Tag Archives: Mal Sharpe

A VIVID MAN: CHARLES “DUFF” CAMPBELL (1915-2014)

Charles “Duff” Campbell — jazz aficionado and art dealer and close friend of the famous — was born on January 9, 1915.  He died on October 3, 2014, peacefully, at his home in San Francisco. Even if he had never become friends with Jelly Roll Morton, Nat Cole, Mary Lou Williams, and many others, he would have been a remarkable man: a childhood in Vladivostok and Shanghai before he returned to California to stay.

Here is an official obituary — but Duff led such a richly varied life this summary cannot begin to tell more than the smallest bit of his tale.

Through the good offices of his dear friend, cornetist Leon Oakley, I was invited to Duff’s house on the afternoon of April 16, 2014, and I brought my video camera.  Duff’s memory was not perfect, and occasionally it took a few questions from Leon to start a story going, but we knew we were in the presence of a true Elder.

He recalled seeing the Ellington band in California in the late Thirties (“They were so damned good”) and hanging out with Mary Lou Williams when she took a solo piano job at a hotel.  “I went to hear everybody,” he said.  “Everybody” meant the Basie  band on an early trip west; Louis and Jack Teagarden in the first All-Stars; Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Don Ewell, Darnell Howard, Muggsy Spanier. Duff remembered sitting near Sullivan at Doc Daugherty’s Club Hangover and Sullivan turning to him and saying, “Well, what would you like to hear?”

For me — a born hero-worshipper — Duff was the most real link with the past imaginable.  He sat in a car with Jelly Roll Morton; he drove Art Tatum to and from the gig; he had listening parties with Nat Cole as a guest.

Before anyone turns to the video, a few caveats.  Duff had lost his sight but could still get around his house without assistance, and he had some involuntary muscle movements — so the unsuspecting viewer might think he was terribly comfortable, but he wanted to talk about the days he recalled, and when the afternoon was over he was intent on having us come back soon for more.  It was a warm day and he had dressed formally for his guests, so he was perspiring, but a gentleman didn’t strip down while company was there.  Here are some excerpts from that long interview, with Leon asking Duff questions:

on his encounters with Jelly Roll Morton:

and with Nat King Cole:

a brush with the law:

memories of Art Tatum:

Everyone I’ve ever mentioned Duff to, before and after his passing, has had the same reaction.  We knew and and know now we were in the presence of an Original: quirky, independent, someone who knew what was good and supported it no matter what the crowd liked. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I first met him at one of Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz afternoons at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach San Francisco.  I saw an older gentleman sitting in front of the band, as close as he could get, a drink on the table.  He was dancing in his chair, his body replicating every wave of the music.  When I found out who he was and introduced myself (we had a dear mutual friend, Liadain O’Donovan) he was as enthusiastic in speech as he had been in dance.  And I suspect that enthusiasm, that deep curiosity and energy, sustained him for nearly a century.

Goodbye, Duff.  And thank you. It was an honor to be in your presence.

May your happiness increase! 

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A NEWTONIAN UNIVERSE

Trumpeter Frank Newton should have been celebrated more in his lifetime, loved and understood more. I have written elsewhere about his glorious music and his difficult times. And even if you see him as a free spirit, too large to be held down or restrained by “the music business,” a more just world would have been kinder.

But I treasure every glimpse of him. These three are more cheerful than melancholy. The first is from the September 1939 issue of DOWN BEAT, a gift from Mal Sharpe, who also knows the value of such artifacts.

CALIFORNIA 2014 048 (1)

The second and third come from Newton’s final years (he died all too young in 1954) in Boston.  My source here is drummer Walt Gifford: his scrapbook passed through my hands thanks to the kindness of Duncan Schiedt, and I share two priceless artifacts with you.

Walt obviously took part in Frank’s birthday party; this was the trumpeter’s sincere gratitude in a few words:

NEWTON LETTER

The final artifact is a candid snapshot taken in July 1951, when Frank was working as a counselor at Kiddie Kamp in Sharon, Massachusetts:

NEWTON 7 51

Look at those smiling faces! One or more of those children is with us still, although it might be too much to expect that these grown men and women, in their late sixties, would be reading JAZZ LIVES.

Here is an audible reminder of the beauty Newton created — the 1939 recording (with Tab Smith, soprano saxophone), TAB’S BLUES:

Frank Newton touched people’s hearts with or without his horn.

May your happiness increase!

BAND ON THE STREET: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ PLAY IN NORTH BEACH (May 10, 2014)

Saturday, May 10, our friend Mal Sharpe took his band, Big Money in Jazz, to play in celebration of the grand re-opening of the North Beach Public Library at Columbus and Lombard in San Francisco. Not only was the library worth celebrating, but the renovation included a new rectangular asphalt playground with plantings around it, the Joe DiMaggio Playground.

The music was celebratory as well, with Mal on trombone and vocals; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass.

Mal loves North Beach, “You could be in Greece,” he said, gesturing at the long vista of bright sky and mountains off in the distance.  Here are three performances from that afternoon, with cinema verite of picture-taking spectators looking to see where the music was coming from.

During SONG OF THE WANDERER, both a sight-seeing bus and a cable car pass by, behind the band.  Jazz has that effect on the universe: everything coalesces all of a sudden.

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, perfectly apt:

MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

SONG OF THE WANDERER (an excerpted version, for the outchorus had to compete with local clamor):

Mal and friends have a variety of regular gigs in the city: once a month at the Savoy Tivoli, weekly at Fior d’Italia, Original Joes, and at Tupelo.  Email him at malsharpe@gmail.com, and ask to be added to his weekly email announcements — whimsical, just like their creator.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

LISTEN TO VIC DICKENSON

Vic Dickenson, trombonist, singer, composer.  Photograph by Robert Parent (circa 1951).  Inscribed to drummer Walt Gifford.  From Gifford’s scrapbook, courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.

VIC by ROBERT PARENT

I dream of a jazz-world where everyone gets the credit they deserve, where Vic is as celebrated — and as listened to — as his contemporaries and friends Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Mary Lou Williams, Frank Newton, and many more.

I’d like writers to pay attention to his delicate lyricism, his melodic improvisations, his way of illuminating a song from within.  This would require new language and new hearing: no longer putting Vic into the familiar compartments of “sly,” “witty,” “naughty,” and so on.

It would also require some writers and listeners to put aside their barely-concealed disdain for jazz as it was played before Charlie Parker came to town.  No disrespect to Bird, mind you, who jammed happily with Vic and Doc Cheatham and knew that they were masters. But Vic was more than a “Dixieland” trombonist, more than someone chained to TIN ROOF BLUES and SLOW BOAT TO CHINA.

Would Vic have been taken more seriously had he played trumpet? The trombone blends so well, so often, that it (like the string bass) is taken for granted. And Vic was one of the more reticent of jazz players: someone who wanted to play rather than chat or announce. But the musicians knew how special he was, and is.  (Some people celebrated Vic during his lifetime and still do: I think of Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, John Hammond, Dan Barrett, Mal Sharpe, Manfred Selchow, and others.)

We could begin to truly hear Vic, I think.  Perhaps the beginning of the campaign would be if we asked everyone we knew to listen — and listen with all their perception and love — to music like this:

It is indeed true that having Shad Collins, Ed Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones along — in gorgeous sound — did no one any harm.  But I ask my listeners to do the difficult task of putting Vic first: his sonority, open and muted.  His time, his phrasing, the vocal quality of his sounds (plural).  His love for the melody and for the melodies that the original suggested.  His delicate concise force: what he could say in four quarter notes, or eight bars.  There was and is no one like him.

May your happiness increase!

“DINNER MUSIC” FROM MAL SHARPE and THE BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at FIOR D’ITALIA (March

Mos people know Mal Sharpe (with one of his current bands, the Big Money in Jazz) as someone who inspires audiences with exuberant music. But he and his musicians can create very subtle music as well, Jelly Roll Morton’s “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm.” It’s music to dine by. Of course, with Mal in charge, it will be colorful, lively, witty — quiet but never dull.

Mal’s smaller version of his classic band floats along without piano or drums, and with Mal’s playing and singing; Jim Gammon, cornet; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass and wordless vocal. . . .evoking New Orleans grit and the Kansas City Six.

This band plays every Wednesday night from 6 to 9 at the well-known Italian restaurant, Fior d’Italia (2237 Mason Street) in North Beach, San Francisco, and we came by for a meal and a serenade on March 19, 2014. Here are some of the musical highlights. You’ll have to invent the culinary ones for yourself: here are the menus.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE (the band’s theme and Mal’s offhanded sermon on carpe diem and tempus fugit, too):

MEAN TO ME (a rhetorical statement only):

SHINE (that splendid, misinterpreted song):

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (appropriate to a restaurant with various grilled meats, no?):

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE (soulfully sung by Dwayne):

And for an effervescent dessert, on the last number of the second set, San Francisco’s irrepressible jazz singer Kellye Gray was compelled to join the band with a rare whistling solo on DINAH:

Fior d’Italia is a North Beach classic, known for a varied menu, a comfortable ambiance, a sweet-natured staff . . . and the best dinner music you can think of on Wednesday evenings.

May your happiness increase!

WITH THIS BOOK (AND A FUNCTIONING PEN) THE BAY AREA JAZZ FAN IS ALL READY FOR MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

Photographer / jazz fan Jessica Levant has been enjoying her twin pleasures for years now — as she says, “idly” taking pictures of her jazz and blues heroes and heroines in the Bay Area (that’s the area in and around San Francisco, California).  She’s now collected those photographs — no posing, all taken in performance — into a charming book, SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA JAZZ & BLUSICIANS.

jabcover

The book is sweet testimony to the wide variety of musical styles and performers working in this area — women and men, youths and veterans, singers and instrumentalists, leaders and side-people. By offering these photographs in pure alphabetical order, Jessica has wisely avoided the question of categorizing or of valuing these musicians. I am pleased to see portraits and biographies of people I know and have heard: Clint Baker, Danny Brown, Waldo Carter, Mike Greensill, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Mehling, Si Perkoff, Rob Reich, Dave Ricketts, Mal Sharpe, John Wiitala . . . as well as people I know by reputation . . . and the larger group of people I look forward to hearing and meeting.  Jessica’s color portraits are informal and lively; no stiff poses against a studio backdrop here, and her biographies combine material provided by the artist and her own perceptions.

It’s an entertaining book, and I predict it could start a social trend. Jazz and blues fans like (we’re all fans at heart) to go home with an autograph from our favorite musician, and I can see Bay Area fans competing with one another to collect ALL the autographs in this book.  Better hurry: I’ve spotted Jessica at jazz clubs, busily photographing — I hear rumors of a second volume to come.

You can learn more about Jessica and her book here. And when you see a quietly enthusiastic woman with a camera (tactfully not getting in anyone’s way) I encourage you to approach her and ask, “Are you Jessica Levant?  May I have your autograph?”  I’m fairly sure she will oblige, graciously.

Thanks to Barb Hauser for making the connection, as she always does!

May your happiness increase!