Tag Archives: Louis McKay

JO JONES, SPECIAL

I’m always intrigued yet sometimes puzzled by the waves of interest in jazz figures that I can discern in the searchers who find this blog.  I’m thrilled to know that somewhere, people yearn to know more about the obscure, “al drootin,” or “bernard addison.”

But often the curiosity (as tabulated by search engine visits) has been both odd and sad.  It feels as if unknown people want badly to put large figures into tiny labeled boxes.

I note with discomfort the morbidly voyeuristic fascination with Billie Holiday unrelated to her music, as documented in many inquiries about her last husband, Louis McKay, about heroin (some searchers have gotten the threads tangled and search for “ella fitzgerald heroin death”), as well as “billy holiday nude” and “how much did billie holiday weigh,” which I find both inexplicable and painful.

More recently, I’ve noted a consistent fascination with Jo Jones.  That in itself would cheer me up, but it seems to grow out of one legend connecting Jo — disdainful, furious — with a youthful and unprepared Charlie Parker.  I wrote about that incident in 2011 here.  (Do people still take Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, where this incident is a repeated narrative thread, as an accurate historical record?)

I saw and heard Jo Jones often in person between 1971 and 1982, and although he was not a predictable individual, what I remember about him is more than the potential for violence, as I have written here.

Jazz enthusiasts and makers of myth apparently need to simplify; they take pleasure in flattening out complex individuals into single iconic gestures, as if making plastic action figures out of them. I imagine a series of dolls sold at giant toy store.  Buy them.  Trade them.  Collect the set!  Here’s Billie Holiday with a needle in her arm or knocked to the ground by her man.  A plastic Louis Armstrong grins and sweats.  In another box, Miles Davis scorns the audience.  Count Basie strikes a single note.  Duke Ellington, in an electric-blue suit, woos a woman.

And now, Jo Jones imperiously humiliating Charlie Parker — complete with tiny gold cymbal flying through the air as if to decapitate the boy who has presumed to enter the world of men.

The Jo Jones I experienced was part mannered exhibitionist, a complete commedia dell’arte troupe in himself, grinning, gesticulating, insisting on playing eleven-minute solo spectacles, demanding our sustained attention.

And then there was the unpredictable deity who commanded the ocean, summoning cosmic rhythms.  His outward appearance — someone you could see on the subway, the compact balding man wearing short trousers that revealed white socks — was only a guise put on so that he could pass among mortals.

Hear him with his peers Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and that same Count, playing SHOE SHINE BOY:

The sounds Jo creates — I use the present tense intentionally — will outlast any concocted myths, searchers and search engines.

And if future cosmologists discover that the Basie rhythm section was and is really the music that animates the universe, it would explain the durability of this cosmos that some people have tried so hard to destroy.

May your happiness increase!

SEARCH ENGINE TERMS, CONTINUED (MARCH 2014 EDITION)

Questions or search engine terms in bold. These entries, I promise you, are recorded verbatim, not embellished or invented.

 was fats waller in it’s a wonderful life?

(No, but he improved ours.)

who were turk murphy’s wives

(“Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Murphy . . . ” I long to respond.)

did billie holiday die

Define your terms.

autograph of not that famous deceased guitar teachers 1987

(Possibly the only response here is “Huh?”)

connie boswell reserved

(Ditto.)

thelonious monk and moms mabley

(If there’s a recording of that duet, I want it now.)

louis armstrong uncle tom

(Some people who didn’t understand Louis might have called him that, but you won’t find those four words linked in any equation on this blog.)

and here, a rash of Holiday-fetishism, all in the space of a half-hour one night:

louis mckay 5

louis mckay pictures 2

billie holiday drug use 2 (a constant search for this)

billie holiday husband 2

louis mckay’s death 2

billie holiday funeral 1

billie holiday funeral photos 1

billie holiday weight 1 (this one recurs)

lewis mckay 1

louis mckay and billie holiday 1

louis mckay photos 1

louis mckay and billie holiday obituary 1

was there really a louis mckay in billie holiday’s life? 1

what happened to lois mckay, billie holiday’s third husband 1

louis mckay husband 1

what happen to louis mckay husband of billie holiday 1

billie holiday father

billie holiday’s husbands

I wait for the search engine term “billie holiday music,” but that must be my naivete.

Following on the same logic: great singer = great addiction, we have this question:

was ella fitzgerald a heroin addict

and my current inexplicable favorite:

have you ever heard anything about jazz we are sure you have

perhaps because that was too unwieldy, it returned a week later as:

have you ever heard anything about jazz

Keep searching, Sisters and Brothers!  Do let me know what you find.

May your happiness increase!

BEING OLDER HAS BENEFITS

My chronological age is increasing, as I occasionally notice.

Tonight, the Beloved created a wonderful homemade Thai dinner, and when we’d finished, we worked our way through the dishes to music: an assortment of the 1937-41 sides that Billie Holiday and Lester Young created together, with friends.

And I thought, not for the first time, “How lucky I am to be the age I am. I saw Buck Clayton play — at the end of his trumpet career — and got his autograph. My friend Stu and I rode the subway uptown with Benny Morton, who sweetly and patiently answered our eager questions. I saw Teddy Wilson play at a shopping center, and got his autograph. Jo Jones spoke to me several times; two autographs, some recordings, some photographs. Dicky Wells waved an annoyed finger at me to get me to stop recording him with my cassette recorder. I saw Freddie Green and Count Basie, from a distance, at a concert in a Long Island park, Benny Goodman and friends in Carnegie Hall in the late Seventies.

Yes, Lester Young, Walter Page, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Ed Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Pee Wee Russell were already gone when I began actively searching out live jazz. But if I were younger today, I wouldn’t have had the precious experiences I did.

And listening to Billie and her friends — buoyant, wise, exultant, and so sweetly IN the music they were making — reminds me of how beauty never grows old. Let all the people who voyeuristically want only to make Billie into the Heroin Madonna, the Woman Abused by Louis McKay listen to this:

“Now they call it swing.” Exactly.

May your happiness increase!

MRS. McKAY and MR. NORVILLE SIGN IN

From the eBay trove:

BILLIE 50s

and one more:

RED NORVO

My title may mystify and confound.  Let me explain in reverse: Red Norvo was born Kenneth Norville: his new name was in part a response to his hair color and the inability of bandleader Paul Ash to correctly recall and pronounce his surname.  “Norvo,” he told Whitney Balliett, “stuck.”

JAZZ LIVES readers will of course recognize the woman at top — and her distinctive handwriting.  Born Eleanora Fagan, daughter of Sadie Fagan and Clarence Holiday, she took “Billie” as her chosen name after the silent film actress Billie Dove.  But I have called her “Mrs. McKay” here in sly obeisance to the thousands of readers who want to know more about Billie and her last husband Louis McKay.  Why they are so fascinated by this conjugal bond I can’t say — no one, as far as I know, searches for information on Billie and trumpeter Joe Guy, but the ways of love and of online queries are both mysterious.

May your happiness increase!

“THIS IS IT”: BILLIE HOLIDAY, LYRICIST

More from the bottomless treasure-chest of eBay.  A British seller is offering a copy of Billie Holiday’s lyrics for a song called THIS IS IT.  Her handwriting is distinctive, but I know nothing about the possible melody (and I’ve never heard a recording of her performing this song).  It seems in parts a collage of conversational phrases from a wounded soul and includes YOU CAN’T BE MINE AND SOMEONE ELSE’S TOO, which she did record in 1937.

Did she write these lyrics with the most sought-after Louis McKay in mind?  Do any JAZZ LIVES readers know more about this particular opus?

THAT’S “MISTER McKAY” TO YOU

A small mystery.  I understand the larger fascination with Billie Holiday: as jazz singer, as iconic figure, as beautiful and doomed.  But one of the most frequent searches is for “Louis McKay,” or “billie holiday husband.”  Does the cyber-world need a Louis McKay blog?  Please advise.  And here, due to popular demand, is the man himself — from what I can gather from the recent Holiday biographies, not precisely a model husband.  But that might increase his fame.

Let us hope that Billie was genuinely happy and remained so when the flashbulb’s illumination had faded . . .

GEORGE WETTLING’S RIGHTEOUS RAGE

The man in the picture looks serious, intent, but hardly dangerous.  He is George Wettling — known for his wonderful drumming with Eddie Condon, Max Kaminsky, Jimmy McPartland, Artie Shaw, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Ruby Braff, Pee Wee Russell, Art Hodes, and many others. 

In my recent, quite amiable discussion of Moldy Figs and Mossy Stones with Nate Chinen, one of my friends, drummer Mike Burgevin, brought up a piece of jazz legend: he had read somewhere that “George Wettling flattened a critic.”

Inquiring minds want to know, of course, and so Stompy Jones (my Canadian ally) asked me what I knew about this incident.  I knew nothing, but suggested that the critic in question might have been Leonard Feather, who expended a great deal of energy in the Forties making fun of the Condon bands — so much so that Condon dedicated a mocking title to him, and later on Muggsy Spanier made a record called FEATHER BRAIN. 

I inquired of fellow scholars and drummers Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn, but no one seems to have particular details of this incident.  And the less I know about it, the more it piques my interest.  Let us assume that it actually happened, of course.  Did Wettling read something in DOWN BEAT, say, by Mike Levin, the critic who compared Lester Young’s tone to cardboard, meet him on the street, swing once, connect, and leave Levin horizontal?  Or was it a critic who actually came to hear Wettling in person who may have told George that his style of drumming was old-fashioned.  “Stop playing that bass drum.  Go take some lessons from Tiny Kahn or Max Roach.”  BOOM!

Those with information are invited and encouraged to write in; aspiring playwrights are also encouraged to submit five-minute playlets on the theme. 

And then, when we’ve collectively solved this mystery, perhaps someone can explain the astonishing and continuing interest in photographs of Billie Holiday’s “man,” Louis McKay.  Hundreds of people seem to be searching for Mr. McKay.  With all due respect, why?