Tag Archives: Lee Morse

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

DO YOU HAVE A JOB TO OFFER THESE YOUNG WOMEN?

WOMEN ON BENCH 1928 Paris

I know the economy is improving, but even the most gifted job applicants sometimes have trouble finding the work they seek. This distressing situation was dramatized in music by Tamar Korn, vocal; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Joanna Sternberg, string bass; Wanda Seeley, the Singing Pride of Bozeman, Montana –July 26, 2015, at Casa Mezcal on Orchard Street in New York City — through this song:

I'M AN UNEMPLOYED SWEETHEART

I imagine the scenario: the songwriters at their desk in the Brill Building, 1931:

“Look at this.  So many people unemployed.  But people don’t want to sing about that.  People want songs that make them forget their troubles.”

“Yeah, but how many songs can we write about moonlight on my canoe with you — when those poor slobs are hungry?”

“Wait.  I NEED A JOB IN LOVE.  No.  I NEED THE JOB OF BEING YOUR SWEETIE.”

“How about I NEED A JOB UNDER THE COVERS WITH YOU AND I’M A HARD WORKER“?

Long pause for cogitation and regrouping.

“How about I’M AN UNEMPLOYED SWEETHEART“?

And an obscure masterpiece — made famous by Lee Morse — was born.

Fortunately for us, the four people in the video have jobs that they do so splendidly.  We cherish them.

May your happiness increase!

 

WE LIVE IN HOPE (WITH RECORDS)

Whenever we go into an antique store, thrift store, Goodwill or the like, I hope that there is a pile of records.  Most often the results are drab: the Dean Martin Christmas Record, the Hollyridge Strings Play (fill in the blank), 12″ disco hits.  When there are albums of 78 rpm records, often they are middle-of-the-road classical sets, early Fifties red-label Columbias and Deccas.  Something like a sunburst Decca Bing Crosby or a canary-training record is a bombshell in the midst of this assortment.

Who knew that the wine country and environs in Northern California would be so full of possibilities?

Mind you, no Gennetts or Paramounts; nary a Steiner-Davis in the lot.  But I want to report two successful treasure hunts.  (An older generation used to call this “junking,” but somehow the name — to me — suggests pawing through piles of trash.

Here are the gems (ninety-nine cents each plus tax) from a visit last night to the Goodwill in Petaluma, out of a plastic crate full of 78s that, for the most part, were either pre-electric or postwar pop.

The first one:

All I know about this is that “Ed Blossom and His New Englanders” is a pseudonym for the California Ramblers, and from the issue number I would date it as late 1928.  The other side — a familiar tune — was more promising. (I left the sticker on for proof):

But when I looked online for more information (neither side appears in Tom Lord’s discography), this is what I found.  Different label but the same matrix number:

That’s a perfectly amiable dance record, neatly played — but for someone like myself waiting for Jack Purvis to make himself known in the next-to-last bridge, a bit of a letdown.  Still, it serves as a reminder of just how much we should value those hot interludes, because they didn’t appear at every session.

Here’s the second find, and although I have no idea of the accompaniment (again, no listing in Rust), I wasn’t disappointed.  This disc had been well-played, a tribute to its singer:

Not only a Lee Morse record, but one of her originals!  And here is the thing in itself: a fascinating exercise in history in reverse, or influence looking in a mirror.  On the second chorus, Miss Morse sounds like Tamar Korn; on the third, she anticipates Connee Boswell:

The flip side:

And it’s testimony to Miss Morse’s stardom that she was able to change the lyrics of this pop hit to be gender-appropriate, something few artists could do at the time.

We move forward to this afternoon and an antique store on Grant Avenue in Novato — SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY — where I purchased three of these marvels for two dollars each:

These are eight-inch home recording discs, with five of the six sides grooved — three of them divided in two.  None of the discs has any writing on the label, and the store did not have a three or four-speed phonograph, so I paid my money and live in hope — or in Emily Dickinson’s “Possibility.”  What are the odds that these discs contain recordings of a 1943 after-hours jam session?  Slim, I admit.  More likely they are someone playing LADY OF SPAIN or Grandpa’s speech to the Rotary Club.  (In past encounters, I’ve seen those discs — Sister Susie’s hymn recital.)  But one must take risks in this life . . . !

The prize that accompanied these discs was the paper sleeve for a ten-inch Recordio disc — it was also in the pile, but blank and with the coating eroding and cracking.  But you should know that RECORDIO DISCS were manufactured by Wilcox-Gay (of Charlotte, Michigan), and that they were ALUMINUM BASE, PROFESSIONAL QUALITY — meant FOR THOSE BETTER RECORDINGS.

“WILCOX-GAY offers a selection of 6 1/2″, 8″and 10″ sizes in RECORDIO DISCS for your recording needs. Aluminum base discs are manufactured to precision standards and are surfaced with a long-life, mirror-clear coating . . . combined with low surface noise this gives them preferred ratings on all markets.  Fibre base discs are the original RECORDIO DISCS, famous for their long life and excellent reproduction.  They are light, flexible and can be mailed without fear of damage.  Genuine RECORDIO DISCS in aluminum or fibre base can be obtained from your local RECORDIO dealer.  Always ask for them by name.”

“SUGGESTION     Your recordings will last longer if you always keep them in this envelope when not in use.  CAUTION    Do not place RECORDIO DISCS on furniture or any laminated surface.  Under some climactic conditions the dyes used in the manufacture of these discs will discolor certain surfaces.”

Recordiopoint curring and playback needles are the perfect companion for RECORDIO DISCS.  Always insist on Recordiopoint needles and RECORDIO DISCS for use with your Recordio.”

If there’s exciting news in a few weeks when I place these RECORDIO DISCS (they do demand all capital letters, don’t they?) on my phonograph, I will surely let the JAZZ LIVES readership know . . . we live in hope!