Tag Archives: Manassas Jazz Festival

FOUR TROMBONES, FOUR RHYTHM, at the MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL: SPIEGLE WILLCOX, HERB GARDNER, BILL ALLRED, GEORGE MASSO, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, CLIFF LEEMAN (December 2, 1978)

The Manassas Jazz Festival, 1969: those names!

The video captures a completely spur-of-the-moment session, arranged at a few minutes’ notice by Johnson (Fat Cat) McRee at the Manassas Jazz Festival.  The trombonists are Spiegle Willcox, the Elder; George Masso, Herb Gardner, and Bill Allred.  Happily, the last two are still with us and Herb is gigging in New England as I write this.  The rhythm section is impressive as well: Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  The repertoire is familiar and not complicated (the better to avoid train wrecks, my dear): JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / YES, SIR, THAT’S MY BABY / SUMMERTIME / RUNNIN’ WILD, and the eight gentlemen navigate it all with style and professionalism:

Some personal reflections: I never met Van Perry or Spiegle Willcox at close range, although I saw and heard Spiegle at one or two Bix-themed concerts performed by the New York Jazz Repertory Company in 1973-4 (alongside Chauncey Morehouse).  Herb Gardner stays in my mind in the nicest way because of more history: Sunday-afternoon gigs with Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache in New York City, where he ably played alongside Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheatham, Kenny Davern, and other luminaries.  And Herb graciously gave me his OK to post this.  I had the real privilege of meeting and hearing the very humble George Masso in 2012, playing alongside Ron Odrich, when George was 85, and he allowed me to video-record him also: see it here.  Bill Allred, also a very kind man, brightened many sets at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: you can find some performances including him on JAZZ LIVES: one, from 2015, here.

That rhythm section!  As a 19-year old with a concealed cassette recorder, I was too timid to approach either Dick Wellstood or Cliff Leeman for a few words or an autograph, something I regret.  But I just saw Marty Grosz this year — March 4th — at his ninetieth birthday party, so perhaps that makes up for the timidities of my youth?  I doubt it, but it’s a useful if fleeting rationalization.

The music remains, and so do the players.  This one’s for my dear friends Dick Dreiwitz and Joe McDonough, who know how to make lovely sounds on this instrument.

May your happiness increase!

“AT LEAST A SUGGESTION OF MELODY”: DON EWELL and DICK WELLSTOOD (Manassas Jazz Festival, December 3, 1978 and December 1, 1979)

When Don Ewell came to New York in 1981 to play at Hanratty’s, the New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson did a piece heralding Ewell’s “classical piano,” and Don had this to say: “A lot of jazz pianists look down on the old classic way of playing.  I’m not a reactionary, but I don’t want to go too far out on a limb. I like the trunk of the tree. Jazz is a people’s music and it should have at least a suggestion of melody.

You can always hear Ewell’s love of melody in his playing; he never treats any composition he is improvising on as a collection of chord changes, which is one of the most beautiful aspects of his playing.  His touch, his moderate tempos, giving each performance the feeling of a graceful steadiness, also are so rewarding.

Twice at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in 1979 and 1981, Don and Dick Wellstood — who admired each other greatly — had the chance, however briefly, to share a stage.

Because of their mutual respect, it wasn’t an exhibition: they were mature artists who knew that Faster and Louder have their place, but also have their limits.  The video I will present here begins with three solo performances of “ragtime,” loosely defined, by Dick, and then goes a year forward into four duet performances.  Yes, both the MC and the audience are slightly intrusive, and the pianos are not perfect, but I like to imagine that the slight informality made Don and Dick more at ease.  The music is peerless, and the video presents a rare summit meeting.  I thank our benefactor, Joe Shepherd, one of the music’s secular angels, for making it possible for me to share this with you.

Dick Wellstood, solo piano, December 3, 1978: FIG LEAF RAG / CAPRICE RAG / RUSSIAN RAG // Wellstood and Don Ewell, piano, December 1, 1979: ROSETTA (incomplete) / ROSETTA / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / HANDFUL OF KEYS //

When I was doing research for this post, I found I had offered one song from the Ewell-Wellstood duets of 1981, I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU — again, thanks to Joe —  here it is again.  I wonder if more video of that session (six songs made it to record) exists.

Celestial dance music.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S NOT EVERY DAY”: KENNY DAVERN, LARRY EANET, DAVID JERNIGAN, DICK PROCTOR (Manassas Jazz Festival, November 25, 1988)

In the years that I was able to see and hear him live (1972-2006), Kenny Davern had unmistakable and well-earned star power, and on the sessions that I witnessed, his colleagues on the bandstand would have it also: Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, Cliff Leeman, Dan Barrett, Jake Hanna, Bob Barnard, Randy Sandke, Buzzy Drootin, Bucky Pizzarelli.  You can add your own names to that list, but these are some of my memorable sightings.

Here, in 2020, I confess to admiring some musicians more than others, and feeling that some that I know are going to give great performances . . . and they do.  Musicians I’ve  not met before might bring a moment of trepidation, but then there is the joy of discovering someone new — a stranger, now a hero.  I write this as prelude to a video record of a performance Kenny gave (I think it was a patrons’ brunch) at the Manassas Jazz Festival on November 25, 1988.

This band, half of them new to Kenny (Jernigan and Proctor) produces wonderful inspiring results, and if you think of Kenny as acerbic, this performance is a wonderful corrective: how happy he is in this relaxed Mainstream atmosphere.  And he was often such an intensely energized player that occasionally his bandmates felt it was their job to rise to his emotional heights.  When this worked (think of Soprano Summit, Dick Wellstood and Cliff Leeman) it was extraordinary, but sometimes it resulted in firecrackers, not Kenny’s, being tossed around the bandstand.

All three players here are models of easy swing, of taking their time: notice how much breathing space there is in the performance, with no need to fill up every second with sound.  I’d only known Dick Proctor from a few Manassas videos, but he is so content to keep time, to support, to be at ease.  Dick left the scene in 2003, but his rhythm is very much alive here.  I’d met and heard Larry Eanet at the 2004 Jazz at Chautauqua, and was impressed both with his delicacy and his willingness to follow whimsical impulses: they never disrupted the beautiful compositional flow of a solo or accompaniment, but they gave me small delighted shocks.

But the happy discovery for me, because of this video, is string bassist David Jernigan  — the remaining member of this ad hoc quartet (younger than me by a few years! hooray!) — someone with a great subtle momentum, playing good notes in his backing and concise solos, and offering impressive arco passages with right-on-target intonation.  You can also find David here.

That Kenny would invite the receptive audience to make requests is indication of his comfort, as are the words he says after SUMMERTIME:

I accept the applause for Dick and Dave and Larry, because I feel as you do.  It’s not every day you can walk up on the bandstand . . . and really, literally, shake hands with two out of three guys that you’ve not played with before, and make music.  And I think these guys really are splendid, splendid musicians.

Hear and see for yourselves.

‘DEED I DO / LAZY RIVER / “Shall I speak?”/ THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU / Johnson McRee and Kenny talk / SUMMERTIME / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS //

Indeed, it’s not every day we hear music of this caliber.  How fortunate we are.

May your happiness increase!

SOPRANO SUMMIT: A COZY CORNER FOR FIVE, DECEMBER 1, 1978 (Manassas Jazz Festival)

Soprano Summit, now just a memory because only Marty Grosz, 90, survives, was one of the finest working groups it was my privilege to see — from my first sighting of them in 1973 to their eventual end.  It’s strange now to think that in New York, they were so ubiquitous for a time that I and others took them for granted.  Now, their performances seem precious evidence of a shining era: a band capable of roaring out-choruses and great lyrical delicacy.

Here is a forty-five minute session, performed and recorded on December 1, 1978, as part of the Manassas Jazz Festival –Bob WIlber and Kenny Davern, clarinet and soprano saxophones; Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Van Perry, string bass; Tony Di Nicola, drums.  The site was the “Olde Towne Inn” in Manassas, where, I am pleased to note, one can get a room at a reduced rate of $60 / night. Here‘s the Inn’s Facebook page, should you care to visit, although I have no idea who’s playing in the lounge.

But music counts more than vacation lodging, especially these days.  Tucked away in a corner in 1978, the quintet makes exquisite music: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / APEX BLUES / JAZZ ME BLUES / YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY OYSTER IN THE STEW (Marty, solo vocal) / CHANGES (Marty) / LADY BE GOOD:

Worth much more than sixty dollars, I say.

May your happiness increase!

TONIGHT’S MUSICAL OFFERING: TRIO SONATAS FOR WOODWIND, PIANOFORTE, and PERCUSSION (Opus 1978.12.2.) (Opus 1979.12.2.) MESSRS. CLIFFORD LEEMAN, RICHARD McQUEEN WELLSTOOD, KENNETH JOHN DAVERN (Manassas Symphony Hall)

The Management requests that patrons silence their cell phones, kindly not rattle their programs, unwrap cough drops or candy while the music is in progress.  Ordinarily, applause should be held until the end of the performance, but the performers will allow it at the end of each movement.  Latecomers will not be seated until the intermission.

1978.12.2: FIDGETY FEET / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / THAT’S A PLENTY / MAPLE LEAF RAG //

12.2.79: MAPLE LEAF RAG / WILD MAN BLUES / Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee comes forward / Davern discusses the decor / ECCENTRIC RAG //

Thanks to the gentlemen of the ensemble for offering their music to us at this time, and to Mr. McRee for his stewardship and commentary.  Thanks also to Mr. Hustad and Mr. Shepherd for generously underwriting this series of concerts.

May your happiness increase!

BUD (Part Two, November 26, 1988)

Here’s the second part of our vision of Bud Freeman — uniquely swinging tenor saxophonist, raconteur, a singular stylist for more than six decades before this appearance (from the Manassas Jazz Festival, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee).

The first part can be found here — with Al Stevens, Marty Grosz, Johnny WIlliams, Johnny Blowers.  For this set, it’s Bud with Larry Eanet, piano; Steve Jordan, rhythm guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

And the roadmap or menu is: ‘S’WONDERFUL / story about Benny Goodman and Hank D’Amico / SUNDAY / Bud praises Johnny Blowers and tells a joke and remembers George Gershwin / THE MAN I LOVE / a John Barrymore story / THREE LITTLE WORDS / a story about Eddie Condon //

Another view of the great man, courtesy of jgautographs on eBay:

Bud is worth everyone’s closer investigation.  Thanks to Joe Shepherd for his sustaining generosities.

May your happiness increase!

BUD (Part One, November 27, 1988)

Mr. Freeman, always beautifully attired:

Bud Freeman, who made the long journey from being an Austin High School boy, earnest and enthusiastic, to an elder of the tribe, always remaining himself. But he has not received the same attention — with the exception of Loren Schoenberg and Dick Sudhalter — that his singular talent deserved, almost as if there were just too many tenor saxophone stylists for the writers to keep track of, so they focused on Lester and Hawkins, Ben and Byas and few others.  Bud’s music was both intellectual and impassioned: you could trace his scalar patterns on graph paper, but he was also busily swinging and surprising the listener.  He also kept some of that boyishness in his buoyant playing, those lines that bobbed and weaved, never predictably.  I offer here a late example — Bud was eighty-two in this performance, but this is not an old man’s tentative music.  And to an attentive listener, it is quite sophisticated, beautifully, whimsically alive.

Here he is, recorded live at the Manassas Jazz Festival (thanks to Joe Shepherd for this keepsake) with Johnson McRee as M.C., Johnny Mince, clarinet; Al Stevens, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums  After McRee’s introduction and some before-set milling around, there’s LADY BE GOOD / a story about shooting craps and playing cards / I FOUND A NEW BABY / I GOT RHYTHM / Marty tells a now-offensive joke and Bud recites a few lines of Shakespeare / CRAZY RHYTHM //

I’ve noted that Bud was 82, Johnny, 76, Blowers, 87 (!), Williams, 80, Marty (the Youngblood then, ninety now) 58.  I don’t know Al Stevens’ birthdate, but he looks less venerable.  Durable fellows, all.

I will offer another half-hour set of Bud and friends shortly.  But study this one, without preconceptions, please.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE IN A SMALL SPACE: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, KENNY DAVERN, SPENCER CLARK, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, TONY DiNICOLA (MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL, December 1, 1978).

What was lost can return — some papers I thought were gone for good have resurfaced — but often the return needs the help of a kind friend, in this case my benefactor, trumpeter Joe Shepherd, who (like Barney the purple dinosaur) believes in sharing.

Sharing what?  How about forty-five minutes of admittedly muzzy video of Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony DiNicola, drums, recorded at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978.

But first, a few lines, which you are encouraged to skip if you want to get right to the treasure-box.  My very dear generous friend John L. Fell sent me this on a VHS tape in the mid-to-late Eighties, and I watched it so often that now, returning to it, I could hum along with much of this performance.  It’s a sustained example of — for want of a better expression — the way the guys used to do it and sometimes still do.  Not copying records; not playing routinized trad; not a string of solos.  There’s beautiful variety here within each performance (and those who’d make a case that old tunes should stay dead might reconsider) and from performance to performance.  Fascinating expressions of individuality, of very personal sonorities and energies — and thrilling duets made up on the spot with just a nod or a few words.  There’s much more to admire in this session, but you will find your own joys.

YouTube, as before, has divided this video into three chunks — cutting arbitrarily.  The songs in the first part are I WANT TO BE HAPPY / SWEET SUE / I CRIED FOR YOU (partial) //

The songs are I CRIED FOR YOU (completed) / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Billy – partial) //

The songs are I CAN’T GET STARTED (concluded) / CHINA BOY //

I feel bathed in joy.

And another example of kindness: my friend and another benefactor, Tom Hustad (author of the astonishing book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY) sent along a slightly better — visual — copy that has none of the arbitrary divisions imposed by YouTube.  And here it is!  It will be my companion this morning: let it be yours as well.

May your happiness increase!

THE PAST, PRESERVED: “TRIBUTE TO JIMMIE NOONE”: JOE MURANYI, MASON “COUNTRY” THOMAS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, ROD McDONALD, HAL SMITH (Manassas Jazz Festival, Dulles, Virginia, Nov. 30, 1986)

One moral of this story, for me, is that the treasure-box exists, and wonderfully kind people are willing to allow us a peek inside.

A jazz fan / broadcaster / amateur singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, Jr. (1923-1990), — he was an accountant by day — held jazz festivals in Manassas and other Virginia cities, beginning in 1966 and running about twenty years.  They were enthusiastic and sometimes uneven affairs, because of “Fat Cat”‘s habit, or perhaps it was a financial decision, of having the finest stars make up bands with slightly less celestial players.  Some of the musicians who performed and recorded for McRee include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, James Dapogny, Don Ewell, John Eaton, Maxine Sullivan, Bob Wilber, Pug Horton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Bob Greene, Johnny Wiggs, Zutty Singleton, Clancy Hayes, George Brunis, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Tommy Gwaltney, Joe Muranyi, Danny Barker, Edmond Souchon, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Gordon, Marty Grosz, Hal Smith, Kerry Price . . . .

McRee also had business sense, so the proceedings were recorded, issued first on records and then on cassette.  I never got to Manassas while the Festival was happening, but I did buy many of Fat Cat’s lps (with their red and yellow label) and years later, when I met Hank O’Neal, he told me stories of recording the proceedings on Squirrel Ashcraft’s tape machine here.

My dear friend Sonny McGown, who was there, filled in some more of the story of the music you are about to see and hear.  The 1986 festival was dedicated to Jimmie Noone and these performances come from a Sunday brunch set.  “It was a very talented group and they meshed well. Mason ‘Country’ Thomas was the best clarinetist in the DC area for years; he was a big fan of Caceres. . . . Fat Cat’s wife, Barbara, often operated the single VHS video camera which in later years had the audio patched in from the sound board. As you well know, the video quality in those days was somewhat lacking but it is better to have it that way than not at all. Several years later Barbara allowed Joe Shepherd to borrow and digitize many of the videos. In his last years Fat Cat only issued audio cassettes. They were easy to produce, carry and distribute. FCJ 238 contains all of the Muranyi – Dapogny set except for “River…”. However, the videos provide a more enhanced story.”

A few years back, I stumbled across a video that Joe had put up on YouTube — I think it was Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR late in his life, very precious to me for many reasons — and I wrote to him.  Joe proved to be the most generous of men and he still is, sending me DVDs and CD copies of Fat Cat recordings I coveted.  I am delighted to report that, at 93, he is still playing, still a delightful person who wants nothing more for his kindnesses than that the music be shared with people who love it.

Because of Joe, I can present to you the music of Jimmie Noone, performed on November 30, 1986, by Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Mason “Country” Thomas, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass [yes, Sidney Catlett’s teammate in the Armstrong Decca orchestra!]; Hal Smith, drums; Johnson McRee, master of ceremonies and vocalist.  The songs are IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (vocal, Joe); CRYING FOR THE CAROLINES (vocal, Fat Cat); MISS ANNABELLE LEE (Joe); SO SWEET; RIVER, STAY ‘WAY FROM MY DOOR; APEX BLUES; SWEET LORRAINE (Fat Cat).

Some caveats.  Those used to videocassette tapes know how quickly the visual quality diminishes on duplicates, and it is true here.  But the sound, directly from the mixing board, is bright and accurate.  YouTube, in its perplexing way, has divided this set into three oddly-measured portions, so that the first and second segments end in the middle of a song.  Perhaps I could repair this, but I’d rather be shooting and posting new videos than devoting my life to repairing imperfections.  (Also, these things give the busy YouTube dislikers and correcters something to do: I can’t take away their pleasures.)

One of the glories of this set is the way we can see and hear Jim Dapogny in peak form — not only as soloist, but as quirky wise ensemble pianist, sometimes keeping everything and everyone on track.  Joe has promised me more videos with Jim . . . what joy, I say.

Don’t you hear me talkin’ to you?  It IS tight like that:

Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?

I’ve just found joy:

I started this post with “a” moral.  The other moral comes out of my finding this DVD, which I had forgotten, in the course of tidying my apartment for the new decade.  What occurs to me now is that one should never be too eager to tidy their apartment / house / what have you, because if everything is properly organized and all the contents are known, then surprises like this can’t happen.  So there.  Bless all the people who played and play; bless those who made it possible to share this music with you.  Living and “dead,” they resonate so sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

A COMFORTABLE PASTORAL: JOHNNY WIGGS and RAYMOND BURKE on CD

The recordings that cornetist Johnny Wiggs, clarinetist Raymond Burke, guitarist / singer Dr. Edmond Souchon, and string bassist / singer Sherwood Mangiapane made in two sessions in New Orleans (in 1952 and 1955) have been both glorious and elusive.  Issued on two ten-inch microgroove recordings on the even more elusive Paramount and Steiner-Davis labels, they were wonderful yet invisible.  I first heard some of this music on a cassette copy made for me by the late Bob Hilbert, and I knew much more existed but had never heard it.  A year ago, I saw one of the records on eBay at a low price and (atypically) was able to buy it without eroding my savings. I thought the front was very impressive.

WIGGS-BURKE 10

But the reverse was a real surprise (the eBay seller either didn’t turn the record over or wasn’t interested): it was autographed by Doctor Souchon to Pinky Vidacovitch:

WIGGS-BURKE 10 back

But this is a post about music, not about record collecting, so I hope my digression is pertinent here. I should say that the sessions were originally envisioned by collector / archivist / scholar John Steiner as trios — clarinet, guitar, bass — echoing the recordings of George Lewis that William Russell had made earlier.  Russell agreed to record the Burke-Souchon-Mangiapane trio, but — happily for us — Johnny Wiggs came by with his horn and the group became a quartet.  The two vinyl issues collected sixteen performances.

I — and no doubt others — have been waiting, hoping for this music to be effectively issued on compact disc. And it happened!  The American Music label has issued a two-disc set of the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR. Not only does it offer the original sixteen tracks but a good many alternate takes, performances that didn’t make the original issues, and three tracks from 1957 that bring together Burke, Wiggs, Souchon, Art Hodes, and Freddie Moore. On one or two tracks, Raymond plays the harmonica (not a high point in recorded music, but we needed to know about it, and a tin flute.  Wise notes by the deeply-involved Butch Thompson and some rare photographs make the set complete.  The recorded sound is fine and the discs are well-programmed, so each disc sounds like a small rewarding session on its own.

BURKE-WIGGS CD

The songs are (asterisks denoting a title with more than one version) PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET / ALL NIGHT LONG* / AT SUNDOWN / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES* / MEMORIES / RAY’S TUNE* / CONGO SQUARE / BUCKTOWN BOUNCE / I CAN’T USE IT / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?* / MAMA’S BABY BOY* (a/k/a DO WHAT ORY SAY) / ALL THE WRONGS YOU’VE DONE TO ME / MILENBERG JOYS / POSTMAN’S LAMENT* / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / SMILES / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / SPANISH TINGE* / HARMONICA BLUES / WALKIN’ THE DOG / TULIP STOMP (a/k/a WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP) / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / GOING HOME / CHINATOWN / JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE / BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / JOHNNY’S BOUNCE / BUCK TOWN / HEEBIE JEEBIES / MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR / SISTER KATE / TIN CAN ALLEY / UNKNOWN TUNE / CITY OF A MILLION DREAMS.

Here  is Jazzology Music (the GHB Jazz Foundation): the primary site where the discs can be bought — and if you notice the Index, bottom right of the page, with a careful scrolling motion you can hear the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR play PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET.  If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

I don’t usually become hyperbolic and tell my readers that this is “the one disc they must buy,” “the one festival they must go to,” etc., because there is so much enticing and enduring music both being reissued and being made live even as I write this.  Yet I think that the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR has given me an extraordinary amount of the pleasure in the months that I have had and played it . . . and played it.  And I certainly think that the musicians who think of themselves as “traditionalists” and beyond should be listening intently to this music for its lightness, its depth of feeling, and its expertise. Let me explain.

Although I don’t identify myself as purely a New Orleans jazz aficionad0 (in my mind, the Armstrong Town Hall Concert, Jones-Smith Inc., the 1938 Basie band, the Goodman Trio, the 1940-1 Ellington band, the Keynotes, the Vanguards . . . all have their assured places in my affections) but I do love collective improvisation as a musical way of life.  In fact, some of my favorite moments in hearing / video-recording live jazz in 2013 are provided by those groups that understand their existence as BANDS — improvising, creating backgrounds, playing riffs, working as ensembles — whether they model themselves on Bunk’s Last Testament band or much more “modern” in their approach.

Wiggs, Burke, Souchon, and Mangiapane very occasionally present themselves as a single-soloist-with-rhythm; more often, we hear four sweetly idiosyncratic voices going their own ways while fulfilling their roles as members of a band.  So “there’s always something going on” to interest a close listener.

Souchon and Mangiapane create a firm, fluid, old-time but swinging acoustic rhythm: the way guitar and bass used to be played before the late Thirties (guitar) and Forties (string bass).  They don’t push or drag; they provide the most delightful swing counterpoint.  As well, Souchon (especially) is an instantly compelling, saucy singer — with a wink or a twinkle for the listener. I doubt that a few of his naughty vocals (hardly so by 2013 standards) are his own invention, but the metaphors of the songs are hilarious in the fashion of mid-Twenties blues.  Since I carry a backpack for work and play, I empathize with his earnest reading of POSTMAN’S LAMENT, whose refrain is “Lord, take this pack off my back.”

The great voices on this disc are paradoxically the sounds that come through Burke’s clarinet and Wiggs’ cornet — sounds I found endearing as soon as I heard them, years back.  Wiggs heard Joe Oliver in the flesh in the very early Twenties and was impressed by the King for the rest of his life — thus he has some of Oliver’s terse power.  But he also heard Bix, and I think the latter’s lyricism won out: Wiggs (although not as harmonically ambitious as Bobby Hackett) captured something of Bix’s brief epigrammatic ways: a Wiggs phrase is like a great, sometimes sad, utterance: it hangs in the air the way a Joe Thomas phrase did, and we are musing over its meaning while he is eight bars away.  In his own fashion, Wiggs is a great sad poet: his melancholy is always lightened by his joy in the rolling rhythms beneath him, but his sound is autumnal, dark red and gold.

Burke, for his part, can at first sound like an elliptical version of the great New Orleans clarinetists — I am thinking specifically of Ed Hall, of Bujie Centobie — but he has his own phrasing and his own, always surprising sound.  And, just in passing, I must say that the most famous group with this instrumentation was the Bechet-Spanier Big Four of 1940, but the Wiggs-Burke quartet is far more easy, less pugilistic. Friends playing for their own enjoyment, weaving melodies for the sake of song, not musicians out to show who’s boss of the session.

My friend Joe Shepherd made available two videos of Johnny, Raymond, Danny Barker, Graham Stewart, Bob Green, and Freddie Moore and he shot at the 1972 Manassas Jazz Festival.  Time hasn’t treated the visual image well, but the music is eternal:

OLD STACK O’LEE BLUES:

TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL:

Why my title?  The music on the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR discs suggests a kind of informal play among friends that very rarely takes place in a recording studio — more often in a living room or on a porch when only the musicians and their friends are there.  Certainly this would be a perfect set of CDs for a backyard party . . . sweet melodies in swing.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: “OLD STACK O’LEE”: THE BLUES at MANASSAS (December 2, 1972): JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, BOB GREENE, DANNY BARKER, FREDDIE MOORE

Through the kindness of Joe Shepherd, we have another trip backwards in time to view and hear the magic of the music.  In case you missed the first excursion, do visit here.

Be forewarned: the visual quality of this video is quite murky — almost twenty thousand leagues under the sea, although Verne never heard such music.  One can get used to it.  This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.

This video is a valuable document, because it and its predecessor from the same session are (as far as I know) the only performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.  They play a nice old blues (close to MAKE ME A PALLET ME ON THE FLOOR) at a sweet tempo, the beat marked off in a special old-time way by Freddie.  And Raymond Burke’s sliding, gliding feet (in very shiny loafers) are a visual treat in themselves; even the cameraperson thought so.

Burke and Wiggs are uplifting poets of the music: sad but not maudlin or frozen in time, playing the blues from deep knowledge of what they are, where they came from, and how they feel to listeners.  There’s a good deal of Jelly Roll Morton here, too, which is always uplifting.

This video — although its originator is not known to me — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music.  Thank you, Joe!  And this one’s for you — John Gill and Leon Oakley, Roger Wade, Doug Pomeroy, Chris Tyle, Sam McKinistry, Trygve Hernæs, and Hank O’Neal!  (“By popular demand” — more from Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke!)

May your happiness increase.

RUEFUL AND LOVELY: “TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL”: JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, DANNY BARKER, BOB GREENE, FREDDIE MOORE (Manassas Jazz Festival. December 2, 1972)

Be forewarned: the visual quality on the performance that follows is sub-standard, although you can get used to it.  This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.

This video is a valuable document, because I don’t know of any other performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.

The song is elusive — TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL — and I couldn’t find any lyrics online, but the opening phrase so neatly fits the title that I am sure JAZZ LIVES readers can (silently) invent their own narratives with the proper scansion.

I am amused by Raymond Burke’s endearing personal choreography — his body mirrors what he is playing more than is true with many players.  And his tone is so singular, sweet-tart in the manner of Ed Hall — but you wouldn’t mistake one player for the other.  A great underacknowledged poet of the clarinet.

Wiggs continues to astonish.  He saw Joe Oliver in New Orleans (I seem to remember this was 1919) and Oliver left a lasting impression.  But then Wiggs heard Bix and those wandering odes took over — haunting but always mobile.

I hear in Wiggs, who was 73 at the time of this video, a sweet, sad evocation of what Bix might have sounded like had he lived on this long.  Wiggs’ music plunges forward while looking over its shoulder in a melancholy, ruminative way.  And although Wiggs recorded early (1927) and from 1949 into the fifties, his late work fully expresses a kind of autumnal sensibility, delicate without being timid or maudlin — the sweet voice of an elder who has seen a great deal and knows that life is sadly finite but celebrates that life with his cornet.

One other thing occurs to me, with special relevance to my own video efforts, where musicians justly want the performances that will be disseminated and preserved for posterity to be as free from flaws as possible.  Anyone who watches this video to the end — and why wouldn’t you? — notices a small train wreck (with no one hurt) because the band is not clear whether to go on or stop. I find this, like Burke’s body language, quite endearing.  I’d rather have imperfect Wiggs and Burke than know that this flawed performance had been consigned to the trash.

This video — although I do not know the originator — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music.  Thank you, Joe!

May your happiness increase.

GOODBYE TO MISS BARBARA LEA (1929-2011)

Young Miss Lea

The remarkable jazz singer Barbara Lea has left us.  Her dear friend Jeanie Wilson writes, “I am deeply saddened to have to report the death of our own Barbara Lea, “The High Priestess of Popular Song”. She died peacefully yesterday, Monday, December 26, here in Raleigh, North Carolina; I was with her as were my husband, Bill, and our dear friend, Junk. And as most of you already know, Barbara has been battling Alzheimer’s for quite some time. So, “Sleep Peaceful”, dear Barbara… we will miss you but now you are free to sing once again.”

I know that many JAZZ LIVES readers have their own memories of hearing and working with Barbara, which I will share in an upcoming post.  For now, this is the way I and so many others will think of her:

It’s an informal exploration of SKYLARK at the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — where Barbara is backed empathically by tenor saxophonist Mason “Country” Thomas, who also left us in 2011; Larry Eanet, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Tom Martin, drums.  Thanks to Sflair for the original video and for sharing it with us on YouTube.

A musician who worked and recorded with Miss Lea several times is the fine drummer Hal Smith, who had this to say, “She had a lovely voice, terrific intonation, perfect diction and her voice aged very well.  I had heard that she adopted the last name of “Lea” as a tribute to Lee Wiley.  If that’s true, she deserved to invoke Ms. Wiley’s name. At the recording session she was well-prepared with a list of songs and keys, easy-to-read charts and ideas for routines.  In that respect, and in her pleasant demeanor, she reminded me of another great vocalist — with the last name of Kilgore.”

Saxophonist, pianist, and director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg, also worked with and learned from Barbara: “Barbara Lea passed away this week and the world has lost an exemplary interpreter of 20th century popular music and I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor.

I was driving Benny Carter down Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal years ago and Louis Armstrong came over the radio playing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” . Benny’s response was “Listen to that – no bullshit!” And in the generous sense in which Benny meant it, one can transpose the same comment to Barbara’s music, though I’m sure she wouldn’t be happy with that language.

She was above all an intelligent and classy lady, with a gift for discovering the melodic and lyrical essence of a song. We started working together in the late 70’s and continued up to the point her illness made it impossible several years ago.  If I heard her sing one tune, I heard her sing several hundred, because I was first and foremost a fan, and went to as many of her gigs as I could, many times with my parents. The Mr. Tram ensemble we had with Dick Sudhalter and Daryl Sherman was nothing less than a joy. You should have heard the conversations; they were as good as the music! Barbara was incapable of coasting when she sang.  No wonder so many composers, starting with Alec Wilder, were so crazy about her. What a variety of timbres she had, and a variety of ways of phrasing to match the words.  Scatting wasn’t for her, and she was forthright about her opinions, and blessedly empathetic with others who didn’t necessarily agree with her.  There’s much more to be said about her, but for the essence, just listen. It’s ALL there.”

We’ll miss Barbara Lea.

(Thanks to David J. Weiner, Hal Smith, and Loren Schoenberg for their help.)

“CHINATOWN” 1988 — KENNY DAVERN, BENT PERSSON, TOMAS ORNBERG, JAMES DAPOGNY, STEVE JORDAN, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, and DICK PROCTOR

I cannot remember where I was on November 26, 1988 — unfortunately, it wasn’t at the Manassas Jazz Festival (in Virginia) listening to Kenny Davern, Bent Persson, Tomas Ornberg, James Dapogny, Steve Jordan, Johnny Williams, and Dick Proctor improvise on CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

The performance has the cheeful shirtsleeved feel of a group of all-stars who have assembled for a common purpose — to have a good time!

Not too slow, not too fast.

Once the band assembles itself, everything rocks — the horns soar and the rhythm section transcends the poorly tuned piano — played energetically by Dapogny, who is beautifully supported by veterans Jordan and Williams locking in.  And the exchanges at the end are a lovely entlightened conversation among friends — with Eddie, Pee Wee, Fats, Louis, and Lips laughing softly in appreciation, standing in the shades.

Blessings on J.S. for recording, keeping, preserving, and sharing this performance!

FROM THE 1969 MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL

MAKE YOUR MARK WITH A CLICK!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

 https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

I haven’t found many autographs on eBay recently that got me all excited, but this one surely qualifies.  Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, an enthusiastic concert promoter (given in moments of enthusiasm to vocalizing and kazooing) ran a series of jazz bashes in Manassas, Virginia, for perhaps fifteen years.  I never attended any of them but knew of their existence because “Fat Cat” issued some of the results on his own “Fat Cat’s Jazz” label, which never made it to compact disc.

Here is an autographed program from the first concerts in 1969, with many famous names:  Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Slide Harris, Maxine Sullivan, Vic Dickenson, Johnny Wiggs, Danny Barker, Zutty Singleton, Wild Bill Davison, Bob Green, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, writer Al Rose, Tommy Gwaltney, Walt Gower, Kerry Price, and one or two others.

The signatures that I know — either from familiarity or from getting autographs from the musicians themselves — are absolutely genuine-looking: Condon, Vic, Hackett, Maxine.  For what it’s worth!

The autograph on the very bottom — indicating this program belongs to “Doctor,” suggests that it was once the property of Dr. Edmond Souchon, the New Orleans physician-guitarist-singer who was part of the 6 7/8 String Band and appeared on many recordings with Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke.  Could this be true?

REMEMBERING LARRY WEISS by RAY CERINO

Larry Weiss, the New Jersey-based cornetist and pianist, has died at 83, after a long illness.  His friend and mine, the jazz aficionado, popular music scholar, and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, sent these lines at my request:

Larry Weiss, a good friend of mine, and an extraordinary musician, died over a week ago. Because I had played with Larry for several years in a pro-bono quartet at a life-care facility, the writer of this blog asked me to provide my thoughts on Larry the musician.

The first thought that comes to mind is a word in the title of a book by his friend, Warren Vache called “The Unsung Songwriters”. Although Larry was well-known and respected by all the famous musicians he played with, the majority of jazz concert-goers never heard of him. In that regard, Larry was unsung, and his special, musical ability went largely unrecognized.

The way I like to describe Larry is as a self-taught, natural, supremely gifted musician. When Larry soloed on a song, he did not simply play the notes of the chords underlying the melody, nor did he play the scales in the modal form of the harmony, as is frequently offered as an improvised chorus by younger players today. Larry created a new, beautiful variation, under which the original melody could always be heard. And often he would substitute an altered chord of his own devising, especially audible on the piano, which would introduce a new, intense feeling to the music. He did this all without ever referring to a printed note. The music came from his heart, to his ear, to his hands, seamlessly. And the music that emerged contained original, surprising passages that could move the astute listener deeply.

As a friend of Larry’s for over twenty years, we spent a lot of time together at my house, playing and listening to music. Larry was always gracious in offering to play piano accompaniment to my pedestrian tenor sax solo efforts, never making harshly critical remarks about my playing. He had a good many live recordings on cassette tape that he had acquired over the years, and we would play and listen to these on my stereo system. I recall how he would listen intently to a particular passage of which he was proud, and point to the speakers to underline his high regard for the music. When I asked him how he created so noteworthy a phrase of music, he would just shrug, and say “that’s what I heard”. Like I said, a gift.

As I mentioned above, other well-known and knowing musicians were well aware of the quality of Larry’s musicianship. Larry told me once that he was on the stand with Bob Haggart, bassist and composer of “What’s New”. Larry had just finished a solo of that tune when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned around and saw Bob smiling and giving him a big “thumbs up”. Many times as we listened to other famous musicians, Larry would say “I played with him”. He was never boastful: in fact he was modest to a fault. In talking about his solos, he would often say “I’m not claiming this is great, but I am rather proud of it. (And if Larry was proud, you know if it had to be good).

Unfortunately there are only a few commercial recordings of Larry’s work on cornet available, two with a group led by his friend, Warren Vache,and one CD, on piano, with Joe Licari.

That’s Larry, the unsung musician. I was lucky to have been his friend, and to have spent time discussing and listening to the music we both love.

A few words from Michael Steinman:

I am glad that Jim Balantic had uploaded to YouTube two duo selections by the fine clarinetist Joe Licari and Larry on piano — HAUNTING MELODY and MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, where Larry plays subtle Teddy Wilson-style piano with great delicacy:

That CD, and others, can be obtained on Joe’s site: http://www.joelicari.com/

I never met Larry Weiss, but I knew his work as a cornetist and admired it greatly.  He shared my admiration for Bobby Hackett’s beautiful tapestries of melody.  And Larry was more than a copyist — not that it would have been easy to copy Hackett — he was someone who had so thoroughly internalized the Master’s style in broad outlines that he could then invent his own personalized utterances at a moment’s notice. 

I heard Larry play cornet in many rather vigorous traditional ensembles, and his voice was a clarion one.  “Luminous” is an overused adjective these days, but it applies.  He was modest; he didn’t shout; his tone glowed.

I have one example alone of Larry’s gentle mastery for the JAZZ LIVES audience.  I have shared this video clip — from the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — before, as an aching tribute to the much-beloved Vic Dickenson, in memory of the astonishing band he and Bobby Hackett led at the Roosevelt Grill in 1969 (its rhythm section usually Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg or Milt Hinton, and Cliff Leeman). 

But this time I would ask my readers to do what is nearly impossible — to tear themselves away from Vic and from Dill Jones and Steve Jordan — and listen to Larry Weiss.  Modest and unassuming, using his mute, sometimes creating obbligatos that one has to strain to hear, he makes great beauty, great empathy, lasting music. 

In the world of jazz, the night sky is full of stars.  There’s Louis, blazing bright; Jack, Lester, Bird, Ben, the two Sidneys . . . and more.  Galaxies, in fact.  But there are also stars not often seen.  You might need a telescope to find them.  But their light is just as memorable: that’s how I think of Larry Weiss.

DON EWELL and DICK WELLSTOOD, 1981

Yes, Ewell had had a stroke some years earlier.  Neither of the pianos at the Manassas Jazz Festival was worthy of its artist.  But this video clip (thanks so much to my fellow YouTube poster — who also gave us the priceless clip of Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR) is a wonderful rediscovery.  And Claude Hopkins’ band theme, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, always seems to inspire.  Ewell and Wellstood — they would do anything for us.  My rating on YouTube?  “Awesome.” 

“SOME BLISS, PLEASE?” DECEMBER 1, 1978

This song — Vincent Youmans’ I WANT TO BE HAPPY — evoked small verbal comedies from two musicians I saw in New York years ago.  Wild Bill Davison would announce the title and then leeringly say in his best W.C. Fields voice, “Don’t we all,” drawling the last word for four beats.  Kenny Davern, on the other hand, was more academic, seeing the simple declarative statement as the opening for a basic ESL class, “I want to be happy, she wants to be happy, they want to be happy,” trailing off, an amused look on his face.  But comedy isn’t the theme in this gathering of happy improvisers at the Manassas Jazz Festival: Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone, Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano, Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Tony DiNicola, drums.  See how Butterfield works hard, building and soaring; how Davern turns his familiar figures in every possible direction, animated by the thryhm deep inside; Wellstood’s opening jab at “Perdido,” and the way Marty Grosz, intent, relaxes when he can put his guitar down, take a sip of his drink, and revel in Wellstood’s playing.  And the ensemble joyousness.  We think of the Golden Age of Jazz — suggest your decade — but this performance is evidence that 1978 was a pretty good year for it, too. 

VIC DICKENSON SINGS OF DESIRE

I never thought I would see this performance again.

I first saw it perhaps twenty years ago on a blurry videocassette copy sent to me by my generous friend John L. Fell, a film scholar and scholarly collector of the best jazz.  John and I shared a deep affection for the poetic improvisers — Billy Butterfield, Pee Wee Russell, Lester, and Vic Dickenson, among a hundred others.

This song was captured on November 26, 1983 at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in a program called ” Remembering the Roosevelt Grill,” in honor of the peerless small band that Vic and Bobby Hackett led there (with Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, and Dave McKenna).  Hackett-disciple Larry Weiss played cornet, Dill Jones, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Bob Decker, bass, and Ernie Hackett, Bobby’s son, was on drums.

I don’t need to anatomize Vic’s instrumental style for anyone — he got more vocal sounds, deeply felt and human, out of that recalcitrant instrument than almost anyone.  (Ironically, Vic talked less than most musicians: it all came out of the horn.)  He loved to sing, and was earnest and whimsical at the same time.  I referred to this performance in a posting about Humphrey Lyttelton and Henri Chaix some time back, because it moved me so in memory.  It’s a great surprise to find it sitting quietly on YouTube.  Thank you, unknown benefactor!

Vic was seriously ill when he made the trip to Manassas and knew it.  Although he played intermittently after this festival, I think this is the last glimpse of him in action.  His feeling and humor come out in every note, as well as the joke of holding up two fingers.  Other men might do all they wanted to do in one hour; he would need double the time.

I saw Vic as often as I could between 1971 and 1981, but I wish he had been able to move and enlighten us just a little bit longer.  He died on November 16, 1984.  I miss his sound and his presence.  If only he could be with us still.


For those who want to know more about Vic’s life, the extraordinarily dedicated jazz writer / researcher Manfred Selchow’s book DING! DING!  A BIO-DISCOGRAPHICAL SCRAPBOOK ON VIC DICKENSON is irreplaceable.