Tag Archives: Mary Osborne

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!

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HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

IN A RIGHTEOUS GROOVE: “THE GIRLS IN THE BAND”

I did not get to see the film THE GIRLS IN THE BAND when it had a New York screening in April 2013, but thanks to the Beloved, we saw it last night on the other coast.  It is a superb film, with much to say to everyone: you don’t have to be a jazz scholar or a student of women’s history to be pleased by the music, enlightened and heartened by the courageous and insightful women portrayed in the film, and appalled by the world in which they struggled for equality and visibility.

The music known as jazz — however you choose to define it — has cherished its reputation as free-wheeling, radical in its approach to established texts.  It  has presented itself as music played by courageous innovators for people who were willing to go beyond what was immediately accessible, aimed at the widest audience.  Much of that remains true. So it is an unpleasant irony that some people associated with jazz — including the musicians themselves — have excluded and derided artists who didn’t fit their narrow criteria for acceptance. The wrong color? Ethnicity? Sexual preference? Gender? We have made some progress in believing that you need not be an African-American from New Orleans to be “authentic,” but jazz has long been the self-declared playground of men.

Women have been accepted on the bandstand for more than the last century — as singers whose job was to sound pretty and look prettier.

But women instrumentalists and improvisers have only recently begun to gain anything but a grudging acceptance from their male peers. Lovie Austin, Dolly Jones, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Mary Osborne, Marjorie Hyams, Melba Liston, and Vi Redd come to mind as twentieth-century pioneers, facing discrimination and rejection. “Can she play?” should have been the only question, but it often was never asked. And “all-women” bands, no matter how compelling their music, were often seen as freakish, the improvising equivalent of Dr. Johnson’s lady preacher. Sherrie Maricle and others might tell us that the situation is improving . . . but some barriers still remain.

THE GIRLS IN THE BAND, directed by Judy Chaikin and produced by Nancy Kissock, is a concise yet powerful documentary — eighty minutes of music, reportage, and vivid film memoir taken from over three hundred hours of material. It isn’t a history as such, tied to chronology, nor is it pure polemic. It is human and humane: we hear the stories of women who, early on, were intoxicated by the music and the desire to create it, then made their way into public performance — overcoming the obstacles put in their way by everyone who had a stake in keeping things the way they were: male musicians, critics, record producers, clubowners, concert promoters, and more.

Here’s the trailer, which can convey the film’s exuberance better than I can hope to:

and a second one, also worth watching:

I have to say that I am a very reluctant movie-goer. I get restless quickly; I am impatient with films that are too simple or too elusive; when a film is concerned with a subject I know well, the slightest error turns me chilly.  I thoroughly admired and enjoyed THE GIRLS IN THE BAND and encourage JAZZ LIVES readers to seek it out. The pioneering women, candid and self-aware yet unassuming, telling their stories, will stick with you long after the final credits have rolled.

The Beloved was appalled at the women’s history she had not known and entranced by the sound of Melba Liston’s trombone on a ballad. I made a commitment of my own: I bought a THE GIRLS IN THE BAND t-shirt and will add it to my fashion repertoire. Here is the film’s Facebook page.

And in the discussion that ensued, this point was made — I offer it in my own way. When we read in the popular press that a restaurant chain does not serve or employ people of a certain ethnicity or sexual orientation or religious belief, we are outraged and we do not eat there anymore.  “There are laws against such things,” we say proudly.

But when there is evidence of gender bigotry in jazz, many of us do not even see it, nor do we protest. I would not insist that a band in a club be comprised as if by census, but we should notice when the faculty at jazz studies programs is uniformly male. When a jazz camp has no women as instructors, is it because there are no competent women players? Where are the women in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?  The list is longer than I could write here.

The late Carline Ray, a shining light of the film, reminds us that if we heard a man or a woman playing from behind a curtain, we could not correctly identify the player’s gender.  Where are the “blind auditions” now common practice in symphony orchestras?

One of the ways to learn more about this chapter of history — not just women’s history — is to see THE GIRLS IN THE BAND and to encourage others to do so.  And, just incidentally, you will have witnessed a real accomplishment in film-making.

May your happiness increase!

GETTING RESPECT ON THE BANDSTAND: “THE GIRLS IN THE BAND”

The music known as jazz — however you choose to define it — has cherished its reputation as free-wheeling, radical in its approach to established texts, a music for those who knew there were worlds of experience beyond the canon.  And much of that remains true.  So it is an unpleasant irony that some people associated with jazz have been less than open in their acceptance of artists who didn’t fit their narrow criteria for acceptance.  The wrong color?  Ethnicity?  Sexual preference?  Gender?

Women have been accepted on the bandstand for more than the last century — as singers.  Even then, they were treated with condescension, mockery, derision.  “Do you know the one about the chick singer who taps at your door . . . ?”   But even the most rigidly patriarchal musicians and club owners have accepted singers as necessary parts of the Show.

But women instrumentalists and improvisers have only recently begun to gain anything but a grudging acceptance — and by that I mean acceptance from their male peers.  Lovie Austin, Dolly Jones, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Mary Osborne, Marjorie Hyams, Melba Liston, and Vi Redd come to mind as twentieth-century pioneers, facing discrimination, subtle and overt, that should have never happened.  “Can she play?” should have been the only question, but it often was never asked.  And “all-women” bands, no matter how compelling their music, were — at best — regarded as freakish, the improvising equivalent of Dr. Johnson’s lady preacher.  Sherrie Maricle and others might tell us that the situation is improving . . . but how slowly?

Given all this, I have been looking forward to the new documentary, THE GIRLS IN THE BAND, for some time. Here is the film’s website, Facebook page, and here’s the trailer:

The film will be screening for one week, starting May 10, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, New York City.  Tickets can be purchased here.

GITB-Harlem_5Oct10

For information on this beautiful photograph — an updating and homage to Art Kane’s portrait, fifty years earlier, click here.

I hope to see you at the screening!

May your happiness increase.

“LATER, JACK”: REMEMBERING JACK ROTHSTEIN

Jacob Rothstein, 1945

Jacob Rothstein, 1945

My encounters with the late Jack Rothstein are vignettes from a narrative I did not have the sense to capture fully — chapters from a novel that should have been written.
Jack died a few days ago at 87; it is of course a cliche to say that my world has gotten smaller because he is no longer in it, but cliches are often true.
I first met him in cyberspace because he had found JAZZ LIVES and was enthusiastic about it.  We exchanged a number of emails: the pattern was that Jack would read something I wrote about Henry “Red” Allen, for instance, and then write to tell me of his conversation with Red in the late Forties or early Fifties where Red was upset by the way he was being passed over for other musicians, most notably Louis (whom he loved and respected).
I knew I was in the presence of someone who had been on the scene — Jack had gone to law school in Boston and had hung out at clubs, listening to Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson.  He had helped a number of musicians with minor legal troubles; he was a conoisseur of wines, a championship card player, and knew antiques deeply.
When you know someone only through emails or words on the page, their physical appearance is always a bit startling.  (I am sure I have that effect on people, so I write these words without criticism.)  Jack was clearly larger-than-life, and I don’t mean only that he was a substantial man.
He was ebullient in his speech, with an extravagant laugh and a voice that carried.  He didn’t shout, but he cut through — I can compare the sound of his speech most closely to Pete Brown’s alto saxophone.  He was clearly one of My People, that is to say an urban East Coast Jew with a satiric view of the world.  We met at the Dixieland Jazz Bash by the Bay in March 2011, had dinner and talked.  There he told me the story of the woman who wanted to present Vic Dickenson with a rose at Mahogany Hall in 1950 and others I no longer remember.
I am very sorry that I did not take the time — it would have taken repeated visits, I know — to aim a video camera at Jack and work through all the musicians we knew and loved . . . he had marvelous stories and — most delightfully — he wasn’t the subject.
All I can offer JAZZ LIVES readers is a selection from the Rothstein correspondence: excerpts from Jack’s emails to me.  We had a long discussion about who “OLD FOLKS” was in the Robison song; we talked about other matters.  But all I know is that when I got an email from Jack, it would contain something genuine, something new to me . . . and even when we disagreed, he was entertaining and informed.
I miss him and I won’t forget him.
The moral, of course, is not hard to bring to the surface.  Our lives are finite; we should cherish people while they are around to receive it; the stories of our elders will vanish if we don’t collect them.
But someone like Jack Rothstein is not dead, because someone is playing a hot chorus or singing a ballad beautifully.  In these offerings, he lives on.
And in his words:
I am on your side on crowd noise. Quiet conversation is fine but not when it interferes with the listeners. My tolerance is inversely proportional to the quality of the music.  I was at the Embers (a celebrity hangout) listening to Tatum when a noisy conversation started at a table. A guy seated at the next table got up and told them quietly to shut up and a few guys at other nearby tables  rose in support. The noise stopped. Tatum did not have to say or do anything. 
Your comments reminded me of my high school days, a generation earlier, going through the bins of jazz 78s at Sam Goody’s. He only had one shop then, on Sixth Avenue somewhere in the mid-forties. He also had a bin of used jazz records where treasures could be found very inexpensively. I vaguely remember buying a few Armstrong reissues there on English Parlophone. The UHCA reissues I bought at the Commodore on the advice of Jack Crystal who was a super-nice guy.
Thinking about our dinner conversation, I have my doubts as to whether Prez actually changed jazz. He seems more a very influential extension of Bix.
I spent last week in Dayton, Ohio at a convention. The meeting room was on the ground floor of a large hotel. A couple stepped outside for a smoke and when they were done they found that the glass door had locked behind them. Not wanting to walk to the front of the building, they banged on the door. After a few minutes another member (a Catholic priest) heard them and let them in. One of them said, “You saved us.” He casually replied, “That’s my job.”
I remember talking to Barrie Chase about her work with Fred Astaire on the TV special where they were backed by the Basie band. She loved Jo Jones’ work and said he paid her the ultimate compliment – that the way she danced one of her ancestors had to be “one of us”.  In the 30’s, Roger Pryor Dodge and his wife had a dance act and played stage shows at Broadway movie theaters backed by name bands. She later taught at the Manhattan School of Music. She told me that the best drummer they ever had behind them was Dave Tough. 
Add Dave Tough to the list of those who died because they kept drinking and stopped eating.  You were right on about Prez. I helped him with a very minor legal matter in the early 50″s. His problem was not drink but mental. I do not know the facts but I think it was caused by the Army. He was very withdrawn, somewhat paranoid and secure only in his music. He was a gentle human being and just wanted not to be hurt.
The very best that can be said for her singing is that it was egregious.
One night when leaving Nick’s, Wild Bill noticed a fire hose that had been left attached to a hydrant. He picked it up and ran towards a pair of elderly female pedestrians yelling “Wanna douche?” and laughing. Told to me by someone who allegedly saw it.
You mentioned Dick Gibson last night, so here is my Dick Gibson story. He was a classmate of my wife at the University of Alabama. I first met him around 1959-60 in New York at a party thrown by a girl I was dating. The lady I subsequently married, who I only knew then as a person who was taking bridge lessons from a friend, was there, and greeted him with “Dick Gibson! You’ve gained so much weight I hardly recognized you.” The scene shifts. It is now 10 years later. I take my wife to a charity bash in San Francisco because Hackett is playing. Mary Osborne (from Bakersfield) was in the band. My wife sees Dick up front and goes up to him and says, “Dick Gibson! You’ve gained so much weight I hardly recognized you.” His reply was, “Emilie, don’t you know how to say anything else?”  Emilie told me he was a hunk in his college days.
True story c. January, 1946. I was in Seattle and there was a disc jockey who had a Saturday afternoon jazz program and solemnly stated that the Louis Armstrong Hot Five was the first decadent step in jazz. However, he did play a lot of Jelly Roll Morton (with George Mitchell, Omer Simeon,etc.) as well as King Oliver so I was a steady listener. Immediately after his program there was a half hour of the First Herd sponsored by Old Gold cigarettes playing Apple Honey, etc. which put me very much on the side of decadence.  When I got back to New York, there was another Bussard type, Rudi Blesh who actually had a radio program and wrote a book. He also believed that a white jazz musician was a contradiction in terms.  Idiots abound. Don’t let them upset you.
Will not attend San Diego as I am trying to build up my strength after a near fatal bout of pneumonia caused by my lack of immune system due to leukemia (CLL). I have a form that almost exclusively strikes Russian Jewish males and is completely painless. The doctor says I am a favorite to recover this time and go back to leading a normal life but that some time something minor will happen and I will go to bed and not wake up. Considering the fact that I am 87 it is the ideal way to go. I just have to build up my strength because there are a few more bottles of great wine to drink and more jazz cruises to take.
That was the last email I received from Jack — in late November 2012.  He would often sign his emails, “Later, Jack,” which I have taken as my title.
I hope you have your very own Jack Rothsteins in your life.  Their ebullient presence enriches us always.  I am very grateful to his daughter Margo for offering the photograph of her father as a young man — how beautiful he was!
May your happiness increase.

JOHNNY WINDHURST, MUCH MISSED

Few people today know of the cornetist Johnny Windhurst, but those who do speak of him with awe and affection. 

I first heard him on a Folkways record called JAZZ OF THE FORTIES, which contained excerpts from a concert put on by Bob Maltz in 1946.  The other participants inckuded Sidney Bechet, Pops Foster, Vernon Brown, Mezz Mezzrow, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson.  Windhurst had a ballad feature on “She’s Funny That Way” that wasn’t very long — perhaps two choruses — but it was instantly memorable.  The idea of a brass player having a golden tone is and was an obvious cliche, but it applied to Johnny.  He had built his style on a synthesis of Bobby Hackett and Louis and moved on from there.  His playing had a simplicity and tenderness I haven’t heard anyone else approach.  At the time, the only Windhurst I could hear was on recordings he had made with the fine singer Barbara Lea. 

In mid-1972, when I began to go into New York City to hear live jazz (with Stu Zimny and Rob Rothberg) the Sunday afternoon sessions led by bassist Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache were a special treat.  Balaban was not a stirring leader, bassist, banjoist, or singer, but he had good taste in guest stars.  One of them was Windhurst, who came down from Poughkeepsie, where his mother lived, to lead the band — either Dick Rath or Herb Gardner on trombone, Herb Hall on piano, either Chuck Folds or Red Richards on piano, and Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin on drums.

Windhurst looked much as he had ever looked — boyish, small, bespectacled, with a natty bow tie.  He seemed a little distant, a little tired, but he played beautifully.

After that Sunday, I began to ask my collector-friends for the private tapes they had.  John L. Fell, generous and erudite, shared his treasures.  Joe Boughton, a true Windhurst friend and fancier, let me hear tapes of Windhurst playing in the early Fifties at college gigs; later, I found the two lps on which he had appeared (one, a quartet session under his own name; the other, a session led by the drummer Walt Gifford).  He had recorded with Condon for Decca.  Still later, the “Jazz Nocturne” programs of 1945, where a 19-year old Windhurst stood next to Sidney Bechet and didn’t give an inch, came out on the Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and the “Doctor Jazz” broadcasts from 1952 or so, also appeared on Storyville.  I even found a semi-private recording made in Poughkeepsie at “The Last Chance Saloon,” where Johnny and his friend, trombonist Eddie Hubble, played in front of a local session.  Later, I heard broadcasts from the Savoy Cafe in Boston, where in 1947, Windhurst had run in the quickest of company: Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson,Kenny Kersey, John Field, and Jimmy Crawford.   

In all these recordings, Windhurst took risks but never faltered, and his tone never grew acrid or shrill.  But, for whatever reasons, he stayed out of the limelight.  Because he never cared to learn to read music, he had turned down gigs with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, preferring informal jamming.  He died in Poughkeepsie at 54.  The reference books I have say that he died of a heart attack, but I recall that having been mugged had something to do with his early death. 

Had he lived . . . alas.  And the recordings that have come out in the last few years — one a 1947 jazz concert where Windhurst and Jack Teagarden play beautifully alongside one another — are beautifully stirring, saying much about the musician we lost. 

These thoughts are motivated by a cyber-find: I haven’t given up on my quest for the 1946 “March of Time” clip featuring Dave Tough at Eddie Condon’s.  My quest led me to www.dailymotion.com., where trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig has posted excerpts from a 1958 “Jazz Party,” a television show hosted by jazz disc jockey Art Ford.  Ford’s program was simultaneously broadcast on the radio, so some diligent collectors have tapes that are as close to stereo as we shall get.  The programs tended to be informal to the point of messiness, with players ranging from Lester Young to Willie the Lion Smith to Mary Osborne and Teddy Charles.  Here is the only film footage of Windhurst, accompanied by pianist Roland Hanna, Osborne, bassist Mark Goldberg, and drummer Morey Feld (the last a particular favorite of our own Kevin Dorn).   

On this 1958 clip, an earnest Windhurst considers “Pennies From Heaven” in yearning style, reminding us of the pretty song that Bing Crosby, Hackett, and Louis explored.  In it, we see a player not afraid to take his time, to make beautiful sounds, to gently explore the melody.  It’s a lovely performance, and it doesn’t give up all its secrets on one viewing. 

Did any readers of this blog hear Johnny or play alongside him?  I would love to hear your memories.  Without them, who will remember Johnny Windhurst?