Tag Archives: Leo McConville

SWEETLY UPLIFTING: The MICHAEL McQUAID SAXOPHONE QUARTET

I’ve been thinking about the saxophonist Chuck Wilson, who left us on October 16 (my post about him is here).  Chuck came from a tradition where the saxophone made beautiful melodic sounds and blended with other reeds — he was a consummate section leader.  It’s a tradition sometimes overlooked today, where it occasionally feels that everyone wants to be a soloist, at length.

But the tradition has been splendidly recalled and embodied by our friend, the brilliantly imaginative multi-instrumentalist, Michael McQuaid in his recent musical gift to us: four musical cameos inspired by the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet of 1929-30.  The arrangements by Michael — lovely translucencies, swinging and tender — were recorded “with minimal rehearsal” (I emphasize this to hail the professionalism of the players) in the UK on July 27, 2018.

I think of these performances as modern reworkings of classical string quartets, but with a particular harmonic delicacy applied to popular songs of the day, with hot solos implied, delightful counterpoint, and a compositional sense: each arrangement and performance has a wonderful logical shape, a light-hearted emotional resonance.  Each performance rewards repeated listening.  (I cannot play MY SIN just once.)

The remarkable players are Michael McQuaid (first alto); David Horniblow (second alto); Simon Marsh (tenor); Tom Law (baritone).

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER, which I associate with Annette Hanshaw, Barbara Rosene, and Tamar Korn:

OUT OF THE DAWN, by Walter Donaldson, from 1928, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:

WASHBOARD BLUES, whose arrangement is inspired by the 1926 recording by Hitch’s Happy Harmonists, with composer Hoagy Carmichael at the piano:

MY SIN, by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, also associated with Annette Hanshaw:

I wasn’t the only one astonished by the arrangements and the playing, and I wrote to Michael to ask, “When’s the CD coming out?  When’s the concert tour?”  No one else is making music like this anywhere.

Michael responded on Facebook:

Once again, this video features great playing from some of London’s best saxophone players. Their musicality is all the more remarkable when one considers this is closer to sight-reading than a fully-rehearsed ensemble.

A few of you have asked whether I’m going to release these recordings. Well, yes – they’re on YouTube anytime you want! But properly producing a full album of this material would require significant rehearsal followed by hours in the studio, and hence probably a wealthy philanthropic benefactor (please message me if that might be you!).

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing saxophone quartet arrangements until I have a whole concert’s/album’s worth. It’s been great reading your positive words on these videos, and I’m glad if I’ve been able to draw attention to the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet and their beautiful 1929 records. Our musical heritage is filled with many such neglected treasures, ready to leap into the present (and the future) with only a little of our time and attention.

Since some readers might not have heard the originals, here (courtesy of generous Enrico Borsetti) is the Merle Johnston Saxophone Quartet playing BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE?:

I haven’t found out much about Merle, except that he played clarinet, alto, and tenor, was born in upstate New York, and lived from 1897 to 1978, and was a renowned saxophone teacher.  Michael told me that Merle’s students included Larry Teal and Joe Allard (each became a highly influential saxophone teacher in his own right), as well as famous players such as Buddy Collette and Frank Morgan. His legacy is probably more lasting as a teacher than as a player or bandleader!

Merle’s recording career — according to Tom Lord — ran from 1923 to 1930, with Sam Lanin (alongside Red Nichols), Isham Jones, Seger Ellis, the Ipana  Troubadours, Jack Miller, a young fellow named Crosby.  He was friends with Leo McConville, and he led his own band called the Ceco Couriers, which alludes to a radio program supported by a product: in this case, CeCo radio tubes, advertised in the October 1928 POPULAR SCIENCE (the tubes “cost no  more but last longer”).

Did Merle leave the New York City studio scene after the stock market crash for the security of a teaching career?  Can it be that no one interviewed him or one of his pupils?  Incidentally, when I do online research on someone obscure and find that one of the resources is this — a JAZZ LIVES post I wrote in 2011 — I am both amused and dismayed.

“Research!” to quote Lennie Kunstadt.  Calling David Fletcher!

And here’s another gorgeous quartet record, this one of DO SOMETHING:

I post the two Merle Johnston “originals” not to show their superiority to the modern evocations, but to celebrate Michael’s arranging and the playing of the Quartet: to my ears, fully the equal of the antecedents.

Listen once again, and be delighted.  I am sure that Chuck is pleased by these sounds also.

May your happiness increase!

A MENU WITH ONLY THREE ITEMS

If I end up in a restaurant with a six-page menu, I can be sure that I will stare helplessly, dither, and then order something that I will regret three ways: instantly, while I am eating it, and while I am paying for it.  Alas.  Too much choice induces a kind of paralysis in me.

COFFEE SANDWICH

So that’s one reason this bouncy Twenties romance-song (mixing love and food, always a pleasing idea) has always appealed to me.  I like all three items on this musical menu!

Did someone think of modernizing Omar Khayyam’s jug and loaf — because of Prohibition or modesty?

Of course I wonder about the depth of Billy Rose’s contribution to the lyrics and would credit to the always-clever Al Dubin, who — as his daughter’s reminiscences of him describe — was so devoted to food that it shortened his life.

I am amused by the sheet music cover, where He has the coffee (one cup only) and She sits demurely, hands folded, in front of what looks like one-half of the most chaste sandwich imaginable.  (Finally, my proofreading self yearns to put a comma after SANDWICH, but one cannot edit the untidy universe. On the Roger Wolfe Kahn label below, there isn’t a serial comma in the Spanish title, either.)

Here’s a rather sedate version by Jack Buchanan and Gertrude Lawrence which is intriguing — although not jazz-tinged at all — because it has both Boy and Girl choruses and the verse:

Now, something more heated: the Roger Wolfe Kahn version from December 1925 — with beautiful playing throughout: the trumpets on the verse, the reed section on the first and last sixteen (with a sweet interlude on the bridge). And, yes, that’s Venuti swinging out, followed by the pride of Roosevelt, Long Island, Miff Mole — noble support from Schutt and Berton as well.  New York’s finest.

Tommy Gott, Leo McConville, trumpet; Chuck Campbell, Miff Mole, trombone; Arnold Brilhart, Owen A. Bartlett, Harold Sturr, reeds; Arthur Schutt, piano; Domenic Romeo, banjo / guitar; Arthur Campbell, tuba;  Joe Venuti, Joe Raymond, violin; Vic Berton, drums; Roger Wolfe Kahn, leader.

If you couldn’t dance to that record, something was wrong.

Something quite different, possibly from the mid-Fifties, a recording that mixes big-band conventions and hipster cool, making me wonder what was in the coffee Matt Dennis was offering the fair maiden, what flavoring:

Incidentally, attentive viewers will see that the executives at RCA Victor (I assume) thought it clever wordplay to call this record WELCOME MATT and have the star apparently arriving with one under his arm.  No one thought, “Hmmm.  You stand on the WELCOME mat, you wipe your shoes on it. Does this work for all of you?”

And this delicious oddity on the Starck label, in 1926, when the song was new, a performance by the seriously energetic pianist Vera Guilaroff and singer Herbert S. Berliner — son of Emile Berliner, who invented the flat disc record.  I love the dissonance between her rollicking playing and his stiff “singing”:

Now, some of you might be getting impatient.  “Where’s the Hot Jazz, Michael?”  Calm yourselves.  All things come to he, she, it, who wait.

YouTube is like eBay.  I cannot predict what I am going to find there at any moment, but it teems with surprises.  I went looking for versions of COFFEE yesterday morning to play for a friend who had never heard it, and I nearly leaped out of my chair when I saw that someone had posted Jeff Healey’s 2001 version from AMONG FRIENDS, one of my favorite recordings.  Ever.  Healey (much-missed) is on vocal and guitar, and then there’s the Anglo-American Alliance contingent, Dick Sudhalter, trumpet; John R.T. Davies, alto saxophone; Jim Shepherd, trombone . . . and Reide Kaiser, piano; Colin Bray, string bass.  From the opening wink at YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, this record soars:

And when you’ve listened to it once, go back and savor all the other pleasures and in-jokes.  What a fine singer Healey was.  Sudhalter’s ANYTHING GOES. Healey’s Fats-like asides about hot coffee and smooth butter.  Shepherd’s individual approach and fine sound.  Ristic’s HUCKLEBUCK.  Sudhalter and Shepherd humming behind the bridge.  Bray’s slap-bass; Kaiser’s relentless stride push.  Healey’s guitar solo — Django meets Lang — and then the riotous ensemble, bass break, and out.  I wish this band had made a hundred recordings. I never tire of this, a delicious, satisfying Fats Waller ebullience without imitation.

I saw Healey only once in person — at a 2006 benefit for an ailing Sudhalter, and Jeff was gone in 2008.  But with music like COFFEE, I can’t think of him as dead, merely taking a set break.

I hope that wherever you are, the menu offerings please.

May your happiness increase!

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief, wholly improvised list:

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

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

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

May your happiness increase! 

A FEW NOTES FOR TOMMY THUNEN

At the most recent (November 2013) San Diego Jazz Fest, a friend introduced a smiling woman to me with these words, “Michael, this is Vonne.  Her father was Tommy Thunen.”  I was very excited, and told Vonne so, for I knew her father’s name for years: as the second or third trumpet player on many Red Nichols recordings.  She was happy that I was so excited, and she promised to send more about her father.
The children of jazz heroes — a rare breed — fascinate me. Many of the musicians I admire were childless, or their relations with their children were less than ideal — so my occasional attempts to speak with these survivors have not always been successful.  Nephews and nieces, grandchildren and cousins have surfaced but little substantial has come of these brief contacts.  (A notable exception has been the interchanges I’ve had, documented in JAZZ LIVES, with the very generous son of Leo McConville, a trumpeter who probably sat alongside Thunen many times in the late Twenties and middle Thirties.)
But Vonne clearly remembers her father with affection:
My dad, Tommy Thunen, played with Red Nichols, Paul Whiteman, and later Russ Morgan. As you probably know, Russ Morgan played at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley for a number of years. My dad played with Abe Lyman’s Orchestra in the 30’s I believe. He also played on two radio programs in New York. One was called “Waltz Time” on Friday nights and the other was “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” on Sundays. I believe it was one of the major radio stations in New York. 
In later years he was living in San Fernando Valley and played with a band led by Rosy McHargue at a place called The Cobblestone, and he also played with Rosy in Las Vegas. Musicians have told me that he had a “sweet” sound. He also played cornet and alto sax. One of his first “gigs” was at age 13 when he played at an Armistice parade at the end of the first World War.
My own investigation into Tommy’s recorded work as documented in the “jazz” records to be found in Tom Lord’s discography shows him to be a New York regular who traveled in fast company: not only with Nichols, but the Irving Mills recording groups that used men out of the Ben Pollack Orchestra, starting in 1929.
Tommy played alongside Gene Krupa, Jimmy McPartland, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Larry Binyon, Ray Bauduc, Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, Mannie Klein, Dave Tough, Red McKenzie, Pee Wee Russell, Fud Livingston, Glenn Miller, Irving Brodsky, Joe Tarto, Mickey Bloom, Rube Bloom, Babe Russin, Adrian Rollini, Tommy Dorsey, Tony Parenti, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Miller, and other New York Reliables — all of this in 1929-30. He surfaces again on some hot recordings by the Abe Lyman band in 1933, and then not again until working with Rosy McHargue in 1957, and — fittingly — he is the sole trumpet, out in the open, on his final recordings with Jack Teagarden in Jack’s Sextet that same year: the soundtrack from a television program, a July appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, and a promotional record of the Marlboro cigarette jingle in September — alongside Jerry Fuller, Don Ewell, Stan Puls, and Monte Mountjoy.
I can’t offer JAZZ LIVES readers tangible evidence of Tommy’s sweet sound, but here are two records where he is said to be playing.  Is that him on the bridge of I’VE GOTTA HAVE YOU?  (The pleasure of hearing Red McKenzie — and tenor saxophone soloing by Pee Wee Russell — makes up for all uncertainties.)
Other recordings on YouTube might have Tommy in the personnel: a search will turn up some lovely music from Annette Hanshaw, among others.
But now for the photographs!
Here’s bandleader Abe Lyman, inscribed to Vonne:
Abe Lyman
“Jean Wakefield and her Mischief Makers”:
Jean Wakefield & Her Mischief Makers
All I know about mischievous Jean is she and the Makers are listed in the radio section of the Berkeley, California, Daily Gazette for Saturday, November 7, 1931, broadcasting over KLX at 7 PM. (Airchecks, anyone?)  To me, the most important part of that photograph is the inscription on the left.
Here’s a band appearing at a nightspot with its own kind of transient fame, Fatty Arbuckle’s Cobblestone Cafe:
Cobblestone Cafe (Fatty Arbuckle's) (1)
and some needed identification:
Cobblestone Cafe Name List
I haven’t found any reference to the Cobblestone Cafe, although I don’t have a biography of Arbuckle at hand.  He was dead in mid-1933 and this photograph is from some decades later.  Aside from Tommy, the most famous musician, pianist Arthur Schutt, who lived until 1965, is hidden from view.  Clarinetist Gene Bolen, however, recorded from the late Fifties onwards, so I await informed speculations about a more precise dating.
Rosy McHargue (1)
Rosy McHargue and his Dixieland Band, dated 1953:
Rosy McHargue Name List (1)
I hope we will find out more about the life and music of Tommy Thunen, not only from his daughter.
I think of him as a professional musician who is now characterized, if at all, as a “jazz musician,” then a “studio musician,” perhaps a “Dixieland jazz player.”
But the music we hold dear is not simply a matter of famous soloists and stars, the people about whom biographies are written, but of reliable professionals whose names aren’t famous, indispensable craftspeople nevertheless. These quiet men and women might appear predictably bourgeois, not exciting.  But any communal art form — be it jazz, the symphony, or the theatre — needs people one can count on to be on time, well-prepared, clean, sober, expert.  After the fact, people tell tales of the brilliant musician who is also unpredictable — but such artists are at best hard on everyone’s nervous system. But we are more intrigued by Jack Purvis or Charlie Parker than Mannie Klein or Hilton Jefferson.
How many beautiful players were there who did their work superbly but never got interviewed, whose names were known only to fellow musicians and discographers . . . who made the whole enterprise of music go on as it did?
I’d like to see books called THE JAZZ PROFESSIONALS — consider among thousands Harold Baker, Buster Bailey, Murray McEachern, Helen Humes and Nick Fatool — people who didn’t lead bands or win Metronome polls, but who were the very foundation of what we take for granted.
And Tommy Thunen, about whom we now know a little more, thanks to his daughter.
May your happiness increase!

JAMES, CHARLES, SALVATORE: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Nine)

Say that my glory was I had such friends,” writes W.B. Yeats.  If we’d never heard a note of Leo McConville’s playing, never seen him in the Walt Roemer and his Capitolians short film . . . we would know him as a man admired and respected by the finest creators in his field.

See for yourself.

JAMES MELTON is hardly a Jack Purvis man of mystery, but he had more than a handful of careers — as the “hot” alto player in Francis Craig’s 1926 band, as a radio personality beginning in the next year, then an opera star.  Melton was a lyric tenor with a light, high voice — and all the formal hallmarks of that style: the exact enunciation, the rolled R — a style that became less popular when the crooners of the late Twenties came to prominence.

Melton is also known, oddly, to jazz fans, as having led a 1929 session of sacred songs that featured Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto, even though a measure of his jazz fame might be that my edition of Brian Rust’s discography has a Melton entry in the index that lacks a page number.  Did Leo meet him on the radio in the late Twenties?

CHARLES MARGULIS has much more presence to jazz listeners for his trumpet work with Jean Goldkette and with Paul Whiteman — but he continued on as an impressive soloist into the Sixties, and he can be heard on recordings with pop artists (Eartha Kitt, Harry Belafonte) as well as his own trumpet showcases.  John Chilton notes that Margulis had a chicken farm in the Thirties: I imagine Charles and Leo discussing the intricacies of the best feed, which breeds gave the most reliable output, and so on.  But here he is, completely urbane:

And the prize, as far as I am concerned — EDDIE LANG (born SALVATORE MASSARO) — one of the most distinctive instrumental voices of his era, in ensemble or solo.

The career that Lang might have had if he had not died on the operating table in 1933 is hinted at in these two film appearances.  The first finds him in the BIG BROADCAST with Bing Crosby, performing DINAH (off-screen) and PLEASE (very much a part of the scene).  And from the less-known A REGULAR TROUPER, he accompanies Ruth Etting on WITHOUT THAT MAN!

Although Lang would not be alive today, I can imagine him accompanying a pop or jazz singer on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW or the HOLLYWOOD PALACE.

More to come . . . !

Two postscripts about Charles Margulis: the Bixography Forum (a treasure-house of information, occasionally a hotbed of controversy) offers a 1962 conversation with the trumpeter:

http://bixography.com/MargulisHolbrook/A%20Conversation%20With%20Charles%20Margulis.html

And just to show that Margulis had great fame into the second half of the last century, here is a picture of one of his long-playing recordings:

“THE LAST WORD IN HOT”: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Eight)

New tidings from the world of McConvilliana — always delightful and surprising!

Leo Jr. told me at our last meeting that his father was famous not only for his beautiful lead playing but also for his mastery of half-valve playing!  Who would have thought Leo McConville a precursor of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN?

And — on a more personal note — Leo Jr. said that his father had a substantial and beautiful HO train layout, complete with wooden houses, in a large upstairs room in their three-story house.  Leo Sr. was so proud of his autographed photographs that he had built picture molding for top and bottom, up at the ceiling and running around the four walls of the room, his pictures there on display.

Thus I am happy, in some small way, to recreate that display in installments on JAZZ LIVES.

A less happy story concerns Leo Sr.’s terror of bridges (I’ve also heard that his fears included high buildings) — so much so that his fellow passengers would have to lock him in the car trunk when they went over a bridge.  The solution seems as painful as the problem, but I can’t say — bridges aren’t one of my phobias.  It is possible that the only way Leo could endure going over a bridge would be in an utterly dark place where he couldn’t see what terrified him.

But enough of such matters.

Here’s another half-dozen friends of Leo — some famous, some whose name in the autograph calls up some dim recognition, some obscure.

Let’s start with someone who used to be famous, although you’d have to be a film buff or of a certain age to recognize him instantly:

The publicity still is from later in Powell’s life — did Leo meet him while playing in a radio orchestra, or had their paths crossed earlier, when Powell was a hot banjoist / guitarist (and perhaps cornetist, saxophonist) and singer in hot dance bands — including the Royal Peacock Orchestra and the Charlie Davis Orchestra?

Next, someone far less well-known these days:

The man above is Canadian-born, a saxophonist and bandleader — someone Leo would have known in radio.  He had connections to Sam Lanin and Bing Crosby, and made a few records with an all-saxophone ensemble that backed Seger Ellis on disc.  Or so I think — but there’s another man with the same name, born in 1897, died in 1978, whom I’ve read was “born in Watertown, New York.  Attended Clarkson Institute of Technology.  Teacher of Larry Teal. First American saxophonist to teach regulated vibrato and founder of the New York school of saxophone playing.”

Please advise!

How many readers have heard anything by the tenor saxophonist Jim Crossan (one of the section on a number of OKeh hot dance recordings) much less seen a portrait of him?

Frank Parker — radio singer!  Is this the Irish tenor associated with jack Benny, Harry Richman, and Arthur Godfrey?Now, “the last word in hot” — that’s more like it as a Homeric epithet for our Leo!  The handsome tenor saxophonist here is Dick Johnson — someone who played clarinet with Red Nichols and the Red Heads.  (Obviously “good-fellowship” in those days meant that trumpet players hung out with saxophone players: Leo Jr. remembers meeting Jimmy Dorsey, who was an old friend of his father’s.)

For a perceptive piece on the Red Heads, see Andrew Sammut’s review of the Jazz Oracle reissue: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=39412

Perceptive readers will notice that Johnson autographed his photo to “Wilbur,” which Leo Jr. said was a teasing name for his father.  I imagine (it is speculation) that Leo Sr. made it known to everyone he talked to that he really wanted to leave the music business, buy some land, and have a chicken farm.  “Wilbur” must have been the sharply-dressed New Yorkers’ nickname for a deep-down hick.

And someone I really knew nothing of:

My friend Rob Rothberg — deep jazz scholar and long-time collector — helped me out here, “The face is unfamiliar, but there was a Cecil Way who played trumpet in Charlie Kerr’s band in the mid-twenties;  I’m not sure what happened to him after that.  Leo and Cecil played alongside an up-and-coming banjoist named Eddie Lang in Kerr’s band in the early twenties.  I think I see some lip muscles, so I’ll vote for that Way.”

We are indeed known by the company we keep, and Leo had a wide range of musical friends!  Not all of them had lip muscles, but Leo was an easy-going fellow. . . .

LEO AND FRIENDS: MORE FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Seven)

Here’s the subject of our inquiry himself — inscribing a portrait to . . . . Hadley?  Hadey (as in “Hayden”?).  No reasonable suggestion refused:

And here’s Conrad Thibault:

That man might be unfamiliar to most people (Rob Rothberg recognized him immediately) but he was exceedingly popular on radio from the Thirties onward — the classically trained baritone (1903-1987).

You can hear Thibault (from a fascinating site called “Grandpa’s iPod”) as he sounded in July 1943 on a radio program, THE AMERICAN MELODY HOUR:

http://www.grandpasipod.com/tag/conrad-thibault/

The best part of the photograph above, aside from the soft focus so characteristic of portraits of the time, and the sharp suit, is the inscription: even though Thiebault was hardly a jazz singer, he knew HOT when he heard it in Leo’s playing!

Don Voorhees (1903-89) is more well-known because of his dance / hot dance recordings of the Twenties, his radio work of the following decades, and his work with THE BELL TELEPHONE HOUR.  I presume that Leo could be heard on some of the Twenties recordings, and this photograph is especially interesting to me because it suggests that everyone in the music business who knew Leo knew that he yearned to leave it (perhaps when he’d made enough money to be comfortable) and start his own chicken farm.  Voorhees teases him about that rural dream on a portrait that is almost unnervingly intense:

Finally, there’s Harry Glantz — the memorable first-chair symphonic trumpeter who was chosen by Arturo Toscanini.  A delightful biographical sketch of Glantz (1896-1982) can be found here:

http://abel.hive.no/oj/musikk/trompet/glantz/

I didn’t know much about Mister Glantz before this, although I recognized the name — but have to conclude with this puckish anecdote, recalled by one of his students, Joe Alessi, Sr.:

Joe would come into his lessons and say politely, “Hello Mr. Glantz!”  Mr. Glantz would reply in a friendly tone, “Call me Harry!”  They would get down to business, and of course, out of respect, Joe was not going to call him Harry.  Next lesson… “Hello Mr. Glantz!”… “Call me Harry!”  This went on for some weeks. Joe finally got up the courage to enter the lesson and said “Hello Harry!”To which Harry shouted “Call me MISTER GLANTZ!!

And Chris Griffin remembered Harry in a 2005 ALL ABOUT JAZZ interview:  “Probably the greatest first trumpet player the New York Philharmonic ever had was a guy named Harry Glantz,” said Griffin with a smile.  “He was a friend of Benny’s.  He came in to hear the Benny Goodman band in the Paramount Theater.  He got Benny’s ear afterwards and he said, ‘What the hell do you feed those trumpet players?  Raw meat?'”

They all knew and respected Leo McConville, Sr.!

FRIENDS: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Six)

This first photo touches my heart — two handsome young men who sat next to each other in pit bands, radio orchestras, recording studios, and much more:

I love the suits, and I love Mannie Klein.  Who doesn’t?

Isn’t that Benjamin David Goodman on the far left, seated?

Looks like Phil Harris to me (even though the inscription is, as we say, obscure).

THE BOYS IN THE BAND: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Five)

Identify all the gentlemen of the ensemble and win a prize  — either a can of Chase and Sanborn coffee or ten gallons of Texaco gasoline. 

A radio show sponsored by Chase and Sanborn began in 1929; violinist David Rubinoff led the orchestra on the Chase and Sanborn Hour from 1931. 

See Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs ( http://www.otrsite.com/logs/loge1005.htm#chase) for dates of some of the early shows. 

And an aside: Rubinoff was so famous as a “long-haired” violinist, but metaphorically and literally, that when I worked a part-time job as an undergraduate, my boss — who wanted all his employees clean-shaven and short-haired, would upbraid me when he thought I should get a haircut, “Who do you think you are, Rubinoff?”  I must have asked him — or my father — to explain the reference, but this was forty years after the photograph shown above.

 Here’s another famous radio orchestra with an immediately recognizable star:

Ed Wynn, of course, for Texaco, sometime between 1931 and 1935.  I love the gas pumps on stage and the fact that the people in the front row, men and women, are for the most part wearing Fire Chief helmets.  Take me back to that time and place!  Don Voorhees led the orchestra, and Graham MacNamee was the announcer who bantered with Ed. 

Here’s a site where you can hear and download fifteen episodes of this program for free: http://www.archive.org/details/TheFireChieftheEdWynnShow.  And — even more exciting — here’s a radio program with musical interludes including I GOT RHYTHM and LADY BE GOOD: http://oldradioshows.org/02/19/ed-wynn-signed-on-radio-as-first-vaudeville-talent/

I know my readers will leap to the challenge, even if they aren’t fighting over the coffee or the gasoline.  And heartfelt thanks to Leo McConville Jr. for providing these evocative glimpses into our past.  And thanks to Leo McConville Sr. — of course!

P.S.  My friend Enrico Borsetti, who is both gracious and generous, wrote me to say that he identified Joe Tarto on tuba in the Rubinoff shot and in the Texaco one he sees Scrappy Lambert, Tarto, Tony Parenti,  and Miff Mole, among others.  Grazie, Enrico!

FRIENDS OF LEO: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Four)

Because trumpeter Leo McConville was a valued member of top radio orchestras, he had friends who came from that world as well as jazz musicians.  Here are four examples — and for those who might suffer momentary hot-music withdrawal pangs, two band pictures and one familiar face at the end of this post. 

Here are three child stars who appeared on the same program — hosted by Milton Cross, and called COAST-TO-COAST ON A BUS, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, and THE WHITE RABBIT LINE (which “jumps anywhere, anytime!”).  Singer Audrey Egan is the least known of the three, and I don’t know whether she continued in show business as an adult:

Jackie Kelk (1923-2002) appeared with Audrey on the same radio program, but he is much more famous because he played “Jimmy Olsen” for seven years on the radio version of SUPERMAN before moving into television:

I had a vague recognition of Kelk, but a clearer awareness of “Walter C. Tetley,” also known without the C.  He is the most famous of the three, playing “Leroy” on the radio series THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE — someone who retained his childlike voice into adulthood (he can be heard on recordings by Stan Freberg):

The attractive Olga “Gypsy” Markoff (born 1917) revealed herself after a few minutes of online searching — as an accordionist who played the classics for FDR and other heads of state:

For the sake of comparison, here is the Getty Images photograph of the same woman:

Finally (as promised) here are two bands.  I know nothing of the first, except that the drummer’s set has initials — his or the leader’s? — and that the set itself is a beauty:

And Leo himself is visible in the second photograph, although I don’t recognize his colleagues:

And a familiar face and colleague:

Three child stars, one lovely accordionist, two bands, one hot cornetist — the Archives continue to surprise!

FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Three)

On your mark!  Get set!  Research!

Here’s Leo McConville with the Georgians:

and as a member (back right?) of a large orchestra with singers, everyone beautifully dressed, even for radio.  Nothing’s evaporated here:

Identifications, O Scholars?  More to come . . . .

FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Two)

Extremely exciting finds from JAZZ LIVES’s favorite archival benefactor, Leo McConville, Jr.!

Is that an octochorda I see?

A very casual shot: the fellows talking.

This one fooled me: I was playing WHERE’S LEO? until his son rescued me.  Although the photograph is inscribed to Frannie (the first Mrs. McConville) and Leo Sr., he’s not in it.  Anyone recognize the band?

Research!  And more to come . . .

“ONE OF THE BEST”: LEO McCONVILLE

A postscript to my tribute to Leo McConville, provided by Rob Rothberg — its source is the Evans and Evans book on Bix:

To Leo:

One of the best personally and musically — thanks for saving my life on the Camel Hour numerous times — The Best

Bix Beiderbecke

What more would anyone ever want?

HOT, MELODIC, ELUSIVE

All right, class.  Are you ready for this week’s Jazz Quiz?  (Put that phone away, please: you won’t find the answer there.)

Name a jazz trumpeter who worked and recorded with Eddie Lang, Jean Goldkette, Paul Specht, Don Voorhees, Emmett Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Gene Krupa, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Vic Berton, the Georgians, Adrian Rollini, Mannie Klein, Stan King, Ben Selvin, Eugene Ormandy, Jack Teagarden, Eva Taylor, Fred Rich, Sam Lanin, Dick McDonough, Bunny Berigan, Carl Kress, Babe Russin, Hoagy Carmichael, Glenn Miller, Elizabeth Welch, Benny Goodman . . . .

OK.  Hand your papers in.  Who knows the answer?  Henry?

“Is it Jack Purvis, Professor?”

“A very good answer, but no — this trumpet player never went to jail.”

“Yes, Jennifer?”

“Leo McConville, Professor?”

“Good job, Jennifer!”

Here’s a sample of Leo at work and play:

And a more elusive one, where the listener is waiting for Leo to emerge into the open — which he does in the last seconds of the record:

And another (with lovely still photographs of Clara Bow to muse on):

McConville comes across as a very “clean” player, capable of a strong clear lead, accurate and correct, but also comfortable with a Bixian kind of melodic embellishment that could be very heated and relaxed at the same time.  He was born in 1900 in Baltimore and began playing professionally in 1914, working and recording with the Louisiana Five.  At some point, he was one of the very busy New York studio musicians and he seems to have raced from one record session to the next with stops in between for radio work.  (It’s difficult for modern listeners to imagine that radio was so important as a medium for live music, when each network had a large orchestra on staff, but it’s true.)

McConville had the good or bad fortune, depending on how you look at it, to work often in the groups of Red Nichols.  Good — in that this was steady, well-paying work; bad in that he was not going to get to play hot choruses and make a name for himself.  There are no LEO AND HIS GANG sessions for OKeh.  He did not record after 1930, and four years later he retired from the New York music scene, preferring the more tranquil life of raising chickens in Maryland to standing around at the bar with the Dorsey Brothers in Plunkett’s.  But he continued to play gigs with local bands — so his retirement seems to have been his choice rather than a matter of a failing lip.  And he lived until 1968.

I hope to be able to tell you more about the elusive Mr. McConville in days to come.  For the moment, I offer these pages from the September 1931 RHYTHM magazine — courtesy of my generous friend, the brass scholar Rob Rothberg — which show that Leo was taken very seriously in his lifetime.  And there are many more recordings with Leo to be heard on YouTube.

It interests me that Leo was being featured in this magazine even when he was no longer recording . . . or is it that his post-1930 recordings have not been documented?  Anyway, I would like a subscription to RHYTHM and would be more than happy to pay six pence a month for the privilege — look at that snappy Deco cover!

and . . .

and . . .

Leo comes across as poised, polite, with his own views — his own man, admirably so.  We should know more about him . . .

TEARING IT UP! (Vic Berton and Friends, 1928)

Walt Roesner and his Capitolians — the large all-star all-purpose orchestra that appeared at the Capitol Theatre in New York City — made a Vitaphone short film in 1928.  Two-thirds of the film is given over to 1) an impassioned tenor singing O SOLE MIO, and 2) an impassioned tenor singing ANGELA MIA.  Although these specialties are beautifully performed, they lack a certain savor or liveliness. 

But the last number by the orchestra is Hot, truly so.  And members of the band get to show off their considerable (sometimes quirky) solo talents in brief outings — with some of the most famous names in jazz doing their bit: how about Jimmy Dorsey, Arthur Schutt, Rube Bloom, Miff Mole, Leo McConville, Bruce Yantis, Vic Berton, Nat Brusiloff, Jimmy Lytell . . . ?!

I would not have posted this for the famous names alone — but I saw the entire short film recently for the first time and found myself watching the last number several times in a row, delighting in the music and the smiles on the faces of the musicians while their fellow players went at it.  And I found myself insisting that the Beloved watch Rube Bloom and vic Berton in tandem — and that pleased her, too.  I found this segment posted on Dailymotion with very accurate identifications, thanks to  somename who goes by the alias “lordlister.” 

So here it is, with commentary:

 

The eye is at first struck by the sheer number of beautifully-dressed men on the bandstand: twenty-five, perhaps, all with white flowers in their buttonholes.  Two pianos, a plethora of violins, bowed string bass, bowed cello.  Drummer Vic Berton standing in the rear amongst a good deal of percussion, including tympani.  Roesner opens this number with the cheerful explanation that his musicians have had an appropriately “heated argument” about which one of them is the hottest man in the band.  Not a bad idea.  The bouncy tune that opens the proceedings is I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED by Fats Waller and Jo Trent (a song, which, like many famous hummable Waller tunes, repeats one catchy phrase often as a melody line) — recorded most memorably in this period by two fellows named Beiderbecke and Trumbauer, as “The Chicago Loopers.”  Berton is particularly marvelous to watch, keeping time on the tympani with one hand while accenting a choked cymbal, sometimes visiting the head of his huge wooden bass drum — his legs spread to allow him to reach both places, raher like a wooden soldier in those white trousers.  I would have been very happy for the band to explore this tune at this tempo for the rest of the film, but the premise moves into a solo features, which allow us to see these musicians on camera in their prime rather than as faces in the ensemble.  (Many of them look particularly dark around the eyes: whether this was cinematic makeup or lighting of the time or a lack of sleep, I am sure one of my readers knows.)  And the cameraman seems reasonably content with having one-half of an additional musician in the frame, and neatly lopping off the head or hairline of a soloist — but he seems to know what’s going on and to go in for a close-up before everything has concluded. 

Up first after a piano modulation, Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone offers one of his particularly virtuosic solo choruses (in a manner beloved of Frank Trumbauer and Rudy Wiedoeft) showing off his incredible technique instead of hot improvisation.  This kind of playing — here superimposed over TIGER RAG — was a JD specialty (hear OODLES OF NOODLES, for one example).  Violinist Nat Brusiloff, next to Dorsey, is enjoying the chorus immensely.  And JD must have been famous by this time; he is announced by name.

Then, showing that you don’t have to go fast to play Hot, we have a memorable twenty or so seconds of one of jazz’s most forgotten men, trombonist Miff Mole, offering a chorus of HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? complete with breaks (Berton has switched to wire brushes, as we see).  From this distance, Miff no longer seems as radical, as dashing as, say, Jack Teagarden or Dicky Wells, but his solo is masterful: the variations in tone and the way he gets gracefully but precisely from note to note, vocalizing the melody beautifully — and adding that lovely coda.  It sounds very simple but it’s an example of how much he must have amazed all the musicians, Hot and legit, for a long time.   I call your attention to Miff’s easy command of the horn and especially his glistening upper register, not the usual realm for most Twenties trombonists.

Violinist Nat Brusiloff (famous in radio as a conductor and for his early work with Kate Smith — his grandson is trombonist David Sager) offers more variations on the same theme . . . on what sounds like an intensely scratchy violin, with no apparent bow.  I’m told he is playing a “single-hair” solo, which I assume is one hair taken from his bow, but the physics of the whole thing are beyond me, in a good way.  Tell me where the other end of the single-hair is, please?  And at the very end of the solo, Brusiloff permits himself the slightest glimmer of an impish grin, “Geez, I pulled that one off, didn’t I, now?”  More violin acrobatics will follow. 

Banjoist Lou (Luigi) Calabrese, who might have been noticeable from the start for the way he has stretched his legs out in front of him, then plays an incredibly fast and stunning chorus of IDA, romping in what seems like double double time over ensemble chords, his fingers flashing over the frets more quickly than anyone would expect them to — and not a note smudged or smeared.  Something pretty follows (it would have to):  clarinetist Jimmy Lytell, looking shlyly sideways, gently swaying his body, pensively ambling through the melody of his own A BLUES SERENADE (composed with pianist Frank Signorelli), the reed player to his right curiously impassive through it all.  (Lytell gets lovely backing from the bowed bass seen to his right and from Berton’s tympani.)

What happens next is a highlight.  Pianist-singer-composer (DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME) Rube Bloom gets up from the piano for his limber almost-comic turn on DINAH.  He isn’t a splendid singer, but he’s got a rocking rhythmic engine reminiscent of Harry Barris, and he’s clearly having a fine time.  The long shot allows us to notice Berton, shifting around his set with tympani mallets, but then, halfway through, our attention shifts to Berton, who is “tearing it up” in a way that goes beyond the hip cliche — he’s actually tearing strips off of something (a square piece of fabric?) with each tear a rhythmic accent like a tap dancer or a sand dancer.  And the cameraman is sufficiently entranced eventually to move in for a close-up of this hilarious and marvelous rhythmic feat, remembering at the end that Bloom is supposed to be the headliner, even though he has had the spotlight stolen away from him.  (Incidentally, the much more sedate second pianist to the right is Arthur Schutt.) 

But violinist Bruce Yantis (someone I know only from a few late-Twenties sides with Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, and Gene Krupa) is ready to follow Berton and Bloom with his violin solo a la  Joe Venuti, his bow disassembled and strapped around his violin so that the hairs play all four strings at once — it looks like fun but it isn’t easy to do well.  Luigi Calabrese has clearly heard Eddie Lang, as he should have. 

Before the ensemble gets itself together (we never find out who the hottest man in the band is or was, although my vote is split between Miff and Vic Berton) trumpeter Leo McConville, usually hidden next to Red Nichols, gets off with a very brief Hot solo (a half-valve flourish at the end?)  on the closing I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.

This short seems an ideal window into the best of the Hot late Twenties: that decade’s version of the 1938 Randall’s Island footage, but with sound and close-ups.  A ripping yarn!