Tag Archives: Louis Armstrong

WONDERFULNESS, ENACTED

No, not the Gershwins’ S’WONDERFUL, but the Stuff Smith – Mitchell Parish IT’S WONDERFUL, a sweet ballad rather than a witty romp.  I stumbled on to the first version below by Alice Babs, whom I’d known for her work before and after Ellington, but this performance just embodies the title: the quality of something being so delightful that one trembles with awe.  And wonder.

Here she is — a mature singer, with understated tenderness that comes right through.  She’s accompanied by Charlie Norman, piano; Jan Adefelt, string bass; Lasse Persson, drums: recorded in Stockholm, autumn 1998:

Here’s the composer, with Carl Perkins, Curtis Counce, Frank Butler, in January 1957:

Martha Tilton with Benny Goodman in a live broadcast from the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania, December 22, 1937:

and one of my favorite recordings ever, JAZZ ULTIMATE, pairing Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden . . . with Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Billy Bauer, Jack Lesberg, Buzzy Drootin, from September 1957:

And Mister Strong, May 18, 1938, whom no one dares follow.  Talk about WONDERFUL:

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFULLY PLAYED, WITH NOT A HOT SOLO IN SIGHT (1931)

A portrait of Eddie Lang, inscribed to Leo McConville. Courtesy of the McConville Archives.

I come from the generation of listeners who waited for the hot solo in the midst of what we were taught (by the communal listeners’ culture) was dull by comparison.  And some of those solos were frankly electrifying. Here is a memorable example:

The caricature of such listeners is the people who wore out the Bix solo on the Whiteman SWEET SUE but left the rest of the record’s surface black and gleaming.

But I have come to see how limiting that was.  Consider this 1931 recording of a sweet pop song.  It’s a Ben Selvin group, with a vocal by the demurely named Paul Small.  This record (and the other side, WHAT IS IT?) finds no mention in a jazz discography, yet it is very satisfying music.  For one thing, it is beautifully played — great dance music, wonderful strains to be holding one’s love, whether any apologies have been tendered or received in the recent past.

The other reason is the deliciously subtle but pervasive guitar of Salvatore Massaro, “Eddie Lang” to the rest of us — who begins the side with an instantly recognizable introduction, and is audible behind the vocal and uplifting throughout.

And they say men don’t know how to apologize.  What wonderful music, what danceable tenderness.

May your happiness increase!

“JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE, FROM ITS ORGINS IN NEW ORLEANS TO FASCIST ITALY AND SINATRA,” by ANNA HARWELL CELENZA

“I prefer books that tell me things I don’t know,” said Mark Twain. Or if he didn’t, he should have.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is such a book — wide-ranging, full of intriguing information, and refreshingly straightforward.

I will say that I thought I knew a great deal about the title and the subject.  After all, I know Rossano Sportiello, Marc Caparone, Paolo Alderighi, and Larry Scala. I have recordings by Frank Sinatra, Joe and Marty Marsala, Leon Roppolo, Louis Prima, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Wingy Manone, Jimmy Durante, Tony Sbarbaro, Nick La Rocca, Marty Napoleon, Phil Napoleon, Lino Patruno, and others.  Years ago, I owned a vinyl anthology on Italian Odeon called ITALIAN JAZZ OF THE 50s, which had music from the Roman New Orleans Jazz Band and Romano Mussolini, with other bands I do not recall.  In the very early Seventies, I ate authentic Italian food at the Half Note, under the loving supervision of the Canterino family.  (All of the above is true, although not meant to be taken with the utmost seriousness.)

But the glory of Celenza’s book is the information it offers — subtle illumination of areas of the subject that I was ignorant of, and I am sure my ignorance is not my sole property.  And the fruits of her investigation are the substance of this appreciation of her book.

But first: we are told, even before the book starts, that Celenza is “the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University, where she teaches courses in music history, radio journalism, and the music industry.”  To some readers, those credentials will seem either the kiss of death or the black hand: another academic book, indigestible, a forest of footnotes, theoretical and ideological beyond endurance.  Calm yourselves.  Celenza is an engagingly straightforward writer, clear, candid, and witty.  (I saw the wit when I opened my copy at random and saw she had translated “Il Quattro Buffoni,” a band name on a record label, as “The Four Idiots.”

She doesn’t talk down to the general reader, and the book down’t labor under chunks of undigested digressive facts.  And leaving aside the useful documentation and index, the book is a compact 192 pages, because Celenza has not felt an obsessive need to include every fact that wanders by, and her chosen time period is under half a century.  It isn’t a book-length study of Sinatra, fascism, or every Italian who’s ever improvised, and that adds to its charm and effect.  Rather, like effective cultural studies, it traces the interweavings of many phenomena: radio and the growth of the recording industry, political struggles and performance, and much more.

As I promised above, I salute this book for adding information to my mental hoard.  Here are a number of things I didn’t know before reading JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE.

•     “The most horrific mass lynching in US history occurred in New Orleans in 1891, when eleven Italian immigrants were shot and strung up by an angry mob after a  jury found them innocent of assassinating the local police chief, David Hennessey.”

•     In 1919, Chevalier Bruno Zuculin wrote a description of the musical scene in New Orleans — and the music itself — for Italian readers.  The article was published two months before Ernest Ansermet’s famous celebration of Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which included the young Sidney Bechet.

•     “D. Onivas,” whose orchestra is on the reverse of some 78s by Cliff Edwards, is the pseudonym of Domenico Savino, composer and conductor.

•     Jazz first came to Italy with the USAAS (United States Army Ambulance Service) and its American Jazz Band landed  — and when members of the American and Italian armies recorded for Fonotopia in December 1918.

•     I had assumed that Mussolini, like Hitler, was hostile to jazz as decadent music: not so, in fact, Il Duce “embraced” it as an expression of the Futurist art he celebrated.

•     Josephine Baker, Herb Flemming, and Al Wynn visited and worked in Italy.  Louis Armstrong gave two concerts in Turin in January 1935 and wrote a detailed happy letter to an Italian fan and record collector.

•     I had never heard or heard of the female vocal trio, “the three graces of the radio,” the Trio Lescano — Alexandra, Judith, and “Kitty,” originally from the Netherlands, who became singing stars in Italy.

•  During the Second World War, when recordings by American artists were played on the radio, new Italianized names for the musicians were invented: Luigi Braccioforte, La Colema, Del Duca, and Beniamino Buonuomo.  (Answer key on request.)

•     Sinatra’s four trips to Italy, in 1945, 1953, 1962, and 1987 — and the audience’s elation when he described his Genoan heritage, then their silence when he revealed his family was also half-Sicilian.

These excerpts are, of course, not the substance of this book.  Celenza has a wonderful understanding of the widespread forces that go into the development and growth of jazz in Italy, and one will come away from this book with a much deeper understanding of the mingling of history, race, ideology, and politics — during war and in peacetime.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is very rewarding, but never ponderous.  Here are the publisher’s resources for the book, and this is the link for the CD label offering for sale almost all the jazz described in the book.  And since a book like this cries out for a soundtrack, here is the one Celenza has generously created — 124 relevant musical examples that delight and illustrate.

May your happiness increase!

NEW YORK CAKE: TERRY WALDO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, BRIAN NALEPKA, JIM FRYER, JOHN GILL, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (January 29, 2017)

Not this (announced as “the best New York style cheesecake):

but a hot version of the song immortalized in 1924 and 1925 by Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and others, CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME.  This is my second CAKE post: the first, presenting two hot performances by Dave Kosymna, Christopher Smith, Ray Heitger, Nicole Heitger, James Dapogny, and Pete Siers (all deftly captured by Laura Wyman) may be visited here.

But my experience of New York and New  Yorkers — even from the suburbs, what Flaubert would call the provinces — is that we don’t like to take second place to anyone or anything.  And in a cake walking contest, second place is noplace.

So here’s the New York version, created a month earlier at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village) by Terry Waldo and the Gotham City Band, who were on that Sunday Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Jay Lepley, Brian Nalepka, John Gill.  Consider for yourselves:

I won’t ask viewers to set up mock combat between Ohio and New York: all those cakes and contests are beautiful and hot.

May your happiness increase!

THEY TAKE THE CAKE (ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, TOO): DAVE KOSMYNA, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, RAY HEITGER, JAMES DAPOGNY, PETE SIERS, NICOLE HEITGER, LAURA WYMAN (February 25 and 26, 2017)

My dear friend Laura Beth Wyman, Sole Proprietor of Wyman Video and head of the Michigan branch of JAZZ LIVES, has been busy capturing Hot for us these days.  In Ohio, no less.  Here are two versions of the same jazz classic for your perusal and pleasure.

CAKEWALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME is an invitation to rumble when most jazz bands play it, because of the early pugilism of young Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet on the two Clarence Williams recordings of the song.

On Saturday, February 25, 2017, Laura captured the Original Downhome Jass Band at “Ye Olde Durty Bird” in Toledo, Ohio.  For this performance, the ODJB (yes, you noticed!) was Dave Kosmyna, cornet and leader; Christopher Smith, trombone; Ray Heitger, clarinet and vocal; James Dapogny, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Nicole Heitger, vocal.  Hot and exuberant:

A day later, without Nicole, alas, the band had donned tuxedos (and an altered band name) to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the first jazz recordings in concert at Freed Auditorium, Ohio Northern University. Ada, Ohio.  In this version, the band rocks through many more ensemble interludes.  Better?  No, just different:

Unlike cake, hot music never gets stale.  Thanks to the players and to Laura for making these otherwise evanescent beauties permanent and accessible, even for those of us who have never visited Ada, Ohio.

May your happiness increase!

SOUTH OF FOURTEENTH STREET (March 4, 1944)

When I am in conversation with someone new and the talk turns to my pursuit of live jazz in New York City, the question will be, “I suppose you go uptown to hear music?  Do you go to . . . ”  And then my questioner will mention some club, usually now-vanished, in what he or she thinks of as “Harlem.”  My answer nearly always causes surprised perplexity, “No, almost every place I frequent is below Fourteenth Street — you know, Greenwich Village.”

Nearly seventy-five years ago (before my time) the Village was a thriving place for hot jazz to flourish, with clubs and venues now legendary but long gone.

One of the quiet heroes of hot piano was Cliff Jackson, who began his career as accompanist to female blues singers but always as a striding player on his own or as the leader of a big band, an in-demand sideman, intermission pianist, and valued soloist.  (And he was married to Maxine Sullivan until his death in 1969.)

Cliff Jackson, 1947, photograph by William P. Gottlieb

In the last years of the Second World War, several independent record companies (notably Black and White and Disc) took the opportunity to record Jackson, either solo or in bands.  He was a remarkable player, full of charging percussive energy, with singularly strong left-hand patterns (just this week I found out, thanks to the great player / informal historian Herb Gardner, that Jackson was left-handed, which explains a good deal).

Here are three sides from a remarkable and remarkably little-known session for Black and White by the Cliff Jackson Quartet, featuring Pee Wee Russell, Bob Casey, and Jack Parker.  Pee Wee and Casey were long associated with Eddie Condon bands (Eddie featured Cliff in concert and on the television “Floor Show” often).  I am assuming that Jack and Jack “the Bear” Parker, both drummers, are one and the same, recording with Eddie Heywood, Don Byas, Eddie South, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams, Pete Johnson, Leo Parker, Babs Gonzales — and he’s on Louis’ BECAUSE OF YOU and Nat Cole’s 1946 THE CHRISTMAS SONG as well).

The quartet speaks the common language with grace and eloquence.  We get to hear Cliff at length, and Bob Casey has a fine solo.  Pee Wee seems particularly unfettered: he was the sole horn on sessions that happened once every few years (with Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacy for Commodore) and I think not being placed between trumpet, trombone, and baritone saxophone made for greater freedom. That freedom means great sensitivity on ONE HOUR, and wonderfully abstract phrases on WEARY BLUES.

from Fats to James P. Johnson:

and back in time to Artie Matthews:

Readers who are well-versed or have discographies (some might be both) will note that the YouTube poster has not offered us Cliff’s minor original, QUIET PLEASE.  Yes, there are a number of offerings of this song by Cliff, but they are of a 12″ Black and White session including Bechet, the DeParis brothers, Gene Sedric, Everett Barksdale, Wellman Braud, Eddie Dougherty — a true gathering of individualists. But — before there is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the cognoscenti — a nearly new copy of the quartet’s QUIET PLEASE arrived yesterday from my most recent eBay debauch, and if the stars are in proper alignment, it could emerge on this very site.

May your happiness increase!

REBUKING THE DEACON: TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY at FAT CAT (January 29, 2017)

Some might know W.C. Handy’s AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES as one of the ancient classics — a multi-strain composition, hallowed through decades of performance. But the lyrics tell a deep story: here is an approximate transcription of what Louis sang on the 1954 Columbia session honoring Handy (that recording the precious gift of the far-seeing George Avakian):

Old Deacon Splivin his flock was givin’ the way of livin’ right, yes
Said he, “No wingin’, no ragtime singin’, tonight,” yes
Up jumped Aunt Hagar and shouted out with all her might
All her might.

She said, “Oh, ain’t no use to preachin’
Oh, ain’t no use to teachin’.

Each modulation of syncopation
Just tells my feet to dance and I can’t refuse
When I hear the melody they call the blues, those ever lovin’ blues.”

Just hear Aunt Hagar’s children harmonizin’ to that old mournful tune.
It’s like a choir from on high broke loose, amen
If the Devil brought it, the good Lord sent it right down to me
Let the congregation join while I sing those lovin’ Aunt Hagar’s blues.

Even in 2017, the Deacon is still waggling his bony finger at us, and even when the lyrics to AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES aren’t sung, you can hear Aunt’s triumph.  A convincing example took place downstairs at Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on Sunday, January 29, 2017, when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band played the song.  The hot philosophers sending the message are Terry, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Gill, Brian Nalepka, Jay Lepley, Jim Fryer, Evan Arntzen:

The message is clear.  When faced with those who would preach denial of life, always choose joy, no matter who tries to direct your course.  I’m with Aunt Hagar.

May your happiness increase!