Tag Archives: Loren Schoenberg

“A CLASSICALLY BIG-TONED TENOR PLAYER”: THE MANY KINGDOMS OF PERCY FRANCE, thanks to DANIEL GOULD

If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.

But if he’s only a name to you . . .

Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.

With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.

But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.

Let that sink in.

And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.

Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:

and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:

France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:

I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.

Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.

To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.

Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.

The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.

Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.

A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.

May your happiness increase!

BIG SID and BENNY, TRIUMPHANT (September 27, 1941)

Sidney Catlett, Nice, 1948.

One of the benefits of “straightening up” is that, occasionally, treasures resurface.  Here’s one whose importance I can’t overestimate. But before I write a word more, this airshot of SING SING SING comes to us because of the generosity of Loren Schoenberg, master of so many arts, who played it on a broadcast he did over WKCR-FM perhaps thirty-five years ago. I captured it on cassette, and now share it with you. (Loren generously provided a pitch-corrected version for JAZZ LIVES.) It was not issued on Jerry Valburn’s set (lp and CD) of Goodman-Catlett recordings, should you reach for that set. Your ears will tell you so.

If you needed more evidence of the superhuman power and joy that Sidney Catlett brought to any group in his two-decades-plus playing career, this should do it. It also suggests, words I write with some ruefulness, why Benny Goodman fired him. Listening to this performance, it’s hard not to believe that Sid was leading the band and Benny was doing his best — which was considerable — to keep up. It also reminds us how much music the Swing Era bands created in performance that the 10″ 78 count not capture, because this performance is ten minutes long. Real life — for dancers, a band released from the recording studio. I bless the unidentified recordist, and so should you.

Here are the names of the heroes in that wonderful band, although on this performance, aside from brief ventures by Vido Musso and Mel Powell, by my count, six of the ten minutes are given over to a Catlett-Goodman experimental interlude in duet improvisation:

Billy Butterfield, Cootie Williams, Jimmy Maxwell, Al “Slim” Davis, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Skip Martin, Clint Neagley, alto saxophone; Vido Musso, George Berg, tenor saxophone; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Marty Blitz, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums.  Broadcast, “Meadowbrook,” Cedar Grove, New Jersey, September 27, 1941.

This is an extraordinary piece of music, full of courage, energy, and joy. I hope you feel about it as I do, and that, once again, we may extend our gratitude to Sidney, Benny, Loren, and someone sitting in front of the radio with a microphone and a disc cutter.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SO GOOD: ALICE SPENCER with HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS (CLINT BAKER, LOREN SCHOENBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, NICK ROSSI, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, HAL SMITH)

The pandemic brought us many things that we had not requested, and I will forbear listing them here. But it also brought marvelous musical surprises — our jazz heroes are resilient, and many adapted to the challenge of sewing individual creations into a swinging tapestry. You’ve seen the delightful results: musicians in different “rooms,” which might be thousands of miles away, everyone with headphones or earbuds, making delightful swing harmonies although not able to shake hands or hug. Miraculous and there’s nothing else to call it. Many of my friends have made the technological hurdles seem no more than cracks in the sidewalk, but a new and rewarding group effort has been the merging of the superb singer Alice Spencer with Hal Smith’s Overland Swing Express.

A few words about Ms. Spencer of Austin, Texas. Just as the world is full of restaurants, some producing full stomachs and happy satiety, others producing uneasiness, there are many who call themselves “singers.” Alas, only a small percentage know what it means — that it is more than being personable, chipper, good to look at, well-dressed. Singing is the most personal of the arts, with no keyboard or valves to get in the way, the singer has a message to send us, a story to tell, with only her voice, her dramatic sense, her facial expressions: no tenor saxophone to use as a big shiny prop.

Alice Spencer brings to her songs a remarkable emotional maturity that is beyond her years: put plainly, she sings like a Grownup rather than a Cute Teen.

Her voice has shadings, dark and light; she bends phrases stylishly; she lets us know that she knows what the words mean: she’s not copying famous recordings nor is she singing by rote. And her performances are both emotionally dense and light-hearted: hear her little exhalation of breath at the end of T’AIN’T GOOD — as close to a wordless “Gee, that was fun!” as anyone could create, or the way she wends her way through WHAT SHALL I DO IN THE MORNING? — which, in other hands, could have been maudlin, but when you hear her final sixteen bars and note the sign-off of a gently raised eyebrow, you know that Alice has been having a good time “being sad” and then holding it, gently, at arm’s length. Don’t miss out on the cluster of rapid-fire notes in the middle of T’AIN’T GOOD, either, navigated with accuracy and hilarious style: she might well be the Peggy Fleming of Swing Singing.

I first heard Alice on Brooks Prumo’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, and wrote this:

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated for decades with Billie Holiday into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

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It would be unkind and unfair, though, to ignore the Gents of the Ensemble: Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Torkarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar on MORNING and tech-alchemies; Nick Rossi, guitar on GOOD; Sam Rocha, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader, arranger.

Because the two tunes are associated with Fats Waller (whose birthday was yesterday) there is a jaunty bounce, a reassuring rocking motion. Clint gets hot, as is his delightful habit; Kris summons up not only Fats but that Wilson fellow c. 1938; Loren evokes 1941 Pres in the Victor studios; Bill knows his way around lovely chords; Nick provides just the right mix of enthusiasm and accuracy; Sam keeps everyone honest; Hal rocks the church.

Here’s T’AIN’T GOOD:

and the larger question, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING?:

If you have any acquaintance with the great swing traditions of the Thirties and Forties — those sessions made for the jukebox by Billie, Mildred, Midge, Teddy Grace, Fats, Lee, Maxine, Connee, Red, Wingy, Louis Prima, Bob Howard, Putney, Slim Green, and a dozen others — you will understand why I say a) I could no more watch these videos a single time and move on to something else than I could leave my sandwich half-eaten, and b) that I have received ethereal texts from John Hammond, Jack Kapp, Eli Oberstein, and Bernie Hanighen, fighting for the right to sign this band and Ms. Alice up to a long-term contract (of course for very little money, but that’s show business, as the elephants will tell you). On the more earthly level, I ask, “Where is the bright festival promoter who wants to sign the Overland Swing Express up for a weekend of gigs?” But since I know that some of them read JAZZ LIVES, I have hope.

I heard (to quote Don Redman) that Alice Spencer will be making a new digital album sometime soon. Stay tuned.

May your happiness increase!

THE AUTOGRAPH DANCE, CONTINUED

Yes, Billy Banks!

Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs.  Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.”  Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.

Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance.  I am a Fan, you are The Star.  The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription.  In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them.  (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books.  And Whitney Balliett.)

But I no longer chase Stars.  Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal.  I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%.  In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.

I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term.  He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.

Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on.  The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down.  I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.

I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know.  In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.

Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:

I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.

And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:

This autograph’s closer to home for me:

Again, completely authentic.  But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently.  I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?”  Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.

Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:

Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson.  Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:

It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.

Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:

Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged.  The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely.  For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off.  (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)

I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on.  I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.

But some people did.  Thus . . .

I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones?  I doubt it.  And inside:

This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.”  I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare.  But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box.  Hence:

At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.”  I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.

Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano;  Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:

I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other.  Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue:

Heroes.  Oh, such heroes.

May your happiness increase!

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR SWING TODAY?

So you took your pills this morning with your coffee and you don’t feel any different?  You walked past the bed and it said, “Come back to me until March 2021,” and you heard its call?  A good friend texted you I HAVE GREAT NEWS! and you didn’t read the message?  Do you feel like an elderly carrot at the back of the crisper?  If you were a quart of milk, would you be lumpy and sour?

Before you call your doctor to see if she can see you today, ask yourself: “Could my Swing levels be low?  Have I been neglecting a flowing 4 / 4?  Have I been reading the news far too much too early in the day?”

If so, I have the cure for you.  No co-pay, no long list of side effects, no waiting room with tape across the chairs.  Just sit still and prepare to receive the healing infusions through ears and eyes.  Several repeated immersions will be helpful.  When you find yourself moving rhythmically in your chair, the treatment will be working.

I saw this video last night on YouTube (my faithful companion) and watched it four times in a row before posting it on Facebook.  But I think it’s my moral duty as an upstanding American to share it as widely as possible.  Here’s what I wrote:

When it’s good, you know it. And what I am going to share with you is light-years better than good. It’s what Marty Grosz would call “the real breadstick”: BLUE LOU, created by HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS. That’s Hal, drums / leader; Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Nick Rossi, guitar; Bill Reinhart, string bass. I watched it four times in succession before writing this. Now I have to stop: Jack Kapp and John Hammond are squabbling in the next room over whether the band will sign with Decca or ARC. But judge for yourself:

Are you beginning to feel better?  I know I am.

May your happiness increase!

BUD (Part One, November 27, 1988)

Mr. Freeman, always beautifully attired:

Bud Freeman, who made the long journey from being an Austin High School boy, earnest and enthusiastic, to an elder of the tribe, always remaining himself. But he has not received the same attention — with the exception of Loren Schoenberg and Dick Sudhalter — that his singular talent deserved, almost as if there were just too many tenor saxophone stylists for the writers to keep track of, so they focused on Lester and Hawkins, Ben and Byas and few others.  Bud’s music was both intellectual and impassioned: you could trace his scalar patterns on graph paper, but he was also busily swinging and surprising the listener.  He also kept some of that boyishness in his buoyant playing, those lines that bobbed and weaved, never predictably.  I offer here a late example — Bud was eighty-two in this performance, but this is not an old man’s tentative music.  And to an attentive listener, it is quite sophisticated, beautifully, whimsically alive.

Here he is, recorded live at the Manassas Jazz Festival (thanks to Joe Shepherd for this keepsake) with Johnson McRee as M.C., Johnny Mince, clarinet; Al Stevens, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums  After McRee’s introduction and some before-set milling around, there’s LADY BE GOOD / a story about shooting craps and playing cards / I FOUND A NEW BABY / I GOT RHYTHM / Marty tells a now-offensive joke and Bud recites a few lines of Shakespeare / CRAZY RHYTHM //

I’ve noted that Bud was 82, Johnny, 76, Blowers, 87 (!), Williams, 80, Marty (the Youngblood then, ninety now) 58.  I don’t know Al Stevens’ birthdate, but he looks less venerable.  Durable fellows, all.

I will offer another half-hour set of Bud and friends shortly.  But study this one, without preconceptions, please.

May your happiness increase!

“TO SWING FAN No. 1”: AN AUTOGRAPH ALBUM c. 1941

More delightful eBaying.

The seller describes the holy relic thusly: An original 1930’s album containing 88 autograph signatures of jazz musicians, sporting figures and other personalities. The musicians represented include Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Desmond, Gene Krupa, Bid Sid Catlett, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, “Hot Lips” Page, Cab Calloway, Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Les Brown, and many more. The album with a two-ring binding, with some signatures signed directly onto the album leaves and others clipped and mounted, some on larger folded sheets. 31 pages of autographs, with further blank pages in the middle; on the last several pages, all the grades from the owner’s report cards from 1930 to 1943 are meticulously recorded! An inscription to the owner on the verso of the title page dates the album to 1931. Light toning and edge wear; overall in fine condition. 6.25 x 4.5 inches (15.8 x 11.7 cm).

Here is the link, and the price is $750 plus $20 shipping.  I don’t need it, but I certainly covet it: pieces of paper touched by people I have revered for half a century.  (And, of course, imagine having heard, seen, and spoken to them!)

Before we get to the treasures within, I can only speculate that someone listing report cards from 1930 to 1943 was born, let us say, in 1925, and so might no longer be on the planet.  But he or she was an avid Hot Lips Page acolyte, so we are certainly related spiritually.

The only name unfamiliar to me in this rich collection was Mart Kenney, whom I learned was a well-known Canadian jazz musician and bandleader (his “Western Gentlemen”) and long-lived, 1910-2006.  Did our autograph collector visit Canada?

In general, the signatures collected here suggest a wealth of bands seen and heard in 1941: Lips, Dave Tough, and Max Kaminsky with Artie Shaw; Mel Powell with Goodman; Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge with Krupa.

Here’s a peek.

Artie Shaw, with two Lips Page signatures!

Benny Goodman, with Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and John Simmons!

My favorite page.  And Page (with equal time for Walter)!

I wonder how many of these pages Gene signed in his life.

Others in Gene’s band, including Sam Musiker and Roy Eldridge.

Anita O’Day and Joe Springer.

Hi-De-Ho, on a tiny label.

Woody Herman.

Bob Higgins and Les Brown.

Mart Kenney and musicians.

And I presume more members of the Western Gentlemen.

For once, this seems like a bargain: 88 signatures plus thirteen years of the owner’s report cards.  Who could resist?

Just because no JAZZ LIVES post should be completely silent, here (thanks to Loren Schoenberg) is a 1941 airshot from the Steel Pier of Artie Shaw’s band featuring Hot Lips Page, Dave Tough, and George Auld on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

May your happiness increase!

POETS IN THEIR YOUTH (October 11, 1938)

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.

May your happiness increase!

“LITTLE THINGS THAT DON’T GET INTO THE HISTORY BOOKS”: DAN MORGENSTERN TELLS TALES of SYMPHONY SID TORIN, WILLIS CONOVER, ARTIE SHAW, and COOTIE WILLIAMS (June 8, 2018)

I am so fortunate in many ways, some of them not evident on this site.  But JAZZ LIVES readers will understand that my being able to interview Dan Morgenstern at his home from March 2017 on — at irregular intervals — is a gift I would not have dreamed possible when I was only A Wee Boy reading his liner notes and DOWN BEAT articles.

Dan is an unaffected master of small revealing insights that show character: in some ways, he is a great short-story writer even though he is working with factual narrative.  Watching these interviews, you’ll go away with Artie Shaw pacing the room and talking, Willis Conover’s ashtrays, Cootie Williams reverently carrying Louis’ horn back to the latter’s hotel, and more.

About ten days ago, we spent another ninety minutes where Dan told affectionate tales of Jaki Byard, Ulysses Kay, Randy Weston, Kenny Dorham, and more.  Those videos will come to light in time.  But we had a marathon session last June, with stories of Louis, Cozy Cole, Milt Hinton, Coltrane, Roy, Teddy, Basie, Joe Wilder, Ed Berger, Perry Como and others — which you can savor here.  And, although it sounds immodest, you should.  (I also have videos of a July session with Dan: stay tuned, as they used to say.)

Here are more delightful stories from the June session.

Dan remembers Symphony Sid Torin, with sidebars about John Hammond, Nat Lorber, Rudi Blesh, Stan Kenton at Carnegie Hall, Roy Eldridge, and jazz radio in general:

Dan’s affectionate portrait of another man with a mission concerning jazz — the Voice of America’s Willis Conover:

and some afterthoughts about Willis:

and, to conclude, another leisurely portrait, early and late, of Artie Shaw:

with Artie as a “champion talker,” and a gig at Bop City, and sidelights about Benny Goodman and Cootie Williams, the latter reverent of Louis:

Thank you, Dan, for so generously making these people, scenes, and sounds come so alive.

May your happiness increase!

FOR PRES (Part Three): MICHAEL KANAN, LARRY McKENNA, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Sept. 1, 2018, University of Scranton, PA)

Michael Kanan, Larry McKenna, Murray Wall, Doron Tirosh at the University of Scranton, Sept. 1, 2018. Photograph by John Herr.

 

Here are the closing three selections from a wondrous evening of music devoted to the sacred memory of Lester Young.  By “sacred memory” I mean the living presence of that great man, so ebullient, so tender.  And in proper Lester-fashion, everyone in the quartet sang his own song.

Here you will find Parts One and Two of this concert, which delighted me then and uplift me now.

The concert was, to me and others in the enthusiastic audience, a series of highlights, one quietly dazzling gem after another.  I have a special love for the blues in G, POUND CAKE, that appears in Part Two.  And the version of ALL OF ME that follows is tremendously touching.  Billie and Lester recorded it as a sweet ballad — in opposition to the bouncy versions that got faster and faster after its initial appearance a decade earlier.  This performance is like a caress:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, happily inspired by the 1956 quartet session of Lester, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones (originally issued as PRES AND TEDDY on Verve):

Finally, Lester’s TICKLE-TOE, which is sheer fun, an audible evocation of joy:

You don’t need me to tell you that this concert was a transcendent experience.  Blessings on these four players and on the people who made it possible.

And a few words about Larry McKenna, whose circle of admirers is expanding rapidly.  Larry and fellow Philadelphia tenorist Bootsie Barnes have made a CD, called THE MORE I SEE YOU.  One set of tantalizing little sound samples can be found here, and here’s a brief rewarding video:

And rather my praising this CD, I offer the notes written by Sam Taylor — a deep admirer of Larry’s and also a wonderful tenor player:

What defines the sound of a city? Ask three Philadelphians and get four opinions, as the joke goes. The people, their collective spirit both past and present, is a good place to start. Philadelphia, a city overflowing with history, is home to a proud, passionate, willful, and fiercely loyal people. The city’s jazz legacy is no different and has always been a leading voice. Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, Trudy Pitts, Lee Morgan, the Heath Brothers, Stan Getz, Philly Joe Jones and countless other Philadelphia jazz masters are bound together by the same thread. These giants played in their own way, without concern for style or labels. They had an attitude; an intention to their playing that gave the music a feeling, a rhythm, a deep pocket. In Philadelphia today, there is no question who preserves that tradition, embodies that spirit and who defines the “Philadelphia sound”: Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna.

Now elder statesmen of the Philadelphia jazz community, Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna were born just a few months apart in 1937. The times in which they lived often dictated their career paths, but no matter where their music took them Philadelphia was always home.

Bootsie Barnes credits his musical family as the spark that began his life in music. His father was an accomplished trumpet player and his cousin, Jimmy Hamilton, was a member of Duke Ellington’s band for nearly three decades. “Palling around with my stablemates, Tootie Heath, Lee Morgan, Lex Humphries” as he tells it, Barnes began on piano and drums. At age nineteen he was given a saxophone by his grandmother and “knew he had found his niche.” Over the course of his decades long career, Barnes has performed and toured with Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Smith, Trudy Pitts and countless others, with five recordings under his own name and dozens as a sideman.

Mostly self-taught, Larry McKenna was deeply inspired by his older brother’s LP collection. It was a side of Jazz at The Philharmonic 1947 featuring Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips that opened his ears to jazz. “When I heard that I immediately said: ‘That’s what I want to play, the saxophone,’” McKenna recalls. Completing high school, McKenna worked around Philadelphia and along the East Coast until the age of twenty-one, when his first big break came with Woody Herman’s Big Band. McKenna has played and recorded with Clark Terry, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and countless others. He has four recordings under his own name, with extensive credits as a sideman.

Their resumes are only a shadow of who these men are. To really know the true Larry McKenna and Bootsie Barnes, you have to meet them. They are as men just as their music sounds: giving, open, genuine and deeply funny. Working nearly every night, Barnes and McKenna are consistent, positive forces on the scene. Deeply admired by younger generations of musicians, they show us that a life in music should be led with grace, joy and honesty.

The first time I heard Barnes and McKenna together was at Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus in the mid 1990s. As an eager but shy young musician of about fourteen, I somehow found my way to the storied club on Third and Poplar Streets. A sign out front proudly stated “Jazz Seven Days” – the only place in the city boasting such a schedule. The bouncer working that night took one look at me and with what I can only imagine was a mix of pity and amusement, hurriedly waved me in. Eyes down and hugging the wall, I made my way along the long bar, past the mounted bison head’s blank stare, towards the music. My go-to spot was an alcove next to the bathroom: a place just far enough from the bartender’s gaze so as not to be noticed, (did I mention I was fourteen?) but close enough to the stage to watch and listen. The house band was the late Sid Simmons on piano, bassist Mike Boone, and drummer Byron Landham. (Anyone who was there will tell you: this was an unstoppable trio.) Barnes and McKenna were setting the pace, dealing on a level only the true masters can. The whole room magically snapped into focus: the band shifted to high gear, the swing intensified and the crowd had no choice but to be swept up in the music. They had a story too incredible to ignore. I sat there in disbelief at the power and beauty of what they were doing. It is a feeling that has never left me.

How they played that night at Ortlieb’s those many years ago is exactly the way they play today. In fact, they are probably playing better than ever. The track Three Miles Out is a shining example. Barnes solos first, hitting you with that buttery, round tenor tone with a little edge as he gets going. His ideas are steeped in the hard-bop tradition delivered with a clear voice all his own. There is no ambiguity, no hesitation, just pure, joyful, hard-swinging tenor playing. McKenna follows, with his trademark tenor tone, both beautiful and singing, strong and powerful. He swings with natural ease, a wide beat and always makes the music dance. He has what I can only describe as a deep melodic awareness thanks largely to his mastery of the American Songbook. McKenna is unhurried and speaks fluid bebop language. This is classic Barnes and McKenna.

The most challenging thing to describe is the way someone’s music touches your heart. I hope my fellow native Philadelphians will allow me to speak for them when I say we are all forever in the debt of Bootsie and Larry. May we live and create in a way that continues to honor them and their music.

I can’t wait to hear what they play next.

Sam Taylor
New York City, July 2018

May your happiness increase!

FOR PRES (Part Two): MICHAEL KANAN, LARRY McKENNA, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Sept. 1, 2018, University of Scranton, PA)

I hope you saw and savored Part One of this magical concert in honor of Lester Young, featuring Michael Kanan, piano; Larry McKenna, tenor saxophone; Murray Wall, string bass; Doron Tirosh, drums — a concert made possible through the good efforts of Loren Schoenberg, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and Cheryl Y. Boga of the University of Scranton.  This evening is one of the high points of my live jazz experience.

Michael Kanan, Larry McKenna, Murray Wall, Doron Tirosh at the University of Scranton, Sept. 1, 2018. Photograph by John Herr.

Now, let’s proceed to another trio of delights — whose collective and individual virtues do not need explication: heroically gentle swing.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS:

POUND CAKE, Lester’s blues in G for the Basie band (your “pound cake” was your Squeeze) — both Michael and Larry hark back to Lester’s solo, delightfully, and the wonderful swing everyone generates makes this one of the highlights among highlights:

LESTER LEAPS IN:

Magic.  And there will be a Part Three.

May your happiness increase!

FOR PRES (Part One): MICHAEL KANAN, LARRY McKENNA, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Sept. 1, 2018, University of Scranton, PA)

Michael Kanan, Larry McKenna, Murray Wall, Doron Tirosh at the University of Scranton, Sept. 1, 2018. Photograph by John Herr.

I extol the virtues of life in New York, but beautiful things are created when bold explorers like myself cross into other states, too.  On Saturday, September 1, at the University of Scranton, PA, Loren Schoenberg and The National Jazz Museum in Harlem presented “Tribute to Prez: The Life and Music of Lester Young” featuring The Michael Kanan Quartet, with saxophonist Larry McKenna, string bassist Murray Wall, and drummer Doron Tirosh. Loren wasn’t able to make it, but his perception and generosity made a wonderful musical event take place.  Thanks are also due Cheryl Y. Boga, Tom Cipriano, and photographer John Herr.

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

BLUE LESTER:

LADY BE GOOD:

I had the honor of being there, getting to say a few words about Lester alongside Michael and  Larry (to a hip audience) and recording the concert, nine extended beautifully floating performances which captured Lester’s spirit while enabling everyone to “go for himself.”  Here are the first three, which require only open-hearted appreciation . . . no explication needed.  Just sweetness everywhere.

May your happiness increase!

“THE SAVORY COLLECTION 1935-1940” (Mosaic Records MD6-266, 6 discs)

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.

And, by the way, visit here.

Loren’s thank-you note!

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.

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTION OF THE ART: “CLASSIC BRUNSWICK AND COLUMBIA TEDDY WILSON SESSIONS 1934-1942” (Mosaic Records)

Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:

I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.

But I must start with a small odd anecdote.  Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it.  It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison.  I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.”  Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea.  Cue rueful laughter.

Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by  extension, the recordings in this box set.

Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries.  One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her.  The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string.  True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle.  But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable.  Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.

His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid.  But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero.  I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues.  And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.

Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography.  From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance.  There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.)  Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises.  I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.

He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps.  Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week.  In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered.  I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to.  I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art.  They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.

The music impresses and moves me on several levels.  One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic.  Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole.  There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical.  The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues.  The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part.  The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type.  Check the Mosaic discography.

In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another.  Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane.  The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.

The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record.  Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions.  What more could one create within this form?  How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?

Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so.  But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.

I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear.  Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs.  When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations.  However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.

I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise.  Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards.  So I won’t belabor that point here.  If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do.  But I will leave that to others to argue.

I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over.  And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research.  And the photographs.  And the splendid transfers.  I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.

For more information, go here — either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available.  Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box?  Is it a good value?  I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds.  Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.

And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS RUBY BRAFF (December 15, 2017)

 

To get us in the proper mood, here are Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman investigating Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME, a performance that has its light-hearted moments and a very touching ending:

and why stop with one performance only?  SWEET SAVANNAH SUE is one of my favorite recordings of the thousands Ruby created:

Dan’s first musing on Ruby mentions some mutual friends — Ruby’s bio-discographer Tom Hustad, Sam Margolis, Jack Bradley, Loren Schoenberg — but keeps on returning to the well-seasoned enigma that was Ruby himself:

Here is a musical interlude whose relevance will become clear to the conscientious:

More tales of Ruby, Dick Gibson, Ruby in hospice, friends and former friends:

Finally, Ruby and Dick Sudhalter, Ruby as record reviewer, and sidelights on Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis, who will be the subject of the next videos:

I find Dan’s reminiscences invaluable.  He was there.  But more than that, his sharp, friendly observations make a scene come alive.  And he’s taught me an invaluable lesson about interviewing . . . to stay out of the interviewee’s way.  I’ve learned that Dan’s zigzag paths are much more interesting than any list of questions I might have prepared.  Take it from me.

May your happiness increase!

LET’S GET SAVORY: “IT’S JUST VERY EXCITING.”

Not just another pretty disc. Read on!

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.

DISC I:

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 (W) (7:01) / 15. Star Dust (W) (2:58) / 16. Chinatown, My Chinatown (W) (2:25) / 17. Blues (W) (9:52) / 18. Rosetta (W) (4:06) /

CARL KRESS & DICK McDONOUGH: 19. Heat Wave (EE) (2:20)

EMILIO CACERES TRIO: 20. China Boy (S) (2:26)

DISC II:

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)

DISC III:

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) /

DISC IV:

TEDDY WILSON: 1. Coconut Groove (SS) (2:17) / 2. Jitterbug Jump (SS) (4:28) / 3. Sweet Lorraine (SS) (3:48) /

GLENN MILLER: 4. By The Waters Of The Minnetonka (GG) (4:42) / 5. Tuxedo Junction (HH) (4:20) / 6. In The Mood (HH) (3:16) /

JOE SULLIVAN: 7. Gin Mill Blues (OO) (3:08) / 8. Just Strollin’ (LL) (1:33) / 9. Little Rock Getaway (LL) (2:16) / 10. Improvisation #1 (NN) (10:00) / 11. Improvisation #2 (NN) (7:11) / 12. Improvisation #3 (NN) (2:29) / 13. Improvisation #4 (NN) (5:12) /

DISC V:

COUNT BASIE:  1. One O’Clock Jump (#1) (D) (4:38) / 2. Every Tub (#1) (D) (3:07) / 3. Boogie Woogie (#1) (D) (3:35) / 4. Farewell Blues / Moten Swing (closing theme) (D) (3:09) / 5. I Ain’t Got Nobody (E) (3:10) / 6. Every Tub (#2) (E) (4:06) / 7. Honeysuckle Rose (F) (4:01) / 8. Stop Beatin’ Around The Mulberry Bush (G) (2:17) / 9. Roseland Shuffle (#1) (H) (4:48) / 10. Texas Shuffle (#1) (H) (2:00) / 11. Alexander’s Ragtime Band (H) (4:19) / 12. St. Louis Blues (H) (3:31) / 13. Rosetta (I) (3:25) / 14. Blue And Sentimental (I) (2:40) / 15. He Ain’t Got Rhythm (I) (3:06) / 16. Moten Swing (I) (3:08) / 17. Harlem Shout (J) (2:51) / 18. Oh, Lady Be Good (#1) (J) (2:28) /

DISC VI:

COUNT BASIE:  1. Limehouse Blues (#1) (K) (2:33) / 2. Texas Shuffle (#2) (K) (4:22) / 3. Russian Lullaby (K) (2:25) / 4. Shout And Feel It (L) (2:17) / 5. Good Morning Blues (M) (3:05) / 6. Limehouse Blues (#2) (M) (2:25) / 7. I Never Knew (#1) (N) (2:22) / 8. One O’ Clock Jump (#2) (O) (2:49) / 9. Sent For You Yesterday (O) (3:24) / 10. Swingin’ The Blues (O) (3:43) / 11. Every Tub (#3) (P) (2:47) / 12. Jumpin’ At The Woodside (P) (2:45) / 13. Pound Cake (P) (1:38) /14. Roseland Shuffle (#2) (P) (3:03) / 15. Boogie Woogie (#2) (P) (4:32) / 16. Panassie Stomp (P) (2:28) / 17. Oh, Lady Be Good (#2) (P) (2:51) / 18. The Apple Jump (#1) (Q) (3:03) / 19. The Apple Jump (#2) (R) (2:42) / 20. I Never Knew (#2) (R) (3:27) / 21. Bugle Call Rag (R) (2:42)

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear that glorious Basie band play RUSSIAN LULLABY and ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND.  Come on along . . .

May your happiness increase!

SO SAVORY, SO SWEET — VOLUME FOUR!

A Savory Disc

It’s not only Stupendous but Colossal.  And it’s Embraceable, too.

The fourth volume of music from Bill Savory’s discs is available to be ordered, and it features Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Joe Marsala, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Glenn Miller, and others.

That’s Bobby Hackett — detail from what I believe is a Charles Peterson photograph.

Since some people, even musicians, didn’t know who Bill Savory was and what riches he had for us, I wrote this in 2016 — which I hope is both introduction and inducement to purchase.  And I have no particular shame in “shilling” for Apple when music of this rarity and caliber is involved.

Here is the link which has all the delicious information — and, I believe, how to pre-order (or order) the package, which costs less than two elaborate Starbucks concoctions or one CD.  And here are comments by Loren Schoenberg, producer of this volume and founding director of the Jazz Museum in Harlem:

“Just like an old wine, they improve with age! So much of the music of the Era was played in the musical equivalent of capital letters. These performances are such a joy to hear from bands that played with the lower-case letters too, so relaxed and flowing.”

As the title emphasizes, the outstanding cornetist Bobby Hackett is prominently featured – on three tracks with his own ensembles and four as a participant in joyous jams led by the fine clarinetist Joe Marsala. Admired by trumpet giants from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, Bobby was already leading his own ensembles by the time of the recordings that open this album after gaining notoriety through his performance with Benny Goodman in his legendary 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.

Here he joins Marsala for a quartet of rollicking, extended pieces filled with dynamic ensemble work and inspired solos on California, Here I Come and The Sheik of Araby, as well as blues classics Jazz Me Blues and When Did You Leave Heaven.

A Hackett ensemble’s participation on a 1938 Paul Whiteman radio broadcast bring us the beautiful Gershwin ballad Embraceable You and a stomping take on Kid Ory’s Muskrat Ramble, with Bobby joined by the brilliant Pee Wee Russell on clarinet and legendary guitarist Eddie Condon.

A major find are three extremely rare recordings by the immortal pianist Teddy Wilson’s 13-piece orchestra, virtually unrecorded in live performances. Recently discovered and to this point the only excellent high audio quality (superb, at that) recordings of this group, these 1939 items feature such masters as tenorman Ben Webster and trumpeters Doc Cheatham and Shorty Baker. With Wilson’s majestic virtuosity front and center, the band is structured for smooth transitions and elegant voicings, employing the rare – for its time – two trumpet/two trombone brass section creating a uniquely singing dynamic that is as graceful as its leader’s singular artistry and presence.

Martin Block, famed for hosting terrific jam sessions (including those Joe Marsala excursions) also hosted the two loosely structured, but highly energetic 1939 jams here, led by the spectacular trombone titan Jack Teagarden and featuring Charlie Shavers on trumpet and the drummer and wildman scat-singer Leo Watson. Johnny Mercer also makes an unusual appearance alongside Teagarden and Watson for a highly spirited vocal trio on Jeepers Creepers.

This delightful album closes with three pieces by one of the most popular of the Swing-era big bands, the Glenn Miller Orchestra – all featuring the leader’s right-hand man, Tex Beneke on tenor sax and vocals. The exuberant sense of swing and joy that made the Miller orchestra so wildly popular is fully apparent throughout.

As I would say to the puppy, when playing on the rug and encouraging puppy-play, GET IT!  Even if you’re not a puppy or a dog-owner, these Savory collections have brought great pleasure. I’ve ordered mine.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING DAN MORGENSTERN, WHO GIVES SO MUCH TO US

On October 24, 1929, Bennie Moten, Lud Gluskin, Horace Heidt, Junie C. Cobb, Jack Hylton, and a few other bands made records.  In the United States, terrible things were happening to the economy.  But in Munich, Germany, our hero Dan Morgenstern was born.  Whether his first cries were in 4/4, there is no evidence,  but I would venture that it was an early example of spontaneous scat singing.

Given the math above, even I can add up the figures to write that Dan will be 88 this week.  I’m not the only one celebrating.  There will be a musical birthday party hosted by David Ostwald, who leads the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, New York City, this Wednesday, the 25th, from 5:30 to 7 PM.  And I’ll bet Dan chirps a few with the Band. You can reserve online (and you should) here.

On Saturday, October 28th, from 1-4 PM, Loren Schoenberg (a very good friend of Dan’s and a scholar in his own right) will host a celebration / interview of Dan at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, 58 West 129th Street, New York City. Details — to reserve a seat / buy a ticket at a nominal price — here — or here.

While you’re making your reservations, a little Morgenstern-music to accompany your mouse-clicks:

I don’t have a jazz club or museum as a place to honor Dan.  But JAZZ LIVES is not without its resources, and as readers know, I have had the honor of interviewing Dan at length . . . an utterly gratifying experience for me, so I will share two as-yet-unseen segments.

One takes Dan back to Copenhagen in 1938.  I knew he had delighted in Fats Waller on Fats’ European tour, but I hadn’t known he had seen the Quintet of the Hot Club of France AND the Mills Brothers.  Dan also recalls his first jazz records.  Wonderful memories:

Remembering the Quintet also led to Dan’s enthusiastic portrait of violinist Svend Asmussen:

“A wonderfully enveloping good nature,” Dan says of Fats.  He would never say it of himself, but it is no less true.  It is our immense good fortune to know Mr. Morgenstern.

May your happiness increase!

A MASTER AT PLAY: JAMES CHIRILLO at THE EAR INN (August 6, 2017)

Drawing by Dan Christoffel

I have been enjoying the art of guitarist / composer / arranger James Chirillo (and I know I have company in this) for some years now on discs, all the way back to 1985, when he appeared as a member of the Loren Schoenberg jazz orchestra then led by Benny Goodman. I browsed his discography and was amazed but not surprised to find how many of my favorite discs he is on, for musicians knew a long time ago that he had a deep yet playful intelligence.

I don’t know when I first encountered him in person (finding him serious, witty, surprising, and kind) but I can say that he allowed me to point a video camera at him a good many years ago, beginning in 2009.  He is a very serious judge of his own work but has been generous and gracious about getting captured and shown off for free, possibly because he understands the depth of my admiration (and, again, I am not alone in this.)

James has always been a peerless soloist — offering delightful surprises mixed in with a fine respect for sound and for melodies — and a wonderful team player, someone who works seriously yet with a light heart to keep the band trotting in the right direction.  I’ve written elsewhere about James’ deadpan penchant for weird notes and tones and spaces, something I cherish, but there is nothing weird about what I can present here.

Often, The Ear Inn, my intermittent Sunday-night shrine, on 326 Spring Street, home of the blessed EarRegulars, has been crowded and noisy.  Although it plays hell with my goals of a) appreciating music in a near-reverent hush and b) recording it for this audience, I understand the throng as a good thing.  People who have read about The Ear in a guidebook that calls it one of the secret New York City places that tourists don’t know about (is that a whiff of irony burning in that skillet?) keep these Sunday soirees going — as they have been for ten years.  But two Sundays ago, The Ear was wonderfully serene, and the band of Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate, and James (with an early-evening guest appearance by the lyrical violinist Valerie Levy) had a good time in the peaceful admiration and pleasure.

About two-thirds of the way through the evening, after a very pleasing EarRegulars performance of a song had concluded, James turned to the band and to us, and said (low-key, wry yet plainly) that since he hadn’t taken a solo on the previous tune, he was going to take one now, and play something he had worked on, Johnny Smith’s arrangement / recomposition / improvisation on GOLDEN EARRINGS, a composition by Victor Young — the title theme of a 1947 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Ray Milland (an autographed copy of the sheet music is here just because it seems a shame not to share it):

and the movie poster:

Here is James’ tender virtuoso interlude, and it is a marvel — you don’t have to be a guitarist to understand that:

James is also that rare entity, a functioning adult: some hours after I posted the blog, he wrote to me, “Would you be surprised if I told you I consider my performance around a 7.8 compared to Johnny Smith’s 10.0? I’m not trying to be unduly self-effacing, it’s just the fact of the matter.”  I admire someone for whom realistic self-assessment is second nature, no matter that we might disagree about the numbers.

Thank you, Master Chirillo, for offering us, without fanfare, a multicolored respite from this modern world.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SAVORY! (THE SWING TREASURE CHEST OPENS FOR US.)

JAZZ LIVES, like its creator, is a little eccentric (I write those words with pride): I don’t always rush to cover what everyone else is covering.  But in the past few days, I’ve met several people, one a brilliant young musician, unaware of the riches made available by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, the Bill Savory Collection in two volumes with more to come . . . so I write these lines as a Swing Public Service.

A Savory Disc

A Savory Disc

Here’s Loren Schoenberg, the guiding genius of all things Savory, on NPR, just a few days ago on November 6, 2016.

Let me backtrack a bit.  Some years back, the “Savory collection” was mythic and tantalizing.  Jazz fans had heard of Bill Savory, an audio engineer and Benny Goodman devotee, who had recorded hours of live material off the air in the late Thirties.  The evidence existed tangibly in a collection of BG airshots issued by Columbia Records to follow up on the incredible success of the 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert.  Some years back, the indefatigable Loren unearthed the collection.  I knew, step by painstaking step, of the heroic work that the peerless sound engineer and disc restorer Doug Pomeroy was doing in his Brooklyn studio.

Collectors were anxious to hear the Savory treasures: some made the trek uptown to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem to do auditory research. Excerpts were shared in news stories.  But we wondered about the legalities (dealing with the estates of the musicians) and the eventual price to us. Recently, we learned that at least part of the Savory material was to be issued digitally through iTunes.

Like many listeners of a certain age, I grew up with music being available tangibly.  I went to Sam Goody or King Karol and bought discs.  Others I borrowed and taped.  So the notion of, say, a Coleman Hawkins performance that I could hear only through my computer was mildly eerie.  But some of the downloaded music can be burned to homegrown CD — with a reasonably easy learning curve — and once downloaded, they won’t go away even if your computer suddenly starts to emit purple smoke.  If all of this is off-putting, one can buy a $25 iTunes gift card at the local supermarket or chain store; one can enlist someone under 30 to do the dance; one can hear treasures, most in gorgeous sound, never heard before.  And the price is more than reasonable: each of the two volumes costs less than a CD.

On the subject of money: as always, enterprises like this stand or fall on our willingness to join in.  I’m  not saying that anyone should starve the children, but this music is terribly inexpensive.  In speaking to some collectors, I found it wryly hilarious that more than one person said, “Oh, I only bought ____ tracks,” when I, being an elder, stifled my response that this was self-defeating.

In 1976, if you had said to me, “Michael, would you like to hear a jam session with Herschel Evans, Lionel Hampton, Dave Matthews, Charlie Shavers, Milt Hinton, Cozy Cole, and Howard Smith?  Give me six dollars,” I would have been removing bills from my wallet even though I was earning a pittance in academia.

I also note that some jazz fans have commented on Facebook that they are enthusiastic in theory but waiting to purchase the volume that will contain their favorite band.  If you don’t find something to admire here and now, I wonder about you.

Doug Pomeroy’s remastering of these precious discs is marvelous.  The immediacy of the sound is both intense and immense, especially for those of us used to “airshots” recorded by some amateur Angel of Hot with the microphone up to the speaker of the radio console . . . then playing the disc a hundred times. Savory had an actual recording studio and could record the radio signal directly. On a few tracks, there is some gentle static, I believe caused by a lightning storm, but it’s atmospheric rather than distracting.

Here’s a detailed essay on Savory and his collection.

Having learned how to navigate iTunes, I have been listening to the first volume for the last few days.  The second volume, sixty-two minutes of incredible live material in vibrant sound of the Count Basie Orchestra 1938-40 featuring Lester Young (also Herschel Evans, Buck Clayton, Jimmy Rushing) has proven too intense for me: I started to play the whole set and then found myself overcome, as if I’d tried to eat a whole chocolate cake in a sitting.  I can see that I will spread out this disc over a week or more of intermittent listening, and then more weeks to come.

A very literate San Francisco guitarist, Nick Rossi (you should know him!) has written, at my request, a short appreciation of a Herschel Evans solo from the first volume — to be published here shortly.

The first volume starts off with a triumph — a monumental performance, tossed off casually by Coleman Hawkins.  BODY AND SOUL, nearly six minutes (twice the length of the legendary Bluebird 78), followed by BASIN STREET BLUES, not something I’d associate with Hawkins, but it’s spectacular — also a leisurely performance.  Two Ella Fitzgerald performances remind us of how girlish she sounded at the start: irreplaceable and tenderly exuberant.  Next, a series of Fats Waller effusions live from the Yacht Club on Fifty-Second Street (now probably obliterated to make space for a chain pharmacy) where Fats is wonderfully ebullient, although the standouts for me are I HAVEN’T CHANGED A THING and YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY — the latter a new song at the time.  There’s a spirited reading of HEAT WAVE by Carl Kress and Dick McDonough (amazing as a team) and one of CHINA BOY by the Emilio Caceres Trio featuring Emilio on violin and brother Ernie on reeds.  And that jam session.

Jam sessions, when considered coolly decades later, tend to be lopsided affairs: someone rushes or drags, the tempo is too fast.  But this jam session offers us the poignant evidence of one of our great lost heroes, Herschel Evans, not long before his death.  He isn’t at full power, but he sounds entirely like himself — and the choruses here expand his recorded discography by a substantial amount.

The second volume offers what I noted above, but it bears repeating in boldface — sixty-two minutes of Lester Young and the Count Basie band in glorious sound — with more unfettered leisurely improvisation (how happy the band sounds to be playing for dancers and to have escaped the constraints of the recording studio).  I’ve only heard three tracks: a jam session on ROSETTA, a very fast I AIN’T GOT NOBODY with a Jimmy Rushing vocal, and one other.

Words fail me, and that is not my usual reaction.  I don’t think the rhythm section ever sounded so good, Freddie Green’s guitar so luminous.  My friends tell me that Lester is astonishing throughout (this I would not argue) but that there are also clarinet solos.  And in a complete loss of self-control, I found the superb full chorus for Vic Dickenson on I NEVER KNEW. Let joy be unconfined.

Here is the most expansive description of both sets, with sound samples.

I’ll stop now, because readers have already gotten the point or have stopped reading.  But please do visit the Savory Collection sites.  And I suggest that the perfect holiday gift for yourself is acquiring both volumes.  I don’t endorse a major corporation here, and I have been Apple-averse for as long as I can remember, but when the reward is Lester, Jimmy Rushing, Buck, Sweets, Jo Jones, Herschel, Hamp, Ella, Fats, Hawk, Vernon Brown, Milt, etc., I can conquer my innate distrust.  And so can you.

May your happiness increase!

LESTER YOUNG’S JOY (“Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions, Mosaic Records: Mosaic MD-8 263)

Although some of us understandably recoil from chronicles of suffering, pain and oppression make for more compelling narrative than happiness does. Think of Emma (Bovary) and Anna (Karenina), their anguish and torment so much more gripping than the story of the main character in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky.”  Montherlant, the French writer Larkin loved to quote, said that happiness “writes white,” that it has nothing to tell us.  Give us some despair, and we turn the pages.  It is true in jazz historiography as it is in fiction. Consider the ferociously detailed examination of the painful lives of Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker.  Musicians like Hank Jones, Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey or Bennie Morton, artists who showed up early and sober to the session, are not examined in the same way.

Suffering, self-destruction, misery — those subjects engross us.

And Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959) whose birthday approaches, will be celebrated on WKCR-FM this weekend, is a splendid example of how the difficulties of one’s life become the subject of sad scrupulous examination.

The “Lester Young story” that is so often told is that of his victimization and grief.  And there is sufficient evidence to show him as a man oppressed — from childhood to his final plane ride — by people who didn’t understand him or didn’t want to.  Readers who know the tale can point accusing fingers at a stock company of betrayers and villains: Willis Young, Leora Henderson, John Hammond, the United States Army, a horde of Caucasians (some faceless, some identifiable) and more.

Although he is simply changing a reed, the photograph below is most expressive of that Lester.  Intent, but not at ease.  Skeptical of the world, wondering what will happen next, his expression verging on anxious.

Lester-Young-standing-changing-reed

But there is the music, lest we forget.  It speaks louder than words, Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson.

A different Lester — ebullient, inventive, full of joyous surprises — is the subject of one of the most grand musical productions I have ever seen, an eight CD set on Mosaic Recordsits cover depicted below.  Every note on this set is a direct rejection of the story of Lester the victim and every note tells us that Lester the creator was even more important, his impact deeper and more permanent.

LESTER BASIE Mosaic

Where did this mournful myth come from, and why?

Few African-American musicians received perceptive and sympathetic media coverage in the Thirties, perhaps because jazz was viewed as entertainment and writers often adopted the most painful “hip” jargon.  (I leave aside Ansermet on Sidney Bechet and early analysis of Ellington as notable exceptions.)  So the writings on Lester, some of which were his own speech, come late in his life and are cautious, full of bitterness and melancholy.  He was by nature sensitive and shy, and which of us would feel comfortable speaking to a stranger in front of a microphone?  Yes, the Lester of the irreplaceable Chris Albertson and Francois Postif interviews is quite a bit more unbuttoned, but much of what comes through is despair, exhaustion, suspicion, hurt.  (I make an exception for Bobby Scott’s gentle loving portrait, but that was posthumous, perhaps Scott’s effort to say, “This was the Lester I knew.”)

Even the film footage we have of Lester (leaving aside those jubilant, silent seconds from Randalls Island) supports this image of the suffering Pres, a bottle sticking out of the pocket of his long black coat, elusive, turning away from the world because of what it had done to him.  The mystical icon of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES is to me a mournful figure, even though Lester participates in the riotous closing blues.  The Lester of THE SOUND OF JAZZ evokes tears in his music and in his stance.  And on the 1958 Art Ford show, the song Lester calls for his feature is MEAN TO ME, a fact not cancelled out by JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID.  The 1950 Norman Granz film, IMPROVISATION, is a notable exception: in BLUES FOR GREASY Lester quietly smiles while Harry Edison struts.  But the visual evidence we have is in more sad than happy.

Adding all this together, the mythic figure we have come to accept is that of Pres on the cross of racism, a man watching others less innovative getting more “pennies” and more prominent gigs.  Then, there’s the conception of him “in decline,” running parallel to Billie Holiday, “still my Lady Day.”  Although some have effectively argued for a more balanced view — why should a musician want to play in 1956 the way he played twenty years earlier, assuming even that it was possible?  Some critics still muse on the change in his sound around 1942, constructing the facile story of a man bowed down by adversity.  And we are drawn to the gravity-bound arc of a great artist, blooming beyond belief in his twenties, alcoholic and self-destructive, dying before reaching fifty.

But the brand-new eight-disc Mosaic set, taken for its own virtues, is a wonderful rebuke to such myth-making.  If you have heard nothing of it or from it, please visit here.

I am writing this review having heard less than one-fourth of this set, and that is intentional.  We do not stuff down fine cuisine in the same way one might mindlessly work their way through a bag of chips; we do not put the Beethoven string quartets on while washing the kitchen floor, and we do not play these Lester Young tracks as background music, or in the car.  To do so would be at best disrespectful.

I think that by now everyone has heard about the virtues of Mosaic’s delicate and thoughtful work.  Fine notes by Pres-scholar Loren Schoenberg, rare and new photographs, and transfers of familiar material that make it shine in ways I could not have imagined.  The music bursts through the speakers and I heard details I’d never heard, not even through forty years of close listening.

The news, of course, is that there are four astonishing discoveries on this set: alternate takes of LADY BE GOOD, EVENIN’, and BOOGIE WOOGIE from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc., session, and a previously unknown alternate take of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the 1937 Basie band.

Now, what follows may mark me as a suburban plutocrat, but if you’d come to me at any time in the past dozen years and said, “Pssst!  Michael!  Want beautiful transfers of three alternate takes from Jones-Smith, Inc., and I’ll throw in an unissued Basie Decca — for a hundred and fifty dollars?” I would have gone to the ATM as fast as I could.

When I first heard the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY in 1969 — I taped it from an Ed Beach radio show and treasured it — the music went right to my heart in a way that only Louis did.  It still does, a living embodiment of joy.

And the joy is still profound.  I know this not only because of the feelings that course through me while listening to the Mosaic set, but because of an entirely unplanned experiment earlier this week.  I had lunch with a young musician whom I admire and like, and after the food was eaten we went back to my place — as is our habit — so that I could “play him some Dixieland!” as he likes to say.

But this time I asked, “Do you like Lester Young?” Had he said “No,” I would have invented an appointment with my podiatrist that I had to get to right away, but he answered properly and with enthusiasm.  He had never heard SHOE SHINE BOY, so I put the first Mosaic disc on.  He is someone whose emotions bubble through him, and although he is taller and broader than I am, he capered around my living room, completely ecstatic.  Lester’s magic is potent and undiminished: I could see the music hitting him as hard and sweetly as it had done to me in 1969.

And as I have been listening to this set while writing these words, I am continually astonished — by recordings I heard forty years ago, by recordings I first heard a week ago — not only by how alive they sound, but by the complete picture of Lester’s first decade of recordings, so influential.  Jones-Smith, Inc. Una Mae Carlisle.  Dickie Wells.  The Kansas City Six and Seven, and Lester’s 1943 Keynote quartet.  The Aladdins.  TI-PI-TIN.  I FOUND A NEW BABY with Teddy Wilson, twice. The Philo trio with Nat Cole.  A few Helen Humes sides. The only studio recordings beyond Mosaic’s reach are the Savoy sessions.

The joy is not only Lester.  There’s Count Basie, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Johnny Guarnieri, Doc West, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, Shad Collins, Sweets Edison, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Nat Cole, Red Callendar, Buddy Rich, Buster Bailey, Bill Coleman, Dickie Wells, Joe Bushkin, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, Bennie Morton, Earle Warren, Jack Washington, Helen Humes . . . and more.

I’ve read a good deal of discussion of this set, of price, of value — as always! — on Facebook, and I won’t reiterate it here.  I will only say that this box is superb listening, provocative and rewarding music.  And as a wise person used to say, “Amortize!” — that is, instead of buying ten lesser CDs, buy this.  And think of the expense as ten manageable chunklets: that’s what credit cards allow us to do. You will be listening to this music for the rest of your life.

Some, reared on Spotify and Pandora — and the idea that everything should be free — will burn copies of the set from jazz Enablers, will wait for the material to be “borrowed” by European labels.  I think this is at best polite theft, and the sole way that we have of keeping enterprises like Mosaic afloat — and there’s nothing like Mosaic, if you haven’t noticed — is to support it.

For those who have their calculators out, the set is eight CDs.  There are 173 tracks.  The cost is $136.00 plus shipping.  There are only 5000 sets being produced.  They won’t be around in five years, or perhaps in one.  (I paid for my set, if you wonder about such things.)

Thank you, Pres, for being so joyous and for sharing your joy with us.  We mourn your griefs, but we celebrate your delight in sounds.  And thank you, Mosaic, for bringing us the joy in such profusion.

May your happiness increase!

TOMORROW NIGHT: “LET ME OFF UPTOWN”: A LISTENING SESSION on FEBRUARY 24, 2015

I don’t usually see JAZZ LIVES as a place to promote myself, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I invite you to a Listening Session, a Musical Interlude, a Platter Party — whatever term you like — on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, from 7-8:30 PM.

Here’s the location — a place that should be both well-known and loved:

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I look forward to meeting old friends and making new ones. Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for offering me this opportunity.  And if you want to join the party via Facebook, just click here.

May your happiness increase!May your happiness increase!