Tag Archives: Maxine Sullivan

IMPROV CLASSES (May 15, 1938)

“We improvise our way through life,” wrote the seventh-century philosopher Sammut of Malta. And perhaps that’s why jazz is such an enthralling wellspring of inspiration: even on a record that we know by heart, we get to hear musicians maneuver themselves into impossible corners and slither out.  Houdinis of Swing and Stomp.

These two Decca sides are seriously neglected, even though they feature three of the strongest players in the John Kirby Sextet: drummer / vocalist O’Neil Spencer (1909-1944, tuberculosis) and two musicians who coincidentally ended their days as members of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars: pianist Billy Kyle and clarinetist Buster Bailey. Even before Spencer gained some fame with Kirby, he had lifted up many recordings by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and was a valued session player for the Variety and Decca labels, recording with everyone from Jimmie Noone and Willie “the Lion” Smith to Maxine Sullivan, Bob Howard, and a host of forgettable blues singers.  These sides come from the only session Spencer was able to be given leader credit, and I think they are remarkable. Often I think of the Kirby band as expert but polished, with some powerful exceptions: these sides are much looser and to me extremely gratifying.

BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COM HOME? is usually played as a slow drag or medium opportunity to ask the musical question.  Here, the imagined speaker must have been terribly eager or impatient, for the tempo is unlike any other. What a good singer Spencer was, and how nimbly Buster maneuvers those turns at top speed before the splendid drum solo:

LORNA DOONE SHORTBREAD (had someone brought a box of cookies into the studio?) features Buster’s singular tone, swing, and phrase-shapes; Kyle’s sparkling accompaniment and solo, and that rarity, a full chorus for Spencer, who is his own person but sounding much like a hot hybrid of Catlett and Webb:

I like, for a moment, to imagine an alternate Thirties-universe, where O’Neil Spencer was a regular leader of small-group sessions for Decca, singing and rocking the band.  I wouldn’t mind another thirty or forty sides with him out front, instead of (for one example) having to lug Milt Herth through a song.

And something extra: AFTERNOON IN AFRICA by the trio, easy and lyrical, showing that clarinet / piano / drums did not have to imitate Goodman, Wilson, and Krupa:

These three players embody great freedom, courage, and joy: I celebrate them not only as musicians but as models, showing us how to do it.

May your happiness increase!

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GOLD IN THOSE GROOVES (Los Angeles, 1938)

Truman “Pinky” Tomlin, singer, composer, bandleader, film star

Everyone reading JAZZ LIVES could, with not much effort, compile a list of a dozen well-known and rewarding jazz recordings.  Your list might be entirely different, but I feel that we would recognize the names of most, if not all, of the entries. But what continues to delight me is the wonderful music to be found on recordings that don’t get any attention, those beneath the surface of the collective attention.

One such record is a recent purchase from eBay, and it’s repaid its original price (perhaps $2.99?) a dozen times over, even though its star, Oklahoma-born “Pinky” Tomlin, would not be at the top of many people’s lists.

The record isn’t listed in Tom Lord’s or Brian Rust’s discography, although the records Pinky made with (among others) Joe Sullivan and Joe Haymes are. Make of this what you will, but two sides made at the same session — SMILES and THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET — are listed (and thus certified as Official Jazz Records) although they are less memorable: I bought that disc also from eBay.

The orchestra is directed by Harry Sosnik, and features Pinky with Mannie Klein, trumpet; Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; Claude Kennedy, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Slim Jim Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums.  It was recorded in Los Angeles, April 23, 1938.

Those are illustrious names; some readers will notice that the band is close to the group that accompanied Mr. Crosby and Mr. Mercer on their version of the Gallagher-and-Shean vaudeville routine in July of that year: the evidence here. I suspect that more than a few worked in radio and were known as the best “studio” musicians on the West Coast.  The one unknown in this band, pianist Kennedy, I found out through reading Pinky’s autobiography, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION (his best-known composition) was a friend and musical colleague of Pinky’s from Oklahoma.  (Just because you might be wondering, Truman Tomlin got his nickname early on because of his complexion.)

I wonder if this session was another of Jack Kapp’s crossover ideas, joining hot jazz, swing, and Western swing, to support Pinky, already well-known on radio and films.  Had Kapp noticed the success of Maxine Sullivan’s LOCH LOMOND, a swing version of a traditional song, or Ella Logan’s efforts (in all those cases, no composers to pay)?

But enough words.  Feast your ears (and, yes, there is authentic surface noise, because the original owner of this record played it often).

RED WING:

RED RIVER VALLEY:

These sides are fun, and that comes from their ease, the sweet balance between Pinky’s sincere Oklahoma voice, not trying to “get hot” except for the one upwards Bing-meets-Louis scat phrase on RED WING.  He’s telling us stories, and he’s completely earnest but never stiff.  Sosnik wasn’t always so swinging on other Deccas that bear his name, but the arranged passages are right on target, and it’s especially pleasant that the endings on both sides aren’t histrionic, but wind down gently.  Secrest plays beautifully, but it’s the band that charms me — its unsung heroes being Perry Botkin and Spike Jones, who certainly swung.

“It’s not in the discography, so it can’t be jazz.”  But it’s rewarding music.

I find myself charmed by Pinky: he seems guileless, someone who is being rather than acting.  Two more examples: one, from a 1937 film, where he, like Bing, seems to say to a viewer, “I’m on the screen, singing, and putting clothing into a trunk.  But you could do this, too.”:

Two decades later, Pinky faces Groucho, his essential sweetness intact:

A few words about THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION.  I read in Pinky’s autobiography how the song was a spur-of-the-moment creation that grew from the casual phrase that was its title.  But it has deep jazz credentials: Ella sang it early, and later in life, when she and Pinky were together at some public function, went out of her way to express her gratitude.

Three versions, each showing the song’s durability and emotional appeal.  First, Carl Switzer:

Helvetia, Connie, and Martha:

Garnet Clark, Bill Coleman (“from brown to rosy red”), June Cole, George Johnson, Django:

May your happiness increase!

SOUTH OF FOURTEENTH STREET (March 4, 1944)

When I am in conversation with someone new and the talk turns to my pursuit of live jazz in New York City, the question will be, “I suppose you go uptown to hear music?  Do you go to . . . ”  And then my questioner will mention some club, usually now-vanished, in what he or she thinks of as “Harlem.”  My answer nearly always causes surprised perplexity, “No, almost every place I frequent is below Fourteenth Street — you know, Greenwich Village.”

Nearly seventy-five years ago (before my time) the Village was a thriving place for hot jazz to flourish, with clubs and venues now legendary but long gone.

One of the quiet heroes of hot piano was Cliff Jackson, who began his career as accompanist to female blues singers but always as a striding player on his own or as the leader of a big band, an in-demand sideman, intermission pianist, and valued soloist.  (And he was married to Maxine Sullivan until his death in 1969.)

Cliff Jackson, 1947, photograph by William P. Gottlieb

In the last years of the Second World War, several independent record companies (notably Black and White and Disc) took the opportunity to record Jackson, either solo or in bands.  He was a remarkable player, full of charging percussive energy, with singularly strong left-hand patterns (just this week I found out, thanks to the great player / informal historian Herb Gardner, that Jackson was left-handed, which explains a good deal).

Here are three sides from a remarkable and remarkably little-known session for Black and White by the Cliff Jackson Quartet, featuring Pee Wee Russell, Bob Casey, and Jack Parker.  Pee Wee and Casey were long associated with Eddie Condon bands (Eddie featured Cliff in concert and on the television “Floor Show” often).  I am assuming that Jack and Jack “the Bear” Parker, both drummers, are one and the same, recording with Eddie Heywood, Don Byas, Eddie South, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams, Pete Johnson, Leo Parker, Babs Gonzales — and he’s on Louis’ BECAUSE OF YOU and Nat Cole’s 1946 THE CHRISTMAS SONG as well).

The quartet speaks the common language with grace and eloquence.  We get to hear Cliff at length, and Bob Casey has a fine solo.  Pee Wee seems particularly unfettered: he was the sole horn on sessions that happened once every few years (with Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacy for Commodore) and I think not being placed between trumpet, trombone, and baritone saxophone made for greater freedom. That freedom means great sensitivity on ONE HOUR, and wonderfully abstract phrases on WEARY BLUES.

from Fats to James P. Johnson:

and back in time to Artie Matthews:

Readers who are well-versed or have discographies (some might be both) will note that the YouTube poster has not offered us Cliff’s minor original, QUIET PLEASE.  Yes, there are a number of offerings of this song by Cliff, but they are of a 12″ Black and White session including Bechet, the DeParis brothers, Gene Sedric, Everett Barksdale, Wellman Braud, Eddie Dougherty — a true gathering of individualists. But — before there is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the cognoscenti — a nearly new copy of the quartet’s QUIET PLEASE arrived yesterday from my most recent eBay debauch, and if the stars are in proper alignment, it could emerge on this very site.

May your happiness increase!

“AND UNCLE TOM COBLEY (or COBLEIGH) AND ALL”

I just received this now out-of-print “Chronogical” Classics disc.

With all respect to Feather, journalist-publicist, promoter, pianist, composer, arranger of record sessions, I bought this rare item for the company he kept:

From left: Robert Goffin, Benny Carter, Louis, Feather, 1942

For me, the appeal of this now-rare disc in in sessions featuring Bobby Hackett, Leo Watson, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Ray Biondi, Benny Carter, Billy Kyle, Hayes Alvis, Artie Shapiro, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford, Remo Palmieri, Tiny Grimes, Jack Lesberg, Morey Feld, and two sessions featuring swinging British players.  I knew far less about trumpeter / singer Dave Wilkins, reedmen Andy McDevitt and Bertie King, pianist Will Solomon, guitarist Alan Ferguson, string bassist Len Harrison, or drummer Hymie Schneider.

These musicians (with Feather on the final two selections) were presented as LEONARD FEATHER AND YE OLDE ENGLISH SWYNGE BAND, and they recorded for Decca in London on September 12, 1938.

Here’s the personnel for the disc:

Listening in sequence, I discovered this side, which is now an instant favorite:

I hadn’t known this traditional English folksong, obviously updated, but the parade of names is very funny and definitely 1938 hip. I’m sorry the take is so short, because the band has a good time with the simplest material. A similar band had backed Fats Waller on recordings in April.  Was the idea of jamming on traditional folk material was modeled on Maxine Sullivan’s 1937 hits LOCH LOMOND and ANNIE LAURIE, perhaps on Ella Logan’s performances of folk songs swung, or a way for a recording company to avoid paying composer royalties.  Or both.

I searched for more information about WIDDICOMBE FAIR and found this wonderful animated film, hilarious and deft both:

Here are the complete lyrics — an oral narrative too long to reprint here, the moral being caution about lending important objects / animals / possessions. But a secondary moral is that anything can swing, in the right hands.

May your happiness increase!

“RHYTHM COCKTAILS” FOR CHRIS (October 12)

Many people in the United States celebrate today in honor of Christopher Columbus.  (My college does not.)  I’m not planning to enter into charged historical dialogue except to say that we now know most of what we learned in elementary school was wrong or intentionally misleading, a pattern that continues onwards in education.  But that is a dark subject, which I will forego.

This is one kind of historical representation:

Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus

Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus

But I prefer this kind, created by Leon “Chu” Berry and Andy Razaf, music and words, in 1936:

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS Henderson

A Roy Eldridge small group, a rejected take from 1936, with Roy (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) John Collins (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):

The Fletcher Henderson band’s hit version in the same year, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Joe Thomas, Roy Eldridge (tp) Fernando Arbello, Ed Cuffee (tb) Buster Bailey (cl,as) Scoops Carey (as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (ts) Horace Henderson (p,arr) Bob Lessey (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):

and the 1937 attempt at a follow-up hit, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Emmett Berry, Russell Smith (tp) John McConnell, Albert Wynn, Ed Cuffee (tb) Jerry Blake (cl,as,vcl,arr) Hilton Jefferson (cl,as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (cl,ts) Fletcher Henderson (p,arr) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Israel Crosby (b) Pete Suggs (d) Chuck Richards (vcl) Horace Henderson (arr):

A Buck Clayton Jam Session, 1953, with Buck, Joe Newman (tp) Urbie Green, Henderson Chambers (tb) Lem Davis (as) Julian Dash (ts) Charlie Fowlkes (bar) Sir Charles Thompson (p,celeste) Freddie Green (g) Walter Page (b) Jo Jones (d):

(I love that this record has a click in it, early and often.  Seems like old times.)

and the classic 1936 version by Fats Waller, with Herman Autrey (tp) Gene Sedric (cl,ts) Al Casey (g) Charlie Turner (b) Yank Porter (d):

and just to cool down, Maxine Sullivan in 1956, with Charlie Shavers (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Jerome Richardson (as) Dick Hyman (p) Wendell Marshall (b) / Milt Hinton (b) Osie Johnson (d):

Professor Razaf tells us, “He used the rhythm as a compass.”  That’s something I can celebrate, as I hope you can.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGTIME DUET: MARK SHANE and TERRY BLAINE: MY BLUE HEAVEN”

I first heard pianist Mark Shane a long time ago on someone’s illicit cassette recording of an outdoor festival.  Through the rustlings and the sonic murk, he came through like a beacon of swing.  I heard finely detailed melodic invention owing a good deal to Tatum and Wilson, translucent improvisations with subtleties reminiscent of Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan.  I had to wait until 2004 to meet him in person, but he didn’t disappoint, and still doesn’t.

When I started to purchase Shane’s CDs (a venture I commend to you) I found he was often in tandem with a glorious singer.  She swung without a letup but her approach was delicate and warm.  She was very much aware of the great singers of the past but had brought her own tender sound to their repertoire. Her work was and is genuine, and when I played her music for other musicians and fans, the reaction was always, “Who IS that?  Wow, she is the real thing!”  I had to wait until 2013 to meet Terry Blaine, and it was a joy to see Mark and Terry perform together.

Not everyone can make their way to a Shane-Blaine gig . . . but their music can come to you.  And it has!

CD Cover jpegTheir new CD is available here at CDBaby (as a physical disc) and will be available at all the usual sources as a digital download in a few days.

When I heard that Mark and Terry had recorded a disc, I asked to write some notes for them:

Our special friends are back in town, and I am so grateful.

Play a piece of music for a jazz historian and ask for a response: you’ll get an analytical primer of famous names, influences and styles, cities, dates, and record labels. A musicologist will talk of rhythmic and harmonic patterns, ethnic and cultural influences.

But music is much larger than the words and ideas that attempt to explain it. It is vibrating energy sent from its creators’ hearts to ours. True, physical entities are part of it: the uniqueness of a singer’s voice, a pianist’s touch on the keys. But ultimately music is one marvelous way that artists, devoted to feeling and craft, send messages to us.

Terry Blaine and Mark Shane are remarkable transmitters of wondrous vibrations. In the Thirties they would have been called “solid senders.” Although they have lovingly studied the great improvisers of the past, they emerge whole and joyous as themselves. In swinging synergy, Terry and Mark travel through and beyond any song. Hearing them, we emerge, refreshed and nourished by what they embody in music. They do not “imitate”; they do not approach the music from an ironic postmodern distance. They are the emotions they transmit – sly hilarity, pleasure, longing, romantic fulfillment, contentment. This is the real thing, without pretense, full of warmth.

In the first minutes of this disc, a listener will hear great sincerity in music that never parades itself, an art secure in its wisdom. Terry’s voice is sweetly intuitive, connected to the mood of each song. The way she slides from one note to the next is a caress. Her approach is both generous and wise, for she always lets the song shine through. Mark Shane is a master of delicate yet profound swing; he honors the great musical traditions by creating an orchestra at the piano, with unceasing rhythmic motion. A simple melody statement in his hands has the fluidity of a river, with currents of shading and light, surprising depths and textures. Mark and Terry are a marvelous team, a musical community that needs no other players. Their interpretations of music and words are whole-hearted gifts to the composers, the lyricists, and to us.

We know what our response to this music is: it makes us feel the joy of being alive. We’re happy in the Blue Heaven Terry and Mark create for us. You will be, too.

The songs are MY BLUE HEAVEN / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / AIN’T HE SWEET / SKYLARK / LOCK AND KEY / MY MELANCHOLY BABY / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / I LOVE BEING HERE WITH YOU / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / MY SPECIAL FRIEND IS BACK IN TOWN / COME UP AND SEE ME SOMETIME / LET’S DO IT / SOME OF THESE DAYS / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS.  The recording is delightfully clear and unadorned. It’s heavenly.

In case you have never heard Mark and Terry before, here is a performance recorded at the High Falls Cafe in New York, with drummer Matt Hoffmann gently joining in.  Their rollicking WHEN DAY IS DONE is a joy:

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE BARNES, AT HOME WITH FRIENDS: MASTER IMPROVISER, 1941

Ask any jazz scholar to name another early innovator in jazz electric guitar in addition to Charlie Christian.  A few scholarly types will remember Eddie Durham, Leonard Ware, Floyd Smith, Les Paul. Someone will think of Allan Reuss’s PICKIN’ FOR PATSY.

But few will think of George Barnes.

That’s a pity, because Barnes was exploring the instrument’s possibilities in the late Thirties.

BARNES 1941

Proof of just how inventive he was — at 19! — has recently been offered by the George Barnes Legacy Foundation: a series of delightful home recordings of Barnes and friends in mid-1941.

On these tracks, Barnes improvises masterfully not only on electric guitar but also piano, and he’s aided by Bill Huntington and Bill Iverson, rhythm guitar; Ralph Hancock, cello; Jerry Marlowe, piano; Bill Moore, string bass; Benny Gill, violin; Adrienne Barnes, vocal.

Here’s the story behind the music (from the notes):

In the spring of 1941, 19-year-old guitarist George Barnes had already been a national radio star for almost two years, and enjoyed jamming with his colleagues after they’d wrapped their respective NBC shows. In March, June, and September of 1941, George’s friends — including violinist Benny Gill, rhythm guitarist Bill Huntington, and bassist Bill Moore — dropped by his Chicago apartment in The Chelsea Hotel and played into the wee hours. These 15 tracks were recorded directly to acetate discs by recordist Joe Campbell, who had been a Barnes fan since the first time he heard 17-year-old George play at Gus Williams’ Nameless Cafe on Chicago’s West Side.

The fifteen selections are BARNES’ BLUES / BARNES’ BOOGIE WOOGIE / BODY AND SOUL / JA-DA / MEMORIES OF YOU / NIGHTFALL (four versions) / SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (two versions) / SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY / SWEET LORRAINE / TEXAS BLUES.

And for those who shy away from “old private recordings,” these sound good for their age.  The originals have been well-mastered, and they were originally 12″ acetates, which afforded longer playing time. Barnes’ colleagues, although their names are not well-known today, are rewarding players who hold our attention throughout. Violinist Gill plays beautifully on BODY AND SOUL, MEMORIES OF YOU, SUNNY SIDE, SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY — in an Eddie South mood; Adrienne Barnes (George’s first wife) reminds me beautifully of Ella Logan and Maxine Sullivan, and the supporting players are first-rate.

In addition, the collection offers two rare October 1941 electric guitar duets by Barnes and Ernie Varner, G MINOR SPIN and SWOON OF A GOON, as well as a brief audio reminiscence by recordist Campbell.

A video and audio taste:

And here, a little reiteration is necessary.  Barnes was 19.

What does it all sound like?  Since George’s first instrument was the piano, it’s fitting that the set begins with a violent but precise boogie-woogie that sounds as if Albert Ammons had been studying the Romantic tradition (Rachmaninoff, not love ballads); the guitar blues that follows is delightful, a subtle mixture of harmonically deep chordal playing and sharp single-line inventions, a JA-DA that alternates between musing interludes and straight-ahead swing. MEMORIES OF YOU has touches of Louis and of what we would come to call “American roots music,” and is the work of a compelling melodist, someone with his own sound on guitar, someone more than able to make electricity work for him.

When he is backing Adrienne Barnes on NIGHTFALL (the first version), his accompaniment is a beautiful orchestral tapestry, moving the melody along while creating a rich hamonic background. The three versions that follow — solo, duo, and trio — are also lessons in what can be done, so evocatively, with lyrical material.

The solo piano SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is also a pleasure, combining an endearing simplicity with harmonic experimentation (think of, say, Nat Jaffe two and three years later) and an audible sense of humor: had Barnes chosen piano as his instrument, he would be known in jazz histories.  SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY, which begins with extravagantly rhapsodic piano, shifts into fourth gear when Barnes begins his guitar solo. SWEET LORRAINE has a melody statement worthy of Eldridge in its contained force; the closing TEXAS BLUES is rocking from the start, merging Western swing and the hot jazz of the time.

The Barnes-Varner duets that close the set are intricate, twining duets — compositionally rich, the sort of playing Barnes and Carl Kress, Barnes and Bucky Pizzarelli did later on.

It might be hard for some to hear how radical Barnes was in 1941, but that’s tribute to his mastery, for all of his style has been subliminally integrated into the mainstream of jazz guitar playing: the pistol-shot single notes, the audacious harmonies, the singular way of constructing a solo — in these solo guitar performances, he has the mastery of Django or Lang, weaving even the most simple material (JA-DA) into a concerto with shifts of mood and tempo.

This set — which I hope is the first of many — has been produced by George’s daughter, Alexandra Barnes Leh, who hopes to make more people aware of her father’s swinging, innovative playing.  For more information on how to order this set — available only as a digital download — click here.  There, you can learn more about what the Legacy Project — how you can purchase instructional materials (audio and print) created by Barnes for beginners and for advanced students — and more.

May your happiness increase!