Tag Archives: Kansas Fields

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS FIFTY-SECOND STREET, SIDNEY BECHET, DICK WELLSTOOD, KENNY DAVERN, ALONZO LEVISTER, KANSAS FIELDS, and MORE (April 21, 2017)

Here is another unique interlude generously offered to us by Dan Morgenstern. I’ve posted earlier segments here and here — with immense pleasure.

In pursuit of the fine surprising stories that have delighted us so, I’d asked Dan to recall his experiences on Fifty-Second Street, slightly after that street’s legendary height . . . and here’s what he recalled, with portraits of Sidney Bechet, Alonzo Levister, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood among others.

I will have the mental-emotional image of a set-long Bechet / Dickenson blues forever.  And since Dan was close to both Kenny and Dick, here’s a wonderful performance, little-known, recorded by the very gracious Joe Shepherd at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978. I WANT TO BE HAPPY, with Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Spiegel Willcox, Spencer Clark, Dick Wellstood, Marty Grosz, Van Perry, Tony Di Nicola.

The video quality is a little fuzzy, but the music is memorable and more.  And thank you, Dan, for insights and generosities.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE TROOPS: BLUES AT V-DISC (MARCH 12,1944)

EDDIE CONDON V-DISC CD

It’s possible you have never heard this nine-minute treasure before, and its intended audience did not either.  Recorded for V-Disc on March 12, 1944, it is one of Eddie Condon’s IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLES — that is, a blues with surprises — a concert finale reproduced most happily in a recording studio.  I don’t know whether it was a collaboration between Eddie and recording supervisor George T. Simon, but the pairing is memorable.  The basic personnel is a “Condon group”: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; George Lugg, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano; Pops Foster, bass; Kansas Fields, drums.  The delightful guests are James P. Johnson, piano; Ed Hall, clarinet, Jimmy Rushing, vocal.

(The picture above is of the CD issue of these V-Disc sides, which can be found online if one is willing to search for a minute or two.)

A very similar band had played (and they had been recorded) at Town Hall the day before, with the results also issued on an out-of-print CD, so there is some connection: I don’t know whether the V-Disc sides, which can be slightly wayward, were recorded after midnight the next day.

However.  I post this not only because I delight in the music, and because many JAZZ LIVES readers will find it new, but it is also my quiet rebuke to those who can’t tolerate stylistic encroachment of any kind.  You know: this isn’t “authentic,” it’s not “jazz,” but it’s been corrupted by “swing” — the people who divide the music into schools.  Pops Foster?  He’s a New Orleans bassist.  James P. Johnson?  A Harlem stride pianist.  Jimmy Rushing?  A Kansas City blues shouter.  But the musicians had no interest in such restrictive labeling.  And I am uncomfortable with the notion of Eddie as an intent political activist specializing in racial equality.  These were guys who could play, and that was all.  The results are precious.

May your happiness increase!

PAPER EPHEMERA FROM THE CONDON EMPIRE: 1947 / 1960; December 5, 1942

This I know.  It’s an inscribed first edition of Eddie Condon’s 1947 autobiography, WE CALLED IT MUSIC. But beyond that.  “It’s warm here now,” Condon writes to Lou in 1947.  Then, thirteen years later, Lou inscribes the book to Woody or Woodie.  I don’t think this is Woody Herman, although the Lou could be Robert Louis McGarity:

$_57
Then, another (facing?) page from the same book:

$_57Some famous names: ME TOO, Bobby Hackett; Bob Wilber; pianist Graham Forbes.  Who was Thomas Golden? Bob Pancrost?

Any detectives out there, ready to leap on these clues?  (What was the weather like in New York City — a plausible guess — on October 20, 1947?)

The pages that follow aren’t at all mysterious: an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert program from December 5, 1942.  But in me they awake such longing. Why can’t I hear this band or these bands?

CONDON CONCERT 12 5 42

I want to be there. (Urban historians will note Thomas – Morton – Hall – Johnny Williams, a combination working under Teddy Wilson’s leadership at Cafe Society. In fact, some private recordings exist with Mel Powell taking Wilson’s place at around this time — not from this concert, though.)

May your happiness increase!

IN WORDS, IN SOUND: FRANK CHACE (2003, 1957)

The Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace remains one of my heroes. In all things, he was an obstinate individualist.  I knew him first as a musician, then (in the last years of his life) as a correspondent, rarely by telephone and only slightly more frequently by mail.  Here is a Chace letter that recently turned up — unexpectedly.  The contents are not significant in themselves, but the letter is significant to me: I look at it and think, “At one time in my life, it was possible to get a letter from Frank Chace,” which still amazes me: CHACE LETTER

Lucid, sardonic, perceptive. He was the only correspondent I ever had or might ever have who could move easily from Noam Chomsky to Kansas Fields and Don Frye, Bobby Hackett and Dave McKenna, with hints of Bob and Ray at the end.  (The music references are to a private tape with some otherwise undocumented Eddie Condon-and-friends music from 1942 and 1944 that I had sent him.)

You can’t hear a letter, so here’s some audible Chace — a rarity, something I heard years ago on a cassette from the sweetly generous Bob Hilbert: four selections recorded in 1957 by a band led by cornetist Doc Evans. The concert, billed as a history of jazz, was issued in three 12″ lps on the Soma label, but Chace popped in for the “Chicagoan” portion, playing both clarinet and bass sax, the latter for one of only two times on record.

CHACE DOC EVANS

Because I have a fascination with ornate prose, I offer some paragraphs from this record’s liner notes (omitting the writer’s name) for your consideration:

There is almost as much of the white American Midwest as there is of the Negro South in classic jazz, which is only natural: like the chestnut tree of the poet Yeats, the “great rooted blossomer” of the Mississippi River and its tributaries (pushing across the New York-Hollywood “course of empire” of the entertainment industry) has been the nesting-place of jazz. Its songbirds have been of all colors, but the music they have made has been one integrated chorus . . . . Bix and Tesch could no more rid themselves completely of their common German ancestry than the Negro could completely rid himself of Africa; and thus a 19th-century European concept of melody and harmony, of “art” music, of the virtuoso instrumentalist, enters jazz with Bix and Tesch — enters, to be assimilated (if in such a short time as they accomplished that assimilation for themselves) by an act of will and talent, of sensibilities strained to the breaking point. . . . . But not all broke; followers of Bix and Tesch carry on . . . in our time the direct legitimate heir of Tesch, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, for whom time has stood still and who has made it stand still for others. One man, one horn, one ghost epitomize Chicago style: eccentric, wailing, uninhibited. It is like Chicago, where the men of Storyville came to plant their music amid the aspirations of another race.

To the music, played by Evans, cornet; Chace, clarinet / bass sax; Hal Runyon, trombone; Dick Pendleton, clarinet (when Chace is on bass sax in JAZZ BAND BALL) alto / tenor sax; Frank Gillis, piano; Bill Peer, banjo; George Tupper, string bass; Warren Thewis, drums — SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SUGAR / I FOUND A NEW BABY:

The first two performances follow the original 1927 OKehs fairly closely, with Chace on clarinet on SINGIN’ and on bass sax — doing a creditable Rollini on JAZZ BAND, thirty years after the fact. Readers who like such things can consider whether these concert performances are effective copies. For me, the real pleasure comes in Chace’s solo chorus on SUGAR, his solo and ensemble work on the latter two tunes — a free-thinking Chicagoan approach. Superficially, he resembles Pee Wee Russell, but a more attentive hearing will turn up Simeon, Teschemacher, Noone, Dodds, and other evocations, all blended strongly into a unique entity known as Frank Chace. . . . someone who went his own way even when the constraints of the situation seemed claustrophobic.

I remember now that my telephone conversations with Frank were often bleak: he was convinced that everyone was corrupt, that there was no reason for him to play or record again. At this date, I can’t know if he was realistic or deeply depressed or both; he defeated my sustaining optimism with ease. But I miss him.

May your happiness increase!

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

GLIMPSES OF THE GRAIL, 1949

We love the music we have — the wooden boxes of phonograph records and cassettes, the wall shelves of CDs, the iPods with thousands of songs.  But our hearts beat faster for those things imagined but not realized.  Poring over discographies, we breathe faster when reading of unissued takes, the performances rumored to exist, acetates held by someone in another country, the film footage . . .

But thanks to Lorenz Yeung and Fernando Ortiz de Urbana (I’ve had the good fortune to meet the latter in person) are a few bite-sized bits of one kind of Holy Grail: http://jazzontherecord.blogspot.com/

(Fernando’s blog, EASY DOES IT, is a wonderful cornucopia on its own.)

Who assembled this I do not know.  It is a tribute to Sidney Bechet, who well deserves such honors.  But obviously someone followed Bechet around in 1949, on his penultimate visit to the United States.  And Bechet appeared a number of times on television (think of it!) in the States — most often, I believe, on the Eddie Condon Floor Show oon WPIX.

It’s always heartwarming to be able to praise Mr. Condon, so allow me a few sentences.  Whenever he could (later with the help of his wife Phyllis and the publicist Ernie Anderson) he looked for venues where his music could be played — in mixed bands on Fifty-Second Street, at the Park Lane Hotel, at Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall, several incarnations of his own club . . . on records, radio broadcasts, transcriptions for the servicemen and women . . . and television.

The Floor Show was his rewarding pioneering television series, broadcast between 1948 and 1950 on WPIX-TV.  It brought together the best jazz players and singers — Louis Armstrong, Sidney Catlett, Jack Teagarden, Lee Wiley, Billie Holiday, Earl Hines, Pee Wee Russell, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Count Basie, Bobby Hackett, Buzzy Drootin, Ralph Sutton — alongside Rosemary Clooney and tap-dancer Teddy Hale, and fifty or so other luminaries.

Eddie was wise enough to understand that the human ear and psyche would wilt on a steady unremitting diet of Hot, so in his club there was an intermission solo pianist; there were ballad medleys, slow blues, medium-tempo pop tunes, as well as RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.

And his understanding of “show,” of variety, developed in the visual world of early television — hot numbers interspersed with slow ballads, sweet singing, tap dancing, and more.  (I’ve seen a still photograph of what must have been a perfect jazz trio: Hot Lips Page, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton.  Pardon me while I rhapsodize silently.)

Some small portion of the music survives on vinyl issues on the Queen-Disc label and in the collectors’ underground trading world, but we know that the kinescopes made at the time — films of the programs — no longer exist.  I have this on very solid authority, unless there were multiple sets made.

However . . . this YouTube surprise package has color silent footage of Sidney with Cliff Jackson, Kid Ory, Muggsy Spanier, Teddy Hale, Peanuts Hucko, possibly Kansas Fields, Gene Schroeder, Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson, George Wettling, and another saxophonist named Charlie Parker.

You will have to watch the video several times to fully appreciate all its great gifts, including shots of Bechet acting in several French films, occasionally at the stove or battling an over-assertive shirt dickey.

About the television footage: I imagine that someone who loved Bechet followed him onto the soundstage with a movie camera (the kinescopes would have had sound and been in black and white) — blessings on this intrepid soul and those who saved the footage and shared it with us.  (I’ve written to Lorenz Yeung, the poster, to ask the source of the Condon material; he generously told me that it was part of a Bechet CD package he bought in Australia, a bonus CD (!)  I’m also quite amazed that none of the orinthologists have noticed this — and it’s been on YouTube since 2011.  Research!  In color!)

The question, is, of course, “What else is out there?”  And the answer is unfathomable.  But all things are possible.

My personal Holy Grail might no longer exist.  I can’t remember where I heard or read this story, but Ernie Anderson (both diligent and a teller of tales, so this one might have to be taken with skepticism) knew a fellow in the advertising trade, quite wealthy, whose son loved jazz.  Father wanted to give his son a present, and asked Ernie to set up a recording session for the boy: Ernie assembled Bobby Hackett, Sidney Catlett, and the fine pianist Harry Gibson (later Harry “the Hipster” Gibson), had them record some music, had the records pressed in perhaps one set, and I assume the boy was terrifically pleased.  But where are those records now?

Readers are invited to submit their own versions of the jazz Holy Grail . . . we could start with the airshots of the King Oliver band with Lester Young in it and go from there.

Thanks to Lorenz Yeung, Fernando, to David J. Weiner, Maggie Condon, Loren Schoenberg, Dan Morgenstern, and to Sidney Bechet (of course): the soundtrack is DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES.

May your happiness increase!

AMAZING PAGES FOR SALE!

Both James Comer and David J. Weiner brought this to my attention — an amazing auction of jazz and popular music memorabilia that tops anything I’ve ever seen.  Should you wish to explore for yourself, the website is http://www.profilesinhistory.com/items/hollywood-memorabilia-auction-40.  But here are a few highlights I needed to show you, as if they were my treasures:

Better than Button Gwinnett, I’d say: Little T, Frank Signorelli, and George Wettling.  I can’t identify the fourth name, if a name it is.  I also wonder if this dates from the association that these players had with Paul Whiteman circa 1938?

Inscribed to Bob Harrington, at the end of the Forties: my hero, Henry Allen Junior.

I wonder if this was inscribed at one of Dick Gibson’s parties?  It certainly seems a sacred artifact to me.  From the bottom, I note reverently Ralph Sutton and Lou Stein, Yank Lawson, Joe Venuti, Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Nick Fatool, Billy Butterfield, Bud Freeman, Zoot Sims, and Buck Clayton.  Oh my!

O fortunate Junior Payne!

VOOT! indeed: that’s Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, a fine pianist before he assumed the hipster’s mantle.

That’s only the second Baby Dodds autograph I’ve ever seen.

Delightfully odd — Count Basie, an unidentified young man, and Mezz Mezzrow.  Sarah Vaughan was at Bop City as well on this night in 1948 and her signature is top left.  Basie’s inscription of the photograph to Mezz as “my 20 year man” makes me wonder if Basie, too, took pleasure in Mezz’s arrangements?  Leaving that aside, I love the neckties.

 Famous names, no?  And in an intriguing order, although this may just have been the way the paper was passed around from one member of the quartet to another.

No explanation needed!

The Ellington band, starting with Arthur Whetsol . . . !

February 19, 1944: with Wettling, deParis, Joe Marsala, Kansas Fields, James P. Johnson, Joe Grauso, Bob Casey, Miff Mole . . .

What is there to say except “Solid!”

And my favorite:

These pictures can only hint at the riches up for auction: for just one instance, the lot that includes the Harry “the Hipster” signature also  publicity photograph of Leo Watson inscribed to “My man Mezz.”  They could make me rethink the decor of my apartment, I tell you.