Tag Archives: Lil Hardin

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!

TRUTH IN (HOT) ADVERTISING: THE FAT BABIES, “SOLID GASSUH,” DELMARK RECORDS 257

We hope this truth can be made evident.  The new CD by The Fat Babies, SOLID GASSUH, on Delmark Records, embodies Truth in Advertising in its title and its contents.

solid-gassuh

“Solid gassuh,” as Ricky Riccardi — the Master of all things Louis — informs us in his excellent liner notes, was Louis’ highest expression of praise.  (I’d like to see it replace “sick” and “killin'” in the contemporary lexicon.  Do I dream?)

The Fat Babies are a superb band — well-rehearsed but sublimely loose, authentic but not stiff.  If you don’t know them, you are on the very precipice of Having Missed Out On Something Wonderful — which I can rectify herehere, and here.  (Those posts come from July 29, 2016 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and feature the “new” Fat Babies with the addition of the heroic Jonathan Doyle on reeds.)

SOLID GASSUH was recorded at the Babies’ hangout, the Honky Tonk BBQ, but there’s no crowd noise — which is fine — and the recorded sound is especially spacious and genuine, thanks to Mark Haynes and Alex Hall.  I know it’s unusual to credit the sound engineers first, but when so many recordings sound like recordings rather than music, they deserve applause.

The Babies, for this recording, their third, are Andy Schumm, cornet and arrangements; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals (also the chart for EGYPTIAN ELLA), Jake Sanders, banjo and guitar, Beau Sample, leader, string bass; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire, for those deep in this music, says so much about this band — DOCTOR BLUES / AFTER A WHILE / FEELIN’ GOOD / DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / ORIGINAL CHARLESTON STRUT / PENCIL PAPA / I MISS A LITTLE MISS / PARKWAY STOMP / YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME / ALABAMY BOUND / SLOW RIVER / DELIRIUM / EGYPTIAN ELLA / SING SONG GIRL / MAPLE LEAF RAG.  There are many associations here, but without looking anything up I think of Ben Pollack, Paul Mares, Boyce Brown, Ted Lewis, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Fud Livingston, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Luis Russell, Bud Freeman, Bing Crosby, Nat Finston, Thomas Morris, Lil Hardin, Sidney Catlett, Al Wynn, Punch Miller, Alex Hill . . . and you can fill in the other blanks for yourself.  And even though some of the songs may be “obscure,” each track is highly melodic and dramatic without ever being melodramatic.  (As much as we love ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, it’s reassuring to know that it wasn’t the only song ever played.)

The Babies are remarkable for what they aren’t — not a “Dixieland” or “New Orleans” or “Condon” ensemble, but a group of musicians who obviously have studied the players, singers, and the recordings, but use them as inspired framework for their own creativity.  Occasionally, the Babies do offer us a transcription of a venerable recorded performance, but it is so energized (and by that I don’t mean faster or louder) that it seems as if someone has cleaned centuries of dust off an Old Master and it’s seen freshly.  More often, they use portions of an original arrangement, honoring it, as a way to show off their own bright solos.  So the effect at times is not an “updating,” but music seen from another angle, an alternate take full of verve and charm, as if the fellows had been playing the song on the job rather than in the studio.

If you follow the Babies, and many do, you will have known that this recording is coming, and will already have it.  When my copy arrived, I played it through three times in a row, marveling at its energy and precision, its lively beating heart.  SOLID GASSUH is immensely satisfying, as are the Fat Babies themselves.

You can purchase the disc and hear sound samples here, and  this is the Delmark Records site, where good music (traditional and utterly untraditional) flourishes.

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!

CHRIS SENDS HIS LOVE

Many people revere Louis Armstrong.

Chris Clifton of New Orleans is one of the lucky few who can put reverence into practice.  He’s also been blessed to know his hero, so what Chris plays comes from deep loving knowledge.  As he says in the video below, he met Louis in 1952; they became friends and exchanged letters.  Louis has been the light on the paths Chris has taken through life.

Enjoy the soulful tribute and beautiful melodies from Chris. Standing behind him, I know, is an older man, smiling as broadly as he can:

In the video, Chris tells of his meeting Louis (the thought of the “chubby youngster” fingering imaginary valves right in front of the band is touching) but I hadn’t known that Louis introduced Chris to Lillian Hardin Armstrong, pianist, singer, composer — and that Chris became a member of her band when he was 18, and would often stay at her house in Idlewild, Michigan.

In another interview, Chris said, Lil’s cottage had “a screened gazebo where I used to sit and practice.  While I played, the neighbors would come over, thinking Louis was there. Lil would say ‘No, that’s not Louis. Go out back and see who’s playing.'”

Follow Chris, a longtime New Orleans native, here.

May your happiness increase!

TWO HOT, ONE WISTFUL: UNSEEN MUSICAL TREASURES FROM THE 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Three New Beauties from the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — recorded on October 26 and 27, 2012 — living advertisements of what the musicians and the Party-givers do so superbly.

Part of a rousing tribute to the power behind the throne, Lil Hardin Armstrong (pianist, composer, bandleader, inspiration) — a song named for her young husband, PAPA DIP.  It’s performed here by Bent Persson, cornet; Stephane Gillot, alto saxophone; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass.

YOU RASCAL YOU has serious Armstrongian associations, although the performance here takes its impetus from the magnificent series of 1932-33 recordings by the “Rhythmakers,” ostensibly led by Billy Banks or Jack Bland — but really driven by Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Lord, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pops Foster, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton and other luminaries.  At the Classic Jazz Party, the New Rhythmakers kept things hot — Andy Schumm, cornet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Norman Field, clarinet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, tenor; Martin Seck, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums. This video also contains a sweet, sad memento: the voice and right hand of our much-missed Mike Durham introducing the band and cracking wise (as was his habit).  Thank you, Mike, for everything:

After all that violent heat, something rueful seems just right, so here is Cecile McLorin Salvant’s melancholy reading of the Willard Robison song A COTTAGE FOR SALE, with the empathic assistance of Norman Field, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Spats Langham, guitar; Alistair Allan, trombone; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Litton, piano; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums:

We don’t have to end on a wistful note.  I have three more 2012 delights to post and many more from 2013 . . . and (with a Nick Ward drum roll) the 2014 Party is happening this November 7 through 9 — details here.

You can learn all about it — the accomodations, pricing, concert themes . . . I’ll content myself my lingering over the list of musicians who will be there:

Trumpets: Bent Persson (Sweden), Duke Heitger (USA), Andy Schumm (USA), Ben Cummings (UK), Enrico Tomasso (UK) / Trombones: Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Alistair Allan (UK), Graham Hughes (UK) / Reeds: Jean-François Bonnel (France), Mauro Porro (Italy), Claus Jacobi (Germany), Matthias Seuffert (Germany), Lars Frank (Norway), Thomas Winteler, (Switzerland) / Piano: Keith Nichols (UK), Martin Litton, (UK), Morten Gunnar Larsen (Norway), David Boeddinghaus (USA) / Banjo/Guitar: Spats Langham (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Jacob Ullberger (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK) / String Bass: Richard Pite (UK), Henry Lemaire (France) / Brass Bass: Phil Rutherford (UK), Malcolm Sked (UK) / Drums: Josh Duffee (USA), Richard Pite (UK), Debbie Arthurs (UK) / Bass Sax: Frans Sjöström (Sweden) / Violin: Emma Fisk (UK) / Vocals: Janice Day (UK), Debbie Arthurs, (UK), Spats Langham (UK).

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.

CHRIS ALBERTSON’S NEW BLOG

http://stomp-off.blogspot.com/2009/08/chris-albertson-credits-artistdirect.html

chris

If Chris Albertson’s name doesn’t mean much to you, perhaps you haven’t been exposed to much in jazz.  He’s written the definitive biography of Bessie Smith (and rewrote it when new information emerged); he’s produced many recording sessions with people from Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Dave Frishberg, Jo Jones, Elmer Snowden, Clark Terry, Earl Hines, Lonnie Johnson . . . . he roomed with the Baron Timme Rosenkrantz; he seems to have encountered everyone possible. 

Chris is also a forthright writer and careful archivist.  The photos on his site show something of his range — from Charles Mingus to Lucille Hegamin, from Don Pullen and Johnny Griffin to Pops Foster and Lovie Austin!

So I was thrilled to find out that he has begun a jazz blog.  And it’s not the usual thing — “The records I like” — but first-hand experience.  The stories that impressed me greatly were Lil Hardin Armstrong’s recollections of what Joe Oliver told her about his childhood (!) and the sad, odd tale of the life and death of Linda Kuehl — who did much of the pioneering research on Billie Holiday.  I’ll keep this post brief because I want to see what Chris has posted since I checked last.  Welcome to the blogosphere, Chris, and thank you!