Tag Archives: Marc Caparone

“JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE, FROM ITS ORGINS IN NEW ORLEANS TO FASCIST ITALY AND SINATRA,” by ANNA HARWELL CELENZA

“I prefer books that tell me things I don’t know,” said Mark Twain. Or if he didn’t, he should have.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is such a book — wide-ranging, full of intriguing information, and refreshingly straightforward.

I will say that I thought I knew a great deal about the title and the subject.  After all, I know Rossano Sportiello, Marc Caparone, Paolo Alderighi, and Larry Scala. I have recordings by Frank Sinatra, Joe and Marty Marsala, Leon Roppolo, Louis Prima, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Wingy Manone, Jimmy Durante, Tony Sbarbaro, Nick La Rocca, Marty Napoleon, Phil Napoleon, Lino Patruno, and others.  Years ago, I owned a vinyl anthology on Italian Odeon called ITALIAN JAZZ OF THE 50s, which had music from the Roman New Orleans Jazz Band and Romano Mussolini, with other bands I do not recall.  In the very early Seventies, I ate authentic Italian food at the Half Note, under the loving supervision of the Canterino family.  (All of the above is true, although not meant to be taken with the utmost seriousness.)

But the glory of Celenza’s book is the information it offers — subtle illumination of areas of the subject that I was ignorant of, and I am sure my ignorance is not my sole property.  And the fruits of her investigation are the substance of this appreciation of her book.

But first: we are told, even before the book starts, that Celenza is “the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University, where she teaches courses in music history, radio journalism, and the music industry.”  To some readers, those credentials will seem either the kiss of death or the black hand: another academic book, indigestible, a forest of footnotes, theoretical and ideological beyond endurance.  Calm yourselves.  Celenza is an engagingly straightforward writer, clear, candid, and witty.  (I saw the wit when I opened my copy at random and saw she had translated “Il Quattro Buffoni,” a band name on a record label, as “The Four Idiots.”

She doesn’t talk down to the general reader, and the book down’t labor under chunks of undigested digressive facts.  And leaving aside the useful documentation and index, the book is a compact 192 pages, because Celenza has not felt an obsessive need to include every fact that wanders by, and her chosen time period is under half a century.  It isn’t a book-length study of Sinatra, fascism, or every Italian who’s ever improvised, and that adds to its charm and effect.  Rather, like effective cultural studies, it traces the interweavings of many phenomena: radio and the growth of the recording industry, political struggles and performance, and much more.

As I promised above, I salute this book for adding information to my mental hoard.  Here are a number of things I didn’t know before reading JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE.

•     “The most horrific mass lynching in US history occurred in New Orleans in 1891, when eleven Italian immigrants were shot and strung up by an angry mob after a  jury found them innocent of assassinating the local police chief, David Hennessey.”

•     In 1919, Chevalier Bruno Zuculin wrote a description of the musical scene in New Orleans — and the music itself — for Italian readers.  The article was published two months before Ernest Ansermet’s famous celebration of Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra, which included the young Sidney Bechet.

•     “D. Onivas,” whose orchestra is on the reverse of some 78s by Cliff Edwards, is the pseudonym of Domenico Savino, composer and conductor.

•     Jazz first came to Italy with the USAAS (United States Army Ambulance Service) and its American Jazz Band landed  — and when members of the American and Italian armies recorded for Fonotopia in December 1918.

•     I had assumed that Mussolini, like Hitler, was hostile to jazz as decadent music: not so, in fact, Il Duce “embraced” it as an expression of the Futurist art he celebrated.

•     Josephine Baker, Herb Flemming, and Al Wynn visited and worked in Italy.  Louis Armstrong gave two concerts in Turin in January 1935 and wrote a detailed happy letter to an Italian fan and record collector.

•     I had never heard or heard of the female vocal trio, “the three graces of the radio,” the Trio Lescano — Alexandra, Judith, and “Kitty,” originally from the Netherlands, who became singing stars in Italy.

•  During the Second World War, when recordings by American artists were played on the radio, new Italianized names for the musicians were invented: Luigi Braccioforte, La Colema, Del Duca, and Beniamino Buonuomo.  (Answer key on request.)

•     Sinatra’s four trips to Italy, in 1945, 1953, 1962, and 1987 — and the audience’s elation when he described his Genoan heritage, then their silence when he revealed his family was also half-Sicilian.

These excerpts are, of course, not the substance of this book.  Celenza has a wonderful understanding of the widespread forces that go into the development and growth of jazz in Italy, and one will come away from this book with a much deeper understanding of the mingling of history, race, ideology, and politics — during war and in peacetime.

JAZZ ITALIAN STYLE is very rewarding, but never ponderous.  Here are the publisher’s resources for the book, and this is the link for the CD label offering for sale almost all the jazz described in the book.  And since a book like this cries out for a soundtrack, here is the one Celenza has generously created — 124 relevant musical examples that delight and illustrate.

May your happiness increase!

“TORMENTED”: RAY SKJELBRED and MARC CAPARONE (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2016)

We have to thank the cultural phenomenon of the jukebox in the Thirties for — directly and indirectly — making so much memorable music possible.  Not only did it make it easy for larger audiences to hear new songs, but it created a market for recordings of contemporary pop tunes . . . often played and sung by people who wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance.  The records by Fats Waller and his Rhythm, by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson (leading their own orchestras and in tandem) are well-known, but I cherish the lesser-known offerings of Cleo Brown, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Wingy Manone, Louis Prima, and of course Henry “Red” Allen. . . . not only for his playing and singing, but for creating classics from songs that I think would otherwise be forgotten.  One of these is Will Hudson’s 1936 TORMENTED.

and here, for those who would like to try this out on their piano or sing along, is the little cardboard card which (I believe) served to identify a song for copyright purposes by offering the barest sketch of melody and lyrics, portably:

It’s another song of unrelieved yearning, but the version created by Ray Skjelbred, piano, and Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, is soulful, quietly impassioned, but not anything like the title:

The great paradox: art that chronicles pain makes us feel better, and it’s not the sharp-edged notion of Schadenfreude, but rather emotions and beauty, sent directly to us in one package.  Blessings on Ray, Marc, Red, and everyone else living this and other mysteries.

May your happiness increase!

xxx

“THANK YOU . . . FOR THAT”: LIPS PAGE, CENTER STAGE (1944)

The advertisement shows that musicians were always trying to make an extra few dollars, and it also offers some unusual pictures of one of my heroes, Hot Lips Page, someone who couldn’t help swinging, no matter what the context.

Lips and Eddie Condon admired each other tremendously as people who could play Hot without any artifice, and the moments when Lips performed at Eddie’s concerts are magical.  (Dan Morgenstern had the wondrous experience of seeing Lips sit in at Eddie’s club on Tuesday nights, something I can only imagine.) These cosmic collaborations took place not only at the 1944 Town Hall and Ritz Theatre concerts but on the television series, “Eddie Condon’s Floor Show” of 1948-50.  Photographs show a trio performance by Lips, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton, which I wouldn’t mind hearing.  And before anyone writes in to inquire about the kinescopes of the Floor Show, I am afraid that they no longer exist, unless duplicate and triplicate sets were made.  I feel your pain: it’s been mine for decades.

But we do have uplifting evidence (a recording I’ve loved for forty years).

To call that a live performance would be a gross understatement.  It’s from a June 24, 1944 broadcast at Town Hall in New York City.  Supporting Lips are Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso.  I admire Haggart’s powerful support, but for me Lips is the whole show.  Yes, there is some admiration for Louis evident, but Lips is playing Lips, and you could ask any trumpet player what a heroic accomplishment his playing is, chorus upon chorus, each one building on the predecessor so when the performance ends, one has the sense of a completed creation rather than a series of phrase-length ideas offered to us.  Marc Caparone, who knows about such things from experience, calls Lips “Atlas,” and although that name might not have sold colas (“Royal Crown Cola . . . when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders,” perhaps?) it’s more than accurate.

One more piece of jazz minutiae.  The opening phrase of Lips’ CHINATOWN solo, the fanfare over Grauso’s drums, a syncopated bounce back and forth over two notes, sounds familiar because it’s the device Lester used to begin the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY.  I suspect it was in the air in Kansas City, and (not surprisingly) I think it probably appears on a Louis recording c. 1927.  You are free to disagree in the privacy of your own homes, but Louis seems to be the root of all good things.

But back to Mister Page Play CHINATOWN again.  It’s monumental.

May your happiness increase!

“A REALLY PRETTY SONG”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have the magical ability to play with Time (Einstein would be pleased) so that a nice steady medium-tempo groove from the band can also be ornamented with dreaming, almost motionless ruminations on the theme: it happens beautifully here.

The song is famous for Billie Holiday and Lester Young, although in 1937 it was simply another new pop tune, composed by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb.  Carmen doesn’t get much credit for melodies — people are too busy sneering at the Lombardo reeds and vocalizing — but think of COQUETTE, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, RIDIN’ AROUND IN THE RAIN, and even BOO HOO (I hear Jimmy Rushing singing that one with perfect swing sincerity).

This isn’t a post about the glories of Billie and Lester (even though they can’t be celebrated too much) but rather a wholly instrumental and wholly satisfying version of this song in our century, created by Ray, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar:

What beautiful dreamy music.  Blessings on these musicians and thanks for the San Diego Jazz Fest for providing a time and place (November 25, 2016) for the musicians and audience to feel such expansive comfort.

May your happiness increase!

“RED HOT!”: CARL SONNY LEYLAND / MARC CAPARONE at DURANGO (March 24-26, 2017)

Before there was a way to order takeout food with your smartphone, before Blue Apron and Peapod sent the makings of meals and grocery orders to your door, there were mobile food vendors aplenty.

I’m not talking about the Good Humor Man, the iceman, or the milkman.  Or the man who went door-to-door, selling uncooked pizza dough, plastic envelopes of tomato sauce and cheese as a less-expensive alternative to takeout pizza.

I mean Serious Food: the Hot Tamale Man!  (Incidentally, for purposes of this post, I am — for once — putting aside all possible double-entendres arising from the shape and heat of this filled delicacy, and a tamale is a tamale.)  Tamale sellers were a familiar phenomenon in cities, providing passers-by with inexpensive hot meals.  When I was Craig Ventresco’s guest in San Francisco more than a decade ago, as we were entering some transit station, he pointed to a woman selling tamales from a small corner stand: pork or chicken, a dollar apiece, and memorable.

Dining Chicago offers a feast of information about Chicago tamales, their origins (more African-American than Mexican) with appropriate musical examples.  But food history is not really my subject, although I wouldn’t chase away a hot tamale vendor beneath my window.  No, it’s hot music — and this recording — featuring Freddie Keppard and Jimmie Noone — its label as examplar:

All that is wondrous historical evidence, but here’s something fresh and spicy: pianist / singer Carl Sonny Leyland and cornetist Marc Caparone’s performance of HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN at the 2017 Durango Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival, video-recorded by YouTube’s  “banjojudy” (that’s Judy Muldawer to the rest of the world) — who recorded a great deal of the Durango Festival, March 24-26, both audio and video, and offers it to us here.

And here’s the portable feast:

May your happiness increase!

DELIGHT IN DURANGO: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL, JUDY MULDAWER (March 24-26, 2017)

Imagine — a new band, five versatile creative players who obviously delight in the music and in the joyous collaboration.  At the moment, it’s called the Holland – Coots Quintet, with a more elaborate name to follow.  We’re fortunate to have an abundance of evidence about how good this band sounds, recorded by musician and archivist Judy Muldawer at the 5th annual Durango (Colorado) Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival, March 24-26, 2017.  The link to see the videos is http://www.banjojudy.com/2017/03/durango-ragtime-and-early-jazz-festival-2017-videos/.

The HCQ is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet.  Also at the festival were Carl Sonny Leyland, Morten Gunnar Larsen, and Adam Swanson. Here are brief biographies of all the players.

Judy’s YouTube channel is here, and it’s full of delights (I subscribed as soon as the first video emerged).  She also maintains a flourishing website with audio recordings from this and other festivals: for more video links and the audio files from the 2017 festival, visit http://banjojudy.com.  The key word in the search engine is “durango”.

and something sweet by James P., sung by Evan:

Doctor Caparone prescribes:

Judy has uploaded to YouTube more than fifty videos from this festival, and her own website has what seems like hours of audio, as if she’d stayed in her seat as a devoted archivist would.

And reliable sources have told me that this band — the HCQ — will be making a CD this summer.  I look forward to it.

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]