Although I have spent the better part of my life wholly immersed in this music, I envy those who are coming to it for the first time. Because they don’t “know everything” behind and around what they hear, they are able to hear the music’s energies and shadings in ways that those of us whose minds are portable libraries can’t. The more you know, ironically, the heavier your psychic knapsack becomes, even though some of those accretions are relevant and precious.
I imagine someone coming to the four-minute performance with no knowledge of the players, their personal histories, the cultural context in which this performance happened, and simply thinking, “That sounds wonderful!” They know nothing of “Benny Goodman”; they hear a clarinet, piano, vibraphone, and drums at once being expert beyond belief and playing like children, full of joy. Personal quirks and tragedies aren’t in that knapsack, merely exuberant bright thrilling sounds — the music of great artists having a great time, on the spot.
So I urge the most erudite of my readers to attempt an experiment. Put aside all the gossip you’ve heard about the players, forget your memories of perhaps seeing them live or buying your first recordings by them. Forget what you know or what you think you know, and drop down, trusting and blindfolded, into the rich irreplaceable sounds:
To quote Frank Chace about another clarinetist, “Doesn’t that just scrape the clouds?”
I could write a thousand words on what seems marvelous to me here, but I’d hope that readers take the pleasure of hearing this performance again. And before turning to their other tasks, I invite them to subscribe to the YouTube channel created and maintained by my friend who calls himself, not by accident, “Davey Tough” — a treasure-house of marvels, presented with care, intelligence, and love.
This three-disc set released by Fresh Sounds is a cornucopia of pleasures, both musical and scholarly.
Arv Garrison (1922-60) was a superb guitarist, swinging and inventive, who understood how the melodic and rhythmic inventions of Django Reinhardt and others could be expanded into “the new thing” of Forties bebop. Although his recorded legacy is compact, it’s impressive and diversified. In his prime, he was respected and sought-after, as the names below prove. But for most of us he was hidden in plain sight. Now we can applaud what we approved of subliminally.
Garrison was adaptable; he fit easily into any context while remaining true to himself. He would be a wonderful question for a jazz-trivia night: “What musician played with Charlie Parker, Leo Watson, and Frankie Laine?” Although the most recent recording in this set is from 1948, his work still sounds fresh, and he doesn’t have a small assortment of favorite licks that grow overfamiliar quickly: he is, in the phrase beloved of new audience members, “making it up as he goes along.”
Here’s one version of WHERE YOU AT? — reminiscent of Frishberg before Frishberg:
The new focus on previously known recordings this set encourages is indeed enlightening: “fresh sounds” indeed. I’ve known only a dozen of the sixty-plus performances on this set, but I confess I never paid Garrison proper attention. Listening to YARDBIRD SUITE or A NIGHT IN TUNISIA, for instance, I was captivated by Bird and Miles; laughing my way through the Leo Watson session with Vic Dickenson, I knew there was an excellent guitarist, but I was waiting for Leo and Vic to return. (I’m sorry, Arv.)
But now, listening to him with new attention, I admire the easy brilliance of his soloing — his long lines that surprise, his reliable swing, and what he adds to the tonal color of the whole enterprise. Garrison knew his Django deeply, but he also had absorbed some of Charlie Christian’s loping audacity, and he easily breathed the harmonically-complex air that was 1946-48 California and New York. I also hear a creativity that runs parallel with Les Paul and Oscar Moore — who could be unaware of the early Nat Cole Trio recordings? — but he isn’t copying anyone. Garrison is comfortable in early classic Dial Records bebop; he can play a ballad with grace and emotional intelligence; he can swing out in the best Forties fashion. He’s delightful alongside Frankie Laine; he romps on his own, and he has confidence: in an AFRS broadcast where he solos alongside Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Irving Ashby, he stands out. If he was intimidated by such fast company, no one heard it.
The nimble string bassist and singer-composer Vivien Garry, who married and outlived Garrison, was more than an oddity, more than a protege. She was the leader on more than half of the performances here, and she is far more than Samuel Johnson’s lady preacher. In fact, had the world of record producing been different (if our world was also) this would have been properly a dual feature. Her recording career began earlier and ended later; she performed with Benny Carter, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and was an integral part of two “all-girl” sessions. Garrison, a rather unworldly (or other-worldly?) young man, was no self-promoter, so we have to thank Garry for making a number of these record dates and radio appearances happen. Garrison was handsome, but Garry was that rarity — an attractive young woman jazz musician — and that helped a great deal in getting gigs, especially in the world of the late Forties where jazz and “entertainment” were friends. (Listen to Art Ford, on the WNEW broadcast — one that includes Charlie Ventura, Babs Gonzales, Kai Winding, and Lionel Hampton! — fuss over Arv and Vivien’s attractiveness, and you’ll understand.)
The musical content of this set is delightfully consistent; I listened to the three discs in two sittings, which is not my usual restless habit. Connoisseurs of the rare and obscure will also find much to delight them: private recordings, AFRS and commercial radio broadcasts, live remotes from a jazz club, and commercially issued 78s on the Sarco and Exclusive labels. Even scholars deep into this time and place will find surprises, and it’s easy to celebrate these three discs as musical anthropology of a world truly in flux.
The great surprise and pleasure is the nearly eighty-page book, with color illustrations (photographs and record labels, club ads) that accompanies this set. I’ve only read portions of it, because I wanted to listen to Arv and Vivien and friends without multi-tasking . . . but the book — to call it a “booklet” would be inaccurate — begins with twenty pages of intertwined portraiture by James A. Harrod and Bob Dietsche, the latter of who met and interviewed Vivien in the mid-Eighties, and it ends with Harrod’s detailed discography of the set.
In the middle is the real prize: nearly forty pages of beautifully detailed biographical-musical analysis by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi, who has become one of my favorite jazz writers alongside Dan Morgenstern, Mark Miller, Loren Schoenberg, Dave Gelly, and Ricky Riccardi. Rossi does more than trace Garrison’s life from boyhood — staying up all hours playing along with Django in his room — to the sad end in a swimming accident before his 38th birthday. He has a fine awareness not only of guitar playing but of the art and history of jazz guitar and the contexts in which it became the jazz monolith it now is. Rossi’s writing is direct, evocative, clear, modest, and it welcomes the reader in, unlike other writers busy showing off how clever they are.
I’ve listened to the set with great pleasure, mingled with ruefulness that Garrison’s life and career ended as they did; now I plan to read Rossi’s essay with equal pleasure, and go back to the music. If that seems an expenditure of time and energy, I assure you that this set has already repaid me in excitement, discovery, and joys.
You can purchase the set at Amazon, no surprise, or directly from Fresh Sounds here, as I did (don’t let the price in euro scare you off if it’s not your native currency). Either way, it’s a lovely set.
Because of this blog’s thirteen-year existence, I get a number of email solicitations a week from people I don’t know (or know only slightly) who would like me to listen to their new CD, fall in love with it, and publicize it. I do not write this to mock them: it is difficult to be an independent artist in any century, and this shifting landscape has not made it easier. Artists pay thousands of dollars to create and promote their own work, and the publicity that actual record companies, record stores, and mass-market journalism once provided has gone away. So I sympathize.
What follows might be what my mother called “talking to the wall,” but perhaps someone will take this unsolicited advice and use it to be better marketers of their work. After all, “art” and “product” have become superimposed. When your CD “drops,” you want to “move” “units.” And that’s historically valid and respectable. In 1932, the Moten band hoped their Victor records would sell. Nothing shameful there.
But many artists — peculiarly, members of the most technologically-astute generation in human history — go about this blindly. I presume they Google “music blog,” and send out several hundred form-letters, in hope. It makes me envision someone opening a bag of grass seed on the roof, dumping it over the side, saying gleefully, “NOW I’ll have my very own meadow!” The birds enjoy the all-you-can-peck snacks, but very little grows.
A series of suggestions.
Be emotionally astute rather than eagerly self-absorbed. Understandably, you love your work. The new CD is your wondrous creation. It took time, money, thought, emotion, so many steps . . . ! But your reader, your “target,” has never heard it. How can you make them intrigued enough to want to? How can you make them not instantly click on the wastepaper-basket icon?
Assume you are writing to an adult rather than a teenager, and take deep breaths. Prose has conventions that aren’t texting, and the more polished — I don’t mean Photoshopped — your email is, the better it will be received. The cliche, “You have only one chance to make a first impression,” is true.
If writing is not your strongest talent, get someone in your family or circle of friends who can write to look at what you send out before you send it out. Maybe you believe no one cares that you scatter apostrophes and commas as if you were salting your eggs, but many people do. If you are writing in a language not your own, have someone look at it for sure: Google Translate is not trustworthy.
Be plain and friendly and clear. Possibly your reader is already weary of press-release hyperbole: speak as one person to another, although “Hey” is still for horses and “Yo” is for people you are addressing very informally. And perhaps especially in pandemic-times, expressing hopes that a stranger is “doing well in these _________ days” often sounds stale.
Find out the name of the person you want to reach and use it, deferentially, but use it. Should it be “Mr. Steinman” or “Michael”? Have we ever met? Do we have friends in common? How would you say hello to me if we were introduced in person? You can always come down from the formal; the other ascent is tricky.
Know who you’re sending it to. Crucial. Know your market. That means: be willing to do five minutes of research on each prospective blog or site or person. If you are sending out your version of the Jones-Collins Astoria Hot Eight to someone whose preferred music is alt-Christian-metal, it’s likely you are not going to get a hearing. And the reverse.
A few hours ago, I got a very cordial email from a young man who — articulate and friendly — wanted me to listen to and publicize his new song. It was very sweet pop music of the kind (and, yes, I know I am out of touch) I would expect to hear on the restaurant or mall sound system. I wrote back to him and, our of curiosity, asked if he knew the music I promoted on the blog. He said he didn’t, that he’d gotten my name from a new music distribution list or some such; he very graciously apologized for wasting my time. I wrote back and said he hadn’t, and I wished him well. He did me no harm; in fact, he provided me with a relevant anecdote for this post. But he did waste his energy.
Research is not only finding out that there might be a connection, but using the hope of that connection as a way of getting in the door. Showing your reader that you know what (s)he likes sends two messages: “I know your work and have taken the time to admire it,” and “We might be a good fit for these reasons.” I know that too much of this might veer into false adoration, but if I get an email that says, “Here’s my new CD, and you’ll love it,” or one that says, “Dear Mr. Steinman, I’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES for years, and I see that you admire melodic guitarists like X and Y. They are my heroes, too, and I wonder if you would be willing to listen to a track from my new CD . . . . ” you know which one will get my attention. Being candid, you don’t have to have been a life-long subscriber, but a little saucer of attentive fakery based on research will win friends.
After you’ve suggested — gently — why you believe your music would be appealing to them and their audience, make it easy for them to hear it, to read the liner notes, to see the covers. We readers have other things pulling at our sleeve, just as you do. Be aware that a review or an interview is not the same thing as a one-sentence blurb, and if someone like myself commits to writing about your disc, there is an expenditure of energy on my part as there is and was on yours.
If you’ve carefully done your research, and your music is aimed at the right person’s ears, perhaps you’ll get an enthusiastic email back. Or a polite refusal. Don’t be a pest, but do persevere. I don’t mind being reminded of something pleasing that I might have neglected the first time around.
Be gracious. This applies to both sides of the conversation. The reviewer who writes back, “Your band sucks,” deserves to be ostracized. If the listener hates the music or finds it boring, silence is the best response. And the reviewer should not take the opportunity to lecture the artists on their shortcomings. That you disliked the solo tenor saxophone solo on the subject of Chernobyl, others might not.
And to the artist . . . if you are tempted to write smart sharp rejoinders to a refusal, go make some tea or take a walk. Graciousness is remembered forever, and rudeness even longer. Remember that the world of musicians and publicists and bloggers is a small and gossipy one. “Do you know _______?” is the start of many lethal conversations that no one knows about but that go on all the time. If I seem to over-emphasize graciousness, it’s because it is in short supply, and some people who pride themselves on truth-telling do so with a hatchet. For my part, I will always remember the two bandleaders who were — as the Irish say — narky to me, along the lines of, “Well, my wonderful band doesn’t need your little blog at all.”
I can’t guarantee that these suggestions will insure that you will ship boxes of CDs or digital units, but they won’t hurt. If you’ve been told, “If you send out a thousand emails, you have a better chance of being heard than if you send out ten,” that logic is debatable. Think of the restaurant menu-flyers you’ve gotten: how many of them have encouraged you to buy an actual meal?
If those ten emails are to the right people, you will get pleasing results. You have a better chance of your words being read, your music being listened to. And that’s what ALL of us want: I want to hear a CD by someone I didn’t know existed, twenty minutes ago, and I want to be enthralled. You want me to be enthralled. Deal?
Pass this one around. I spent decades teaching, and I guess the didactic impulse hasn’t left me, but I want to help people on both sides of the exchange to be happier, and I want the art I love to continue, unbruised and flourishing.
For those who like such things, here’s a test. I received this email today. I’ve omitted identifying details. See if you can “read” the many reasons the sender has it all wrong:
Hey It’s XXXXXXX, Pop- Rock artist and entertainer. I released my latest song “———–” yesterday and think it would be a great fit for your audience. “———–” available on all platforms now is a form of art depicting [details and the opening lines of the song omitted.] The video is well over 5k streams in its first day, and would appreciate the feature/review.
It continues on, but I hope you get the idea. The artist and entertainer might be a wonderful person, but (s)he hasn’t a clue about how to operate in the larger world.
A few days ago, I conducted what I thought of as an experiment in listening: you can read the original post here. I published a jazz drum solo I had recorded in 1973, without identifying the player, saying only that it was a professional musician. I supplied the date to narrow the field . . . thus, it couldn’t be any number of famous contenders. Because I respect the vast experience my readers bring to this blog, I asked that they do more than supply a name. I had no prizes to offer, but promised to reveal all. Here, once again, is the solo:
On this page, and on Facebook, people responded. I am of course honored that professional musicians read JAZZ LIVES and wrote in. One or two listeners heard a particular drummer and “answered the question”; others sent in gratifying explanations of what they’d heard. I’ve edited out the names and offered them in approximate order.
I hear a drummer with excellent time and a swinging feel. This solo is tasteful, thoughtfully composed, and shows an understanding of all the greats associated with the Condon style, the top players of the swing era, and some of the early modern jazz masters. I like that this drummer chose not to make this a technique show, despite apparently having plenty of chops. I’m not sure who it is, but I would bet that it’s somebody with whom I’m familiar. I like! A lot! Oh, and I meant to say I love the use of dynamics, varied phrase lengths, and the tones this drummer gets out of the kit. Great touch.
The timing of the cymbal crashes and the tones of the drums sound like George Wettling (to my ears). (But it can’t be, as George passed away five years before the recording was made)!
I haven’t the faintest idea who it is, but I appreciate that he/she keeps the listener clued in as to where the beat is and makes real music, not just flashy noise, with taste and drive.
Tasteful drumming. Swings, without being noisy. Have heard Lionel Hampton do things like this.
I’m guessing it’s a trick question that you might have given us a hint to with your use of the word “she”. So I’ll guess Karen Carpenter.
I hear a New Orleans undercurrent.
Swing drummer, listened to Krupa.
I was listening to see if I could pick up a particular melody within the solo, but could not. The swing style is obvious, and the chops are good, but it’s more bashy/trashy than a Rich or Bellson. Cozy Cole comes to mind, but the count off to bring the band back in is too high in tone of voice. The style and vocal “growling” underneath the solo have shades of Lionel Hampton (who always reminded me of a bleating Billy Goat behind his brilliant solos on the Carnegie Hall and other live Goodman stuff). He also makes the crowd laugh at several points, as Hampton might with all his showbiz tricks. So I guess I’m going with Hampton!
Of course you know who I thought of immediately!! Nephew Hal Smith! He’s the best drummer I know.
I like a guessing game, but this IS a stumper. I agree with [ ] – the drums and cymbals sound like the equipment Wettling used and there are a few moments where it does sound like. It’s not Hampton as he didn’t solo that way and that’s not his voice at the end. Oddly enough the voice sounds like Buddy Rich to me, but it’s sure not Buddy. That said – I’m guessing Mel Torme.
It could be Lynn Wallis…but it isn’t. Sorry..can’t do any better than that. (to which someone responded: . . . “way off in every regard.”)
The bass drum is well dampened. Prefers use of snare than his/her toms. Influences are many!
I heard some Wettling influences. Good chops. I would have liked to have heard it in context of what was being played by the band, as it obviously is not a stand alone solo.
I wonder if we should think outside of the box? Definitely some Wettling in there, some Rich as well.
Yes, context is everything. What was the song? I couldn’t determine a count of bars…
Wise enough to pass the challenge on to more qualified ears and brains, preferably those who themselves are drummers and can discriminate between early executers like Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and the suchlike, whereas I already know that I cannot. The knowledgeable might ask how bad things can become with the nowadays early jazz listeners´ capabilities and the answer will be that we don´t know that yet since there is still a future. Thanks for the listening opportunity though.
Loved it – that’s all I’ll say.
In this player, I hear what I hear in Pete Siers: the melody.
Yep. It IS Buzzy. Do not have the time now to listen to it properly but will do so later….and yes – of course I love it.
Sounds like someone who is very musical, who must’ve had experience playing snare drum literature. Love it!
Nice drum solo, beautiful touch on the drums and very nice sound on the instrument. I hear a nice technique but he doesn’t use it to much, lot of dynamics in his playing, the drummer keep swinging all the time, I love the way of his playing ! It could be Cozy Cole or Buzzy Drootin…
I hear a master who is taking us on a journey, who is telling us a story in his very own, inimitable way….the second we assume to know where he is leading us, which turn he is going to take, he throws us a friendly curve ball, surprising us pleasantly, reminding us that there are many ways to get to the finish line.
I knew the minute I listened to it Buzzy Drootin.
No crash and bash, very conversational, nice use of space without losing the groove. Love the snare work. I hear music!
“The envelope, please.”
(Sounds of tearing paper, of breath blowing paper apart.)
“For his performance of February 11, 1973, at the Long Beach, New York, Public Library, in an ensemble led by Eddie Barefield, featuring Doc Cheatham, Ray Diehl, and Al Williams, recorded by Rob Rothberg and Michael Steinman, the winner is . . . BUZZY DROOTIN for his work on THAT’S A PLENTY!”
(Applause ranging from politely puzzled to rapturous.)
Why did I set up this experiment? I assure you my purposes were benevolent. I’ve always thought that the DOWN BEAT Blindfold Tests had a hint of malice hidden within, that readers could watch someone they respected be unable to distinguish what to us — who had the answer key — between very clearly different sounds. “Did you see the new issue? That [insert abusive slang epithet] thought that Hilton Jefferson was Steve Lacy! ! ! !”
Not here. Everyone’s a winner; some were reminded of a musician you’d always liked and respected; others have been introduced to someone clearly remarkable, someone to investigate more deeply. If a reader came away thinking, “I’d never heard of him (or heard him), but he can play!” then all my keystrokes would be completely worthwhile. And Buzzy is a singular entity: someone with a long recording career who’s not all that well known or remembered in 2021, a musician who’s not predictable, who is completely himself.
But I did have an ideological purpose.
Buzzy, and musicians like him, have been placed into small plastic cubicles with labels according to whom they played with, not what they played. So he is associated with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison, with MUSKRAT RAMBLE and RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, with Twenties jazz, rather than his friends Max Roach and Charlie Parker. (Ever hear a Bird composition titled BUZZY . . . ?)
I knew that if I wrote, “Here’s a previously unheard Buzzy Drootin solo,” some listeners’ ears and minds would close tightly immediately. “Old-time, pre-Bird, not innovative. Straw hats, striped vests. This stuff is no longer played by pros. Are there any more of those chips?”
Moving to analogy for a moment, I confess to some surprise at the reminder of how many of us think comparatively. Faced with a new dish, how many of us say, “I taste roasted garlic, Meyer lemon, herbes de Provence, lots of butter, etc.,” or do we say, “That’s just like what Jacques Pepin does with his recipe for ____!” I know it is hard to listen in isolation, and perhaps that is a great skill. It’s natural to hear a trumpet player and start checking off Miles-echoes or Roy-resemblances, but that, too, takes away from our focus on what is right in front of us. If, when we hear a new singer, we start doing chemical analysis, “Hmmm. 12% Ella, 10% Helen Merrill, 40% Sassy, 28% Betty Carter, 10% undefined,” do we hear the actual person’s voice for itself?
Here is the great drummer Kevin Dorn, a superb teacher, speaking of / playing the worlds of Buzzy:
And hereis the ebullient Mister Drootin in performance, in color, in Sweden.
Ultimately, my pleasure in sharing this music and encouraging this inquiry is also a little rueful. In my youth, such splendid musicians could play a free gig at a suburban public library. They were also gracious; they did not fuss about the two young men who brought a reel-to-reel tape recorder and captured their performance without paying union scale or royalties.
I hope Buzzy is pleased to be cherished as he is here.
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
The gorgeous music below is sent out as a moral inducement, less of a rebuke, to the people who “don’t know how to Act Nice.”
The boss who raises his voice at a subordinate; the salesperson who tries to flatter us to make the sale; the insecure person who bullies; the driver who tailgates; the liar; the self-absorbed person too busy recounting their own exploits to ask how you might be or too busy to leave that smartphone alone . . . the list is, sadly, long, and there is no need to add to it here.
To these people I send Jonathan Doyle’s instructive but also healing gift of this performance — called DON’T BE THAT WAY — performed at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival. The artful creators are Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. This easy rocking performance (not too fast, thank you!) summons up Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton small-group recordings rather than the famous Benny Goodman one.
Incidentally, I don’t espouse Goodman-bashing, but the 1934 Webb recording of the song, an instrumental, has Edgar Sampson as composer; later, Mitchell Parish added lyrics; Benny added his name, as the sheet music bearing his image, twice, shows.
The Swingtet scales peaks without stressing itself or us. How splendidly they glide. Bless them! And bless Mark and Valerie Jansen for making this life-changing music happen at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, a sweet explosion of joys which will nuzzle our faces once again on May 7-10, 2020. For now:
So, please. Be any way that’s kind, easy, and compassionate. Be aware that we are all connected. Be candid, be loving. Be aware.
News flash: I started to review this seriously entertaining book a few months ago, lent it to a friend who promised to return it after a weekend, then didn’t . . . so this review is, with apologies, late. But I offer this anecdote to show I am not the only person who found the book irresistible.
Some books, full of invaluable information, are austere and forbidding. “Do you dare to approach, ignorant mortal? Are you worthy of opening my pages? Don’t even think of removing my dust jacket.” Other books, equally worthy or perhaps more so, are casual and welcoming. Reading them is like having a very relaxed old friend over to your house for a meal, and the friend — never boring — is a treasure chest of pleasing stories you’ve never heard before.
HAMP AND DOCis a marvelous example of the second kind of book. I’ve said it often, but books that tell me new stories are enticing reading, as are books that are narrated by the participants. And, I never thought of it as a criteria, but if a book has a great deal of affection in it — in this case, someone’s hugging or getting hugged every few pages — that, too, is a winner.
Lionel Hampton is deservedly well known, not only for his long career, his many talents, his ebullient musicianship, the hundreds of musicians whose lives he touched — so this book has a kind of anchor in its story of Hamp’s last years, from 1984 to 2002, years full of playing and energetic involvement in the lives of everyone he encountered.
Lynn “Doc” Skinner would not be well known, I think, outside of Idaho, but he also has touched many lives — as a musician, multi-instrumentalist and composer, a music educator, a festival organizer, an ingenious and kind man never at a loss for an idea, and ultimately as a friend to hundreds, perhaps thousands — some of them famous, others not known to us. Born in 1940, he is still with us, and HAMP AND DOC is his engaging story as well.
Engaging stories are at the heart of this affectionate, vivid book, and the ones that I find memorable reveal character. Many know that in 1997, a fire in Hamp’s New York apartment destroyed everything he had. He was 88, had had two strokes, and was sitting outside his apartment on the sidewalk in a wheelchair, clad in pajamas and robe, having been helped outside by two attendants. What you won’t know is this telling anecdote. Watching the fire from the street, Hamp calls Doc, who knows nothing of what is going on, and asks him, “Doc, are you okay?” and getting an answer in the affirmative, then tells him about the fire.
Of course, not everyone in this book is a saint (although most of the cast of characters are eminently nice): Doc tells the story of Sarah Vaughan refusing to get in the student’s four-door sedan that is picking her up from the airport because her contract specifies a limousine, and, later, refusing to go on because she does not have her $10,000 fee (cash) in her hand. Other sharp and tender vignettes have Stan Getz, Al Grey, Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Claudio Roditi, Clint Eastwood, Dizzy Gillespie, or Bill Charlap at the center. But the affectionate relationship between Doc and Hamp is the book’s backbone, and the wonderful things that resulted — the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival (the first jazz festival aimed at students, the first one named for a musician, the first one named for an African-American) and later, the Lionel Hampton School of Music.
The book is free from ideological bias or theorizing — in that regard it is blissfully old-fashioned, but it is as if we are privileged to spend some delightful afternoons with Doc as he shares his crystal-clear recollections reaching back to his childhood and forward into the present. Like Hamp, he comes across clearly, as a man with a purpose, devoid of artifice or meanness. He is ambitious, but his ambition is for the music alone and what it can do to reach others.
It’s a welcoming collection of lovely stories, well-edited, with beautiful photographs, many in color, and a lively design overall. Not incidentally, the book benefits hugely from the unseen talents of Alan Jay Solan, the man to whom Doc told his stories. The book works wonderfully as a book — not simply as a collection of associated memories — because of Solan.
Any jazz fan who loves Lionel Hampton, who feels good after reading stories where kind people treat each other kindly, or who wants to see lovely candid photographs will love this book.
Here‘s a link to Inkwater Press, although I am sure that the book is available in many other places (there’s a Kindle edition also).
And in case you have done the unthinkable and taken Hamp for granted, here are two pieces of evidence to prove that a truly bad idea.
Hamp and a stellar cast of Ellingtonian friends (Carney, Hodges, Cootie) and Jess Stacy in 1937:
Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for sharing this gem with us. If, like me, you grew up after the Swing Era had ended, the great creators were still in evidence: Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Gene, Harry, Basie, Duke, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and half a hundred others. But sometimes they seemed more venerable than lively, and that was to be expected: routine, age, and aging audiences had had their effect. But it is lovely to be thrust back into late 1938, with fiercely beautiful evidence of just why they were seen as Masters.
Here, in under three minutes, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton — the last on drums — play a fiery but delicate I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, at top speed, never smudging a note or resorting to cliché.
They were young: Hampton, the eldest of the three (one never thinks of him as such) had turned thirty only six months earlier: Goodman and Wilson were still in the latter half of their twenties. (Gene Krupa had left Goodman and formed his own band earlier in 1938.)
I invite JAZZ LIVES listeners to do the nearly-impossible, that is, to clear their minds and ears of associations with these artists, their reputations, our expectations, and simply listen. And thus admire: the precision, the near-audacity of improvisations at such speed, the intensity and the clarity with which the details are offered to us. The unflagging swing, and the compact art: seven choruses in slightly less than three minutes. The architecture of this performance, balancing solo and ensemble, giving each of the players the spotlight in turn. And the fact that it was live — no second takes or studio magic. One can admire this as a chamber-music performance thoroughly animated by the impulses that made “hot jazz” hot:
It’s easy to hear this in historical context: ten years earlier, Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra had fashioned their own variations (Cliff Edwards, a dozen years earlier, had sung it with his Hot Combination) and Goodman had played it as an orchestral piece from 1935 on — with special mention to the Martin Block jam session of early 1938 where Benny, Teddy, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Benny Heller, and Sid Weiss had jammed on the Vincent Youmans song. And it comes out of a larger musical world: I hear late-Twenties and early-Thirties Louis and Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, and Zutty Singleton standing behind this trio.
But I can also imagine the radio audience of 1938 — not only the children and adolescents who nagged their parents for drum sets, clarinets, pianos and piano lessons (some signing up for the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists) but also the youthful Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach hearing and studying, thinking of ways to emulate and then outdo. It would have been considered “popular music” or “entertainment,” but now we can value it as it deserves.
It’s a magnificent performance, with details that glisten all the more on subsequent listenings. Thanks to Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Loren, and the noble Sammut of Malta for art and insights into the art.
Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.
Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.” And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.
You can learn more and hear something Savory here.
This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them. In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible. Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.
A Savory Disc
I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.
Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.” Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience. Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on. Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.
Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome. And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.
On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring. Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down. Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set). I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.
I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time. (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.) And the rhythm section! Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations. Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.
And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc. The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large. I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.
The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.
To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized: Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide. Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly. And I am sure I’ve left someone out.
These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.
I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can. But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music. When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons. Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect. Check the Mosaic discography.
I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.
Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser. And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat. I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat. Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets. Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months. You’ve been warned.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.
The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.
And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.
If you consider an artist’s works in chronological sequence (bibliography as well as discography) certain landmarks blot out their neighbors. In the case of Coleman Hawkins, there’s BODY AND SOUL, then the Hampton Victor date, then his big band — leading up to the small-group sessions of 1943-44 for Signature, Keynote, Savoy, and more.
The Varsity Seven sides — full of delights — recorded in December 1939 and January 1940 — haven’t received the admiration they deserve. Hawkins’ admiring biographer, the diligent John Chilton, calls them “a pastiche of Dixieland.” I disagree.
The Varsity label (please note the transparent pseudonyms for Hawkins and Carter) was run by Eli Oberstein, and it never seems to have been entirely out in the open. I don’t know that Oberstein was the equal of Herman Lubinsky of Savoy, but Eli seems to have been ingenious in his dealings. I believe the masters of these and other sessions were bought by Savoy, and thus the trail to licit reissues is complex. Were they Victor sessions, they would have been available straightforwardly for decades now, including “official” CD issue.
Another side-note is that the session — one or both? — was co-produced by Leonard Feather and Warren Scholl, which may account for a Feather composition being there. I knew two sides from this date because my Long Island friend Tom Piazza played them for me, forty-plus years ago: SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT and A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY. I don’t know where each of the musicians was working in 1939-40, whether Fifty-Second Street or Cafe Society or uptown, but they come together to create great jazz. Cheerful Jeanne Burns (known for work with Adrian Rollini and Wingy Manone) is a liability, but we’ve all heard less polished singers. Here’s the information for the first session.
Benny Carter, trumpet, alto saxophone; Danny Polo, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar, vocal; Artie Bernstein, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Jeanne Burns, vocal. New York, December 14, 1939.
IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (Burns, vocal). The first two choruses — bless Sullivan and Wettling, who are bringing Jimmy Ryan’s to a record date or doing the Commodore? — are flawless. Ms. Burns has pitch trouble, but I concentrate on Sullivan behind her. Polo and Livingston (the latter sounding much like a sweet Teddy Bunn) aren’t derailed by the young lady, and then Hawkins charges in, “I’m back from Europe, and let me remind you who is still King!” My idea of perfection is of course subjective, but the instrumental portions of this recording stand up with any other of this period:
EASY RIDER (Burns, Livingston, vocal). Hawkins starts off rhapsodically, and is then relieved by Polo, whose sound in itself is an aural landscape, no matter how simple his phrases. (In this, he reminds me of poets Joe Marsala, Raymond Burke, and Edmond Hall.) Ms. Burns Is much more at ease at this tempo and in this range, and her unusual mixture of Mae West and Mildred Bailey is her most successful vocal. Livingston’s vaudeville couplets are harmlessly archaic counterpoint, leading in to an ensemble where Carter and Polo take up most of the space, leaving Hawkins little to do. One must admire the lovely drumming of Wettling — and how beautifully Artie Shapiro’s bass comes through — before the consciously “old-timey” ending:
SCRATCH MY BACK is the one Leonard Feather composition, and a charming one, revisited by Dan Barrett a few years ago. I can’t figure out the changes beneath the melody — an experienced friend / musician says the first strain is similar to YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME. I love the opening ensemble, and Shapiro’s deep notes behind Polo, then Sullivan’s rollicking solo chorus, where Wettling is having a wonderful time — and the passage where Sullivan abstracts the melody for great dramatic effect. Then — what’s this? — a glorious alto solo by “Billy Carton” (heir to the cardboard box fortune) punctuated by a Livingston blues-pastoral. Everyone steps aside for Hawkins, and a recap of the theme with Livingston adding sweet arpeggiated chords. No complaints here:
SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA (Burns, vocal). Aside from the ending, I don’t think of this as “Dixieland”: rather a series of splendid improvisations from Carter, Sullivan, and two choruses from Hawkins — over a gently propulsive and balanced rhythm section. I find Burns’ version of Mildred Bailey’s upper-register-vibrato jarring, but I was listening to Polo, murmuring sweet limpid asides, and the rhythm section while she sang:
Fast forward to January 15, 1940: the same personnel except Big Joe Turner replaces Burns, an improvement.
And in his honor, they began with HOW LONG, HOW LONG BLUES. In the opening ensemble, Hawkins is nearly submerged (could this have been what irritated Chilton?) which leads into a lovely chorus by Polo — with plain-spoken rhythm section work. Then, Big Joe, in glowing voice, supported by a very powerful Sullivan, with lovely ensemble encouragements. It almost seems as if Hawkins has been waiting his chance, and he takes it eloquently, before Big Joe and the band return. At 2:23, apparently Turner has momentarily forgotten the lyric couplet or has gotten distracted. A fine improvised ensemble closes off the record, with a Wettling accent. This side seems slightly under-rehearsed, but the looseness adds to its charm:
SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT has always been a favorite, and this vocal version is a prize. If there’s a sound more engaging than this rhythm section following Sullivan, I have yet to hear it. Big Joe sounds positively exuberant (in touch with the lyrics); Polo and Livingston keep the forward motion going , and everyone is even more gleeful for Joe’s second chorus (“rub it all over the wall”) before particularly hot choruses by Carter and Hawkins follow, leading to jamming (with Wettling happily prominent) to end the record. If this is “Dixieland,” I want many more sides:
A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY was not a song much utilized for jam session recordings, but to have it here is a pleasure. I wonder if Oberstein said, “No more blues, fellows! Let’s have a hot one!” as Big Joe left the studio. Or it just seemed like a melodic yet under-played Berlin song, taken a little quicker than I imagine it was done in the Ziegfeld Follies. A very simple — even cliched — vamp led by Livingston starts things off before Polo takes the lead — which surprisingly turns into an ensemble passage, then a wonderfully quirky Sullivan solo AND Hawkins leaping into his chorus with the zeal of a great athlete (powerful playing from Shapiro, Livingston, and Wettling) — then a magnificent Carter solo and a romping ensemble close. This is one of the most successful sides of the eight:
And, finally, POM POM, a Carter original which might be a phrase from one of his solos scored for small band, with a particularly light scoring: I would have thought the opening 16 was scored for alto, clarinet, and tenor, but for the speed with which Carter plays trumpet on the bridge. Polo’s chorus is so tenderly levitating that if you, hearing his work on this session, don’t want to hear more, then I have failed. Hawkins is energized in his two-chorus solo, reminding me of the trio records he made in 1937, especially in his powerful second chorus — but Carter is as elegant a mountain-climber as I can imagine (with a distinct similarity to Joe Thomas or Bill Coleman of this period); another piece of swing lace-weaving from Livingston, and the record gracefully winds down — simultaneously hot and gentle. Is that a recording engineer’s “fade” or simply everyone getting softer? I don’t know, but it’s very sweet:
These aren’t flawless records. Some of them might have benefited from a second take. But they are uplifting examples of the stars willing to come in and play two dates for what I imagine was scale. All in a day’s work — and how glorious the results are.
To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, “To one who feels the groove, no explanation is necessary. To one who doesn’t feel it, no explanation is possible.”
This new CD is just wonderful. Listen to a sample herewhile you read. And that link is the easiest way to purchase a download or a disc.
The irresistibly catchy songs are TRANSCONTINENTAL* / MY WELL-READ BABY* / PARTS AND LABOR / LIGHTS OUT / IF I WROTE A SONG FOR YOU / CINCINNATI / DOWN THE HATCH / CALLOUS AND KIND* / BUFFALO CONVENTION / FORGED IN RHYTHM* / WHEN I’M HERE ALONE* / POCKET ACES / CITY IN THE DEEP / EASTBOUND / THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA*.
I don’t write “irresistibly catchy” often, but I mean it here. The lyrics are clever without being forced, sometimes deeply tender. “Don’t send me names / Of potential flames,” is one tiny example of the Mercer-Hart world he visits. I emphasize that Mister McKenzie not only wrote music and lyrics, but arranged these originals AND performs beautifully on a variety of reeds. He is indeed someone to watch, and admire. He’s also a generous wise leader who gives his colleagues ample space, thus the CD is truly varied, each performance its own pleasing world.
The “tunes” themselves stick in the mind. Some are contrafacts — new melodies built over sturdy lovable harmonic sequences (SUGAR BLUES, ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, INDIAN SUMMER, and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA if my ears do not deceive me). These hybrids work delightfully: it’s as if you’ve met beloved friends who have decided to cross-dress for the evening or for life: you recognize the dear person and the garb simultaneously, admiring both the substance and the wrappings.
The delicious band, sounding so much larger than a septet, is Keenan McKenzie, reeds; Gordon Au, trumpet; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Jonathan Stout, guitar; Chris Dawson, piano; Seth Ford-Young, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Laura Windley, vocals*. You might not recognize all the names here, but you are in for compact explosions of joy when the music starts.
The soloists are playing superbly — and that includes players Gordon and Chris, whom I’ve been stalking for what seems like a decade now (my math is wrong but my emotions are correct) as well as the newer members of the Blessed Swing Flock. Although they don’t work together regularly as a unit, they speak the same language effortlessly and listen contentedly to each other: Soloist Three starts his solo with a variation on the phrase that Soloist Two has just played. That’s the way the Elders did it, a tradition beautifully carried forward here.
The rhythm section has perfected the Forties magic of seeming to lean forward into the beat while keeping the time steady. Harry Lim and Milt Gabler smile at these sounds. This band knows all that anyone needs to know about ensemble playing — they offer so much more than one brilliant solo after another. Yes, Virginia, there are riffs, send-offs, and all those touches of delightful architecture that made the recordings we hold dear so memorable. Without a vibraphone, this group takes some spiritual inspiration from the Lionel Hampton Victors, and you know (or should) just how fine they are. “Are,” not “were.”
And there is the invaluable Laura Windley, who’s never sounded more like herself: if Joan Blondell took up singing, she’d sound like Laura. And Joan would be thrilled at the transformation.
The lovely sound is thanks to Miles Senzaki (engineer at Grandma’s Dojo in Los Angeles, California; Jason Richmond, who mixed the music; Steve Turnidge, who mastered the disc). The nifty artwork and typography — evoking both David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld — is by artist-clarinetist Ryan Calloway.
The disc is also available through CDBaby and shortly on Amazon and iTunes: check herefor updates on such matters. And hereyou can find out more about Keenan’s many selves, all of them musical.
I end on a personal note. I first began to enjoy this disc at the end of the semester for me (I teach English at a community college) — days that are difficult for me. I had graded enough student essays to feel despondent; I had sat at the computer for so long so that my neck hurt and my eyes ached. But this disc had come in the mail, and I’d heard TRANSCONTINENTAL and MY WELL-READ BABY already, so, feeling depleted and sulky, I slipped it into the player. Optimism replaced gloom, and I played the whole disc several times in a row, because it made me tremendously happy. It can do the same spiritual alchemy for you, if you only allow it in.
Let us revisit 2010 for a brief tour of the Bill Savory Collection, with commentary by two of our heroic benefactors, Loren Schoenberg and Doug Pomeroy.
And from another angle, this 2016 article tells the tale.
Starting in 2016, through iTunes, listeners have been able to purchase and savor four volumes of downloaded music: featuring Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, John Kirby, Jack Teagarden, Joe Marsala, Leo Watson, Teddy Wilson, Glenn Miller, Bobby Hackett, Ella Fitzgerald, Carl Kress, Dick McDonough, Ernie Caceres, Vernon Brown, George Wettling, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Charlie Teagarden, Milt Hinton, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Joe Sullivan, Joe Bushkin, Ben Webster . . . and — for some of us — the great treasure of live Count Basie with Lester Young and Herschel Evans. I’ve written a preview of Volume Four here. It’s been the soundtrack for the past few days.
I and other collectors have heard rumors — whispered four-bar breaks — that in our lifetimes Mosaic Records would arrange to issue more of the Savory material on compact discs, and that blissful fantasy has taken shape.
In February 2018, a six-disc set will be released: $99 plus shipping. As always, it will be a limited edition of 5000 copies. It will have gorgeous photographs and the extensive annotation Mosaic is known for: most of the prose coming from Loren Schoenberg, but with some writers sitting-in: David Fletcher, Anthony Barnett among them.
Here you can read more. And here is my definition of auditory bliss.
The four volumes of iTunes downloads offered 76 tracks. The Mosaic box will contain 108 tracks: the new music will be by Mildred Bailey, Stuff Smith, Joe Sullivan, and Count Basie — 39 tracks by Basie alone. (That’s eighteen new Basie tracks, four of them from the legendary Randall’s Island swing festival.) Two of the Sullivan solo piano improvisations are astounding creative rambles: one is ten minutes long, the other seven. Incidentally, many performances are longer than the three-minute-and-some-seconds limit of the 78 records of the time; most of them are in far superior sound.
I didn’t take any college courses in Marketing, and I don’t make my living in retail, but this post is an open advertisement for the set, and for Mosaic Records in general. (I’ve purchased my Savory box set — full price, should you need to know.) Since the iTunes downloads started to appear, I’ve read vituperative blurts from some collectors who “hate Apple” and others who want to know when the music will appear on CD. Now, fellows (I am gender-specific here for obvious reasons), now’s the time to convert words into action.
If others of you are under economic pressures, which are — as we know — so real, pardon my words and go to the “auditory bliss” section of this post and enjoy what’s there. If the kids need braces or the car a new battery, all bets are off. Those who fulminate on Facebook because the set offers no performances by X Orchestra or Y should know that not all the heirs and estates of the musicians Savory recorded have agreed to permit music to be issued.
However, if there were to be the groundswell of support that this set deserves, some people who are currently saying NO to issuing music might change their tune to a more expansive YES. And I believe fervently that Mosaic Records deserves our support. In an age where people sitting in front of their monitors, expecting everything for free, some enterprises cost money. (I come from that generation where not everything was easily accessible, so I appreciate this largesse from my heart.)
So consider this post encouragement to purchase the long-awaited six-disc set. Feast your eyes on the track listing and soon you will be able to feast your ears.
COLEMAN HAWKINS: 1. Body And Soul (X) (5:51) / 2. Basin Street Blues (X) (5:50) / 3. Lazy Butterfly (X) (1:03)
ELLA FITZGERALD: 4. A-Tisket, A-Tasket (II) (2:22) / 5. (I’ve Been) Saving Myself For You (II) (2:50) /
FATS WALLER: 6. Yacht Club Swing (theme and intro) / Hold My Hand (RR) (3:39) / 7. I Haven’t Changed A Thing (RR) (3:56) / 8. (Medley): Summer Souvenirs / Who Blew Out The Flame? (RR) (5:38) / 9. (Medley): You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby / Sixty Seconds Got Together (RR) (3:44) / 10. I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams (RR) (2:26) / 11. When I Go A-Dreaming (RR) (2:50) / 12. Alligator Crawl (RR) (1:38) / 13. The Spider and the Fly (RR) (2:40) /
LIONEL HAMPTON JAM SESSION: 14. Dinah (7:01) / 15. Star Dust (2:58) / 16. Chinatown, My Chinatown (2:25) / 17. Blues (9:52) / 18. Rosetta (4:06) /
CARL KRESS & DICK McDONOUGH: 19. Heat Wave (EE) (2:20)
EMILIO CACERES TRIO: 20. China Boy (S) (2:26)
ALBERT AMMONS: 1. Boogie Woogie Stomp (A) (3:03)
ROY ELDRIDGE: 2. Body And Soul (II) (4:23)
ROY ELDRIDGE / CHICK WEBB: 3. Liza (II) (2:03)
FATS WALLER: 4. Honeysuckle Rose (QQ) (6:31) / 5. China Boy (QQ) (5:57) / 6. I’m Comin’ Virginia (QQ) (4:35) / 7. Blues (QQ) (5:24) / 8. I Got Rhythm (QQ) (2:05) /
JOHN KIRBY: 9. From A Flat To C (CC) (2:39) / 10. Blues Petite (DD) (3:43) / 11. Front And Center (AA) (2:50) / 12. Effervescent Blues (Z) (2:43) / 13. Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day (DD) (2:23) / 14. Echoes of Harlem (Z) (3:36) / 15. Boogie Woogie (BB) (2:56) / 16. Milumbu (Z) (3:23) /17. Rehearsin’ For A Nervous Breakdown (CC) (3:27) /18. Honeysuckle Rose (Y) (1:07)
BENNY CARTER: 19. More Than You Know (T) (4:26) / 20. Honeysuckle Rose (T) (1:21) /
JOE SULLIVAN AND HIS CAFE SOCIETY ORCH.: 21. China Boy (MM) (1:28)
JOE MARSALA: 1. Jazz Me Blues (FF) (5:26) / 2. California, Here I Come (FF) (6:53) / 3. When Did You Leave Heaven? (FF) (7:21) / 4. The Sheik Of Araby (FF) (4:42) /
BOBBY HACKETT: 5. Body And Soul (U) (2:12) / 6. Embraceable You (V) (2:48) / 7. Muskrat Ramble (V) (2:09) /
JACK TEAGARDEN: 8. Honeysuckle Rose (PP) (5:04) / 9. Jeepers Creepers (PP) (6:10) /
MILDRED BAILEY: 10. My Melancholy Baby (B) (3:41) / 11. Truckin’ (B) (2:41) / 12. Rockin’ Chair (theme) / More Than You Know (C) (4:14) / 13. The Day I Let You Get Away (C) (2:08) /
STUFF SMITH: 14. Crescendo In Drums (KK) (3:57) / 15. I’se A’ Muggin (JJ) (2:28) /
I did my own private Blindfold Test, and played a track from this new CD for a very severe jazz friend who prides himself on his love of authenticity, and he said, “Well, they’ve GOT IT!” which is how I feel about Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five.
Here’s a sample of how they sounded in 2016 at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:
The first piece of good news is that this group knows how to swing. Perhaps “knows” is the wrong word, because I never believe that genuine swing feeling could be learned in a classroom. They FEEL it, which is immediately apparent. Second, although some of the repertoire will be familiar, this isn’t a CD devoted to recreating the fabled discs in better fidelity; the group understands the great recorded artifacts but uses them as jumping-off places to stretch out, to offer their own creations.
I hear traces of the Goodman Trio on LIMEHOUSE BLUES, the 1937 Basie band on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE; Don Byas and Buck Clayton drop by here and there; as do Louis and Astaire; NAUGHTY SWEETIE owes some of its conception to Jimmie Noone, as SUNDAY does to Lester . . . but these versions are expressions of the blended personalities that make up a working band, and are thus precious for us in this century.
Jonathan’s two originals, MILL HOUSE STOMP and DANCE OF THE LINDY BLOSSOMS, work on their own as compositions with their own rhythmic energy. The former bridges the late Hampton Victors and 2 AM at Minton’s; the latter suggests EVENIN’, in mood more than chord changes.
Those familiar with the “modern swing dance scene,” however you define it, will recognize the musicians as energized and reliable: the leader on guitar; Jim Ziegler, trumpet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone and clarinet (both of the horn players bringing a variety of selves to the project — but often I thought of Emmett Berry and Illinois Jacquet, players I am grateful to hear evoked — and a rhythm team of Chris Dawson (yes!) piano; Wally Hersom, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums. Jim takes the vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK, sincerely but with a light heart, and several of the other songs are charmingly sung by Hilary Alexander, who has an engaging primness and delicacy while swinging along. “Special guests” for a few numbers are the splendid Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Marquis W. Howell, string bass.
The individual soloists are a pleasure: everyone has the right feeling, but I’d just like to single out the leader, because his guitar work is so much the uplifting center of this band. Stout has obviously studied his Charlie Christian but his solos in that context sound whole, rather than a series of patented-Charlie-phrases learned from transcriptions strung together for thirty-two bars. His chord work (in the ensemble) evokes Reuss, McDonough, and VanEps in marvelous ways — glimpses of a near-vanished swing landscape in 2017.
And here they are in 2017, once again at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:
When I had heard the CD once again this morning, for purposes of writing this post with the evidence in my ears, I put it on for a second and third time, with no diminution of pleasure. Later, I’ll play it in my car with the windows open, to osmotically spread joy as I drive. Look for a man in a Toyota: he’ll be smiling and nodding rhythmically, although both hands on the wheel in approved position. Rhythm, as they say, will be spread. Around.
When I looked up “Benny Goodman” and “1938” in preparation for this blogpost, Google quite naturally led me to the Carnegie Hall concert of January 16. But there was wonderful music made later in the year, by a band elevated by Dave Tough, drums, and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone. Here’s a sample:
The link between that performance and my odd title might not be clear, so here’s the answer key: the title is the convoluted language of eBay, that odd treasure house. And thanks to David J. Weiner, scholar and friend (pal of my childhood days, to be precise) I have the treasure below to share with you. It’s a remarkable photograph — the negative of one — of the 1938 band, dressed up in performance garb, but not on the stand, and not holding instruments. And even better, the normally somber-looking Dave Tough has just heard something funny or said something of the same kind (I think that Lionel made Dave laugh): a visage rarely if ever captured on film.
The bad news is that I did not win this photograph for my very own. The good news is that someone who wanted it even more fervently did . . . to the tune of $105 and some change. I hope (s)he enjoys it tremendously and hangs it in a place of honor. For us, the magic of “Save image” means that we can hitch a ride for free, and moral questions aside, that is a great thing.
Now, I will confess ignorance and say that I cannot identify everyone in the picture, and I solicit the assistance of the readers of JAZZ LIVES who know more than I do — when they are irksome, I silently call them The Corrections Officials, but today I invite informed responses.
Here’s what and whom I know.
Front row left, unknown; Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; unknown woman who doesn’t look like Martha Tilton or, for that matter, Gladys Hampton, at all; Lionel Hampton, vibraphone; Dave Tough, drums; unknown (is that Chris Griffin, trumpet?)
Back row left, Vernon Brown, trombone; unknown; unknown; Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; unknown; Harry James, trumpet.
Where’s Benny? Where’s Jess Stacy? I assume some of the heroes I couldn’t identify are a second trombone, perhaps Noni Bernardi and Dave Matthews, guitarist Benny Heller. Does anyone recognize the room? The fireplace suggests a hotel rather than a recording studio, but that is a guess, nothing more.
And while you’re scrambling to prove your Benny-knowledge is just the best, here’s a soundtrack to inspire you, the deliciously loose rendition of SUGAR by Benny, Lionel, Teddy Wilson, and Dave:
This post is in honor of David Weiner, Kevin Dorn, and Richard Salvucci. Of course!
That’s Stuff Smith, one of the supreme beings of jazz violin, who deserves more attention than he received in life and does now. An audio sample from 1936 with Stuff playing and singing (with Jonah Jones, Jimmy Sherman, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, Cozy Cole):
This little remembrance of Stuff is because I found two rare paper items on eBay — which you shall see. But before I completed this post, I checked everything with Anthony Barnett, the reigning scholar of jazz violin, who’s issued wonderful CDs, books, and more about Stuff, Eddie South, Ginger Smock, and many other stars and hidden talents. More about Anthony’s ABFable projects below.
Here is a 1947 Associated Booking Corporation (that’s Joe Glaser’s firm) magazine advertisement for both Stuff and Eddie South — Eddie has Leonard Gaskin, string bass; Allen Tinney, piano:
Music instruction books linked to famous artists proliferated from the Twenties onwards, and here is one I had never seen before. I don’t know how deeply Stuff was involved with the compositions and arrangements, but this 1944 folio is a fascinating curio:
Characteristically and thriftily, a mix of public domain songs and a few originals:
The composition looks unadventurous, but this is only the first page. “Who is Lee Armentrout?” is the big question on JEOPARDY, and the answer is here:
How about some more music? “Can do,” we say — a lovely rendition of DEEP PURPLE, a duet between Stuff and Sun Ra, recorded on July 29, 1948 by drummer Tommy Hunter. Ra is playing a solovox which was a piano attachment.
Anthony tells me, “There is a lost recording by Ra and Coleman Hawkins from around the same period (but not the same session). Stuff and Hawk led a band for a couple of weeks around that time with Ra on piano.”
I’ve been writing ecstatically about Anthony’s ABFable discs for more than a decade now: they are absolute models of loving presentation of rare music. How about this: a CD of 1937 broadcasts of a big band, led by Stuff, its members drawn from the Chick Webb band plus other stars — with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald? Stuff leading a septet drawn from the 1942 Fats Waller band while Fats was touring; a Ray Nance compilation that features acetate recordings of Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, Sonny Greer — oh, and Ben plays clarinet as well as tenor; more from Ray Perry, Eddie South, and glorious violinists you’ve never heard of. Helen Ward, Rex Stewart, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones . . .
It’s self-indulgent to quote oneself, but perhaps this is forgivable: I don’t ordinarily endorse the productions of an entire CD label, but Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable series of reissues is something special: rare music, beautifully annotated and transferred, delightfully presented. Barnett’s notes are erudite but never dull. Each CD I’ve heard has been a joyous experience in preconception-shattering. I used to think of jazz violin improvisation beyond Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli as a mildly inconvenient experience. Grudgingly, I acknowledged that it was possible to play compelling jazz on the instrument, but I was politely waiting for Ray Nance to pick up his cornet. Barnett’s CDs have effected a small conversion experience for me—and even if you don’t have the same transformation take place, they are fun to listen to over and over again.
And — as a musing four-bar break: we are, in 2017, caught between the Montagues and the Capulets, the people who say, “Oh, CDs are dead!” and those who say, “I’ll never download a note.” These CDs are rare creations, and those ignorant of them might be unintentionally denying themselves joy. For more of the right stuff and Stuff — books, CDs, accurate information galore — visit here.
AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won. Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.
Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others. In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert. Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.
As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:
That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.
On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs. Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in. I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.
Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.
The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.
This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.
(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this. But you’ll miss deep joy.)
See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.
The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):
“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.
He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.
He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .
He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.
He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s. Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation. Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.
We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”
Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love. Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES. But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful. I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago. Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones. You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.
Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.
And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:
That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift. But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player. With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.
If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.
If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.
But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies. His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.
I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”
There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.
Walter Donaldson’s 1930 YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY is one of those wonderful songs that — by now — sits midway between being an Old Chestnut and Almost Forgotten. (How many people in the audience actually know the lyrics beyond what is shown on the sheet music above?)
Its lyrics are emotional, especially if you know the verse: the narrative is that a lover has treated the singer badly; the singer is weeping and asking the question, “What did I do to you?” Very forlorn material. I envision the song coming to life with one person telling another — “You! You’re driving me crazy!” in the way that songwriters picked up on common parlance and made it memorable.
But, leaving aside the sad narrative, the song has always had a built-in bounce, and I cannot think of it without hearing the two bass drum thumps that begin Louis’ 1931 recording — drums played by the ebullient Lionel Hampton — and the joyous charge into swing that follows. Or, since Bennie Moten in 1932, who can hear the song without hearing MOTEN SWING as a countermelody? So it’s a fascinating hybrid of heartbreak and joie de vivre.
Here we have a performance that marries the two halves: a sweet singer and a rocking band. The singer is the wonderful Dawn Lambeth, who seems to float and glide, bending notes and reshaping them, but never obliterating the melody. And even at this tempo, you can hear the emotion of the lyrics. And the band surrounding her is the epitome of swing: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, recorded at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015. That’s Ray at the piano; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Kim Cusack, clarinet — and guest star Marc Caparone, cornet:
There are far worse things than being driven crazy in this fashion. See you at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, Novemner 23-27.
I’m a very tough audience when it comes to jazz history books. Many of them, understandably, are pastiches of familiar evidence with big helpings of speculation mixed in. Nice enough for people new to the subject, but give me first-hand information rather than paraphrases of what has already been published.
In addition, most jazz literature seems star-struck, fixated on the forty or fifty BIG NAMES. That’s splendid: books about Louis, Lester, Ben, Hawkins, Roy, Red, and others are treasures. But since the musicians themselves didn’t always get the attention they merited, much jazz biography is brilliant posthumous research. If someone were to turn up pages by Walter or Hot Lips (I couldn’t resist) they would be priceless. And the people who never get to report on what they saw, felt, heard, experienced are likely to have the best stories to tell. This brings us to Peter Vacher’s new book, SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 331+ pages, many photographs).
It is an irresistible book, and I speak as someone who finds many books — after decades of reading — utterly resistible.
Peter Vacher (much like the recently-departed John Chilton, although Peter is still very much alive) is one of those rare multi-talented writers: a splendid unaffected prose stylist, a very diligent researcher and “connecter,” someone with an eye for what’s true and what’s intriguing. In this case, he offers us oral histories and historical research into the lives and music of sixteen musicians — his research done over more than two decades. The musicians profiled are Andrew Blakeney, Gideon Honore, George Orendorff, “Monk” McFay, Floyd Turnham, Betty Hall Jones, “Red Mack” Morris, Caughey Roberts, Chester Lane, Monte Easter, Billy Hadnott, Norman Bowden, John “Streamline” Ewing, Chuck Thomas, Jesse Sailes, “Red” Minor William Robinson.
I knew of perhaps one-half of those musicians: Blakeney had played with Kid Ory; Honore with Jimmie Noone; Orendorff with Les Hite and Louis; “Red Mack” with Lee and Lester Young’s band; Caughey Roberts had been replaced in the early Basie band by Earle Warren; Billy Hadnott was on famous JATP recordings as well as with Nat Cole; Norman Bowden had recorded with Zutty Singleton; “Streamline” Ewing had played with Hines, McShann, Horace Henderson.
Because of the “star-system” in jazz, many might assume that these interviews with people who — apparently — were on the fringes of the big time would be narrow and not terribly interesting. To assume this would be a huge error. For one thing, these sixteen people hadn’t been interviewed much, if at all, so their reminiscences are fresh and eager, full of good stories. Not one page in Vacher’s book has the stale, “Must we go through this again?” quality of the recitals the stars have given so often they take on an inescapable sleepiness (both in the speaker and the reader). Although many older musicians expressed themselves through their instruments, sometimes their narratives are enthusiastic but closed: “Big Boy was a terror when he got into that whiskey, but he sure could blow.” Not here. And Vacher’s interludes are brief, lively, and the very antithesis of narcissism: he shines the light with great skill and affection on his subjects.
And the stories are amazing. Andy Blakeney was in Chicago when Louis joined King Oliver; he played in a Doc Cooke band. Streamline Ewing was asked to join the Basie band; he heard Charlie Parker before Bird had made records. Speaking of Bird, he stayed with Billy Hadnott and his wife — and it’s a sad story — before the Hadnotts were compelled to ask him to leave. Ewing also mentions seeing both Mutt Carey and Nat Cole at the union — consider that pairing! Norman Bowden talks of rehearsing with Jelly Roll Morton, “the most sophisticated man I ever met in my life,” in 1940. We hear of Benny Goodman sitting in with Mutt’s band in 1925; the book offers the first substantial sketches of drummer Cuba Austin, of bandleaders Reb Spikes, Sonny Clay, the pianist Lady Will Carr. We learn — in just a sentence — that the short-lived and extremely talented pianist Margaret “Countess” Johnson was Lester Young’s “heartbeat.”That Eddie Nicholson was Billie Holiday’s drug supplier. There are extended stories about a young Charlie Christian, about Lester, about the Basie band at the Reno Club in 1935, about Louis, marijuana, Charles Mingus, Buck Clayton in Shanghai, Lionel Hampton in 1936 . . . And some musicians, like Kid Ory and Christian, pop up in different contexts, so one has the advantage of seeing them as if they were characters in a Faulkner novel, from many angles.
I deplore the kind of advertising assertion that suggests, “If you don’t buy / read / eat ____________, your life will be joyless, devoid of meaning.” But I found myself thinking, “Every jazz fancier I know would find something delightfully memorable in these pages.”
And there’s more. Extraordinary photographs, many from the subjects’ personal hoards. Interludes of fact taken from contemporary music magazines. And, should you think this to be simply a collection of oral histories of little-known musicians retelling their careers, the book presents so much more — as in race and racism from the Twenties onwards. Not all the stories are grim, but they are all revealing. I offer only one example — in Billy Hadnott’s section, Vacher includes this comment from DOWN BEAT, March 15, 1944, where Frankie Laine and a four-piece “mixed group” are praised for their music, then the reporter notes, “Despite their excellent air shots the group has found difficulty in club bookings because of the racial angle involved in the mixed group. Setup includes two colored and three ofays, and it will be interesting to find if this group can break through the Jim Crowism so strong out here.” That quotation — both in subject and style — is worth a good deal of study, and it reminds us that there were two unions at the time in Los Angeles.
Such fascinating evidence spills out of Vacher’s book — because his subjects haven’t simply played or lived locally, and they are people one would otherwise know only as names in discographies or on record labels.
The book is entertaining, powerful, and eye-opening. Peter Vacher has surpassed himself, and that is saying a great deal. Now I’m going back to read more. As a postscript, I opened the book at random and found Chester Lane’s story about working with Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings in El Dorado, Arkansas, circa 1928, with Louis Jordan . . . and the band is taken over by one Wilson, who owns Wilson’s Tell-‘Em-‘Bout-Me Cafe. I’ll stop there, but you will see why such real-life details make the book a deep pleasure.
Allan Vaché knows what swing is all about, and when you get him on a bandstand with a good rhythm section, floating jazz improvisations happen. And that was the case at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — when he and Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums, took their happy way through three Charlie Christian / Lionel Hampton riff tunes that have been associated with Benny Goodman for seventy-five years.
I’m amused that one title seems to refer to air travel (more of a novelty in 1939 than now), one to Benny’s clarinet, one to shooting craps.
SEVEN COME ELEVEN:
Yes, we certainly could lament that this is no longer our popular music, and occasionally I myself dip into that pit of despair, but the music that these five people made and still make is a true cure for any sadness.
And here is the information you’ll need about the 2016 Atlanta Jazz Party, April 22-24.
James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Danny Barker, 1946, by Charles Peterson
When the Student is more dramatically visible than the Teacher, even the most influential mentor and guide might become obscure. James Price Johnson, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has become less prominent to most people, even those who consider themselves well-versed in jazz piano. He was a mentor and teacher — directly and indirectly — of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum. “No James P., no them,” to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie. But even with memorable compositions and thirty years of recording, he has been recognized less than he deserves.
Fats Waller eclipsed his teacher in the public eye because Waller was a dazzling multi-faceted entertainer and personality, visible in movies, audible on the radio. Fats had a recording contract with the most prominent record company, Victor, and the support of that label — he created hit records for them — in regular sessions from 1934 to 1943. Tatum, Basie, and Ellington — although they paid James P. homage in words and music — all appeared to come fully grown from their own private universes. Basie and Ellington were perceived not only as pianists but as orchestra leaders who created schools of jazz composition and performance; Tatum, in his last years, had remarkable support from Norman Granz — thus he left us a series of memorable recordings.
Many of the players I’ve noted above were extroverts (leaving aside the reticent Basie) and showmanship come naturally to them. Although the idea of James P., disappointed that his longer “serious” works did not receive recognition, retiring to his Queens home, has been proven wrong by Johnson scholar Scott Brown (whose revised study of James P. will be out in 2017) he did not get the same opportunities as did his colleagues. James P. did make records, he had club residencies at Cafe Society and the Pied Piper, was heard at an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert and was a regular feature on Rudi Blesh’s THIS IS JAZZ . . . but I can look at a discography of his recordings and think, “Why isn’t there more?” Physical illness accounts for some of the intermittent nature of his career: he had his first stroke in 1940 and was ill for the last years of his life.
There will never be enough. But what we have is brilliant. And the reason for this post is the appearance in my mailbox of the six-disc Mosaic set which collects most of James P.’s impressive recordings between 1921 and 1943. (Mosaic has also issued James P.’s session with Eddie Condon on the recent Condon box, and older issues offered his irreplaceable work for Blue Note — solo and band — in 1943 / 44, and the 1938 HRS sides as well.)
Scott Brown, who wrote the wise yet terse notes for this set, starts off by pointing to the wide variety of recordings Johnson led or participated in this period. And even without looking at the discography, I can call to mind sessions where Johnson leads a band (with, among others, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett — or another all-star group with Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Lionel Hampton on drums, Artie Bernstein, Ed Hall, and Higginbotham); accompanies the finest blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, is part of jivey Clarence Williams dates — including two takes of the patriotic 1941 rouser UNCLE SAMMY, HERE I AM — works beautifully with Bessie Smith, is part of a 1929 group with Jabbo Smith, Garvin Bushell on bassoon, Fats Waller on piano); is a sideman alongside Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Newton, Pete Brown, John Kirby, swings out on double-entendre material with Teddy Bunn and Spencer Williams. There’s a 1931 band date that shows the powerful influence of Cab Calloway . . . and more. For the delightful roll call of musicians and sides (some never before heard) check the Mosaic site here.
(On that page, you can hear his delicate, haunting solo BLUEBERRY RHYME, his duet with Bessie Smith on her raucous HE’S GOT ME GOING, the imperishable IF DREAMS COME TRUE, his frolicsome RIFFS, and the wonderful band side WHO?)
I fell in love with James P.’s sound, his irresistible rhythms, his wonderful inventiveness when I first heard IF DREAMS COME TRUE on a Columbia lp circa 1967. And then I tried to get all of his recordings that I could — which in the pre-internet, pre-eBay era, was not easy: a Bessie Smith accompaniment here, a Decca session with Eddie Dougherty, the Blue Notes, the Stinson / Asch sides, and so on. This Mosaic set is a delightful compilation even for someone who, like me, knows some of this music by heart because of forty-plus years of listening to it. The analogy I think of is that of an art student who discovers a beloved artist (Rembrandt or Kahlo, Kandinsky or Monet) but can only view a few images on museum postcards or as images on an iPhone — then, the world opens up when the student is able to travel to THE museum where the idol’s works are visible, tangible, life-sized, arranged in chronology or thematically . . . it makes one’s head spin. And it’s not six compact discs of uptempo stride piano: the aural variety is delicious, James P.’s imagination always refreshing.
The riches here are immense. All six takes of Ida Cox’s ONE HOUR MAMA. From that same session, there is a pearl beyond price: forty-two seconds of Charlie Christian, then Hot Lips Page, backed by James P., working on a passage in the arrangement. (By the way, there are some Charlie Christian accompaniments in that 1939 session that I had never heard before, and I’d done my best to track down all of the Ida Cox takes. Guitar fanciers please note.) The transfers are as good as we are going to hear in this century, and the photographs (several new to me) are delights.
Hearing these recordings in context always brings new insights to the surface. My own epiphany of this first listening-immersion is a small one: the subject is HOW COULD I BE BLUE? (a record I fell in love with decades ago, and it still delights me). It’s a duo-performance for James P. and Clarence Williams, with scripted vaudeville dialogue that has James P. as the 1930 version of Shorty George, the fellow who makes love to your wife while you are at work, and the received wisdom has been that James P. is uncomfortable with the dialogue he’s asked to deliver, which has him both the accomplished adulterer and the man who pretends he is doing nothing at all. Hearing this track again today, and then James P. as the trickster in I FOUND A NEW BABY, which has a different kind of vaudeville routine, it struck me that James P. was doing his part splendidly on the first side, his hesitations and who-me? innocence part of his character. He had been involved with theatrical productions for much of the preceding decade, and I am sure he knew more than a little about acting. You’ll have to hear it for yourself.
This, of course, leaves aside the glory of his piano playing. I don’t think hierarchical comparisons are all that useful (X is better than Y, and let’s forget about Z) but James P.’s melodic improvising, whether glistening or restrained, never seems a series of learned motives. Nothing is predictable; his dancing rhythms (he is the master of rhythmic play between right and left hands) and his melodic inventiveness always result in the best syncopated dance music. His sensitivity is unparalleled. For one example of many, I would direct listeners to the 1931 sides by Rosa Henderson, especially DOGGONE BLUES: where he begins the side jauntily, frolicking as wonderfully as any solo pianist could — not racing the tempo or raising his volume — then moderates his volume and muffles his gleaming sound to provide the most wistful counter-voice to Henderson’s recital of her sorrows. Another jaunty interlude gives way to the most tender accompaniment. I would play this for any contemporary pianist and be certain of their admiration.
I am impressed with this set not simply for the riches it contains, but for the possibility it offers us to reconsider one of my beloved jazz heroes. Of course I would like people to flock to purchase it (in keeping with Mosaic policy, it is a limited edition, and once it’s gone, you might find a copy on eBay for double price) but more than that, I would like listeners to do some energetic reconstruction of the rather constricted canon of jazz piano history, which usually presents “stride piano” as a necessary yet brief stop in the forward motion of the genre or the idiom — as it moves from Joplin to Morton to Hines to Wilson to Tatum to “modernity.” Stride piano is almost always presented as a type of modernized ragtime, a brief virtuosic aberration with a finite duration and effect. I would like wise listeners to hear James P. Johnson as a pianistic master, his influence reaching far beyond what is usually assumed.
I was happy to see James P. on a postage stamp, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough, as the Mosaic set proves over and over again. I would like James P. Johnson to be recognized as “the dean of jazz pianists”:
Listen closely to this new Mosaic box setsix compact discs worth of proof that the genius of James P. Johnson lives on vividly.
Both Louis and Bing recorded this wonderfully emotional song in 1931, as did the Boswell Sisters and Sam Wooding. In the decade to come, Red Norvo, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Mundy, Artie Shaw, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, Bob Zurke and Joe Rushton, Harry James, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Trumbauer, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum. And that’s only its first decade, and only those performances that were recorded.
But we are also concerned with the more recent present — since I call this blog, with full intent, JAZZ LIVES. On November 30, 2014, a stellar ad hoc small band under the leadership of pianist, vocalist, composer, and fantasist Ray Skjelbred took the stand at the San Diego Jazz Fest, and performed this song.
Before they begin (after the little whimsical 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert interlude) — you can hear someone, perhaps Marc, warping its title into I SEE RENDERED DEER, but this is America and freedom of speech is said to prevail. The other nobilities on the stand are Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello:
The mood, for those who know their antecedents, is more Boyce Brown – Wild Bill Davison (“The Collector’s Item Cats”) than Bing. But for those who haven’t had enough of this lovely song in its natural habitat, here is something rare and, even better, complete. Bing starred in several Mack Sennett shorts early in his career, often appearing as himself and delighting in the slapstick and broad verbal comedy. Here is I SURRENDER, DEAR: