Tag Archives: Kaiser Marshall

ON AND OFF eBay: THE PORTRAIT GALLERY (November 2010)

More from eBay!

On the left, Al Hirt (possibly during his fame in the Sixties).  More interesting is a very thin Bobby Hackett on the right, working hard, with someone I can’t identify standing behind him, looking quizzically at the invisible photographer.

At top, the King of Swing, possibly at the Madhattan Room — on the air for CBS.  Below, circa 1948: is that Wardell Gray to the extreme left in the saxophone section?

Early Thirties, on the West Coast — CREOLE REVUE . . .

Ellington in the Forties (the first band shot has Ben Webster, Sonny Greer, probably Junior Raglin — 1943?); the second is twenty years or so later, with Lawrence Brown, stalwart, on the far left.

Probably Chicago?  Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine on trumpet, Budd Johnson on tenor saxophone.  Are the two other musicians Scoops Carey and Shorty McConnell?

I have to say very quietly that I am less interested in Glenn Miller and his many orchestras than many people: what interests me here is not the ghost band below, but the top portrait that has a portly Irving Fazola sitting in the reed section on a gig in Texas, early in Miller’s bandleading career.

Who’s the pretty lady with the astounding hat sitting with Glen Gray on the right?  Looks like Miss Mildred to me, grinning happily.  Whatever Glen said to her must have been delightful!

Two unrelated Johnsons, J.J. and Gus (they both swung)!

Circa 1937 or 38 — Teddy, Hamp (concentrating hard), and Benny (paying attention): Gene got cut off, but we know he was having fun, too.

The top portrait is just amazing to those of us who are deeply immersed in this art — an autographed picture of Kaiser Marshall in 1938, in Europe (wow!); the second is listed as guitarist Jimmy McLin and saxophonist Earl Bostic, when and where I can’t tell.  The beautiful double-breasted suits say “late Thirties,” but that’s only a sartorial guess.

This portrait of the John Kirby Sextet lets us see the diminutive O’Neill Spencer in action — something more unusual than seeing Charlie Shavers, Russell Procope, Buster Bailey, and a pianist who’s not Billy Kyle. 

Clockwise: Benny Carter in a familiar publicity pose; a small band featuring Fats Waller’s reliably swinging drummer Slick Jones, and a famous shot from the Columbia studios, 1940, of John Hammond’s noble experiment melding the Basie and Goodman stars in what might have been the world’s finest small jazz band.

A famous Chicago studio portrait from 1936 but still gratifying: the rhythm section of Fletcher Henderson’s Grand Terrace Orchestra: Israel Crosby, bass; Bob Lessey, guitar; Horace Henderson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums.

Late Twenties, early Fifties, perhaps for Ben Pollack?  Jack Teagarden and Benny in the first photo, perhaps Charlie Teagarden (and the Pick-A-Rib Boys) in the second.

Lee Young and J. C Higginbotham, both middle Forties if the suits are evidence.

There’s that Louis fellow again!  Ecstatically with Trummy Young (and an invisible Barrett Deems) at top, with Danny Kaye in THE FIVE PENNIES (1959) below.

GOING PLACES indeed!  Louis, Maxine Sullivan, Johnny Mercer . . . no doubt rehearsing JEEPERS CREEPERS.

And a delightful piece of memorabilia from Phil Schaap’s new website — which not only features artifacts autographed by Wynton Marsalis and jazz broadcasts from WKCR, but also tangible morsels of jazz history.  Can you hear Lips Page and Johnny Windhurst swapping lead and improvised countermelody?  I certainly can imagine it!  Visit http://www.philschaapjazz.com for more.

THANKS A MILLION!

After a good deal of affectionate nudging from the Beloved, whose instincts are very fine, I began this blog on February 21, 2008 with a posting about the upcoming Jazz at Chautauqua. 

Today JAZZ LIVES celebrates its second birthday and it has become an addiction, an obsession, and a thorough pleasure in ways I could not have predicted. 

In those two years, the blog has gotten over 150,000 hits.  I am very proud of this number, but my pride and delight is not about me as much as it is about my heroes.  I now know, even more than before, that there are many more people I may never meet in person who share my passion for Frank Newton and Sidney Catlett, for Eddie Condon and live jazz videos from New York City, Chautauqua, and Whitley Bay.  When I check my blog in the morning, as I do, and see that people have come to JAZZ LIVES because they’ve been looking for information about Kaiser Marshall, Jon-Erik Kellso, Hal Smith, Kevin Dorn, or Melissa Collard, I am excited.  People who love this music often feel cut off from it by the modern world with its own relentless thrum; JAZZ LIVES has reminded me every day that I am surrounded by like-minded, appreciative men and women. 

No one’s accosted me on the street, and I don’t expect that it will happen, but I was thrilled when someone approached me at Chartwell Booksellers last December (I had a video camera at the ready) and said, “Hey, are you that blogger Jazz Lives?  I commented on your blog!” or words to that effect.  And I could say back to him, after hearing his name, “Yes!  I remember you!”   

JAZZ LIVES has given me a huge affectionate community — friends from ten miles away, from South Korea, Australia, and Istanbul.  I have been fortunate in being able to reconnect with people I knew in 1974.  And I am continually reminded of the global nature of the Hot jazz community.  Case in point: today I was sitting in a house in Sedona, Arizona, posting YouTube videos recorded ten years ago in Sweden, shared by a Swedish collector.  I did not know two of the song titles.  A new blog-pal from Canada and an established cyber-scholar from Australia told me what I didn’t know, in the sweetest and most encouraging way.  That’s a marvelous testimony to the powerful, loving energies this music summons up, isn’t it?

I look forward to much more fun in 2010: more postings, more discoveries, more videos . . . more, more, more! 

And my readers and viewers and commenters are the wonderful stimulus, an enthusiastic, sympathetic readership.  

THANKS A MILLION! to all of you —

Michael Steinman

BLANK PAGES AND SILENCES

Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge. 

In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology.  Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington.  Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.  

John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form.  Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder.  My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography. 

Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz.  I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others.  A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.    

But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories? 

I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves.  Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad.  Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.     

There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician.  Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.

Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones.  Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now.  Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif.  And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods.  Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.             

But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians. 

Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band?  Who interviewed Ivie Anderson?  Allen Reuss?  Jimmy Rowles?  Dave McKenna?  Al Cohn?  Shad Collins?  Barry Galbraith?  Shorty Baker?  Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s?  Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences?  George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough?  (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)

Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention.  So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington.  But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.

Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.” 

I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.

Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate.  And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects.  “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks.  “Oh, it was a ball!  We had a great time!” the musician answers.  The interviewer waits for more.  “Do you remember any specific incidents?”  “Oh, no.  It was a lot of fun.  We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.”  And so on.  I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe.  They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.

Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them.  Too much explaining.  Life is short; the next set is coming soon.   This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet.  Nice folks, but aliens.  Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.”  “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know

And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times.  A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort.  When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals.  Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?”  Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot.  And who could blame them?       

When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details.  What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living.  And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs.  And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play.  Doing beats talking and theorizing.      

Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever.  And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia.  Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.    

Having said all that, I want to put it aside. 

There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked. 

But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories.  Why weren’t they?

Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious.  It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced.  Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls.  Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand.  Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question?  And what savage reply would result? 

The subject of race can’t be pushed aside.  If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it?  Why take its players seriously?  And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity.  Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician?  Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong?  But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware.  As would Rod Cless have been.       

I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist.  Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin.  To say nothing of Sidney Catlett.  And so it was for jazz.  By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold. 

The losses are irreparable.  To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost. 

What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?

Those pages remain irrevocably blank.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
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KAISER MARSHALL’S TRUTH

The drummer Kaiser Marshall, who died more than sixty years ago, is not someone oten mentioned, although he was Fletcher Henderson’s drummer when Henderson’s band was the most innovative jazz orchestra.  Ironically, Kaiser is most famous as an aesthetic scapegoat.  Drummers are always asked to tone it down, and Kaiser is jazz history’s most notable example of Someone Who Played Too Loud. 

But first, a picture of Kaiser, happy at his drum set, in a wagon advertising a 1947 concert in Times Square — one of photographer William P. Gottlieb’s many brilliant moments:

kaiser-1947-hodescecilsandygoodwin

Kaiser’s colleagues are pianist Art Hodes, trombonist Sandy Williams, reedman Cecil Scott, and trumpeter Henry Goodwin.  But I offer this picture simply to show Kaiser, a year before his death, having a fine time, beating out the rhythm on the wooden rim of his bass drum, something few drummers indulge in today.

But back to Kaiser Marshall as an intrusive player, someone who got in the way.  One of Louis Armstrong’s most famous recordings, deservedly so, is the slow blues KNOCKIN’ A JUG.  Recorded in 1929, it might be the first all-star session, although it wasn’t issued with any fanfare, and it features what they used to call a “mixed band”: Jack Teagarden on trombone, Eddie Lang on guitar, Joe Sullivan on piano, Happy Cauldwell on tenor sax, Kaiser on drums, Louis on trumpet.  The story is that these musicians had been hanging out and jamming uptown and made their way back to the OKeh studios for an early morning record date.  Presumably Tommy Rockwell saw this gang — inebriated, hungover, elevated from stimulants and the stimulating experience of being up all night — and suggested that they record something. 

They did two sides — the other, I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE, was rejected and no one has heard it.  My guess is that it was riotously wonderful but too good and too undisciplined for the times.

KNOCKIN’ A JUG, though, was issued.  Perhaps as a curiosity, or because Louis’s closing three choruses were as majestic a piece of soulful music as anyone can imagine.  But the recording balance is imbalanced.  Kaiser’s drums are louder than Joe Sullivan’s piano, and they take center stage.  When you hear this recording for the first time, it’s hard to get used to the prominence of the drum set, and you might find yourself listening around Kaiser to hear the soloists.  I have done this in the past, and I was vastly amused to read in Sally-Ann Worsfold’s notes to the JSP box set of early Louis that she compared he sound of Kaiser’s playing on this side to a pair of amplified knitting needles.  A precise — if ungenerous — simile.

 But yesterday I was driving into Manhattan with 1928-31 Louis discs in my CD player, and the chronology led me to KNOCKIN’ A JUG.  Not for the first time, I thought, “Wow! Those drums are loud,” but then fell into a near-reverie, an attempt at a new way of thinking.  I decided, for once, that I would listen to Kaiser’s playing as intently as I could.  Rather than try to avoid it, I would accept it as it came out of the speakers.

Somewhere in his pioneering book Nature Ralph Waldo Emerson writes that everything, observed closely, becomes beautiful.  Emerson never got to hear Kaiser Marshall play, but he might well have reveled in those sounds.  After Lang’s arpeggiated introduction, Kaiser begins to play press rolls on the wooden rim of his snare drum, I assume, rolls broken up with phrase-ending accents and tap-dance patterns.  It is wonderful support and counterpoint at the same time.  Then he shifts to wire brushes to continue behind Teagarden — hardly according to formula, where a drummer might start off quietly on brushes and then go to sticks to build intensity and volume.  Kaiser’s brush sweep is awe-inspiring for its rhythm, its pulse, its inexorability.  “I can keep this up until the end of time,” his sweeping brushes tell us.  And their sound is so hard to describe: part sweeping, padding, slapping — but his time is flexible yet urgent, his momentum invaluable.  For Lang’s solo, Kaiser drops his volume ever so slightly, but continues to end phrases with double-time accents, emphasizing what he’s just heard, saying to Lang, “Yes, I agree with that!”  When Happy Cauldwell takes his turn, Kaiser is the epitome of pulsing steadiness — no accents, just playing very simple yet very intense patterns.  Behind Joe Sullivan, Kaiser is playful, antiphonal, answering, echoing, and shadowing Sullivan’s down-home filigrees. 

These choruses are the portion of the record most troubling to literal-minded listeners.  But if you can, for once, stop feeling sorry for poor overwhelmed Joe Sullivan, who was a tidal wave of a pianist, and just listen to the interplay, new worlds open up.

What a beautiful rocking motion Kaiser creates with those syncopated figures — my swing dancing friends could have a blissful time Lindy Hopping to this.   

Then Louis enters and Kaiser goes back to the simple propulsive stick-pattern with which the record began, although it’s clear that the emotional temperature in the room has risen dramatically.  He doesn’t seek to answer Louis, to accent his phrases, to be anything but deeply supportive.  And, in his own way, his steady pattern is both dramatic and consoling.  “Fly as high as you can, Louis: the band will play chords behind you and I’ll give you the strongest foundation I can!”  The congregation, led by Brother Marshall, says AMEN to Louis in every bar.  And I think that Louis could not have flown so high without Kaiser’s fervent, empathetic support.

That might be LOUD drumming, still.  But it is beautiful jazz playing — earnest, subtle, powerful, and cohesive.  Kaiser Marshall played this way because this WAS his way.  He didn’t have a chameleon-like approach to the music: one style for this group, one style for another, a bagful of synethetic, “learned” poses.  No, this was the way he sounded.  And it was obviously satisfying to the other musicians, as it had been to his colleagues in the Henderson band and the other groups he elevated.  He was himself.  He knew his essential identity, and he didn’t attempt to change it.  

That seems to me a very beautiful thing to say about anyone — jazz drummers or not — that we understand ourselves and stay true to the truths within us by embodying them. 

Find a copy of KNOCKIN’ A JUG and play it again, sweeping your mind clean of preconceptions.  It enters our ears as a great dramatic statement.  A group of artists having a good time, showing their essential selves, merging blissfully in ecstatic harmony at the end.  And Kaiser Marshall is someone I will carry in my mind these days whenever I feel pressured, quietly or otherwise, to become someone I am not.  Pure Emerson, with press rolls as well.