She continues to be a great singer — not only because of her gorgeous resonant supple voice, but because she knows what the lyrics mean, phrases them so that we feel them too. No tricks, no melodrama, no “acting,” just heartfelt communication. And her art is so touching because she so beautifully conceals the hard work beneath it.
You can see and hear it in this lovely performance, with pianist Jon Davis, recorded at Mezzrow on December 8, 2019.
And here, thanks to Terry Gross and NPR, is the story of how Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine came to write this song for Judy Garland in 1944.
I will have more performances from Barbara’s recent Mezzrow appearance to share with you in future. And, should you be wondering who painted the quirky portrait of that club and its inhabitants, it is the painterBarbara Rosene — who also has her own beautiful styles — from jazz clubs to starlit scenes to beloved pets to abstracts.
Before anyone gets too excited, I do not have acetates or videos of this event to share with you. All I can offer is the souvenir program, which was on sale a month ago on eBay here for $300. This item does not seem to have sold, but the seller ended the sale. If someone were interested, I’d suggest contacting the seller and opening negotiations again.
This program was from a benefit for Joe, ill with tuberculosis, from which he recovered. I had never seen this paper treasure before; I thought you, too, would be intrigued. And I’ve inserted some contemporaneous recordings by Joe to keep the display from being silent. Since I’ve never seen or heard evidence that this concert was broadcast or that airshots or transcription discs exist, this paper chronicle is all we have. It must have been a lovely evening of music and feeling.
and this, from 1945 (Archie Rosati, clarinet; Ulysses Livingston, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums — on the SUNSET label):
and SUMMERTIME, 1941, Commodore:
another Decca solo from 1935:
and (Larry and Everett were Crosby brothers; Bing had a large role in this):
and Joe’s Cafe Society Orchestra, with Ed Anderson, Big Joe Turner, Benny Morton, Ed Hall:
and the Cafe Society Orchestra with Helen Ward:
and what an assortment of stars and bands!
and LADY BE GOOD from the same band, in a performance I’d bet stretched out longer when live (Danny Polo takes the tenor solo):
and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE by the same band, with Ed Anderson building on Louis and Big Joe Turner making it a blues:
Joe recovered and lived on until October 1971, which to me shows the sustaining power of community in times of stress and despair.
Eddie Condon and his friends made hot music lyrical and the reverse, so what they played and sang always makes me glad. And Eddie loved to improvise on the best popular songs of the time, not just a dozen “jazz classics.”
I think most people associate EASTER PARADE with the film starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but the song was from the 1933 show AS THOUSANDS CHEER — as the sheet music indicates. Here is a very sweet contemporaneous version by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, with Joe very reserved. In addition to a nice orchestral sound, fine lively piano (Schutt?) and guitar (McDonough,Victor, or Kress?) — both unidentified in Lord and Rust — there is a gorgeous vocal by Dolores Reade, who gave up her singing career to marry Bob Hope. Nothing against the comedian, but that was a real loss to everyone else. (I found a copy of this 78 in a California thrift store, so it might have enjoyed some popularity.)
Here are several “Americondon” improvisations for this holiday, taken from the 1944-45 broadcasts of segments of Eddie’s Town Hall Concerts. Some of these videos end with the introduction to another song, but you can — I believe — find much more from these concerts on YouTube, almost always mysteriously labeled and presented. (Performances featuring Hot Lips Page are presented on a channel apparently devoted to Willie “the Lion” Smith, for reasons beyond me — whether ignorance or deceit or both, I can’t say. But if you know the name of a song performed at a Condon concert, you have a good change of uncovering it there.)
Those who listen attentively to these performances will find variations, both bold and subtle, in the four versions that follow — tempo, solo improvisations, ensemble sound.
Here’s that Berlin song again, featuring Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Jess Stacy, Sid Weiss, Gene Krupa:
and featuring Max Kaminsky, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Bob Casey, Eddie, Joe Grauso, at a slower tempo, with wonderful announcements at the end.
and featuring Max, Miff, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and happily, a much more audible Eddie — doing an audition for a Chesterfield (cigarette) radio program:
and from the very end of the broadcast series (the network wanted Eddie to bring in a comedian and he refused), here are Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee, Ernie, Gene Schroeder, Sid Weiss, and my hero, Sidney Catlett, whose accompaniment is a lesson in itself, and whose closing break is a marvel:
You’ll hear someone (maybe announcer Fred Robbins?) shout “WOW!” at the end of the first version: I agree. Happy Easter in music to you all.
I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet. My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion. (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)
He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.
I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.
“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:
and this, Joe’s great melody:
A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .
Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:
He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny. He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:
But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility. He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.
A short, perhaps dark interlude. Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?” It’s a splendid question. In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.
Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today. The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make. He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama. But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz. He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public. So he never became mythic or a martyr. Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now. He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78. Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.
But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that? He can cover the keyboard. And he swings. His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”
One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY / MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976. “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:
Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:
And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:
For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY — has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial. Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017. Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.
Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake. Perculate on THIS:
I originally wanted to title this post THE THREE EXPATS — Pablo Campos (piano) was visiting from France; Evan Arntzen (reeds / vocal) hails from Vancouver, and Rob Adkins came south from Boston . . . but the JAZZ LIVES legal staff warned me against possible misrepresentation.
So all I will say is that these three gentlemen made delightful music on Sunday, February 7 (while Ehud Asherie was having a coffee at the other end of the room and relaxing) — on two classics that (ironically) don’t get played or sung as much as they might by jazz people. I associate GONE WITH THE WIND with Ben Webster, either with Art Tatum or Jimmy Rowles; HOW ABOUT YOU? with Judy Garland and Becky Kilgore. Here are some new and delightful 2016 versions.
GONE WITH THE WIND (which predates the motion picture):
HOW ABOUT YOU?:
Two more performances from this afternoon — with Ehud back on the bench — will appear soon. For now, please learn more about the very gifted Pablo Camposhere.
Before you begin,here‘s Part One: NIGHT AND DAY, IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT DIXIE?, and MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS.
Delicious-looking, isn’t it? But let’s talk about music.
A delicious place and delicious music: the Pegu Club, named for a famous gin-based cocktail (London dry gin, bitters, lime juice, orange curacao, for the curious, served in what we once called Burma, is located at 77 West Houston Street, one floor up.
On Sunday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30, guitarist / singer / composer Glenn Crytzer leads a quartet — its personnel varies from week to week — that offers an unusually wide-ranging jazz repertoire in the most comfortable surroundings.
On July 26, the three members besides Glenn were Tal Ronen, string bass; Tom Abbott, reeds, Mike Davis, trumpet. Here four more highlights of their very refreshing first set.
WAITIN’ FOR KATY (memories of Ben Pollack and a young Benny Goodman and of romantic encounters that don’t quite work — summed up so poignantly in the bridge. Katy or Katie was otherwise occupied and I think she stood up our young man). Thank you, Glenn, for introducing me to the verse, too:
GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON:
HOW ABOUT YOU? (a gorgeous Burton Lane tune with sweet lyrics by Ralph Freed — the voice in my mind is Judy’s — that I’ve heard no other group play):
Glenn has very thoughtfully laid out the schedule of players here so you can plan your Sunday post-brunch-before-facing-that-tomorrow-will-be-Monday descent back in to reality. I plan to visit there again. It’s a delightful spot.
I am excited to be attending the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — a week away! That’s April 17 through 19th in the very comfortable Grand Ballroom of the Westin Atlanta North at Perimeter. It’s an incredibly lavish buffet of hot music: seven sets on Friday night, seven sets on Saturday afternoon, seven sets on Saturday night, and seven sets on Sunday. All performers are featured in each session. Atlanta Jazz Party Patrons and Guarantors get to attend all four sessions plus the exclusive Saturday morning jazz brunch!
And there’s something new and exciting: the new Jazz Dinner Buffets featuring surprise special guest performers on Friday and Saturday Night, in the newly created “Johnny Mercer Room” right across from the Grand Ballroom. This change is important to the Party’s survival. And I know — don’t ask me how — that one of the “surprise special guest performers” is someone legendary.
Who’s playing and singing? Ben Polcer, Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, Allan Vaché, Tom Fischer, Eddie Erickson, Darian Douglas, Sean Cronin, Dalton Ridenhour, John Cocuzzi, Johnny Varro, Rossano Sportiello, Dan Barrett, Russ Phillips, Nicki Parrott, Paul Keller, Danny Coots, Chuck Redd, Rebecca Kilgore.
Here’s Danny Coots and Ten at the 2014 AJP:
and since that sounds so good, let’s have another:
and the song that conveys the way I feel about the Party:
See you there, I hope. It’s one of those enterprises that truly deserves your energetic support.
I’ve written before about my new jazz oasis, Casa Mezcal, 88 Orchard Street, which has a Sunday jazz brunch from 1-4 PM with some of my friends (who also happen to be the finest players and singers in New York). So far I’ve been there exactly twice, but it is now my Sunday-afternoon port of call. It is a rare pleasure to see and hear music in daylight, to have interestingly non-formulaic Mexican food, and to encounter a gracious staff. And then there’s good lighting for the videographer who eats my food.
Two Sundays ago, the trio led by string bassist Rob Adkins (a modest, endearing fellow who plays beautifully) was pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block, two of my heroes. Ordinarily, the ethereal and always surprising Tamar Korn is in charge (as she was on October 19 — more about that in a future posting) but this afternoon was strictly instrumental, and beautifully so.
Here are five delicacies from that afternoon:
JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, an early-afternoon romp:
HOW ABOUT YOU? — a song I associate with Judy Garland’s sweet early version. And New York in October has been as warm as it might be in June:
MISTY, which requires a little explanation. Most musicians I know loathe this song or play it with much reluctance. Their reaction has nothing to do with Erroll Garner or with Johnny Mathis, but the song has been pulped by overexposure. Listen, however, to the tender beauty Dan brings to this (after Ehud’s comic interlude ends):
DREAM, that Johnny Mercer classic, is usually taken as a sweet lullaby, but Dan reimagines it (with great flair) at a walking Basie tempo:
SHOE SHINE BOY was my request, since I’d heard Ehud playing the Lester solo as a swing exercise before the first set began:
I may be weary from trying to find parking, and I may get turned around on Delancey Street and have to ask for directions, but I plan to spend my Sunday afternoons at Casa Mezcal until further notice. The music is fresh and lively (and so is the guacamole). See you there!
The opportunities to hear James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band at the July 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were delightful — a high point of the year for me.
That band neatly balances thoughtful arrangements and solos, and the result is hot, sweet, eloquent, satisfying.
They are James Dapogny, piano and arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Denver native Dean Ross, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
For those who might have missed the earlier posts in this happily extended series, here is the first part and here is the second.
And here are five more delights.
A serenade to a beloved Irish lass (with a tempo change, in honor of the 1944 Commodore recording featuring Miff Mole), PEG O’MY HEART:
The very optimistic paean to the Golden State, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME:
A 1936 romper, SWING MISTER CHARLIE (recorded by, among others, a youthful Judy Garland backed by the Bob Crosby band):
“Another show tune,” this one from a Dick Powell film — more memorable in Fats Waller’s recording — here warbled by Mr. Cusack, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN:
And a mournful revenge song, JUNK MAN (1934, with unheard lyrics by Frank Loesser):
The masters of melodic improvisation here are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums — at the twenty-fifth Atlanta Jazz Party in April 2014.
Becky and Bucky, romantics, quieting the room with their duet on TRES PALABRAS (and what courage it takes to begin a set with such a tender ballad):
Southern pastoral in swing (recalling Lester Young and Anita O’Day), JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA, with delicious playfulness all the way through:
Becky so sweetly and tenderly honors Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Roger Edens, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (and Dan Barrett has Vic on his mind, too):
She and the band give us an ebullient finish, with JEEPERS CREEPERS:
This set was so very satisfying, lyricism and swing, feeling and expertise intermingled throughout: I wouldn’t change a single note. And I’ve listened to the twenty minutes of music here, over and over, delighted, moved, and amazed.
Rebecca has two new CD releases: JUST IMAGINE(with Dan Barrett and Paolo Alderighi) and I LIKE MEN(with Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner) for those of us who find our appetites for tenderness, joy, and subtlety stimulated (not satiated) by these four videos.
And if you’re in New York City on Monday, May 19, 2014, in the early evening, you should seriously consider visiting Becky and friends at Symphony Space for the Sidney Bechet Society’s tribute to Mat Domber . . . particularly apt here because Mat and Rachel Domber recorded so many sessions for their Arbors Records label that are as beautiful as this live performance. “All-Star Tribute to Mat Domber & Arbors Records“: Anat Cohen, Wycliffe Gordon, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, John Allred, Rossano Sportiello, and Rajiv Jayaweera.
From Portland (Oregon) to Oakland (California) to be precise.
Rebecca Kilgore and the fine pianist Randy Porter are coming south for a duet concert on Friday, January 31, 2014, at 8 PM. They will present “a wide variety of songs from the Thirties to the present, celebrating the musicians they love, including Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Dave Frishberg, Lyle Ritz, honoring composers famous or obscure. Tender or exuberant, Rebecca and Randy team up for a memorable program.” The place? Piedmont Piano Company, 1728 San Pablo Ave. (at 18th), Oakland, California. To reserve tickets, please call (510) 547-8188. Their website is www.piedmontpiano.com. Tickets are $20.
I’ve only heard our Becky for the last fifteen years or so — which is enough to form an opinion of her as a peerless singer and interpreter of songs. I just met Randy in his home town, heard him play, and admire him immensely. These two have been working together and their concert promises to be a treat for Californians — or denizens of other states as well.
And, by the way, a concert in a piano company will feature a spectacular instrument, good sound, a small, quiet audience . . . so don’t wait, because these events sell out, as I can testify.
Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but the music was delightful.
True enough for last night, March 7, in New York City. It was a chilly mix of rain, snow, sleet — not enough to be dramatic, but it soaked into everyone. But once I made it to The Metropolitan Room, that warm oasis on 34 West 22nd Street, it was summery inside.
Becky Kilgore doesn’t get to come to New York City as often as I would like (although there are signs that is changing) but this six-show gift (that’s Wednesday through Sunday — 9:30 each night BUT two shows, the early one at 7 on Sunday!)
Becky’s shows have been just that — not just “songs I always sing,” but beautifully-shaped thematic presentations. Often they’ve paid tribute to specific singers: Judy, Billie, Marilyn, and Becky (a great researcher) has delved into the repertoire to find hidden, unknown gems as well as greatest hits. Unlike other people’s thematic presentations, these shows are light-hearted, not weighty seminars full of “and then she sang” data.
This new show takes its cue from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — and it’s not a formulaic tribute to the furry members of the species, but a varied look (in music and words) at us. Becky pointed out early that except for two Lee compositions, all the songs she was singing were written by men for women to sing . . . and the variety of viewpoints was quite remarkable. Becky veered away from the “he beats me but I love him” darkness of romantic masochism to offer twelve delights in seventy-five minutes . . . a compact, fast-paced, and satisfying evening. I know she has a substantial song list for this run, so the set list is going to change somewhat from night to night.
Last night she and the band offered Sissle and Blake’s I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY (perfectly apt, because all of us are!) complete with the verse . . . then on to two Harold Arlens — one familiar, the other a rarity; a Gershwin; Frank Loesser’s grimly comic MARRY THE MAN TODAY (where the Wise Woman sings that you should offer your fiance the hand today because once he is wed, it can then turn into the fist tomorrow); a Pearl Bailey-inflected MY HANDY MAN AIN’T HANDY ANY MORE (which suggests that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks); a wonderful Ralph Blaine-Hugh Martin wooer with the line, “I can be your passion fruit”; an unusual Hoagy Carmichael song where the overeager lover is treated rather like a poorly-trained puppy, without the rolled-up newspaper making an appearance. For me, the great moving highlights of the evening — in addition to these bright sparks — were a tender THE BOY NEXT DOOR; a wistful rather than melodramatic THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY, and a sweet WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN. Miss Kilgore’s delightful genius was once again made evident in the way she sang these three songs, so strongly identified with Judy and Billie, and made them sound like Becky.
And all I will say about “sounding like Becky” is that it is a deep pleasure. Miss Kilgore is full of feeling without ever resorting to Drama; she swings naturally; she is witty without being jokey, and the simple sound of her voice is a delight in itself. As well, she is a great improviser in subtle, subversive ways: listening to her very lightly restretch the melody in ways that would have pleased its composers, listening to her handle the language in ways that make us hear the words anew . . . well, I always think I am in the presence of greatness, even though she is one of the more humble mortals I know. And I have been listening to her, on CD and vinyl, in person and even over the telephone, for two decades. Every time I am fortunate to hear her in person, I go away, quietly thinking, “How does she do it? She’s a treasure, and she’s getting better!”
Her instrumental colleagues were simply wonderful, too. Harry Allen has gotten a reputation, with some people, of being a gentle player, someone who can tenderly caress a ballad in the best Webster manner. But don’t let that impression turn into a mask; Harry has a deeply raucous side, and he loves to race and holler, too. Drummer Kevin Kanner was new to me, but he’s a listening fellow; his sticks caught all the nuances and his brushes made a swinging carpet. Ehud Asherie often stole the show — in the manner of Jess Stacy in the Goodman band — offering a witty harmonic variation or a phrase that started in a predictable place and went into other astral realms. And Joel Forbes, quietly, darkly, reliable, swung from the first note: every note was in the right place at the right time. The five people onstage were happy as the day is long — you could see it in their grins — and they shared their joys with us.
Even though the weather was indeed frightful (or almost), the room was full — Dan Morgenstern and Daryl Sherman and Michael Moore were there, as were Bill and Sonya Dunham, Beck Lee, Claiborne Ray, Gwen Calvier . . . and the people I hadn’t met yet were just as enthusiastic. One fellow (Ezra?) sat with his head perhaps three feet from the bell of Harry’s saxophone, and he bobbed and weaved ecstatically with every phrase: the music was reflected in his happiness. I had never been to The Metropolitan Room before, but will come back again: Jean-Pierre made the instruments sound perfectly acoustic, which is the ideal goal of a “sound man”: he is certainly a sound man. The lighting was perfectly in tune but never obtrusive, and everyone was genuinely friendly.
Becky and Harry, Ehud, Joel, and Kevin will be there for four more shows. Find your waterproof shoes and make the trek: you won’t regret it. Details here.
Signorina Biagi is a youthful Italian singer with a deep love for the film songs of the middle of the twentieth century — and her newest CD, FFANCES’ FOLLIES, pays tribute to that ebullient music. Actress, student of theatre history, tap-dancer and fluegelhornist, Francesca has a deep involvement with the music of the Boswell Sisters (from 2003-7, she formed and led the Boop Sisters, a female vocal trio devoted to the music of Connee, Vet, and Martha (with an Italian accent, of course); she has also sung and played with the Bixilander Orchestra, a group whose musical world embraces both Bix and Basie.
Before we proceed, Francesca — a generous person! — would like to sing for you, and here are several songs related to FRANCES’ FOLLIES.
Each performance, in its own way, shows that she has made a careful study both of the songs and their iconic performances, and that she is a sweetly precise singer — mixing careful attention to the lyrics with a beautifully knowing awareness of the idiom from which they come.
FRANCES’ FOLLIES offers eleven songs — THREE LITTLE WORDS / TOP HAT, WHITE TIE, AND TAILS / SOME LIKE IT HOT / I’D RATHER BE BLUE OVER YOU / LET’S MAKE LOVE / GET HAPPY / NEVERTHELESS / MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY / BY MYSELF / SHAKIN’ THE BLUES AWAY — associated with Fred Astaire, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, Fanny Brice / Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and others. Francesca generously does not take center stage, though: she gives a great deal of room to her very impressive jazz accompanists, Attilio Marzoli, tenor sax; Adriano Urso, piano; Guido Giacomini, bass; Ricardo Colasante, drums — with guest Lino Patruno playing guitar on two tracks. Pianist Urso summons up Teddy Wilson at every turn; Marzoli evokes Harold Ashby and Bud Freeman, and the other gentlemen of the rhythm section swing in ensemble and solo.
Francesca’s Facebook page offers interviews and information about the CD and her engagements, and the FRANCES’ FOLLIES site (noted above) is just as much fun.
There’s nothing foolish about these FOLLIES: the CD is a sweet-natured, gently swinging tribute to great music that should never be forgotten.
The nymphs and shepherds of pastoral verse, playing their pipes, weaving garlands of flowers, are hard to find. But there’s one place where a beautiful setting and uplifting jazz improvisations come together — the remarkable gardens and estate at Filoli in Woodside, California. On July 29, 2012, these four players showed everyone how it’s done — Rossano and Stephanie, striding or musing, at the pianos, Nicki singing and playing the string bass; Hal swinging out at the drums.
Here’s the first set:
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:
I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER:
I NEVER KNEW:
Stephanie offered James P. Johnson’s lovely, ruminative SNOWY MORNING BLUES:
Then, in the name of efficient public transit, she gave us her version of Donald Lambert’s improvisation on Judy Garland’s THE TROLLEY SONG:
Stephanie knows how to get a crowd moving (the sheep would have been bleating on 2 and 4) and she did it again with BOOGIE WOOGIE STOMP:
Nicki made people loosen their collars and ask for ice water with FEVER:
And she followed up with an insinuating BESAME MUCHO:
Rossano, who moves so easily between his musical worlds, offered a Scarlatti sonata before the foursome dug into RUNNIN’ WILD:
And, yes, shepherds and nymphs of the twenty-first century, there is a second set. But for now, revel in this one.
THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price. I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!
JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB
I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated. It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.
Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy. Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.
Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography. For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours. A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing. And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.
No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request. So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise. True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.
Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century. What a body of recordings he left us! From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.
Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.
BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others). From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special. Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.
Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.” Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.
His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end. Those private recordings are more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.
One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician. (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)
BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.
What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980. Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums. And Tom is right.
Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues. I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting. Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler. And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.
And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker. The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.
In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.
BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it. Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill. Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work. Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance. I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.
The good music that the Beloved and I heard and saw on the first Monday in December, 2011, still rings in our ears. And there’s more to come.
The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095).
The December show was Harry’s Christmas extravaganza — with notable musicians to keep hackneyed tunes at a safe distance. For those who dread “New York night clubs” because of imagined high prices, the cover charge for Harry’s Monday nights is twenty dollars a person, and it’s a very warm, unstuffy place — comfortable and friendly. An excellent value: three hours of totally acoustic jazz.
The first set was devoted to Harry’s quartet, with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums. Everyone was in superb form, and the program floated from a trotting PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE to a deeply yearning OVER THE RAINBOW with Harry’s astonishingly yearning Judy Garland coda. Then came a faster-than-light WHIRLY BIRD, distinguished by Rossano’s playing,mixing Bud Powell and super-stride. THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS went from romantic to raunchy in only a few minutes, with honors going to Joel Forbes, exploring the mysterious depths of the harmonies, and the set ended with an exuberant tribute to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, capped with a Riggs snare-drum solo. This is a working band, and they were having a fine time.
After a brief break, Harry called some friendly luminaries to the stand for a delightful concert in miniature, adding James Chirillo on acoustic guitar to the original rhythm trio. Chirillo’s sound (to borrow Whitney Balliett’s words for Freddie Green, “bells and flowers”) was a sweet highlight. Bob Wilber, in New York for a visit, led off with a medium-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, beginning with an a cappella reading of the verse, then offered LOVE FOR SALE. Wilber showed that his incredible tone — on his curved soprano — is still glossy: he didn’t miss a step.
Two brothers-in-swing, Jon-Erik Kellso and Randy Sandke, took Wilber’s place to roam through WINTER WONDERLAND, exchanging epigrams and commentaries in the most affectionate, swinging ways. A tenor trio of Harry, Dan Block, and Scott Robinson had a delightful romp through BLUES UP AND DOWN, each player displaying his singular approach to the blues, with John Sheridan taking Rossano’s place at the piano. Trombonists John Allred and Tom Artin thought about holiday travel on LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, with Allred quoting AIN’T CHA GLAD early in his solo. Harry gathered the troops for an eight-horn PERDIDO that brought back the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions right in front of us.
The closing set, led by John Sheridan, drew on his most recent Dream Band project — also available on an Arbors Records CD, HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS — that depicted the many moods of the holiday — adding Becky Kilgore to the top of the tree. She began with three less-heard celebrations: Don Sebesky’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS, Carroll Coates’ A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS (done as a bossa nova), and a swinging version of Kay Thompson’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON. Sheridan’s own CHRISTMAS WILL BE A LITTLE LONELY THIS YEAR was a melancholy triumph — the room was hushed and silent, a great tribute.
Becky then called on the masters of holiday music, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, for a song originally meant for Thanksgiving but apt all year round, I’VE GOT PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR (her singing so graceful that Scott Robinson stood there, his arms akimbo, admiring every nuance); Scott brought his bass clarinet for a pretty Harry Warren ballad, I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), which led into an exuberant dismissal, LITTLE JACK FROST GET LOST, and a moody THE DIFFICULT SEASON (an instrumental with touches of the Alec Wilder Octet), and a closing jaunt through SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.
If you weren’t there, there are a few tangible ways to capture part of the delicious music. One is John Sheridan’s Arbors compact disc HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS. Another is a new du0 of Harry Allen and Rossano Sportiello devoted to the music of Johnny Burke, a friend of Harry’s father. Burke was the lyricist — but he collaborated on some of the finest songs of the twentieth century, including PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON (the last two given heartbreaking depth on this disc). The disc is called CONVERSATIONS, and so far it’s available only at live performances, which is a good thing — an inducement to search out Harry and Rossano in person.
You’ll have twelve more chances at Feinstein’s in 2012, because the series will run throughout the year. The January program will showcase Harry’s “Four Others,” a saxophone quartet inspired by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers.” Harry’s original band features three other swinging modernists, Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan, plus his original rhythm trio of Rossano, Joel, and Chuck. The February gala will bring Scott Hamilton to Harry’s side. Great value and great jazz!
This too-brief set took place at Jazz at Chautauqua on Sept. 17, 2011, at a time most jazz musicians would find uncongenial, but this trio transcended the early hour and the bright sunlight to create wonderful intimate music in honor of Ruby Braff.
Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso knew Ruby and continues to be inspired by his hot lyricism, but Jon-Erik has his own approach and sound, so his work is a soulful evocation, not an attempt to imitate the Master’s dips and whorls. Guitarist Howard Alden and bassist Frank Tate were the compact creative unit that embraced and supported Ruby in his final decades, creating small masterpieces from songs both familiar and unexpected. Ruby drew his “aesthetic vitamins” from jazz sources — Louis Armstrong and Lester Young — but also from Judy Garland and Fred Astaire — and imbued those songs and images with his own deep romanticism, ever surprising.
Here are three performances that summon up Ruby’s eloquence and strength while giving this creative trio of individualists more than enough room to be themselves.
A Mary Lou Williams composition from the mid-Forties, LONELY MOMENTS, always seems like music for a deeply introspective film:
Ruby said he learned the seductive Gershwin song DO IT AGAIN from Judy Garland’s recording. This performance epitomizes the lullaby-like quality of the song, drawing us ever closer:
And the set concluded with a Louis-inspired romp through a song Ruby was playing as far back as 1967, Don Redman’s NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU:
Never mind that its guiding star is Bob Wills rather than King Oliver: don’t let it bother you.
There was a time in American popular music where these “genres” overlapped so happily that Western Swing recordings looked back to Lang and Venuti, sideways to Bennie Moten and later to Charlie Christian. . . and often swung as hard as the Condon Commodores. Is that sufficient recommendation?
The Brain Cloud takes its name from a Wills song — where having a “cloudy” brain is related to the deep blues — but there’s nothing particularly foggy or ambiguous about the band.
Nice unison arrangements, intense (and not overlong) solos for everyone, and wonderfully on-target singing and impromptu choreography from Miz Tamar Korn. Dennis plays electric mandolin, clarinet, and fiddle — and chooses the good-natured tempos; he’s joined by Andrew Hall, bass, and one of my dear friends, drummer Kevin Dorn. Raphael McGregor plays the pedal steel guitar, and Skip Krevens the electric guitar — and sings a few.
At the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn — where the Brain Cloud had their CD release party on March 25, 2011, Dennis had a few special guests — and I don’t use that term lightly: Noam Pikelny on banjo; Scott Kettner on snare drum and triangle; Matt Munisteri on guitar; Pete Martinez on clarinet. I was there on camera and tripod, along with JAZZ LIVES’ pal Doug Pomeroy, recording engineer extraordinaire.
Here’s what we saw.
As if to welcome the most finicky of JAZZ LIVES readers into the Brain Cloud tent, Dennis began with Mel Powell’s 1942 MISSION TO MOSCOW — a most interesting chart / composition for the Benny Goodman band. Hear how it blends what the critics would later call “pre-bop” with sections coming straight from the Ellington “doo-wah, doo-wah” of IT DON’T MEAN A THING:
Then, the moody Wills song the band was named for, BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES:
Another piece of “crossover” music — HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY? I have the 1931 sheet music which has the face of that famous Western swingster, Harry Lillis Crosby, on the cover:
The mournful BLUES FOR DIXIE, which has neat lyrics:
I may have the title wrong, but I believe this is DARK AS THE NIGHT (BLUE AS THE DAY):
Courtesy of the well-versed Matt Munisteri (who sat in), HONEY FINGERS:
I learned MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH from another famous Western swing star, Thomas “Grits” Waller:
Dennis’ story of playing PEACOCK RAG in Hawaii is a rare piece of narrative plumage in itself:
RHYTHM IN MY SOUL is an apt title for this band’s efforts:
A 1939 Broadway song (from a production called YOKEL BOY, no kidding) that became a favorite with Billie Holiday and Summit Reunion, among others — it’s COMES LOVE:
Florists take note! Here’s WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (a song I associate with New Orleans bands and — perhaps oddly? — Judy Garland and Gene Kelly):
The sweet Jimmie Rodgers lament, MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:
A different variety of sweetness, SUGAR MOON:
The very funny up-tempo narrative of love unfulfilled: girls, don’t ever hang out with a fiddler if he won’t put his instrument in the case for you — HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED:
And a closing rouser with all the guests — James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (with the Western Swing changes, you’ll hear):
What a wonderfully spirited band! And now you know what band to engage for your daughter’s graduation, your son’s bris, your husband’s retirement, the mutual celebration of someone’s divorce coming through . . .
The only problem with these videos (of which I am quite proud) is that you can’t watch them in the car — except, of course, if you’re a passenger. May I offer a safer solution?
Clock here: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/braincloud to purchase the BRAIN CLOUD debut CD — which has the same band (Dennis, Tamar, Kevin, Skip, Andrew, and Raphael) performing ten selections: MISSION TO MOSCOW / BLUES FOR DIXIE / BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES / MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH / PEACOCK RAG / HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED / COMES LOVE / SWEET CHORUS / SUGAR MOON / SITTIN’ ALONE IN THE MOONLIGHT — beautifully recorded, so that you will hear things that the videos can’t capture.
Those names refer to the splendid young pianist Ehud Asherie, the inimitable tenor saxophonist Harry Allen. They were celebrating in a cozy corner of the Hotel Kitano’s bar last Thursday — celebrating the release of their new quartet CD, MODERN LIFE, for the Posi-Tone label. At the Kitano, they were joined by master timekeepers Chuck Riggs, drums; Clovis Nicolas, bass (Joel Forbes is on the CD but couldn’t make the party).
“Music speaks louder than words,” Charlie Parker told a rather befuddled Earl Wilson, and I will follow his direction. If these performances need explication, do let me know . . .
Ehud began with a composition of his own (also on the CD) — ONE FOR V. It’s based on the chords of OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (by James P. Johnson) — homage not only to James P., one of Ehud’s heroes, but also to the Swing / Bop habit of composing new lines over familiar chord changes:
Given the problems of urban mass transit, Ehud cleverly offered his own solution, THE TROLLEY SONG — which some will associate with Judy Garland, others with that New Jersey marvel, Donald Lambert:
Most people think of Bud Powell as the master of fleet keyboard lines — not as a composer of love songs, pledges of eternal devotion. Harry and Ehud make the most tender promises, musically, in Bud’s I’LL KEEP LOVING YOU:
Here’s a World War Two episode in popular culture, a song whose title I hope is irrelevant, GOTTA DO SOME WAR WORK (featured by the Cootie Williams band featuring the same young Bud Powell):
As a solo feature, Ehud honored one of the masters of the piano and popular song, Eubie Blake, with a lovely, varied reading of LOVE WILL FIND A WAY:
Here’s the pretty tune Teddy Wilson chose as the theme for his wonderful but short-lived 1940-1 big band, IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MEAN SO MUCH:
And, as a jaunty set-closer, Ehud called SOMEBODY LOVES ME:
It was easier to be a biographer in the nineteenth century. The job description was clear: write a lengthy volume chronicling an honored subject from birth to death. Admire the accomplishments; ignore the failings. Say little of the great man’s private life, and make whatever information you present fit the admiring portrait. Burnish the publish ideal of the hero.
But the twentieth century brought us pathobiography, with the subject anatomized (sometimes gleefully) as a corpse to be dissected. And many biographies now fixate on the subject’s offensive behavior rather than in his work. In some books the palpable rancor of the biographer becomes the focal point.
Artie Shaw, who would have been a hundred this year, would seem a spectacularly difficult subject for a biography. For one thing, Shaw’s music was beautifully analyzed and documented by Vladimir Simosko in 2000. Shaw has been pictured as an unimaginably boorish husband (or ex-husband) by his ex-wives. His last recordings were made more than fifty years ago, even though he lived on until the very end of 2004.
But biographer Tom Nolan proves himself valiantly up to the task in THREE CHORDS FOR BEAUTY’S SAKE: THE LIFE OF ARTIE SHAW (Norton, 2010). It’s not simply the first-hand research, the careful investigation of the facts, the easy, approachable prose style. Throughout the book, Nolan understands the scope and idiosyncratic shapes of Shaw’s life and art.
But before we get into serious issues, I must say that a biography of Shaw (who knew many people and slept with many others) should also have some good gossip. Nolan offers some wonderful anecdotes:
Billie Holiday advising a seven or eight-year old boy on proper deportment: “You better be good– or I’m gonna put a stamp on your forehead and mail you away!” (The eight-year old boy took her very seriously and grew up to be a judge.)
Nolan lets us know Shaw’s recollection of what it was like to be in bed next to the gorgeous Lee Wiley in 1938: “In bed, she would say things like, ‘You are lying next to the greatest ass in New York.'”
Then there’s the tale of Judy Garland’s early and continuing love of Shaw.
But these are sidelights to the fascinating story of Shaw’s rise from obscurity to international success, his digust with that success, and his rejection of it — not once, but several times. Although Nolan has left the musical and musicological analysis of Shaw’s playing and his overall artistic conception to others, what comes through is a full portrait of an artist — not simply a player, an improviser, a bandleader — but someone deeply concerned with the music he was making and might make. Music, mind you — not just pop hits, not simply playing a good solo or having a successful band, but music.
But what also comes through is that Shaw, perhaps because of the focused self-absorption needed for this quest, was a seriously unpleasant person. Erudite, brilliant, witty, sophisticated, and all that. But.
Some will say that arists can be forgiven nearly everything because of what they give us, and that has a certain validity. But Shaw seems time and again so obsessed with his own self-justifying, harsh truth-telling that it’s hard to tell where accuracy stops and cruelty begins. As much as I admire Shaw’s music and his integrity, I find myself recoiling from the man who characterized Johnny Mercer as having “a little faggotry in him,” to say nothing of the saga of Shaw’s failed marriages. Nolan is fair and balanced, not taking the testimony of ex-wives and lovers at face value . . . but Shaw, in the end, comes across as an ungenerous narcissist.
Here, for instance, is his portrait of Billie Holiday later in life: “Then she got hooked — she went to jail — all that shit. I went to visit her, she was no longer the girl I knew. She was no longer — anybody. She was a — whiner. She had some guy, livin’ off her and — it was no fun. It was not fun being with her. So it goes.”
But finding Shaw repellent did not make me put the book down. In fact, I continued to read with terrible fascination: “What awful thing will he do or say next?” It is a real tribute to Nolan’s ability as a writer and shaper of narrative that the reader is able to admire and dislike Shaw at once. Nolan does not ignore Shaw’s failings, but he doesn’t gloat. The portrait is thorough, providing a deep study of a man both complicated and coarse, creating beauty through his clarinet and creating turmoil through his actions.
Even if you have only the vaguest idea of Artie Shaw, this biography is a fascinating study of the difficult relations between the artist and the audience, between the creative mind and the demands of the marketplace.
Louis and Lucille Armstrong, Eddie Condon, a lovely young woman (unknown to me), Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin. Circa 1949, perhaps? Oddly for a nightclub scene, the tablecloth is almost bare (no glasses, whether full or empty) and Louis has his handkerchief. Was this at one of his gigs? Research, please!
The Bushkin site has many other interesting photos (unidentified) and a video of Joe with, among others, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby.
P.S. Maggie Condon (Eddie’s daughter) has informed me that the attractive woman is Joe’s wife Francice.