Tag Archives: Leroy “Sam” Parkins

“BIRDS DO IT”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS TAKE FLIGHT (Part Two): June 17, 2018

The stereotype of improvising musicians is that they come out at night; like bats, they avoid bright sunlight.  But this crew (Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin) seems so happy to be out in Nature, with no one calling to the bartender for another Stella.  The greenery and friendship is positively inspiring, and they offer us uplifting music.  You can savor the first part of this restorative afternoon here.  And here’s a second helping of brilliant joyous invention.  Thrilling to be there.

MILENBERG JOYS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, vocal harmonies by Sean and Tamar:

LET’S DO IT (yes, let’s!):

I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (with a Spanish tinge):

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER:

ONE LITTLE KISS, verse and chorus by host Brice Moss (a song I associate with Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys):

Enjoying these videos again, I am reminded of 2009, when I brought Leroy “Sam” Parkins down to Banjo Jim’s to hear Tamar and the Cangelosi Cards, and he said, “You know, she gets me right in the gizzard.  She, Caruso, and Louis,” and that was no stage joke.  I think he would say the same thing of not only Tamar, but this band.  And somewhere, Sam is happily sitting in with them.

There’s more to come, two more posts’ worth.  Yes.

May your happiness increase!

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM”: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART TWO: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

I never know what might surface in this aging-boy’s den of things that I call my apartment, but often it is pleasing and surprising. Some weeks back, I posted the first segment of an evening of jazz, hot and sweet, performed at The Cajun, long gone, by the Red Onion Jazz Band in its summer incarnation, which means that many of the “regular” members were absent, although the “subs” were superb. You can see it and read about it all here.  (And you can admire the still photograph of the ROJB just below.)

Overseen by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, The Cajun was a novel in itself: ask anyone who went there or made music there.  But that’s another, unwritten blog.

I reprint Dick Dreiwitz’s essay on that night, because it is so good and so apt:

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

The band, for that night, was John Bucher, cornet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Hank Ross, piano; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Alan Cary, banjo; Ronnie Washam (“The Chelsea Nightingale”), vocal. In this segment, they performed BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / ON THE ALAMO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / JUNE NIGHT (vocal Ronnie Washam) / ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ronnie) incomplete //.

Here, the songs are CHINATOWN (vocal Sam Parkins) / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Ronnie Washam) / FOUR OR FIVE TIMES (with ensemble commentary).  And in the name of accuracy, that’s someone else ordering “another glass of champagne.”  Drinking champagne and videoing do not mix.

I’ve edited these segments a bit, so here’s one anecdote that got cut.  At the end of this set, while the band is packing up, one of the patrons mechanically asks the band for “one more,” to which one of the musicians quietly says, “Three and a half hours is enough.” I agree with the tired, underpaid artists, but I wish I had another twenty hours of this band on video.  I treasure what did get captured.

May your happiness increase!

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART ONE: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

Dali, THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

How long ago is eleven years?  From one perspective, it’s a huge distance: we can’t go back to the seconds that just elapsed no matter how we try.  But through technology, we travel backwards and make ourselves comfortable there: consider photographs and recordings. In the New York City of the recent past, wonderful things happened as a matter of course, and perhaps we took them for granted. The Cajun, a New Orleans restaurant and jazz club on Eighth Avenue between 17th and 18th Street in Manhattan, offered music seven nights a week and on Sunday afternoons. Supervised by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, it was more down-home than posh, but the regulars (and tourists who wandered in) got more than their chicken or pasta.


What they got was wonderful congenial jazz.  Here is almost seventy-five minutes of it, still delicious.  The musicians are Ronnie Washam, vocal; Alan Cary, banjo; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Hank Ross, piano; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone and MC; John Bucher, cornet.

I asked Dick Dreiwitz if he would write a few words about what you are going to see — an informal record of that rainy, warm Saturday night.

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

And these videos, which I shot with my less-sophisticated camera that night, and have resurrected from the stack of mini-DVDs in a bookcase.  The sound is clear and the sight lines, although restricted, are fine.  I apologize to the sweet singer Ronnie Washam, “The Chelsea Nightingale,” for rendering her invisible, but my memory is that she blanched at the idea of having a video camera aimed at her.

What you’ll notice immediately about this band of “substitutes” is its easy medium-tempo embrace of the music’s inherent lyricism, a swinging sweetness that is not always the case in bands wedded to this repertoire, who often aim for higher volume and quicker tempos. This version of the ROJB feels like people very fond of one another, taking a walk in late summer, aware that they can reach their happy destination without rushing.

Here’s the first segment, with AVALON (vocal RW) / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SEE SEE RIDER [C.C. RIDER]:

and more — THE LOVE NEST (vocal RW) / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ‘DEED I DO (RW) / JAZZ ME BLUES / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (RW):

and a third helping — THE JAPANESE SANDMAN / Introducing the band / MY BUDDY (vocal RW) / BYE BYE BLUES (RW) / HAPPY BIRTHDAY (RW) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (RW):

I’ll say it again: this is a lyrical, gliding band, full of individualists devoted to the communal glories of this music.  I miss The Cajun and am honored to present these vivid musical recollections both to people who were there and those not able to make that scene.  And there are more sounds from this band to come.

May your happiness increase!

SIMPLY WARM AND SWINGING: DAWN GIBLIN, JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, LAURA WYMAN (May 7, 2017)

The late Leroy “Sam” Parkins used to say of very special music that it got him “right in the gizzard.”  Since I am not a chicken, I have serious doubts that I have a gizzard or where it might be located, but I know when music “gets” me, because I want to hear and see it over and over.

Here are three wonderful performances by the singer Dawn Giblin, pianist James Dapogny, and cellist Mike Karoub — recorded splendidly by JAZZ LIVES’ Michigan bureau chief Laura Wyman of Wyman Video on May 7, 2017.  I don’t have the requisite adjectives — all exuberant — to describe the sounds of the Dawn Giblin Trio at Cliff Bell’s . . . but this is a gorgeously intuitive and swinging chamber trio that gets to the heart of the music from the first note.  Professor Dapogny and Maestro Karoub are masters of swing and feeling: warmth and swing invented on the spot, and Dawn both reassures and surprises with each phrase.

Experience these wonders for yourself.  Your gizzard will thank you.

First, the Harry Ruby – Rube Bloom GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE, a song that many people have taken to heart, and rightly so.  But if one listens closely, the bare bones of the melody are one simple rhythmic phrase, moved around for 24 of the song’s 32 bars. . . . so it needs a very subtle singer to vary the emphasis on that phrase so the song doesn’t seem mechanical.  I encourage you, on your second or third listening, to pay close admiring attention to how Dawn shades and varies her phrasing so that her delivery is both conversationally familiar and full of small delightful shocks.  Hear the climbing way she approaches the final bridge!  (More about the song’s provenance below.)

And here’s the cheerful song — but not too fast:

The shifting densities of Dawn’s voice — emphasis without overkill, hints of gospel, blues, and folk — are delicious.

Here’s a song that makes everyone who sings or plays it comfortable: I think of Ella Fitzgerald in her girlhood, Marty Grosz, Fats Waller, Helen Ward, Rebecca Kilgore, Taft Jordan with Willie Bryant and many others. . . . Sam Stept and Sidney Mitchell’s ALL MY LIFE:

A beautiful tempo and small homages to Teddy Wilson from Professor Dapogny and that most beautiful sound, Maestro Karoub’s singing cello.

Finally, the Romberg – Hammerstein classic LOVER, COME BACK TO ME — a performance that would make indoor plants shoot up in rhythmic joy.

and now the question of provenance, although it’s not something to cause nation-wide insomnia.  Consider these two pieces of evidence:

 

and

While you’re musing over this, consider how we can have many CDs by the Dawn Giblin Trio in exactly this formulation.  It’s a dream of mine.  And gratitude a-plenty not only to the musicians, but to Laura Wyman for her very fine video work.

May your happiness increase!

BOILERMAKERS, FRENCH FRIES, AND SORROW

Let us remember, mourn, and celebrate Richard McQueen Wellstood in three ways, for he was too expansively singular to be contained in one alone.

The first is a blessing — the man himself — on a 1981 BBC video, the program called Pebble Mill At One,” where Wellstood plays AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and RUSSIAN RAG, then we have the immense happiness of Dick, Kenny Davern, and Kenny Clare for A PORTER’S LOVE SONG and BLUE MONK:

The second is prose — what my briefly-known friend, the late Leroy “Sam” Parkins, reedman and thinker, called “random mutterings” wrote about Dick in 2002:

Dick Wellstood, pianist / catalyst, died in 1987.  Died of boilermakers, french fries, and sorrow.

In somewhat over 50 years of playing this music, there’s only been two accompanists that gave me the vitamins I need.  Roger Kellaway . . . and Dick. On 6 of the 9 records I’ve made – well – let’s take it from wherever the top is.  Oh yeah – the boilermakers. Tapered tall glass of Guinness Dark, and a 3 oz. glass of Wild Turkey.  Repeat ad libitum . . .

Some random mutterings about Dick.  The basics.  Law School; Editor, Columbia Law Review [that’s what he told me.  His biographer says NYU]. Folks, that’s big time.  Passed the bar exam, went right back to the Metropole to play with Red Allen.

Brilliant.  Funny.  Fast forward. Late in his life, with considerable saloon burn-out, he took up an offer from some customers from a Wall St. law firm to join them at work.  The first thing he learned was that lunch was billable time.  You don’t do lunch.   They put him to beginners’ shit work, but he was so brilliant that after about six weeks got the class stuff.  Hated it.  After eleven months he returned to Hanratty’s and his beloved piano.  Dick Sudhalter went to visit him real soon at the club.  Wellstood said, sitting down at the piano, “The law don’t take no fucking brains.  This [plays piano] takes brains.”

One weekend night that summer of ’86 I stayed to the end and closed the joint. Remember it’s six nights a week.  He got paid. $500.00.  For the week.  Got it? This is a superstar in Europe, the tippy top of his craft, raved about in newspapers in 5 languages. Making 1/10th – wrong – make it 1/20th – of what he would have been making by then in law . . . .

Third, Wellstood in an excerpt from a 1977 CBC documentary, THEY ALL PLAY RAGTIME, offering CAROLINA SHOUT and his own SNATCHES.  At several points in the second performance, his left hand is a blur:

I think we only intermittently understand ourselves, so our comprehension of what is going through another person’s mind and heart can be at best empathic guesswork.

So although I prize Sam Parkins’ recollections of Dick Wellstood, friend and hero, I hope Sam was wrong.

I hope that Wellstood, someone who created so much joy — a joy that continues now — was not sorrowful, that there was not a direct causal relationship between the low pay and insufficient recognition and his too-brief life.  But only he could tell us, and he might not even have known it fully for himself.  His ebullient quirky music and his singular personality remain, and they are too large and too beautiful to be quantified in any small way.  He gave generously of himself, and that lives on.

But there’s always more than just one truth.  Dan Morgenstern, who’s lived with the music in ways most of us — no, all of us — haven’t, wrote this to me [on April 6] about Dick.  It is worth a careful reading.

Since Dick was a dear friend–first met him in 1947!–I was a little unhappy about that screed from Sam (whom I didn’t know quite that long, but also well, back to when he was Leroy P.). Funny thing, they were both brilliant minds and fine writers with interests ranging far beyond music (about which they also went beyond jazz boundaries). But Sam, clearly still upset about Dick’s sudden death, as we all were, paints too gloomy a picture. Dick’s encounters with the law began when, having fathered a bunch of daughters and pretty certain that jazz would not provide a good road to support, he decided to get into the legal field, upon which he managed to get a BA and pass the bar within record time (it was NYU).

He then hung out his shingle (at the time he and his wife Flo lived on the East Side, off Lexington). The work he was offered was in the main divorces and minor matters not even nearly as interesting as what you can see on Judge Judy, He soon despaired and next time I visited, the shingle hung in the bathroom. It would be quite a while before he used his legal skills, this time after they’d moved to City Island, where Teddy Charles had resided for along time, running his boat. Teddy knew half the population and got the bright idea of creating some extra income for Dick by turning paper work (tax matters and such) his way, something that only requires minimal personal contact.

That ended when Dick and Flo split up–after a while of bachelor life in a cozy basement apartment on Second Avenue, where he introduced me to the classical piano magic of Josef Hoffman and other rarities, and his excellent Lentil Salad (think I still have the recipe somewhere), as well as the wonderful gospel of the Davis Sisters. (He was not a record collector, but everything he had was a gem).

Next phase was life in New Jersey, with that steady gig on the jazz Ferry Boat in Brielle, a new marriage, and the deep friendship with neighbor and fellow ferry man Kenny Davern. The final legal stage, the one Sam writes about, did not come from some Wall Streeter, but from a lawyer fan; by now, Dick and new wife Diane lived right near Hanratty’s, where Dick not only had gigs. but selected the piano and did most of the booking–not surprisingly, of a high order. This legal work did require the wearing of three-piece suits (soon too tight) and yes, social imbibing, which came too easily. And Sam is right that Dick really disliked it. But this marriage was a good one, and of course he didn’t put the music on the back burner.

Last time I visited, not long before that awful news, Dick had some of his usual salty things to say about life, but also seemed at peace with things, and cooked up a great stew. What did him in wasn’t depression or anger. A good doctor could have weaned him off too much booze and too much unhealthy eating, gotten his blood pressure under control, and this unique and wonderful man might still be with us…..Edward Meyer’s “Giant Strides” bio is a
good read.

May your happiness increase!

ON THE CREST OF A THRILL: GABRIELLE STRAVELLI and MICHAEL KANAN CREATE BEAUTY (February 8, 2015)

What follows is so much more than a formulaic visit to the Great American Songbook by a singer and a pianist.  What Gabrielle Stravelli and Michael Kanan offer us here is nothing short of miraculous.

I think of the eloquent reedman, now gone, Leroy “Sam” Parkins, who — when confronted by music that was deeply heartfelt and expert without artifice — would hit himself in mid-chest and say, “Gets you right in the gizzard, doesn’t it?” And he spoke with great conviction about musicians who knew the sacred wisdom of “taking their time,” of letting beauty unfold at its own pace.

Sam never got to hear Gabrielle and Michael, but I sense his approving spirit.

The music here is so emotionally deep without play-acting (“Look how much drama we can wring out of this old song!”) and it is both intense and leisurely, because they know that the slow growth of real feeling cannot be hurried.

They offer a rich quiet mixture of delicacy and intensity; they create a wondrous synergy, inspiring one another.

The song is STAIRWAY TO THE STARS, music by Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli (both jazz improvisers who you’ll find on many recordings from the Twenties to the Sixties), lyrics by Mitchell Parish.  It’s a sweet ballad, but Gabrielle and Michael keep the tempo moving, even though it feels like a thoughtful rubato throughout.

Please note the absolutely reverent attention given to the nuances of melody that Michael brings to his somberly hopeful exposition of the theme — a completely satisfying musical offering in itself.  Then Gabrielle’s quietly hopeful song — with Michael playing the most sensitive intuitive accompaniment (and I see “accompaniment” here as a lovely friendship, with the two of them sweetly climbing those stairs as the lyrics suggest).

Gabrielle’s voice in itself is a rare thing, but what she does with and within it is simply incomparable:

This performance took place on Sunday, February 8, 2015 — at The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn (easily reached by a half-dozen subway lines).  When I have brought myself and my camera to a place where such music is created in front of my eyes, I do not simply feel rewarded; I feel uplifted.  And grateful beyond my power to express here.

I also think this performance should remind people who dearly love music that it is being created right now, all around us.  It exists in human form: people with voices and instruments, inventing beauty on the spot. The music is large, vividly alive, and energized — in ways that earbuds cannot contain.  Even this video is a shadow on the cave wall — encapsulating the experience but not a complete equivalent for it.

My words are more than “Go and hear some live music,” although that is also my intent.  To be in a place where actual people are creating something like this in public is an experience more inspiring than clicking the icon to download the track . . . but many people seem to have forgotten this.  Honor the music by joining the creators, while it and they still thrive.

May your happiness increase!

IMAGINE THIS!

The generous jazz collector Sonny McGown keeps surprising me: first with that lovely candid shot of Barbara Lea and Johnny Mince, now with this — a disc that isn’t playable at the moment but may be restored in the near future.

It made me catch my breath at the computer, because not only is it a live 1951 recording of Miss Leacock with the great pianist Larry Eanet, it also features the irreplaceable and (to my mind) under-recorded trumpeter Frank Newton.  In 1951.

I knew he had spent much of his last half-decade in Boston, and had read about concerts he had played in, gigs he had done — both from Manfred Selchow’s encyclopedic studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson as well as the recollections of Leroy “Sam” Parkins — but I never expected to see this:

If that isn’t something to dream about in 2012, I don’t know.  Thanks, Sonny!

A MEMORIAL FOR SAM PARKINS

An update from James Lincoln Collier:  
The memorial for Sam this week is meant for musicians only, especially those who played with Sam.  The venue is far too small to accomodate a lot of people. There will be a large memorial for Sam in February to which others will be invited.

A jazz memorial to honor and remember the reedman and raconteur Leroy “Sam” Parkins will be held on Tuesday, January 5, 2010 — starting 5:00 PM at the Greenwich Village Bistro (13 Carmine Street in Lower Manhattan) where he and singer Ronnie Washam had a regular gig.  Among the musicians who will be there to play the jazz Sam loved will be trumpeter Peter Ecklund, trombonist James Lincoln Collier, painist / singer Peter Sokolow, and bassist David Winograd.  The Bistro is a small place, so you might want to be there early to get a seat.  Sam, unabashedly pleased when he was the center of a whirl, would be delighted to see the place full of people listening, talking, and enjoying themselves.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE

Two biographies of jazz musicians have recently gotten much well-deserved media attention: Robin G. Kelley’s study of Thelonious Monk, Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong book. 

The Mercury Press has just published jazz scholar Mark Miller’s biography of pianist-composer Herbie Nichols.  It’s a small paperback, 224 pages, without accompanying fanfare. 

But HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE is, in its own quiet way, equal and perhaps superior to the larger competition.  It could fascinate a reader who had never heard Nichols on record or in person: Miller is that fine a writer and researcher. 

At this point, “full disclosure” is essential: I have admired Miller’s books before; my praise of his Valaida Snow biography is on the back cover here; I also tried to help him speak to New York musicians who might have played alongside Nichols, among them Leroy “Sam” Parkins and Joe Muranyi.  But if I had received a copy of this book with its author’s name erased, I would have been mightily impressed. 

But more about that later.  Who was Herbie Nichols?  “Dead at 44 of leukemia” is one answer.  “Brilliantly original but underacknowledged in his lifetime.”  “Peer of Monk, not a disciple.”  “Inimitable pianist and composer.”  “He could work with Danny Barker and Roswell Rudd and please them both.” 

Nichols rarely made his living playing the music he had created.  The paying gigs were with rhythm and blues bands or playing for cabarets, chorus lines, and shows, and most often “Dixieland.”  In fact, I first heard him on records with Rex Stewart and Joe Thomas.  (Nichols’ last record was the Atlantic MAINSTREAM session.) 

But Nichols knew a wide variety of music, and didn’t bring his own ideology to the gig, even though the jazz critics were busily pitting “Dixieland” against “modern.”  He was a fine stride pianist, choosing Jelly Roll Morton’s THE PEARLS as his feature when he played with a traditional band. 

But he retained his identity, and the players who worked with Nichols understood that he was going his own way in the traditional ensembles of the time, not always easily.  Dixieland gigs proliferated, even though writers might now see the Fifties as the era of cool jazz or hard bop.  He worked in bands led by drummer Al Bandini (a friend of Pee Wee Russell) at the Greenwich Village club The Riviera, which may still be active, although without music, on Seventh Avenue South.  Buell Neidlinger recalled what I hope wasn’t a typical scene: “I can’t tell you the number of times I trudged over there with my bass just to get a chance to play with Herbie, even with Al there — just to make Herbie feel better.  Al was nasty to Herbie.  Herbie’d be playing one of his tunes and Al would say, ‘Let’s stop that shit now!  Right in the middle of the tune!  Let’s stop that shit now.  Let’s play When the Saints Go Marching In.‘ He’d say that real loud and the audience would scream, ‘Yeah!  Go, man, go, go, go!” 

Nichols’ brief life, the scant recognition he got, and such scenes might encourage a writer to depict him as a victim.  One imagines the Down Beat headline: JAZZ MODERNIST FORCED TO PLAY “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.”  Intrigued by Nichols the man, Miller avoids the conventional portrait of the suffering jazzman, and shows us that Nichols — refiined, intellectual, chess-player, poet, and painter — was not self-destructive, an alcoholic, an addict.  African-American, he was not victimized by racism — no more than any man of his race in those decades.   

Rather, Miller is sympathetic without being idolatrous, candidly describing the missed chances, the system of jazz-stardom that put Thelonious Monk on the cover of TIME but had Nichols playing the piano for female impersonators.  Nichols is a particularly challenging subject for a biography because the evidence that exists nearly forty-five years after his death is slim. 

However, readers who are intrigued by famous names and the people a working musician might encounter will be delighted by the players Nichols worked with or knew: Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, Dick Rath, Ed Polcer, Conrad Janis, Wilbur deParis, Illinois Jacquet, John Kirby, Charles Mingus, Roswell Rudd, Sheila Jordan, Dave Frishberg, Cecil Taylor, Max Roach, Art Blakey.  We find him on a Turkish cruise ship playing traditional jazz with Steve Swallow.  A Nichols melody caught Billie Holiday’s ear and was retitled, with lyrics, LADY SINGS THE BLUES.  He helps a ten-year old Phil Schaap negotiate the New York subway system. 

Miller knits together all these incidents, bits of hearsay and anecdotage without making his book seem like a banquet of crumbs.  The biography moves chronologically, but Miller isn’t tied to the calendar (some jazz books read as if the author wanted to follow the subject gig by gig, month by month); Miller is both expert and free, so the book moves sideways when the material needs it, without losing the thread.  The biography is compact (Miller considers that not every artist needs a five-hundred page monograph) but it is both dense and quickly-paced. 

And in the essential small things, Miller is splendid: he has a fine emotional intelligence that allows him to be fond of Nichols (as everyone except Bandini was, apparently) without idealizing him.  Although the evidence is often sketchy, Miller doesn’t hypothesize excessively; he avoids psychoanalyzing his subject; he doesn’t get irritated by Nichols, nor does he pad the biography by quoting large excerpts from Nichols’ prose.  His musical analysis is pointed but not over-technical; Miller captures the flavor and sensibility of Nichols playing, composing, and imagination.

Another writer might have made himself the subject of the book: “Look how much detective work I had to do to find out this shred of information about that neglected pianist — I forget his name.”  Someone might have shaped the facts of his subject’s life to fit a particular ideology.  Because Miller illuminates Nichols and gently stays out of the way, his subject’s personality shines through, even when the evidence is most thin.  I began the book with great eagerness because I admire Miller’s writing, his perspective, and his research — but very soon I was forcing myself to read it more slowly, because I did not want it to end.  That may be the best tribute a reader can pay — to Nichols and to his chronicler.       

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 

“KEEP HOT!”

In THE SPIRIT OF LOUIS, 2009, not long ago, I posted three video performances where the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys were joined by one of the remaining Elders, clarinetist Joe Muranyi.  (https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/the-spirit-of-louis-2009/)

If those videos eluded you, or the SRB are new to you, here they are, in Toronto, playing BLUE (and BROKEN-HEARTED).  The “Boys” in this incarnation are Hans Jorgen Hansen, bass saxophone and other reeds; Robert Hansson, trumpet; Paul Waters, bass; Michael Bøving, banjo and vocal.  And the nicely-done video is by Flemming Thorbye, who has preserved so much fine jazz on YouTube.   

I find this very affecting.  It takes experience to play with such emotion yet to be so restrained.  As the late Leroy “Sam” Parkins often said, a group like this is in no hurry; they are taking their time.  And they get there!

A package arrived the other day, STARDUST, a CD with two sessions by the SRB — one with Joe Muranyi.  I had been impressed with the YouTube clips I had seen, but they were nothing compared to the sound of the SRB in the recording studio.  For one thing, the studio itself is spacious — I would guess that the musicians get to see each other and hear other without baffles and headphones.  Thus the result is like being very close up to a live performance in a space with ideal acoustics and ambiance. 

And the SRB plays its collective heart out, without strain.  Waters’ bass is propulsive without being pushing; his slap-technique is never monotonous or wooden.  Hansen has a fine, eloquent facility on all his horns, and he is a masterful ensemble player.  Boving is a steady, serene banjoist without the excesses of enthusiasm often connected to that instrument, and he is a compelling singer — idiosyncratic but with a huge, exuberant voice and attack, a heroic vibrato that made it seem as if every song was his own personal, passionate utterance.  And Hansson is simply a magnificent trumpeter — with a casual daring that honors Louis and Bix, without copying their phrases.  His easy mountain-scaling reminded me of Hackett, Cheatham, and Bob Barnard — and it’s supported by a sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic awareness.  Muranyi, the guest star, brings his own amused fervor to the proceedings, whether playing or singing his own gleeful I DIG SATCH.  And the SRB, with or without Joe, is clearly having fun without being self-consciously silly.  They are a wonderfully rewarding band, and this CD is just delightful, with repertoire that goes from Handy to Lyttelton to Jobim and back to Bix-associated tunes without anything sounding forced.  (A prize goes to listeners who recognize the Armstrong ending that brilliantly concludes SMILES!)

The CD is available through the SRB website (www.srbjazz.com.) and email inquiries can be sent to srbjazz@srbjazz.com

And my title?  It’s how Michael Boving signed his little note along with the CD.  The music it contains shows that he and his colleagues are keeping the faith.

“A PRINCE OF A GUY”

MARIANNE MANGAN REMEMBERS LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

A PRINCE OF A GUY

Prequel: After spending a wonderful week in Israel (during which time he had, curiously or presciently, found the spot where he wanted his cremated ashes scattered), Sam Parkins fell gravely ill. We lost him on November 18, 2009.

Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye
I Wish That I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
I’m A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
On the Alamo
These were the songs that Sam choose to play (and sing boisterously!) as solos over this last year or so since I met him. And what a Sam list it is: ebullient, eccentric, retro but vividly alive, audience-engaging, and-in the case of “On the Alamo”-very, very tender.

Sam’s musical artistry was all this. He played clarinet and tenor saxophone with a gutsy intensity that could blow right through you, but sometimes the yearning tore you in half instead. He worked professionally in idioms ranging from classical (his training) to post-swing to traditional (his heartbeat). This last year found him playing with musicians spanning 60 years in age, including regular appearances with the Gotham Jazzmen and Ronnie Washam & Friends and guesting with the Cangelosi Cards. Music never got old for Sam. There was always a new clarinet on the horizon.

And that wasn’t the half of it, either. The record business knew him as a first-rate producer for over 25 years, issuing albums of artists as diverse as Charles Ives to Cecil Taylor to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band-and in his humanistic way he championed them all. (He also won a European Grammy, 4 Grammy nominations and was praised by Gary Giddins in a recent online interview as a “solid, canny producer.”) He composed chorales of startling complexity with lyrics based on Biblical references. His engrossing, ever-evolving memoir and/or ebook chronicled the musical/political/social/historical/personal cataclysms and vagaries of the last three-quarters of a century in an emotive-intellectual-poetic style, Pauline Kael crossed with Dylan Thomas.

My husband, writer Robert Levin, and I came to know Sam through the NYC traditional jazz scene and he embraced us immediately. At one point, at his request, we’d hoped to work with him on his voluminous “Journey to Bohemia” project. As can happen, however, with 3 professional agendas, he wanted both too much and too little from us, and after a delightful but revealing dinner at his apartment we realized with heavy hearts that we would have to extricate ourselves from involvement. BUT: Not to worry, dear people, said he, let’s just be friends!

So Sam. It seems clear that this smart man was remarkably able to reconcile conflicting styles, eras, genres, desires, people, and get to the good part. He knew what to keep, and he had about a billion friends because of that. Also, because he LOVED them, and so many things. He loved riding his bicycle in Central Park. He loved his cats. He loved sharing nature photography. He loved his country. He missed his wife.

And it was so Sam of the life-affirming Mr. Parkins to die on vacation, seeing beautiful things, visiting dear friends, choosing where he wanted to Rest (but maybe not so soon). Goodbye tootsie goodbye, you ding dong daddy you–and may flights of angels…

R.I.P.  LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Postscript: the photograph of Sam was taken at the 2008 New Year’s Eve party at David Ostwald’s apartment.  David is to Sam’s left, Howard Alden and Joe Muranyi to his right.

SUNSET: LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Leroy “Sam” Parkins, clarinetist, raconteur, and enthusiastic friend of this blog, died in Israel on November 18, 2009: he was 83. 

Sam loved beautiful photographs, so I offer this sunset, taken from a window on the Upper West Side, in his memory.

I am an unabashed jazz matchmaker: I tried to get Whitney Balliett to hear Kevin Dorn, but Whitney died before it could happen.  But I succeeded in getting Sam to jam with the Cangelosi Cards — only once, alas — but I captured a set with my Flip video camera. 

That was February 2, 2009, at Banjo Jim’s — and Sam had a wonderful time amidst Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Dennis Lichtman, Karl Meyer, Marcus Milius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden. 

Thank you, Sam, and farewell —

NOTES FROM SAM: CLARINETITIS

clarinetThat’s Leroy (Sam) Parkins, musician, man of letters, raconteur, observer, and frequent contributor to this blog — for which I am most grateful.

The Benny Goodman Festival on WKCR hit home. Remember that the Camel Caravan in ca. ’36, which I listened to because my brother, little knowing what he was doing, pinched me to keep me awake “This is important” quoth he, did me in. So when I got going as a true dixieland player I tried to kill off both my fathers – Benny, and Leon Russianoff, teacher to the stars – like the clarinet section of the NY Phil and the La. Phil, Bob Wilber, who sent me to him – and Jimmy Hamilton*.

I shamelessly worked on a rotten** sound like Johnny Dodds, worshipped Pee Wee*** and Lester Young’s metal clarinet ( a Selmer – I have one). And eschewed Benny – until a few years ago, when said brother sent me tapes of late Mel Powell/Red Norvo sessions, which knocked me out. “Hey – I don’t have to kill off my fathers any more” {my records from the early 60s, when I was just finishing up with Russianoff show a superb, utterly boring clarinet sound}.

With this damned festival I got a bunch of small band records and the classical stuff I didn’t re-issue myself – Columbia – Bartok, Copland**** etc. Plus what I did re-issue at RCA – Nielsen, von Weber etc. And playing along with trios and quartets – I finally figured out how he did it*****. He didn’t tongue. Barefield taught me that years ago but it didn’t occur to me that it translated to clarinet.

**** Copland wrote the concerto for Benny. I’ve heard other great performances, but Benny’s is unique in being almost casual. He doesn’t play it with great care like a full time classical player. In a way he just knocks it off – which means in this case the true human feelings shine through.

* In later years Leon was unhappy about the way Hamilton worked out. Leon, a Goodman worshiper himself, would have liked it better if Hamilton really blew out stronger. But once in awhile – like at Newport…

** In the ear of the behearer. Dodds was and is great.

*** Pee Wee was actually a well schooled clarinetist. Shows in ensemble work with Wild Bill et al. Clean as a weasel. He did what he did because he meant to. The first modern jazz player.

***** It helps immeasurably to have a totally accurate, hard charging rhythm section at hand. Playing along with, say, Mel Powell and Dave Tough, you CANNOT go off the rails. Hard to find if at all now.

WAY DOWN YONDER ON CARMINE STREET

This morning the wind chill was minus-four.  I don’t dare think about the economy.  So news of a new jazz gig is very exciting.  This scoop comes to us from Marianne Mangan, one of this blog’s two roving correspondents:

gvbistro“Next week the Greenwich Village Bistro (212.206.9777) will host clarinetist Sam Parkins and pianist Pete Sokolow twice in two days.  In addition to their Wednesday 12:30 – 2:00 lunch gig with Jim Collier’s Gotham Jazzmen (also featuring Peter Ecklund), Sam and Pete will be appearing on Tuesday night, December 30th, with Ronnie Washam and Friends — the other friend being bassist Dave Winograd.  Fans of the Cajun will remember Ronnie as a first-rate vocalist, lovely of tone with an unfailing connection to both the music and the meaning of a song.  This foursome has appeared at the GVB already and it’s said that even the young waitstaff knew enough to pay attention to their music.

This may be the start of an every-other-week engagement, but Tuesday, December 30th at 9:00 is a good time to start making it a habit.  The Greenwich Village Bistro is at 13 Carmine Street, between Sixth Avenue and Bleecker Street.”

Readers who remember the fabled Cajun (between 16th and 17th Streets on Eighth Avenue) before it was eaten by “progress” in 2006 will remember Pete Sokolow, enthusiastically swinging with a thunderous left hand, Leroy “Sam” Parkins, a wonderfully hedonistic clarinetist, and Ronnie Washam, “The Chelsea Nightingale,” who sang with drummer Bob Thompson’s Red Onion Jazz Band.  Pete can do a hilarious version of Fats’s “Your Feets Too Big” in Yiddish and drive a band with authentic stride piano; Sam is a deep musician, whose blues come from inside.  And Ronnie.  Her favorite singers are Lee Wiley and Ella Logan, and she honors them.  Not, mind you, by imitating them, but by getting inside a song as they did.

Jazz musicians, these days, have their own CDs that they bring to the gig.  But Ronnie has a new one — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME — recorded with a wonderful little combo (Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Hank Ross, piano; Conal Fowkes, bass; Bob Thompson; drums).  She comes through whole from the first note, and her colleagues are especially receptive.  You could call 212.243.7235 for ordering information — or, better yet, you could buy one at the gig.  Don your down coat, go downtown, and prepare to have your spirits lifted!