Tag Archives: Lil Hardin Armstrong

“BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

Eddy Davis — banjo, vocals, compositions — is a glorious eccentric I’ve been admiring for fifteen years in New York.  And he has a long history in Chicago, playing with the greats of previous generations, including Albert Wynn, Bob Shoffner, and Franz Jackson, among others.  Here are four selections from a beautiful evening with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Conal Fowkes, string bass / vocal — at the end of last year.

Eddy’s had some health difficulties recently, so I wanted to use the blog as a spiritual telephone wire to send him the best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery, so he can come back to startle and delight us soon.  And just generally, may we all be safe from harm.  Thanks to Eddy’s friends Conal Fowkes and Debbie Kennedy.

TWO DEUCES / “BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Miss Lil’s major seventh:

CANAL STREET BLUES, some New Orleans jazz that didn’t come from a book:

VIPER MAD (“Good tea’s my weakness!”):

May your happiness increase!

IN THE SACRED NAME OF LOUIS: THE NORWEGIAN JAZZ KINGS “Live at Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, Oslo, February 17, 2018”

I think of the deliriously pleasurable precedent established by Bent Persson and friends some forty years ago — that of understanding Louis Armstrong and colleagues so deeply and expertly that they could move in and out of his music, embellishing a characteristic phrase here or there, reminding us gently of a particularly memorable invention, but ultimately, going for themselves.  Bent and colleagues are still playing beautifully, but here are some slightly younger players from Norway, having the most wonderful time with Louis’ music.  These three performances were recorded at Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, Oslo, on February 17, 2018, and they are made available to us through reed virtuoso Lars Frank’s YouTube channel.

They are the Norwegian Jazz Kings, and I am not going to argue with a single letter of that band-title.  On trumpet and cornet, Torstein Kubban; on clarinet and saxophone, Lars Frank; playing the bass saxophone and sousaphone, Christian Frank; piano, Morten Gunnar Larsen; banjo and guitar, Børre Frydenlund.  I have a particularly warm feeling for Torstein, Lars, and Morten, because I met and spoke with them several times at the jazz party formerly known as the Whitley Bay Jazz Party.  Christian and Børre I know from recordings, and admire them deeply as well.  (Incidentally, the gentleman sitting right in front of the sousaphone is friend-of-jazz, patron-of-the-arts, and record producer Trygve Hernaes, whom I also know from visits to Newcastle.)

These three videos honor the exalted period of Louis’ life when he was working with Earl Hines, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, and Zutty Singleton.  Certainly regal even if not Norwegian.

I don’t know the order in which these pieces were performed, but let’s begin this blogpost with the lyrical and majestic TWO DEUCES, by Miss Lil:

Here’s a riotous but precise frolic on COME ON AND STOMP STOMP STOMP.  I had to play it several times because I couldn’t believe it.  I’m amazed that the fire marshals were not called in.  (I adore the translated title on the Dodds record.  Don’t you?):

And for me what is the piece de reistance, POTATO HEAD BLUES.  In case of historical quibbling, just remember Louis’ words, “Cat had a head shaped like a potato”:

As befits any person or organization in this century, the Norwegian Jazz Kings have a Facebook page.  Those in the know will immediately go there and do the fashionable act of “liking” it.  And since the wonders of cyberspace are limitless, here you can read the menu of the Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, an Oslo landmark since the 1700s.  It made me hungry and wistful at the same time.

What a band, balancing elegance and focused power.  I wish them well and look forward to more marvels.

May your happiness increase!

THEY DO THE THING, AND SPLENDIDLY: ETHAN LEINWAND / VALERIE KIRCHHOFF

If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you.  But they make excellent music.

You say you’d like to hear some?  Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:

and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:

A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure.  I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it.  By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s.  (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca.  They’re that much in the groove.)

Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me.  This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.

And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break.  One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire.  It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).

In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER.  (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)

I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves.  Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.

Here is Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead.  And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS — who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.

You can listen to excerpts from and buy MISS JUBILEE’s CDs here and the same is true for Ethan’s solo piano CD  here.

They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.

May your happiness increase!

MISS LIL, FOREMOTHER

I like the universe I was born into, but I imagine alternate ones all the time — the debt I owe to my Big Sister, who introduced me to Golden Age science fiction in my late childhood.  So I imagine one where this woman — pianist, singer, composer, bandleader, natural leader, innovator — was a star of the magnitude she deserved.

Lillian Hardin

Lillian Hardin is ill-served as being perceived primarily as just “the second wife of Louis Armstrong.”  My admiration and love for Louis is beyond the normal measuring tools, but Lil is someone and would have been someone if she’d never devoted her energies to that chubby young man from the South for a decade or so.  She herself didn’t have a substantial ego, which may have accounted for her somewhat shadowy presence in jazz history.  How she would have been celebrated had she not been female is something to consider.

You could ask one of the heroes of this music, Chris Albertson, about Lil, for sure. Here — on Chris’ STOMP OFF blog — is a trove of information, all enlivened by his love for Miss Lil.  (His memories of Lil — including a three-part audio interview — are treasures.)

Rather than write about her in ways admiring or polemical or both, I offer a banquet of her Swing Era Decca recordings, which — I know it’s heresy — stand up next to the Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and Henry “Red” Allen small groups of the period for swing, charm, melodic inventiveness, and fun.  On these discs, I know our ears go automatically to the horn soloists — but imagine them with a flat rhythm section and inferior tunes.  Lil’s exuberance makes these recordings much more memorable.  Although none of her original compositions had much longevity except for JUST FOR A THRILL, sixteen of the twenty-six are hers, and I’d guess the effective arrangements are hers as well.

Underneath the picture on the YouTube posting are all the titles: further details here: Lillian Armstrong And Her Swing Band : Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) Huey Long (g) John Frazier (b) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  Chicago, Oct. 27, 1936.  OR LEAVE ME ALONE / MY HI-DE-HO MAN / BROWN GAL / DOIN’ THE SUZIE-Q / JUST FOR A THRILL / IT’S MURDER /

Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Robert Carroll (ts) James Sherman (p) Arnold Adams (g) Wellman Braud (b) George Foster (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, April 15, 1937: BORN TO SWING / I’M ON A SIT-DOWN STRIKE FOR RHYTHM / BLUER THAN BLUE / I’M KNOCKIN’ AT THE CABIN DOOR /

Shirley Clay (tp) replaces Joe Thomas, Prince Robinson (ts) replaces Robert Carroll, Manzie Johnson (d) replaces George Foster.  New York, July 23, 1937:
LINDY HOP / WHEN I WENT BACK HOME / LET’S CALL IT LOVE / YOU MEAN SO MUCH TO ME /

Ralph Muzzillo, Johnny McGhee (tp) Al Philburn (tb) Tony Zimmers (cl) Frank Froeba (p) Dave Barbour (g) Haig Stephens (b) Sam Weiss (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, Feb. 2, 1938: LET’S GET HAPPY TOGETHER / HAPPY TODAY, SAD TOMORROW / YOU SHALL REAP WHAT YOU SOW / ORIENTAL SWING /

Reunald Jones (tp) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) O’Neil Spencer (d).  September 9, 1938: SAFELY LOCKED UP IN MY HEART / EVERYTHING’S WRONG, AIN’T NOTHING RIGHT / HARLEM ON SATURDAY NIGHT / KNOCK-KNEED SAL (is the unidentified male voice on the last track Clarence Williams?) /

Jonah Jones (tp) Don Stovall (as) Russell Johns (ts) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) Manzie Johnson (d) Midge Williams, Hilda Rogers (vcl).
New York, March 18, 1940: SIXTH STREET / RIFFIN’ THE BLUES / WHY IS A GOOD MAN SO HARD TO FIND? / MY SECRET FLAME /

I salute Lillian Hardin as a joyous Foremother.  Her virtues should be celebrated on many other days of the year.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND COMMERCE: TAFT JORDAN AND THE MOB (February 21-22, 1935)

TAFT

A nice bio of trumpeter / vocalist Taft Jordan is available here, which is also the source for the photograph.

TAFT Night Wind Banner

In February 1935, “Taft Jordan And The Mob” — Taft, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Elmer “Tone” Williams [not “Skippy” Williams as listed in Tom Lord — thanks to Mark Cantor], tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Bobby Johnson, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Eddie Dougherty, drums — recorded four memorable sides that have never gotten the attention they deserve.  (Incidentally, the beautiful record labels are illustrations only: the music can be found in the videos below.)  

TAFT MOB label

The idea was John Hammond’s, and one that we are grateful for.  The usual story is that Hammond worked hard to get the music he loved on record, to make opportunities for racially mixed bands.  He succeeded beautifully: most readers know this part of the story as preface to the 1933-42 Billie Holiday sides.

But other parts of the story deserve attention.  There is, for one thing, the success of the coin-operated phonograph (later, the “jukebox”) that could offer people recorded music in restaurants, bars, and elsewhere for what seems to us like a bargain: a nickel would get you three minutes of new music.  But a 1935 nickel was much more than the ninety-nine cents per song that iTunes charges.  (A contemporary advertisement shows Easter dresses for $1.95, and a skilled worker for the W.P.A. might earn $79 a month.)

And, at the time, commercially produced records were — as it says on the label — “not licensed for radio broadcast.”  I think that coin-operated phonographs served the audience’s desire for novelty (“Let’s hear that new record of ______ by Erin Morris and her Ponies!”) — songs from new movies, new songs popularized by much loved bands and singers . . . and for five cents, one could have a side played for a gathering of listeners and/or dancers.  The record labels pictured above are now called “dime-store,” because one could  buy these records inexpensively at, say, Woolworth’s.

Radio and recordings created a need for new material, so many songs, not all memorable, were published, with a clear financial relationship between composers / lyricists, publishing companies, artists, recording supervisors, and record companies.  (A small example: IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN was written by Bernard Hanighen, Billie Holiday’s friend, also a recording director at Brunswick Records.  He would have been happy — aesthetically and financially — to have his song recorded.)

Taft’s four sides run parallel to other small groups led by Fats Waller, Henry Red Allen, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Stuff Smith, Adrian Rollini, Tempo King, Cleo Brown, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Frank Froeba, Bernard Addison, Louis “King”Garcia, Stew Pletcher, and others.  I’ve heard writers say these sessions were “cranked out for the jukebox trade,” but these records are lovely, imperishable.  That there were only four sides says more about an audience’s awareness of Taft as a star than about their quality.  Some listeners might have known him from the Savoy Ballroom and radio, but not many.  When the records were later reissued in the UK (the red-and-gold Vocalion issues) Teddy Wilson had become famous enough so that his name would sell discs.

The artists made little or nothing for these sessions: they were paid “scale,” although they were pleased to make the extra money.   The math is fascinating, a quiet recital of economic disparity, even at the remove of eight decades.  Let us say a band of eight musicians made four sides for $50 a musician.  The records were pressed, distributed, and ended up in the phonographs.  One could hear a side once — no limit on the number of hearers, theoretically — for a nickel. The machine could take in twenty nickels in an hour.  In 1935, the profit went to the record companies and the owners of the phonographs. Later (too late, perhaps) musicians and composers received royalties, but that is another story.

Yes, mechanical reproduction of art guarantees “exposure,” but one cannot eat exposure.  I am aware of this from both sides as an interloper with a video camera who can only recompense musicians in insubstantial ways.

I offer these notions, some of them quite sad or infuriating, as preface to wonderful music, and also to point out that an unstable, often exploitative relationship between the artists, “the marketplace,” technology, and lasting art is not a twenty-first century issue.

TAFT Vocalion Devil

What good songs these “disposable” pop tunes are — thanks to Rothberg, Coots, Alex Hill (yes!), and Hanighen.  And the players, professionals all, were used to sight-reading and creating instant arrangements — with split choruses, riffs, backgrounds.  To take one example, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, still recognizable, is a series of thirty-two and sixteen bar solos with rhythm (and what a rhythm section!) with a jammed ensemble ending.  How fine it sounds now.  One could spend an afternoon listening to the glowing epigrams Wilson dispenses, the variety of timbres the horns offer, solo and in ensemble.

In my collecting history, these four sides were part of a Columbia Chick Webb lp compilation — glorious gap-fillers, but also logical because of Taft’s role in the band.  Mince and Silloway were with Tommy Dorsey; Skippy Williams, Bobby Johnson, and John Kirby with Webb also; Eddie Dougherty a busy free-lancer. Wilson had not yet joined the Goodman orchestra as a member of the Trio and Quartet, but had recorded with BG in ad-hoc studio groups.

What we have here — each side is less than three minutes long — is both superior dance music and small-band swing of the highest order, pleasing to all audiences.

In my time-travel fantasy, I would like to be a silent onlooker at one of these sessions, but I doubt the musicians romanticized such work.  It was another way to pay the rent, perhaps (for the lucky sideman) to get some recognition for future leader’s gigs . . . or perhaps, after creating four quiet masterpieces, the guys went out for a drink or some ribs, a nap before the night’s work.  If I’d asked Taft about these sides in 1972 /3 and later — I didn’t see him at close range — I wonder what would he have said.

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

NIGHT WIND:

DEVIL IN THE MOON:

IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN:

All four of these songs were also recorded “with vocal chorus” by Taft, a charming Louis-influenced singer (consider his work with the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Webb) but none of the vocals was issued.  Mysterious.  I know there is an alternate take of NIGHT WIND issued on a Jerry Valburn collectors’ compilation, but it’s instrumental.

TAFT Vocalion Green

Does anyone know more about Eddie Dougherty than is published in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ?  I have learned that he recorded between 1933 and 1952 or a little later, that he lived in Brooklyn, and, according to Johnny Williams via Mike Burgevin, that he pronounced his last name as if spelled Dockerty.  But no more.

The music remains.  And I, for one, am truly grateful for that.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

As a postscript, here are four contemporaneous versions of DEVIL IN THE MOON — in honor of the Blessed Alex Hill.  I think they are all beautiful, so this is not to make insidious comparisons.

Leo Reisman:

Mills Blue Rhythm Band (with an incendiary Buster Bailey interlude that the expert dancers must have loved):

Benny Goodman:

Art Tatum:

May your happiness increase!

“MAKE IT NEW”: EHUD ASHERIE, LILLIAN HARDIN, LOUIS ARMSTRONG (Mezzrow, February 16, 2016)

Ehud portraitPianist Ehud Asherie has been one of my heroes — and I am not alone in this — for a decade now.  His imagination is immense, matched only by his whimsically elegant and expert technique.  A dazzling soloist, he’s also a wonderfully generous and intuitive accompanist and ensemble player.  And he is immediately recognizable: like James P. Johnson or Bud Powell, you know it’s Ehud in four bars.

Ehud is fascinated by “old” music — songs composed by Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Willie “the Lion” Smith (with delicious detours into the music of Nazareth and Noel Rosa) but he is not devoted to replaying what he’s heard on the records or read from the music manuscript.  Rather, he loves the older songs because they haven’t been played so often as to have their own conventions and routines.  He says, speaking of Eubie, “[These songs] are amazingly fresh . . . harmonically very open, creating a lot of room for musicians to play in.  He was writing before jazz got really codified, so his music has none of the cliches we know.”

With his lyricism, individuality, sense of fun and his deep feeling, Ehud reminds me greatly of Ruby Braff, and it’s a pity the two didn’t meet and play together. The closest thing we have to this exalted pairing is the duets that Ehud and Jon-Erik Kellso do for us, and they are glorious.  (A few are on YouTube.)

Here is an example of Ehud as glorious imaginer, someone who knows that the way to bring the past to life is to forget about how old it is, and to treat it with affectionate energy.  I recorded this amazing performance at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street on February 16, 2016 — where Barbara Rosene and Ehud were performing in duet.  Ehud chose as his second-set feature of medley of WEATHER BIRD, written by Louis, and TWO DEUCES, by Lillian Hardin — both of these songs also memorably recorded by Louis, Lil’s husband.  (There’s a good deal of Earl Hines, pianist on these 1928 discs, there as well.)

The lovely woman who leaves the stage at the start is the wonderful singer Barbara Rosene, whose gig with Ehud this was, and the happy eminence bouncing in rhythm next to the piano is the great jazz scholar and writer Dan Morgenstern:

If you want to hear more of the elegantly raucous inventiveness that Ehud offers us whenever he sits down at the piano, he is at Mezzrow on alternating Friday evenings for their “happy hour” — check their schedule — and he’s also made a wildly rewarding solo piano CD of the music from SHUFFLE ALONG for blueheron records: details here.  I prefer the actual CD, but perhaps the best way to acquire one is to come to a Mezzrow gig, where Ehud will have some on top of the piano, or visit here and here.

May your happiness increase!

“POCATELLO,” or SWING LYRICISM, 1946

The trumpeter Joe Thomas would have celebrated his birthday yesterday, but since he left us in 1984, I will do it in another fashion here.

joe-thomas-1

Throughout his career, Thomas was surrounded by more assertive, even aggressive trumpeters, who could play louder, faster, higher.  And thus he did not always get the attention he deserved for his lyrical balanced style, which shone.  But he is a great poet of shadings, tone, and beautifully placed phrases.  At first, his playing might seem simple: ascending arpeggios that woo the ear.  But his singing tone, the darks and lights of his sound, are permanently memorable.  I saw him a few times in the early Seventies, and solos I heard still ring in my memory.  That, to me, is the highest art.

POCATELLO is an improvisation over the harmonies of the then-famous IDAHO, recorded in 1946 by Thomas and friends for his great champion Harry Lim of Keynote Records.  (Thomas had other musical friends who recognized him as special: he recorded with Lil Hardin Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, Claude Hopkins — so his beautiful sound and phrasing was heard, as we say.)

The other players on this brief poetic interlude — a swinging one! — are Tyree Glenn, trombone; Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophone; Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophone; Bernie Leighton, piano; Hy White, guitar; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Lee Abrams, drums.

The YouTube video has a verbal introduction by “Leif Smoke Rings Anderson,” which initially startles but is clearly affectionate.  I encourage you to hear and re-hear Joe’s opening chorus and the way he rides out over the band.  Although this was his session, he so graciously makes room for everyone else:

Joe Thomas, a true poet of the idiom.  His work never fades.  I wrote at greater length about his quiet majesty here in 2009.  Happily, much more of his work is available on CD and on YouTube, so he can be heard and loved in this century.

May your happiness increase!

JOURNEY TO UNMAPPED PLACES: “JAZZ LIVES: TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART” by JAAP VAN DE KLOMP

JazzLives Blog

Between 2005 and 2008, the Dutch photographer and jazz scholar Jaap van de Klomp began a series of soulful pilgrimages in honor of the men and women who had created the music he so loves.

The result is the lovely and often sad book of photographs, JAZZ LIVES, which takes its subtitle, TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART, from the words chiseled into Lester Young’s gravestone.

Yes, gravestone.

Every jazz lover knows the familiar photographs of our heroes and heroines: Billie Holiday with her dog; Louis Armstrong snappily dressed in London; Charlie Parker on the bandstand.  But where are our idols now?

The two hundred and more pages of JAZZ LIVES document where their mortal remains lie: with elaborate gravestones, unmarked plots of overgrown land, monuments proud and forlorn.  Jaap took his camera across the United States and Europe to capture these landscapes, resulting in a heartfelt pilgrimage to shrines of the dead. Each photograph is accompanied by a concise biography by Scott Yanow, and the book is organized by instruments once played.

The gravestones sometimes speak of posthumous reputation and fame: huge blocks of costly stone or unmarked areas of grass.  A monument for Ellington and empty space for Bud Powell.  An essay by Dan Morgenstern opens the book; one by the jazz musician and writer Bill Crow closes it. A simply written but evocative essay by the photographer himself explains something about his travels.

But the graves say so much — by presence and absence, reality and implication — about Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Serge Chaloff, Vic Dickenson, Andrew Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Django Reinhardt, Jack Teagarden, Britt Woodman, Al Grey, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, John Carter, Russell Procope, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Dorsey, Eric Dolphy, Willie the Lion Smith, Gigi Gryce, Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Wardell Gray, Stuff Smith, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Hank Mobley, Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, Herbie Nichols, Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Milt Hinton, Jimmie Blanton, George Duvivier, Jo Jones, Zutty Singleton, Denzil Best, Billy Higgins, Sidney Catlett, Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, Ivie Anderson, Bessie Smith, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Johnny Hartman, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Billy Strayhorn, Sun Ra, Bennie Moten, W. C. Handy, Tadd Dameron, Benny Carter, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, and others.

To give some sense of the breadth of his searching, the gravestones of trumpet players included in this book are: Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Hot Lips Page, Henry Red Allen, Cootie Williams, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Lester Bowie.

Jaap, born in 1940, has been involved with the music and the musicians for more than half a century, including Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd, Kenny Drew, and Kenny Clarke among others.

But he is not only a person of great feeling and a fine photographer.  Jaap is one of those rare souls who wants to share what he has done.  He wrote this to me, “The book which is sold out in the Netherlands by now will not be reprinted and has been proven to be physically too heavy for worldwide distribution. In this form I still hope to reach more jazz enthusiasts with a book which was a great pleasure to make.and which is still a very dear project to me.”

He has offered to make his book available as a digital download — for free — to anyone who emails him at info@jaapvandeklomp.nl  with JazzLives in the subject line.  The whole book is about 150 MB and it might take a few minutes to download.

This is generosity without hidden motive, and it is a beautiful work of art and devotion.

May your happiness increase!

“MISS LIL”: LILLIAN HARDIN, HOT COMPOSER / PIANIST: BENT PERSSON, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, STEPHANE GILLOT, JENS LINDGREN, MARTIN SECK, MARTIN WHEATLEY, MALCOLM SKED at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (October 27, 2012)

The splendors of the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party continue in a set celebrating the compositions and recordings of Miss Lil — Lillian Hardin — in the Twenties.  On the marriage license she was L. H. Armstrong, but she did more than keep house: she wrote songs and led hot recording sessions.  And she was one of the few early women to do these things successfully.  In addition, without Miss Lil, husband Louis might have stayed comfortably as Joe Oliver’s second cornetist for many years . . . material for an alternate-universe science fiction novel.

Lil’s recording career continued on through the Thirties — with a brilliant series of Decca sessions, a few featuring Joe Thomas and Chu Berry — and the Forties.  As a child, one of my first jazz records ever was a 12″ Black and White 78 of “Lil ‘Brown Gal’ Armstrong” with Jonah Jones, J. C. Higginbotham, Al Gibson, and Baby Dodds — among others.  She played and recorded with Sidney Bechet and Chicagoans . . . always exuberant, energetic.

Early on, I remember being swept up in the force and joy of Louis’ Hot Fives and Sevens, and only later coming to the sessions that paired Lil with Johnny Dodds, George Mitchell, and others — powerful music where the players’ delight was absolutely tangible.  As it is here!

Here are a half-dozen 2012 performances featuring Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Bent Persson, cornet; Staphane Gillot, reeds; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, bass.

GATEMOUTH (or GATE MOUTH, one of those locutions designed to state that one had a large orifice up front):

PERDIDO STREET BLUES:

MY BABY:

GEORGIA BO BO (from “Lil’s Hot Shots,” the Hot Five on another label, not well-disgused:

DROP THAT SACK (as above):

TOO TIGHT:

May your happiness increase.

“PLAY THE MUSIC THAT YOUR HEART TELLS YOU TO PLAY”

Letters from Louis to the youthful trumpeter Chris Clifton.

Paramount Theatre, Portland, Oregon, 6 February 1954:

“‘Man, – you haven’t the least idea – how thrilled, I am, to be able to sit down and write to a ‘Cat, who feels the same way that ‘I do about the greatest music on this man’s earth,—DIXIELAND… ‘Lawd-today…’Gate—you’re a man after my own heart… I’ve always said—Dixieland is Universal… From one end of the earth to the other–the music’s the same, so help me…..

“I’ll never forget the time when my All Stars and I landed in Italy and there was a little Jazz-Dixieland band standing there ‘justa ‘whaling Muskrat Ramble…And the sign over their talented little heads read like this——WELCOME TO ROME–Louis Armstrong and his All Stars…From the Romon New Orleans Jazz Band…. Which ‘Gassed Ol, Satch and his boys, no end… They were swinging the tune so well and relaxed, until, it made anyone of us, want to get some of it in the worst way…Tee Hee…

“Four days later, after we finished our concert one night, we went out to the little trumpet players home…And after ‘lorating a whole lots of that very very good Italian Spaghetti (wee) – myself and two – three of my boys – sat in with the little fine band and blew up a storm […] Which again, makes my word come true, especially when I said – music is, er, wa, – Universal….. You yourself – could have done the same…Because, from the way that I dugged your very fine letter, – you take your horn serious the same as ‘I do…. God Bless Ya Son […] And every country that we travel into, our music was the same… So you see in case you’d decide to make a tour to anywhere in the world, have no fear because our music (I’d say) is more of a Secret Order […] real honest to goodness dixieland music will live for ever – without a doubt… There was a certain big time musician, who made a nasty crack, as to, Dixieland Music, is ‘first grade music… Now – maybe you dont pick up on this Cat…But, I, being in the game for over forty years, etc, can easily see, that this young man who said it, the reason why he said it because he hasn’t the soul enough to express himself in dixie land music like he really would like to… So, he’ll say those slurring words knowing that the country’s full of idiots (also) who will believe him for a while, thinking that there really is such things as to different grades of music for the world to abide by […] Where I came from, there weren’t but two kinds of music, – good or bad […] Anyway my friend…Don’t let no one change your mind…Play the music that your heart tells you to play…There will always be somebody to gladly live it with you… I am very happy to have met you […] So I’ll close now… I have a pretty schedule before me for tomorrow… I’m to make an appearance on a TV tomorrow morning real–early, with my clarinet man-Barney Bigard…Cooking some of our real fine Creole dishes for these Oregan Fans, sorta, have ’em, lickin their fingers, Tee Hee…There’ll be some red beans and rice on the program..And that’s for sure… So give a hello to your musicians, and our fans…And until we meet (which) I’ll be looking forward to, – take em slow…And as I said ‘be,fo don’t let no one change your mind into playing that awfull juzitsu music.. Am red beans and ricely yours…” 

Corona, New York., 24 January 1969.

“Thanks for keeping tab on me through Lucille. She tells me every time you called. And I want you to know that I am very happy over your being concerned about me. I am straight now. Lucille straightened me, with her touch & patiences, & stuff. So, I’ll soon be back on the mound, wailing just like nothing happened. Am glad to realize how well you like my home town. The people & musicians are lovely, aren’t they. I was sad to hear about George Lewis and his base player. Oh well we all have our number and there isn’t anything that we can do about it. That’s why I keep shitting – that helps to prolong life. My mother instilled it in me, when I was Five years old. She said Son, keep shitting. You may not have Wealth, but you’ll always have Health. How true it is. Regards to everybody. Your boy Satch — Louis Armstrong.”

Corona, New York, June 16, 1971 (less than a month before his death).

“Man I received your letter and as usual very happy to get it. The presents were beautiful. The photo of you Blowing with the Tuxedo Brass Band is very good of you. I see that you really enjoyed playing with them. That’s the Brass Band that I was playing with [when] I left New Orleans in 1922 to join King Oliver in Chicago [as second trumpetist with Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band] and met Lil [Lil Hardin, Armstrong’s second wife, from 1924 to 1932]. She was Blowing [“Playing” written in margin] with the King — Johnnny [Dodds] — Baby Dodds [Honore] Dutrey — and Bill Johnson. Man what a Band. They’ll live in my memories.

“… I am coming on better each day. Soon as my legs strengthen up a little more, I’ll be straight and I can put the cane aside. I am glad to hear about you doing so well with your horn. That’s right, Blow with everybody. And see for yourself you’ll be glad you did. Nowadays you just can’t depend on one certain bunch of musicians to back you up. And good musician[s] will be very glad to Blow behind a good Trumpet Man that plays like you. Because there aren’t too many, if any at all playing the way that you play. Understand? So keep it up Gate. Playing with Lil will do you some good. She’s from the old school and can do wonders for you, don’t you think so? I am looking to hearing you playing with your own Band some day. You have everything to work with, You are young & strong and knows your Horn, so there you are. Take advantage of it Gate. And you know that I am with you all the way. Lucille sent regards. Thanks again for everything. From your Boy, Satch Louis Armstrong.”

Chris learned well, as you can hear from this 2008 excerpt from a performance of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP:

But even those of us who don’t play the horn can learn something from those letters.

May your happiness increase.

CAJUN SEASONING: REUNION at THE EAR INN (June 3, 2012) with EDDY DAVIS, CONAL FOWKES, ORANGE KELLIN, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK

Eight years ago, I first visited the Cajun Restaurant in the West Village (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) on Eighth Avenue.  It had been around for a long time, but it was known as the only place that still featured “traditional jazz,” however one defined the term, seven nights and two afternoons a week.*

A regular attraction was the Wednesday night band — a compact unit led by banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis, and dubbed by him late in its run WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM.  Most often, the instrumentation was Conal Fowkes, string bass; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet, and Eddy — four players with a strong lyrical streak who could also make a bandstand seem wildly hot in the tradition of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four or Soprano Summit on an uptempo outchorus.

Since the regular Wednesday night gig ended, this band has gotten together for musical reunions — although not as often as its fans and partisans would like.  Thus, I was thrilled to learn that Eddy, Conal, Orange, and Scott would be “the EarRegulars” on Sunday, June 3, 2012, at The Ear Inn.  And I present some of the frankly magical results herein.

Eddy would not be insulted, I think, if I called his approach “quirky,” and his whimsical view of the musical spectrum colors and uplifts the band.  Another leader might have stuck to the predictable dozen “New Orleans” or “trad” standards, but not Eddy.  His musical range, affections, and knowledge are broad — he approaches old songs in new ways and digs up “new” ones that get in the groove deeply.  He knows how to set rocking tempos and his colleagues look both happy and inspired.  In addition, Eddy writes lyrics — homespun rather than sleek — for some classic jazz tunes, and he sings them from the heart.  All of these virtues were on display at The Ear Inn — friendly, jostling, witty solos and ensembles, and performances that took their time to scrape the clouds.

The melody for BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST might be elusive for some, but it has deep roots — Lil Hardin Armstrong’s TWO DEUCES, which Eddy has turned into a love song and the band has turned into a down-home West Village classic:

TWO-A-DAY is one of Eddy’s favorite obscure songs — a Jerry Herman number praising a kind of vaudeville bill (and time and place) from the ill-starred musical MACK AND MABEL, charting the lives and times of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand.  When Eddy sings lyrics about the “atomic age,” Scott emphasizes the point through his distinctive space-age attire:

POTATO HEAD BLUES, with jaunty lyrics and wondrous playing.  All for you, Louis:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE needs no introduction — recalling the Ink Spots and their sweet lovemaking on Decca Records:

Jon-Erik Kellso, Hot Man Supreme, came into The Ear Inn after another gig — hence the formal wear — sat down, and joined the band for a calypso-infused THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT.  Maybe this bucket was full of Red Stripe beer?:

At the start of THANKS A MILLION, you’ll notice an empty chair next to Orange — soon to be filled by the illustrious Dan Block on bass clarinet, with Scott switching over to one of his taragotas, or taragoti — which he’d first taken out for POTATO HEAD BLUES:

STRUTTIN’ WIH SOME BARBECUE, complete with verse:

And the session closed with Eubie Blake’s lovely affirmation, LOVE WILL FIND A WAY, taken at a strolling medium tempo:

P.S.  This session happened in the beginning of June and has only emerged three months later — no reflection on the splendid heartfelt music, but because of some small technical difficulties . . . now happily repaired.

*At the end of July 2006, The Cajun closed after a twenty-eight year run — to make way for a faceless high-rise apartment building.  When I find myself on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street, I try not to search the spot where it once was.  It was a flawed paradise, but we miss it.

May your happiness increase.

EV FAREY’S BAY CITY JAZZ BAND (1958)

Sometimes the fabled past, unearthed, falls short of our expectations.  The rare recordings of the memorable band occasionally seem small: “Is that what we were waiting for all these years?” we ask.

But one disc by Ev Farey’s Bay City Jazz Band (TradJazz Productions CD 2123) has been a delight rather than a disappointment.

I first became interested in this music as after reading Jim Leigh’s insightful and witty memoir, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE — where he writes about this gig at the Sail ‘N.  And in the wake of Jim’s recent death, I have been listening even more to this disc — with great pleasure.

The band is led by cornetist Ev Farey (someone still playing beautifully — I can testify to this from seeing him in person just a few weeks ago); Jim on trombone; Tito Patri, banjo; Art Nortier, piano; Walt Yost, string bass . . . . and the remarkable Bob Helm on clarinet.

Some bands conspicuously exert themselves, as if they had to get our attention — but the 1958 Bay City Jazz Band knew how to take its time, to be intense without strain.  An easy-rocking momentum dominates the disc, whether the band is emulating Oliver on SNAKE RAG or building slow fires under RICHARD M. JONES BLUES and RIVERSIDE BLUES.  No one gets much out of the middle register; there are no long solos.  The emphasis is on a communal ensemble and each selection moves along on its own swinging path.  But the music is bright, imaginative, with no one tied to the original recordings.

The mood overall is lyrical — I found myself admiring Farey’s gentle, down-the-middle melodic embellishments, his singing tone, his amiable gliding motion.  Helm has long been celebrated as a nimble soloist but his ensemble playing doesn’t sound like anyone else’s (except perhaps his own version of Dodds and Simeon.)  Leigh’s  concise, homegrown ardor fits in neatly.  On recordings of this sort, often the front line and the rhythm section seem to be running on approximately parallel tracks — the two trios meet at the start and end of selections.  Not so here.

The repertoire comes from an imagined 1926 Chicago, with an emphasis on early Louis with a sideways glance at Morton and contemporaries: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE; JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES; HOUSE OF DAVID BLUES; GEORGIA BO BO; NEW ORLEANS STOMP; SMOKEY MOKES; GUT BUCKET BLUES; SAN; MECCA FLAT BLUES; COME BACK SWEET PAPA; SAN; SKID-DAT-DE-DAT; WILLIE THE WEEPER; MILENBERG JOYS.  Turk’s tribute to Helm, BROTHER LOWDOWN, is here, as is another Murphy discovery, GOT DEM BLUES, an 1897 composition believed to be the earliest published blues.

And in case you were wondering about the sonic quality of 1958 tapes, they were recorded close to the band and have been well-treated, so the music comes through nicely.

One of the particular bittersweet pleasures about this issue is that Jim Leigh wrote the notes.  Here’s an excerpt:

The music here can speak for itself.  There is quite a lot of tape wound on the band during my time on board, and this is some of the very best.  Helm would not have been comfortable to hear it said, but he is the star as he had been three years earlier with our ElDorado JB, as he was so often, with no matter whom.  As always, it is impossible to say whether he was more brilliant as a soloist or an ensemble player; it is all one pure stream of music and there was no virtue he valued more highly than what he called continuity.  From having been lucky enough to play with the man many times in different groups, my impression is still deep that Helm’s presence on the stand invariably brought out the best in his band mates.  Not through competitiveness, but rather the joy he communicated and the sheer pleasure of listening to/playing with such a musician.

To hear samples from a wide range of the TradJazz Productions CDs — featuring Bob Helm, Ev Farey, Hal Smith, Claire Austin, Darnell Howard, Leon Oakley, Jim Leigh, Frank Chace, Bud Freeman, Clint Baker, Earl Scheelar, Russ Gilman, Floyd O’Brien, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Natty Dominique, and others, click here.

To purchase LIVE! AT THE SAIL’N and learn about the Trad Jazz Production label’s other issues, click here.  (I understand that there’s a new Leigh CD, just released . . . . more about that soon.)

May your happiness increase.

SOULFUL ELEGANCE: JOE THOMAS, TRUMPET

The trumpet master Joe Thomas, aplacid, reserved man, didn’t make as many recordings as he should have.  But he played alongside the finest musicians: Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Herman Chittison, Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, Joe Marsala, Buck Clayton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Edmond Hall, Art Tatum, Pete Brown, Claude Hopkins, Kenny Kersey, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Russell, Buddy Tate, Tony Scott, Dicky Wells, Oscar Pettiford, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon.  Harry Lim (of Keynote Records) was a special champion of Joe’s and featured him on many sessions.

Here is a 1945 recording — during the great flourishing of small independent jazz labels — on the Jamboree label, which issued perhaps twenty discs in all, most featuring Don Byas; one session under Horace Henderson’s name; another was the only session under Dave Tough’s name — featuring our Mr. Thomas.  One of the Byas discs, recorded by Don, Joe, and the mighty rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri, Billy Taylor, and Cozy Cole, is JAMBOREE JUMP — a groovy 32-bar head arrangement:

My ears tell me that JUMP has a close relationship with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, exceedingly familiar chord changes for that period. The line sounds at first simple, something out of a child’s scale exercise — but it turns more adventurous.  There is a suggestion of a phrase we know from DIZZY ATMOSPHERE as well.  Swing and Be-Bop were adjacent, simultaneous, rather than two epochs as the journalists wanted us to believe.

Byas swoops and hollers, evoking Ben, over that concisely effective rhythm section, with Guarneri offering his own synthesis of Waller and Basie over Taylor’s powerful bass and Cole’s restrained drums — their sound somewhat swallowed by the whoosh of the 78 surface, although his bass drum is a swing heartbeat.

The quartet glides for two minutes until Thomas announces himself with one of the upwards arpeggios he loved, a sea creature leaping gracefully through the ocean’s surface.  His repeated notes never seem mechanical or over-emphatic: he just states he has arrived!  Joe, as Whitney Balliett pointed out, had listened hard to the Louis of the Hot Seven period, although Joe always kept his cool.  What follows might seem simple, undramatic for those anticipating the attack of an Eldridge or an Emmett Berry.  But Joe knew how to structure a solo through space, to make his phrases ring by leaving breathing room between them.  Like Bix or Basie, Joe embodied restraint while everyone around him was being urgent.  His pure dark sound is as important as the notes he plays — or chooses to omit.  Although his bridge is a leisurely series of upwards-moving arpeggios, it is more than “running changes.”

A simple phrase, in Thomas’s world, is a beautifully burnished object.  And one phrase flows into another, so at the end of the solo, one has embraced a new melody, resonant in three dimensions, that wasn’t there before, full of shadings, deep and logically constructed.  The band returns for the last statement of the theme, but it’s Joe’s solo I return to.

Louis, speaking about playing the trumpet, praised as the greatest good “tonation and phrasing.”  Joe’s tone, dark and shining, makes the simple playing of a written line something to marvel at, and each of his notes seems a careful choice yet all is fresh, never by rote: someone speaking words that have become true because he has just discovered they are the right ones for the moment.

I offer JAMBOREE JUMP as prelude to something even more marvelous.

Harry Lim, the guiding genius of Keynote Records — which, session for session, was consistently rewarding — loved Joe and featured him often.  The Pete Brown All-Star Quintet had a splendid rhythm section and the contrast between Joe’s stately sweetness and Pete’s lemony ebullience.  IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN shows off not only the contrast between them, stylistically, but also in tempos — this 12″ 78 (another one of the independent labels’ of the time’s great ideas — thank Milt Gabler and Alfred Lion) contrasts sweeping elegance with double-time romping.

That song might well have been Joe’s choice.  I was fortunate enough to see him in person a few times in the early Seventies, and he took this song as a kind of personal utterance.  I don’t know if the lyrics meant something deep to him — he was happily married to the singer Babe Matthews for many years — or if he associated the song with some event or place in his past, but he played it and sang it as if he had composed it.  And given Joe’s delight in the possibility of repeated notes in his soloing, TALK provides ample opportunities in its written melody.  (Like DARN THAT DREAM, it is a song that — played mechanically — could grow wearisome quickly.)

Here’s the Keynote recording, beautifully annotated by its generous YouTube creator:

If you’ve heard little of pianist Kenny Kersey, his chiming, serious solo introduction is evidence that he is another unheard master.

Then Joe comes to the fore in a sorrowing embellishment of the theme.  Hear his vibrato, his tone — without stating anything in melodramatic capital letters, he says, “What you are hearing is very serious to me.  It comes from my heart.”  Indeed, I think of the great later Louis of THAT’S FOR ME.  Joe is somber and tender at once, lingering over a note here, adding a small ornamental flourish, as he does at the end of the first sixteen bars, almost in a casual whisper, his brass voice trailing away.

Around him, the elements are in place: the warm resonance of Milt’s notes; the gentle timekeeping of J.C. Heard; Kersey, pointing the way; the sweet understated agreements provided by Pete’s alto.

When Joe would sing TALK OF THE TOWN, he would get even more emphatic on the bridge.  A song that begins, “I can’t show my face” already starts passionately, but the bridge is a drama of disappointment and betrayal: “We sent out invitations / To friends and relations / Announcing our wedding day. / Friends and relations gave congratulations. / How can you face them? / What can you say?”  Here, Joe’s trumpet rises to depict this heartbreak without increasing his volume or adding more notes.  The run that begins the second half of the bridge is Joe’s version of an early Thirties Louis phrase in sweet slow-motion.

Something startling comes next, and although I have known this recording for several decades, I can’t prepare myself for it: Pete Brown and the rhythm section go into double-time.  Pete loved to push the beat, and perhaps the idea of playing TALK OF THE TOWN as an extended ballad seemed too much of a good thing.  I also wonder if Pete knew that to follow Joe in the same fashion was not a good idea*.  Whatever the reason, the spirit of Roy Eldridge playing BODY AND SOUL at double-time is in the room.  Although Pete’s rough bouncy energy is initially startling, his bluesy vocalized tone is delightful, and the rhythm section digs in (Heard’s soft bass drum accents suggest Catlett).  And there’s the SALT PEANUTS octave jump at the end of the bridge, too.

It’s left to Kersey to return everyone to the elegiac tempo set at the start, and he does it beautifully, although the section has to settle in.  Joe returns, declamatory and delicate.  Where many trumpeters of the period might have gone up for a high one, Joe repeats the title of the song as if to himself.

I have loved Joe Thomas’ work for forty-five years, having heard him first on an Ed Beach radio show with the Keynote SHE DIDN’T SAY YES and then on a Prestige-Swingville session led by Claude Hopkins and featuring Buddy Tate.  His playing still moves me.  Although his simple notes are not difficult to play on the trumpet, to play them as he does, to learn how to sing through metal tubing is a lifetime’s work.  There were and are many compelling Louis-inspired trumpeters, and they all brought their own special joy.  But there was only one Joe Thomas.

Thanks to SwingMan1937 for posting JAMBOREE JUMP and to sepiapanorama for IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN.  These generous YouTube folks have excellent taste!

*About Pete Brown’s double-time section.  I came across another YouTube presentation of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — Connee Boswell’s lovely 1933 reading with the Dorsey Brothers in an orchestra directed by Victor Young — and she lifts the tempo, too.  Perhaps it was a swing convention when the song was first introduced?  (The picture of the singer isn’t Connee but Jo Stafford, by the way.)

May your happiness increase.

A SECOND HELPING OF BIRTHDAY CAKE: BOB WILBER, EHUD ASHERIE, and PUG HORTON (Smalls, March 15, 2012)

Nothing more needs to be said, except that this is the second set of reedman / composer / bandleader / inspiration Bob Wilber’s eighty-fourth birthday celebration at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, New York) where he was accompanied by his own “favorite rhythm section,” pianist Ehud Asherie — with a guest spot for Bob’s wife, Joanne “Pug” Horton.  Bob played some wonderful jazz classics — as if summoning up all his heroes, mentors, and friends in an admiring ring around the bandstand.

For Bix, Bechet, and Bobby — a sprightly I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

For Fats and Louis (dig Ehud’s beautiful playing here!) — BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

Edgar Sampson’s BLUE LOU — with the second chorus given to Bob’s own line on the chords, which he calls LOU’S BLUES:

Bob then invited his wife Pug to the stand to sing “a little eight-bar blues,” that hymn to defiance, ‘T’AIN’T NOBODY’S BIZ-NESS IF I DO:

And — appropriate for a birthday — AS LONG AS I LIVE:

Bechet’s lovely SI TU VOIS MA MERE:

And the bunny jumped over the fence and got away — a briskly moving COTTON TAIL:

Many happy returns of the day to Mr. Wilber — with felicitations to Mr. Asherie and Mrs. Wilber, too!

May your happiness increase.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOB WILBER! (and THANK YOU, EHUD ASHERIE and PUG HORTON): Smalls, March 15, 2012

I know that in JULIUS CAESAR the Ides of March are a bad time to be out in public.  But Bob Wilber — that’s Robert Sage Wilber, clarinetist, soprano saxophonist, tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger, occasional singer, eminent bandleader — turned eighty-four on March 15, 2012, and played two substantial duet sets with pianist Ehud Asherie at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, New York).   So we have to conclude that the Ides are not ominous for everyone.

People who do not play instruments professionally forget or perhaps have never known just how difficult it is to do — consistently, on any level.  Breath and reflexes, mental memory and muscle memory, all are essential attributes.  And just as people slow down when they reach “the golden years,” we might expect a musician’s fingers and embouchure to weaken, to falter.

Bob is an astonishing example of someone at the top of his form.  And this isn’t sweet-natured hyperbole for a diminished elder player: listen to his firm attack, lustrous tone, gliding mobility.  He was remarkable as a Bechet protege in 1947; he is even more remarkable now.

Bob calls Ehud “my favorite rhythm section in New York,” and if you don’t know Ehud’s work already — intuitive, attentive, subtle, multi-hued, and swinging — you are in for yet another treat.  Not only is he a delicious soloist, he is a splendidly sensitized accompanist.

It was lovely to meet a few old friends and to make some new ones (Alistair and Jan from London; Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke, among others) — and the audience was delighted to be in the same room as Bob and his wife Pug, to share their happiness.

The first set began with a lyrical version of Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART — Bob’s evocation of Johnny Hodges:

Even though I don’t quite want to give Lil Hardin Armstrong as much credit for writing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE as does Bob, I have no quibbles with his floating version here:

More Ellingtonia.  And why not?  JUST SQUEEZE ME:

After Bob turned down Ehud’s suggestion of HIGH SOCIETY, they settled on the cheerful THREE LITTLE WORDS (with echoes of Benny, of course):

Not only is THANKS A MILLION the way we feel about Bob; it’s such a pretty Louis-associated song:

And the first set ended with Bob’s tribute to Billy Strayhorn with — what else? — TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

How generous — and how typical — of Bob to use his time in the limelight, the celebration that he had for himself, to honor the Masters: Louis and Duke, Lil and Strays, Benny and Hodges!

Take a fifteen-minute break: we’ll be back for the second set!  (Bob and Ehud are working the room . . . talking to friends, too.)

May your happiness increase.

“MY HI-DE-HO MAN” (1936)

This bouncy performance from October 25, 1936, owes its existence to a few fortunate coincidences. 

That new invention, the jukebox, meant that record labels in the Thirties saw a market for pop music recorded inexpensively for listeners eager for danceable novelties. 

So Fats Waller and Henry “Red” Allen gave encouragement to Bob Howard, Tempo King, Putney Dandridge, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, and the overlooked Lil Armstrong, whose last name and ebullience were enough to make Decca Records interested in her.  (Also, a woman-pianist-singer-composer-personality was their idea of good value for one salary.) 

Then, the Fletcher Henderson band was playing a long residency at the Grand Terrace in Chicago: Fletcher’s star sidemen Buster Bailey (clarinet), Chu Berry (tenor sax), Huey Long (guitar), and Joe Thomas (trumpet) were available and eager to make some easy money on their own.  Teddy Cole took over the piano; John Frazier played bass.  Roy Eldridge might have wanted to lead his own date; Sidney Catlett was off having fun. 

And the idea of a “hi-de-ho” man leads back to the immense popularity of both Cab Calloway and his jive talk . . . all things combined to make this wonderful piece of music: meant to be ephemeral but still entertaining us more than seventy-five years later. 

Now, settle in and enjoy the strong pulse of that drumless rhythm section (with Huey Long’s solo passage late in the record), Teddy Cole’s glistening piano — shades of Hines and Wilson — on top.  Then, Joe Thomas — no one’s played like him yet!  Careful yet soulful, taking his time, outlining the melody but offering his own embellishments.  He loved upward arpeggios (shades of 1927 Louis) and repeated notes (all his own, as was that lovely tone).  Thomas’s playing always combines delicacy and earnestness: he has something he wants to tell us, but it’s not going to be bold or overemphatic. 

Then a key change to bring on the Star — jivey, enthusiastic, full of ginger and pep, singing lyrics that don’t make a lot of sense but we don’t care.  (“I’m going to bump that ball . . . ?”) while the band gets more lively in back of her.  Buster Bailey, who could sometimes sound mechanical, now bends a note or two in the hot fashion of Ed Hall —  and Lil comes back for more, with Joe generating a good deal of heat behind her singing.  (All this romping has been created in eighty seconds: the jazz masters of the Thirties certainly didn’t need a great deal of room to warm up the world.) 

And then a sweet chorded interlude from Huey Long  and John Frazier, coming through clearly even now, preparing us for the drama to follow, Chu Berry in flight, his phrases tumbling, his tone shifting and shading as he ascends and descends.  Then tout ensemble, rollicking: Lil riding the rhythm wave of the band, the horns — with space and time enough for a four-bar string bass break — before the end: what Joe plays in the final fifteen selections of this disc is priceless.   Yes, there’s some Eldridge-osmosis there (those phrases were the common tongue for trumpeters in 1936 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went back to Mr. Strong) but Joe is floating on top of the beat just as he seems to be urging the band on to a joyous finale.

And these recordings aren’t well known and haven’t had much existence on compact disc.  Yes, there’s a Classics compilation but it’s been out of print and costly for some time.  I wouldn’t take anything from Billie or Fats, but their colleagues, swinging happily for other labels in these years, deserve our attention, too.

CELEBRATE THE LIVING: CLICK HERE!  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS

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THE WORLD’S JAZZ CRAZY: THE NEW EL DORADO JAZZ BAND! (Feb. 12, 2011)

Rae Ann Berry is back on the case — and we are so much richer for her diligence.  Here she captures a rocking session with the New El Dorado Jazz Band, that hot group honoring cornetist Papa Ray Ronnei and his friends. 

In its current incarnation at the Sounds of Mardi Gras in Fresno, California, it is made up of Hal Smith, drums (he’s the co-leader); Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for co-leader Clint Baker); Howard Miyata, trombone (“Uncle Howie” of Gordon, Justin, and Brandon Au); Mike Baird, clarinet (a charter member); Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar, vocals; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Georgia Korba, bass.

Katie assures us THE WORLD’S JAZZ CRAZY (AND SO AM I):

Do you like Mexican food?  HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

The soaring, pensive FAR AWAY BLUES:

GATEMOUTH BLUES (harking back to Miss Lil and the Dodds brothers):

OLE MISS (named for a very fast train) has Kim Cusack subbing for Mike Baird:

THAT’S A PLENTY (how true):

Hotter than that!

FEELING JAZZ CRAZY?  CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS!

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“CHICAGO CLARINETS” (San Diego, Nov. 26, 2010)

I don’t necessarily associate Chicago solely with clarinets, since so many other jazz players made it their home, physically or spiritually, from Art Hodes to Marty Grosz to Sidney Catlett to the Armstrongs, Louis and Miss Lil . . . the list could go on for a long time.

But reed players seem to have found that city and its environs congenial, even though the winds coming off the Loop must have dried out freight trainloads of reeds.  Think of Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Omer Simeon, Frank Teschmacher, Bud Jacobson, Benny Goodman, Frank Chace, Franz Jackson, Joe Rushton, Joe Marsala, and many more.

Drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith led a small group at the 2010 Dixieland Jazz Festival (the thirty-first!) in San Diego, featuring Kim Cusack on clarinet and vocal; Anita Thomas on clarinet and saxophone; Bobby Gordon on clarinet; Chris Dawson on piano; Marty Eggers on string bass and sousaphone, and Katie Cavera on guitar, banjo, and vocal.  Here are four selections from their set, each one splendid in its own way.

The first one is a real surprise.  PRETTY BABY, the aesthetic offspring of Tony Jackson, is usually done as a langorous rhapsody: not Kim Cusack’s romp, which has a decidedly Condon flavor to it, thanks to that rhythm section, which could move mountains:

Katie sings one of my favorite period songs — HE’S THE LAST WORD — another evocation of the innocent-looking but seductive male swain, with intertwining commentaries from Kim and Anita.  (Katie’s amused mock-naivete is perfect for this set of lyrics!):

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW takes us back to the Apex Club Orchestra (with Chris filling in neatly for Earl Hines) — Anita and Kim play at being Doc Poston and Jimmie Noone before Bobby cuts his own ferociously individualistic path through the performance, reminding us that even though Pee Wee Russell said he had no Chicago union card, he did touch down there for periods of time:

Finally, Anita’s gutty tribute to Johnny Dodds — BLUE CLARINET STOMP — that gets down in the emotional depths and stays there, with help from that wonderful rhythm section:

Meet me in Chicago!  Or is it San Diego, next Thanksgiving?  Heartfelt thanks to the tireless and on-target Rae Ann Berry, chronicler of all things swinging.

HOLA, LOUIS!

The song remains the same, but the labels become multi-lingual.  No harm done!

y mas . . . .

y mas . . . .

Adios, amigos!

PLEASE READ THIS!

This is Tom Cosentino’s incredibly touching piece on Clarence Armstrong, Louis’s adopted son — someone Tom knew in his Bronx childhood.  Blessings on Tom, on Clarence, on Louis, and on Ricky Riccardi for letting us know about this essay:

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CLARENCE ARMSTRONG

Last night I watched a documentary on the Ovation television network on jazz legend Louis Armstrong. I’ve always been fascinated with the man known as “Satchmo,” not only because of his music, which I love, but because of a boyhood tie that I have to him.

During the course of the documentary, reference was made to Louis’ adopted son, who was retarded. No name was given, but I knew what they were talking about, for he was my friend Clarence, a person I first knew as a little boy as Ooga Booga.

I grew up in the northeast Bronx on a street called Oakley. The cross street was Fenton Ave, and a few house up that block was a woman named Miss Lillian. That was the house that Clarence lived in as well. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends until I was 8 and I was allowed to start playing in the street and nearby school yard of my boyhood school, P.S. 78. From my backyard, I would see Clarence pass my house every day, wearing his Mets cap. I never really talked with him. Then, when I started playing ball in the street with the other kids up my block, I heard them call him by another name, that of “Ooga Booga.” The kids were afraid of him and would tease him for chewing on his tongue. When they would see him they would taunt him with the cry of “Hey, Ooga Booga, Hey Ooga Booga” and then run. I’m ashamed to say, I joined in.

Then, one day, Clarence called me out and said he would tell my father. When I was home that night, I asked my parents about Clarence. They then told me that he was the son of Louis Armstrong. They even told me that Louis used to come up to the house to see Clarence when they first moved in. I knew Louis Armstrong was a musician, and knew him from television and the song, Hello Dolly. What I didn’t know was that Miss Lillian had married Clarence under an arrangement with Louis Armstrong. They had a son who used to play the trumpet out of his window all the time. However, he later died, although I do not know the reasons.

Knowing now the background of Clarence, I was carrying the guilt of being one of the abusive kids taunting him. The next time I saw him, I didn’t run but said hello. Clarence started talking to me about his love, baseball. This would begin years of dialogue on the Mets. Even though I was a Yankees fan, Clarence knew I loved baseball too. He would make up trades for the Mets, ringing my door bell to tell me the Mets got Reggie Smith from the Red Sox or Tony Perez from the Reds and other such All-Stars. Of course, they never traded anyone for these players, but I caught on and just kept the discussion going. Many times, he would ring my doorbell to tell me his news. My dad or mom would have to rescue me by coming out to tell me to finish my home work or have dinner.

I remember the one trade that was really made that thrilled Clarence was when the Mets got Willie Mays from the Giants. Clarence was literally jumping for joy that day. He would often jump up and down when he was excited, yelling as loud as he could. He was a little boy in a grown man’s body.

I communicated my discovery of Clarence’s background and love for baseball to my friends and they quickly caught on too. Soon Clarence began hanging out with us, watching us play. We’d even let him coach some times. He quickly became our mascot and lookout, watching for kids from other blocks that might look to start trouble with us.

Not only was I able to get to know Clarence, but I would visit and say hello to Miss Lillian nearly every day. Sometimes she would even give me a present.

When Louis Armstrong died in July, 1971, I remember WPIX carrying the funeral live on television. There, I got to see Clarence getting into a limousine. It confirmed for real, his relationship with the famed trumpeter.

As the years progressed and we all got older, we continued playing ball all the way through our college years. Clarence was there with us, watching and cheering us on as always. He was still making up trades. In fact, if the Mets hired Clarence, they may have won a few more pennants.

Clarence was Catholic and I would often walk and attend Mass with him at St. Phillip & James Church on Boston Road. Many parishioners would shy away, but I would sit with him in a side pew.

Sometimes when Clarence would ring my bell it wasn’t always about baseball. I can remember one time when he called on me to tell me a member of his daddy’s band had died.

After watching the documentary last night, I decided to look up information on Louis Armstrong, hoping to find mention of the adopted retarded son I knew as Clarence. Why I never did this earlier, I don’t know, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a link in the Wikipedia entry to a story written by Gary Giddins in the Village Voice in 2003

that outlined the history of Clarence. It turns out; Clarence was the son of Louis Armstrong’s cousin Flora. As Giddins’ account, posted below, points out, Louis began supporting Clarence when Louis was just 14. It became a lifelong pursuit, as Clarence was Louis’ only child.

“A few steps into the archive I was stopped dead by a pasteboard blowup of a photograph that had never been published, showing Armstrong and his adopted son, “Clarence Hatfield.” I had never given Clarence much thought, having heard he was mentally retarded and died a long time ago, hidden away.

But here he was: beaming backstage at the Band Box, a club in Chicago, in the 1940s, nattily dressed in a double-breasted suit not unlike the pinstripe tailored for Armstrong, who also beams, with unmistakable paternal pride. Clarence and their relationship sprang to life, sending me back to Armstrong’s account in Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, to appreciate for the first time its affectionate candor regarding his only venture into paternity. Clarence was born in 1915 to Louis’s teenage cousin, Flora, apparently after she was molested by an old white man her father felt powerless to challenge. Louis’s first sight of the baby washed “all the gloom out of me.” He took it upon himself, at 14, to get a job hauling coal (immortalized in the 1925 “Coal Cart Blues”) to support the baby and the ailing mother, and assumed full responsibility after Flora’s death, marrying his first wife and adopting the three-year-old at 17. In that period, Clarence fell off a porch and landed on his head; doctors judged him to be mentally impaired. When Louis married Lil Hardin in Chicago, Clarence joined them, and Louis never forgave Lil—who claimed that Clarence was never legally adopted—for her impatience with him. When he left Lil for Alpha, he brought Clarence along.

Eventually, Clarence was set up in the Bronx, where he was married in an arrangement of convenience financed by Louis.”

Miss Lillian eventually passed and I got married and moved to New Jersey, losing any connection I had with Clarence. My dad and brother who were still living there told me that his house had been boarded up and Clarence taken away one day. They never knew what happened. After reading Gary Giddins’ story, I now know he died in 1998. I now have to read Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and learn more.

Clarence Armstrong forever changed my life for he taught me how to deal with others. Appearances and background don’t matter. It’s what’s inside a person that counts. It’s something I’ve tried to carry through on throughout my professional career.

I can still see him cheering for us, tongue hanging from his mouth and his Mets cap hanging sideways on his head as he jumped up and down. “Tommy, Tommy” I can hear him yell. “The Mets just got Albert Pujols. They gonna have a bad ass team this year!”

Tom Cosentino

“GEORGIA BO BO”

This song, originally recorded in 1926 by “Lil’s Hot Shots” — a transparent pseudonym for the Louis Armstrong Hot Five, under contract to OKeh — nominally led by Lil Hardin Armstrong for Vocalion — is a fairly simple blues. 

Jesse’s Jazz Band, led by trombonist Jens “Jesse” Lindgren, is seen here at the 1999 Akersunds Jazz Festival in Sweden.  I knew in a minute that the Hot cornetist was my hero Bent Persson, but don’t know the name of the other sterling players: the clarinetist who has Dodds down, nimbly; the drummer accenting the rhythm on the rim of his bass drum, the steady banjoist and drummer.  If someone knows their names, please let us all know!  This video was posted on YouTube by “jazze1947,” and we thank him, as well as the players!

And perhaps Stephen Calt (author / compiler of BARRELHOUSE WORDS) will tell us if the “Georgia Bo Bo” was a euphemism, as was the “Georgia Grind.”  Inquiring minds want to know!

CELEBRATING “MISS LIL” on RIVERWALK (March 4, 2010 – )

During the week of March 4, 2010, the “Riverwalk” jazz program — featuring Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band and perhaps a guest or two — will be honoring Lillian Hardin Armstrong, someone who deserves attention even when it’s not Women’s History Month. 

Lillian Hardin Armstrong was known as “Miss Lil” to her fellow musicians in King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.  On 1945 record labels, she was heralded as “Lil ‘Brown Gal’ Armstrong” — not an offensive racial reference, but a reminder of one of her hit tunes.  But most people know her as one of the earliest (and perhaps most successful) women in jazz and as Louis Armstrong’s second wife and co-composer. 

It’s easy to dismiss Lil Hardin Armstrong as an improviser.  In early recordings, one hears her piano as competent at best: a steady but hardly swinging approach to the music.  Correct and emphatic but not terribly inventive.  And it is ungracious but inevitable to imagine how much more the Hot Five might have swung had Teddy Weatherford or Cassino Simpson or Earl Hines been the pianist. 

But she was one of those musicians we cherish because she improved — by the Thirties, her Decca recordings (now almost impossible to find) show an ebullient vocal personality.  Her compositions were cheerful swing material, and at least one of them — JUST FOR A THRILL — is wonderfully moving.  She knew enough to surround herself with the best players of the period, Chu Berry and Joe Thomas among them.  And she had learned a good deal about playing swing piano — if you compare her recordings from 1926 and a decade later, it’s clear that she had travelled a long distance, not only in concept, but in Hot execution.

But we celebrate her for more personal reasons.  Many married men roll their eyes when they discuss the power that their wives hold in the household and beyond.  “She Who Must Be Obeyed,” Rumpole of the Bailey calls his Hilda.  “The Power Behind The Throne,” says another.  “I’ve got to call home and get my marching orders,” said one of my professors in college, years ago — with some vestige of affectionate resignation.

And Louis Armstrong’s bandmates called him “Hennie,” short for “hen-pecked.”  So Miss Lil, by her own account, was a woman who would say, “Do it this way or I won’t stick around a moment longer.”  She told Louis that she wasn’t going to stay married to a second-trumpet player, and that he had better play first, lead the band. 

But her way — she was ambitious for her husband in ways that he wasn’t — benefitted both Louis and the course of the music.  He would have been more than content to play a supportive role to his musical father, Joe Oliver, for a long time.  But Lil saw what was happening: that Joe was keeping Louis down so that Joe wouldn’t be outshone by the younger man.  She directed Louis’s career until he was a star.  So we owe her thanks for being so — overbearing.  And Louis, late in life, although he was ungenerous about her skills as a pianist and improviser, thanked his pushy wife for aiming him in the directions his talent said he should go.

So when the Riverwalk series (given over to the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and illustrious guest stars) devotes a program to Miss Lil, with the subtitle, “Behind Every Great Man,” it has real validity.  And fine jazz.  The program wil air the week of March 4, 2010 — and, as an extra bonus, the Riverwalk people have included audio clips of Lillian Hardin Armstrong telling her own story. 

Here’s the link where you can find out more AND hear Lil herself reminisce: http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/jazznotes/behind_every_man/

And I’m sure that the Cullum band will do justice to STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (which I’ve heard was originally a pretty waltz by Lil before Louis changed the tempo) as well as JUST FOR A THRILL and other delights.   

P.S.  If you want to learn more about Miss Lil after you’ve heard the Riverwalk tribute, be sure to visit Chris Albertson’s blog — not only did he record her with a great romping Chicago double-sized band, but he’s also published long sections of her typed autobiography, fascinating stuff.  The first section is http://stomp-off.blogspot.com/2009/09/louis-lil-and-little-gangster.html; others follow.