Tag Archives: Lueder Ohlwein

ROMANTICALLY YOURS, THOMAS “FATS” WALLER

The legend that’s continued after Fats Waller’s untimely death is that he was marvelously creative but also an outlandish clown, especially when given poor material to record, undermining it with mocking asides and jokes.  But I treasure those times when he respected the song and showed us what a tender singer he was.  The performances below aren’t comic or anarchic; there are no uptempo stride extravaganzas.  But gentle feeling shines through every note.

FAIR AND SQUARE is a song I came to love through performances by Lueder Ohlwein of the Sunset Music Company, a whole rhythm section and glorious singer on his own.  The composer credits are usually given to Andy Razaf and Leo Robin, although one HMV record label assigns the song to Harry Woods, I think in error:

I first heard this very sweet song because of Melissa Collard’s 2004 memorable recording.  But Fats did it first:

This performance sounds as if Fats is going to launch into hilarious mockery, but he doesn’t.  The songwriters Charlie Tobias and Sammy Fain knew how to transform cliches.  Wait for the lovely piano coda:

Here, also, Fats trembles on the edge of amusement, but chooses to focus on the song’s essential sadness:

Lovely music and lovely sentiments from Thomas Waller.

May your happiness increase!

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CROSSING OVER: WILLIE FARMER MEETS FATS, RAZAF, LOUIS, and MOSE

I had never heard of Willie Farmer and his Orchestra when I happened upon this Bluebird 78 in the Food for Thought shop in Sebastopol, California, last year, but the two songs sold the disc for me.  Another version of OLD MAN MOSE by an unknown band?  (Although they cannot have been that unknown if they were recording for Bluebird.)  And FAIR AND SQUARE — connected to Fats Waller by way of Andy Razaf — was a song I knew well because banjoist / singer Lueder Ohlwein of the fabled Sunset Music Company — had performed it often.

Online research turned up nothing on Farmer or his band, and George T. Simon’s THE BIG BANDS sniffed contemptuously at Farmer, identifying him as a drummer leading a Mickey Mouse / society band.

Still, the records are more than competent, even though no one would confuse the Farmer band with Basie at the Famous Door.

Here’s FAIR AND SQUARE, with a pleasing muted trumpet paraphrase of the melody:

and OLD MAN MOSE, with Scat Powell — who turned up on some jazz records in the decade — perhaps borrowing some odd vocal effects from the (in)famous Duchin recording:

Tom Lord’s discography lists this personnel for some 1937 sides: Willie Newman, Don “Skippy” Lipsey  or Hymie Farberman (tp) Billy Pritchard (tb) Charles Reauseau, Nat Brown (as) Wes Fogel (ts) Gabby Buttafoo (p) Frank Darnada (g) Chuck Jordan (b) Leo Farberman (d) Willie Farmer (dir)

The Farmer band must have recorded more than Lord lists, but they did cross over several times more into the lands of Ellington and Waller, with SCATTIN’ AT THE KIT KAT, ALLIGATOR CRAWL, and MIDNITE AT THE MADHOUSE, which might be related to Chick Webb’s similar-sounding record. Hymie Farberman had been part of the early Twenties New York “hot”scene; Billy Pritchard turned up on a Bud Freeman V-Disc, and I suspect other members of the band had swing credentials that they kept up to date.

I offer these as pleasant curiosities, and relics of a time when music and “styles” weren’t so rigidly divided into categories that didn’t touch.

May your happiness increase! 

KATIE AND FRIENDS PLAY FATS AND FRIENDS! (KATIE CAVERA, CHRIS CALABRESE, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA): Hot Jazz Jubilee, August 30, 2014)

FATS 1939 Howard Theatre Shep Allen Scurlock Studio

Fats Waller created joy.

In the 1939 photograph, he is with his manager Shep Allen at the Howard Theatre: credit to Scurlock Studios and thanks to Chuck Slate.

Although Fats has been elsewhere for almost sixty-five years, he continues to inspire. One example is this sweetly energetic session recorded by the ubiquitous, diligent Rae Ann Berry (all hail!  all hail!) at the second annual Hot Jazz Jubilee in Rancho Cordova, California.

This energized band — titled JUST KATIE AND FRIENDS — was, for this wonderful gathering, our Miss Cavera, guitar, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal; Chris Calabrese, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.

Their repertoire for this set was primarily Fats — songs composed / featured by him — as well as by fellow pianists Claude Hopkins and Earl Hines. A ringer, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, is by Irving Berlin — but both Fats and the Paul Whiteman band recorded it.

Notice that JK&F doesn’t aim to reproduce the Waller-Autrey-Sedric-Casey ambiance; there is a welcome absence of “Wallerisms,” either in rapid tempos or shouts by the ensemble. Chris Calabrese, bless him, can hold his own in any stride session, so the relaxed approach is everyone’s choice.

What you will experience is a congenial group of swinging pals, and you might hear echoes of Henry “Red” Allen, Mouse Randolph, J.C. Higginbotham, Al Morgan, Carmen Mastren, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Count Basie, the Rhythmakers — an aesthetic roundtrip between 1936 and 2014 — but the individual resonances and loving nods coalesce into a joyous whole.

THAT RHYTHM MAN:

HOW CAN YOU FACE ME? (with Katie’s rather plaintive inquiry):

FAIR AND SQUARE (in memory of Lueder Ohlwein and the Sunset Music Company as well as Fats, with an egalitarian vocal by Marc):

UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG:

LONESOME ME (a feature for the extremely talented Mr. Calabrese):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (with hopeful vocalizing by Clint):

ROSETTA (sung by our Sam, with echoes of THE SOUND OF JAZZ):

BABY BROWN (by Alex Hill, who is reputedly the true composer of the next tune as well):

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, an earnest assertion from Clint:

Fats gave us everything he had, and we are still smiling at what (Just) Katie and Friends have made from his inspirations.

We don’t have to wait for The Real Thing To Come Along. Surely it’s here.

Ms. Berry is essential to our edification, for here  is her regularly-updated list of San Francisco / Bay Area hot jazz attractions; here  is her YouTube channel, where she has nearly a thousand subscribers (she’s been posting videos since March 2008).

And she’s had a direct influence on my life, because I saw all there was to see of hot California jazz through her efforts, and you know the rest.  She’s also on Facebook, displaying the same energies as her improvising heroes.

May your happiness increase!

HAVE YOU HEARD?

Upon hearing the news, Chloe Lang (the West Coast JAZZ LIVES mascot) was suddenly wide awake and wanted to know more!

What news?

How about a new CD compilation of live recordings  featuring pianist Ray Skjelbred and hot cornetist Jim Goodwin from Port Costa, CA gigs?  The CD is called — simply — RAY SKJELBRED ABD JIM GOODWIN / RECORDED LIVE IN PORT COSTA, and it’s issued on Ray’s own label, “Orangapoid,” number 104.  All the music was recorded at the Bull Valley Inn.

So far it’s available only at Ray’s gigs — which is a good thing: you get to see him and take this home, too! — but I wonder if he would be willing to sell it to those not likely to get to the West Coast soon.  Postage and packing are a nuisance, but you could ask — sweetly — at http://www.rayskjelbred.com.

Lovely songs: SLEEPY TIME GAL, PLEASE BE KIND, THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG, RUSSIAN LULLABY, THE RIVER’S TAKING CARE OF ME, LAZY BONES, EVERYONE SAYS “I LOVE YOU,” CHARLESTON, TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, BLACK AND TAN FANTASY, SWEET SUE, MY DADDY ROCKS ME, LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY, HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?

You’ll notice some lovely ballads and rhythm ballads, early Ellingtonia, rocking dance music, nods to the Marx Brothers, Red Allen, Bing Crosby, Fats Waller, the blues, Bill Robinson . . . good bones, as they say!

The players — of course Ray and Jim, but also Mike Duffy, string bass; Tom Keats, rhythm guitar; Brett Runkle, washboard, Lueder Ohlwein, banjo; Dan Barrett, trombone; John “Butch” Smith, soprano sax; Norvin Armstrong, piano.  Ray sings — wonderfully — on EVERYONE and IN A GREAT BIG WAY.

What’s so special about this disc, all sixty-nine minutes of it?

This is the kind of music that great jazz players create for themselves when there is a congenial audience or none at all: relaxed, swinging, small intense masterpieces of hot architecture where the second chorus builds in elegantly rough-hewn ways upon the first.  It’s the kind of music that rarely makes it whole into the recording studio — and since the Bull Valley Inn is no longer anyone’s music mecca (we drove serendipitously through Port Costa in the summer of 2011: it looked like the set for a Western that hadn’t been completed) . . . . and since Jim is dead, this CD is priceless evidence of days gone by.  And the past leaps to life in our speakers!

Even Chloe thought so.

For Goodwin in searing hot form, here’s the Sunset Music Company from 1979 romping through I NEVER KNEW with

The band was led by banjoist Ohlwein, with Goodwin, Barrett, clarinetist Bill Carter (temporarily filling in for John Smith), bassist Mike Fay, drummer Jeff Hamilton: every one of their recordings on Dan’s BLUE SWING FINE RECORDINGS is worth hearing.

And in case you’ve never seen or heard the eloquent Mr. Skjelbred, here’s a sample, TISHOMINGO BLUES, recorded by Rae Ann Berry in 2009:

Imagine them together — musing, cracking private musical jokes, digging deep into the songs they are playing.  Heart-stirring music from the first note to the last.

P.S.  I count myself very lucky: having met and / or heard Barrett, Hamilton, Smith, Fay, Carter. Norvin Armstrong – – – and I’ll get to shake Ray Skjelbred’s hand at the Jazz Bash by the Bay this March 2.  Wow!

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES TO A PARTY (August 9, 2011)

Marc Caparone and Dawn Lambeth are dear friends and superb musicians.  When they heard that the Beloved and I were coming to California for much of this summer, Marc proposed a jazz evening to be held at their house, and spoke of it in the most flattering way as the “Michael Steinman Jazz Party,” a name that both embarrassed and delighted me.

And it happened on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.  You’ll see some of the results here: great music from good-humored, generous people.

The guests — of a musical sort — were a small group of warmly rewarding musicians.  Besides Marc (cornet and string bass) and Dawn (vocals), there were Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet), John “Butch” Smith (soprano and alto saxophones), Vinnie Armstrong (piano), and Mike Swan (guitar and vocals).  The listeners included the Beloved, Bill and Sandy Gallagher (fine friends and jazz enthusiasts), Cathie Swan (Mike’s wife), Mary Caparone (Marc’s mother), James Arden Caparone (four months but with a great musical future in front of him), and a few others whose names I didn’t get to record (so sorry!).

Jazz musicians take great pleasure in these informal, relaxed happenings: no pressure to play faster, louder, to show off to an already sated crowd.  In such settings, even the most familiar old favorites take on new life, and unusual material blossoms.  We all witnessed easy, graceful, witty, heartfelt improvising on the spot.  And you will, too.

Jazz itself was the guest of honor.  Everyone knew that their efforts were also reaching the larger audience of JAZZ LIVES, so this happy cyber-audience was in attendance as well, although silent.

The first informal group (Dan on cornet, Butch on soprano, Vinnie, Marc on bass, and Mike) led off with Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY, performed at what I think of as Lionel Hampton 1939 tempo:

Then, evoking memories of Jim Goodwin and the Sunset Music Company (more about that later), the band created a buoyant homage to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, to Duke Ellington, and to Bill Robinson, in DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN:

A request from the Beloved for ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (in 1945 Goodman Sextet tempo) was both honored and honorable:

Dawn — sweetly full of feeling and casual swing — joined the band for S’WONDERFUL:

After Dan told one of his Ruby Braff stories, Dawn followed up with BLUE MOON, one of her favorites, and you can hear The Boy (that’s James Arden) singing along in his own fashion:

Then the band shifted — Marc put down the string bass and picked up his cornet to lead the way alongside Dan, now on trombone, for ROSETTA:

And a really fascinating exploration of a song that isn’t played much at all (although Billie, Lester, Roy, and the Kansas City Five are back of it), LAUGHING AT LIFE, explored in the best way by Marc, Butch, and Vinnie:

Mike Swan joined this trio for a truly soulful IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Without prelude, Mike launched into the verse of WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Dan couldn’t help himself and joined in): what a singer Mike is (and he’s listened hard to Crosby, always a good thing)!

Mike also began MELANCHOLY with Dan — wait for Marc and Vinnie adding their voices to this improvisation:

And the session ended with GEORGIA ON MY MIND, scored for a trio of Dan, Mike, and Vinnie:

The informal session came to a gentle stop there, but the music didn’t go away.  Butch had brought with him a video (taken from Dutch television in 1978) of the Sunset Music Company — a band featuring banjoist Lueder Ohlwein, cornetist Jim Goodwin, trombonist Barrett, reedman Smith, pianist Armstrong.  Since Vinnie and Dan and I had never seen the video, we all retreated to the den and watched it.

It was both moving and hilarious to see the men of 2011 watching their much younger 1978 selves, as well as a moving tribute to those who were no longer with us.  I wish there had been time and space to make a documentary about those men watching themselves play. . . . perhaps it’s possible.

I feel immensely fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty, and to have my name attached to it in even the most tangential way is a deep honor.  I can’t believe that it happened, and I send the most admiring thanks to all concerned.  Even if you weren’t there, unable to witness this creation at close range, I think the generous creativity of these musicians will gratify you as well.  This post is a gift also to those who will see it and couldn’t be there: Arianna, Mary, Melissa, Aunt Ida, Hal, June, Candace, Dave, Jeff, Barbara, Sonny, Clint, David, Maxine, Ricky, Margaret, Ella, Melody . . . the list goes on.  These gigabytes and words are sent with love.

A postscript.  JAZZ LIVES is so engrossed with music that I rarely write about anything else, but if you are ever in the Paso Robles, California, area, I urge you to consider spending a night (as the Beloved and I did) at the accurately-named INN PARADISO, 975 Mojave Lane (805-239-2800: innparadiso@att.net).  We have never stayed at a more satisfying place.  Everything was beautiful and comfortable — from the room to the view to the quiet to the dee-licious breakfast, to the gentle friendly kindnesses of Dawna and Steve — making it a genuinely memorable experience.  I want to go back!  See for yourself at www.innparadiso.com.

JIM GOODWIN, HOT MAN

The much-loved jazzman Jim Goodwin died this year just shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.  I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about his talents, but what struck me when I first heard him on record was his surpassing heat, a pushing intensity that drove the musicians around him.  Red Allen had it, as did Roy Eldridge.  Think of Louis on HOTTER THAN THAT, or the closing choruses of I NEVER KNEW by the Chocolate Dandies, or Joe Sullivan in his prime. 

Jim always played — no matter what the context or the tempo — as if his life depended on it.  Not necessarily loud or high, not necessarily spattering the listener with fancy runs, but taking chances, never coasting.  Even when he playing the opening chorus of something like PLEASE BE KIND, you knew that the request wasn’t an idle one: he meant business!

Many of Jim’s vinyl recordings haven’t yet made it to compact disc, and there are private sessions treasured by those who have heard them.  But he and his friend Dave Frishberg made DOUBLE PLAY, an enlivening duet session for Arbors Records (they were both passionate baseball aficionados).  [As I write this, the CD and cassette versions are available at the Arbors site for reduced prices. ]

And, more recently, the Blue Swing label has issued two sets featuring an incendiary little band, the Sunset Music Company, recorded live in Europe, under the leadership of banjoist / singer Lueder Ohlwein, and featuring Jim alongside such notables as Dan Barrett, John Smith, Bill Carter, Mike Fay, and Jeff Hamilton.  Think of a cross between Fats Waller and his Rhythm circa 1935 and the Rhythmakers, and you’ve got the collective ambiance of these rewarding concert recordings.

Finally, Jim’s dear friend and musical colleague Retta Christie (whose singing is full of feeling and swing) has created a website to honor Jim — content and photographs provided by his friends, so it has a delightful, often hilarious candor not always found on the web.  And — there are audio clips for those for whom Jim was just a legendary name.   

Instead of reading the grim headlines in the newspaper or cyber-shopping, look and listen here.  I assure you that the experience will be uplifting.  And Hot.  http://jamesrgoodwin.com/