Tag Archives: Marla Dixon

A FRIENDLY BOOK: CLIVE WILSON’S “THE TIME OF MY LIFE: A JAZZ JOURNEY FROM LONDON TO NEW ORLEANS” (University Press of Mississippi, 2019)

Many memoirs have, at their center, trauma: abuse, addiction, imprisonment, death, disease, or more.  And many jazz books these days are indigestible: deadened by theoretical labyrinths or limited by the author’s narrow range or by inaccuracies.  Thus it’s a tremendous pleasure to celebrate trumpeter Clive Wilson‘s memoir, gentle, humane, and full of good stories.  It’s available from the usual online sources, and a good overview is here.

The facts first: Clive (you’ll understand why I do not call him by the more formal “Wilson”) heard traditional jazz in England in his youth — George Lewis, Kid Ory, Henry “Red” Allen and others — and was inspired to take up the trumpet.  Although he studied physics in college, he was emotionally connected to jazz, and he gigged at home with New Orleans-style bands before making the leap to visit in New Orleans in 1964.  There he met local musicians, and eventually settled in the city he now calls home.  The cover shows a youthful Clive next to Punch Miller . . . which says a great deal.

At this point, some aural evidence would be fitting: Clive and the Shotgun Jazz Band in 2014, playing WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE, alongside Marla Dixon, Twerk Thomson, and Tommy Sancton:

What makes this book so appealing is almost subliminal.  I love first-hand jazz experiences and anecdotes, and for me the three brief encounters Clive has with Henry “Red” Allen — the gradual incline from eager young fan to being seen as a musician — are worth the price of the book.  And the book is generously fleshed out by detailed gracious portraits of many New Orleans luminaries: Dick Allen, Dave “Fat Man” Williams, Barbara Reid, Punch Miller, Raymond Burke, Slow Drag, George Guesnon, Kid Howard, Kid Sheik, Kid Thomas (keep the Kids together!), Lewis James, Peter Bocage, De De Pierce, Herb Hall, Teddy Buckner (gently but decisively winning a nonverbal argument in music with a vindictive Leonard Feather), Buster Holmes, Harold Dejan, Percy Humphrey, Emilie Barnes, Manuel Manetta, and more.  There are brief glimpses of Louis Armstrong in New York and California and an actual Clayton “Sunshine” Duerr sighting — someone who was only a name in a discography.  (Between 1933 and 1936, Duerr played guitar in three New York sessions, alongside Benny Carter, Floyd O’Brien, Teddy Wilson, Pops Foster, Frank Froeba, Joe Marsala, Jack Purvis, Bunny Berigan, and Eddie Dougherty: someone should have recorded his recollections!)

Thus the book is full of close-ups, and since Clive is and was a practicing musician rather than simply a fan, the stories have substance — not only watching Harold Dejan in a street parade, but playing in one.  And Clive has a wonderful ear for the way people speak, which he shares with love rather than condescension.  Two examples: when he arrives at the New Orleans bus station — fifty dollars in his pocket — he hears two men arguing.  One says to the other: “Now tell me this.  What I did you that made you do that to me?!”  That’s memorable: I’ve been trying to work it into conversation since I read it.  Then there’s Tom Albert’s memory of hearing the Bolden band c. 1904: “I stood there with my mouth open so long, it got full of dirt!”

My copy has fifty or more page-corners turned down to remind me of where the irreplaceable stories, sights, and memories are.  And any reader will find his or her own memorable pages.  (There’s a lovely short piece at the end about what Louis means to him and to us.)  But this book is more than the record of someone who aimed for the right place and stayed there, more than a series of anecdotes (how much a plate of red beans and rice cost at Buster Holmes’ in the mid-Sixties and the secret of its deep flavor).

Clive does not fashion himself in a self-conscious way: the book is not a narcissist’s holiday or a diary.  He isn’t Holden Caulfield, Huckleberry Finn, or Stephen Dedalus.  But from the first pages of this narrative, it’s clear that he is someone on a quest — not simply to learn to play the trumpet as they do in New Orleans, but to answer the deep questions “Who am I?  Where do I belong?  What is my purpose on this earth?”  To me, Clive’s search for those answers — his journeys back and forth from the UK to NOLA — is the most rewarding part of this book, because we see him as serious in his introspective scrutiny, whether he is asking his rather rigid father a dangerous question across the dinner table or continuing the same deep inquiries as an adult.  In this way, the book has a resonance beyond his musical aspirations and realizations.  It becomes more than a “jazz book”; it feels, without pretensions, much like the chronicle of the development of a personality, an awareness, a developed consciousness.

Clive is modest both in his description of his endeavors, and there is no self-congratulation, but we see the growth of someone we can value for a kind of gentle honesty as well as for his trumpet playing.  And that makes TIME OF MY LIFE a book not only to enjoy, but to recommend to those who wouldn’t know Kid Howard from Kid Rock.

A soft-spoken, friendly, yet meaningful work of art, “ça c’est plein.”

And here’s a little taste:

I recommend it with pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

PISMO JOYS (Part Two): “SHAKE ‘EM UP JAZZ BAND and THE AU BROTHERS”: CHLOE FEORANZO, MARLA DIXON, MOLLY REEVES, DEFNE “DIZZY” INCIRIOGLU, JULIE SCHEXNAYDER, GORDON AU, BRANDON AU, JUSTIN AU (October 26, 2018, Jazz Jubilee by the Sea)

The temperature suddenly rose in Pismo, California, during the late October weekend that the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea transformed that salt-water-taffy town into a swing sauna, a hot haven.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Conveniently, here is compelling evidence from Larry Scala, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Bill Bosch, and Danny Coots.

Then, I was fortunate enough to capture three performances by what I’d call a Constellation of Youngbloods (no “Cats vs. Chicks” in this century), where the Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band and the actual Au Brothers‘ front line (the band minus Howard Miyata, Danny Coots, and Katie Cavera) shared the stage.  For those keeping score, that’s Gordon Au, trumpet; Justin Au, trumpet; Brandon Au, trombone; Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet and vocal; Molly Reeves, guitar; Defne “Dizzy” Incirlioglu, washboard and percussion; Julie Schexnayder, string bass.  (Trombone star Haruka Kikuchi, is — if my sources are correct — currently occupied with matters maternal.  I’m sure she’ll be back in the bass clef before long.)

Oh, how this Constellation wailed.

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT was first recorded in 1921 — I am sure that it was being played before then — although my favorite versions are by Sidney Bechet and the Varsity Seven.  This twenty-first century explosion rocks along irresistibly, after Molly introduces everyone:

EMPTY BED BLUES is a Bessie Smith lament that Chloe Feoranzo has taken for her very own:

SAY “SI SI” (originally “Para Vigo me voy” by Ernesto Lecuona, who also wrote “Maria La O”) was a Thirties pop tune popularized here by Xavier Cugat, the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, and many others — a song the New Orleans musicians who loved heating up melodic pop melodies took to happily, including Billie and DeDe Pierce, Kid Thomas Valentine, Paul Barnes, George Lewis, Emmanuel Paul, Louis Nelson, Alvin Alcorn — so it has a long and vibrant NOLA tradition.  Marla shows us her multi-lingual flair and grace:

Thanks to Linda and John Shorb and the rest of the Jubilee angels for making such good noises possible and accessible.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL RIGHTEOUS ENERGIES: THE SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND, “STEPPIN ON THE GAS”

I’m late to the party but happy to have been invited.  Even without the proper apostrophe, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, the new CD by the Shotgun Jazz Band, is a total delight, a disc I play all the way through and want to rehear immediately.

The Shotgun Jazz Band has been recording for six years now, and their new disc offers the pleasure of richly-textured, solidly-grounded New Orleans jazz.  Here they are at The Spotted Cat in April 2016, with Marla Dixon, trumpet; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Tyler “Twerk” Thomson, string bass / vocal; Craig Flory, alto saxophone; Ben Polcer, piano:

This is a 2015 performance that shows their virtues: https://player.vimeo.com/video/147186666“>

 with Marla, John, Charlie, Twerk, and reedman James Evans.

This is a very revealing profile of the band from the “Enjoying Traditional Jazz” blog, written by “a very old guy [from Nottingham, England] who got into traditional jazz late in life, with much to discover, learn and pass on.”  The author calls himself “Pops Coffee” and his blog can be found here.

Back to the reason for this post, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, a consistently lively homage to the great songs — fully vitalized in this century — by Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, “trampagne”; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Twerk Thomson, string bass / vocal; and guests Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone / clarinet.  The Shotgun ensemble is its own pleasure (beautifully recorded at Luthjen’s Dance Hall, utilizing the acoustics of that space, without an audience, so that we hear subtle shadings and bold statements).  Special plaudits go to Earl Scioneaux III for engineering and mixing and to Bruce Barielle for mastering the disc.

The songs are GULF COAST BLUES*; WHITE GHOST SHIVERS; HOW AM I TO KNOW? (James, vocal); SHE’S CRYING FOR ME; MOONLIGHT BAY*; SMILES; I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU*; DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE* and band vocal; WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME*; ROSE OF BOMBAY; BREEZE*; CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART*; OLE MISS RAG; PRETEND*; MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME (Twerk / band vocal); GUILTY* (not the Al Bowlly ballad); STEPPIN ON THE GAS; DEEP RIVER.  The asterisks are for the tracks Marla sings on, and she is such a varied singer — tender or raucous — that I never got weary of her voice.

The pleasures start immediately with GULF COAST BLUES –David Boeddinghaus, sounding like a modern James P. Johnson alongside Marla Dixon’s powerful but understated blues singing; then James Evans adds his emotive, conversational alto saxophone and Twerk his beautifully centered string bass (a gutty yet swinging accompaniment that — heretically perhaps — is the ideal world that Bessie Smith rarely got to experience on records) . . . to James’ exquisite vocal on HOW AM I TO KNOW (which Louis performed on his first European tour!); a performance of ON MOONLIGHT BAY (one of those songs that hits me in some deep nostalgic part of my being, as does SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON) that lingers over the verse and then turns the second chorus into a shouting near-blues; a very fast, rollicking SMILES (with a stomping Boeddinghaus solo). . . I could go on, but I will leave the rest of the delights for the listeners.

The disc shows off beautiful vocalized instrumental solos, neither timid nor rough, shifting ensembles (this is neither a “recorded jam session” nor a banquet of recreations, but a comfortable middle ground) — where the lead moves around within the band, and instruments pair off in ways we might not expect: subtle harmonic depths, and an unfailing swing. Nothing more to ask for!

The six selections with an expanded front line: WHITE GHOST SHIVERS, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME,  DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE, OLE MISS RAG, GUILTY, STEPPIN ON THE GAS — adding Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, clarinet and alto saxophone — are extraordinary examples of ensemble playing that borders on the ecstatic while being expertly under control — a paradox when seen on the page, but completely understandable when heard.

If someone asks you what hot jazz sounds like in this century, or tells you that New Orleans jazz no longer exists, or that swing is a dying phenomenon — play that misguided soul STEPPIN ON THE GAS.  I would.

Here is the band’s website, with sound samples, and their Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

THE OPPOSITE OF DESTRUCTIVENESS IS KINDNESS, OR, TAKE A LOOK AT T WERK’S WORKS

I’m reposting this February 2017 post for a reason.  I’ve never met the string bassist and energetic recordist T Werk Thomson in person, but I’ve admired his work (or werk) from when I first heard it.  Simply, about a year ago, he created in his New Orleans home a recording studio.  Not with ProTools and his MacBook, but with a Presto disc cutter, a supply of “new” 78 recording blanks, and he set out to capture good music in the best old-time ways.  And that music — detailed below — was just splendid.  As well, I applauded the splendid eccentricity of his capturing it as hot jazz, cage-free, organic, and locally sourced.  (Another product of T Werk’s studio is Charlie Halloran’s superb CE BIGUINE.)

At the end of 2017, I and others learned that someone had maliciously vandalized T Werk’s studio and destroyed his disc cutter and all that it needed to make more records.  I won’t go into the dark details — this is a jazz blog, not an episode of a television cop show — but that act seemed spectacularly mean-spirited.  Jo Anna Mae Amlin set up a GoFundMe page here and some people have been contributing.  I encourage you to do so.  As Louis sings in SHOE SHINE BOY, “every nickel helps a lot,” and one can match altruism with desire. If T Werk gets his studio running again, there will be more records for us to enjoy. So even if kindness in the abstract seems more than you can do, kindness with a reward is worth the effort.  If everyone who’s heard T Werk swing out paid in the price of a large Starbucks drink, or a beer, or (for the antiquarians among us) a CD, he would be able to reconstruct his studio quickly.  (And I should point out that Presto disc cutters and acetate blanks are not items one can pick up at the corner store.)

So: help out someone who’s already done a great deal for the music and for us.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled effusions.

The CD below is delightfully weird but the results are entirely gratifying. Perhaps that sentence should properly read “and the results”: you decide.

Exhibit A.  The process:

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Exhibit A.1.a: A Presto disc cutter from eBay:

presto-cutter

Exhibit A.1.b: Blank discs, also from eBay:

presto-discs

Exhibit B. The result:

twerk-cd-cover

Exhibit B.1.a.:

bunk-popular

Exhibit C. The results, continued here.

Exhibiit D.  The explanation.  The story has different parts, which combine. Twerk Thomson is a young yet respected New Orleans string bassist, with a real understanding of the art form, often heard with the Shotgun Jazz Band.  And he, like other musicians and scholars, is fascinated by the intersection of “archaic” sound and the technology of its time. It’s one thing to get musicians into a modern studio — which, at its most “modern,” is a very restrictive environment, where musicians can barely see each other and hear each other through headphones . . . and then try to improvise music that will seem natural to the disc’s purchaser.  But what happens when you record twenty-first century improvisers with the technology of the previous century, the century that gave birth to the innovators they (and we) so admire?  The music I am celebrating in this post, created last year, is a tribute to Bill Russell’s American Music creations. And the new CD sounds wonderful.

But something needs to be said about the Presto home record cutter and discs. Before the computer and the iPhone . . . music used to be packaged tangibly on a variety of discs, and enterprising people could record their own music at home — whether it was Aunt Ella singing and playing hymns or the Paso Robles Wanderers working out the trio of MABEL’S DREAM.  I have found these discs at yard sales, and they’ve never offered something life-changing, such as a broadcast from the Reno Club, but they are tantalizing.  The whole idea is roughly parallel to another piece of archaic technology, the Polaroid camera, but I assure you the discs hold up better.

Twerk told me, “I got my first cutter about a year and a half ago, which ended up being completely useless.  So I ended up buying two more.  They come up on eBay every so often. Finding ones that were affordable was the big challenge.
Blanks come up on eBay as well but they are very hit and miss when It comes to quality. I actually ended up finding a bunch of original presto blanks on there once that were actually still usable. They came in the original packaging which was really cool.  But for higher quality blanks we use a company called Apollo, from California.”

The official version is “The performances herein were recorded live with one microphone into a Presto K8 lathe, cut directly to acetate discs at 78 rpm, and edited only for volume. All Sessions Produced by Twerk Thomson and Recorded by John Dixon, Live at Twerk-O-Phonic Studios, New Orleans, LA.”

The songs: OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / MY GAL SAL / PRETTY BABY / SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART / SWEET BYE AND BYE (Twerk Thomson, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Kris Tokarski, piano) / JADA / SHINE  / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / NOON BLUES / MARIE / YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE / MELANCHOLY BLUES  (Twerk, John Rodli, guitar, vocal on JADA; Kris; Ben; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone) / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / POOR BUTTERFLY (Twerk, Russell Welch, guitar; Alex Owen, trumpet; Bruce Brackmon, clarinet; Marty Peters, tenor saxophone) / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / HOME (Twerk, tenor guitar; Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal).

Exhibit E: Twerk Thomson on Facebook.

If you’re familiar with any of the heroes recorded on this disc (and you can hear / download / purchase the music on the Soundcloud link above) you will know what to expect: music that is both romping and elegantly controlled, harking back to the Bunk Johnson – Don Ewell – Alphonso Steele trios and slightly larger ensembles.  The “vintage sound” — powerfully focused if somewhat narrower (at first) than we are used to — is so atmospheric.  The discs have occasional surface noise, whooshes and clicks, but the noise is part of the overall effect rather than something added on synthetically.  Everyone plays beautifully and with heart, so the result is not merely the documentation of a gimmick, but a melding of technology and reverent impulse.

I first heard a few of the individual sessions on Twerk’s Facebook page, and thought, “Wow, I hope he puts these into a form that people who want to get away from their computers can purchase and have.”  And he did.  So I can now time-travel to some indeterminate place whenever I want, even while driving to work.  And Twerk has also established Twerk-O-Phonic Studios as a place (a sanctuary for music!) where you can visit and record your own music onto an actual disc — a single artifact, not a mass-produced product — to have, to hear, to admire.  I don’t want this to become such a phenomenon that he no longer has time to play the propulsive string bass he does so well, but a little prosperity would be nice.

I commend this disc to you.  The music on it both embraces and transcends the technology.  And, to me, the complete idea — the musicians, the home environment, the discs — is heartwarming.

May your happiness increase!