Tag Archives: Mel Powell

NOTES FROM MEL, NOTES BY MEL

Kati Powell, August 2013, Menlo Park, California.

I’m honored to know Kathleen Powell — who goes by Kati — whom I met through the kindness of Hank O’Neal.  Kati is a wonderful person on her own: generous in spirit as well as in fact, and her connections to the music are deep. Her mother was Martha Scott, the renowned actress who was the first Emily in Wilder’s OUR TOWN.  Her father began life as Melvin Epstein, but we know him better as Mel Powell, pianist, composer, arranger, and explorer.

In 2013, I had the great privilege of meeting and talking with Kati at her West Coast home (she now lives in New York) about Mel, and our interview can be found here.  And there’s priceless evidence of Kati’s generosity here.  Words and music.

When Kati and I met recently in New York, she had another present for me, and by extension, for you as well.  Yes, the music on the 78 that follows is familiar, or should be, but this disc belonged to Mel, and it is, for that reason, even more special.  I like to imagine the young pianist bending over the speaker in the Thirties, drinking in the sounds, absorbing the magic, making these impulses part of his genetic makeup.

Caveat: YouTube says that this video may be blocked in certain countries because of copyright restrictions.  The music is the 1928 duet of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, WEATHER BIRD:

and the beautiful reverse, the 1930 duet of Louis and Buck Washington, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND:

and some notes by Mel — two sides [one a sparkly original, the other DON’T BLAME ME) recorded in Belgium, c. 1945:

and a little of his elegantly deep voice:

We’ll never have all we need of Mel Powell, though.

May your happiness increase!

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ONCE RARE, NOW HERE: LOU McGARITY and FRIENDS, 1955

 LOU McGARITY ArgoTrombonist and very occasional violinist and singer Lou McGarity, who died in 1971, was both reliable and inspiring.  I think I first heard him on recordings with Eddie Condon, with Lawson-Haggart, and with a wild 1941 Goodman band that included Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and Sidney Catlett, who gave McGarity the most extravagant backing.  Lou was a delightful presence, someone who could electrify a performance with a shouting yet controlled eight bars.  I also gather from his discography that he was an expert section player and reader, for many of his sessions have him surrounded by other trombonists.  But Lou very rarely got to lead a session on his own aside from two late-Fifties ones.
He traveled in very fast company, though, as in this gathering at the Ertegun party, held at the Turkish Embassy in 1940.  (Photo by William P. Gottlieb):
LOU McGARITY Turkish Embassy 1940
Let us have a long pause to imagine what that band sounded like, and to lament that it wasn’t recorded.
But onwards to 1955.  I imagine that someone at M-G-M, not the most jazzy of labels, decided that it would be a good idea to have some “Dixieland” to compete with the product that other labels were making money on.  I don’t know who arranged this session (Leroy Holmes? Hal Mooney?) but McGarity was an unusual choice: a thorough professional with fifteen years’ experience, however with no name recognition as a leader.  Was he chosen as nominal leader because he wasn’t under contract to any other label or leader?  And, to make the session more interesting, the four titles are all “originals,” suggesting that M-G-M wanted to publish the compositions themselves or, at the very least, pay no royalties for (let us say) MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  I’d guess that the compositions and arrangements were by the very talented Bill Stegmeyer.
LOU McGARITY EP
Most of the personnel here is connected, on one hand, to Eddie Condon sessions of the Fifties, on the other to the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band. There’s Lou, Yank Lawson, both Peanuts Hucko and Bill Stegmeyer on reeds, Gene Schroeder, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  And here’s the music.  I say gently that it is more professional than explosive, but I delight in hearing it, and hope you will too.
MOBILE MAMA:

NEW ORLEANS NIGHTMARE:

BANDANNA:

BIRMINGHAM SHUFFLE (not SUFFLE as labeled here):

A mystery solved, with pleasing results.

May your happiness increase!

RUBY BRAFF and MARIAN McPARTLAND PLAY, TALK, and LAUGH (1991)

RUBY portrait

Thanks to National Public Radio, here is a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s PIANO JAZZ featuring the one, the only Ruby Braff, in a mellow mood, here.

MARIAN McPARTLAND

There’s delicious music — both players in exquisite form — THOU SWELL, THESE FOOLISH THINGS, THIS YEAR’S KISSES (with Ruby at the piano), THIS IS ALL I ASK, BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL (a piano duet), SINGIN’ THE BLUES (Marian, solo), BY MYSELF, AS TIME GOES BY, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, and an extra bit of holiday laginappe, WHITE CHRISTMAS, as well as commentary on Vic Dickenson and Buster Bailey, the “Laws of Comping,” Mel Powell, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, the Boston jazz scene in the Fifties, George Barnes, Frank Tate, Dave McKenna, a CD that never emerged, the Braff-Hyman GIRL CRAZY, Tony Bennett, the value of caring and having standards, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, picking songs and making records, Maurice Chevalier, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

The authority on all things Braff, Tom Hustad, thinks that the program was recorded in fall 1991 — as he notes in his invaluable book, BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY AND DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES.  Hear the music; buy the book; remember Ruby and Marian and the music they made always.

May your happiness increase!

THE FORTUNATE ISLAND, FOUND!

To the most erudite readers, those who consult Geoffrey of Monmouth more than Facebook, the legendary island of Avalon is deeply significant in Arthurian legend: the Fortunate Island, the Island of Apples, the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged and where Arthur went to die but remained immortal.  The best guess — only a guess — places the island somewhere near Wales.

Al_Jolson_Avalon_cover (1)

To others, AVALON is a hit popular song of 1920, composer credit going to Al Jolson, Buddy DeSylva, and Vincent Rose, yet its opening motif so close to a Puccini aria that the composer sued for plagiarism and won. (Knowing Jolson’s habit of cutting himself in on songs — that is, “Put my name on it as co-composer and thus give me one-third of the royalties, and I will sing it, making it a hit” — I think the song’s credit goes only to the other two writers. (Why only Rose and Jolson are credited on this cover is mysterious.)

Still others, and I am one of them, associate this song with unforgettable jazz performances by Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong and the Dukes of Dixieland, and many others.  The Goodman Quartet version has its own conventions: a descending riff near the end accented by a drummer — originally the Blessed Eugene Krupa — playing the pattern on the wood rim of the snare.  Charlie Parker recorded his own improvisations over the Quartet version, and the song continued to be immensely durable: ask Al Haig, Ted Brown, Lester Young, Art Pepper, Elmo Hope, Eddie Condon, Mel Powell, and Don Byas.

But back to myth and evidence.

Recent archaeological research now suggests that the Fortunate Island is located near or in Kecskemét, Hungary.  I could fill pages with the documentary evidence, but offer this video as proof.  This musical evocation of AVALON is so vividly alive here that I am convinced.  The researchers — a gallant international team — assembled at the 24th International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival held in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 27-29, 2015.  The team had an informal name, but it will make sense once you understand the video revelations — Attila’s International All Stars, and they are Malo Mazurié (France) – trumpet, Evan Arntzen (Canada/USA) – clarinet, tenor sax, Attila Korb (Hungary) – trombone, Dave Blenkhorn (Australia/France) – guitar, Sebastien Girardot (Australia/France) – string bass, Guillaume Nouaux (France) – drums.

As a reward for patiently reading (or scrolling down through) my japes, here is a wondrously swinging AVALON by a band worthy of Arthurian legend:

I am especially delighted to see Attila Korb appropriately adorned, but that IS a stage joke.

You may order the festival DVD (in English) here.  And for more information about the festival, visit here.  All of this is thanks to the Producer,Tamás Ittzés, Kecskemét Jazz Foundation, who is a splendid musician himself, and to the legendary musicians who transport us to AVALON.

If you are ideologically fierce, hewing to your conviction that only people born in a certain nation or with a certain ethnicity or racial background can play “America’s classical music,” I propose an intensive course of aesthetic rehabilitation: listening to this video, eyes closed, for as many times as it takes to loosen the death-grip of those beliefs.

May your happiness increase!

PAPER EPHEMERA FROM THE CONDON EMPIRE: 1947 / 1960; December 5, 1942

This I know.  It’s an inscribed first edition of Eddie Condon’s 1947 autobiography, WE CALLED IT MUSIC. But beyond that.  “It’s warm here now,” Condon writes to Lou in 1947.  Then, thirteen years later, Lou inscribes the book to Woody or Woodie.  I don’t think this is Woody Herman, although the Lou could be Robert Louis McGarity:

$_57
Then, another (facing?) page from the same book:

$_57Some famous names: ME TOO, Bobby Hackett; Bob Wilber; pianist Graham Forbes.  Who was Thomas Golden? Bob Pancrost?

Any detectives out there, ready to leap on these clues?  (What was the weather like in New York City — a plausible guess — on October 20, 1947?)

The pages that follow aren’t at all mysterious: an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert program from December 5, 1942.  But in me they awake such longing. Why can’t I hear this band or these bands?

CONDON CONCERT 12 5 42

I want to be there. (Urban historians will note Thomas – Morton – Hall – Johnny Williams, a combination working under Teddy Wilson’s leadership at Cafe Society. In fact, some private recordings exist with Mel Powell taking Wilson’s place at around this time — not from this concert, though.)

May your happiness increase!

I GOT IN THE GROOVE(S) AT DOWN HOME

I went record-shopping yesterday (January 11, 2014) at one of my favorite places on the planet, the Down Home Music Store on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito, California — details here.  The only fault I’ve ever found with DHMS is that they are only open from Thursday through Sunday, so I have to plan my life accordingly.  But I came home with a cardboard box of 78s, one 45, 10″ and 12″ lps.  Total price: less than a hundred dollars for hours of fun and amazement.

A brief list follows, just to encourage all of you who have such leanings to pay the lovely amiable folks at the DHMS a visit soon.  Of course, the records I bought aren’t there in multiple copies, but they have an astonishing selection of new compact discs covering every kind of music I can think of, and some I haven’t even imagined.

One 45 EP of the late-Forties West Coast Fletcher Henderson band with Vic Dickenson as prominent soloist.

Several 10″ lps: Paul Lingle solo on Good Time Jazz; Pee Wee and Ruby at Storyville, 1952; early Artie Shaw with strings;

12″ lps: a Queen-Disc Italian bootleg of Goodman 1938, all with Dave Tough; another copy of the Harry James 1937 Brunswicks on Tax; Edmond Hall’s PETITE FLEUR on United Artists; Eddie Barefield with Vic and Taft Jordan on UK RCA Victor’s SWING TODAY series; the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Jazz collection of 1949 airshots from the Savoy in Boston with Hall, Windhurst, and Vic; Wingy Manone’s late-Fifties Deccas as TRUMPET ON THE WING; TUTTI’S TRUMPETS on Buena Vista; Jimmy Rowles playing Ellington / Strayhorn on Columbia . . .

78s: a 12″ Commodore of MEMPHIS BLUES / SWEET SUE with Muggsy and Pee Wee; the Asch album set of Mary Lou Williams with Bill Coleman and Al Hall; two copies of THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / MOOD AT TWILIGHT by Mel Powell and a clarinetist (one for Kati P); I WANNA WOO by Joe Haymes; Musicrafts by Joe Marsala and Joe Thomas, by Teddy Wilson’s Quintet; late-Twenties Brunswicks by Nick Lucas; early-Twenties ditto by the Cotton Pickers; Tab Smith and Trevor Bacon on Decca; Betty Roche with Earl Hines, Pettiford, Hodges, and Catlett on Apollo; several Forties sides by the Charioteers, one “with orchestra directed by Mannie Klein”; an Edison 78 of some hopeful dance tune; an early Vocalion of TESSIE! STOP TEASING ME; one of the Bluebirds with Peg La Centra and Jerry Sears and Carl Kress . . . and more.  (I am doing this from memory and haven’t even looked at the box.)

And the experience of buying records is so sweetly nostalgic for someone like myself who found great pleasure in stores like the DHMS.  The results are more than “collecting,” “amassing,” and “having”; I learn something every time.  For instance: the soundtrack to this post is the 1938 Goodman band, with glorious work from the Man Himself, Bud Freeman, Vernon Brown, Dave Tough, and Jess Stacy — but did you know that when DON’T BE THAT WAY was announced for a repeat performance on Camel Caravan, it was credited as being “Professor Goodman’s own tune.”  I feel very sorry for Edgar Sampson and hope that the royalty checks made up for the erasure.

Some of the records had identifying labels on them; many were well-played and well-loved.  I thank you, dear Collectors with Taste whose possessions I am now enjoying.  What gifts you pass on!

And as far as record-buying, I know that someone could read this as another example of excessive materialistic self-gratification, when there are people on the planet so much less fortunate.  I know I do not need more music, but I retreat into KING LEAR mode and mutter, “O, reason not the need!”  Records are less expensive than bringing a hundred knights with me wherever I go.

So, if you can get down to the Down Home Music Store, I commend it to you.  If you can’t, I understand, so play some music for yourself today.  It lifts the heart.

May your happiness increase! 

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!