, it can’t be good.”
And Bud . . . was typecast as a “D——-d” stalwart, someone stuck in the past, where in reality he was a superbly creative and idiosyncratic player, truly with his own style.
If you think I exaggerate, look for them in the books that pretend to delineate the Jazz History Canon.
Here they are, completely mature players with decades of experience behind them (Bud was 72, Jonah 69) showing that swing is not just a young person’s art. They had recorded together only once, a 1954 session under George Wettling’s leadership, featuring other underrated pleasures: George Barnes, Milt Hinton, Dave Bowman, so to me this little session is especially precious.
As an extra gift, here’s a 1982 interview that our friend Loren Schoenberg did with Bud — a remarkable historical gift then and now:
Some jazz enthusiasts hold these half-truths to be completely evident:
a) No one buys CDs anymore, and if someone does (contradicting the first assumption) he probably has a crank phone on the wall of his basement room, next to the black-and-white television set found on the street;
b) No one pays for music anymore, since everything is accessible online.
Brace yourself. What follows is a recommendation that you — gasp — buy a CD to hear divine music not available any other way.
“Let yourself go!”
The CD contains 36 musical performances by a medium-sized big band, broadcast in early 1937. The band was led by violinist superhero Stuff Smith, and combined parts of his own Onyx Club Boys with members of the Cab Calloway and Chick Webb orchestras: Ben Webster, Jonah Jones, Sandy Williams, Garvin Bushell, Walter Thomas, Clyde Hart, Bobby Bennett, John Kirby (perhaps Milt Hinton), Cozy Cole.
AND a pearly young Miss Ella Fitzgerald.
Here’s a sample: Ella before the Cole Porter Songbook, in a composition she didn’t record in her early prime — with solos by Ben:
Such a de-lovely rarity, found — along with 36 other previously unheard performances from 1937 on the CD depicted in the image — issued on AB Fable CD 024. The music and the documentation will also explain why Ella refers to “Lucidin” in the lyrics. Source material courtesy of Jonah Jones, Edgar Sampson, and Anthony Barnett: read about — and purchase — this dazzling offering http://abar.net/index.htm.
And if you would like nearly six more minutes of swing ecstasy to be convinced that AB Fable is worth investigating, I invite you to listen and read more here.
P.S. Why am I writing a blogpost about a CD released in 2010? Simple: not enough people know about it, and it is one of my favorites on my wall of CDs. And whenever I have conversations with people and I reveal that I am deeply involved in jazz, before they start to look wildly around the room for someone else — anyone! — to talk to, they say, “I really like Ella Fitzgerald,” before they run off. I wish one-tenth of the people who “really like Ella” would buy this CD!
The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others. But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.
Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw. When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.
Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.
Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough”(who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.
Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:
And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:
and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:
My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.
And one other piece of beautiful evidence:
How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?
Hereis an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.
Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless. I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted. Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.
But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session. I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff. He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.
And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt. When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn. Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.
Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.
Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:
A few nights ago, I was deep in pleasing archaeology-commerce (prowling through eBay) and my search for “Ben Webster” came up with this gem (at a reasonable price). The slide was attributed to Nat Singerman, although it was the work of his brother Harvey, someone I’d written about (with photographs) here in 2018.
and the more dramatic front side. From other sildes, I propose that this band, Ben’s, had Howard McGhee, Oscar Pettiford, and Jo Jones. I couldn’t identify the pianist in my 2018 post, but that is some band:
The seller, celluloidmemories, describes this and other slides here, although misrepresenting Nat as the photographer:
Just a wonderful item for the collector of jazz photography! This is a color “slide” that was owned by Nat Singerman, co-owner of the Character Arts photography studio in Cleveland in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Singerman and his co-workers produced these beautiful images and then would share them with many of their subjects. Here is an example with Art Hodes, the famed jazz pianist, looking at some of these slides through a viewer:
The slides are approximately 4” long by 1 5/8” in width and consist of two pieces of color film placed between glass slides. The result is a wonderful 3D-like view of these jazz legends. We recently acquired a large number of these largely unpublished images at auction and are now able to pass them along to the marketplace. The slides have been left “as found” and may have some dust / dirt / scratches to the glass, etc… The images are striking and very rare to find in bold color like this. For each slide, you will be able to see a close-up of the film image and a photo of the front and back the actual slide being purchased. These slides come from Nat Singerman’s personal collection and have been referenced in a NY Times Magazine piece back in 2013 and then again on Antiques Roadshow – PBS Episode #2005 – Little Rock – 2015.
So, now to the item up for bid here… This is an image of two members of Ben Webster’s Band performing at Cleveland’s Loop Lounge in September of 1955. I think the trumpeter is Howard McGhee. Don’t know who the drummer is. [Jo Jones, say I.] Wonderful image! Please see all photos. Don’t let this rare piece get away! Enjoy! Please note: All slides will be expertly packed for delivery via USPS Mail. This auction does NOT include the Art Hodes slide seen above. The word celluloidmemories will not appear on the actual slide. No copyrights or other rights of reproduction are being transferred or inferred in this auction. This item is being sold strictly as a collector’s item.
And a few other Harvey Singerman slides, with appropriate music — in this case, Art Hodes and Pee Wee Russell in 1968 (also Jimmy McPartland, Bob Cousins, Rail Wilson) on television in Chicago:
Art, Pee Wee, and a string bassist, March 1949, location not identified:
Etta Jones at Lindsay’s Sky Bar, Cleveland, May 1952. Is that Jonah Jones, and is that Earl Hines’ band of that time?
Here are Etta and Earl:
Earl Hines, May 1952, “studio”:
And one that strikes me as spectacular: Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Tal Farlow, Chicago, July 1951:
Freddie Moore, Club Riviera, March 1949:
There are several more worth looking for or at: Flip Phillips, Oscar Peterson, J.C. Higginbotham.
But before you drift away to the eBay page or elsewhere, remember that not all the good performance photographs are taken by professionals. Jerry Kohout, brother of the Cleveland piano legend Hank Kohout, asked me recently if I would like to see candid photographs of his brother performing (probably at the Theatrical Grill) with well-known stars, and I said YES.
First, music to admire by: Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson in New York, 1957, thanks to my friend “Davey Tough”— whose channel blossoms with rarities you didn’t know existed:
Nancy Ray, vocal; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Hank Kohout, piano.
and perhaps from the same gig, without Nancy for the moment:
Finally, heroes Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson (avec beret) with Hank:
Enjoy the sounds the pictures make: a vanished time that can be called back again.
I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough. Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed. It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis. Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)
Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know. I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)
Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it. Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:
That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here. And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)
The eBay seller jgautographs continues to delight and astonish. They (she? he?) have several thousand items for sale as I write this, for auction or at a fixed price, and even if the later items are unusual yet unsigned photographs, what they have to show us is plenty, from Jacquelie Kennedy Onassis’ stationery, a Playbill signed by Arthur Miller (DEATH OF A SALESMAN, of course), Joey Heatherton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Redford, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Frederick Douglass, Stephen Sondheim, and more. When people signed their name in cursive, and often before ballpoint pens were ubiquitous.
And did I mention they have jazz autographs for sale? I remarked upon such wonders here and here about ten days ago. I’ll leave it to you to search the thousands of items, but here are some of very definite jazz interest. (This time, the seller is not showing the reverse of these signatures, as (s)he did earlier, so there is a slight air of mystery to these offerings. But someone was hip.)
There must still be thousands of Tommy Dorsey signatures still circulating, but this one’s unusual: did TD sign it for a family friend, or for someone who asked what his middle name was? I’ve not seen another like it, and the flourishes mark it as authentic.
Coleman Hawkins had gorgeous handwriting, which does not surprise me. I have no idea if the signature and photograph are contemporaneous, though:
Someone who worked on and off with Hawk, including time in the Fletcher Henderson band and reunions in the 1956-7 period, my hero, Henry “Red” Allen:
and a signature rarely seen, Leon “Chu” Berry — also from the time when musicians not only signed their name but said what instrument they played:
So far, this post has been silent, but it would be cruel to not include the two small-group sides that bring together Hawk, Red, and Chu — under the leadership of Spike Hughes in 1933 (also including Sidney Catlett, Lawrence Lucie, Wayman Carver, Benny Carter, and Dicky Wells — truly all-star!
HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?
SWEET SUE, JUST YOU (with a glorious Carver flute chorus):
Back to Chu Berry . . . he was playing in Cab Calloway’s band at the end of his life; in the trombone section was Tyree Glenn, who lived much longer (I saw him with Louis):
A star of that orchestra and a star in his own right, trumpeter Jonah Jones:
Here’s BROADWAY HOLDOVER, originally issued on the Staff label under Milt Hinton’s name, featuring Jonah, Tyree, Al Gibson, Dave Rivera, and J.C. Heard:
Our autograph collector friend also made it to a club where Pete Brown was playing — again, another signature rarely seen:
Pete, Tyree, Hilton Jefferson, Jerry Jerome, and Bernie Leighton join Joe Thomas for one of my favorite records, the Keynote YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:
And (exciting for me) our collector made a trip to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, from whence the signatures of Pee Wee Russell and Miff Mole came. Now, two musicians from the same schools of thought — the short-lived Rod Cless:
and trumpet hero Sterling Bose:
and because they have been so rare, here are the four sides by the Rod Cless Quartet with Bose, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster on the Black and White label — I am told that the Black and White sides will be a Mosaic box set, which is fine news. Here’s HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? (with verse):
MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:
and James P., brilliantly, on I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:
If I could play clarinet, I would like to sound like Cless.
And a postscript of a personal nature: the auction ended a few minutes ago. I bid on the Cless, the Pete Brown, the Bose, and on a whim (because I knew it would go for a high price) the Chu Berry. Chu went for nearly $171; someone beat me by a dollar for Sterling Bose, but my bids — not exorbitant — won the Cless and Pete. When they come in the mail, I envision a frame with Pee Wee, Rod, and Pete. It will give me pleasure, and some years from now, it will give someone else pleasure also.
Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.
Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.” And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.
You can learn more and hear something Savory here.
This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them. In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible. Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.
A Savory Disc
I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.
Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.” Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience. Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on. Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.
Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome. And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.
On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring. Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down. Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set). I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.
I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time. (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.) And the rhythm section! Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations. Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.
And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc. The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large. I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.
The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.
To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized: Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide. Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly. And I am sure I’ve left someone out.
These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.
I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can. But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music. When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons. Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect. Check the Mosaic discography.
I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.
Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser. And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat. I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat. Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets. Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months. You’ve been warned.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.
The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.
And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.
Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:
I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.
But I must start with a small odd anecdote. Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it. It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison. I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.” Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea. Cue rueful laughter.
Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by extension, the recordings in this box set.
Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries. One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her. The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string. True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle. But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable. Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.
His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid. But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero. I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues. And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.
Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography. From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance. There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.) Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises. I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.
He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps. Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week. In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered. I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to. I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art. They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.
The music impresses and moves me on several levels. One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic. Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole. There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical. The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues. The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part. The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type. Check the Mosaic discography.
In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another. Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane. The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.
The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record. Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions. What more could one create within this form? How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?
Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so. But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.
I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear. Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs. When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations. However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.
I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise. Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards. So I won’t belabor that point here. If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do. But I will leave that to others to argue.
I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over. And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research. And the photographs. And the splendid transfers. I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.
For more information, go here— either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available. Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box? Is it a good value? I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds. Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.
And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.
The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling. I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book. There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement. And more, some of it dross.
I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light. On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed. On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall. But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.
To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere. Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link. An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of one Nat Singerman, but I have learned they were taken by his brother Harvey, as explained in the comments below. (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)
The musicians Harvey photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall. They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere. (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.) It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country. Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased. As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!” I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.
J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Harvey’s careful label shows:
Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:
and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):
Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:
Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:
Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:
Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955. Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:
The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves. But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless. And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.
Yes, I’ve been eBaying at the moon when I should have been grading student essays. But one brings more pleasure than the other, I write ruefully.
Concert ephemera from the Condon ensemble — and what a band! — doing Florida gigs in, I think, 1955. If you can find it, there is a recording on the Pumpkin label (the gift to us of the much-missed Bob Hilbert) of that same band in Palm Beach, 1955:
And I do know that Eddie hated the word DIXIELAND, but he didn’t write the ad copy. Here’s some beautiful contemporaneous music from the “Bixieland” session supervised by George Avakian for Columbia, with a chance to hear Eddie, Walter Page, and George Wettling in glorious sound — to say nothing of Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, and Ed Hall:
and here’s an earlier piece of Americana that I’d never seen (nor imagined). Why a football? I don’t know. But it’s great Stuff:
And the appropriate music, in two parts, mixing vaudeville, illicit substances, and Swing:
Aside from Stuff, that’s Jonah Jones, Clyde Hart, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, and Cozy Cole — a truly rocking band. Listen to the great beat of that rhythm section behind the vocal jive:
That’s Stuff Smith, one of the supreme beings of jazz violin, who deserves more attention than he received in life and does now. An audio sample from 1936 with Stuff playing and singing (with Jonah Jones, Jimmy Sherman, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, Cozy Cole):
This little remembrance of Stuff is because I found two rare paper items on eBay — which you shall see. But before I completed this post, I checked everything with Anthony Barnett, the reigning scholar of jazz violin, who’s issued wonderful CDs, books, and more about Stuff, Eddie South, Ginger Smock, and many other stars and hidden talents. More about Anthony’s ABFable projects below.
Here is a 1947 Associated Booking Corporation (that’s Joe Glaser’s firm) magazine advertisement for both Stuff and Eddie South — Eddie has Leonard Gaskin, string bass; Allen Tinney, piano:
Music instruction books linked to famous artists proliferated from the Twenties onwards, and here is one I had never seen before. I don’t know how deeply Stuff was involved with the compositions and arrangements, but this 1944 folio is a fascinating curio:
Characteristically and thriftily, a mix of public domain songs and a few originals:
The composition looks unadventurous, but this is only the first page. “Who is Lee Armentrout?” is the big question on JEOPARDY, and the answer is here:
How about some more music? “Can do,” we say — a lovely rendition of DEEP PURPLE, a duet between Stuff and Sun Ra, recorded on July 29, 1948 by drummer Tommy Hunter. Ra is playing a solovox which was a piano attachment.
Anthony tells me, “There is a lost recording by Ra and Coleman Hawkins from around the same period (but not the same session). Stuff and Hawk led a band for a couple of weeks around that time with Ra on piano.”
I’ve been writing ecstatically about Anthony’s ABFable discs for more than a decade now: they are absolute models of loving presentation of rare music. How about this: a CD of 1937 broadcasts of a big band, led by Stuff, its members drawn from the Chick Webb band plus other stars — with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald? Stuff leading a septet drawn from the 1942 Fats Waller band while Fats was touring; a Ray Nance compilation that features acetate recordings of Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, Sonny Greer — oh, and Ben plays clarinet as well as tenor; more from Ray Perry, Eddie South, and glorious violinists you’ve never heard of. Helen Ward, Rex Stewart, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones . . .
It’s self-indulgent to quote oneself, but perhaps this is forgivable: I don’t ordinarily endorse the productions of an entire CD label, but Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable series of reissues is something special: rare music, beautifully annotated and transferred, delightfully presented. Barnett’s notes are erudite but never dull. Each CD I’ve heard has been a joyous experience in preconception-shattering. I used to think of jazz violin improvisation beyond Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli as a mildly inconvenient experience. Grudgingly, I acknowledged that it was possible to play compelling jazz on the instrument, but I was politely waiting for Ray Nance to pick up his cornet. Barnett’s CDs have effected a small conversion experience for me—and even if you don’t have the same transformation take place, they are fun to listen to over and over again.
And — as a musing four-bar break: we are, in 2017, caught between the Montagues and the Capulets, the people who say, “Oh, CDs are dead!” and those who say, “I’ll never download a note.” These CDs are rare creations, and those ignorant of them might be unintentionally denying themselves joy. For more of the right stuff and Stuff — books, CDs, accurate information galore — visit here.
This is more joyous evidence from a great evening of music created by the Ivory Club Boys — this time at Armando’s in Martinez, California, on May 31, 2014.
The ICB are devoted to the hot and sweet swing music often associated with Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys — a Fifty-Second Street small jazz group of the middle Thirties, featuring Jonah Jones and Cozy Cole among others. Their twenty-first century incarnation includes Paul Mehling, guitar / vocal; Evan Price, electric violin; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar / vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass / vocal. This night, sitting in for Clint Baker, we had Marc Caparone, cornet, who will be familiar to readers of JAZZ LIVES. I’ve posted other music from this evening in half a dozen posts — thisis a special favorite of mine.
But here are two more: a sweet one (written by Stuff) and a hot one (written by several people including Puccini).
The Ivory Club Boys gig here and there, hither and yon — most recently in Santa Cruz, which I couldn’t get to. I dream of regular gigs, a CD, a DVD, and more.
This post isn’t a nostalgic celebration of the Doublemint Twins and their chewing gum. I offer here two live performances of a wonderful song — a spiritual in swingtime, evoking Stuff Smith and Louis Armstrong at once.
This marvel took place at the Ivory Club Boys’ triumphant May 31, 2014, evening at Armando’s in Martinez, California. The ICB are devoted to evoking the Onyx Club Boys, violinist / singer / composer Leroy Hezekiah “Stuff” Smith’s hot little band — with Jonah Jones and Cozy Cole — from Fifty-Second Street in New York City (when that street featured music rather than high-rise apartment buildings).
The Boys (and a Girl) are Paul Mehling, guitar, vocal; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Isabelle Fontaine, rhythm guitar, vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.
Here is the “rehearsal take” of NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN — performed in an empty room for the soundcheck. A marvel, no arguments:
And Song Number Five of the actual Show. Another marvel, and comparisons are odious. The music isn’t:
The Ivory Club Boys will be performing at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California, on August 19. Details here!
If you don’t like this — I mean these — in the words of Professor Harold Hill, you got trouble.
That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:
I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction. In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous. He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.
Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:
and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:
If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.
I bought myself a truly gratifying holiday present:
For details from the Fresh Sound website, click here.
It’s possible that some readers might be unfamiliar with the Keynote Records catalogue, so if the tiny portraits above don’t pique your interest, here are a few words. Between 1941 and 1947, with the bulk of its sessions taking place in 1944-6. this independent jazz label produced a wide sampling of the best jazz records ever made — from the New Orleans jazz of George Hartman to the “modern sounds” of Lennie Tristano and Red Rodney. Keynote was the expression of one man’s intelligent taste — the Javanese jazz fan and producer Harry Lim (1919-1990). Lim’s records neatly balance written arrangements, head arrangements, and improvised solos. Many of the Keynote issues were recorded for issue on 12″ 78s, thus giving musicians room to create in more leisurely ways. In fairness, the Keynote sessions were not the only ones taking place in the wartime years: Lim’s issues ran parallel with Commodore, Blue Note, Hot Record Society, Signature, and even smaller labels — Asch, Jamboree and Wax among them. Keynote featured jazz players who were already stars: Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Red Norvo, Benny Carter, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges, Slam Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Count Basie (pseudonymously), as well as improvisers of equal worth who were often not given their due: trumpeter Joe Thomas, Milt Hinton, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Kenny Kersey, Jonah Jones, George Barnes, Johnny Guarneri, Emmett Berry, Aaron Sachs, Herman Chittison, George Wettling, Hilton Jefferson, Tyree Glenn, Gene Sedric, Juan Tizol, Rex Stewart, Pete Brown, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Nick Fatool, Bujie Centobie, Irving Fazola, Allan Reuss, Dave Tough, and many others. Three particularly remarkable sessions brought together like-minded but singular horn players: trumpeters Eldridge, Thomas, and Berry; saxophonists Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Harry Carney; trombonists Vic Dickenson, Harris, Claude Jones, and Benny Morton.
Several things need to be said about the new Fresh Sounds reissue. For one, it is a “European bootleg,” which will repel some collectors of this music, and I think rightly so. However, the Keynotes have never been issued in any systematic way on compact disc — in their home country or otherwise. And the Fresh Sound set concentrates, with a few exceptions, on issued material. I don’t know whether this was a choice designed to entice listeners who find alternate takes annoying, or to keep the set’s price attractive. (I bought mine on Amazon for $94, which seems a good value for 243 sides.) The sound is good, although I haven’t compared it to any 78 or vinyl issues. True Keynote devotees will, of course, have their own copies of the comprehensive vinyl issue of the label’s offerings, and the Fresh Sound box won’t replace that.
The reissue history of the Keynote recordings is characteristically odd — leaving aside the comprehensive vinyl set — with early vinyl assortments assembled by instrument (trumpet, trombone, or saxophone), then later ones featuring stars Hawkins, Young, Woody Herman sidemen, Norvo, Tristano, etc. As I write this, I am taking great pleasure in the sixth disc — selected at random — hearing sessions led by Barney Bigard, Horace Henderson, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, and Milt Hinton — a fascinating cross-section of timeless jazz recorded in 1945. “Fresh Sound” is an apt description for these sides recorded more than half a century ago.
Fresh Sound producer Jordi Pujol made an intriguing and ultimately rewarding choice when looking for documentary material to fill the 125-page booklet. He included a careful history of the label — sources unknown — which tells a great deal about how these sessions came to be. (I feel, once again, that we should all give thanks to selfless men such as Harry Lim.) Then, rather than reprint the enthusiastic, empathic notes written by Dan Morgenstern for the Keynote vinyl box set, Pujol returned to the archives of DOWN BEAT and METRONOME for contemporary reviews and session photographs. The photographs — although many of them have been reproduced elsewhere — offer a few treasures: Lester Young, Johnny Guarnieri, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett at their December 1943 session, and photographs from the jam sessions Lim created before Keynote began recording regularly: one, in particular, caught me: a 1940 Chicago session featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Earl Hines, John Simmons, Tubby Hall . . . and the elusive Boyce Brown. The reviews from the contemporary jazz magazines are both grating and revealing. One might forget just how hard those writers and editors worked to appear breezy, slangy, hip — Catlett is referred to as a “colored tubman” in one review — and how severe they were in assessing what now seem masterpieces, using “uneventful,” “nothing distinctive,” “routine,” “pleasant,” “don’t emerge as anything too special.” Lester Young is referred to as “Les,” his tenor sound as “muddy-toned.” That the music survived this critical approach from writers who were its advocates says much about its durability. Here, by the way, is a side DOWN BEAT termed a “fiasco” and gave it a grade of C. I rest my case:
I think I got more than my money’s worth. You might agree.
Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily. But Pettiford’s is often not among them.
Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career. An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.
This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings. It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s. But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.
Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous. And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of. Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.
Surely he should be better known.
Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:
and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):
And his stirring solo on STARDUST:
Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience. One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions. That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.
Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there. Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago. Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.
American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.
And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME. Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz. The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.
And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:
Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow? Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative. So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar. Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew. “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.
Then and now, jazz critics to look scornfully on “all-star” sets at concerts. Some of the musicians play to the crowd; solos go on too long or were rushed; tempos were brisk; the repertoire simplified; the gatherings weren’t always well-planned.
But now, nearly forty years after this jam session at the Nice Jazz Festival, we can only give thanks for such an assemblage. We can note mournfully that almost all of the musicians named above — with the exception of Harley White and Eddie Graham — have departed.
Here are giants.
And you’ll see delightful fashion statements as well — Norvo’s summer casual; Carter’s psychedelic trousers; Hackett’s demure mandarin collar, and more. Hines’s attire needs its own posting.
George Wein announces Hines; the stagehands move around; we see Duvivier toting his bass and Rosengarden making those preliminary percussive noises before Hines appears, smiling widely. He begins a brisk OUR MONDAY DATE with the rhythm falling in line — and all the flash, daring, and exuberance is entirely in place, forty-five years after his early bravura playing in Chicago. The ensemble that follows is cheerful although the instrumental voices seem to float to the surface and down again — perhaps because of the cinematography of Jean-Christophe Averty (usually known for his incessant cutting between shots) focuses on Hines. Carter is majestically fleet for two; Norvo cool and mobile for his, raising and lowering his shoulder as always.
But little dramas are going on. Carter is dissatisfied with his reed and is working on it; Vic looks as if he’d rather be elsewhere, at a slower tempo (although his bridge is splendid). The other all-stars seem to have decided that the way to deal with Hines’ tempo is to split choruses — Bigard / Venuti swap trademark phrases for two choruses (while Bigard plays, Venuti tidies his bow); Hackett and Carter embark on the same playful gambit, but the King looks quite surprised at a squeak and is almost ready to put his horn down for its misdemeanor. Hines returns for two exuberantly showy choruses, mixing lopsided shards of the melody with surrealistic stride, calling the band in for a final chorus (where the camera stays on them), Hackett more powerfully leading — into the leader’s showy extended ending: nine minutes later.
A year later, it is Hines (in green) with Harley White, bass; Eddie Graham, drums, paying tribute to early Ellington with BLACK AND TAN FANTASY in a reading that sticks closely to the original arrangement — then a romping C JAM BLUES which is all Hines at his flying best, with an equally flying solo by White and a half-time ending.
What follows is, for me, magic: Vic Dickenson playing a ballad, I GOT IT BAD, with no other horns.
Please note how he quietly puts the tempo where he wants it (slower than Hines has counted it off) and his amazing variety of tones and moods — exultation and pathos, sadness and near-mockery. No mutes, nothing but years of lip technique and experimenting with the kinds of sounds both he and the horn could make. The delicacy yet solid swing of the last eight bars of his second chorus; the entire solo returning to the melody but the very antithesis of “straight” playing. Vic isn’t cherished as he should be, for his mastery of “tonation and phrasing,” but his vocalized range, his soulful use of vibrato, his balancing the blues and wit . . . there should be statues of Vic Dickenson!
What comes next seems from another world, with all respects to the very excellent drummer Graham — a lengthy CARAVAN, with some reflections of Jo Jones. Appropriately.
It is a varied half-hour, and viewers will have their favorite moments, as I do. But we owe thanks to our YouTube friend (details below) for sharing this with us, and (even before this) French television for having the foresight to record such gatherings . . . against the day when the giants would no longer honor us with their presence.
The begetter of this slice of delicious French television,”belltele1,” on YouTube, seems to have a special key to the treasure chest of jazz video rarities. In a half-hour of casual browsing, I saw Eldridge, Brubeck, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bechet, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Monk, Rollins, Mingus, Teddy Buckner, Louis, Jonah Jones, Ellington, Basie — the marvels are there for the viewing. And he offers DVDs of the programs . . . .
The splendors of the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party continue in a set celebrating the compositions and recordings of Miss Lil — Lillian Hardin — in the Twenties. On the marriage license she was L. H. Armstrong, but she did more than keep house: she wrote songs and led hot recording sessions. And she was one of the few early women to do these things successfully. In addition, without Miss Lil, husband Louis might have stayed comfortably as Joe Oliver’s second cornetist for many years . . . material for an alternate-universe science fiction novel.
Lil’s recording career continued on through the Thirties — with a brilliant series of Decca sessions, a few featuring Joe Thomas and Chu Berry — and the Forties. As a child, one of my first jazz records ever was a 12″ Black and White 78 of “Lil ‘Brown Gal’ Armstrong” with Jonah Jones, J. C. Higginbotham, Al Gibson, and Baby Dodds — among others. She played and recorded with Sidney Bechet and Chicagoans . . . always exuberant, energetic.
Early on, I remember being swept up in the force and joy of Louis’ Hot Fives and Sevens, and only later coming to the sessions that paired Lil with Johnny Dodds, George Mitchell, and others — powerful music where the players’ delight was absolutely tangible. As it is here!
Here are a half-dozen 2012 performances featuring Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Bent Persson, cornet; Staphane Gillot, reeds; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, bass.
GATEMOUTH (or GATE MOUTH, one of those locutions designed to state that one had a large orifice up front):
PERDIDO STREET BLUES:
GEORGIA BO BO (from “Lil’s Hot Shots,” the Hot Five on another label, not well-disgused: