Tag Archives: Lu Watters

SWINGING FOR THE KID: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Edward Ory — that’s the Kid to those of us who admire and keep his name and music alive — is a fabled figure.  His 1925-28 Chicago recordings with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Luis Russell, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, George Mitchell, Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey, even Tiny Parham are bedrock masterpieces of the pre-World War Two jazz canon, and many bands celebrate them.

But the California climate — whether you consider the ground-breaking 1922 recordings or the evidence of Ory’s second career — must have agreed with him, because the music he made from 1943 on, while less celebrated, is as gratifying, to some even more so.  In the middle Forties, Ory’s band was not a formulaic “trad” group; like Bunk Johnson, he played popular songs.  Rather than have a two-beat rhythm section with banjo, tuba, and a pianist playing their impressions of an older style, the Ory band carried a rhythm guitarist, a string bassist who mized 2/4 and 4/4,  and often had the elegantly down-home pianist Don Ewell keeping things light, bright, and swinging.  At its most gliding, the Ory band suggested a fraternal meeting of New Orleanians still in beautiful form and a swing rhythm section with hints of Basie’s . . . quite a lovely blend.

Ory’s music of the Forties and Fifties  has been well-documented on disc, because the band was caught live on radio broadcasts, and, later, for Norman Granz, but I think many lovers of “traditional jazz” associated him with a rough-hewn trombone style over their idea of “traditional” rhythms.  That is, until the superb drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith assembled a group of congenial players for his new “On the Levee” Jazz Band, its title referring to a San Francisco club owned by Ory, where he and his band played from 1957-61.

I asked Hal about his first awareness of this period of Ory’s music, and he told me, Back when I bought my first Lu Watters record, the owner of the record store handed me the Watters LP, looked at the label and said “Oh — ‘Good Time Jazz.’ I have another Good Time Jazz record here that someone ordered, but never came in to pick up.” The LP she offered me was “Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, 1954.” I gladly accepted it, and from the first hearing the combination of Ory’s tailgate trombone and the swinging rhythm section (Minor Hall, Ed Garland and Don Ewell in particular) became some of my favorite sounds in Jazz.

Hal later told me, Based on our performances in New Orleans and Pensacola, I think the On The Levee group most closely resembles the GOOD TIME JAZZ ensembles, circa 1953 – 1955. A lot of that is due to Kris’ admiration for Ewell, and Josh Gouzy’s Ed Garland-inspired bass. (Ory’s sound changed considerably after Ewell and Garland left, and even more in the late ’50s and early ’60s).

The band has already played gigs in New Orleans and in Pensacola, Florida, with Clint Baker nobly filling the Ory role; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  And early in 2018 they will again play in New Orleans . . . and will appear at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November.  I am sure that there will be many other opportunities to hail this group in between.

For now, here is the band’s website, and here are a few videos.  Many more are on YouTube, and the site has a whole cloud of audio-only performances, more than enough to roll up the rugs (if anyone does that) and invite the neighbors over for swinging cheer.

WEARY BLUES:

DOWN HOME RAG:

CARELESS LOVE:

PANAMA:

Many bands are playing this repertoire, but few are doing it in this fervent;y swinging way.  And since the club no longer exists on the Embarcadero — 987 would be part of the Ferry Plaza Maketplace — we should embrace this new band, so nicely keeping a jazz legacy vibrantly alive.

May your happiness increase!

HEALING WARMTH: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, PART ONE (November 25/26, 2016)

ybs-portrait

There is a small-scale blizzard outside my window, with ten inches of snow predicted, so the need for something warming — hot stomping music — is intense, and medically necessary. Therefore I present some videos of one of my favorite bands, the Yerba Buena Stompers, as they rocked the room at the San Diego Jazz Fest, last November 25 and 26th.

The YBS is a working band, with a fairly consistent personnel for the last fifteen years, and their music shows it — the friendly comfort of an ensemble where everyone knows everyone else.  I’ve seen and videoed them at a variety of festivals — most often, I think, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, which (coincidentally) is a place of friendly comfort and hot music.  (I look forward to their return appearances!)

They are: John Gill, banjo / vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone / vocal; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Although — on paper — they honor the music of Lu Watters and, by extension, Turk Murphy, their roots are deeper, going back to the hot Chicagoans, Freddie Keppard, Louis, Kid Ory, Joe Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, venerable pop tunes, and more.  They honor the revered recordings, but their solos — hot and spicy — are their own.  And they make the world a warmer place.

Honoring Doc Cooke and Keppard, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

For Kid Ory and Louis, SAVOY BLUES:

Ostensibly for Scott Joplin, but I think of Paul Mares as well, MAPLE LEAF RAG:

Turk Murphy’s theme song, BAY CITY:

A new dance from the early Twenties, SHIM-ME -SHA -WABBLE:

The snow is abating somewhat.  Thank you, Stompers!  (And there will be more video from their time at the San Diego Jazz Fest.)

May your happiness increase!

“OKAY, CATS. YOU READY?”: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS with MISS IDA BLUE at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2014)

“That band makes honest music,” says a friend of mine about the Yerba Buena Stompers.

Here is a YBS offering from the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest: John Gill, banjo / vocals; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Leon Oakley, cornet; Miss Ida Blue, vocal.

That last name on the list might be new to some of you.  “What?  A girl singer with the Stompers?”  Be calm.  Miss Ida is not the usual appendage, an attractive woman who comes up to woo us with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET.  No, she’s deep in the blues, offering songs many of us have heard but once on some ancient recording.  Miss Ida has deeply immersed herself in the repertoire, and she does more than present living copies of famous singers: there’s an energetic street-girl insouciance about her delivery that had the crowds at San Diego all excited.  See for yourself — on her Facebook page, her website, and in the videos below:

CREOLE BELLES (listen to John asking the band a question at the start):

MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

GOIN’ CRAZY WITH THE BLUES (Miss Ida Blue):

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER (Miss Ida Blue):

Hearing the Stompers, I know John’s question was sweetly rhetorical.  These cats were born ready.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE SHRINE, SEPTEMBER 29, 1956 // “BARBECUED DISHES TO TAKE HOME”

From eBay.  Of course!  The sixteen-page program for the ninth annual Dixieland Jubilee concert (presented by Frank Bull and Gene Norman) on September 29, 1956, at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California:

DIXIELAND JUBILEE cover

Featured bands were George Lewis and his New Orleans Band, Benny Pollack and his Boys, George Probert and his Orchestra, Matty Matlock All Stars, Teddy Buckner and his Orchestra, New Orleans All Stars, and Bobby Hackett and his All Stars:

DIXIELAND JUBILEE 1956 center

I know that some of the Jubilees were recorded — issued on Decca and GNP — since Capitol took out an advertisement on the back cover, I wonder if they were involved in documenting this surely pleasing concert:

DIXIELAND JUBILEE backI find the names in the program difficult to read — thus, I am not offering JAZZ LIVES readers a complete listing of the players — but I am sure the sounds were delightful.

And — serendipitously found — a culinary invitation to a place where the music and the dinners are both hot:

HAMBONE KELLY

As Captain Video once said, “You can’t always time-travel, but you can always eat dinner.”

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ AGE PARENTS: HOT MUSIC FOR MARSHALL AND RUTH LORD, 1977

A number of small CD companies make available “historic” recordings of hot jazz — often with fabled players no longer with us.  One of the best of these companies is Dick Karner’s TradJazz Productions, and a particularly endearing CD issue (TJP 2145) is

THE CHARLESTON CHASERS 

(IN MEMORY OF RUTH AND MARSHALL LORD)

LORD PARTY 2

Son Jack Lord — banjo player and nominal leader of the ensemble captured here) tells the story:

“My mom was a real flapper. She and my dad met in high school, class of 1926. They loved jazz and were quite the dancers. They used to tell how everyone at a dance would stand in a circle around them and watch them do the Charleston (they especially liked to dance to Sweet Georgia Brown). Fast forward to 1953, and son Jack goes to Purdue and is introduced to a band called THE SALTY DOGS. After following them around for several years, I finally got the banjo chair. My folks were huge fans, never missing a Chicago job. So for their 50th anniversary in 1977, it seemed like a great idea to get as many of the old Dogs together and have a party at the Sabre Room where the band played many times in earlier days. Dick Karner drove up from Lafayette, and as luck would have it, Bob Rann and Leon Oakley were in Chicago from California for the Electronics Convention. The players from Chicago from the old days were Tom Bartlett, Frank Chace, and Jack Carrell. Much forgiveness is necessary for the quality of the recording as it was done on a little voice recorder. Intros are missed, tags are cut off, and to say the fidelity is poor is an understatement. However, I think it conveys the spirit of the evening with a very hot pick-up band.”

Jack was fortunate in his choice of parents, and having this band play for their party is a true expression of gratitude — not only for them, but for the generations in this century who can now hear the music. The personnel is Jack, banjo; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jack Carrell, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet; Bob Rann, tuba; Dick Karner, drums.  The songs (some misidentified on the cover) are TISHOMINGO BLUES / SHAKE THAT THING / TROUBLE IN MIND / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / BLACK AND BLUE / DOCTOR JAZZ / FRIENDLESS BLUES / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / CANAL STREET BLUES / SEE SEE RIDER / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / JELLY ROLL / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN.

Dick Karner adds a little bit to the story (as do the photographs by Reta Karner):

“Through the ‘50’s while we (Dogs) were in college, Mr. and Mrs. Lord were our hosts on all our weekend gigs in Chicago. Jack wanted to do something special for their 50th wedding anniv. They really loved the band, so Jack tried to round up as many of the ‘55 members (Dogs) as he could for a surprise party at the Sabre Room where we had played a lot. He partially succeeded with the exception of Jim Snyder, John Cooper, Bill Price, who were on other gigs the night in question. None of us had played together for years. Jack had a small portable cassette player he left on all evening. This was a fun time. We had a ball playing. A few months later Jack sent me a copy of the cassette tape. Sound was not very good, but I worked on it for a long time—used what was marginal at best, and we decided to go ahead and release the CD. Frank was outstanding and very relaxed in his solos as was Leon, Tom and the rest of us…even without a piano player. A true impromptu session of some great music and one hell-of-an-anniversary gift for Mr. and Mrs. Lord who loved it!”

LORD PARTY 1

Jack and Dick are correct but perhaps too severe in their assessment of the fidelity.  It’s far below official studio standards. What one hears in this slice of history is the party — from within the band.

And with no slight meant to the living members of this ad hoc gathering, any evidence of clarinetist Frank Chace in action is precious. I think none of the members of the band were (excepting Jack) particularly aware that a recorder was running, and certainly the partygoers do not sit in hushed silence, which leads to a particular kind of musical abandon. On a few occasions, a guest’s speech breaks in to the music (as happens in many live settings) — but in general, the recording is clear, the microphone placement effective.

I recommend it highly.  The level of inspiration is very high, and it is a true glimpse behind the scenes of hot jazz in action.  I wrote — during Frank’s lifetime, much to his pleasure, that one could learn so much about taking risks in solo playing and in ensemble work from any recording or performance of his, and THE CHARLESTON CHASERS is, in its own way, another graduate seminar in Chace — with thanks to Lord, Oakley, Bartlett, Rann, Carrell, and Karner, professors of Hot.

I miss Frank Chace, and this CD is both exciting evidence of what he did so often during his playing years and reason to feel that we lost someone rare.

The TradJazz Productions site is here — full of other clandestine and official marvels, featuring Kim Cusack, Bud Freeman, Hal Smith, the Salty Dogs, Bob Helm, Burt Bales, Birch Smith, Jim Snyder, Ben Cohen, Turk  Murphy, Lu Watters, the South Frisco Jazz Band, Gremoli, Ev Farey — and three dozen other luminaries — music you don’t see at your local record store these days.

May your happiness increase! 

“NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE”: YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 22, 2012)

For me, the 2012 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival — or whatever more informal name you might know it by, such as the San Diego Jazz Fest — started with a shuffle.  A Shuffle is a good thing when it’s created by the Yerba Buena Stompers, a band full of power and delicacy, deeply rooted in the great New Orleans traditions.

The heroes onstage are John Gill, banjo and vocals; Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes (Grammy-winner!), piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.  (I have a special fondness for two-trumpet interplay: Leon and Duke light up the room.)

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:

EVERY TUB:

PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET:

PERDIDO STREET BLUES:

MINSTRELS OF ANNIE STREET:

LONESOME BLUES:

It was a splendid way to start a most rewarding weekend — I look forward to spending Thanksgiving amidst jazz friends in San Diego this year!  Paul Daspit certainly knows how to make us feel thankful.

May your happiness increase.

“WE WERE HAVING TOO MUCH FUN”: JIM LEIGH’S EL DORADO JAZZ BAND, 1955

Often highly publicized “rare” and “previously unheard” jazz reissues do not live up to their potential.  I can’t be the only listener who thinks, “Did they have to play every tune at the speed of light?”  “Someone should have shoved that piano off a cliff.”  “I know Kid Flublip is dead and legendary both, but he sure sounds lousy here.”  And so on.

But a recent CD by Jim Leigh’s El Dorado Jazz Band is a triumph.  Although the material comes from private tapes made onsite in 1955, the sound is clear and sarisfying; the repertoire is varied (as are the tempos and dynamics), and the twenty-one tracks were a delight rather than an test of my endurance.  I new Jim in the last months of his life as a fine writer and a player who understood how to balance technique, knowledge, feeling, and experimentation within an apparently “limited” idiom.  When I read his memoir, where he mourned the early death of clarinetist Rowland Working, I wondered if the evidence would live up to the legend.  It certainly does.

On this CD, Leigh is surrounded by lyrical players who could weave lines like rapidly-growing ivy.  Their inventions delight, but they sing on their instruments, which is the ideal (not always realized) of players trying to make brass and wood as personal as their speaking voices.  The players are Jim Borkenhagen, trumpet; Roland Working, clarinet — and he’s joined by Bob Helm on several tracks! — Pete Fay, piano; Danny Ruediger, banjo and vocals.  The repertoire offers classic Morton, Twenties jazz classics and pop tunes, Louis, and  ancient but still lively blues: JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / ST. JAMES INFIRMARY / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME / GOOD TIME FLAT BLUES / SOME OF THESE DAYS / STRATFORD HUNCH / ACE IN THE HOLE / MILENBERG JOYS / TROUBLE IN MIND / BID BEAR STOMP / SIDEWALK BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / RIVERSIDE BLUES / CHATTANOOGA STOMP / DROP THAT SACK / FRANKIE AND JOHNNY / ALABAMA JUBILEE / SEE SEE RIDER / HOW LONG BLUES / WEARY BLUES.

And as a bittersweet bonus, Jim wrote a brief essay for this material in June 2011.  I so admire his writing — terse, affectionate, witty — that I reprint it here.

The members of the original five-piece El Dorado Jazz Band were all twenty somethings when the music on this CD was recorded.  If somebody had told us that summer of 1955 that 56 years later one of us (and I’m the lone survivor) would be writing liner notes for a kind of record that didn’t even exist then we probably wouldn’t have paid much attention.  We were having too much fun.  By 1958 Danny Ruediger had taken over the band, and I had moved to San Francisco.  Rowland and I were playing Watters charts in the Bay City Jazz Band on weekends.  On a Sunday boating and swimming outing with his wife Jane, BCJB pianist Art Nortier and his wife, Rowland drowned.  He was 28 years old.  So I’m extra glad that Dick Karner is putting out this music on Tradjazz; it will allow fans of this music to hear what a brilliant plater he was already in his own right.  He admired Bechet and Dodds — but his real exemplar was Helm himself.  So it was great good luck that brought them together for those few nights with a tape recorder running.  I can’t think of any other clarinet duets in traditional jazz which have the sympathetic brilliance of those two.  Indeed, there are a few places where you need a very good ear to tell them apart.  Helm’s wife Kay would tell me later that Bob was “overwhelmed” at hearing Rowland and thereafter never missed a chance to play with himm — or to fill in for him when the occasion arose.  Like any informal recordings of live performances, these come with a few warts.  We could not have played Morton’s “Stratford Hunch” more than half a dozen times in all and I was delighted it was a clean take.  Listen to the clarinets behind and next to the vocals on “After You’ve Gone” and “Trouble in Mind.”  There are a few tunes here you won’t hear too often lately: “Drop That Sack,” “Good Time Flat Blues,” and others.  Not many people besides Turk sang such complete versions of “St. James Infirmary” and “Frankie and Johnny” as Danny does here.  After so many years I’ll admit I get a lift, hearing how we tore into such indestructible warhorses as “Some Of These Days” and “Milenberg Joys” and, with the clarinets tearing it up, “Big Bear Stomp,” “Naughty Sweetie,” or “Weary Blues.”  If I have one regret it was that I didn’t have the wits to lay hands on an extra vocal mix for Danny, but you can hear that he never let that stop him.  I’m grateful to have been there with him, and Rowland, Bork, Pete, and Brother Red, when he strapped on his leather aviator’s helmet and drove his open-air MG down the peninsula to visit us.  I’m grateful, too, to Dick Karner at Tradjazz for digging up this evidence and making it available here.  It reminds me that I didn’t waste my youth.

To say that Jim and his colleagues — now all of them gone — didn’t waste their youth — would be a substantial understatement.  All I can say from this angle is that I haven’t wasted my time listening to this music, and I think you will agree.  Here are brief samples from tradjazz and cdbaby.  Listen for yourself.  And — just in the name of amused candor — if you had told me five years ago that I would be writing enthusiastically about Fifties “West Coast” “trad,” I would have looked horrified.  But the music is stronger than the boxes we try to force it into.

May your happiness increase.