Tag Archives: Len Barnard

WRITE ON THE HEAD!

I received a fascinating letter some days ago from John Cox, a musician from Melbourne, Australia, who has played with Len and Bob Barnard and many other traditional / New Orleans / swing bands.

John told me that he has a signed banjo head from the Twenties with members of the King Oliver band, that he would like to sell and have go to a good home. Several New Orleans authorities including Greg Lambousy have said they thought it was genuine.  John says he has a Gretsch tenor banjo which the head came from. He’s looking to sell both for a starting bid of $1800 (he has had offers from interested people and institutions) and you can email him at johnpaulacox@optusnet.com.au.

BANJO HEAD

From what I can see, the Louis signature is genuine. And it appears that the original owner of this holy relic offered it to musicians in 1923, 1926, and 1928 for their signatures.  I see Freddie Keppard, Sippie Wallace, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Honore Dutrey, Manuel Perez, Bud Scott, and one other (top left) that I don’t quite recognize. (News flash!  Kris Bauwens, who knows a great deal about these things, has suggested that it is Bunk Johnson.  Indeed!)

I asked John about the provenance of this object, to learn more about it, and to sense its authenticity, and he told me that he bought the head from a man named Sampson, living in Queensland.  Sampson told John that the banjo had belonged to his father.  When Sampson’s father was about 15, Sampson’s grandfather would take him to the United States from England by ship to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Chicago.  They would stay in a hotel and get contraband to take back to England. In the hotels were jazz bands, and he befriended Bud Scott, who looked after him and gave him the banjo, which he had musicians sign over the years.  The banjo would have been fairly cheap at the time.  The boy was nicknamed “Mississippi Sam,” which was shortened to “Sippi Sam.” John believes the story to be true as Sampson’s father had died but Sampson said he could always remember the banjo at the family home.  Sampson had come out to Australia as a child and was about sixty when John met him.

I don’t ordinarily turn JAZZ LIVES into a hot market, but this object is so enthralling on its own that I felt drawn to do so. Please do get in touch with John if your budget can tolerate the purchase of such a beautiful artifact.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING FRANK TRAYNOR

 

I didn’t know who Frank Traynor was until a few weeks ago.  And I apologize!

My friend John Trudinger sent me a CD called TROMBONE FRANKIE — a production of the Victorian Jazz Archive — and I confess that because none of the names were particularly recognizable to me in my mind-glossary of Australian musicians (no Bob or Len Barnard, no Fred Parkes) I let the CD sit to the left of my computer monitor for a perversely long time.

One morning, looking for something new to play in the car on the way to work (an ineffable mixture of craving novelty and feeling guilty) I slipped the CD into my pocket and then into the player . . . also because I had been thinking of Bessie Smith’s performance of TROMBONE CHOLLY — a raucous paean to Charlie “Big” Green, who’s Bessie’s partner on that joyous record.  So I began listening to Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers with the alternate take of TROMBONE FRANKIE, vocal by one Judith Dunham, someone also new to me (although I learned that she became world-famous as a member of the Seekers).

Here’s a version of what I heard — and the elation I felt meant that I played this one track over until I arrived at work.  Listen for yourself:

If you’d like to know much more about Traynor and his singular adventures — including a remarkable folk / jazz club, click here (there’s also a beautiful biography and discography):

 www.franktraynors.net.au.

JOTTINGS OF A JAZZMAN

The best biographical or autobiographical writings make a person the reader has never encountered come to life on the page.  JOTTINGS OF A JAZZMAN: SELECTED WRITINGS OF LEN BARNARD, edited by his niece Loretta Barnard, has just that magic. 

When I was a few pages into it, I felt as if I had met and heard Len, which says much — not only about the power of Len’s personality and insights but also about Loretta’s loving presentation. 

Len Barnard was a major figure in Australian jazz, and the players and singers from Oz are, at their best, possessed of a fierce focus, a strength of purpose, an intensity.  Len was an excellent drummer and washboardist and first-rate pianist and composer. 

But he also thought about his music, the world around him, and the way people behaved — a philosopher without the heavy weight of an official philosophy.  His writings show him as curious, opinionated, amused, sharp-eyed, both unsparing and generous.  Here are a few samples:

Len was a reader.  Here he quotes from an obscure cookery book in a letter:

An excerpt from THE ACCOMPLISHT COOK (1712) with the correct verbs for dismembering of various meats and game: lift that swan, rear that goose, unbrace that mallard, allay that pheasant, unlace that coney, unjoynt that bittern, unlatch that curlew, break that egript, thigh that woodcock.  Try a few of those to the bridge of ‘Old Man Ribber.’

From his journal, 1969:

Played Clarence Williams at breakfast.  I’ve always felt that too little has been said of the charm of his music, of its atmosphere, its complete absence of vulgarity, stridency, over-accentuation, and all the other faults of lesser jazz – its easy humour and almost kindly glow, its integrity as art.  Every Clarence Williams record is a benediction.

After offering a tape of a superb live performance to a record producer:

My fears of philistinism were confirmed.  He liked it, but didn’t think that full spontanaiety plus on-stage noises were suitable for his needs.  Offered to buy “Mood Indigo” for $25.  I declined.  Told him he had the studio sickness which is induced by surgically produced recordings and the unimaginative parading of an oft-repeated routine before the microphone before perfection is attained.  A bloodless, sterile perfection . . .This attitude of businessmen is what they call ‘progress,’ bit it is merely satndardization as opposed to less pretentious individualism of the true musician.  It’s a minor form of industrialisation, which nowadays means bad food, pointless bustle and jittery nerves, whereas the other road means good digestion and serenity.

On playing the drums:

Drums have seemed to be bonny imposters at times, as regards the perfection of extension of arm and rhythmic slap on a chair arm.  An in-ness, a tactile link with music that has been hard to replace.  Came close (digression) when in 1982, played a large lobster pot with open palms and a pair of wooden salad servers.  These got shorter as they shattered brittley and there is that wonderful elan andimmediacy that is expedited by this and you extemporise and bring out dishes of ham that even you didn’t know were in your larger of tricks.  The other feeling is the knife in hand, but the heel of hand marking the rhythm on the tablecloth.

The voice is at times cranky, observant, poetic,ruminative — a combination of Larkin, Balliett, S. J. Perelman.  The book is wonderfully amplified by photographs and remebrances of Len by his family and admirers.  When I finished the book, I felt as if I’d been privileged to overhear a fascinating and complex man.  And although I never got any closer to Len than through the medium of a dozen CDs, this book made me miss him terribly. 

As I write this, I have not yet acquired the needed mercantile information — how to buy the book, its price, the best way to acquire it.  I hope to find these things out soon. 

But I would urge anyone who is interested in what an articulate artist sees and hears to read this book. 

Len Barnard was a jazzman but his perceptions were deeper than 4 / 4, larger than his drum kit.  And Loretta Barnard has given us a fine gift of her late uncle and his world.

A postscript: I was so enthralled by the book and by Len that I omitted something delightful and informative — the lengthy section at the end with quick, witty, crisply written biographical portraits of all the people who were part of the book — written by the jazz scholar Bill Haesler, who knows his Oz thoroughly.  Published by itself, this section would be an invaluable overview of Australian jazz and more.