Tag Archives: Marty Grosz

MORE BOUQUETS FOR EPHIE RESNICK, “A YOUNG SOUL”

EPHIE RESNICK, 1959: This band, which played in the waterfront loft of painter Maurice Bugeaud, featured Danny Barker on banjo, Kenny Davern on clarinet, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, Walter Bowe on trumpet and Ephie Resnick on trombone. Photo by Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos.

 

This is the third in a series of celebrations of the singular trombonist, pianist, composer Ephie Resnick that began in July 2020.  The earlier posts — words and music by Ephie — are here and here.  Ephie continues to be a born seeker and explorer — someone who wants to live in the moment rather than contemplate the glories of the past from a seated position — so although he was pleased by being brought to light, it was less important to him than the work.

Response to the posts about Ephie was enthusiastic, and I started to reach out to the musicians he had played with during his years in England: most were eager to say something about this man they think of as frankly irreplaceable.  Without involving Ephie in any of this, I collected reminiscences and admiring glances, which I offer below.  Ephie deserves this and much more.

Let’s hear Ephie and the wonderful pianist Fergus Read in 1997 (who died young, sadly) creating and recreating WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR:

Simon Da Silva:

Ephie was always so encouraging and friendly to me, I loved playing with him.

Enrico Tomasso:

Ephie was a real positive influence on the guys he came across in London and even now when his name crops up a surprising number of us remember playing with him or hearing him play and warm recollections ensue on his individuality and his little quirks but mostly of how his ideas were always fresh and new and his never ending enthusiasm. Regrettably I only played one or two gigs with him but his effect on opening my musical vision was immense. I remember chatting to him when the age old subject of musicians and families came up and how he intimated that it’s often a stark choice and warned me to be careful that families don’t get in the way. For an Italian descendant like me the family is important but his philosophy helped me in making the right choices so I am now one of the lucky jazz musicians who are able to combine the two.

Here’s part one of Ephie and Marty Grosz in duet, THE END OF INNOCENCE [ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, RUNNIN’ WILD, STRUT MISS LIZZIE]:

Chas McDevitt:

Ephie played a gig with the Merseysippi Jazz Band once and on the tune Mood Indigo he had nowhere to go as all the available harmonisations has already been covered by the front line. So he added a major 7th to the harmony with astonishing and memorable effect – recalled by the leader many times since to me!

Another time at a regular gig in Shere in Surrey – he was accosted outside while he was having a smoke of one substance or another! All I could see was this rather tall lady – I think it was a gregarious jazz singer who had sat in – towering over Ephie talking at him with great passion. When I asked Ephie if he knew the lady – he looked at me and said ‘Apparently!’

Final one, recounted by Warren Vache. In hospital recovering from his car accident, he built up a collection of teddy bears by his bed which the nurses all found very sweet. Turned out this was the only way he could get his weed into the hospital!

Mike Bennett:

I was the bass player in Chas’s band and it’s lovely to hear Ephie’s voice again and to know that he has fond memories of those times.

He and I would often share a ride to gigs when we’d have long discussions about all sorts of topics and as a relatively young man and much less experienced musician I learned so much from him about music but also about all sorts of other things and will always be grateful. He gave me the best advice I’ve ever had when he said ‘All you can do is behave like a gentleman’. It was helpful in the stress of my failing marriage at that time and has been useful to remember since.

Ephie is a truly wonderful player but an inexperienced non-jazz audience would occasionally struggle to follow some of his solos . There was an occasion when the band was booked to play for a very up-market wedding – the reception would be held in a beautiful country hotel overlooking the River Thames but the actual wedding ceremony beforehand was to take place in a lovely rural field on the other side of the river with a small vintage steam launch to ferry the guests across in batches. Chas’s six piece band would at this point be divided in two, with three musicians playing to the guests already in the field whilst Ephie, Candy the banjo player, and I were to play on the boat as it delivered more guests. On our first number Ephie played a mind-blowing cutting-edge solo but Candy and I saw that the passengers looked somewhat mystified. When the tune ended to noticeably muted applause Candy said diffidently ‘ Um..Ephie, this is a wedding…’ to which he responded ‘ Oh, you think we should just play nice toons? ‘ ‘ I think so..’ she said. After which Ephie played some of the loveliest mellow jazz I’ve ever heard, to a very appreciative audience. And we played at that hotel on countless subsequent occasions.

Thank you Ephie.

Part two of THE END OF INNOCENCE [DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY, and AVALON]:

Jimmy Jewell:

We got on really well and when he was in London we used to get together and play standards along with bass and drums on a PC program called Band in A Box. He said the drummer on it was much better than a lot he had worked with. I don’t know if he told you but I recorded his second CD at my flat in London and he was on my second CD, ALMOST STRAIGHT AHEAD. It was recorded in 1997 at my flat. Ephie said that the ballad he was featured on was the best thing he put on record.

[Editor’s Note: Here is the Bandcamp link for that CD, still available.  MAINSTREAM MAGIC and MAINSTREAM MAGIC both feature Jimmy and Ephie in a quintet setting — extraordinary music.  “Nice toons” indeed.]

Mark Aston:

I only met him a few times as I joined Chas’s band late-on but we did a few gigs together. I have very fond memories of our brief encounters and really loved his playing – creative, adventurous and inspiring. He was kind and encouraging of my own efforts (on sax) and that was a lovely thing coming from the great man.

Liam Noble:

I didn’t meet Ephie that many times. I remember playing with him probably 20 years ago (at least) — the main thing I recall is the filthy hollowed out carrot that he used to smoke dope through. And his tunes, which were somehow old and new at the same time and also in the tradition whilst being very personal in style.

Paul Dawson:

I played in Chas McDevitt’s band in London when Ephie was in it, and he and I also did a few gigs in other bands and as a duo (I’m a guitar player). Ephie used to come to my house and we’d work through some musical things, but I was a young man at the time, too wrapped up in my own problems to really learn from Ephie as much wisdom, musical and otherwise, as he had to offer me, which I very much regret. It’s wonderful to know that he’s still around and playing, and great to hear his voice again – although I could almost hear it just reading the interview, because, as in music, his phrasing is so personal an idiosyncratic.

Part three of THE END OF INNOCENCE: [ODJB ONE-STEP / MISS BROWN TO YOU / WOLVERINE BLUES / DON’T BLAME ME / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME]:

Malcolm Earle-Smith:

Ephie Resnick is a superb musician and a wonderful, remarkable man. He wouldn’t agree with me of course, but it’s true. I am so lucky to know him. This year, we’ve been in touch more than in previous years; partly due to the global shutdown, and the need for us to stay in closer contact, but it’s also because we have work to do.

We’ve been talking on the phone and exchanging compositions by mail. We talk about what we feel is important in music. We affirm each other’s efforts (a word that Ephie liked to use when I first knew him). It’s ‘work in progress’: a bit messy, a bit incomplete, but there’s substance there. When I called him a few days ago, I told him I would like us to record some of this material – and hopefully in the not too distant future. We recorded some standards back in February (just before the lockdown), and although the results were promising, I think we’d both like to record again, this time with more original material.

Some of the original material will be co-written. I’ve already worked on one of his tunes, which has quite a chromatic and contemporary feel to it. I had been talking to him about the principles of George Russell’s music, which I find fascinating. This is hard to explain down the phone and in letter, but I feel that Ephie has taken the essence of some of these principles on board, and worked them in his own beautiful way. He’s sent me another tune which sounds almost baroque in places – this is the next one to work on. He also sent me a beautiful melody without chord changes. This is also something we’ve talked about. Giving the melody freedom without specific harmonic constraints. For the melody to stand up in its own right. In a recent letter he wrote: “I’m seeing that making melodies for me is easier than making chords. I was using chords to make melodies but I’m how reversing the process’. After quite a fallow period, I now feel motivated to compose again. I needed inspiration. And being mailed scraps of notated paper has done just that. Some of the phrases are hard to make out (his eyesight is not too good), but there are plenty of gems. That’s the important thing. He’s still making the effort. I’ll work with them, send them back and we’ll see where things go from there. My own compositions have so far been based on well known standards: All the Things you Are and Out of Nowhere. But my aim has been to make the melodies very different to what you might expect from these sequences: ‘In the cracks,’ Ephie might say. Don’t follow the your regular path; explore outside it. This is a central part of Ephie’s musical outlook and what makes him such an engaging musician. Make notes work that shouldn’t, make your lines unexpected. In his last letter, Ephie almost apologised for not sending me anything recently – ‘My piano is being repaired’ he explained. ‘My chord sense is still primitive, so I need the piano to test out new sounds’. I’m glad to say he now has his piano back.

At 92, Ephie still has his young soul. It’s how he keeps being creative. Sometimes when I talk to him I think of him as being younger than me. There’s never a feeling of ‘I’ve seen it all’; instead, a simple openness to learn and move forward. He chooses not to dwell too much on the past, prefers the present and, even at this uncertain time for everyone, looks a little to the future. This is driven by his desire to learn, grow, and improve. And he has always been very generous and supportive towards anyone who is trying to do the same. He is a wonderful friend and mentor.

I first met Ephie in London in the early 1990s when he was performing with Chas McDevitt’s band. My friend Candy Prosser who played banjo in the group, told me I must come down and hear him. Although there were things I didn’t ‘get’ about his music (and that is still sometimes the case!), the impact that Ephie made on me that day was profound: that youthful energy and wonderful sense of swing; his ability to create extraordinary lines that no other trombonist would attempt. The risk taking and ‘in-the-moment-ness’ of the best kind of jazz. And the soulfulness. And when the set finished, I was introduced to one of the most warm, polite, and humble human beings I’ve ever met.

This is not to say Ephie doesn’t have directness of approach and an ‘edge’ on occasion. He’s mellowed a little now, but when I first knew him, he was always keen to observe young musicians and to ‘tell them’ something about their playing. He could be abrupt. His observations and comments were, I think, often linked to his own ongoing development. Muscular tension was one preoccupation which he said had hampered his trombone playing, and he was always keen to observe it others! I remember him telling one young trumpet player not to push himself up on his toes when he played – ‘It’s tension – you have to relax’. He was always telling me to keep still when I played (I hope I move a little less now). Most younger players were grateful for this directness, but sometimes he could push a little too far! One story, concerning my friend Candy (mentioned above), sticks in my mind. After her apparent reticence to learn chord sequences from memory, Ephie decided, mid tune on a gig, to turn her chord book over! After the tune had ground to a finish, Candy, never one to mince her words, said ‘Ephie, don’t you EVER do that again’, to which he impishly replied “Ahhhhh..you’re angry. That’s WONDERFUL!!!’

Shortly after first meeting him, I introduced Ephie to a fellow trombonist and friend of mine, Mark Bassey. For the next couple of years, probably every fortnight or so, we met up at my parents place in North London. It was a workshop – a time for comparing notes, playing jazz standards (three trombone counterpoint!), improvising freely, and even playing Corelli string trios! This last activity was not only challenging as a reading exercise, it was wonderfully instructive on how to phrase and play melody; something that Ephie does beautifully. More recently, I’ve reflected on the classical influence in Ephie’s music. The compositions he has sent me recently certainly have that feel about them. It should be noted that he studied classical trombone at Julliard, 1946-9, and at the same time, was going to hear Bird and Diz at the original Birdland!

A great example of Ephie’s strong sense for melody appears on a Kai Winding Trombones record (1960), a group which I believe he toured with quite extensively:

Kai’s and Ephie’s solos are so different. Kai’s solo is buoyant, bubbles along in lovely relaxed, boppish manner. But Ephie’s entry (after the piano solo), is in full-voice. The opening melody, which underpins the whole solo, could almost be a symphonic theme. After a bustling quaver passage he refers to this theme again, before hitting one of the fattest top F’s I’ve ever heard a trombonist play on record. It swings so wonderfully. It’s loud – not in a tasteless way; a jubilant and affirming way (there’s that word again). I wonder what the other trombonists in the group thought? You can’t compare it to anyone else. This solo has stayed with me. In fact, the opening melody inspired one of my own compositions.

Ephie’s stay in London during the 90s touched many UK musicians. Just being around him could do that. Listening to him, observing him and taking delight in the way he went about things, gave you something of substance to take away. Something that the best conservatoire course could never give you. Something that wasn’t always easy to quantify, but something you could digest for years. He still affects me in this way. It’s often to do with the way he says something, his sincerity and love of the musical process. One of the things I love about his music is that it doesn’t fall into any stylistic bracket, something which I feel has become rather a problem for jazz today. I have heard him in a wide variety of musical contexts, and yet he always sounds like Ephie. This all embracing approach is so healthy. It has no bounds and keeps him exploring. These explorations are done solely on piano now. He ‘threw the trombone out’ over ten years ago and has since been focusing on the keyboard. He has found this very liberating – it represents a new chapter in his musical life and the music is just as engaging as it has always been. Although physically Ephie says he is ‘falling apart’ (he is actually in pretty good shape), he is proceeding musically as he has always done. His work is his lifeblood. I’ll be speaking to him soon having completed a new composition and looking out for his next envelope through the mailbox!

Afterword . . .

Let’s end with a Frolic — Ephie and Fergus Read in 1997, performing WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

As I was compiling this blogpost — which would not have been possible without all of Ephie’s friends — someone I explained it to said, “Michael, that sounds like a memorial service.  How wonderful it is that Ephie is around to read all those great tributes!”

Yes.  We value Ephie Resnick.  We love him.

May your happiness increase!

 

“THE DAPOGNY EFFECT,” or, PROF. TO THE RESCUE

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

I am never sure how closely the audience at a live performance is paying attention to the details of the music being created in front of them.  Because I have spent a long time considering the subtleties of this holy art, I believe I hear and see more near-collisions than those who (happily) absorb only the outlines of the music.

I’m not boasting: my over-attentiveness is like being the person at the movies who can notice that a character went out the door in one scene with a green scarf and when we see her in the next shot — no scarf. . . not exactly like having perfect pitch, but the analogy might work.

Today, I am going to show-and-tell an experience that I happened to capture for posterity (or, perhaps, “for posterior”).  I present it not to embarrass the musicians I revere, but to praise their collective resilience, ingenuity, and perseverance.  In this case, that redemption in 4/4 is because of my hero, Professor James Dapogny, who might have cocked a skeptical eyebrow at what I am doing and said, “Michael, do you really need to do this?” and I would have explained why.

For those who already feel slightly impatient with the word-offering, I apologize.  Please come back tomorrow.  I’ll still be at it, and you will be welcome.

An uncharitable observer might consider the incident I am about to present and say, “Well, it’s all Marty Grosz’s fault.”  I would rather salute Marty: without a near-disaster, how could we have a triumphant transformation?  Or, unless Kitty escapes from her basket and climbs the tree, how can she be rescued by the firemen?  Precariousness becomes a virtue: ask any acrobat.

But this is about a performance of I WISHED ON THE MOON that Marty and Company attempted at Jazz at Chautauqua on a late morning or early afternoon session in September 2008, along with Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Professor Dapogny, piano; Marty, guitar and vocal; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  The amateurish camera work in bright sunshine is evidence that it was one of my sub rosa escapades: I was using a Flip camera and trying to not get caught by the authorities.

We know Marty as a peerless work of nature: guitarist, singer, wit, artist, vaudevillian.  But many might not be aware that one of his great talents is arranging.  Yes, he can uplift an impromptu session on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, but he loves the effects that can be created by any ensemble with directions sketched out on manuscript paper and then hastily explained on the spot: “No repeats!” “jump to letter D,” “trumpet break at the start of the last chorus,” and so on.  Marty works hard on these things, and his earliest recordings — although he dismisses them as “‘prentice work” — show him in pursuit of the ideal: swinging, varied, surprising, effective.

But he is happier with pen and pencil than with the computer, so a Marty score is handwritten, in calligraphy that is italic, precise, lovely, but not as easy to read (especially in dim stage light, seen for the first time, without rehearsal) as the printed scores many musicians are used to in this century.

Thus, the possibility of chaos.  Thus, the possibility of triumph.

In the recording studio, when things start to go awry, musicians used to look at each other and break into a sort of Twenties near-hokey jamming, away from the score, and the “take” would end in laughter.  A “breakdown,” the recording engineer would call it.  Or the engineer would give a piercing whistle, to say, “Let’s start over.”  You can hear this on “rejected takes” by Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, and many other jazz heroes, that have been saved over the decades.  They are reassuring proof that our jazz-deities are human, that people get off on the wrong foot, that someone missed a cue or made a mistake.

In performance, though, in front of an audience, musicians do not want to stop and say, “We loused this up.  Let’s start over,” although I have seen it happen: it is the equivalent of Groucho speaking directly to the audience in a film, “breaking through the fourth wall,” and it is always surprising.

But back to our musical and heroic interlude.  I WISHED ON THE MOON is made famous by Billie Holiday, but it is not by any means a classic, a standard, part of “the repertoire” so often played that musicians perform it with full confidence (take AS LONG AS I LIVE as an example of the second kind).  MOON has its own twists and traps for the unwary.  The very expert musicians in this band, however, had at most been given a minute or two before the set to know the tune list and to glance at the manuscripts Marty had given them — roadmaps through the treacherous landscape.  But since everyone on this bandstand is a complete professional, with years of sight-reading and experience, it would not have been expected that they needed rehearsal to play a song like MOON.

That Marty gives directions to this crew before they start suggests to me that they hadn’t seen his score before, nor would they stand in front of the audience studying it and discussing it.  Professionals don’t want to give the impression that they are puzzled by any aspect of their craft while the people who have paid to see and hear them are waiting for the next aural delicacy to be served.

Thus, Professor Dapogny, who “knew the score,” plays his four-bar introduction with verve and assurance.  He knows where he is.  But the front line is faced with a score that calls for Dan Barrett, master melodist, to play the theme while the reeds back him up, and Dan Block, another sure-footed spellbinder, plays the bridge neatly.  Marty has his eyeglasses on — to read his own chart — and he essays a vocal, trusting to memory to guide him through the mostly-remembered lyrics, turning his lapses into comedy, more Fats than Billie.  While this is unrolling, the Professor’s rollicking supportive accompaniment is enthralling, although one has to make an effort to not be distracted by Marty’s vocalizing.

I feel his relief at “having gotten through that,” and lovely choruses by Duke Heitger and Dan Block, now on tenor saxophone, follow.  However, the performance has a somewhat homemade flavor to it — that is, unless we have been paying attention to the Professor’s marking the chords and transitions in a splendidly rhythmic way: on this rock, he shows us, we can build our jazz church.  He has, in the nicest and most necessary way, taken charge of the band.

At this point, my next-seat neighbor (there by chance, not connection) decides she needs more lemon or a napkin; her entrance and sudden arising are visually distracting, even now.

But, at around 3:55, the Professor says — with notes, not words — that he himself is going to climb the ladder and rescue Kitty; he is going to turn a possibly competent-but-flawed performance into SOMETHING.

And does he ever! — with a ringing phrase that causes both Marty and Dan Block to turn their heads, as if to say, “Wow, that’s the genuine article,” and the performance stands up, straightens its tie, brushes the crumbs off its lap, and rocks.  Please go back and observe a thrilling instant: a great artist completely in the moment, using everything he knows to focus a group of adult creators towards a desired result that is miles above what would have resulted if he had blandly played an ordinary accompaniment.

And you thought only Monk danced during his performances?  Watch Marty, joyously and goofily, respond to what his friend Jim has made happen.  After that, the band must decipher Marty’s swing hieroglyphics, his on-the-spot directions, “Play a fill!” and someone — to cover up a blank spot — whistles a phrase, and the performance half-swings, half-wanders to its conclusion.  Relief sweeps the bandstand.

These five minutes are highly imperfect, but also heroic: great improvisers making their courageous way through territory where their maps are ripped, unreadable, and incomplete — refusing to give up the quest.

If you need to understand why I have written so much about Professor Dapogny, why his absence is a huge void in my universe and that of others who knew and love him, watch this performance again for his masterful individualistic guidance: Toscanini in a safari jacket.  Completely irreplaceable, modeling joy and courage all at once.

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD, A FEW MORE CHORUSES

Billy, at work / at play, at one of Joe Boughton’s Conneaut Lake jazz weekends.

When I was compiling yesterday’s post — a conversation with Billy Butterfield’s family that revealed him to be a sweet-natured, generous man who loved being with them — read it here — I also returned to the music he made, and there’s a proliferation of it on YouTube, showing Billy in many contexts.  (Trust me: this post will not be silent . . . )

I knew about the breadth of Billy’s working career — more than forty years of touring with big bands, small jam-session groups, concerts here and overseas, radio and studio work, club dates and gigs a-plenty — which pointed me to Tom Lord’s discography.

Recordings are only a slice of a musician’s career, a narrow reflection of what (s)he may have created, but in Billy’s case, the list of people he recorded with is astonishing in its breadth: it says so much about his professionalism and versatility, and the respect his peers afforded him.

For my own pleasure and I hope yours, here is a seriously edited list — in alphabetical order — of some of the people Billy recorded with . . . many surprises.  I did get carried away, but it was impossible to stop.

Louis Armstrong, Georgie Auld, Mildred Bailey, Pearl Bailey, Tallulah Bankhead, George Barnes, Andy Bartha, Tony Bennett, Eddie Bert, Johnny Blowers, Will Bradley, Ruby Braff, Lawrence Brown, Oscar Brown, Jr., Kenny Burrell, Connie Boswell, Dave Bowman, Les Brown, Vernon Brown, John Bunch, Ernie Caceres, Nick Caiazza, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Sidney Catlett, Charlie Christian, Buck Clayton, Al Cohn, Cozy Cole, Eddie Condon, Ray Conniff, Jimmy Crawford, Bing Crosby, Bob Crosby, Cutty Cutshall, Delta Rhythm Boys, John Dengler, Vic Dickenson, Tommy Dorsey, Buzzy Drootin, Dutch College Swing Band, Billy Eckstine, Gil Evans, Nick Fatool, Irving Fazola, Morey Feld, Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest, Bud Freeman, Barry Gailbraith, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Brad Gowans, Teddy Grace, Freddie Green, Urbie Green, Tyree Glenn, Henry Grimes, Johnny Guarnieri, Bobby Hackett, Bob Haggart, Al Hall, Edmond Hall, Sir Roland Hanna, Coleman Hawkins, Neal Hefti, J.C. Higginbotham, Milt Hinton, Billie Holiday, Peanuts Hucko, Eddie Hubble, Dick Hyman, Chubby Jackson, Harry James, Jack Jenney, Jerry Jerome, Taft Jordan, Gus Johnson, Osie Johnson, Hank Jones, Jo Jones, Roger Kellaway, Kenny Kersey, Carl Kress, Yank Lawson, Peggy Lee, Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, Abe Lincoln, Jimmy Lytell, Mundell Lowe, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Matty Matlock, Jimmy Maxwell, Lou McGarity, Red McKenzie, Hal McKusick, Johnny Mercer, Eddie Miller, Miff Mole, Benny Morton, Tony Mottola, Turk Murphy, Hot Lips Page, Walter Page, Oscar Pettiford, Flip Phillips, Mel Powell, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Jimmy Rushing, Babe Russin, Pee Wee Russell, Doc Severinsen, Charlie Shavers, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Jess Stacy, Jo Stafford, Kay Starr, Bill Stegmeyer, Lou Stein, Rex Stewart, Joe Sullivan, Maxine Sullivan, Ralph Sutton, Buddy Tate, Jack Teagarden, Claude Thornhill, Martha Tilton, Dave Tough, Sarah Vaughan, Helen Ward, Earle Warren, Dick Wellstood, George Wettling, Paul Whiteman, Margaret Whiting, Bob Wilber, Joe Wilder, Lee Wiley, Roy Williams, Shadow Wilson, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Bob Zurke . . . 

This list is breathtaking.  Sure, some of the associations come from Billy’s being a Swing-Era-and-beyond big band star, sparkplug, and valued section player.  And some of the associations come from studio work.  But the whole list says so much about Billy’s marvelous combination of skills: he could play a four-chorus solo that would astonish everyone in the room, but he could also blend in and let other people take the lead.

And these associations speak to a wonderful professionalism: you could be the most luminous player in the firmament, but if you showed up late, were drunk or stoned, didn’t have your instrument ready, couldn’t sight-read the charts or transpose or take direction, your first studio date would be your last.  Clyde and Judi Groves (Billy’s son-in-law and daughter) told me that Billy’s house in Virginia had that most odd thing, a flat roof over the garage, and it was spectacularly reinforced . . . so that a helicopter could land on it, and I am sure that was to get Billy to a New York City record date quickly.  In today’s parlance, that’s “essential services,” no?   And it says how much in demand he was for his beautiful sound, his memorable improvisations, and the maturity he brought to his work.

Now, to move from words to music.  One of the video-performances I most cherish is from the December 1, 1978, Manassas Jazz Festival, featuring Billy, Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass saxophone; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony Di Nicola, drums. “Fantastic!” says Marty when the second number suggested is SWEET SUE in G.  I can’t disagree:

Judi also mentioned that Billy had — under duress — essayed a vocal on one of his Capitol sides, that he disliked the result and said that the company was trying to save money.  Here’s one example, showing his gentle, amused voice . . . with a searing trumpet solo in between the vocal interludes (followed by the instrumental JALOUSIE):

You may decide to skip the next performance because there is an added echo and a debatable transfer — but Billy sings with easy conviction and plays splendidly:

There is a third vocal performance (very charming) of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ on YouTube, but the owner plays the record on a seriously ancient portable wind-up gramophone that allows very little sound to emerge, so you’ll have to find that one on your own.

For a palate-cleanser, a little of the famous Butterfield humor, from my friend Norman Vickers, a retired physician who is one of the founders of Jazz Pensacola in Florida:

My late friend, record producer Gus Statiras, would sometimes handle a tour for the group—Lawson, Haggart, Butterfield – remnants of World’s Greatest Jazz Band. There was a practicing physician in Georgia who played piano. He would sponsor the group so he could play piano with them. Of course, they would have preferred a professional pianist, but he doc was paying for the gig.  During the event, Haggart said to Butterfield, “How’d you like to have him take out your gall-bladder?”  To which Butterfield replied, “ Yeah, and I think he’s doing it RIGHT NOW!”

To return to music.  When I asked the multi-instrumentalist Herb Gardner if I had his permission to post this, he wrote back in minutes, “Fine with me.  Those guys were great fun to work with.”  That says it all.

This brief performance comes, like the one above, from the Manassas Jazz Festival, this time December 3, 1978, where Billy plays alongside Bob Wilber, clarinet, alto, soprano saxophones; Herb Gardner, trombone; John Eaton, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Dean Keenhold, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums: SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / STARDUST / a fragment of STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY — that performance does not exist on this tape although Johnson McRee issued it on an audiocassette of this set / COTTON TAIL / SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

Savor that, and help me in my quest to make sure that the great players — the great individuals — are not forgotten.  Gratitude to Clyde, Judi, and Pat (the Butterfield family), Norman Vickers, and my enthusiastic readers.  And there is more Manassas video featuring Billy, and others, to come . . .

May your happiness increase!

SZECHUAN HOT (Part Five): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Where it happened!

The last of five splendid performances that took place at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2008, celebrating the hot music of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, enlivened in the present moment by Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass.  The first four performances: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, SWEET SUE, and IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) can be savored here.

And the inspiration, although not on the original Hot Record Society label:

And here we go!

All I will say is that these informally-captured treasures have been in the Official JAZZ LIVES vault for a dozen years.  They haven’t gotten stale; in fact, their flavors seem richer today than ever.  Bless them all: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud, Steve Smith (HRS record producer), Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Wilber, Joe Boughton, family, and friends . . . even the people crossing in front of me with plates of food and Styrofoam cups of coffee, because they, as the audience, made Jazz at Chautauqua possible.  Days gone by.

May your happiness increase!

TWO QUARTERS FOR THE METER (Part Four): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

The scene of the gorgeous music, and now, the poignant memories:

Where it happened!

The inspiration:

The reality, as created forty-eight years later, by Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass:

How lyrically they swing out — and before noon, no less.  For those of you who slept late (in a manner of speaking) here you can enjoy the first three songs performed that morning: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, and SWEET SUE.

Three footnotes.

My title . . . in my suburban town, parking meters ornament the sidewalks except for a very few oases.  And municipalities such as mine are always looking for more money, so when I moved here in 2004, a quarter bought me sixty minutes on the meter.  A few years ago, the Code Enforcement people decided that this was too generous, and now I’d need two quarters for the same time.  Love, or even a trip to the pizza parlor, became twice as costly.  But still worth the price.

The title of the song.  Exhibit A:

But also Exhibit B:

I prefer the latter, perhaps because I was trained by the late — and very much missed — John L. Fell, who would type WDYINO for the famous song about New Orleans.  Life is too short to spell everything out, and you can always ask.

Finally, when my hero Vic Dickenson, very late in his life, sang ONE HOUR, when he got to that phrase, he would very clearly and vehemently hold up two fingers so that everyone could see that sixty minutes would be insufficient for “I’d love you strong.”  You can see that performance here — a small masterpiece.

One more performance from 2008 exists: see you and it tomorrow.

May your happiness increase!

SINGULARLY SUSAN (Part Three): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Where it happened!

As JAZZ LIVES waves adieu to 2020, we continue with our series of five memorably hot performances created at Jazz at Chautauqua on a Sunday morning, September 21, 2008, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass — honoring irreplaceable recordings from 1940 featuring Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, known to us as the “Bechet-Spanier Big Four.”

If this is your first immersion in Hot, you can visit the first two splendid performances — THAT’S A PLENTY and SQUEEZE ME — here.

And here’s Will J. Harris and Victor Young’s 1928 paean to Miss Sue, with a charmingly period sheet music cover to start the good works.

and the sounds of 2008 as we — hopeful and cautious — peer into 2021:

May your happiness increase!

REWARDING PROXIMITY (Part Two): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

The holy relic of 1940 . . .

coming alive in the present tense, here:

thanks to Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass.  For Part One (THAT’S A PLENTY) and more explication, click here.  Today, our breakfast menu has one item, Fats Waller’s airbrushing of THE BOY IN THE BOAT into SQUEEZE ME:

Delightful.  Timeless.  And this Big Four played three more.  No fractions.

May your happiness increase!

JOYOUS PLENITUDE (Part One): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Evoking this, nearly seventy years later:

in this wonderful place.  Magical indeed.

It was a Sunday morning, 10:30 or so, and perhaps half of the audience was deep in contemplation of their breakfasts on September 21, 2008.

But magic larger than bacon and coffee was being revealed to us. We can revisit it now: festival director Joe Boughton’s idea to recreate the Bechet-Spanier Big Four of Blessed Memory (1940, Hot Record Society: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud) with living Masters: Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass.  Five songs were performed, each a Hot Benediction:

I had no video empire then — no collection of cameras, tripods, batteries, external hard drives — and I recorded this quite surreptitiously.  But I didn’t want it to vanish.  For you, for me, forevermore.

May your happiness increase!

PART THREE, “EDDIE CONDON REVISITED,” featuring JOHNNY BLOWERS, CONNIE JONES, BETTY COMORA, KENNY DAVERN, BOBBY GORDON, MARTY GROSZ, TOMMY SAUNDERS, CLYDE HUNT, JIMMY HAMILTON, JOHN JENSEN, STEVE JORDAN, ART PONCHERI, LARRY EANET, TOMMY CECIL, and JOHNSON “FAT CAT” McREE (May 20, 1989, Set One Saturday brunch, Manassas, Virginia)

I don’t know why, while assembling this blog, I thought of the author Byron Katie’s injunction, “Love what is.”  Perhaps it’s because this music is “what is” for me, and I hope you love it, too.

This is the third segment of music played (and video-recorded) in Manassas, Virginia, during the weekend of May 19-21, 1989 weekend.  You can see the first and second parts here and here.  It wasn’t 1939 anymore, nor was it West Fourth Street, but “these guys” (and Betty) would have pleased Eddie, and Johnson McRee’s notion of recreating various Town Hall concerts, in part or in whole, had merit: evoking the past and exploring a wide repertoire of the beautiful songs Eddie and his colleagues loved to honor.

Originally I thought this weekend was part of the Manassas Jazz Festival, but my friend Sonny McGown (who was there) reminded me that the MJF was held in the autumn, that this was a special weekend.  Sonny also sent this flyer:

 

This segment begins with the closing chorus of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART (with perhaps unsolicited technical advice given to the videographer, an occupational hazard) by Clyde Hunt, Connie Jones, trumpet; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Jimmy Hanilton, baritone saxophone; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Larry Eanet, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Johnny Blowers, drums / SONG OF THE WANDERER / SINGIN’ THE BLUES: Connie, Gordon, Poncheri, Hunt, Hamilton, Gordon / DOCTOR JAZZ, with offstage comedy by Marty Grosz, a racing tempo, and Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee vocal / GHOST OF A CHANCE: Betty Comora, Connie, rhythm section / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN: add Grosz, Kenny Davern, clarinet; Tommy Saunders, cornet; John Jensen, trombone //  May 20, 1989, Saturday brunch, set one.

There are two more lengthy segments to come.  “Whee!” as Eddie signed autographs.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY MacDONALD’S “SUITE SOLITUDE”

I first encountered Andy MacDonald on Facebook — a shy but amiable presence who liked my postings.  We had similar tastes, so we actually had a conversation (now, how nineteenth-century is that?).  Jazz guitarist, songwriter, singer — and for once that latter combination of words did not inspire fear.

He shared his new three-song opus, SWEET SOLITUDE, and I liked it very much, so much so that I am encouraging you to take a sniff, or several, at it.

But first.  Andy and “pandemic puppy,” whom he’s named Duke Ellington, the inspiration for one of three parts of the Suite, which veers delightfully from hot small-band swing, to Lang-Venuti frolic and meditation, to a song which I think of as our century’s Tom Lehrer goes to Eddie Condon’s.

But every blog should have a photograph of a cute puppy and his happy owner:

One is not enough:

Here are two videos from the Suite, the first asking the musical question, “Will everything be all right soon?” featuring Andy, guitar; Drew Jurecka, violin:

and “March 13, 2020,” featuring Andy, guitar and voice; Drew Jurecka, violin; Dave Kosmyna, cornet;  Tom Richards, sousaphone and trombone:

I’d asked Andy to write something about himself to introduce himself to the mass of people who hadn’t yet realized what was lacking in their lives, and here’s his verbal opus:

I’m a Canadian guitarist, banjoist, and vocalist playing hot jazz in a cold country. I’m from Toronto, but I decided Toronto wasn’t cold enough so I moved to Montreal in 2015. I’ve played (and taught) jazz in Canada, USA, and Europe and my favourite audience members are swing dancers. Django Reinhardt has always been my greatest influence on the guitar, but recently I’ve been going backwards and getting inspired by the players who influenced Django. Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller are my new muses.

My musical mission is to write honestly about profound subjects without taking myself too seriously. I feel like Fats Waller and Marty Grosz take a similar approach. Fats wrote sincerely about heavy stuff like depression, heartbreak and loneliness, yet his music sounds lighthearted and whimsical. His tune Draggin’ my Poor Heart Around (recorded March 13, 1931) opens with the line: «Sweet mama, did you ever hear of depression? Well, that’s what you did to my heart, I’m tellin’ ya!» When he starts his piano solo, he declares: «Oh baby, listen to my pleadin’ on the ivories!» My 2019 album Asking For A Friend is a heartbreak album that for me is comedic and upbeat in its tone.

I love drawing inspiration from classic hot jazz recordings to create new works. The balancing act of respecting the tradition while saying something original is a tricky challenge. Luckily, there seems to be a new resurgence of interest in this music so even in Canada, it’s possible to find talented players to help bring the music to life. In the “before times”, I ran a weekly hot jazz jam in a dive bar with cheap whiskey and free pool. I can’t wait to get back there!

About Suite Solitude

Suite Solitude is a collection of three songs brought on by the tragedy of social isolation and the COVID19 pandemic. The original idea for the project was to do a real-time, live recording using state-of-the-art software. Well, the software and internet speeds are still about 5 years away from that being feasible, so we recorded it all one track at a time in this order: 1) guitar & banjo; 2) sousaphone; 3) cornet; 4) violin; 5) trombone; 6) voice. Each time, the latest mixdown would be sent to the next player to record so that there could be at least some social and musical interaction.

I wrote about how much my life has flipped upside down since this pandemic began. I lost all my work as a musician and music therapist so it felt like the rug got pulled from under me in a very sudden way. Although the themes are profound at face value, there’s a good deal of comic relief and lightheartedness to the music. For example, when writing about my new puppy, I sing: «Pandemic puppy will help me see when times get rough, you can just say {RUFF} He’s chasing squirrels, he’s chasing ducks, he gives no [BARK]s

You can purchase the music on Bandcamp for $8CAD: https://andymacdonald.bandcamp.com/album/suite-solitude.

Consider yourself encouraged to do such a thing — I mean purchase the music on Bandcamp.  With or without cute puppy, Mr. MacDonald shows great promise and I would like to see his talents encouraged.

May your happiness increase!

 

HOW ARE YOUR NERVES? A CONSULTATION WITH DUKE HEITGER, BOB REITMEIER, SCOTT ROBINSON, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2009)

Is the world going a little too fast for you?  Is this your internal soundtrack?

Do you feel like a character in a Fleischer cartoon where everything’s too speedy to be brought under control?  (I mean no disrespect to the 1936 Henderson band — with spectacular playing on this fast blues, appropriately called JANGLED NERVES  — from Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Sidney Catlett, Fernando Arbello, and Buster Bailey.)

I believe the following interlude will calm and enliven your nerves at the same time.  It happened here, in a vanished but remembered past — the third weekend in September 2009 at Jazz at Chautauqua, Joe Boughton’s creation, at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York.

Joe loved to begin and end his weekend programs with ballad medleys, and here is a segment of one of them, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Ehud Asherie, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass;, Pete Siers, drums.  The bill of fare is MEMORIES OF YOU (Duke), STARDUST (Bob), PRELUDE TO A KISS (Scott), OLD FOLKS (Andy), IF I HAD YOU (Dan, with the ensemble joining in):

Let’s see how you’re feeling tomorrow.  Leave a message with Mary Ann.

May your happiness increase!

www.vjm.biz

ANOTHER “TOWN HALL CONCERT”: PAOLO ALDERIGHI, BERT BOEREN, MENNO DAAMS, BERNARD FLEGAR, MORITZ GASTREICH, NICO GASTREICH, HELGE LORENZ, NICKI PARROTT, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, STEPHANIE TRICK, NIELS UNBEHAGEN, ENGELBERT WROBEL (Westoverledingen, Germany, April 10, 2016)

I was there, among admired friends.  And the music was spectacular.

In German, it’s JAZZ IM RATHAUS — Jazz at the Town (City) Hall — but given that Louis’ 1947 Town Hall Concert shaped my life, I realign the words as tribute.  The Dramatis Personae is on the green cover.

April 9, 2016. Photograph by Elke Grunwald

This was the thirtieth annual concert, a series featuring, among others, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, Marty Grosz, Ralph Sutton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Bob Haggart, Mark Shane, Danny Moss, Chris Hopkins, Jake Hanna, Rossano Sportiello, Antti Sarpila, Butch Miles, Ken Peplowski . . . . All of this happened because of Manfred Selchow, known to his friends as Mannie, a deep jazz-lover, author of beautifully comprehensive studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson.  He’s the serious man below with both hands on the check, but don’t let that somber visage fool you: he is a warm and easy fellow.

But music is what we’re here for — two rousing selections from the final concert of the April 8-10 jazz weekend at the Rathaus.  The first, LADY BE GOOD, is full of gratifying solos, ensemble telepathy, uplifting surprises.  That’s Matthias Seuffert, Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophones; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Bert Boeren, trombone; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Bernard Flegar, later, Moritz Gastreich, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass; Niels Unbehagen, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, piano — doing crowd-pleasing handoffs.  AND 1936 Lester!  (Wait for it, as they say.)

The encore, PERDIDO, evokes JATP, with Matthias, Engelbert, Helge, Nicki Parrott on string bass; Bernard, Niels, Stephanie, Paolo, Rico, Menno, and Bert:

Someday, sweethearts, we shall meet again.  And thanks for the lovely sounds.

May your happiness increase!

COMPLETELY RELAXED: “YELLOW DOG BLUES”: DON EWELL, MARTY GROSZ, NAPPY TROTTIER, EARL MURPHY (Chicago, 1959)

Not a well-known session, but a beautiful one.

I had the original red vinyl record — with its spacious sound — although it has either vanished or is in an inaccessible stack of lps.  I’m thrilled that the stereo version is available on YouTube, and I wanted to share it with you.

Yellow Dog Blues : Don Ewell Quartet : Nappy Trottier, trumpet; Don Ewell, piano; Marty Grosz. guitar; Earl Murphy, string bass.  Recorded in Chicago, August 21, 1959: ATLANTA BLUES / MICHIGAN WATER BLUES / TISHOMINGO BLUES / GEORGIA BO BO (Trottier out) / NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (Trottier out) / OLE MISS / YELLOW DOG BLUES (Trottier out).

The relaxation these four masters create is quite wonderful: Ewell keeps a fine swinging momentum at any tempo — he seems to float easily, never rushing; Trottier’s sound is huge and sweet; Murphy places the right notes in the right places.  And the survivor of this session, Marty Grosz, makes everything glide and rock.  Marty’s guitar sound is not what we who follow him might be used to: I asked Jim Gicking, Marty’s friend and fellow guitarist, who got the information straight from the source: “Marty was playing plectrum guitar, C-G-D-A, inspired by Condon who he heard met in mid-40s. ‘59 was his transition to 6 string in his unique tuning.”  And something else I hadn’t known: “Earl Murphy started on tenor banjo in 20’s, with Art Hodes at a dancing school.”

The sound that Ewing D. Nunn (1900-77) got from his custom-made microphones was remarkably spacious, and his recordings sound like no one else’s.  To descend into that rabbit-hole of his recording wizardry, click here.

Fully informed, let us savor these irreplaceable sounds: the kind of music that jazz artists create for the right audience or when there’s no audience — for their own delight, now ours.

ATLANTA BLUES:

MICHIGAN WATER BLUES:

TISHOMINGO BLUES:

GEORGIA BO BO:

NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

OLE MISS:

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

For first-hand reminiscences of Nappy Trottier, “who could really play,” by our hero Kim Cusack, recorded in 2018, please click here.

May your happiness increase!

PART TWO: “EDDIE CONDON REVISITED”: MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL: featuring BROOKS TEGLER, CONNIE JONES, BETTY COMORA, KENNY DAVERN, BOBBY GORDON, MARTY GROSZ, TOMMY GWALTNEY, JIMMY HAMILTON, JOHN JENSEN, STEVE JORDAN, ART PONCHERI, TOMMY SAUNDERS, AL STEVENS, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, and JOHNSON “FAT CAT” McREE (May 21, 1989, Set One Sunday brunch)

 

For your dining and dancing pleasure, JAZZ LIVES presents another performance video from the May 1989 tribute to Eddie Condon.  I’ve posted one hour-long video about a week ago, with much explication: here it is.

And what follows truly deserves a WHEE!

Originally I thought this weekend was part of the Manassas Jazz Festival, but my friend Sonny McGown (who was there) reminded me that the MJF was held in the autumn, that this was a special weekend.  Sonny also sent this flyer:

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN Tommy Saunders, cornet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Tommy Gwaltney, clarinet; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone; Al Stevens, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Johnny WIlliams, string bass; Brooks Tegler, drums

Brooks Tegler and Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee talk about Gene Krupa

ROSE ROOM Bobby Gordon, clarinet, Stevens, Jordan, Williams, Brooks Tegler

EASTER PARADE Bobby Gordon, Kenny Davern, Tommy Gwaltney; Connie Jones, cornet; Saunders, Poncheri, John Jensen, trombone; Hamilton, McRee, kazoo, Stevens, Jordan, Williams, Brooks Tegler

ONE HOUR Kenny Davern

YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME Betty Comora, vocal; Connie, John Jensen, Saunders, Gwaltney et al.

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; 3 clarinets, rhythm, Saunders, Poncheri, Connie, et al — with a lovely Brooks Tegler solo:

As I write this, the days get darker and shorter.  Many of the wondrous musicians here have moved on to other gigs. But their sounds still light up the rooms of our lives.

Thanks to Brooks Tegler, Betty Comora, Jimmy Hamilton, Al Stevens, Professor Hustad, “Fat Cat,” and of course Eddie himself.

May your happiness increase!

“EDDIE CONDON REVISITED” (May 19, 1989, Set Two) featuring JOHNNY BLOWERS, BETTY COMORA, KENNY DAVERN, BOBBY GORDON, MARTY GROSZ, TOMMY GWALTNEY, JIMMY HAMILTON, CLYDE HUNT, JOHN JENSEN, CONNIE JONES, STEVE JORDAN, ART PONCHERI, TOMMY SAUNDERS, AL STEVENS, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, and JOHNSON “FAT CAT” McREE

By day a tax accountant and perhaps a financial advisor, by night a deep jazz enthusiast, concert producer, record producer, singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee” knew and loved Eddie (and Phyllis) Condon, and the music that Eddie and friends made.

When “Fat Cat” began his jazz festivals in Manassas, Virginia, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Brunis, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy McPartland, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, and many of Eddie’s stalwart individualists were alive and well.  By 1989, few were left and playing (Max Kaminsky had just turned eighty and was advised by his doctor not to join in).  But over the weekend of May 19-21, 1989, he staged a series of CONDON REVISITED / CONDON REUNION concerts, each attempting to reproduce a precious 1944-45 Town Hall or Carnegie Hall or Blue Network broadcast from 1944-45.  It was a hot jazz repertory company: Connie Jones acted the part of Bobby Hackett, Betty Comora played Lee Wiley, Bobby Gordon was Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Saunders became Wild Bill Davison, and so on.

The results were sometimes uneven yet the concerts were beautiful.

I’ve acquired these videos through the kindness of deep jazz collectors and here’s a listing of everyone who takes part, to the best of my record-keeping ability.  I asked permission to post from the Survivors who appear in this and other concert videos — the very gracious Brooks Tegler, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone and clarinet; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Betty Comora, vocals.  (Update: my friend Sonny McGown told me that John Jensen, Clyde Hunt, and Al Stevens are still with us, which I had not known.  I’ve reached out to John and Clyde but haven’t found Al.  Any leads gratefully accepted.)  Had I been able to, I might have edited out the kazoo solos, but I leave them in as a tribute to “Fat Cat.”  Imperial privilege.

Originally I thought this weekend was part of the Manassas Jazz Festival, but my friend Sonny McGown (who was there) reminded me that the MJF was held in the autumn, that this was a special weekend.  Sonny also sent this flyer:

Here’s the bill of fare: ‘S’WONDERFUL Clyde Hunt, trumpet; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Tommy Gwaltney, Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone; Al Stevens, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, kazoo / DINAH Marty Grosz – Bobby Gordon / CLARINET CHASE Bobby Gordon, Tommy Gwaltney, Kenny Davern / THE ONE I LOVE / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Betty Comora, vocal; Connie Jones, cornet; John Jensen, trombone / THAT DA DA STRAIN / RIVERSIDE BLUES Connie Jones, Al Stevens, Marty Grosz, Johnny Williams, Johnny Blowers / OL’ MISS McRee, ensemble.

Thank goodness for such tributes — full of individualists who have the right feeling — and for the video-recording.  As Eddie would say, WHEE!

May your happiness increase!

HEAVEN RIGHT HERE ON EARTH: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON BURR, PETE SIERS, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON, BOB HAVENS, ANDY SCHUMM (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2014)

News flash: Laura Beth Wyman, the CEO of Wyman Video and a fellow videographer, has pointed out that in September 2014, Jazz at Chautauqua had morphed into the Allegheny Jazz Party and moved west to Cleveland.  Since a lesson of later life is that I have to live with my errors, I do so here: some of the prose details that follow are now in the wrong state, but the music still gleams.

Making the annual trip to the Athenaeum Hotel for the Jazz at Chautauqua weekend was never that easy, so once there I felt relief as well as excitement.  But it was heavenly once I could see the people I love whom I saw so rarely, and even more blissful once the music began.  Now, through the lens of 2020, Jazz at Chautauqua seems poignant as well as heavenly.

So it’s with those emotions — joy, nostalgia, wistfulness — that I offer you eight minutes of an elixir for the ears and heart: ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, which used to be a medium-tempo saunter.  I present the first recording of this 1922 Creamer and Layton song, with its “Spanish tinge” verse.  And note that the Crescent City angels are wearing blue jeans, a garment that goes back to the end of the nineteenth century: see here:

But we can talk about clothing another time.  Now, a mighty crew of hot players take this jazz standard for a gentle yet propulsive ride: Marty Grosz, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; James Dapogny, our Prof., piano; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. I offer a special bow of gratitude to Nancy Hancock Griffith, who we see briefly at the start: she never sat in on an instrument, but she and her mother, Kathy Hancock, made it all happen.

Such a weekend will probably never come again, but I bless the players and the organizers . . . and I’m grateful for my little camera, that made audio-visual souvenirs like this possible.

May your happiness increase!

“HONESTLY, I DO”: MUSIC FOR WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2020

I think that, as a species, we don’t do well with uncertainty.  Is that shadow on the wall a shadow or is it The Wolf coming to get us?  I suggest that music can help us turn on the light and see clearly that The Wolf is only a stuffed toy.  To that end, I offer a soundtrack for this Wednesday, November 4. 2020.  Yes, the lyrics are — if you take them at face value — a fairly predictable 1935 love song, but I encourage you to embellish them in your thoughts, making them as relevant as you can.  The song?  I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, by Pete Wendling, George Meyer, and Sam M. Lewis.

A rather plain version by Greta Keller, a starting point, verse and chorus:

Ralph Sutton, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Mousie Alexander:

An early recorded version, by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra with Bob Crosby:

Marty Grosz, Dick Meldonian, Greg Cohen, 1992:

Our very own EarRegulars in 2010 — Jon-Erik Kellso, Pete Martinez, Matt Munisteri, Greg Cohen:

Wingy Manone, Matty Matlock, Eddie Miller, Gil Bowers, Nappy Lamare, Harry Goodman, Ray Bauduc, 1935:

and the wellspring, the inspiration . . . Fats Waller, Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Charlie Turner, Harry Dial, 1935:

Love can weave a miracle.  Keep believing.

May your happiness increase!

“SPRING AHEAD, FALL BACK” the JAZZ LIVES WAY

Today, Saturday, October 31, is Halloween — but no “spooky” posts, because the holiday is eviscerated for valid health reasons.  And at my age, the only costume I don is my own, and I don’t buy candy bars for myself.

But Sunday, November 1, is the official end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States, “giving us” an extra hour of sleep or some other activity.  (Sundays are reserved for the EarRegulars, which is why this post comes early.)

I encourage all of you to enjoy the faux-gift of sixty minutes in some gratifying ways.  But here are my suggestions about how you could happily stretch out in the extra time: versions of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, the unaging classic by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer, which speaks to our desire to spend time in pleasurable ways.

Here’s a pretty, loose version from the September 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, performed by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and commentary; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass sax; Arnie Kinsella, drums:

Two years later, Andy Schumm’s evocation of the Mound City Blue Blowers, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, paying tribute to one “Red” McKenzie, hot ambassador of the comb / newspaper — here, with Andy, comb;  Jens Lindgren, trombone, off-screen because of a patron’s coif; Norman Field, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums:

and, from the 2018 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, here’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, for that set, Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Marty Eggers, string bass (subbing for Steve Pikal, who was on secret assignment):

1944, for V-Disc, with Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Ernie Caceres, clarinet; Nick Caiazza, tenor saxophone; Bill Clifton, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Felix Giobbe, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums — one of those perfectly memorable recordings I first heard decades ago, with its own sweet imperfections: some uncertainty about the chords for the verse, and the usually nimble Caiazza painting himself into a corner — but it’s lovely:

Of course, we have to hear the composer, in 1944, with Eddie Dougherty, drums:

Marion Harris, 1930:

Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, 1940:

Helen Humes and Buck Clayton with Count Basie, 1939:

Ade Monsbourgh and his Late Hour Boys, 1956, with Bob Barnard, trumpet;  Ade Monsbourgh, reeds, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Jack Varney, banjo, guitar; Ron Williamson, tuba; Roger Bell, washboard:

George Thomas with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, 1930:

and at the very summit, Louis in 1930:

Now, you’re on your own: use the time for pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BOB CATS” (Part Two): YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, NICK FATOOL, MARTY GROSZ, LOU STEIN, ABE MOST, EDDIE MILLER, BOB HAVENS (presented by PETER BUHR, with HANJU PAPE): Plochingen, Germany: October 21, 1985

Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert.  In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh.  The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.

Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.

The performance began with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”

Here is the first part of this glorious concert, almost eighty minutes in four segments. . . . . and now the second part (all of this divided arbitrarily by YouTube, but not disastrously).

This segment continues the rocking SWEET GEORGIA BROWN that now includes (unobtrusively) the banjoist Hanju Pape and perhaps some of the young players at the rear of the stage, but the real delight is the way the Bob Cats trade phrases — the audience delights in it, also.  Peter Buhr then introduces Pape to sing and play NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT, quite idiomatically.  Haggart quietly and effectively backs him up: friendship on the bandstand!  Fatool adds so much during Pape’s OH, SUSANNAH (is Haggart checking the chords?), then Stein joins in for S’WONDERFUL, and the Cats gentle reassemble behind and around Pape.  Havens begins a beautiful BASIN STREET BLUES — incomplete (in the middle of a Lawson phrase) but to be resumed in the next segment:

The band provides Havens superb stop-time backing (and someone says, fervently, “Yeah, Bobby!) and then the mood changes for the Haggart-Fatool duet, BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA, a beautiful version: great visual and auditory theatre that pleases the audience immensely.  Lawson then begins SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY with Fatool, Haggart, and Stein — tightly muted and whispery, before playing the sound games of which he was a master: this quartet session is reminiscent of the Ruby Braff live gigs I saw, and makes me think it was a pity that Lawson never did a whole session as the only horn.  “We meet again,” says Marty Grosz, before beginning his solo segment with BREAKIN’ THE ICE (catch the descending phrase behind “I guess you know what it’s for”) then ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, with a nod to Clappo Marx, in a truly swinging version, interrupted before the final words, but you know what they are:

“. . . .got swing.”  Then, SQUEEZE ME, at a leisurely tempo with beautiful expressive solos by Lawson, Havens, and Miller — followed by a rhapsodic MY FUNNY VALENTINE featuring Stein and masterful accompaniment from Haggart and Fatool.  Then what might have been a deplorable interlude — WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN — plus Pape — is transformed by this band’s irresistible swing and quiet lyricism.  Mainstream jazz, my friends: consider Miller’s splendid solo before the applause, band introductions, and more applause.  The band goes off, but there must be an encore, and we know it, SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE, started off by Fatool, whose playing is a graduate seminar in itself:

and here it is! — with everyone knowing just how it should sound, splendidly, Most nodding to George Lewis once or twice, Miller soaring, and Lawson climbing above the ensemble in the best Blackhawk fashion:

“Drive carefully going home,” Lawson tells us, before Peter Buhr closes off the evening for us and we watch the pleasantly-dressed audience leave the hall.

But wait!  Here’s Eddie Miller playing SOPHISTICATED LADY with the same rhythm section at the Cork Jazz Festival, a year later.  Too good to ignore:

And a few words about labeling and categorization.  Dick Gibson named this band and its offshoots THE WORLD’S GREATEST JAZZ BAND as a marketing idea (it was more memorable than the TEN GREATS OF JAZZ on a marquee) and also because he believed it.  But at Gibson’s parties you’d also hear Carl Fontana, Sweets Edison, and Benny Carter.  However, many jazz fans — perhaps those who believe that the music began with KIND OF BLUE — sneered at the label and at the band.  To them, these musicians were elderly, repeating old routines.  I will leave the ageism to those who dote on such things.  But as you listen to “The Bob Cats,” even though some of their repertoire goes back to the ODJB, and a few routines are pre-war, the solos and ensembles are so lively, so timeless.  Mainstream jazz, not museum jazz.  All it requires is that listeners are open to the individualities, the sincerities, and the swing.

Heartfelt thanks again to Bernard, Peter, Yank, Bob, Eddie, Abe, Lou, Bob, Nick, Marty, Hanju, another Michael, and that pleasant audience . . . for making these hours of joy possible then and now.  And I can testify that this concert improves on repeated listening.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BOB CATS” (Part One): YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, NICK FATOOL, MARTY GROSZ, LOU STEIN, ABE MOST, EDDIE MILLER, BOB HAVENS (presented by PETER BUHR): Plochingen, Germany: October 21, 1985

Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert.  In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh.  The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.

Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.

The performance begins with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”  Here, he plays a chorus of MY INSPIRATION on saxophone with Lou Stein, Marty Grosz (looking at the music for the chords) and Nick Fatool.  Then the full band assembles for an easy ST. LOUIS BLUES, with Bob Haggart glaring at a recalcitrant bass amplifier and even giving it a gentle kick at one point — catch the ingenious Lawson-Fatool conversation; then they head into a very leisurely LAZY RIVER (incomplete on this segment):

More LAZY RIVER, with lyrical Miller and Havens, Marty Grosz shifting in and out of double-time behind them, leading up to a Lawson muted specialty and a gracious interlude for Most and Stein, then a Louis-inspired double-time segment before the impassioned Lawson cadenza.  AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL does not show its age: the rhythm section rocks (Haggart only glares at his amplifier once and takes a solo) and the musicians’ body language suggests comfort and pleasure.  Lou Stein’s feature on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE blissfully starts with a rubato verse — always a lovely touch — before heading into Sullivan / Sutton territory, with side-glances at Dave McKenna.  Havens’ STARS FELL ON ALABAMA of course evokes Jack Teagarden — with Havens’ plush sound that you could stretch out on.  (It stops abruptly, but don’t despair: the third video completes it.)

Here’s the conclusion of ALABAMA (I can see the meteor shower) — gorgeous.  And now for something completely different, Marty Grosz, all by himself, in fifth gear (after the obligatory German joke) for I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — with a slightly more truncated version of Marty’s extensive encomium of Fats before he changes the mood for a truly touching LONESOME ME.  What could follow that?  A jubilant JAZZ ME BLUES, and we’re back to the Blackhawk Hotel in 1937, with wonderful percussive commentary from Nick.  Eddie Miller’s SOPHISTICATED LADY from this concert has been lost, but we’ll make it up to you someday:

Abe Most’s classic take on AFTER YOU’VE GONE seems familiar until one listens closely: his harmonic and rhythmic sense went beyond 1938 Goodman, with wonderful results.  (Catch his ending!)  Haggart leads the group into a sultry, not-too-fast BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  The tempo slows down as this one proceeds, but the Lawson-Fatool duet is magnificent, and the solitary clapper gets the hint and stops, more or less — a nice shuffle beat behind Eddie Miller.  Then, an introduction: does Yank really say, “Get some Coca-Cola”? before the audience, undecided, half-heartedly starts what I think of as European “We want seventeen encores!” applause, and we see the lovely faces of the listeners.  The second half begins with the Bob Cats’ rhythm section — without Marty — surrounded by the high school band for a thoroughly competent SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, with the Bob Cats’ horns joining in later:

The arbitrary editing comes from YouTube, not from any human, but I don’t think that music is lost.  And I promise the second half shall follow — as the night does the day, to quote Polonius.

May your happiness increase!

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!

“KEEP SEARCHING”: EPHIE RESNICK, CONTINUED (August 1, 2020)

First, some music.  I’m told it speaks louder than words.  Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:

and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:

My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention.  Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me.  I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more.  It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.

I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops.  So I thought that was a great thing.  With Chas, we played almost every week.  We played clubs all over the country.  We did some festivals, and we did a record.  And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record.  I don’t have a copy.  Maybe I can ask him for one.  And that’s that.

I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor.  The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective.  It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.

I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too.  That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.

I studied with Lennie Tristano.  I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff.  He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students.  I never worked with him, but he played with us.  The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible.  Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself.  So you have to keep searching.  That was an important experience for me, I loved that.

The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin.  I worked a lot for Lester Lanin.  And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name.  Both of them were horrible people.  Just absolutely horrible.  But they worked a lot.  Meyer Davis, he was busy.  He worked two jobs every day.  So he bought an ambulance.  After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time.  I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting.  About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people.  He was very good.

One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody.  And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again.  So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes.  He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.

I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him.  He did two of those things — big, splashy things.  FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band.  I was on the one with the big band.  He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake.  Everything was perfection.  Absolute perfection.

In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith.  We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one.  He was crazy.  He was wonderful.

I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims.  Buddy was mean.  Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten.  He exuded evilness, or something.  He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up.  He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up.  Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early?  Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.”  Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play.  The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational.  He could do anything.  He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks.  He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it.  So he was positively a genius of some sort.  Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people.  And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards.  It was fun.  Beautiful, easy.

I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk?  I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us.  He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special.  He was wonderful.  And it was Thelonious Monk.  And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me.  He was willing to hear.

Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger.  He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing.  Nobody played like him.  He was wonderful.

I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot. 

Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time.  ALL of the time.  But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill.  But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop.  He’d call it a lambchop.  He knew I was Jewish.  So I thought that was nice.  He was a funny man.  And for what he did, he was the best.  His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need.  He was wonderful in his own way of playing.  George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk.  Then he was a terrible person.

I went down to see Bunk Johnson.  I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot.  I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music.  He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places.  And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that.  Beautiful.  And there were crowds every night when he was there.  Dancers.  It was an exciting time.

I loved playing with Max Kaminsky.  I worked a lot with him, for years.  He was a simple player, but he kept the time.  His time was great.  I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records.  But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him.  His wife was wonderful.  I loved her.  I played with her a couple of times, with him.  She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.

I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE.  In the back there are signatures.  Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him.  And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen.  I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door.  I didn’t do that.

[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.]  Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with.  When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me.  They all were above me.  Every one of them was above me.

Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz  — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK.  (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)

Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.

Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world.  And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor.  In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’  He was a dentist.  And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’  When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”

I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him.  At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful.  I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:

I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.

May your happiness increase!