Tag Archives: Kai Winding

A NICE ASSORTMENT: BARNEY BIGARD, JOHN LEWIS, SLAM STEWART, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, CLARK TERRY, EDDIE DANIELS, KAI WINDING, JIMMY MAXWELL, VIC DICKENSON, JOE NEWMAN (July 15, 1977)

Jazz festivals and jazz parties with a proliferation of star soloists sometimes get everyone who’s available to take a few choruses on a standard composition, which can result in brilliant interludes or dull displays.  The results are not the same as a working jazz ensemble, but they do often create splendid surprises.

Here is a seventeen-minute exploration of the Duke Ellington-Bubber Miley 1932 evergreen that took place at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 15, 1977, nominally under clarinetist Barney Bigard’s leadership, which really translates here as his being the first horn soloist.  The others are John Lewis, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Clark Terry, Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpets; Vic Dickenson, Kai Winding, trombones; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone.  (To my ears, Daniels seems a visitor from another world.)  A “string of solos,” yes, but, oh! what solos:

In the summer of 1972, Red Balaban led one of his often-eloquent bands at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now an empty space for rent) with Bobby Hackett as the guest star — and I recall Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Chuck Folds, Marquis Foster.  Barney Bigard was in the house, and Bobby invited him up (Muranyi graciously sat the set out except for a two-clarinet HONEYSUCKLE ROSE).  The bell of Barney’s clarinet was perhaps three feet from my face, and his sound — on ROSE ROOM, MOOD INDIGO, and two or three others — was warm and luminous.  Yes, he looked exactly like my tenth-grade English teacher, but Mr. Kavanagh had no such glissandos.

There will be more to come from the Nice Jazz Festival.  And in case you missed my most recent extravagant offering — ninety-seven minutes of bliss — you can immerse yourself here.  MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) used to say it had “more stars than there are in heaven,” and you will find them in that post: George Barnes, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Illinois Jacquet, Ruby Braff, Wingy Manone, Dick Sudhalter, Spiegle Willcox, Michael Moore, Pee Wee Erwin, Eddie Hubble . . . along with Barney, Vic, and others.

May your happiness increase!

“LUCKY ALL MY LIFE”: EPHRAIM RESNICK, TROMBONE and PIANO (July 6, 2020)

My phone rang on July 3.  This in itself would not be unusual.  But that the caller ID panel read “Ephraim Resnick” was a surprise.  I had been on a quest to find the wonderful and elusive trombonist (now pianist) Ephie Resnick for a few years, and had enlisted my dear friend — also a fine trombonist — Dick Dreiwitz in the search.

I knew Ephie first as a beautiful soulful viruoso heard on live recordings from George Wein’s Storyville in 1952 — alongside Pee Wee Russell and Ruby Braff; later, I’d seen him with the New York Jazz Repertory Company in their 1972 tribute to Louis Armstrong, some of which was released on Atlantic, and then Bob Greene’s Jelly Roll Morton show in 1974, issued on RCA Victor.  Perhaps eight years ago I had heard him playing piano at Arthur’s Tavern with the Grove Street Stompers.  He asked me to refrain from videoing him, but he was friendly and I did buy his two recent CDs, NEW YORK SURVIVOR and THE STRUGGLE.  Still more recently, a musical friend of his, Inigo Kilborn, had asked me if Ephie was still on the planet.  He is.  At 92, he’s a clear speaker and thinker, although his memory is “sometimes OK, sometimes not too good.”

Ephie and I made a date to talk on the morning of Monday, July 6.  He doesn’t have a computer.  “I live in the last century,” and when I asked if he wanted me to transcribe the interview and send it to him for corrections, he said no.  So this is what he told me of his life, with my minimal editing to tie loose ends together.  It’s not only the usual story of early training, gigs played, musicians encountered, but a deeper human story.  If you’d never heard Ephie play, you’d think he wasn’t all that competent, given his protestations.  I wonder at the gap between the way we perceive ourselves and the way the world does.

With musical examples, I present our conversation to you here.

I began with the most obvious question, “When you were a kid, did you want to be a musician?” and Ephie began his tale.

I come from a family of anger and bitterness and humiliation, and all that stuff, so I was in confusion most of the time.  When I was in first grade, and this is really important, I was born left-handed, and they made me right-handed, so it really did away with my focus.  I got asthma, and I started stuttering soon after that.  So my life was a turmoil. 

And when I was about sixteen, I guess, I hadn’t any idea of doing anything.  I didn’t think I’d be able to do anything.  And I heard a Louis Armstrong recording, and that really made me crazy.  It showed me a way out, the way out of my turmoil.  So when I went to school, they gave me a trombone.  Because the guy said, “I want somebody to play the trombone,” and he pointed at me.  At that point, it was difficult to breathe, it was difficult to talk, and I couldn’t get a sound out of the horn.  And I didn’t understand it until just recently, when I moved to Brooklyn, after I was finished, finally.  I wasn’t breathing.  I couldn’t breathe.

I took the trombone home from school, I tried to play it, and really couldn’t play it much.  But I listened to a lot of records.  I listened to a lot of Louis Armstrong then.  I got as much as I could out of him.  And then I started, for some reason, to go out playing.  In little clubs and things.  I don’t know how I could play — I didn’t practice.  But I played, mostly with black people at the beginning.  And there were two places, especially, where I could play.  A guy named Bob Maltz had a place downtown, all the way downtown.  And across the street a guy named Jack Crystal — there’s a comedian, Billy Crystal, and Jack was his father. [The Stuyvesant Casino and the Central Plaza.]  Both of these guys hired mostly black musicians from the Thirties, and I started out just sitting in, and then I started getting paid.  And that was the beginning of my jazz playing.

And then I made a record [in 1947].  Irv Kratka, the guy who started Music Minus One, was in our little group.  I went into — I forget what it’s called now — it was on Broadway and they had studios and rehearsal studios.  I walked into one and there was Bob Wilber and his little group with Denny Strong on drums.  The trumpet player turned out to be the Local 802 president years after that [John Glasel] but they gave me the names of some guys, and I got together a little group and made a record.  I was just around 17 or 18, I was just playing about a year.  It was OK, it was sort of nice.

Here’s Ephie with Knocky Parker, piano; Irv Kratka, drums, May 1, 1949:

I turned 18, and my mother wanted me to go to a college.  And I thought, I could never do that.  I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t learn anything.  Whatever I knew, I knew from having read myself or having heard, or something, so I got good marks in English and history.  But anything I had to study and learn something, I couldn’t do it: language or science or something like that.  So with all this, she wanted me to go to a college.  So I applied to Juilliard, and they gave me a date for an audition.  I picked a piece, and I couldn’t play it.  I couldn’t play it at all.  It sat there on my music stand, and once in a while I tried, but I couldn’t do it. 

I should have called them up and told them I couldn’t make the audition, but I went there anyway.  I played the piece perfectly.  That was my life.  Sometimes I played really good, sometimes I played terrible.  Sometimes I played mediocre, but this time I played really good and they clapped me on the back and said, “You’ll go far, young man.”  My teacher was there, Ernest Clarke, Herbert Clarke’s brother.  Herbert Clarke was a trumpet virtuoso.  Ernest Clarke was some sort of a name, I don’t know what he did, but he was well-known there.  He was 83 then.  And he opened up his book when I took my first lesson.  The first page was a row of B-flats.  B-flat with a hold on it, more B-flats and more B-flats.  And I couldn’t play it.  I couldn’t play the note.  He would walk back and forth, his hands behind his back, he couldn’t figure it out.  So I did that for a couple of weeks, I showed up once a week, and then after a while he turned to the second page.  And there were F’s, a little higher but medium-low.  And I couldn’t play that note either.  And then he retired.  I always say that he retired because of me. 

Anyway, whatever it was, while this was happening, I was playing outside.  I was sitting in and playing, going to clubs and stuff.  I played a lot at the beginning with Sol Yaged.  He was a clarinet player who played in the clubs where they used to have jazz and now they had strippers.  So I played for the strippers with Sol Yaged.  I still couldn’t get a sound on my own.  When I was in the house, I couldn’t practice.  I couldn’t play a scale, I couldn’t do anything.  I fell apart.  And I went to a lot of teachers.  Nobody gave me anything.  And when I moved to Brooklyn, I quit playing the trombone when I was here.  I started to figure out, what it was was so simple — I guess I wasn’t breathing.  I was tight.  I never could find an embouchure, except once in a while it happened.  It came in by itself, and when it happened, I could really play well.  But I wasn’t practicing, I couldn’t play a scale, I couldn’t play anything like regular trombone players could.  But I knew that. 

My first year at Juilliard I got a straight A because all they did was ear stuff — ear training — and I was good at that.  And piano playing, and I could do the piano.  And that was it.  The second year, I started getting academic subjects: science, languages and stuff, and I couldn’t do it.  So I stopped going to school.  And years ago, before they fixed up Forty-Second Street, it was a mess, but there was one movie theatre called The Laugh Theatre, and they had, once in a while, regular movies, but usually short subjects, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and all that stuff.  So I was there, and I was laughing.  My life was awful, but I was laughing.  I did that for the rest of my school year, and then I got out of Juilliard.  Finally.  And years later I figured out that, you know, going to school would have depressed me and made me feel really awful, but being away from the school I was laughing.  I felt OK.  Laughing is very good for you.  

Anyway, I don’t know how it was, but I got out of school, and I started working.  I still couldn’t play, I still didn’t practice.  So my first job was with Eddie Heywood.  He was a piano player.  It was an all-black band, at Cafe Society Downtown.  There was also a club, Cafe Society Uptown.  I was there six weeks or so, and then somebody recommended me — I don’t know how it happened — to Buddy Rich.  It’s hard for me to believe.  I played six weeks with Buddy Rich: Zoot Sims and Harry Edison were in the band, I forget the bass player and the piano player.  So I did that, and then I came out, and that was the end of the big band era.  So then I went out, maybe two or three weeks, maybe a weekend, with big bands, but they were beginning to close down.  I played with a lot of them, but the only ones I could remember were Buddy Morrow, Ray McKinley, and Charlie Barnet.  And with these bands, I was the jazz player. 

With Charlie Barnet I also played lead, but I had one solo — that was the audition.  There were about eight trombone players who auditioned for Charlie Barnet, and later on he told me that when he saw me he figured I would be the last guy to get it.  But the audition was a song — I forget the name of it — [Ephie hums ESTRELLITA] — a Spanish song.  It had a trombone solo, there was a high E in the middle or someplace, and I really smacked that thing.  I took a chance, you know, I got it, and I was great.  The other guys played that E, but they played it hesitantly, so I got the job.  And that was great.  I had that one solo, and I played lead, which was great for me, because I learned how to do that.  

Here’s Ephie with Marty Grosz, guitar; Dick Wellstood, piano; Pops Foster, string bass; Tommy Benford, drums; Hugh McKay, cornet; John Dengler, baritone saxophone; Frank Chace, clarinet.  June 6, 1951: comparative listening thanks to “Davey Tough”:

And then I started to work with small bands.  I don’t know how I got this work either. Dixieland bands.  Wild Bill Davison, who was at Condon’s for I guess twelve years, lost that job — they closed down or something — he went on the road and I went with him, and we made a record. Then I played with Buddy Morrow, and I was the jazz player in that band.  He was a great, great trombone player, but a little stiff for my taste.  Then Ray McKinley, and I was the jazz player in that band.  And Bill Davison, we made a record with that.  And then I went with Pee Wee Russell, Ruby Braff was in that, and I forget who else.  And we made a record with him.  So, so far, I made a lot of records.  I got a little bit of a fan club in England because of those records.  And Pee Wee — those records were in Boston, and they recorded a whole night, and they put out four ten-inchers.  And then they made an lp out of it, or two lps.  I don’t imagine any of these things are available now.  That Pee Wee thing, it sold well, I don’t understand how, exactly.  Can’t figure out those things.)

Here’s Ephie in 1952, with Pee Wee Russell, Ruby Braff, Red Richards, John Field, Kenny John — the second part of this presentation (the first offers Johnny Windhurst, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, John Field, and Jo Jones).  For the impatient among us, Ephie’s portion begins at 16:00:

While I was working, I was still struggling.  I wanted to finally learn how to play.  Since I was working, I might as well learn how to play.  I still couldn’t play a scale without falling apart.  But in context, I could play, somehow.  I saved enough money for a couple of years and went to Philadelphia and studied with a guy named Donald Reinhardt who had a system.  His system was really good, but you had to figure out the system.  He couldn’t, by himself, help you. 

Art DePew, a marvelous trumpet player who played lead with Harry James and a few other bands, went to him and got fixed up.  Kai Winding used to run there once in a while.  He had problems.  His mouthpiece would slip down.  Sometimes he could get it back up, sometimes he couldn’t. 

Reinhardt didn’t teach me anything.  He couldn’t tell you what you were doing wrong or what you should be doing.  He had a book and a system.  He had a lot of people, and they could look at what he had to say and do it.  I couldn’t do that.  I had to be told what I was doing wrong.  And nobody told me I wasn’t breathing.  Lots of times I couldn’t get a sound out.  I had no control over it.  When I played well, it had nothing to do with me. It just happened.  When I played badly, there was no way for me to fix it.  

I spent a couple of years there in Philadelphia, and I met my wife.  She was a singer, a wonderful oratorio singer.  And there was a jazz club over there, and I was playing once a week.  I was playing piano in strip clubs with another guy, a very strange man.  He wore a toupee, but never bought one.  He wore other people’s old toupees; everybody gave him their old toupee.  So he just dropped them on top of his head.  I spent four years there, learned nothing, and still couldn’t figure out what was happening. 

I had to come back to New York, because we got married, and she had a six-and-a half-year old son.  We became friends, and that was really good.  I did various things, and then a contractor called me.  In those days, there was a lot of money around, money flowing freely.  In music, there was a shortage of musicians, and I came in at that point. 

I’ve been lucky all my life, actually. 

I got a job playing in various theatres around the city, short things.  There was a theatre on Sixth Avenue and Forty-Eighth Street, I believe, the contractor liked me, and he had some shows coming to New York.  He said I could pick one, and one of them was HELLO, DOLLY!  I did that for seven years.  Playing a show, especially if you’re a jazz player, is terrible.  You’re doing the same thing all the time.  But I took off a lot.  You could take off as long as you got somebody good, and I always got somebody better than me. 

I worked with Lester Lanin and played all around the world — Ireland, France, Paris, the Philippines.  The guy whose wife had all those shoes [Imelda Marcos], I played their thirtieth anniversary.  We went to Hawaii, to Hong Kong, and then I came back, was home for a couple of weeks.  They started a group in New York, playing different types of music, so I was in that group, and then they had a small group out of that.  I was picked out of that, and we went to Russia — a jazz  group.  We traveled all over the country, and that was really interesting.  That was during the Khruschev era.  When I came back, I continued to do club dates,  but I couldn’t really progress, I couldn’t learn anything.  When I was forty, I still couldn’t play a scale.  I was making my living as a trombone player, and I couldn’t play a scale once up and down without falling apart.

Somebody introduced me to marijuana.  I tried that, and it was wonderful.  Absolutely wonderful.  It saved my life.  The first thing I started to do after I started to smoke was to go downstairs to the basement every morning.  We had small radios, and I hung the radio up, right next to my ear, as loud as I could.  Not music, but talking.  I started to play scales, and it sounded awful, because I couldn’t really hear it.  I did that for a couple of years, and finally I got rid of the radio.  I began a regular practice, for the first time in my life, when I was about forty. 

But by that time I was sort of on the way down, in a way.  And then I did a job with Lester Lanin in London, and I met a guy there — I knew him was I was nineteen or twenty.  He became rich: his father died.  Max, his father, was not too smart, and he couldn’t come to a decision: he didn’t know how to make a decision.  So his father, who was a lawyer but a Mob lawyer, he was powerful with a lot of connections those days, so he put Max on the Supreme Court.  He couldn’t make a decision.  That was his life’s work.  So I met this guy, and stayed at his house for a while, and then I stayed in London and made a record there.  I have two left, of those records.  The other stuff I don’t have any copies of. 

Then I had an accident.  I’m not sure of the timeline now.  I was hit by a car, and broke both my legs and my pelvis.  My ankles were messed up.  I was in the hospital for about three months.  When I came out, I couldn’t really move around, so I didn’t work for a couple of years.  But I was lucky, again, because they just had passed a law in Albany, and if you had an accident, they called it “no fault insurance,” and gave you fifty thousand dollars and services.  So I was in the hospital, and they would send me a check once a month to live on.  So I didn’t work for a couple of years, but I was taken care of.    

I came out, and I wasn’t working very much at all, so I called Marty Grosz.  I knew him from years ago.  We had worked together, in a bar someplace.  Not in New York, someplace else.  I forget where it was.  And I called him, and we made a record.  [THE END OF INNOCENCE.]  And it got a great review from John S. Wilson, the Times music reviewer.  He wrote a really good review of it, not in the paper, but in an international magazine.  So I sold about a thousand records.  People wrote in.  One guy sent it back to me because he didn’t like it.  So I sent him back his ten dollars.  [I complimented Ephie on the record.] Well, thank you.  But I hadn’t worked for three years before that.  Again, I was lucky it came out OK.  [I reminded Ephie that he and Marty had recorded before, in 1951.]  Oh, those records!  Those records were nice!  Those were really good.  I was really happy with those records.  I’d forgotten about that.  I don’t have any of that stuff, but somehow they turned out to be really good.  Frank Chace was nice.  Yes, I liked the way he played.  Years before, Marty and I had a summer job together.  He was just learning how to play and I was learning also.  And I never paid him for that record, THE END OF INNOCENCE.  He did it for nothing.

I will offer THE END OF INNOCENCE — a glorious duet — in a future posting.

I was in England for ten years, and I did a record there.  [Two: NEW YORK SURVIVOR and THE STRUGGLE.]  Well, that was close to the end of my career.  After my accident, I didn’t do too much.  I hung around for a while, and everything got slowed down to nothing.  My wife got sick, she got Parkinson’s.  So I got a job — I was lucky again — working for Catholic Charities, playing piano for Alzheimers people, various venues, different bosses, for almost twelve years.  They just closed down, in March, because of the virus.  So I was lucky, I was working all this time, until right now. 

So now I’m in one room, I’m hiding out, and I’ve got an electronic piano.  I guess you’d say I’m an old-fashioned piano player.  Pretty much old-fashioned, with a couple of things thrown in, contemporary.  And a couple of months ago, in February, before the virus became widely known, I made a record with a trombone player from England, Malcolm Earle Smith.  I hadn’t played in a while.  My playing was — I don’t know how to describe it.  Except on the last two pieces, there I kind of relaxed.  I was careful — I was too careful, so I don’t know about that record.  I have a couple of copies.  Some people liked them, and some people I sent them to didn’t like it at all. 

Ephie at the piano, briefly but evocatively:

[I also mentioned Inigo Kilborn, one of Ephie’s musical colleagues, to him.]  Inigo heard me playing in a club in England, and wanted me to come down.  He was living in Spain then, he went from London to Spain, he was retired.  He wanted me to play in clubs, and I wasn’t working much, I still didn’t have an embouchure, and I still didn’t know how to play.  I put him off and finally he gave up.

One of the people I sent the record to was a guy in Sweden.  He sent me a letter, that he loved the record, and he wanted me to play all over Europe, he had  contacts in clubs all over Europe.  And I couldn’t do it.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it.  Maybe I could play one day or two days, but I’d fall apart.  I fell apart, here and there, when I was playing.  So I didn’t answer him, and he came to New York and then he called me.  He wrote me another letter, and he called me and called me, but I didn’t answer the phone.  That was the end of that.  I couldn’t have done it.  It would have been wonderful for my future, my present, but I couldn’t do it.  So that was that.

Then, little by little, I faded away, until I got this job.  This job saved my life, this piano job.  That’s it.  

So that’s my story up till now.  And here I am.  I’m practicing every day, trying to play a little more contemporary, make the chords closer together.  Not so old-fashioned.  So I’m working on that a little bit, but I’m not working at all now. 

I’m just old.  And that’s my story.

Ephie at the piano, Malcolm Earle Smith, trombone:

[Ephie had delivered almost all of what you read above in a diligent narrative, and I had not wanted to interrupt him, to distract him.  But now, after forty minutes, I thought I could ask some — perhaps idle — questions.  I told Ephie I’d seen him onstage, at Alice Tully Hall in 1974, with Bob Greene’s “The World of Jelly Roll Morton.”]

Oh!  I forgot about that.  That was great.  He played like Jelly Roll Morton, and he started a band, a Jelly Roll Morton band.  We played all those songs, and I could really do that.  I was good at that.  I could really blast out.  The record doesn’t show that, but we traveled all around the country, and we had standing ovations on every job except one.  I don’t know exactly why that one.  But that was easy for me, easy and natural.  It paid well, and it was fun.  Those were happy moments in my life. 

I was with Kai Winding — four trombones.  It was a tour.  We started out someplace — I can’t remember where it was but it was a restaurant.  We were above the eaters, so we couldn’t play too loud, and we were close together.  And for some reason I played just great — just wonderful, all the way along.  and he was talking about making a tour with just the two of us.  The job ended, and we had a three-day layoff, and then went into the Little Mirror, a place in Washington.  There was an echo, we were spread out, it was loud, I lost what I had in that previous gig, I never found it.  I looked for that embouchure for years and years and never got it back.  We made a record with Kai Winding.  I made a lot of records with different people, but that one was OK.  That turned out nice.    

[I asked Ephie if he could tell me about people — heroes of mine — he’d encountered, from the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, on.]  There was one guy, Jerry Blumberg [a Bunk Johnson protege on cornet and a pianist].  He was wonderful.  He got one job someplace, and hired that famous pianist from the Thirties, James P. Johnson.  I played one night with him.  That was interesting. He was old, but he still played OK.  I never worked with Sid Catlett, but I saw him play.  I played with Frankie Newton a couple of times.  He was fun to play with.  Very easy to play with. 

When I was in Boston, I was with Pee Wee Russell.  He had his own pianist.  It wasn’t Wein, and Red Richards came later.  There was another guy [Teddy Roy] who I didn’t know, but had played with Pee Wee for years and years.  And he had a book, with all the chords in it, which he didn’t need.  Every tune that was called, he’d open up the book.  He never looked at the book, but the chords were there.  He was sort of tied to that.  

Ruby Braff was a fantastic player.  Nobody ever played like him.  He didn’t play like anybody else.  He had phenomenal technique, and he used it in very personal ways.  A wonderful player.  He had his personal problems, like we all do.  Sometimes, we were playing someplace, and he didn’t feel he was playing right, or he wasn’t doing justice to what he was doing, someone would come up to him and say, “Ruby, you sounded wonderful,” he would say, “Aaahhh, what do  you know?” and dismiss it, insult the guy who liked him.  He felt vulnerable all the time, but a great player.  And later on, he played with Benny Goodman.  He couldn’t read, but Benny would put him at the end of the line of trumpets, and once in a while call upon him to play.  He did that for a while.

Did you know Johnny Windhurst?  I did one job with him and Ed Hubble on trombone, and I played piano, and Ed Phyfe on drums.  He was a wonderful player also. 

I didn’t hang out with anybody in Boston.  I wasn’t a hanger-on.  I went right home after the last tune we played.  And I don’t want to hear any of my old stuff.  The only records I have are the ones I made in England, THE STRUGGLE and NEW YORK SURVIVOR.  THE STRUGGLE is a terrible record, but the other one turned out good.   

I played for six-eight months with Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s.  He was playing trumpet then — with the mute, not ebullient, but great.  Those records with Dizzy are really wonderful.  At one point, I was on staff with ABC for three years, subbing for one of the jazz guys.  Dick Dreiwitz is such a sweet man, and his wife Barbara, who plays tuba.  For a while I was playing ball games with them — they had a Dixieland band.  Between innings, we’d walk up and down the aisles and play.  People used to throw stuff in the tuba — peanuts, papers, everything — so the tuba players put a pillowcase over the bell.  People aren’t naturally nice, you know.  Some are, some aren’t.  

I’m 92, and I hope I don’t have too many years left.  So far, I’m OK.

At that point, we thanked each other, and I assured Ephie he was safe from me. But in the next few days, the phone rang again, as Ephie remembered some other stories:

Ephie played about six weeks at the Cinderella Club with pianist Bross Townsend and a bassist, not Peck Morrison, whose name he didn’t remember.  He thought that cornetist Hugh McKay played really well on the 1951 Marty Grosz records and wondered what happened to him.  [Does anyone know?]  He saw Vic Dickenson once at some uptown Manhattan gig and thought he was wonderful.  When working in San Francisco with Wild Bill Davison, he found out that Jack Teagarden was playing in Los Angeles and took the bus to see him.  But this was when Jack had quit drinking and Ephie thought he sounded dull.

Another postscript: an extended list of Ephie’s performance credits, which are staggering:

Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Eddie Condon, Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Stan Getz, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Zoot Sims, Lennie Tristano, Teddy Wilson, Kai Winding and Willie the Lion Smith. He has also played with a variety of rock and pop bands including The Bee Gees, The Four Tops and Englebert Humperdink, and has worked for Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Woody Allen and Norman Mailer.

Ephie spent much of the 1990s working in London, during a period in his life when he felt trapped in New York. During that stay he met and played with a number of British musicians as well as becoming something of a mentor for many of them. He also played at a number of society parties with the world renowned orchestra headed by veteran bandleader Lester Lanin. The musicians included: Dick Morrissey, Alex Dankworth, Huw Warren, Tim Whitehead, Martin Speake, Mike Pickering, Steve Watts, Julian Siegel, Chris Gibbons, Andrew Jones, Carl Dewhurst, Dave Whitford and Jean-Victor de Boer. He recorded two albums whilst in the UK: New York Survivor and The Struggle (both released on Basho Records)

Although he stopped playing trombone in 2010, Ephie continues to lead an active musical life in back in New York, playing piano in care homes. Still an inspiration to his friends and colleagues, his passion for music is still as strong as it was decades ago.

Taken and adapted from Ephie’s profile page at Jazzcds.co.uk

Blessings and thanks to Ephie, to Dick Dreiwitz, to Inigo Kilborn, to Malcolm Earle Smith, who made this informal memoir of a fascinating man and musician possible.

May your happiness increase!

BENNY CARTER and FRIENDS // TEDDY WILSON — with KAI WINDING, VIC DICKENSON, RAY BRYANT, HANK JONES, SLAM STEWART, MILT HINTON, MEL LEWIS, J.C. HEARD (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 7, 9, 10, 1977)

I can’t believe how many people who love jazz are asleep on Benny Carter.

The King, a few years before 1977.

The hierarchy of stardom in jazz gets narrower with time, so it feels as if there is only room at best for a dozen boldface Names from Louis to Ornette.  Can contemporary jazz audiences understand the absolute reverence that Benny Carter received from his peers during his lifetime and now?  How many students in jazz education programs know him as he should be known?  After 1945, Charlie Parker cast a giant shadow, but Carter, quietly indefatigable, pursued his half-dozen careers with immense grace.  Perhaps his life lacked drama: he wasn’t a tragic figure; he lived a long time and was happily married (his widow, Hilma, is with us at 99!); he was a professional who made it all look easy: alto, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, compositions, arranging, bandleading, film and television scores — a genuine Renaissance man.  Ben Webster said that Benny could bake a cake as light as a feather and whip any man: what better testimonial could anyone want?  But I wonder how many fans today could name more than one Benny Carter record?

Recently a Irish collector-friend, Mchael O’Donovan, has passed on to me a substantial assortment of videos, some broadcast on French television, of La Grande Parade du Jazz, in the second half of the Seventies.  I’ve shared a duet between Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna here.  I think these videos are precious, even though the cinematography is unusual: multi-camera setups where no shot is longer than a few seconds, and the videos came to me arbitrarily cut into time-chunks, so one will end at twenty minutes, no matter what is happening . . . but these are small complaints when one considers the wonderful assortments of jazz stars, the good sound, the leisure to stretch out.  Occasionally someone in the band rushes, but we’re all human.

And now, for some Benny Carter — with a wondrous feature for Vic Dickenson (I saw Vic play this perhaps twenty times, but watching him at close range is something I never dared to think I would see on video), delightful Mel Lewis, and some late-period but refreshing Teddy Wilson.

7-9-77 THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE Carter, Kai Winding, Ray Bryant, Slam, J.C. Heard 7-7-77 IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD Vic, Hank Jones, Bill Pemberton, Oliver Jackson (identified by Bo Scherman, who was there!) 7-10-77 THREE LITTLE WORDS Benny, Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis and the first few notes of the next song.

7-10-77 WAVE Carter, Ray Bryant, Milt, Mel Lewis
7-7-77 SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE // SOPHISTICATED LADY – SATIN DOLL (partial) Teddy solo.

Doc Cheatham told James Dapogny that his secret to a long life was to listen to Louis Armstrong every morning, sound medical advice.  Matt Rivera begins his Monday-night Zoom sessions of the Hot Club of New York (7-10 PM, the link can be found here) with a Carter record.   Maybe that’s a perfect healing regimen: breakfast with Louis, dinner with the King.  In between, you’re on your own.  You can do this.

May your happiness increase!

HOLY RELICS, BEYOND BELIEF (Spring 2020 Edition)

The eBay seller “jgautographs,” from whom I’ve purchased several marvels (signatures of Henry “Red” Allen, Rod Cless, Pee Wee Russell, Pete Brown, Sidney Catlett, among others) has been displaying an astonishing assortment of jazz inscriptions.  I haven’t counted, but the total identified as “jazz” comes to 213.  They range from “traditional” to “free jazz” with detours into related musical fields, with famous names side-by-side with those people whose autographs I have never seen.

As I write this (the early afternoon of March 21, 2020) three days and some hours remain.

Here is the overall link.  Theoretically, I covet them, but money and wall space are always considerations.  And collectors should step back to let other people have a chance.

The signers include Benny Carter, Betty Carter, Curtis Counce, Jimmy Woode, Herb Hall, Bennie Morton, Nat Pierce, Hot Lips Page, Rolf Ericson, Arnett Cobb, Vernon Brown, Albert Nicholas, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Margolis, Ed Polcer, Ed Hall, Billy Kyle, Sam Donahue, Al Donahue, Max Kaminsky, Butch Miles, Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Arvell Shaw, Barrett Deems, Buck Clayton, Babs Gonzales, Benny Bailey, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Burrell, Reggie Workman, Stanley Turrentine, Louis Prima, Wayne Shorter, Tiny Bradshaw, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Bea Wain, Red Rodney, Frank Socolow, Bobby Timmons, George Wettling, Roy Milton, Charlie Rouse, Donald Byrd, Kai Winding, Kenny Drew, Kenny Clarke, Steve Swallow, Shelly Manne, Frank Bunker, Charlie Shavers, Ben Pollack, Jess Stacy, Ron Carter, Bob Zurke, Jimmy Rushing, Cecil Payne, Lucky Thompson, Gary Burton, Jaki Byard, Noble Sissle, Muggsy Spanier, Don Byas, Pee Wee Russell, Slam Stewart, Hazel Scott, Ziggy Elman, Buddy Schutz, Ernie Royal, Boyd Raeburn, Dave McKenna, Claude Thornhill.

And signatures more often seen, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Gerry Mulligan, Cab Calloway, Rosemary Clooney, Wynton Marsalis,Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Chick Corea, Count Basie.

In this grouping, there are three or four jazz-party photographs from Al White’s collection, but the rest are matted, with the signed page allied to a photograph — whether by the collector or by the seller, I don’t know.  And there seems to be only one error: “Joe Thomas” is paired with a photograph of the Lunceford tenor star, but the pairing is heralded as the trumpeter of the same name.

My head starts to swim, so I propose some appropriate music — sweet sounds at easy tempos, the better to contemplate such riches, before I share a half-dozen treasures related to musicians I revere.

Jess Stacy’s version of Bix Beiderbecke’s CANDLELIGHTS:

Harry Carney with strings, IT HAD TO BE YOU:

Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones, PRISONER OF LOVE:

Here are a double handful of autographs for your amazed perusal.

Bob Zurke:

Charlie Shavers, name, address, and phone number:

Lucky Thompson, 1957:

Jimmy Rushing, 1970:

Harry Carney:

Juan Tizol:

Bill Coleman:

Buck Clayton:

Hot Lips Page (authentic because of the presence of the apostrophe):

Joe Sullivan:

Don Byas:

George Wettling:

Frank Socolow:

Benny Carter (I want to see the other side of the check!):

And what is, to me, the absolute prize of this collection: Lester Young, whom, I’m told, didn’t like to write:

Here’s music to bid by — especially appropriate in those last frantic seconds when the bids mount in near hysteria:

May your happiness increase!

SLIDE AND SLIDE ALIKE // WHISTLE WHILE YOU . . . WORK?: MATT MUSSELMAN, RYAN SNOW, KRIS KAISER, ROB ADKINS at FRAUNCES TAVERN (August 1, 2015)

Trombone

Memorable music blossoms forth without fanfare when the right creative spirits come together.  And such music isn’t always created by Stars — people who win polls, who record CDs for major labels.  Two examples from a Saturday brunch gig in New York City follow.

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

The very perceptive Rob Adkins, string bassist extraordinaire, arranged this session on August 1, 2015 — Matt Musselman on trombone, Kris Kaiser on guitar. And they made lovely music.  But then someone came in — new to me but very talented: trombonist / jazz whistler Ryan Snow.

There’s a small tradition of two-trombone teams: Cutshall and McGarity, Johnson and Winding, Vic and Eddie Hubble are the first teams that come to mind.  And two trombones lend themselves to trading off: you play eight bars, I’ll play the next, and so on.

Matt and Ryan knew and respected each other, and everyone was eager to hear Ryan play.  So they began to trade phrases — on the one horn, passing it back and forth without missing a beat or smudging a note.  It was a lovely exercise in jazz acrobatics, but it was more — wonderful music.  I thought, at the end, “This is why I carry a knapsack full of video equipment to jazz gigs, because anything can happen and usually does.”

(If you can’t tell who’s who, Matt has a rolled-up long-sleeve white shirt; Ryan is wearing short sleeves.)

OUT OF NOWHERE:

And for the next number, I CAN’T GET STARTED, Ryan proved himself a superb jazz whistler:

Marvels take place amidst the hamburgers and Cobb salads, the gallons of beer and Diet Coke . . .

Since I’d never heard of Ryan, I asked for a brief biography.  You should know that his August 2015 visit to New York was prelude to his attending law school at the UVA School of Law in Charlottesville.  He will do great things . . . but I hope he visits New York again to play and whistle, to lift our spirits.

Here’s Ryan’s self-portrait:

Born and raised in Stanford, CA, child of two professors and avid music lovers, grew up surrounded by music in the home and going to see live music of all kinds. Started playing piano privately at 9 (hated it), trombone at 10 (loved it) playing in the school band. Parents gave me Blue Train, Kind of Blue, and a J.J. Johnson on Columbia album for my 12th birthday and I began listening to jazz obsessively, buying CDs and spinning them till I knew every note, then going to get more. That and being lucky enough to have a good jazz program in middle school and high school really developed my ears. I had fun playing in small combos with friends. I toured Japan four summers with the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Big Band, through which I connected with some amazing young players (including Ambrose Akinmusire, Jonathan Finlayson, Charles and Tom Altura, Justin Brown, Milton Fletcher, Ryan Scott, Bram Kincheloe to name a few); I learned a lot and caught a glimpse of professional music life on the road.

I went to Oberlin College and Conservatory to study jazz and political science, earning bachelor’s degrees in both. There I connected with a really strong community of improvisers (including Peter Evans, Matt Nelson, Nick Lyons, Kassa Overall, Theo Croker, Nate Brenner, and our friend Rob Adkins among others) and found myself pulled towards the avant-garde and to Brooklyn, where I moved after graduation in 2005. I knew at 22 that if I ever wanted to do serious work in music that I would need to start right away, and I’m very thankful I made that choice. I spent the next six years playing as much as possible and contributing to a vibrant improvised music community in Brooklyn, including curating and hosting a regular music series in my basement for two years. During this time I also helped found and build a soul-rock-funk band called Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds that quickly gained a strong following and began touring nationally in 2011. Three years, 200,00 miles and over 500 shows in 45 states later I found that my underlying passions had shifted, that I was spending my down time on the road reading about politics and public policy rather than working on my own music and setting up playing opportunities. I was making music that mattered to people, and having fun doing it, but part of me wasn’t fulfilled; however meaningful my music was to the audience and to my peers it wasn’t making a significant impact on their lives and opportunities, let alone those of the millions (billions) beyond earshot. I felt called, I felt at 30 about political action as had at 22 about music, that I needed to immediately begin working in service of my values and towards a government and a society that I believe in.

About whistling:

My dad used to whistle a lot when I was really young. I don’t remember learning it at any particular point, but when I began listening to jazz obsessively in middle through high school I got in the habit of whistling along just walking around with my Discman all day. So it just became natural to whistle bebop. I kind of had a running stream of quarter note swing going through my head in those days (still notice it at times now but it’s further in the background) and I would often start whistling lines out loud, just externalizing what I was hearing in my head. Plenty of complaints from mom and friends. Did this daily through college and while I never really whistled with other people I was whistling a lot. After moving to NYC I had some opportunities to whistle professionally, laying down a few studio tracks as a guest and busting it out every few shows with Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, and have also done a few jam sessions where I’ve been just whistling. I think the best thing about it actually is being able to sit in credibly and comfortably in a jazz setting even if I don’t have my horn with me, it’s just really fun and freeing, and I’m always thankful for the opportunity to share it with people.

There are a lot of similarities with the trombone in that they’re both fretless instruments and so essentially require some kind of attack (air or tongue) to delineate individual notes, which can get tricky at fast tempos. But they’re also so different it’s fun to have both. I hope to continue to develop my whistling and ultimately make some recordings that I can share.

Thank you, Rob, Matt, Ryan, and Chris, for transforming a Saturday afternoon most memorably.

May your happiness increase!

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

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.

OP cover rear

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.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE GETS HOT, SPECIAL INSTRUMENTS ARE REQUIRED

ROSES OF PICARDY was a famous ballad of the First World War, composed by Frederic Weatherly (lyrics) and Haydn Wood (music), gracefully describing the lasting love of an Englishman and a Frenchwoman . . .

Verse: She is watching by the poplars, / Colinette with the sea-blue eyes, / She is watching and longing, and waiting / Where the long white roadway lies, / And a song stirs in the silence, / As the wind in the boughs above, / She listens and starts and trembles, / ‘Tis the first little song of love.

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

Verse: And the years fly on forever, / Till the shadows veil their skies, / But he loves to hold her little hands, / And look into her sea-blue eyes, / And she sees the road by the poplars, / Where they met in the bygone years, / For the first little song of the roses, / Is the last little song she hears:

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

For the full effect, here is a glorious reading of the song by Ben Heppner:

But my subject is a recording of PICARDY by Red Nichols — full of surprises.  I first encountered the Nichols records of this period when I was young; I was especially intrigued by them because of my childhood affection for the film THE FIVE PENNIES.  My local suburban librarian was hip: the library’s holdings included Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Rushing, THE SOUND OF JAZZ, Ellington, and a Brunswick reissue of Nichols circa 1927-30, where I first heard IDA, AVALON, CHINA BOY, THE SHEIK, and others.

I hadn’t heard ROSES OF PICARDY until my recent purchase of the very gratifying sets of the Nichols Brunswicks (1926-32) on the Jazz Oracle label.  It became one of those essential recordings for me — one that I could play ten times in a row on the way to work.

I haven’t found a good explanation for Nichols’ fondness for what might be called “chestnuts” or “good old good ones” — solidly established classic pop hits of ten or more years earlier: IDA, MY GAL SAL, JAPANESE SANDMAN, WHISPERING, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, MARGIE, ALICE BLUE GOWN, INDIANA, SMILES, DINAH, WHO.  In this, he wasn’t so different from other jazz players, then and now, who knew that familiar favorites would both attract an audience and be part of the common knowledge.  (if the leader suggests SWEET SUE — in 1929 or 2013 — few musicians look puzzled or uncomfortable.)

But ROSES OF PICARDY had a sentimental identification, and I wonder if Nichols’ “jazzing” it struck some older listeners as heretical: “That’s not the way to play that pretty song!”  It might serve as a reminder that improvisation, no matter how established and safe it seems to our ears now, always sounds radical to some listeners.

This version was recorded on February 16, 1929, as the fifth performance of a date where the musicians had already completed two takes apiece of ALICE BLUE GOWN and ALLAH’S HOLIDAY.  I wonder if they had some time left at the conclusion and decided to create a head arrangement — somewhat less complex than the Glenn Miller charts for the preceding songs.  The personnel for the first four songs was Nichols, Mannie Klein, Miller, Dudley Fosdick, Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingston, Adrian Rollini, Arthur Schutt, Carl Kress, and an unidentified drummer.  I hear a smaller group on PICARDY and we know for sure that Miller was not present, but whether there was a second trumpet is not certain.

The band charges into the song, Nichols presenting the melody in a clear, assertive way — more like a wonderfully adept cornetist at a band concert than a hot jazz player leaving the melody behind.  One hears the dry slap of the drummer’s wire brushes, the sound of the bass saxophone (could it be anyone except Rollini?).  Apparently there is a high-pitched trombone playing staccato phrases and a thin but graceful clarinet line.  I take it on faith that there is a pianist (I do not hear a guitar) but the former is simply laying down the plain harmonies in support.

I also notice that the band — in subtle opposition to Nichols’ chosen tempo or perhaps simply finding a better groove — gently slows down as it proceeds through the two minutes and thirty-one seconds.  (The piano-drum duet in the first half of the final chorus is especially leisurely.)  I would not have noticed this so much had I not played the recording over and over and heard that the opening chorus was taken at a much brighter tempo than the closing.  The first chorus is very satisfying: one could use it is a compact example of simple melodic embellishment (in terms of ornamented melody) and neat ensemble playing.

Just as a listener might be settling into complacency, Rollini leaps in with a break, a marvel in itself.  One could point to its simplicity — arpeggios and repeated notes — but the combination of grace and ferocity is delightful.  It also suggests the small devices that Nichols and his contemporaries set up for variety, so that a recording was more than four or five choruses of ensemble – solo – ensemble.

The first half of the second chorus is given over to another embellished improvisation on the theme — by a brass player over a slightly ornate piano, bass saxophone, and drums.  On first hearing, one automatically assumes “trombone in the Miff Mole style, staccato yet elegant,” but the range is somewhat higher, the tone lighter.  The player’s approach is close to Nichols’ opening exposition, yet the second solo is slightly more fluid, punctuated by the pianist’s upward arpeggios.

In the second half of this chorus, we hear Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone over an even lighter background.  For some reason, there is no bass saxophone, so the texture is much lighter — and, listening closely, one has the delightful sensation of expectations being reversed.  Instead of textures becoming more rich, volume and density increasing, we are hearing the instruments of the orchestra — Papa Haydn in Hot — taking a break, leaving the stand.  The Incredible Shrinking Orchestra!

And then someone takes another break — with key change — to lead us into a world of even more playful marvels.  We’ve just heard the sonorities of Dorsey’s alto (the rich yet light sound that other players delighted in) — what is this squeaky thing that follows?

It might be a clarinet — Nichols often employed Pee Wee Russell and Fud Livingston, both of whom departed from orthodox clarinet sound in favor of explorations — but it sounds stranger than strange, even a bit elementary.  Did someone’s kid brother or sister bring a student model clarinet into the session to sit in for a chorus?

The ear is first mystified, then delighted.

And for a moment it seems as if all the other musicians have fled, leaving only the unusual reed player and the pianist, chiming behind perfectly, the drummer, hitting a cymbal (this has been worked out, one senses in retrospect) in front of the microphones.  Bass saxophone, alto, possibly other reeds, cornet and other brass — everyone’s in the alley next to the Brunswick studios taking a break, trading gossip or lighting up.

But no.  The third chorus is given over to a duet for two instruments that sound almost familiar — trombone and clarinet, we assume — for sixteen bars. For forty seconds — a short interlude in anyone’s lifespan but a substantial part of this 78 RPM recording — these two instruments cavort deliciously.  The “trombone” continues an ornamented exploration of PICARDY — in case listeners might have been led so far astray by the uncontrollable impulses of Reckless Jazz to forget where land is — as the “clarinet” dances overhead.  That “clarinet” has an oddly choked sound and a small range, so the player contents himself with deeply swinging emphases, rather like a speaker who has a small vocabulary but is vigorously concerned that the audience miss the point: here it is, and here it is again — getting somewhat more adventurous as the chorus continues, even venturing a series of upward plaintive phrases, the “trombone” sounded muffled but still agile beneath.

On my first hearing, driving to work as I was, I couldn’t check the personnel listings, but I played this exuberantly odd interlude over and over, thinking, “Is that Fud on clarinet and Miff on trombone?”  But I felt as if something otherworldly was taking place: had I been transported to an alternative realm, or was this soundtrack music for a pre-FANTASIA fantasia, where an animated lemur hopped around with a giraffe?

What has happened — bewitching and mystifying the ear for forty seconds — is so weirdly distant from what we might expect to hear (rather like the first appearance of Herschel Evans on clarinet on a Basie recording) that the piano half-chorus that follows seems theatrical, even stagy by comparison — with the drummer’s flourishes matching the pianist.  Again, we might wonder, “Where did everyone go?  Did these musicians have some urgent need to leave the studio at intervals?  Was there food poisoning from the previous night’s chili at Plunkett’s?”)

Before we have sufficient time to consider all these mysteries, the opening ensemble reasserts itself for a closing sixteen bars.  No tags, no flourishes, everything is as it was.  We awake from young Robin Molyneux’s dream — did those forty seconds happen?  Are we back in a Red Nichols session at the Brunswick studios?

Happily, the mystery I have encouraged here has tangible answers, and they take the shape of the ever-inventive Adrian Rollini and his “hot fountain pen,” the forgotten Dudley Fosdick and his mellophone.  Thanks to Albert Haim for the Melody Maker pages below — now it can be told!

HotFountainPen

and here is more gossip about the hot fountain pen:

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And even more here about the hot fountain pen from Sandy Brown’s website.

A fine explanation of the mellophone can be found here.  But the most engrossing reading on the subject can be found in the Nichols Jazz Oracle notes — a three-page essay by Phil Melick, witty and informed, on Dudley Fosdick (whose first recorded solo on the instrument is on the 1924 Ted Weems record of BIG BOY) and the mellophone itself.

Incidentally, the Incredible Shrinking Orchestra and the piano-drum duet make sense in retrospect as brief interludes enabling Rollini to leave his bass saxophone and approach the microphone alongside Fosdick.  And unlike the 1928 recording of BASIN STREET BLUES featuring Louis, Earl, and Zutty, no one stumbles audibly on the way.

This record of ROSES OF PICARDY is a joy.  Perhaps the musicians thought of it as an end-of-session romp: “We have a little time.  Let’s jam PICARDY, and do a whole chorus on your pen and your ‘phone.  OK?”  But that forty-second conversation between two unexpected jazz horns, played by two masters, resonates long after the performance is over.  Woe and alas that there wasn’t a Rollini-Fosdick Quintet under contract to Brunswick.  But I could live comfortably in the universe of those forty seconds.  ‘Tis the chorus that I keep in my heart.

(A digression: Fosdick recorded actively with Weems, Nichols, “the All Star Orchestra,” and Roger Wolfe Kahn for a ten-year period ending in December 1933, according to Tom Lord’s discography.  Then, he worked in Henry King’s orchestra and Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians, eventually migrating into studio work and teaching before his death in 1957.  It would be lovely if someone had interviewed him.)

And for my friend and mentor Reb Malcolm, a small offering — Frankie Laine with Buck Clayton, Ray Copeland, Lawrence Brown, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Hilton Jefferson, Budd Johnson, “Big Nick” Nicholas, Dave McRae, Al Lerner, Skeeter Best, Milt Hinton, Bobby Donaldson.  I see the inspired hand of George Avakian in this, although Laine had been working with jazz players for years, as Jess Stacy remembered:

Thanks also to Messrs. Riccardi and Sammut, whose posts provide the inspiration for this one.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, MARTY NAPOLEON — CELEBRATING HIS BIRTHDAY

On Sunday, June 2, 2013, pianist /singer / composer / raconteur Marty Napoleon turns 92.  He is still creating music, still ebullient, with a sharp-edged wit and an eagerness for new experiences: Marty doesn’t simply reside in the past.

But oh! — what a past.  Here are some examples from YouTube — and they are only the smallest fraction of Marty’s wide-ranging musical experiences.

On a 1947 Savoy record date with Kai Winding, Allen Eager, Eddie Safranski, Shelly Manne:

In December 1957 for the Timex All-Star Jazz Show with Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole:

With Louis Armstrong and the All-Stars on a 1968 Bell Telephone Hour:

June 2012 at Feinstein’s — introduced by the late Mat Domber — with Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs, Jon-Erik Kellso:

December 2012 with Bill Crow and Ray Mosca:

By my rudimentary math, Marty has been entertaining audiences with his lively music for seventy years . . . we are lucky to have him with us!  Thank you for being so resilient, Marty.

And . . . he keeps on going.  On July 5, 2013, Marty will be leading a quartet (including trumpeter / singer Bria Skonberg) in a tribute to Louis Armstrong, his former employer and great inspiration — in Glen Cove, New York: details can be found here.

May your happiness increase!

BIRTH OF A BAND! (EMILY ASHER, SHANNON BARNETT, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS at RADEGAST, March 5, 2013)

Special delivery!

When Emily Asher announced a last-minute gig at Radegast, that cheerful Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last Tuesday, I was eager to go.  Three-quarters of the group was familiar to me — people / players I admire: Emily herself on trombone and vocal; Rob Adkins on string bass; Nick Russo on guitar and banjo.  What added to the allure was the fourth member: trombonist Shannon Barnett, someone I didn’t think I knew.  So . . . two trombones plus rocking rhythm.  How could I be blue?

When I arrived at Radegast — and was directed to the back room, which is quiet and cozy — I met Shannon once again.  Once again because we had encountered each other at the Home of Happy Ears (326 Spring Street) one Sunday night.  After the band set up and played two numbers, I stepped forward and said to the front line, “Forgive me for getting in the way, but this isn’t just a session.  This is A BAND!”  They were obviously feeling the congenial vibrations too.  The two trombonist heroines (from the States and from Australia) had never played together before; the music they made reinforces the idea of a swinging common language.

Both Emily and Shannon not only play but sing, so you will hear some charming, assured vocalizing.  And I know they will have a wide repertoire — larger than these familiar tunes.  There was talk of Jay and Kai compositions / arrangements.  I’m looking forward to their next gig.

The only thing this band lacks is a NAME — I made some suggestions, which were met with kind amused attentiveness — but I am sure that the four inventive players will think of one that is both apt and witty.  For now, just enjoy!  Nick Russo swung things along as he always does, although his cap was more wintry than usual; Rob Adkins was playing his new string bass — with beautiful sound, fitting for such a thoughtful, swinging player.

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY:

WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM:

MOOD INDIGO:

DINAH:

SWEET SUE:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Both Emily and Shannon have websites — you can check them out on the JAZZ LIVES blogroll.  And I know you’ll want to be on hand when this band — a precocious one for sure — turns one, two . . .

May your happiness increase.

NAPOLEON’S TRIUMPH: COMING TO THE REGENCY JAZZ CLUB (December 7, 2012)

You can’t afford to miss this dream, to quote Louis.

Ray Mosca, Marty Napoleon, Bill Crow

Ray Mosca, Marty Napoleon, Bill Crow

Pianist Marty Napoleon is now 91.  Yes, 91.  And he is still exuberantly playing, singing, composing, telling stories.  He’s played with everyone of note including Louis, Gene Krupa, Billie Holiday, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Henry Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Barnet, Harry Carney, Serge Chaloff, Kai Winding, Allen Eager, Shelley Manne, Charlie Ventura, Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Rex Stewart, Jimmy Rushing, Bud Freeman, Earle Warren, Emmett Berry, Vic Dickenson, Buster Bailey, George Wettling, Max Kaminsky, Urbie Green, Clark Terry, Randy Sandke, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harry Allen, Billy Butterfield, Doc Cheatham, Peanuts Hucko, and more.

That history should count for something — recording and playing from the middle Forties until today.  Lest you think of Marty purely as an ancient figure, here is some very lively evidence, recorded less than six months ago: Marty, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harry Allen, Joe Temperley — exploring SATIN DOLL:

If you’re like me, you might say at this point, “Where is this musical dynamo playing?  He sounds very fine for a man twenty years younger.”

The news is good, especially for Long Island, New York residents who despair the lack of swinging jazz here.  The gig is at a reasonably early hour.  And it’s free.

Details below.  I hope to see you there, and hope you give Marty, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Ray Mosca the enthusiastic welcome they deserve.

May your happiness increase.

Napoleon.Trio.Trim