Tag Archives: Knocky Parker

“MAGIC FINGERS”: JIM TURNER’S TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY GUARNIERI (Solo Art SACD 172)

Here’s a sample of the technically inspiring, elegant music that pianist-composer Johnny Guarnieri created for half a century:

and one of his many other sides — the quietly irrepressible swinger:

and then there’s the audaciously gifted stride pianist:

and his variations on and venerable pop tune:

Guarnieri could marvelously become Fats, Tatum, Teddy Wilson, James P., Basie — all at once or in lovely little interludes — but after a few bars on any recording, you knew it was Johnny, which (to me) is the summit that improvisers strive for, influences melded into a recognizable self.

He started at the top, as they say, in 1939 as a member of the Benny Goodman band and the sextet with Charlie Christian, then as the harpsichord player with Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five as well as with the band, then numberless sessions with Ziggy Elman, Cootie Williams, Slam Stewart, Sammy Weiss, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome (in the early Forties, Guarnieri seemed to be the house pianist for Keynote, Savoy, and other small labels) Yank Lawson, Ben Webster, Benny Morton, Coleman Hawkins, Rex Stewart.  He’s the pianist on the V-Disc sessions that brought together Louis, Lips Page, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Jack Teagarden, Lou McGarity,Nick Caiazza, Ernie Caceres, Herb Ellis, Al Hall, Cozy Cole, Specs Powell; more sideman work with Don Byas, Joe Thomas, Buck Clayton, Hank D’Amico, Ike Quebec, Flip Phillips, J. C. Heard, Sidney Catlett . . . . and this recital of famous associations is only up until the end of the Second World War.

Guarnieri wasn’t famous, necessarily, in the way that Teddy Wilson was, but he had the respect of the best players, singers, and record producers in the music business.  And the long list of names — did I leave out Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy, or Dick Haymes? — means that if you have a favorite jazz or swing record from this period, chances are that Johnny was the pianist on it. In the Fifties and beyond, he went for himself as a soloist or led a piano trio or quartet, for the next thirty years, although he participated in the great revival of interest in the masters of the Swing Era, and could be found alongside Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Buddy Tate, Slam Stewart, and others.

Perhaps because of his swing and his dazzle (stride faster than the speed of light, improvising in 5/4 and other eccentric meters) Guarnieri has been admired but never approached.  That is, until Jim Turner‘s new CD, in tribute to Johnny, Jim’s mentor and friend, aptly called MAGIC FINGERS.

Jim Turner

Jim hasn’t had the benefit of Guarnieri’s visibility and name recognition, but I knew of him for years as a convincing, graceful stride and swing pianist.  And anyone who begins his recording career in duet with Knocky Parker and has played concerts with Dick Hyman has to be taken seriously.

Here’s some evidence: POET AND PEASANT OVERTURE, performed in June 1986.  The video is murky, but the music is wonderful: we could have taken Jim uptown and he would have impressed the titans.  Better, he impresses now:

and here’s Jim beautiful version of James P. Johnson’s CAPRICE RAG:

What makes his playing remarkable is not its speed, but his gorgeous marriage of accuracy and warmth, his rollicking swing.  As fast as this performance is, it never feels mechanical (beautiful dynamics!) and it never outraces its jubilant rocking motion.

One more, because I can’t resist.  You might need to increase the volume, but it will be worth it:

But to the subject at hand, MAGIC FINGERS.

A tribute to Johnny Guarnieri by another pianist might get bogged down in layers of emulation, where the second artist, let us say, might decide that Johnny’s choruses on I NEVER KNEW or EXERCISE IN SWING were so fulfilling that the only thing one could do, as if they were a Chopin etude, would be to reproduce them beautifully.  But a CD of copies would not, I think, serve Johnny’s spirit and legacy all that well, especially since Johnny was always being his singular self even while some listeners might say, “That’s a Fats phrase! That’s some Basie!” — as if they were walking the beach with a metal detector looking for identifiable treasures.  (Incidentally, the perhaps apocryphal story is that when Johnny would launch into these pitch-perfect impersonations as a sideman with Benny Goodman, the King would tell him vehemently, “STOP THAT!” and Johnny would, although perhaps not as quickly as Benny wanted.)

The brilliance of MAGIC FINGERS lies, of course, in Jim Turner’s deep understanding of Johnny’s musical selves, and in Jim’s choice to create a disc devoted to his mentor’s ingenious, restorative compositions.  Each of the originals (well-annotated by Jim in his notes) has its own life, with great variety in tempo, key, rhythms, and approach.  A number of the pieces were written with a specific individual in mind — thus a tribute that collects many tributes! — and the ear never gets tired.

At no point in my multiple playings of this disc did I feel the urge to shout at the speakers, “STOP THAT!”  Quite the opposite: from the opening notes of GLISS ME AGAIN, I settled down in comfort for a series of endearing adventures — seventeen selections, all but three by Guarnieri.  Beautifully played and beautifully recorded — the real sound of a well-maintained piano in a large room.

I admire how Turner has not only managed to reproduce the wonderful features of his inspiration’s playing — the great glide of his swing, the impish romping, the energetic and varied stride — but has made them entirely personal and rewarding.  I’ve chosen to avoid a track-by-track explication (discover these pleasures for yourselves!) except to say that the closing track, THE DAZZLER, is a duet for Turner and the singularly eloquent clarinetist Ron Hockett.

I can’t offer the usual tech-inducements of seventeen sound samples or the like, but I assure you that this disc, as they used to say, satisfies.

A closing thought.  I recently had a conversation in cyberspace with a respected musician who plays “traditional jazz,” who lamented that this music was “a language” that modern audiences would not hear and, if they did, might not understand.  Maybe his dark assessment is right, but I would use MAGIC FINGERS as a test case: anyone who purchases this disc might feel encouraged to play one of the more leisurely pieces and then a romp for someone who didn’t know this music but was open to other genres.  I’d hope that the listener would say, “That’s really pretty,” of the slower piece and “That pianist really can play!” of the more acrobatic one.  I have faith in the music and in this CD — and, if it isn’t clear by now, in Jim Turner and in Johnny Guarnieri and the gifts that each offers so generously.

May your happiness increase!

HE RODE WITH JAMES P. JOHNSON: TALKING WITH IRV KRATKA (July 31, 2015)

irv

Irv Kratka (drums) doesn’t have a huge discographical entry in Tom Lord’s books, but he played with some fine musicians: Bunk Johnson, Dick Wellstood, James P. Johnson, Ephie Resnick, Joe Muranyi, Bob Mielke, Knocky Parker, Jerry Blumberg, Cyrus St. Clair, among others, in the years 1947-50.  I knew of Irv from those recordings (many of which are quite rare) but also as the creator and guiding genius of Music Minus One and a number of other jazz labels including Classic Jazz and Inner City.

But I had never met Irv Kratka (human being, jazz fan, record producer, concert promoter) in the flesh until this year when we encountered each other at the Terry Blaine / Mark Shane concert in Croton-on-Hudson, and I immediately asked if he’d be willing to sit for a video interview, which he agreed to on the spot.  Irv is now 89 . . . please let that sink in . . . and sharp as a tack, as Louis would say.  His stories encompass all sorts of people and scenes, from Bunk’s band at the Stuyvesant Casino, Louis and Bunk at a club, a car ride with James P. Johnson, lessons from Billy Gladstone, a disagreement between Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, all the way up to the present and his current hero, multi-instrumentalist Glenn Zottola.

I didn’t want to interrogate Irv, so I didn’t pin him to the wall with minutiae about what James P. might have said in the car ride or what Jerry Blumberg ordered at the delicatessen, but from these four casual interview segments, you can get a warm sense of what it was like to be a young jazz fan in the late Thirties, an aspiring musician and concert producer in the Forties, onwards to today.  It was a privilege to speak with Irv and he generously shared his memories — anecdotes of Bunk Johnson, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Bill Russell, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dick Wellstood, Peg Leg Bates, Lena Horne, Joe Muranyi, Billy Gladstone, Jacques Butler, Jerry Blumberg, Art Hodes, Albert Nicholas, Sarah Vaughan, George Brunis — also fond recollections of Bob Wilber, Bob Mielke, Ephie Resnick and others.

Here are four informal segments from our conversation — the first and last fairly lengthy discussions, the middle two vignettes.

One:

Two:

Three:

Four:

Now, here’s another part of the story.  Irv plans to sell several of his labels: Inner City, Classic Jazz, Proscenium (the last with three Dick Hyman discs) Audio Journal (The Beatles at Shea Stadium – Audience Reaction), and Rockland Records which consists of the first and only CD by the Chapin Bros. (Harry, Tom, and Steve) comedy albums by Theodore, and a disc featuring Mae West songs / W.C. Fields. The catalogue includes 141 titles, and there are more than 42,000 discs to turn over to the new owner, all at “a very nominal price.”  Serious inquiries only to ikratka@mmogroup.com.

May your happiness increase!

ON ALL FOURS IN BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA (July 6, 2012)

My pose wasn’t illicit, erotic, illegal, canine, or a return to some pre-evolutionary state.  And it was indoors, should you wonder.  I was down on the floor inside the Berkeley, California branch of Amoeba Music looking through their jazz long-playing records.

Even though I don’t suffer from a paucity of music to listen to, a highlight of our trips west has been my visits to the Down Home Music Store in El Cerrito (where a week ago I walked away with three records: a compendium of the Barney Bigard-Joe Thomas-Art Tatum sides recorded for Black and White 1944-45; the Xanadu session of Roy Eldridge at Jerry Newman’s, 1940; the French CBS volume of Louis with Lillie Delk Christian and Chippie Hill).  Nineteen dollars.

Not bad, you might say, but it was just a warmup for today’s treasure hunt.

The records listed below ranged from one dollar to five, so the total was slightly over thirty-eight dollars.  Some of them I once had; some I knew of and coveted; others were total surprises.  Most of them I found while standing, but the dollar ones required that I become a small human coffee table.  I was in my element, and no one stepped on me.  (Thirty years ago, New York City had stores like this, but — except for one gem on Bleecker Street — they seem to have vanished.)

In random order:

MAX KAMINSKY: AMBASSADOR OF JAZZ (Westminster, 2.99), which has no listed personnel, but sounds like an octet — I hear Bill Stegmeyer, Cutty Cutshall, and Dick Cary — and has a wide range of material, beginning with HENDERSON STOMP and THE PREACHER.

TURK MURPHY: NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE (Columbia, 1.99), which features my friend Birchall Smith and my hero Don Ewell as well as Bob Helm.

an anthology on the Jazum label (3.99), which features two extraordinary West Coast jams — circa 1945 — which bring together Vic Dickenson, Sidney Catlett, Willie Smith, Les Paul, Eddie Heywood, and possibly Oscar Pettiford.  A present for a jazz friend.

KNOCKY PARKER: OLD RAGS (Audiophile, 2.99) which I bought in honor of one of my New York friends who had Professor Parker in college but has never heard him play the piano.

Three volumes in the French RCA series of 1973-74 recordings produced by Albert McCarthy (in Hank O’Neal’s studio) — under the SWING TODAY banner, with recordings by Vic Dickenson, Herman Autrey, Buddy Tate, Earle Warren, Zoot Sims, Jane Harvey, Bucky Pizzarelli, Budd Johnson, Red Richards, Taft Jordan, Bill Dillard, Eddie Barefield, Eddie Durham, Jackie Williams, Major Holley, Eddie Locke, Doc Cheatham, John Bunch, Tommy Potter, Chuck Folds.

BUDDY TATE AND HIS CELEBRITY CLUB ORCHESTRA VOL. 2 (Black and Blue, 2. 99), 1968 recordings featuring Dicky Wells, Dud Bascomb, and Johnny Williams.

THE LEGENDARY EVA TAYLOR WITH MAGGIE’S BLUE FIVE (Kenneth, 1.99), a recording I have been wanting for years — with Bent Persson and Tomas Ornberg.

SWEET AND HOT (Ambiance, 1.99), a half-speed disc — it plays at 45 — recorded in 1977 and featuring Vince Cattolica and Ernie Figueroa in an octet.

THE GOLDEN STATE JAZZ BAND: ALIVE AND AT BAY (Stomp Off, 1.99) late-Seventies sessions featuring Ev Farey, Bob Mielke, Bill Napier, Carl Lunsford, Mike Duffy, and Hal Smith.

RALPH SUTTON: BACKROOM PIANO (Verve, 1.00): well-played but any Sutton collection that begins with CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS is something to have.  I remember Ed Beach played tracks from this record on his Sutton shows.

LIVE AND IN CHOLER: THE WORLD FAMOUS DESOLATION JAZZ ENSEMBLE AND MESS KIT REPAIR BATTALION, VOL. 2 (Clambake, 1.00): I nearly passed this one by because of the “humorous” title . . . but when I saw it has Dave Caparone on trombone, I was not about to be deterred by some goofy liner notes.

BREAD, BUTTER & JAM IN HI-FI (RCA, 1.00), a compilation of tracks that didn’t fit on the original issues — but what tracks!  Lee Wiley, Henry “Red” Allen, Bud Freeman, Ruby Braff, Jack Teagarden, Billy Butterfield, Pee Wee Russell, Coleman Hawkins, 1956-58.

Worth getting into such an undignified position, I’d say.  Now I will indulge myself by listening to Miss Eva with Bent and Tomas!

May your happiness increase. 

ON TREASURE ISLAND

No, my title isn’t a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson, or the 1935 pop song recorded by Louis and Wingy Manone.  It’s how I think of the back quadrant of the antiques-and-collectables shop called CAROUSEL on Warren Street in Hudson, New York.  In a previous post, I happily showed off the Jelly Roll Morton HMV 78 I had uncovered . . . but I hadn’t bothered to look down.  What I found was two boxes of 10″ and 12″ 78s and a few 10″ lps — many of them suggesting that their previous owner had far-ranging and excellent jazz taste.  Here are my latest acquisitions, arranged in rough chronological order for the purists out there . . .

Let’s begin with some classic acoustic blues: two Columbias by a famous pair:

78s from Carousel 001

78s from Carousel 002

78s from Carousel 003

78s from Carousel 004

78s from Carousel 005

This one was fairly dull, but I didn’t expect roaring improvisation.

78s from Carousel 006

Well, we live in hope. SUSAN has some faux-hot playing in its final chorus, where potential buyers might not be scared away, but nothing memorable.

78s from Carousel 007

I recall this tune from Mildred Bailey’s little-girl version, but don’t know the vocalist.

78s from Carousel 008

This 78 is cracked, but this side’s a real prize.  With the song taken at a slower tempo than usual, there’s a good deal of growling from Bubber Miley in the last minute of the record, out in the open and as part of the ensemble.  A find!

78s from Carousel 009

What first caught my eye was the lovely UK label . . . then when I saw this and the next ones were mint Bings from 1933, I couldn’t resist.  And Eddie Lang is added to the Royal Canadians.  Legend has it that the British pressings are quiet and well-behaved.  Is this true?

78s from Carousel 010

Not a memorable song, but I can hear Bing becoming pastoral as I type these words.

78s from Carousel 011

78s from Carousel 012

And my favorite of the four sides — a jaunty naughty song about love-addiction, and perhaps other things, too.  I always knew that “I must have you every day / As regularly as coffee or tea,” didn’t entirely refer to Twining’s Earl Grey.

78s from Carousel 013

Now you’re talking my language!  We jump forward into the Forties (I left aside a number of familiar Commodores and Keynotes, because of the economy) — with a record I’d only heard on an Onyx lp compilation.  Here’s the original 12″ vinyl pressing, with “Theodocius,” as Mildred called him on a 1935 record, who was under contract to Musicraft at the time.  A wonderful quintet!

78s from Carousel 014

And a tune that only one other jazz group (Benny Morton-Red Allen, 1933) ever recorded.

78s from Carousel 015

For whatever reason, 10″ jazz lps are even more scarce than 78s, so this one was a real surprise — even without its cover.

78s from Carousel 016

Just as good!

78s from Carousel 017

The other side of the ideological divide, but equally thrilling.

78s from Carousel 018

Did Mingus overdub his bass lines on this issue, I wonder?

78s from Carousel 019

Take it on faith that side 2 is exactly the same except for the altered digit.  Now, to conclude — a pair of oddities!

78s from Carousel 021

I can see myself listening to this two-sided piece of history once, if that — but the near-mint record and the original sleeve made it an essential purchase.  I’ll also send this photo to my friend, poet Amy King, who isn’t abdicating her throne any time soon.

78s from Carousel 022

Finally, a real gamble and entirely irresistible for that reason.  The logical half of the brain says that what looks like “Hawk” will turn out to be “Hank,” singing about his girl Nona, accompanying himself on the musical saw.  The hopeful side of the brain says “Coleman Hawkins, of course . . . ”  Stay tuned!  My next purchase, obviously, has to be a three-speed turntable.

And two antique-store stories, both cheering.  In Carousel, the gentleman behind the counter saw me come puffing up with my armload of precious 78s.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think the store does a brisk business in 78s, so he was happy to see me.  “I have twelve,” I said, with that hopeful expectant canine look on my face that says, silently, “Can you give me a break on the price, especially if I don’t haggle with you?”  His intuition was splendid.  He grinned at me and said, “Looks like ten to me.”  I was pleasantly flustered and said, conspiratorially, “You knew I was hoping for some sort of discount, didn’t you?” and his smile got bigger.  “No,” he said, “I just count better than you do.”  Very sweet indeed!

And a few days before this, the Beloved and I had spent some time in a store in an odd location — where, I don’t exactly remember.  Its owner was even more amiable, even when we couldn’t find a thing to buy in his place, including gardening books and a small stash of vinyl records.  But we had an exceedingly amusing and thoughtful conversation with him about the changing nature of the area, and how it affected local businesses.  We exchanged friendly good wishes at the end, and went outside to get in the car.  A few beats later, we saw him emerge from the store.  “Did I tell you my clown joke?” he said, and we said no, he hadn’t — hoping for the best but expecting something positively weird or terrifying.  (One never knows, do one?)  “Two cannibals are eating a clown, and one of them looks at the other and says, suspiciously, ‘Does this taste  funny to you?”  It caught me by surprise and, after a moment for cogitation, we were laughing loudly.  Now you can tell it to someone else.