Tag Archives: Lawrence Brown

“A STRENGTH OF SOUND”: CLINT BAKER EXPLAINS (AND PLAYS) THE NEW YORK TROMBONE SCHOOL: (Stomptime, April 30, 2019)

Clint Baker, tbn.

I know someone who can both Do and Teach: my friend and jazz hero above.

When Clint and I were on the STOMPTIME cruise last April and May, we had free time in the afternoons, and (because of my pleasure in video-interviewing others, including Dan Morgenstern, Mike Hashim, and Kim Cusack) I asked Clint if he wanted to sit for my camera.  He was graciously enthusiastic, and because of our recent conversations, he chose to talk about a school of trombonists, working in New York in the early part of the last century, who aren’t praised or noticed as much as they should be.

So here is a beautiful swinging lesson from Professor Baker, the first portion examining the work(s) of Arthur Pryor, Charlie Irvis, Charlie Green, Miff Mole, and the overarching influence of Louis Armstrong:

Here Clint finishes the tale of Charlie Green, considers the work(s) of Jimmy Harrison, Jack Teagarden, Bennie Morton, the “vocal style,” and that influential Louis fellow:

The world of J.C. Higginbotham, with side-trips to Henry “Red” Allen and Luis Russell, Bill Harris, Kid Ory, Honore Dutrey, Preston Jackson, and more:

and finally, a portrait of Sandy Williams, with comments on Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson, Jack Teagarden, Chick Webb, and Tommy Dorsey:

Any good classroom presentation asks the students to do some research on their own, in their own ways.  Clint has pointed to many recorded examples in his hour-plus interview / conversation.  I offer a sampling below; for the rest, you are on your own . . . a lifetime of joyous study awaits.

Arthur Pryor’s 1901 masterpiece, THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND:

A recording that always is heralded for the brilliance of Louis and Bechet, rightly.  But listen to Charlie Irvis all the way through, who’s astonishing:

Charlie Green on the Henderson “Dixie Stompers” CLAP HANDS, HERE COMES CHARLEY:

“Big” Green with Louis, for HOBO, YOU CAN’T RIDE THIS TRAIN:

and, because it’s so rewarding, the other take (which sounds like their first try):

Lawrence Brown showing the Pryor influence on the Ellington SHEIK (YouTube doesn’t offer the 1940 Fargo dance date version, yet) — with a later solo by someone we didn’t speak of, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton:

Jimmy Harrison on the “Chocolate Dandies” DEE BLUES:

Cross-fertilization: Jack Teagarden on RIDIN’ BUT WALKIN’:

Bennie Morton, on Don Redman’s 1931 I GOT RHYTHM, with a glorious trio:

J.C. Higginbotham, Henry “Red” Allen, and Pops Foster — with the 1929 Luis Russell band, for JERSEY LIGHTNING:

Higgy, Red, and Cecil Scott, 1935, with ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

Preston Jackson, explosively, on Jimmie Noone’s 1940 NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:

Sandy Williams with Bunk and Bechet, UP IN SIDNEY’S FLAT:

Sandy with Bechet, Sidney De Paris, Sidney Catlett, OLD MAN BLUES:

and Sandy on Chick Webb’s DIPSY DOODLE:

A wonderful postscript: Dan Morgenstern recalling Sandy Williams at a 2017 interview, as well as the kindness of Bennie Morton, and a James P. Johnson story:

But my question is this, “Clint, what shall we talk about next?  I can’t wait . . . and I know I have company.”

May your happiness increase!

TRICKY SAM’S EXUBERANT SOUNDS (1940)

JOSEPH “TRICKY SAM” NANTON, 1904-46, thanks to Tohru Seya.

One of the great pleasures of having a blog Few jazz listeners would recognize is the ability to share music — often, new performances just created.  But I go back to the days of my adolescence where I had a small circle of like-minded friends who loved the music, and one of us could say, “Have you heard Ben Webster leaping in on Willie Bryant’s RIGMAROLE?”  “Hackett plays a wonderful solo on IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN (IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE).”  Allow me to share some joy with you, even if we are far away from each other.

Some of the great pleasures of my life have been those players with sharply individualistic sounds.  Think of trombonists: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Bennie Morton, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Harrison, Bill Harris, Trummy Young, J.C. Higginbotham, Miff Mole, Sandy Williams, and more.  And the much-missed fellow in the photograph above.  This high priest of sounds is a hero of mine.  He left us too young and he loyally refused to record with anyone except Ellington.  I don’t ordinarily celebrate the birthdays of musicians, here or in other neighborhoods, but February 1 was Mister Nanton’s 115th, and he deserves more attention than he gets.  He was influenced by the plunger work of Johnny Dunn, a trumpeter who is far more obscure because he chose a route that wasn’t Louis’, but Tricky Sam was obviously his own man, joyous, sly, and memorable.

Here he is with Ellington’s “Famous Orchestra” band on perhaps the most famous location recording ever: the November 7, 1940 dance date in Fargo, North Dakota, recorded by Jack Towers and Dick Burris on a portable disc cutter.  ST. LOUIS BLUES, unbuttoned and raucous, closed the evening, with solos by Ray Nance, cornet; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Ivie Anderson, vocal; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; and Tricky Sam — before the band combines BLACK AND TAN FANTASY and RHAPSODY IN BLUE to end.  (The complete band was Duke, Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, Wallace Jones, Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Otto Hardwick, Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Fred Guy, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries.  And the whole date has been issued on a 2-CD set.)

It says a good deal that Duke saved Tricky Sam for the last solo, the most dramatic.  Who, even Ben, could follow him?

You will notice — and it made me laugh aloud when I first heard it, perhaps fifty years ago, and it still does — that Tricky Sam leaps into his solo by playing the opening phrase of the 1937 WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK (Larry Morey and Frank Churchill) from the Disney SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.  How it pleases me to imagine Ellington’s men taking in an afternoon showing of that Disney classic!

Let no one say that Sonny Greer couldn’t swing, and swing the band.  To paraphrase Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD, “They had sounds then.”

And just on the Lesley Gore principle (“It’s my blog and I’ll post if I want to”) here’s a full-blown 2013 version of WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK by John Reynolds, guitar and whistling; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, clarinet — recorded at the 2013 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California . . . another stop on the 2019 JAZZ LIVES hot music among friends quest.  No trombone, but Joseph Nanton would have enjoyed it for its headlong verve:

May your happiness increase!

THE MARIEL BILDSTEN SEPTET ROCKS TIME WARNER CENTER WITH BASIE AND DUKE (October 3, 2017)

Mariel Bildsten. Photograph by Jeff Drolette.

Mariel Bildsten’s grandfather was an architect, as is her mother. Mariel, a brilliant young trombonist, doesn’t construct buildings. She makes them rock.

I first met Mariel underground — less ominous than it sounds — about two weeks ago, when she and the wonderful guitarist Greg Ruggiero were setting up to play duets in TURNSTYLE, beneath the Time Warner Center, more or less. They made delicious music while, on either side, shoppers and eaters and commuters rushed by.  I already knew Greg as a player both lyrical and swinging, from his work with Michael Kanan and Neal Miner, but Mariel — born in 1994 — was a pleasing revelation.

She has a big beautiful tone, facility without glibness, a mature sense of phrasing (you can feel her thinking about what the next note might be — no hesitation, but a thoughtfulness), and an unerring swing.

So when Mariel said she’d have a septet playing Ellington and Basie at the free Tuesday late-afternoon sessions at the Time Warner Center (sponsored by the Eileen Fisher clothing company) I wanted to be there, and was able to video-record the session, which was a delight.  With Mariel were Patrick Alexander Bartley Jr., alto Saxophone; Ruben Fox, tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Evan Sherman, drums; Mathis Jaona Jolan Picard, keyboard, and Barry Stephenson, string bass.

I knew everything was going to be all right when the band played ninety seconds of DICKIE’S DREAM for a soundcheck.  You won’t hear that, but here’s the full performance that followed after Mariel had introduced the band:

and then the Ellington small-band classic, first known as SUBTLE SLOUGH, then as JUST SQUEEZE ME when lyrics were added:

Later-period Basie (1962), SENATOR WHITEHEAD, on familiar changes:

From Ellington’s 1967 COMBO SUITE, the justly-famous THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES (first simply called “Billy Strayhorn’s riff” at the record date):

Also from the COMBO SUITE, TELL ME ‘BOUT MY BABY:

Finally, from the Suite, NEAR NORTH:

Mariel’s tribute to Lawrence Brown, clearly one of her inspirations, was her improvisation on LET’S FALL IN LOVE, which Brown played so splendidly on the Johnny Hodges session called SIDE BY SIDE:

Patrick Bartley’s wonderful evocation of that same Hodges on Billy Strayhorn’s PASSION FLOWER:

TICKLE-TOE, one of the high points of Western Civilization, by Lester Young:

And another nod to later Basie, WHAT’CHA TALKIN’?:

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the jazz scene as it is unfolding in New York City or elsewhere; I know my musicians and I revere them.  But it was a great pleasure to meet and hear so many young players, so expert, who were new to me.  The next time I read some journalist who wants to convince me that jazz is dead, I will think of this session and these players, providing living rebuttals.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE THE QUALITY MEETS: CHARLIE HALLORAN AND THE “QUALITY SIX”

CHARLIE HALLORAN QUALITY SIX

It is possible I have clothing older than jazz trombonist Charlie Halloran, but I am thrilled to let you know about his CD, which contains some wonderful music.

The first thing you might notice about the disc’s cover above — leaving aside the energetic graphic design — is that it advertises a band rather than a soloist, and that is all to the good.  When you notice that Charlie has surrounded himself with people who have been making recordings longer than he has — their names follow this extended sentence — you know that he knows quality, as do they.

Who are those people surrounding Mister Halloran and his slide trombone? How about Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Steve Pistorius, piano; Tom Saunders, string bass; Charlie Fardella, trumpet; Walter Harris, drums; Jimbo Mathus, vocals.  I know half of this band personally, and even if I’d never heard the CD, their presence would be a living testament to their faith in Charlie and the sincerity and joyous wisdom of his music.

Back to the band and to the overall idea of this disc.  Since it is a band whose members embody an ensemble tradition in their work, something is always going on, even surreptitiously, throughout each of the tracks.  In fact, the music is dense with surprises: backgrounds behind a soloist, interesting ensemble modifications, a rhythm section that is part Second Line, part timeless Mainstream.  But everything has a fluid romping motion underneath it.

And each of the front-line players is perfectly poised, a distinctive voice, immediately recognizable.  I’d call the general aesthetic of this disc a modern version of hot lyricism.  The Quality 6 swings throughout — no tempo too slow or too fast for dancers — but every note has a particular singing quality. And Jimbo’s voice, tough-tender, is the perfect counterpart to the instrumental glories.

You’ll know that a great deal of music is marketed these days as “authentic” New Orleans.  I keep away from any debates on authenticity, but will say only that the music on this disc is not loud jive for the tourists, nor is it museum-safe reverent recreation.  It sounds like music, where the individuals are fully aware (in the most affectionate ways) of the tradition but know that their task on the planet is to express themselves — and that’s glorious.

The repertoire is another treat.  There are times in my life when a beautifully done JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE has hit the spot, but I take a special pleasure from picking up a disc and seeing, “Wow, they’ve done that song?  I can’t wait to hear what they’ve done with it.”

The songs are:  In The Gloaming / Bouncing Around / St. Louis Cemetery Blues / Dreaming The Hours Away / The Ramble / Let’s Put Our Heads Together / Beautiful Dreamer / Memphis Blues / If We Never Meet Again / Weather Bird / June Night.

I asked Charlie for his thoughts on the repertoire, and he told me, “Most of these tunes are songs I’ve learned in the past 4 or 5 years and just don’t have the opportunity to play very often. Although, as I’m playing with these veterans more, that is starting to change.  I play Dreaming the Hours Away with Steve Pistorius pretty regularly and Tim has been calling If We Never Meet Again at the Palm Court recently. St. Louis Cemetery Blues is a Squirrel Nut Zippers song that we never played when the band was touring, so I really wanted to get that down and have Jimbo, the composer, sing it. I share his love of Stephen Foster, so I thought he would be perfect for Beautiful Dreamer, the arrangement and cadenza I ripped off a bootleg recording of Pops on the Ed Sullivan show via Ricky Riccardi. The Ramble is from those killer, Lawrence Brown heavy, recordings of the Paul Howard band. I get a kick out of how the song holds up to a New Orleans treatment. Bouncing Around I’d only ever played from the music with Orange Kellin’s band. I was trying to give it more just a raggy feel, how a band where not everybody could read might play it, half from memory, approximation. June Night I learned from Ed Polcer, Weather Bird I was thinking of those Jelly Roll trios as much as the Louis/Hines version.

A few more words about Charlie (someone who knows his history but is not condemned to repeat it).  The trombone is a delicious but devouring instrument, one that leads the incautious into acrobatics, self-parody, or restrictive styles. Charlie clearly knows the whole range of the instrument from Ory to the present, and although I hear echoes of other big-toned players from Quentin Jackson to Benny Morton to Sandy Williams to Teagarden, what I hear most is an affecting personal synthesis of the Past — operating gleefully and skillfully in the Present. (Did I say he was a wonderful ensemble trombonist, someone who knows how just the right harmony or the right epigram can add so much in just a few notes? And although he knows and can do a properly rough-hewn style, he loves melody and has a deep awareness of contemporary traditional jazz — which words should not scare anyone away.  Nothing is fake or faux or glaring here. It all sounds good.)

Enough words for the moment.

Here’s a minute with this amiable expert fellow:

Charlie’s biography, for those who like that thing, is here.

Here are two links to the music — and the music.  And of course, here’s Charlie’s Facebook page.

Young Mister H is not someone I greet at the beginning of his brilliant career.  He’s already living it, and his debut CD shows it beautifully.  The only fault I could find with this issue is that it isn’t a two-disc set.  And I do not write those words casually.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFULLY POLISHED BRASS

Here’s something good.

And another taste:

CHRIS HODGKINS CDI don’t ordinarily like surprises, because so many of them feel as if someone has crept up behind me and popped an inflated paper bag to watch me suddenly soar up to the ceiling — but the most lovely surprise is meeting someone new and finding out that (s)he has deep joyous talents you’d never known of before.

Such a person is trumpeter / composer Chris Hodgkins.  In fairness, I’d already heard Chris play (on recordings only, alas) and admired him as a thoughtful lyrical trumpeter — someone who admired Louis, Ruby, Brownie, Humphrey Lyttelton, without imitating a phrase.  And I hear the same kind of tenderness I always heard in Joe Wilder’s playing.  (In the interest of accuracy, I will note that I first heard and wrote about Chris a few years ago here.

The two YouTube videos above offer music from the new Hodgkins CD, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, which I celebrate here as an outpouring of sophisticated yet gentle Mainstream jazz.

I had the opportunity to write a few words for this disc, and they will serve as my enthusiastic endorsement:

Chris Hodgkins and friends do not have the international reputations they deserve, but they create endearing music that doesn’t reveal all its secrets at once.

Aside from two originals and the poignant BLACK BUTTERFLY, the repertoire suggests a formulaic Mainstream set that one might hear at a jazz party. But that narrow assumption vanishes once the music begins, for Chris, Dave, Erika, and Ashley offer serene yet searching chamber jazz, refreshing improvisations on familiar songs. (Although I suppose that SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is now arcane to all but a few listeners.)

I delight in the delicately streamlined instrumentation, reminiscent of sessions by Ruby Braff and Warren Vache. Hearing this music, I am breathing in the light-hearted interplay, without the conventions of four-bar trades or ensemble-solos-ensemble. The players have created an airy, open music, full of pleasant wanderings but solidly grounded in melody and beating-heart rhythms.

And this music gladdens on many levels: a musician could analyze and admire subtle rhythmic displacements, chord substitutions, shifting textures. A casual listener would say, “What is that? That sounds beautiful,” and both responses would be true.

Chris is a master of his instrument. He can modulate from what Agatha Beiderbecke heard in her son’s playing, a “sudden perky blare,” to what Ruby Braff recognized in Lawrence Brown’s “a wonderful little cry.” I hear echoes of a grand tradition – everyone from George Mitchell to Clifford Brown and beyond – but Chris is himself throughout.

Emotionally warm music comes out of the emotions of the players – not only their love of sounds and textures, but a love for the people who have gone before and who have created personal art. On this CD, one hears everyone’s affection and admiration for the great ancestors, but Chris cites two people in particular.

One, his older brother, played trumpet, so Chris heard Louis and Morton and more, but, as he says, “When I was about 14 or 15, my brother said, ‘You don’t want to hear it, you want to play it!’ so he got me a trumpet from a second-hand shop and I never looked back.”

Later, Chris played with guitarist Vic Parker. “He was born in Cardiff, played in London before and during the war. In 1940 he worked at the Embassy Club in Bond Street playing accordion and double bass with Don Marino Barreto. He can be seen in Barreto’s band during a nightclub sequence in the musical film Under Your Hat. He came back to Cardiff and I used to work with him in the Quebec every Monday and Wednesday. We had a little duo, just playing standards, and he would sing in a Cardiff accent. When you’re young, you forget so much. You can be handed the keys to the kingdom and you don’t notice. Working with Vic was like that: he was in his late 60s then, one of the nicest guys you could meet.”

Chris has also played alongside Pete Allen, Rod Mason, Kathy Stobart, Humphrey Lyttelton (whose passionate influence I hear), Buddy Tate, and Wild Bill Davison.

Chris is also a wise generous leader, someone who knows that Being Out Front Always is hard on one’s chops as well as on band morale, so each performance makes his colleagues equals rather than subordinates. One of the most moving performances here is A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, an etude for piano and two double-basses, both celebration and elegy for wartime Britain, with death, romance, and endurance intermingled.

And those colleagues! Bassist Erika Lyons appeared on a BBC master class with Ray Brown, and studied with Buster Williams, Rufus Reid, and Hal Galper. Now she plays jazz festivals all over the world. Pianist Dave Price is a deep student of jazz piano from the Thirties to tomorrow, and he has worked with Tubby Hayes, Tony Coe, Nat Adderley, and Peanuts Hucko among many others. Bassist Ashley John Long is known not only for his work with Hans Koller, Bobby Wellins, Keith Tippett and others, but for his compositions for film, television, and the concert hall.

Together, they make BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD what jazz recordings should be, no matter what genre: warm, wide-awake, deeply personal.

If you go to the channel that Chris has created on YouTube, you can hear two more beauties from BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD and more lovely music.

The CD offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUNDAY, ANGEL EYES, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, BLACK BUTTERFLY, JEEPERS CREEPERS, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, VP, JUST FRIENDS — and it’s beautifully recorded. Here you can find out more — including how to purchase the disc, which I do recommend.

May your happiness increase!

FROM THE STUDIOS OF STATION KLZ: THE DUKE VISITS COLORADO (1942)

More on eBay from the seller “anystuffyouwant” — some remarkable photographs, all new to me.

The first — not an Ellingtonian — is the short-lived tenor saxophonist Dick Wilson, who died in late 1941, less than two weeks after his thirtieth birthday. He played and recorded with Andy Kirk, a Mary Lou Williams small group, and he can also be heard on one of Jerry Newman’s uptown recordings with Harry Edison and Count Basie.  I’ve never seen a portrait of him in action, and I recall that Billie Holiday thought he was one of the most appealing men she’d ever known.

DICK WILSON second tryThe next group of photographs shows the Ellington band — broadcasting over KLZ and in a ballroom. (I presume that they were on their way to California, but do not know if this tour pre-or-post dates JUMP FOR JOY.  However, the string bassist is Junior Raglin, not Jimmie Blanton.)

“Everybody look handsome!”


ELLINGTONIANS Colorado and an autographed portrait of the Rabbit, Mister Johnny Hodges:

HODGES Colorado

Anyone for trombones? From left, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown, and in front, Mister Ben Webster:

BEN and TBNS Colorado

What would the Ellington band have been without stylish Sonny Greer?SONNY GREER ColoradoFinally, two people who didn’t get photographed as often as I would like. One, the utterly irreplaceable Ivie Anderson:

IVIE Colorado

The other, a master of sounds — Tricky Sam Nanton:

TRICKY SAM ColoradoI’ve heard the Ellington band of that period on recordings and live airshots for many decades now, but these photographs bring the sound even closer to me. The other photographs I’ve posted from the same seller were all autographed to “Rollie”: did (s)he take these?  All mysterious, but the evidence that remains — even when slightly damaged by dampness — is wonderfully evocative. (My post on Rollie’s photographs can be seen here.)

The seller also has been displaying pictures of the Lunceford and Hampton bands . . . wonderful finds!

May your happiness increase!

BEN WEBSTER – JOHNNY HODGES SEXTET 1960 PLUS

A caveat to begin with.  This is a video of a “bootleg” recording. And I know that no one’s estate is getting paid for this.  I apologize to everyone who might be offended by such illicitness.  But the music is beyond your wildest dreams of lyrical swing.  And since both of the horn soloists were sometimes surrounded by musicians who didn’t understand their essential selves as well, this session is priceless. (Even Norman Granz, who loved and encouraged both Ben and Hodges, sometimes paired them with musicians who didn’t give them perfect rhythmic support . . . in my opinion.)

Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster officially played together for the first time in the 1935 Ellington band, and their mutual love and admiration went on for nearly four decades after that.  In 1960, they recorded a dozen tracks at a remarkable session — two horns, four rhythm — that wasn’t issued until much later.  It benefits greatly from a swinging rhythm section of Lou Levy, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Wilfred Middlebrooks, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums.  (I believe that this was the quartet supporting Ella Fitzgerald in concert at the time.) The remaining four tracks feature a different band: Hodges, Ben, Ray Nance, cornet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Emil Richards, vibes; Russ Freeman, piano; Joe Mondragon, string bass; Mel Lewis, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, arrangements: Los Angeles, January 31, 1961.

The material was first issued on a now out-of-print Mosaic box set, and surfaced on this European CD . . . and this YouTube video.  The songs are BEN’S WEB / SIDE DOOR (DON’T KID YOURSELF) / BLUES’LL BLOW YOUR FUSE / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / DUAL HIGHWAY / BIG EARS / SHORTY GULL / IFIDA / BIG SMACK / I’D BE THERE / JUST ANOTHER DAY / LOLLAGAGIN NOW / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / VAL’S LAMENT / TIPSY JOE / WAITING ON THE CHAMPAGNE.

Posted by Thelasttavern — we send thanks for the rarely heard music. And I’d like everyone who thinks they know what swing is to pay close attention to the two rhythm sections, especially to the floating work of the under-celebrated Gus Johnson.

(A linguistic aside: the title IFIDA was mysterious to me for a long time until I realized that it was pronounced as several words, as in “If I’d – a” done this or that . . . )

May your happiness increase!

WINGY and IVIE ASK THE SAME DEEP QUESTION, 1936

What a lovely song this is — by Benny Davis and J. Fred Coots in 1936.  I heard it first on record (the second version below) and then I was charmed by it in person when Marty Grosz sang and played it with Soprano Summit in 1976. Characteristically, Marty introduced it by saying it was written by a house detective in a famous St. Louis hotel.  (That version of the Summit had Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Marty, Mickey Golizio, and Cliff Leeman.  Yes indeed.)

Here’s Wingy Manone in an uncharacteristically serious, tender performance (even though the lyrics elude him about two-thirds through) both on trumpet and vocal.  The other philosophers are Joe Marsala, clarinet; Tom Mace, alto saxophone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sam Weiss, drums:

Then, the masterpiece: Ivie Anderson with the Duke, featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, and Barney Bigard:

Wishing you love that is anything but puzzling.  You can have it as strange as you want it, but I hope it’s always rewarding.

Postscript: later versions of this song were recorded by two other fellows named Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.  Quality!  I know more than a few fine singers — at least — who would have a fine time with this song. Any takers?

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!

“YOU NEED SPEND NO MORE”: DUKE, BENNY, BENNIE: TREASURES ON eBay (January 2013)

A studio photograph, a handbill for a band’s engagement in a hotel, and an autographed photo.  Where else but on eBay?

Here’s a photograph from the late Frank Driggs’ collection — showing the six-man brass section of the 1940 Duke Ellington Orchestra, with Tricky Sam Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown, trombones; Rex Stewart, Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, trumpets.  Presumably that’s Jimmie Blanton’s string bass and Sonny Greer’s Chinese cymbal in the foreground.

DUKE'S BRASS c. 1940

And someplace we would all like to go, if possible.  Especially since the prices are so low:

BENNY GOODMAN URBAN ROOM

And a rare remembrance of one of the nicest men in jazz, someone who should be better known today than he is:

Bennie Morton autograph

May your happiness increase.

“FINE GIRLS,” “REALLY TOO TIGHT,” “I AM GOING TO TRY SO HARD TO DREAM OF YOU”: PROFILES IN HISTORY: LOUIS and BILLIE

On one of my rare audio visits to National Public Radio, I learned of an esteemed auction house that deals in the rarest paper documents — PROFILES IN HISTORY.

They are currently auctioning off the treasures of an American collector whose specialty was “everyday life” of the greatest mortals: thus, letters written by people whom we revere for their art — but letters that show them at home, being thankful, ordering a new pair of eyeglasses, listening to the radio.  Immortals being mortal, perhaps.

The trove is astonishing and the catalogue is no less so.  Below I have copied excerpts from two pieces of paper that I know JAZZ LIVES readers will find uplifting and sad, respectively.  The first — hooray!  has Louis listening to the radio . . . writing happily about the Boswell Sisters.  (God bless the Boswell Sisters.  God bless Connee, Vet, and Martha, and their family.  And that is not a digression.)  And he delights in the 1933 Ellington Orchestra.

216. Armstrong, Louis. Autograph letter signed (“Louis Satchmo Armstrong”), 5 pages, (11 x 8 ½ in.; 279 x 216 mm.), “Chicago,” 5 April 1933 to an unidentified friend “Gate”; soiled, small splits at folds.

Excerpts:

I’ve just gotten back home from my Tour down South – we had a lovely time. Everybody was so glad to see me and- you know? – all the ‘Buh lony’ that goes along with it. Ha. Ha. But sho ‘nuff Gate I am having a grand time on my tours.

I am now sitting home in my dining room with some of the folks at home and we are listening to the Radio. A swell program is now in session. The Three Keys are now getting away ‘righteously’. Late that Cats are after the Mills Brothers own hearts. But I am still Crazy over those Boswell Sisters. Bless their hearts. They are from my home town, you know? Fine Girls.  They think I am the Last word. They played here at the Chicago Theatre the same week we played the Palace Theatre. Ol Amos ‘N’ Andy’s just comin in on the radio. They are still funny. They ‘ll soon be making another movie so you all’l get another chance to see the funny boys again. Like Em? I bet your little boy does.

Boy, you’re right, when you said we broke all records for doubling from the Trocadero – to the Hobborn Empire Theatres. Some quick connections I really mean. Ha. Ha. We was known to make time, Eh? Gizzard? Ha. Ha.

So by now it’s the wee hours in the morning – And we’re now listening to Duke Ellington’s Orchestra whom has just return ‘d to the Famous Cotton Club in New York. Boy they are raising H— no foolin’ My. My. My. What a band. Ol Duke has a new trombone player from California that’s really too tight. His name is Lawrence Brown. He was in my orchestra when I was in Hollywood the year of 1930. He’s a trombone hound…

$3,000 – $5,000 (that’s the estimate for bids)

The second letter is as tragic as the first is sunny: Billie Holiday to her then-husband Joe Guy, while they were both in different jails.  What can one say for sorrow?

226. Holiday, Billie (Eleanora Fagan). Poignant autograph letter signed (“Lady Billie Holiday”), in pencil, 2 pages (10 ¼ x 8 in.; 260 x 203 mm.), Box No. PMB A, “Alderson, West Virginia,” 12 July 1947 to her husband, Joseph Guy, 10 Reed St., County Prison, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the letter is stamped “CENSORED BY:” (and initialed) at the top of page one.

Joe Darling.

Your letter just arrived and it just makes me sick the way people set there sevls [their selves] up to be so true blue. Bama [trumpeter Carl “Bama” Warwick] has told everybody on the street he gave you money a darlor [dollar] indeed could he spare it. As for Bobby [pianist Bobby Tucker] I am sure he will send you some when he can. He said he had to wait until pay day and as you know sweetheart he has got a wife and two kids. But hasn’t he wrote to you yet. He owes me a letter also. Well hes working on 52 nd st and has to travel way over to Jersey. But I don’t think he will let us down. We are going to the Movies tonight so I will finish this when I get back.

Well baby I am back from the Movies it was called Sister Kennedy [Sister Kenny, 1946] with Rosland Russel [Rosalind Russell]. It was a very good picture but it made me kind of sad thinking about the last show we seen together odd man out [“Odd Man Out”, 1947] rember [remember] I shall never forget darling its lights out now so I will finish this in the morning. I am going to try so hard to dream of you. Don’t laugh. Sometimes I am lucky and can there goes the lights Well darling its night again. After I got thru [through] my work today I just couldn’t write. I cried for the first time. Oh darling I love you so much I am so sorry you have to stay there in Phila. It must be awfully hot. Yes baby I gained nine pounds and I am getting biger all the time gee you wont love me fat (smile) But you must look wonderful. Youer [you are] so tall and you needed some weight. So thank heavens for that and what ever happens at your trial sweetheart keep your chin up don’t let nothing get you down. It won’t be long before were together agian [again]. My lights has been out every [ever] since I last saw you. But they will go on agian for us all over the world. Write to me Joe as soon as you can. Ill always love you as ever your Lady Billie Holiday.

$ 6,000 – 8,000.

Visit PROFILES IN HISTORY even if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on holiday gifts.  The letters are frankly astonishing, and the catalogue puts Eubie Blake next to Johannes Brahms, so someone knows where One is.

May your happiness increase.

HOLY RELICS OF A GLORIOUS TIME

I mean no blasphemy.  Jazz fans will understand.

Some time ago, an eBay seller offered an autograph book for sale.

That rather ordinary exterior gave no hint of the marvels it contained: not someone’s schoolmates but the greatest players and singers — of the Swing Era and of all time.  Now individual pages are being offered for sale, and I thought that they would thrill JAZZ LIVES readers as they thrill me.  The owner of the book was “Joe,” residing in New York City and occasionally catching a band at a summer resort.  We know this because Joe was meticulous, dating his autograph “captures” at the bottom of the page.  Understandably, he didn’t know much about the lifespan of paper and put Scotch tape over some of the signatures, which might mean that the whole enterprise won’t last another fifty years — although the signatures (in fountain pen, black and colored pencil) have held up well.

Through these pages, if even for a moment, we can imagine what it might have been to be someone asking the greatest musicians, “Mr. Evans?”  “Miss Holiday?”  “Would you sign my book, please?”  And they did.  Here’s the beautiful part.

Let’s start at the top, with Louis and Red:

This page is fascinating — not only because Louis was already using green ink, or that we have evidence of the band’s “sweet” male singer, Sonny Woods, but for the prominence of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen.  Listening to the studio recordings Louis made while Red was a sideman, it would be easy to believe the story that Red was invisible, stifled, taking a position that allowed him no creative outlet.  But the radio broadcasts that have come to light — from the Cotton Club and the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio program — prove that Red was given solo spots during the performance and that he was out front for the first set.  Yes, Red had been creating a series of exceptional Vocalion recordings for two years, but I suspect Joe had much to hear on this Saturday night at the Arcadia Ballroom.

Something completely different: composer / arranger Ferde Grofe on the same page with Judy Ellington, who sang with Charlie Barnet’s band:

Time for some joy:

Oh, take another!

Joe really knew what was going on: how many people sought out pianist / arranger / composer Lennie Hayton for an autograph:

A good cross-section of the 1938 Benny Goodman Orchestra — star pianists Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy, saxophonists Vido Musso, Herman Shertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, as well as the trombonist Murray McEachern, guitarist Ben Heller, arranger Fred Norman, and mystery man Jesse Ralph:

Someone who gained a small portion of fame:

You’ll notice that Joe knew who the players were — or, if you like, he understood that the men and women who didn’t have their names on the marquee were the creators of the music he so enjoyed.  So the special pleasure of this book is in the tangible reminders of those musicians whose instrumental voices we know so well . . . but whose signatures we might never have seen.  An example — the heroes who played so well and devotedly in Chick Webb’s band: saxophonists Chauncey Houghton, “Louie” Jordan, Theodore McRae, Wayman Carver, bassist Beverley Peer, pianist Tommy Fulford, guitarist Bobby Johnson, trumpeters Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan, trombonists Nat Story, Sandy Williams . . . .Good Luck To You, indeed!

But one name is missing — the little King of the Savoy (subject of the wonderful new documentary, THE SAVOY KING — which is coming to the New York Film Festival at the end of September 2012 — more details to come):

Jimmie Lunceford and his men, among them drummer Jimmie Crawford, saxophonist Willie Smith, trumpeter Paul Webster:

saxophonists Joe Thomas and Austin Brown, Jas. Crawford (master of percussion), bassist Mose Allen, pianist Edwin Wilcox, and the little-known Much Luck and Best Wishes:

Blanche Calloway’s brother, the delightful Cab, and his bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton:

trumpeter irving Randolph and Doc Cheatham, drummer Leroy Maxey, pianist Bennie Payne, saxophonists Walter Thomas, Andrew Brown, “Bush,” or Garvin Bushell, and Chu Berry, and Cab himself:

Paul Whiteman’s lead trumpeter, Harry “Goldie” Goldfield, father of Don Goldie (a Teagarden colleague):

I can’t figure out all of the names, but this documents a band Wingy Manone had: vocalist Sally Sharon, pianist Joe Springer, Don Reid, Ray Benitez, R. F. Dominick, Chuck Johnson (?), saxophonist Ethan Rando (Doc?), Danny Viniello, guitarist Jack Le Maire, and one other:

Here are some names and a portrait that would not be hard to recognize.  The Duke, Ivie Anderson, Cootie Williams, Juan Tizol, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy, Barney Bigard, Freddie Jenkins, Rex Stewart, and either “Larry Brown,” squeezed for space, bottom right (I think):

And Lawrence Brown, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Billy Taylor, and lead man Art Whetzel:

Calloway’s trombones, anyone?  De Priest Wheeler, Claude Jones, “Keg” Johnson, and trumpeter Lammar Wright:

Our man Bunny:

Don Redman’s wonderful band, in sections.  Edward Inge, Eugene Porter, Harvey Boone, Rupert Cole, saxophones:

The trumpets — Otis Johnson, Harold Baker, Reunald Jones, and bassist Bob Ysaguirre:

And the trombone section — Quentin Jackson, Gene Simon, Bennie Morton — plus the leader’s autograph and a signature that puzzles me right underneath.  Sidney Catlett was the drummer in this orchestra for a time in 1937, but that’s not him, and it isn’t pianist Don Kirkpatrick.  Research!: 

The rhythm section of the Claude Hopkins band — Claude, Abe Bolar, Edward P. (“Pete”) Jacobs, drums:

And some wonderful players from that band: Joe Jones (guitar, nort drums), trumpeters Shirley Clay, Jabbo Smith, Lincoln Mills; the singer Beverly White (someone Teddy Wilson thought better than Billie), saxophonists Bobby Sands, John Smith, Arville Harris, Happy Mitchner (?); trombonists Floyd Brady and my hero Vic Dickenson, whose signature stayed the same for forty years and more:

I suspect that this triple autograph is later . . . still fun:

If the next three don’t make you sit up very straight in your chair, we have a real problem.  Basie at Roseland, Oct. 12, 1937: Earle Warren, the Count himself, Billie, Buck Clayton, and Eddie Durham.  The signature of Paul Gonsalves clearly comes from a different occasion, and I imagine the conversation between Joe and Paul, who would have been very pleased to have his name on this page:

Miss Holiday, Mister Shaw, before they ever worked together ANY OLD TIME.  I’d call this JOYLAND, wouldn’t you?

And a truly swinging piece of paper, with the signatures of Walter Page, Lester Young, James Rushing, Bobby Moore, Herschel Evans, Ronald “Jack” Washington, Edward Lewis, Freddie Greene, Joe Jones, Bennie Morton . . . when giants walked the earth.

To view just one of these pages and find your way to the others, click here  – I’ll content myself with simple gleeful staring.  And since I began writing this post, the seller has put up another ten or more — Mary Lou Williams, Ina Ray Hutton, Clyde Hart, Roy Eldridge . . . astonishing!

May your happiness increase.

EMMETT BERRY’S BUESCHER TRUMPET, 1952

This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges.  For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.

Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams.  On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge.  He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.

Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer.  But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.

Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.

But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music.  (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)

His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears.  On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.

Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:

Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.

He’s someone I miss.

May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.

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.

DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB

I’m delighted to report a new 2-CD set of Ellington broadcast material from the Cotton Club — with some new things never otherwise issued, and a good deal of material that only serious Ellington collectors had at their fingertips.  (I know that the music world might seem to some to be awash in Ellington CDs, but I think this set essential.)

The set is called, logically, DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB (Storyville 1038415).  It begins with two selections — piano solos — taken from a “Saturday Night Swing Club” broadcast on May 8, 1937, and ends with the Ellington band broadcasting from Sweden on April 20, 1939, as part of an exultant tour.

In between there are forty-two selections broadcast live from the Cotton Club, from April 17 to May 29, 1938. 

“Why is this essential?” you might ask.  Most improvising ensembles, then and now, might find themselves somewhat confined by the limitations of the recording studio.  It wasn’t always a matter of the time constraints imposed by the 78 rpm disc — two-thirds of the selections in this set would have fit on commercial releases. 

But a recording session brought with it the pressure to make a mistake-free performance, which sometimes stifled the spontaneity so needed for improvisational brilliance.  There is also the indefinable but audible give-and-take between a happy nightclub audience and the musicians on these discs, something that the dead air and clock of the recording studio could not reproduce. 

These broadcasts give us tangible swinging evidence of what the Ellington band sounded when playing for real audiences — and of the variety of its approaches to identical material (three versions of IF DREAMS COME TRUE, for instance). 

The accepted Ellington history is that the band reached a peak in 1940-1 when Ben Webster joined the band and Jimmy Blanton became the bassist, and the Victor recordings in this period are extraordinary.  And the Fargo, North Dakota, dance date of November 1940 (seventy years ago next month!) has a swaying unbuttoned splendor. 

But any history that deals in peaks and apexes is suspect, and if Ellington had disbanded in spring 1938 I think we would be mourning this orchestra as a great accomplishment, a merging of vividly disparate personalities all going in the same direction on the bandstand. 

What we hear in these airshots is the band taking on pop tunes, originals, jamming in small-group contexts, melting Ivie Anderson vocals — a wonderful banquet with extraordinary solo and ensemble work from the Masters: Bigard, Carney, Hodges, Cootie, Rex, Greer, Lawrence Brown, Tricky Sam, and so on. 

The set begins with two Ellington piano solos — SWING SESSION (SODA FOUNTAIN RAG in new attire) and a ruminative medley of two ballads, and it ends with a priceless long airshot from Sweden, where ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM is framed by a mournful, pensive SERENADE TO SWEDEN and a Swedish pop tune, IN A LITTLE RED COTTAGE (BY THE SEA) which Ivie sings most tenderly.  And there’s even a one-minute video clip of the Cotton Club itself. 

Ellington collectors will have known this material (discs were cut for composer / arranger / theorist Joseph Schillinger) when it was issued in part on two Jazz Archives records perhaps thirty-five years ago.  And some of the tracks were issued elsewhere on even more elusive issues.  But the Duke Ellington Society bulletin informs me that several tracks here were never issued anywhere, and it is delightful to have it all collected — in clear transfers with erudite notes by Andrew Homzy. 

As the announcer says, “The Duke is on the air!”   

Track listing:

CD 1
1 Swing Session 2:00
2 Medley: Solitude/In A Sentimental Mood 3:00
3 Harmony In Harlem 3:20
4 If You Were In My Place 3:20
5 Mood Indigo 2:44
6 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 1:14
7 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:25
8 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:58
9 Dinah’s In A Jam 2:12
10 If Dreams Come True 1:45
11 Scrontch 1:49
12 You Went To My head 1:42
13 Three Blind Mice 3:11
14 Solitude 3:28
15 Downtown Uproar 3:12
16 Dinah’s In A Jam 3:26
17 On The Sunny Side Of The Street 4:09
18 Ev’ry Day 2:45
19 Azure 2:46
20 Carnival In Caroline 2:50
21 Harmony In Harlem 3:35
22 At Your Back And Call 2:22
23 Solitude 3:18
24 The Gal From Joe’s 3:06
25 Riding On A Blue Note 2:38
26 If Dreams Come True 2:54

Total time:70:23

CD 2
1 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:51
2 I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart 1:31
3 Birmingham Breakdown 2:38
4 Rose Room 2:10
5 If Dreams Come True 2:34
6 It’s The Dreamer In Me 4:37
7 Lost In Meditation 3:53
8 Ev’ry Day 2:40
9 Echoes Of Harlem 4:40
10 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:58
11 Jig Walk 2:02
12 In A Sentimental Mood 1:13
13 I’m Slapping 7th Avenue2:50
14 Lost In Meditation 2:45
15 Alabamy Home 3:32
16 If You Were In My Place 2:15
17 Prelude in C Sharp Minor 2:56
18 Rockin’ In Rhythm 3:58
19 Serenade To Sweden 5:38
20 Rockin’ In Rhythm 4:24
21 In A Red Little Cottage 5:13
22 Video Clip from the Cotton Club 1:00

Total time: 66:28

For more details, visit http://www.storyvillerecords.com/default.aspx?tabID=2633&productId=27279&state_2838=2

THE NIGHTHAWKS ARE FLYING! (April 19, 2010)

Here are two wonderfully acrobatic performances by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks that I recorded at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison one week ago.  My nomination for Olympian here is trombonist Jim Fryer, but he has stiff competition!  On that Monday night, the Hawks were Vince (vocal, bass sax, tuba, string bass); Kenny Salvo (banjo, guitar); Peter Yarin (piano); Arnie Kinsella (drums); Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella (trumpets); Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman (reeds); Andy Stein (violin / baritone sax). 

The Nighthawks pay tribute to a 1930 West Coast band, Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders, with a TIGER RAG variant called CHARLIE’S IDEA that originally featured Lawrence Brown and Lionel Hampton.  You’ll see what I mean about a leaping Jim Fryer as well as the dancers on the floor and Jon-Erik’s version of HOTTER THAN THAT, another ragged tiger:

And here’s a hot jam session on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, with a pair of slow-motion dancers and a positively demonic solo from Arnie Kinsella (and some calmer excursions from Dan Levinson, Andy Stein on the Stroh phono-violin, among others):

And this virtuosity takes place every Monday from 8-11 PM at 211 West 46th Street!

CHANGES MADE

This post is motivated by email conversations with friends, some of them musicians, who confess in hushed tones that they really can’t listen to X, no matter how famous or renowned (s)he is. 

So I hereby reveal my contributions to this secret dialogue.  It interests me that some of the music I adored in my twenties I no longer can put up with. 

I find Ella Fitzgerald chilly and detached except when she is warmed by Ellis Larkins or Louis.  Once I thrilled to Tatum’s rococco wanderings for Norman Granz and Hines’s late-period bubblings-over.  No more.  No can do.  No Oscar Peterson; no Buddy Rich.  Rush the tempo, no matter how famous you are, and I want to walk away.     

Some of this may be the result of my aging impatience.  I’ve heard a lot, on record and in performance, and much pales by comparison.  Of course, my reaction may sound snobbish.  “What an over-critical view!  Jazz needs all the friends it can get,” some might say. 

But now I want a certain intense passionate simplicity (or it has to sound like simplicity — even though it isn’t simple at all!) rather than displays of technique.  Tell your story and let someone else play, please.  It’s not a matter of disliking, but a paring-away of what now seems to me inessential.  Maybe my ears are saying, “You know, life isn’t long enough to listen to four choruses of that solo.”  I know that some readers will find my choices wrong, inexplicable.  And I applaud their doing so.  We must listen to and love that which makes us vibrate in the best ways.

And I still have my treasures.  Certain recordings (I restrict myself to dead players and singers) I will carry with me to the grave, and beyond.  Lee Wiley’s Liberty Music Shop recordings.  Louis’s THAT’S MY HOME, KNOCKIN’ A JUG, and two dozen others.  The Chocolate Dandies’ I NEVER KNEW.  Eddie Condon’s TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL.  Sidney Catlett’s STEAK FACE.  Teddy Wilson’s I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (School for Pianists).  Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON.  Billie’s I’LL BE SEEING YOU.  Mildred’s WILLOW TREE and BORN TO BE BLUE.  Joe Thomas’s YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME.  James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  The Basie rhythm section.  Almost anything by Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, Buck Clayton, Emmett Berry, Lawrence Brown, the Boswell Sisters.  Red Norvo on xylophone.  Ben Webster with strings.  Lester Young in good company.  Jack Purvis’s work on the Seger Ellis SLEEPY TIME GAL.  The Ellington-Hodges STOMPY JONES.  The 1934 Fats Waller sessions with Bill Coleman.  Dicky Wells in the Thirties.  Hot Lips Page and Dave Tough on Artie Shaw’s 1941 THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Teddy Bunn.  frank Newton.  Early Crosby, and the Bing-Mercer MR. CROSBY AND MR. MERCER.  Bix, Tram, and Lang.  Mercer’s THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN.  Early Jack Teagarden.

But many other famous players and recordings do not move me.  However, one of the freedoms of no longer attempting to be a completist, not having to listen to everything the Jazz Heroes / Heroines did is that I can spend time discovering less-publicized delights, the living players I celebrate in this blog.

And then there’s the larger issue, or burden, of perception.   

Some time ago, I began to write a blogpost called IS ANYONE LISTENING?  It remains a valid question.  Occasionally jazz seems based on a star system that rigidifies.  You come to the music of Kid Flublip early, fall in love with it, and are loyally obligated to keep to your early allegiance.  That’s wonderful, if the music continues to satisfy.  But I wonder if listeners are actually listening to what they hear or are so wrapped up in their adoration that they no longer hear.  Can an acolyte hear what the band is playing or is (s)he wholly in love with the name of the leader?     

Everyone might try a self-imposed Blindfold Test, or what CADENCE calls “Flying Blind”: take a treasured recording and listen to it as if you’d never heard it before.  It requires a playing-tricks-on-the-self, but the result is exciting.  Familiar recordings give up new bits of lovely evidence; others crumble.  The Famous Bassist is out of tune; the Revered Soloist goes on for too long. 

A listening public — as opposed to a sentiment-driven one — might find new disenchantment.  The music we actually hear might not measure up to what we think we remember.  But that would enable us, as well, to put aside our adorations and hear something or someone new, a different kind of reward.

And if the musicians or singers I’ve grown away from still sing to you, consider yourself fortunate; it must be idyllic to find everything in an art form equally rewarding.  I can’t do it, and I am not sure that it would be a rewarding activity.

THE VANGUARD SESSIONS

Vanguard Ruby disc

Between 1953 and 1957, John Hammond supervised a series of record dates for the Vanguard label.  I first heard one of those records — the second volume of the THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE — at my local library in the late Sixties, and fell in love. 

The Vanguard sessions featured Ruby Braff, Shad Collins, Buck Clayton, Joe Newman, Emmett Berry, Pat Jenkins, Doug Mettome, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Benny Green, Urbie Green, Lawrence Brown, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Jimmy Buffington, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Rudy Powell, Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Frank Wess, Pete Brown, Paul Quinichette, Mel Powell, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Jones, Hank Jones, Sammy Price, Ellis Larkins, Nat Pierce, Steve Jordan, Skeeter Best, Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford, Walter Page, Aaron Bell, Jo Jones, Bobby Donaldson, Jimmy Crawford, Jimmy Rushing, and others.

The list of artists above would be one answer to the question, “What made these sessions special?” but we all know of recordings with glorious personnel that don’t quite come together as art — perhaps there’s too little or too much arranging, or the recorded sound is not quite right, or one musician (a thudding drummer, an over-amplified bassist) throws everything off. 

The Vanguard sessions benefited immensely from Hammond’s imagination.  Although I have been severe about Hammond — as someone who interfered with musicians for whom he was offering support — and required that his preferences be taken seriously or else (strong-willed artists like Louis, Duke, and Frank Newton fought with or ran away from John).  Hammond may have been “difficult” and more, but his taste in jazz was impeccable.  And broad — the list above goes back to Sammy Price, Walter Page, and forward to Kenny Burrell and Benny Green. 

Later on, what I see as Hammond’s desire for strong flavors and novelty led him to champion Dylan and Springsteen, but I suspect that those choices were also in part because he could not endure watching others make “discoveries.”  Had it been possible to continue making records like the Vanguards eternally, I believe Hammond might have done so.   

Although Mainstream jazz was still part of the American cultural landscape in the early Fifties, and the artists Hammond loved were recording for labels large and small — from Verve, Columbia, Decca, all the way down to Urania and Period — he felt strongly about players both strong and subtle, musicians who had fewer opportunities to record sessions on their own.  At one point, Hammond and George Wein seemed to be in a friendly struggle to champion Ruby Braff, and I think Hammond was the most fervent advocate Vic Dickenson, Sir Charles Thompson, and Mel Powell ever had.  Other record producers, such as the astute George Avakian at Columbia, would record Jimmy Rushing, but who else was eager to record Pete Brown, Shad Collins, or Henderson Chambers?  No one but Hammond. 

And he arranged musicians in novel — but not self-consciously so — combinations.  For THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE, it did not take a leap of faith to put Braff, Vic, and Ed Hall together in the studio, for they had played together at Boston’s Savoy Cafe in 1949.  And to encourage them to stretch out for leisurely versions of “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” “Jeepers Creepers,” and “Russian Lullaby” was something that other record producers — notably Norman Granz — had been doing to capitalize on the longer playing time of the new recording format.  But after that rather formal beginning, Hammond began to be more playful.  The second SHOWCASE featured Shad Collins, the masterful and idiosyncratic ex-Basie trumpeter, in the lead, with Braff joining in as a guest star on two tracks. 

Vanguard Vic

Now, some of the finest jazz recordings were made in adverse circumstances (I think of the cramped Brunswick and Decca studios of the Thirties).  And marvelous music can be captured in less-than-ideal sound: consider Jerry Newman’s irreplaceable uptown recordings.  But the sound of the studio has a good deal to do with the eventual result.  Victor had, at one point, a converted church in Camden, New Jersey; Columbia had Liederkrantz Hall and its 30th Street Studios.  Hammond had a Masonic Temple on Clermont Avenue in Brooklyn, New York — with a thirty-five foot ceiling, wood floors, and beautiful natural resonance. 

The Vanguard label, formed by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon, had devoted itself to beautiful-sounding classical recordings; Hammond had written a piece about the terrible sound of current jazz recordings, and the Solomons asked him if he would like to produce sessions for them.  Always eager for an opportunity to showcase musicians he loved, without interference, Hammond began by featuring Vic Dickenson, whose sound may never have been as beautifully captured as it was on the Vanguards. 

Striving for an entirely natural sound, the Vanguards were recorded with one microphone hanging from the ceiling.  The players in the Masonic Temple did not know what the future would hold — musicians isolated behind baffles, listening to their colleagues through headphones — but having one microphone would have been reminiscent of the great sessions of the Thirties and Forties.  And musicians often become tense at recording sessions, no matter how professional or experienced they are — having a minimum of engineering-interference can only have added to the relaxed atmosphere in the room. 

The one drawback of the Masonic Temple was that loud drumming was a problem: I assume the sound ricocheted around the room.  So for most of these sessions, either Jo Jones or Bobby Donaldson played wire brushes or the hi-hat cymbal, with wonderful results.  (On the second Vic SHOWCASE, Jo’s rimshots explode like artillery fire on RUNNIN’ WILD, most happily, and Jo also was able to record his lengthy CARAVAN solo, so perhaps the difficulty was taken care of early.)  On THE NAT PIERCE BANDSTAND — a session recently reissued on Fresh Sound — you can hear the lovely, translucent sound Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones made, their notes forming three-dimensional sculpture on BLUES YET? and STOMP IT OFF. 

Vanguard Vic 2(Something for the eyes.  I am not sure what contemporary art directors would make of this cover, including Vic’s socks, and the stuffed animals, but I treasure it, even though there is a lion playing a concertina.)

What accounted for the beauty of these recordings might be beyond definition.  Were the musicians so happy to be left alone that they played better than ever?  Was it the magisterial beat and presence of Walter Page on many sessions?  Was it Hammond’s insistence on unamplified rhythm guitar?  Whatever it was, I hear these musicians reach into those mystical spaces inside themselves with irreplaceable results.  On these recordings, there is none of the reaching-for-a-climax audible on many records.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on the sessions featuring Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  Braff had heard Larkins play duets with Ella Fitzgerald for Decca (reissued on CD as PURE ELLA) and told Hammond that he, too, wanted to play with Larkins.  Larkins’ steady, calm carpet of sounds balances Braff’s tendency towards self-dramatization, especially on several Bing Crosby songs — PLEASE and I’VE GOT A POCKETFUL OF DREAMS.  Vanguard Ruby

Ruby and Ellis were reunited several times in the next decades, for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label and twice for Arbors, as well as onstage at a Braff-organized tribute to Billie Holiday, but they never sounded so poignantly wonderful as on the Vanguards. 

Hammond may have gotten his greatest pleasure from the Basie band of the late Thirties, especially the small-group sessions, so he attempted to give the Vanguards the same floating swing, using pianists Thompson and Pierce, who understood what Basie had done without copying it note for note.  For THE JO JONES SPECIAL, Hammond even managed to reunite the original “All-American Rhythm Section” for two versions of “Shoe Shine Boy.”  Thompson — still with us at 91 — recorded with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones for an imperishable quartet session.  If you asked me to define what swing is, I might offer their “Swingtime in the Rockies” as compact, enthralling evidence. 

Hammond was also justifiably enthusiastic about pianist Mel Powell — someone immediately identifiable in a few bars, his style merging Waller, Tatum, astonishing technique, sophisticated harmonies, and an irrepressible swing — and encouraged him to record in trios with Braff, with Paul Quinichette, with Clayton and Ed Hall, among others.  One priceless yet too brief performance is Powell’s WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? with French hornist Jimmy Buffington in the lead — a spectral imagining of the Benny Goodman Trio. 

Vanguard Mel 2

The last Vanguards were recorded in 1957, beautiful sessions featuring Buck Clayton and Jimmy Rushing.  I don’t know what made the series conclude.  Did the recordings not sell well?  Vanguard turned to the burgeoning folk movement shortly after.  Or was it that Hammond had embarked on this project for a minimal salary and no royalties and, even given his early patrician background, had to make a living?  But these are my idea of what jazz recordings should sound like, for their musicality and the naturalness of their sound.

I would like to be able to end this paean to the Vanguards by announcing a new Mosaic box set containing all of them.  But I can’t.  And it seems as if forces have always made these recordings difficult to obtain in their original state.  Originally, they were issued on ten-inch long-playing records (the format that record companies thought 78 rpm record buyers, or their furniture, would adapt to most easily).  But they made the transition to the standard twelve-inch format easily.  The original Vanguard records didn’t stay in print for long in their original format.  I paid twenty-five dollars, then a great deal of money, for a vinyl copy of BUCK MEETS RUBY from the now-departed Dayton’s Records on Twelfth Street in Manhattan.  In the Seventies, several of the artists with bigger names, Clayton, Jo Jones, and Vic, had their sessions reissued in America on two-lp colletions called THE ESSENTIAL.  And the original vinyl sessions were reissued on UK issues for a few minutes in that decade. 

When compact discs replaced vinyl, no one had any emotional allegiance to the Vanguards, although they were available in their original formats (at high prices) in Japan.  The Vanguard catalogue was bought by the Welk Music Group (the corporate embodiment of Champagne Music).  in 1999, thirteen compact discs emerged: three by Braff, two by “the Basie Bunch,” two by Mel Powell, two by Jimmy Rushing, one by Sir Charles, one by Vic.  On the back cover of the CDs, the credits read: “Compilation produced by Steve Buckingham” and “Musical consultant and notes by Samuel Charters.”  I don’t know either of them personally, and I assume that their choices were controlled by the time a compact disc allows, but the results are sometimes inexplicable.  The sound of the original sessions comes through clearly but sessions are scrambled and incomplete, except for the Braff-Larkins material, which they properly saw as untouchable.  And rightly so.  The Vanguard recordings are glorious.  And they deserve better presentation than they’ve received.

P.S.  Researching this post, I went to the usual sources — Amazon and eBay — and there’s no balm for the weary or the deprived.  On eBay, a vinyl BUCK MEETS RUBY is selling for five times as much.  That may be my twenty-five dollars, adjusted for inflation, but it still seems exorbitant. 

On eBay I also saw the most recent evidence of the corruption, if not The Decline, of the West.  Feast your eyes on this CD cover:

Vanguard Visionaries corrupt

Can you imagine Jimmy Rushing’s reaction — beyond the grave — on learning that his reputation rested on his being an influence on Jamie Cullum, Norah Jones, and Harry Connick, Jr.?  I can’t.  The Marketing Department has been at work!  But I’d put up with such foolishness if I could have the Vanguards back again.

TUESDAYS WITH SIDNEY*

*The Sidney Bechet Society.  We haven’t been able to spend Tuesdays with Monsieur Bechet for a half-century, but time spent with his youthful heirs will be just as satisfying.  Don’t be left out!

Wycliffe Gordon’s “History of Jazz Trombone”

Symphony Space, Broadway & 95th St., New York City       Tuesday, September 29, 2009       2 shows: 6:15pm & 9:00pm    

The Sidney Bechet Society presents trombone sensation Wycliffe Gordon leading a “History of Jazz Trombone.”  Wycliffe & the band will remember the legends of this soulful instrument, jazz titans like Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Lawrence Brown, Tricky Sam Nanton, Juan Tizol, Tommy Dorsey, J.C. Higginbotham, Tyree Glenn, Al Grey and Buster Cooper.  Joining Wycliffe will be Anat Cohen, reeds (Jazz Journalists’ Assoc. 2009 Clarinetist of the Year); Etienne Charles, trumpet (winner: 2006 National Trumpet Competition); Ehud Asherie, piano; Zaid Shukri, bass; Marion Felder, drums; Terry Wilson, vocals.   Tickets are $25, available at the box office, by telephone and online at http://www.symphonyspace.org (use code “RAC102” when ordering online).  Special 2 show discount: get our Sept. 29 & Oct. 27 shows for $44.  This offer is good at box office & phone only—use code “SBS 01”

www.sidneybechet.org

“Remembering Stuyvesant Casino & Central Plaza” with Vince Giordano

Symphony Space, Broadway & 95th St., New York City         Tuesday, October 27, 2009     6:15pm & 9:00pm

The Sidney Bechet Society presents a tribute to two legendary jazz venues: Stuyvesant Casino & Central Plaza.  Joining Vince will be Randy Reinhart, trumpet; Mark Lopeman, reeds; Jim Fryer, trombone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kenny Salvo, banjo; Rob Garcia, drums, and Ricky Gordon on washboard.  During the 1940s and 1950s, these were the hotbeds of traditional Jazz in NYC. All the greats played there. Vince Giordano will lead a hot band recreating the music one would hear at both establishments. Special guest stars are pianist Marty Napoleon & clarinetist Sol Yaged, who played at both venues. Marty & Sol are 88 and 87 years old, respectively, and still swinging hard!  Tickets are $25, available at the box office, by telephone and online at http://www.symphonyspace.org (use code “RAC102” when ordering online).  Special 2 show discount: get our Sept. 29 & Oct. 27 shows for $44.  This offer is good at box office & phone only—use code “SBS 01”

OUR NEW YORK JAZZ HOLIDAY (June 7-10, 2009)

It wasn’t really a holiday.  I still had to get up and go to work, which I proudly did, even when mildly wobbly.  The Beloved had her deadlines to meet, too. 

But last Sunday – Wednesday were a jazz feast in New York City, and (remembering my loyal readers who don’t always get to the same gigs we do) I brought my trusty video camera.* 

I won’t rhapsodize about the music.  As Charlie Parker told the terminally unhip Earl Wilson, “Music speaks louder than words.” 

The week began on Sunday (that’s The Ear Inn calendar rather than the Julian or the Georgian) at 8 PM, when New Orleanian Duke Heitger joined Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, and Neal Miner for hot, soulful jazz.  Here, from the first set, is a rollicking yet serious WEARY BLUES:

Those who know their Hot History will already be aware that Duke comes from a musical family (his father, Ray, is a splendid clarinetist) but that Duke himself was inspired to dig deeper and soar higher by his exposure to another Michigander, Maestro Kellso.  So this was a playing reunion of two friends, brotherly improvisers. 

The second set at the Ear usually brings surprises.  Trombonist Harvey Tibbs had joined the band at the end of the first set, and he was joined by Dan Block on clarinet and the truly divine Tamar Korn, who sings with the Cangelosi Cards. 

Tamar’s final song (of three) was a genuinely ethereal MOONGLOW — and even the rocking head of the woman in front of me couldn’t distract me from the beauty Tamar and the band created.  Not only did Tamar become one lonely Mills Brother; she became Eddie South; she sang most touchingly.  And, in the middle, Jon-Erik and Duke growled, moaned, and plunged; then Harvey and Dan summoned up the ghosts of Lawrence Brown and Barney Bigard.  When it was all over, Jackie Kellso turned to me and reverently said, “That has to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” and I wasn’t about to argue with her. 

Monday found the Beloved and myself dressed up for a visit to the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel — where singer / pianist Daryl Sherman was performing a centennial tribute to Johnny Mercer with the help of Wycliffe Gordon, James Chirillo, and Boots Maleson.  Daryl, bless her, gave my favorite unknown Mercer song its “live premiere,” as a sweet duet with Wycliffe.  THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, for that’s its name, has never been performed much — but its classic debut was on a 1934 Decca session where Mercer himself sang it (he was a wonderfully wry singer) with the help of Jack Teagarden, Sterling Bose, and Dick McDonough.  The recording’s hard to find but it is a prize, as is this performance, impish and sweet at the same time.  (Matilda, the Algonquin’s resident cat, now thirteen, was snooty as always to us, but beauty is its own burden, even if you’re a Ragdoll.  Perhaps especially so?)

Tuesday found us uptown at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse for a duet session by Duke and pianist Ehud Asherie.  They began with a dreamily romantic YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME at a slow tempo, which suggested to me that the advantage-taking was something sought after.  Without imitating anyone, Duke evoked Ruby Braff and Bobby Hackett; Ehud’s stroll had the leisurely pace of great slow-motion stride playing. 

Then, the duo performed one of my favorite 1939-40 Basie classics, Lester Young’s dancing TICKLE-TOE, with true gliding style.

Duke and Ehud then decided to explore ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (thought by some to be the sole property of “modern” jazzmen — how wrong such narrow thinking is!) — complete with its lovely verse.

Trombonist John Allred, who had been waiting for his steak to arrive, decided to jump forward to dessert, so he joined Duke and Ehud for a rousing TEA FOR TWO:

Duke and Ehud then created a sprinting version of James P. Johnson’s RUNNIN’ WILD:

After dinner, John came back for a jubilant THEM THERE EYES:

 On Wednesday, I met the Beloved at Birdland (which could be the title of a good Thirties pop song) for a special assemblage — David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (David, Anat Cohen, Dion Tucker, Kevin Dorn) plus guests Duke Heitger and Dick Hyman.  Here they are for a beautiful, hymnlike reading of Ellington’s SOLITUDE.  Duke’s Louis-lyricism and Hyman’s chiming chords are specially moving here:

Clarinetist and prankster Ken Peplowski had been in the club (before the music began) for an informal photo shoot, and he came onstage to join them for a frisky version of Don Redman’s HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA (or YOU, for the formal):

 

More to come!  Watch this space! 

*The asterisk is to remind any cinematic auteurs that my cinematography is at best functional: the music’s the thing, no matter how many people walk through my shot or sit in front of my lens.  I haven’t managed to make any dark, cluttered, noisy club into an ideal set, but I keep trying.

SEEING BLANTON PLAIN

The jazz scholar Bob Porter has his own website, www.jazzetc.net., which is well worth looking into.  Bob also has a long-running rhythm ‘n’ blues radio show on WBGO-FM (www.wbgo.org.) , and has produced and annotated many fine records and CDs. 

What caught my eye this time on Bob’s site was his inclusion of three previously unseen photographs of the Ellington band, presumably taken in late 1940 at the Michigan State Fair, sent along by Fred Reif. 

They show Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Otto Hardwicke, and Ellington’s phenomenal bassist Jimmy (or Jimmie) Blanton.  Usually the few shots of Blanton are fuzzy, cropped from larger photos: these are as sharp and arresting as Blanton’s own sound.  Worth inspecting indeed!

Here’s one: for the other two, be sure to visit http://www.jazzetc.net/articles/new-jimmy-blanton-photos-does-anyone-have-any-information-on-these-photos.

jimmie-blanton