Tag Archives: Mel Powell

SWEET SOUNDS from MEL POWELL (AT HOME)

Gorgeous sounds on battered home-recording discs: the magnificent piano creations of Mel Powell, circa 1941-2 (but that’s only a guess).  Those of you who recoil from surface noise (“How can you hear anything through all those scratches?” frequently said a Philistine I knew at close range) might want to suspend critical severity.  The Complaint Department is located right next to the dumpster.  The discs are courtesy of Kati Powell, Mel’s very gracious and generous daughter.

There’s gold in them there grooves.

One more for Mr. Waller:

and that pretty ballad, suggesting Jimmie Noone and Nat Cole:

It’s a pity he isn’t recognized more: he could really and truly play.

May your happiness increase!

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“TO SWING FAN No. 1”: AN AUTOGRAPH ALBUM c. 1941

More delightful eBaying.

The seller describes the holy relic thusly: An original 1930’s album containing 88 autograph signatures of jazz musicians, sporting figures and other personalities. The musicians represented include Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Desmond, Gene Krupa, Bid Sid Catlett, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, “Hot Lips” Page, Cab Calloway, Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Les Brown, and many more. The album with a two-ring binding, with some signatures signed directly onto the album leaves and others clipped and mounted, some on larger folded sheets. 31 pages of autographs, with further blank pages in the middle; on the last several pages, all the grades from the owner’s report cards from 1930 to 1943 are meticulously recorded! An inscription to the owner on the verso of the title page dates the album to 1931. Light toning and edge wear; overall in fine condition. 6.25 x 4.5 inches (15.8 x 11.7 cm).

Here is the link, and the price is $750 plus $20 shipping.  I don’t need it, but I certainly covet it: pieces of paper touched by people I have revered for half a century.  (And, of course, imagine having heard, seen, and spoken to them!)

Before we get to the treasures within, I can only speculate that someone listing report cards from 1930 to 1943 was born, let us say, in 1925, and so might no longer be on the planet.  But he or she was an avid Hot Lips Page acolyte, so we are certainly related spiritually.

The only name unfamiliar to me in this rich collection was Mart Kenney, whom I learned was a well-known Canadian jazz musician and bandleader (his “Western Gentlemen”) and long-lived, 1910-2006.  Did our autograph collector visit Canada?

In general, the signatures collected here suggest a wealth of bands seen and heard in 1941: Lips, Dave Tough, and Max Kaminsky with Artie Shaw; Mel Powell with Goodman; Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge with Krupa.

Here’s a peek.

Artie Shaw, with two Lips Page signatures!

Benny Goodman, with Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and John Simmons!

My favorite page.  And Page (with equal time for Walter)!

I wonder how many of these pages Gene signed in his life.

Others in Gene’s band, including Sam Musiker and Roy Eldridge.

Anita O’Day and Joe Springer.

Hi-De-Ho, on a tiny label.

Woody Herman.

Bob Higgins and Les Brown.

Mart Kenney and musicians.

And I presume more members of the Western Gentlemen.

For once, this seems like a bargain: 88 signatures plus thirteen years of the owner’s report cards.  Who could resist?

Just because no JAZZ LIVES post should be completely silent, here (thanks to Loren Schoenberg) is a 1941 airshot from the Steel Pier of Artie Shaw’s band featuring Hot Lips Page, Dave Tough, and George Auld on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

May your happiness increase!

GOOD MEN AND TRUE (July 6, 1952)

 

 

 

 

 

Written in between sets at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

For some jazz fans, however one defines that slippery term, it remains fashionable to look down on Benjamin David Goodman, hot clarinetist. He was popular and prolific, prosperous and famous; he didn’t suffer (except for severe back pain); he lived a long time, was pale in complexion and Hebraic at birth.  Some thought his press-agentry (“the King of Swing”) was both inaccurate and insulting to other monarchs.

And the overwhelming evidence of his music has had, for some, a flattening effect: those who don’t listen closely might find that one version of AVALON runs into the next, high-speed crowd-pleasing set pieces.  (However, I notice that few raise the same objection with Charlie Parker’s returning to his controlled repertoire.)

But he was not only an extraordinary musician; he was a hot improviser who had splendid taste in his colleagues.  This post is for Kati Powell, daughter of the delightful and always-surprising pianist / composer / arranger Mel Powell, pictured above, whose work brightens every recording he ever made.

Here is a new lovely discovery, brought to us by the generous “Davey Tough” — whose YouTube channel is one marvel after another.  Listen, savor, and be transformed.  These three men are not going through the motions, and their hot virtuosity has yet to be equaled, both in solo and in ensemble:

Play that again.  Three minutes more out of your busy life will be rewarded by beauty.  And give thanks to the unknown recordist, who made marvels permanent rather than evanescent.

May your happiness increase!

“CAN YOU GET BACK IN?”

“When did you leave heaven?” may not be in anyone’s list of the worst pick-up lines (which, in 2019, are far more salacious) but I doubt that it would effectively start a conversation with an attractive stranger — I mean a conversation where the response was more promising than “Get away from me.”  But the impulse to call someone we’re attracted to divine is venerable and strong.

A Mexican image of the divine feminine, from my favorite folk art gallery, eBay.

There are many songs where the loved one is described as an angel, but here’s a tender and witty one, music by Richard Whiting, lyrics by Walter Bullock, from the 1936 film featuring Alice Faye, SING, BABY, SING (a song revitalized by the cheerful Bill Crow).  Follow me into adoration territory in swingtime.

Henry “Red” Allen in all his glory, playing and singing, 1936:

and a more famous version from 1942 with a famous clarinetist under wraps for two minutes, a session led by Mel Powell, and featuring colleagues from that clarinetist’s orchestra except for Al Morgan and Kansas Fields.

Thank goodness for the first forty-five seconds devoted to that hero, Lou McGarity, before it becomes Mel’s own Bobcats:

Mel Powell, Jimmy Buffington, Bobby Donaldson, a dozen years later, and one of my favorite recordings — a Goodman Trio without the King:

Something you wouldn’t expect, Big Bill Broonzy, 1956:

and the intensely passionate reading Jimmy Scott gave the song in 2000 (with our hero Michael Kanan in duet):

and the Master.  Consider that stately melody exposition, how simple and how moving, and Louis’ gentle yet serious reading of the lyrics is beyond compare.  Complaints about the surrounding voices will be ignored; they’re the heavenly choir:

Love has the power to make the Dear Person seem so much better than merely human, and this song celebrates it.  As we do.

May your happiness increase!

“MARGARET, CAN YOU RECALL THE DAYS OF OUR YOUTH?” “YES, DARLING, THEY WERE WONDERFUL”: MARC CAPARONE and CONAL FOWKES (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.

This venerable song — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE — is a sweet reminiscence of love that lasts.  It has become an ineradicable part of our popular culture: Exhibit A is a Big Top peanut butter glass (first a jar full of BTPB) devoted to the song:

and

I learned it first, decades ago, when I was young, from Vic Dickenson’s Vanguard version, which I can still play in the mental-emotional jukebox of the mind. But I am grateful that Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes keep it fresh and green in this century, as they did at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest:

Here’s another treasure, created on the spot.  There are thousands of versions of George and Ira Gershwin’s vernacular yelp of delight, ‘S’WONDERFUL, but the one this reminds me of is an early-Fifties session for Vanguard, led by Mel Powell, supervised by John Hammond, featuring Mel, Buck Clayton, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jimmy Crawford.  (That’s me applauding: if you have to ask why, you need to go back to Remedial Swing.)

Marc and Conal — what a pair of glorious musical artists, creating worlds of sound, rollicking and tender, for our pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

NEARLY EIGHTY YEARS LATER, MEL POWELL’S IMPROVISATIONS ON “MISSION TO MOSCOW” CONTINUE TO DAZZLE

Magnificent gifts from Mel Powell and his daughter Kati.

If you find surface noise on ancient discs offensive, please find another post, because here “bad sound” is mixed in with ethereal music.  Home recording discs were never supposed to last seventy-five years, so it’s a miracle that these did, but there is a good deal of surface damage to these unrestored artifacts.

I had possession of these holy relics for a short time, before passing them on, so what you hear below is one pass each — so not to erode the fragile surfaces even more.  The discs are now part of the “Mel Powell WW2 Collection” currently curated by my good friend, the splendid musical detective David Fletcher, part of a larger group of ephemera that’s being processed for its final destination. I have every expectation that the discs will, in time, be tenderly and expertly restored.

These document the brilliant pianist / composer / arranger Mel Powell experimenting with his composition MISSION TO MOSCOW, first recorded by Benny Goodman with the composer at the piano in mid-1942, then Mel took it with him when he joined Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band.

What a thrilling pianist he is!

Sensitive listeners might want to start listening to this video around halfway through: there was serious damage to this disc and I played it from the start:

Another version, with a damaged start that is less obtrusive:

a more leisurely exploration, almost a pastoral walk:

and two separate explorations:

Blessings on Melvin Epstein, “Melvie,” Mel Powell and of course Kati Powell.

May your happiness increase!

MEL POWELL SENDS HIS LOVE, WITH A FLOURISH

Mel Powell is one of the most brilliant pianists (and later, composers) that most people haven’t heard of, which is a pity.  I never met him, but I knew his music very early in my jazz-listening years through his work with Goodman and Glenn Miller, then his recordings for the Vanguard label in the Fifties.  In this century, I had the immense good fortune to meet his daughter Kati, who now has her home in a Southern town where we hope happiness will find her every day. Here is a 2017 post that combines music and history.

But this post, like some others, is motivated by objects that I delight in sharing.  One crossed my monitor just this afternoon — yes, eBay again — and an autographed photograph of Mel serving his country overseas:

The link is here, should you wish to get in on the fun.  My team of financial advisers held a conference and said, “No,” so the field is clear to bidders.

Kati very generously allowed me to borrow a number of Mel’s home-recorded discs, which I transferred in the least sophisticated way possible, knowing how delicate they are, how they would not stand up well to washing and repeated playings.  Some are difficult to listen to, but all are marvelous.  I’ve chosen two for this posting, because, after all, a photograph without a soundtrack is just a silent picture.

Incidentally, please don’t write to lecture me about the care of fragile discs.  I’m doing the best I can: Ristic is gone, and the Audiofixer is understandably overwhelmed.

Here is Mel’s meditation on I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which starts in mid-performance because the outer portion of the disc was damaged:

And something I am calling A FLOURISH — Mel practicing the end of a song, although I have not yet figured out what the song is.

There might be more rare Mel Powell music in future.  But savor this now.

May your happiness increase!