Tag Archives: Lucidin

HEAR ELLA, STUFF, and BEN in 1937!

Ella Fitzgerald, Stuff Smith, and Ben Webster recorded together in the late Fifties for a Norman Granz project — “Ella Sings The Duke Ellington Songbook.”  But they had been captured on disc twenty years before in what are much more fascinating circumstances.

The good news is that the CD that is so delighting me is available and intensely rewarding — musically, not simply for its rarity.  Anticipation over a long period rarely pays off.  If you wait twenty years for something to appear, often the results, however fine, may not seem worth the wait.  Not in this case.  I first heard an I GOT RHYTHM by a related unit — Teddy Wilson, Jonah Jones, Ben, Lawrence Lucie, John Kirby, Cozy Cole — in the late Seventies, and learned that much more material from these sources existed. 

Trust the UK jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett to unearth it, research it, and present it to us with his usual style.  (The session that I’m referring to — with exquisite singing by Helen Ward, including a winsome DID YOU MEAN IT? — has been issued on another of Barnett’s AB Fable CDs — one capturing the live recordings Stuff Smith made with members of Fats Waller’s little band and other gems (ABCD1-015 STUFF SMITH: That Naughty Waltz.  COMPLETE 1937–1942 TENOR SAX SEPTETS FEATURING 1942 FATS WALLER ALUMNI AND 1937 TEDDY WILSON ORCHESTRA.)

But LET’S LISTEN TO LUCIDIN (AB Fable ABCD I-024) is even more unusual.  Barnett’s detailed and witty liner notes tell the story better than I could, but the Lucidin eye-lotion company decided to present fifteen-minute broadcasts (three times weekly) over New York’s WMCA featuring an all-star band of Black musicians. 

The singer was a young Ella Fitzgerald in pearly, playful form.  Some of my readers found my comments about Ella in an earlier blogpost positively blasphemous — but this Ella I could listen to forever: girlish, earnest, sweet, tenderly improvising. 

The orchestra — fourteen pieces — was led by the irreplaceable violinist Stuff Smith, and featured (among others) trumpeter Jonah Jones in his best neo-Louis mode, the delightfully risk-taking Sandy Williams on trombone, altoist Edgar Sampson (also responsible for a number of compositions and arrangements), reedmen Garvin Bushell and Walter Thomas, pianist Clyde Hart, bassist John Kirby, and drummer Cozy Cole.  It was a hand-picked organization that drew on the best Black bands of the time (leaving aside Ellington and Basie): Calloway and Chick Webb.  I’d assume that the players and Ella were happy to have opportunities to broadcast and make extra money, and the band sounds well-rehearsed, even on pop material.  (Chick Webb, always ambitious for Ella, obviously did not discourage her from performing with Stuff’s aggregation.)

One of the great pleasures of this CD is in hearing a band that didn’t record elsewhere splendid hot soloists.  And the CD presents a goodly number of solos by the young Ben Webster, in top form — not yet the player who would spark the 1940 Ellington organization, but a fine, emotive player nonetheless.  The selections (including “trailer” or “teaser” incomplete versions of tunes that would be played the next week) include jazz standards: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, I GOT RHYTHM, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, STARDUST, I FOUND A NEW BABY, SHINE, BASIN STREET BLUES, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  But the current pop hits are also covered: Ella is touching on CHAPEL IN THE MOONLIGHT and GOODNIGHT MY LOVE, sweetly energetic on COPPER-COLORED GAL.  Cozy Cole and John Kirby are properly supportive; the under-recorded Clyde Hart is just fine.  For my taste, there isn’t enough Stuff, but he has some features and offers a lovely obbligato to Ella’s vocal on GOODNIGHT MY LOVE.  His feature on CLOUDS is a treat.  And IT’S DE-LOVELY, split between Ella and Ben, is a gem.   

This music comes from radio broadcasts, another delight.  Jazz collectors know the Ellington Victors, the Basie Deccas, but they are finite.  To find new “live” material from the Swing Era is always a great gift, especially because thousands of hours of music were broadcast between the early Thirties to the end of World War Two.  We have only the smallest portion, and certain orchestras and players were not well-documented.  

This CD is also an anthropological trove of Thirties pop culture, sometimes unintentionally hilarious — because Barnett has wisely kept in all the announcements, commercial and musical.  By the time this disc was finished, I was eager to buy Lucidin: I would have been a loyal consumer!  The commercials are truly amusing, because announcer Don Kerr was required to promote a product not yet available.  But even better, the Lucidin people were unhappy with the frequency and length of their competitors’ commercials.  So Kerr tells us frequently that the company finds such announcements boring and painful, and won’t do them.  Some of Kerr’s disquisitions do go on, but neither he or Lucidin seems to have been indulging in subversive ironies.

A few tracks have unavoidable surface noise, but only the most finicky listeners will reject the opportunity to hear these players in new performances.    

It’s a delightful disc throughout, one of those rare CDs I can listen to all the way through at one sitting.  It offers not just Ella, Stuff, and Ben, but what a now-vanished population heard on WMCA.  And Barnett’s meticulous research is a real pleasure: the liner is illustrated with rare photographs and drawings.  It was worth the wait! 

It can be ordered through North Country Audio (CADENCE Magazine: visit http://www.cadencebuilding.com)  and more details are available at the AB Fable website: www.abar.net.

IT’S WONDERFUL: COMING SOON!

Jazz fans like myself grew up with only a small portion of the music preserved on records available to them.  There were complete sets of Ellington issued, one by one, on French lps, but much of the music seemed hidden until the last decade or so, where complete projects seemed to spring up everywhere.  Want the complete Django , Condon broadcasts, or Fats?  A Mosaic box with unissued takes you never knew existed?  Move that mouse and it’s yours.  So occasionally I feel as if every meal was an all-you-can-eat affair.

But magnificent jazz recordings few people had known about are still being emerging. 

On the basis of what I’ve heard already, an upcoming compact disc on Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable label will be spectacular. (Barnett is not only a scrupulous researcher but a splendid writer — his reissue projects are superb.)

Imagine, if you will, a 1937 swing band — its members drawn from the Chick Webb band, the Cab Calloway band, and Stuff Smith’s ensemble — playing pop tunes with arrangements by Edgar Sampson. 

Imagine that the soloists include Ben Webster, Jonah Jones, Sandy Williams. 

Imagine that the band is led by Stuff Smith. 

Finally, imagine that the vocalist is a youthful, pert Ella Fitzgerald.

You can open your eyes now.

It’s not available yet, but it will be . . . visit  http://www.abar.net/.  And in the US, you’ll be able to ourchase it through CADENCE: www.cadencebuilding.com

P.S.  The radio programs were sponsored by an eye lotion (I believed it was advertised as providing for relief for red, dry eyes — something that bloggers know all too well!) called LUCIDIN.  Are any of my readers collectors of archaic pharmaceuticals, and has anyone ever seen a Lucidin bottle?  I don’t think it was a long-lived product, alas.  Send word, please.

A NIGHT AT THE EMBERS

b_cd022_bushstuff

Although I keep muttering to myself, “I really don’t like jazz violin all that much,” I find myself entranced by the new CD that the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett has just issued on his ABFable label.  It features about an hour of live jazz from the Embers night club — with pianist Joe Bushkin, violin wizard Stuff Smith, under-praised bassist Whitey Mitchell, and the irreplaceable Jo Jones.  In addition, there’s a fourteen-minute solo private tape of Stuff, solo, exploring some of his compositions, as “Sketches for a Symphony.”

Is it the rarity of the performances?  I admit that might initially be captivating — but if you gave me the most unknown / rarest music by someone whose work I couldn’t tolerate, I would listen for sixty seconds and take it off.  The music itself is splendid: Bushkin’s energetic playing (his characteristic arpeggios and ripples) never falters, and he seems to be having the time of his life, and his trumpet playing is much more convincing than I remember it as being.  (He must have been practicing!)  Stuff, although not featured throughout the hour, is in peak form, able to swing ferociously with the minimum of notes, possessed of true jazz passion.  Whitey Mitchell plays so well that he had me fooled: I would have sworn that Bushkin’s regular bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton, was there under an alias.  And then Jo Jones is in prime form, delighting in playing in this band.  He and Bushkin had a special rapport — I saw it once, years later, when they came into the midtown Eddie Condon’s and sat in with Ruby Braff and Milt Hinton for an extended, riotous YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY that became MOTEN SWING perhaps ten or twelve minutes later. 

But what captured me more than anything else was the intimacy of the two sessions presented here.  I was not attending jazz clubs in 1964, being too young, but the taping of the Embers session is done from the bandstand microphone (as far as I can tell) so we get all the musicians’ asides, the teasing, the inside jokes.  It has the feel of being part of the band — and part of a vanished scene, as when Bushkin ends the set by saying that they’ll be back at 2 AM, but they can be found at P.J. Clarke’s or The Strollers in the meantime.  And the private tape that Stuff made (for himself, or as a demonstration of themes for a larger work?) is entrancing because it is quite clearly a composer playing for himself: you can hear him breathe.  It’s a divine kind of eavesdropping on a Master. 

Barnett’s CDs have always been wonderful productions: the music is presented as clearly as the original sources allow, there are many rare photographs, the annotations are through without being stodgy. 

But wait!  There’s more!  Something to look forward to. . . .

b_cd024_lucidinThis one is scheduled for 2010.  Did you know that Stuff Smith had a radio gig (sponsored by an eye lotion, Lucidin) for which he assembled an all-star band, drawing on his own group and Chick Webb’s aggregation — including the youthful Ella Fitzgerald?  (An early broadcast for Lucidin had him leading a small combo with Jonah Jones, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, with vocals by Helen Ward.)  I’ve heard some of this music, and it is spectacular — the height of the Swing Era, I think.  So look for this next year!  For more information (and to order any of Barnett’s CDs and books), visit www.abar.net.  Even if you think you don’t like jazz violin!

ABFable discs are available in the United States from CADENCE — the honest Jazz journal: www.cadencebuilding.com.