In one of those curious episodes of dislocation we all take for granted (read Philip K. Dick’s “The Eyes Have It”) my ears met Eddie Erickson long before the rest of me caught up. Perhaps I first heard him on recordings with Dan Barrett, Rebecca Kilgore, Melissa Collard? I know we met in Germany in 2007 for one of Manfred Selchow’s concert weekends, and a few years later, in California. More to the point: I saw him, to my great delight, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in March of this year.
Those who know Eddie only superficially categorize him as a dazzling vaudevillian — someone who, had he been born earlier, would have starred in Vitaphone short films and on Broadway — a natural comedian, a banjo virtuoso, a walking compendium of lovable entertainment. I think of his performances of MY CANARY HAS CIRCLES UNDER HIE EYES and the dreadful honeymoon night of SIDE BY SIDE. But he goes much deeper. I celebrate the other Eddie: the swinging guitarist whose solos make sense, and, perhaps most of all, the very touching ballad singer. And were you to visit my YouTube channel, “swingyoucats”, you would find that I’ve been documenting Eddie’s multi-faceted self for nearly a decade now.
But that’s history of a very delightful kind, which I plan to add to right now. What follows is a set of music performed on March 6, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, under the title “Eddie Erickson and Friends.” Strictly speaking, that was inaccurate, because if all of Eddie’s friends had assembled at 7:39 in the Colton Room, all the other rooms would have been empty and the fire marshals would have been called. So it was “and Friends who are Expert Musicians,” which meant Jerry Krahn, guitar; Katie Cavera, string bass and vocal; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Gary Ryan, banjo and vocal; Kathy Becker, attendant to the Emperor.
Two details to point out before you dive in. Ordinarily, I would edit the pre-song conversation and getting-ready more seriously, but in Eddie’s case, his asides are precious, so what you have here is as close to the full hour as my camera would allow. (I lost a few notes of ALWAYS, but you can imagine what was left out.) And ordinarily I would not post ten performances at one time, but I envision people — needing more joy and uplift right now — setting aside an hour to visit with Eddie, to savor the joy they might not have been able to have when it was happening. So . . . stop multi-tasking and enjoy, please.
After an introduction that hints at ZONKY, Eddie heads into BLUE SKIES:
What would a jazz festival be without a belated coronation?
Gary Ryan keeps working at it, in honor of the National Pastime:
When skies are cloudy and gray . . . we can always think of Eddie:
Katie Cavera’s saucy feature, I BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS:
Louis, 1947 — SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:
Jerry Krahn’s pretty IF I HAD YOU:
A banjo Ecstasy for Messrs. Erickson and Ryan, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, with a little Prokofiev at the start and some NOLA:
Something to change the mood, Danny Tobias’ ST. JAMES INFIRMARY:
The legend that’s continued after Fats Waller’s untimely death is that he was marvelously creative but also an outlandish clown, especially when given poor material to record, undermining it with mocking asides and jokes. But I treasure those times when he respected the song and showed us what a tender singer he was. The performances below aren’t comic or anarchic; there are no uptempo stride extravaganzas. But gentle feeling shines through every note.
FAIR AND SQUARE is a song I came to love through performances by Lueder Ohlwein of the Sunset Music Company, a whole rhythm section and glorious singer on his own. The composer credits are usually given to Andy Razaf and Leo Robin, although one HMV record label assigns the song to Harry Woods, I think in error:
I first heard this very sweet song because of Melissa Collard’s 2004 memorable recording. But Fats did it first:
This performance sounds as if Fats is going to launch into hilarious mockery, but he doesn’t. The songwriters Charlie Tobias and Sammy Fain knew how to transform cliches. Wait for the lovely piano coda:
Here, also, Fats trembles on the edge of amusement, but chooses to focus on the song’s essential sadness:
Lovely music and lovely sentiments from Thomas Waller.
The bespectacled fellow was only a name in a discography to me until today.
Thanks to Tim Gracyk and his YouTube channel, I now have one more new-old-favorite-record, HOLLYWOOD, by Art Gillham, “The Whispering Pianist.”
According to the Discography of American Recordings entry here, this performance was recorded on November 25, 1929, in New York City. The composers of this thin but irresistible song (with a rising chromatic motif and unadventurous lyrics) are Arnold Johnson (music) — who may have been the bandleader known to some for his associations with Jack Purvis and Harold Arlen — and Charles Newman (lyrics). Newman is better known for the lyrics of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN, WHAT’S THE USE, I WOULDN’T CHANGE YOU FOR THE WORLD, YOU’VE GOT ME CRYING AGAIN, I’M PAINTING THE TOWN RED, TAKE ANOTHER GUESS, WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN? (a song I learned through the recording Melissa Collard and Eddie Erickson made of it) and the imperishable A HOT DOG, A BLANKET, AND YOU. Apparently Newman took current conversational phrases and bent them into songs — songs more memorable for their performers.
Here’s the recording — moral message, free of charge:
The message first: another cautionary tale (think of GLAD RAG DOLL, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, and a dozen others) about young women who go to the big city, get their hearts broken, their virtue damaged beyond repair. “Mothers, tie your daughters to the sink so that nothing bad can happen to them!” (Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, five years earlier, is a variation on this theme.)
A month and a day before this recording, the stock market had crashed: was that one of many reasons for this song? The record of copyright notes that HOLLYWOOD is dated November 9 — slightly over two weeks after the crash, which may be even more significant.
Gillham is a pleasant singer, even with wobbly vibrato. Radio audiences and song publishers must have loved him, because every word came through. But I am particularly interested in the little band: muted trumpet or cornet, bright and agile clarinet, sweet violin, Gillham’s own piano, perhaps someone at a drum set, although aside from one resonant thump at 1:25, it’s hard to tell. (Was it multi-tasking Eddie King or Justin Ring?) I believe that “novelty” came from the presence of horns, rather than a more “legitimate” polite accompaniment by piano or piano and violin.
But this record has not been annotated or noticed by the official jazz scholars. A selection from Gillham’s recordings makes its way into the discographies I have (Rust and Lord) — because those sessions feature Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Louis Hooper, Murray Kellner, Andy Sanella. The three or four sides concluding either discography [thus defined as jazz recordings] have him accompanied by Alex Hill on piano, and Gillham performs Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME. The lack of documentation of HOLLYWOOD — which sounds like a certifiable “jazz record” — says much more about the “star system” in jazz than it does about the lightly swinging instrumental music heard here. The players do not sound like those stars most featured and idolized: not Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis or Nichols, not Jimmy Dorsey or Tesch, Joe Venuti, or Stan King. But the music is memorable, inventive and rhythmic, and I would rather have this record, offered as an anonymous effort, than a dozen others with more famous names that might have satisfied less. Once again we encounter rewarding art that no one has designated as such.
When you encounter beauty, when you experience art, you know it. When my San Francisco jazz friendBarb Hauser visited New York for Christmas of 2004-5, she brought me the disc you see above. She had been at some of the recording sessions and thought I would like the music. Barb was only slightly incorrect in this: I loved the music. I was then writing reviews for The Mississippi Rag and I believe I asked Leslie Johnson if I could review this.
Hearing Melissa Collard sing was a seriously life-enhancing experience. Melissa has an easy rock to her rhythm, where nothing is forced. She doesn’t copy the records; her singing isn’t a series of learned gestures strung together, plastic beads on a string. She doesn’t imitate anyone; her warm voice embraces the song and the listener. She makes it sound easy, and we know that can’t be true.
Here’s a sample:
Hear what I mean? Clear diction, an easy glide, and her second chorus is not a clone of her first: she respects the song but she improvises . . . offering light and shade while swinging. The instrumentalists on this disc don’t do anyone any harm, either: Dan Barrett, Ray Skjelbred, Steven Strauss, Eddie Erickson, Richard Hadlock, Fiddle Ray Landsberg, Bobby Black, Bob Wilson, Bob Mielke, Bill Bardin (a collective personnel).
Let’s have another right away (with Eddie on banjo and the trombone choir of Barrett, Bardin, and Mielke, with a cornet-banjo duet in the middle for Dan and Eddie):
And one more (why not?) — with banter for Eddie and Melissa:
Now, the good news. These three tracks are taken from Melissa’s debut CD, which contains eleven more delights. The bad news is that the CD is seriously out of print — you’ll have to hunt for it — but it is one of the great delights of my listening experience.
A few years ago I came to Sacramento, where Melissa lives, and found her to be a truly endearing person — always reassuring when the art and the creator line up in the same pleasing ways. She did not ask me to write this post, but I thought that everyone should hear one of my favorite singers.
And in 2010, Melissa created another CD — this one’s available — for the Audiophile label, called IN A MELLOW TONE. Her accompanists there were Chris Dawson, Hal Smith, Richard Simon, and Bryan Shaw.
Here’s her gorgeously poignant reading of LOVE LOCKED OUT with Chris Dawson:
Here is Melissa’s Facebook page for those so inclined. (I am.)
Now, I think — in my ideal world — I could walk over to my shelf of Melissa Collard CDs (issued and distributed by a major record label), I could turn on her weekly radio program, come to her concerts . . . and then I take a long drink of ice water and remind myself of the actual time and place I live in. That we have two CDs by Melissa is marvelous, and that she is alive and well (and teaching guitar) equally so. But I don’t think it’s unbalanced of me to think, WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?
I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many. I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?
But there are people who understand. One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others. Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer. Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable. He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others). It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.
Here’s a quick example. For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough. To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better. To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.
And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well. Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west? I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.
But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.
Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here. But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice. I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.
Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual. That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention. A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role. One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.
He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating. And his music!
In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly. But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.
I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day. Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.
Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow. I have something for you.”
These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:
Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.
And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.
T.S. Eliot had it wrong. Just another average jazz-month in New York.
P.S. This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .
One of the best living singers I know (and a subtle guitarist) is providing yet another reason to wish I was in California right now. She’s Melissa Collard — with two fine CDs to her name — and she has a steady Friday night gig. Might I suggest in the sweetest possible way, GO SEE HER . . . !
Combine a sweet voice with wise dramatic understatement, a swinging guitar accompaniment and solo, and a wide range of songs . . . that’s our Melissa, elusive for far too long.
There’s electric power, wind-driven energy, solar power, and then there’s Ray Skjelbred.
I first heard this intelligently swinging pianist when my California friend and musical guide John L. Fell sent me cassettes of the Berkeley Rhythm band — a loosely floating jazz ensemble held together by goodwill, the desire to swing, and the gentle force of Mr. Skjelbred at the piano.
When you hear Ray improvise, you think of the great players: Stacy, Melrose, Hines, Sullivan . . . but his musical wisdom exhibits itself in the same way that Basie’s did — a gentle, understated reminder of The Way . . .
Since then, I’ve bought Ray’s CDs (solo and as a member of various ensembles, with everyone from Hal Smith and Becky Kilgore to Melissa Collard and Dawn Lambeth — most recently The First Thursday Jazz Band with Steve Wright) and always found myself uplifted.
Ray doesn’t have a collection of gestures and motifs, suitable for every time the band turns the corner from C7 to F at a medium-tempo. Rather, he merges with the music and it pours through him: his energies becoming part of the band and vice versa.
For the past few years, people who don’t live close enough to Ray to see him in person have been able to do the next best thing through the generosity of Rae Ann Berry, who has been toting her video camera and tripod to festivals and jubilees where she knows Ray and his colleagues will be playing.
Most recently, Rae Ann drove from San Francisco to Oregon to capture Ray and his Cubs (named for his beloved Chicago Cubs) live at the 21st Annual Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Festival in Lacey WA. Rae Ann is a woman of discernment and diligence, so she’s posted forty-two video performances by the Cubs, which to my way of thinking isn’t one too many.
The Cubs are Kim Cusack on reeds, Katie Cavera on guitar, Clint Baker on bass, and Jeff Hamilton on drums. (Before you dive into the videos, you should also know that this band has made a wonderful CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO, for the Jazzology label.)
Here’s some of the Good Stuff:
BREEZE (BLOW MY BABY BACK TO ME):
And for the Goldkettians in the audience (I know there are many) here’s a slow-drag IDOLIZING:
One of my favorite songs is SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE. (I do, however have a logical problem with the lyrics as delivered by Kim Cusack. Can you imagine an army of lovers that would push Kim aside? for the life of me, I can’t):
I purposely chose the three videos above — not because they’re especially good — because they find Ray performing on a keyboard, not a full-size acoustic piano. Did you notice? He makes that electronic object sound like a baby grand.
Here he is on an instrument more suited to his talent, even though it’s a spinet — rocking through SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:
The good news is that there are thirty-eight more videos of the Cubs to savor. And the Cubs have gigs for 2011 and 2012.
The bad news? I’ll let Ray tell you himself, concisely:
“I broke my hip July 2, had surgery later that day, must put no weight on it for six weeks. I sadly had to cancel all my work in July and August. I believe I will be able to get back to it in September, if everything heals as it should.”
It pains me to offer that news — but I hope that for Ray and for those of us who admire and love him, those six weeks pass in the space of a George Wettling four-bar interlude.
And I would like to ask JAZZ LIVES readers to do something — not for me, but for one of our musical heroes. Send no money and no boxtops — but if you’ve drawn joy and delight from anything Ray has ever played, would you send him some healing vibrations in return? I would like to imagine the esteemed Mr. Skjelbred surrounded by love and empathy from every corner of the musical globe. Although he’s a modest man, someone seriously unconcerned with the weight of “Western ego,” I don’t think Ray would mind if we wrapped his troubles in healing dreams. And if you prefer to send your affection in the form of an email, then there’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Ray, Kim, Katie, Clint, Jeff, and Rae Ann — our generous heroes!
Here’s a delightful example of the multiculturalism that jazz embodies.
What could be more expansive than a band of French musicians (with an American pianist sitting in) playing music created by a mixture of races and ethnicities in New Orleans?
They’re playing a Hawaiian pop song (or at least its subject is Hawaii) recorded by an African-American trumpet player and singer — and my friend Melissa Collard, too.
And they’re playing it in Hungary.
Call that narrow or insular at your own peril!
The Night Owls, from Paris, play a leisurely ON A COCONUT ISLAND, at the 20th International Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 26, 2011. The Owls are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Christophe Deret, trombone; Enzo Mucci, banjo; Sebastien Girardot, string bass; Guillaume Nouaux, drums. And the meditative-looking fellow at the piano is none other than Butch Thompson!
Here she is — singer and guitarist Melissa Collard, toting that beautiful Gibson L5, ready to share her lovely music with us.
How? Is she ready to sing to us over that most archaic object, the pay phone? I wish. No, this post is to announce and celebrate something more tangible.
Melissa’s second CD — something I and other admirers from here to Tokyo have been waiting for . . . is out! It’s on the Audiophile label, titled IN A MELLOW TONE (how apt) and on it Melissa is surrounded by musical friends: Hal Smith, drums; Chris Dawson, piano; Richard Simon, bass; Bryan Shaw, trumpet / fluegelhorn.
On it, she sings and plays OUT OF NOWHERE, HOW AM I TO KNOW?. I’M CONFESSIN’, I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, IN A MELLOW TONE, JITTERBUG WALTZ, LOVE YOU MADLY, LULLABY OF THE LEAVES, INDIAN SUMMER, AS LONG AS I LIVE, WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN, IF I HAD YOU, YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY (irresistibly swinging), AZURE, SAVE YOUR SORROW, LOVE LOCKED OUT (heartbreaking), O BARQUINHO.
If Melissa’s name is new to you, it was to me some five years ago — until my new friend Barb Hauser, the royal guide to San Francisco jazz, arrived with a copy of a compact disc called OLD-FASHIONED LOVE. An attractive woman I’d never heard of was on the cover, and the band she’d assembled included some world-class talents: Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, and Ray Skjelbred among them. I was entranced by Melissa’s warmth, understanding, and swing . . . and became one of the many people who not only played that disc over and over but wrote about it wherever I could and wanted her (listeners are greedy, aren’t they?) to make another one, and another.
Here’s what I wrote about the new disc.
Great art balances paradoxes: precision and abandon, delicacy and intensity, casualness and technique. Melissa Collard’s singing exemplifies all this while sounding as artless as conversation. Melissa serves the song, displaying its contours in a restrained yet moving way, her approach changing from song to song. She loves the melody and never smudges the lyrics, but she is not imprisoned by the written music. Her improvisations are subtle yet lasting; she delicately underlines a note, pauses for a breath where we don’t expect it, bends a line up or down. Her pleasure in singing becomes ours. Hear her sing “Drifting, dreaming” on AZURE or “Honest I do,” on I’M CONFESSIN’. Because she never tries to impress listeners with her sincerity, it comes through in every bar. Her swinging momentum is a gift at any tempo, and it comes through in her guitar playing, whether she is adding fluidity to the rhythm section (I thought of Steve Jordan’s work on the Vanguard sessions) or spinning memorable lines.
She’s surrounded herself with world-class players. Richard Simon has lifted many sessions with his egoless but powerful ensemble playing, his eloquent, unfussy solos. Four bars from Chris Dawson are a master class in piano; his melodies are lovely compositions, his accompaniment a singer’s dream. Hal Smith understands everything about swinging the band: hear his wire brush and hi-hat cymbals. And Bryan Shaw’s trumpet and fluegelhorn work, glowing or dark, adds so much. These players embody the great jazz tradition while singing their own songs. On several tracks, Chris and Bryan trade phrases in charming dialogues. Jake Hanna said, “Start swinging from the beginning!” and they do just that: listen closely to YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY and I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE.
But I keep coming back to Melissa. By refusing to demand our attention through vocal pyrotechnics or drama, she focuses our attention on the quiet riches of her voice, her clear diction and pure intonation, her emotional understanding. Gently she compels us to hear – as if for the first time – what the lyricist and composer aimed for, sometimes, what they would have written had they known. She illuminates her songs, giving each performance its own logic, its own shape. Melissa imbues everything with tenderness, whether the mood is pensive (HOW AM I TO KNOW suggests players in a deserted bar at 3 AM) or exuberant (SAVE YOUR SORROW). There’s no posturing here, no self-dramatization, only warmth. Her feeling for the lyrics transforms even the well-worn IF I HAD YOU into something yearning and genuine. Yet her emotional range is complex: I hear ruefulness underneath the optimism, melancholy coloring cheerfulness. And the masterful LOVE LOCKED OUT (which Melissa calls her “protest song for our current world situation”) has a mournful sweep. Her reading of “A world without love” resonates. Yet she is not despairing but hopeful, and the intimacy she and Chris create is memorably reminiscent of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins. Melissa has a soft spot for Ellington material, and she says, “I’ve been known to list my religion as Ellingtonist.” I predict many dramatic conversions when this session is issued.
The lyrics to MELLOW TONE urge us to “make a pretty noise.” Melissa does this and so much more, sharing her great gifts with us whenever she sings.
Even though Ella Fitzgerald insisted that Connee Boswell was her first and perhaps greatest influence, Connee hasn’t been given her due. Perhaps because there hasn’t been a proper reissue of her solo recordings (as opposed to the well-deserved attention given to the recordings she made with her sisters) listeners don’t pay enough attention to her solo work. For me, she is the poet of yearning — consider the first chorus of this recording and of IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE — and then she moves from deep pathos and loss to a lighter, more jazz-like approach for the second chorus. It’s not only great singing; it’s wonderful acting and dramatization, making us forget that the song isn’t terribly deep on its own. Listen, and listen again:
And thanks to the superb singer Melissa Collard for reminding me of this YouTube posting.
After a good deal of affectionate nudging from the Beloved, whose instincts are very fine, I began this blog on February 21, 2008 with a posting about the upcoming Jazz at Chautauqua.
Today JAZZ LIVES celebrates its second birthday and it has become an addiction, an obsession, and a thorough pleasure in ways I could not have predicted.
In those two years, the blog has gotten over 150,000 hits. I am very proud of this number, but my pride and delight is not about me as much as it is about my heroes. I now know, even more than before, that there are many more people I may never meet in person who share my passion for Frank Newton and Sidney Catlett, for Eddie Condon and live jazz videos from New York City, Chautauqua, and Whitley Bay. When I check my blog in the morning, as I do, and see that people have come to JAZZ LIVES because they’ve been looking for information about Kaiser Marshall, Jon-Erik Kellso, Hal Smith, Kevin Dorn, or Melissa Collard, I am excited. People who love this music often feel cut off from it by the modern world with its own relentless thrum; JAZZ LIVES has reminded me every day that I am surrounded by like-minded, appreciative men and women.
No one’s accosted me on the street, and I don’t expect that it will happen, but I was thrilled when someone approached me at Chartwell Booksellers last December (I had a video camera at the ready) and said, “Hey, are you that blogger Jazz Lives? I commented on your blog!” or words to that effect. And I could say back to him, after hearing his name, “Yes! I remember you!”
JAZZ LIVES has given me a huge affectionate community — friends from ten miles away, from South Korea, Australia, and Istanbul. I have been fortunate in being able to reconnect with people I knew in 1974. And I am continually reminded of the global nature of the Hot jazz community. Case in point: today I was sitting in a house in Sedona, Arizona, posting YouTube videos recorded ten years ago in Sweden, shared by a Swedish collector. I did not know two of the song titles. A new blog-pal from Canada and an established cyber-scholar from Australia told me what I didn’t know, in the sweetest and most encouraging way. That’s a marvelous testimony to the powerful, loving energies this music summons up, isn’t it?
I look forward to much more fun in 2010: more postings, more discoveries, more videos . . . more, more, more!
And my readers and viewers and commenters are the wonderful stimulus, an enthusiastic, sympathetic readership.
Melissa Collard told me about this wonderful blog — “On This Day in Jazz Age Music” —http://networkedblogs.com/p28200453. The creation of Confetta Ras. She posts photographs, mp3s, sheet music, and more, celebrating the lives of musicians and personalities born on that day. As Melissa says, it’s nice to wake up and be reminded of whose birthday it is. Today, February 19, Confetta is honoring banjoist Eddie Peabody, British traditional jazz trumpeter Bill Brunskill, singer / actor / dancer John W. Bubbles . . . . and more. She’s assembled biographies, YouTube clips, song lyrics, recordings; there are listings of Jazz Age radio shows online. Wow! I’ve put it on this blogroll: pay it a visit and you’ll be entranced!
The extra-special singer and guitarist Melissa Collard sent this video of “the Tuttle Kids,” ages 10 (Michael) , 12 (Sullivan) , and 15 (Molly), sitting on the couch, their faces revealing the joy of being deep into the music, wailing away on LADY BE GOOD. Obviously someone out there loves to play and knows what it is to practice a musical instrument . . .
The singer Hanna Richardson is one of our hidden treasures — lightly swinging, earnest without being over-serious, matching her mood to the song. I’ve most often heard her alongside bassist Phil Flanigan (her husband), guitarist Chris Flory, and others of equal stature. Here she is, cheerfully sweeping away the potential angst of Billie Holiday’s FOOLIN’ MYSELF, accompanying herself adroitly on the tenor guitar, with the nifty piano playing of Patti Wicks to keep things slyly rocking. A treat! And I was informed of this YouTube clip by another rare and splendid singer, Melissa Collard.
As the waitperson says when (s)he sets your salad down in front of you, “Enjoy!”
Some history might be needed here. “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop. This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably. Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy. At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this. I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill. I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second.
I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved. In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes. I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:
“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”
Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”
“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”
Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”
“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”
So goes critical discourse at its finest!
I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth. And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it.
This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE. Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty. And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?”
If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare. See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).
In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed. But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers.
There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths. Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs. (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.) This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more.
It has had an double-edged result. On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label. But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.
This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge. But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig. We should all live and be well!
(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller. I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)
Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world. Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.
What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing). And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!” Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure. Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.
But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable. I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?” Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.
And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things. When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no. Repertoire, not manicure. No one listens to the cover.”
So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly. I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death. If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions. Is the music beautiful? Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness? Can I admire the players?
So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced. It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion. This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore. “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar. It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.
Melissa Collard pointed out this YouTube extravaganza. It has something for everyone: lovers of custom-made guitars, dog fanciers, ukulele mavens, conoisseurs of SWEET GEORGIA BROWN. Of course it comes from the dynamic duo of West Coast string music, Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod:
Here’s Meredith’s commentary: “Craig Ventresco the Mad Scientist of the Strings (as I call him) plays Sweet Georgia Brown on ukulele. This feat is especially impressive because he has his dog sleeping in his lap the whole time. He is one talented virtuoso! (Craig’s not so bad either. We almost had the dog play uke, but decided at the last minute to use Craig instead.) I accompany him on a custom-made guitar build by Todd Cambio of Wisconsin. The brand is Fraulini. Dog is Mr. Woofles. Mr. Woofles plays the ukulele about as well as Craig, and he also can perform operations in advanced algebra at the university level.”
At the suggestion of my friend Bill Gallagher, I am compiling this afternoon’s list of Desert Island Discs — named for the famous BBC radio program — and invite readers to do likewise.
The rules? There are always rules, although readers may wish to be less stringent with themselves. One item by any musician: no ostentatious duplications, although overlaps are inevitable. Box sets (a generous self-indulgence) are of course allowed and encouraged. Half of the list may be devoted to the Dearly Departed; the remainder must include a majority of living artists. Alphabetical order, so as not to imply a ranking by virtue.
Here goes (as of a snowy February 3, 2009) — done off the top of my head, without visits to the CD stacks! Try it yourself and send in your lists, which I am sure will be revealing.
Louis Armstrong 1935-49 Decca releases (Ambassador)
Bob Barnard / John Sheridan: The Nearness of Two (Nif Nuf)
BED, Four + One (Blue Swing)
The Blue Note Jazzmen (Blue Note)
Melissa Collard, Old-Fashioned Love (Melismatic)
The Vic Dickenson Showcase (Vanguard)
Eddie Condon Town Hall Concerts (Jazzology)
Billie Holiday: Lady Day (Sony)
Jon-Erik Kellso, Blue Roof Blues (Arbors)
Barbara Rosene, It Was Only A Sun Shower (Stomp Off)
Mark Shane: Riffles (Amber Lake)
I lament that I didn’t invent an Honorable Mention category — but there’s always next week, next month . . . . Then I can sneak in Dan Block, Basie at the Famous Door, the Fargo dance date, Tony Fruscella, Bix, Buck, Bobby . . . . the mind it simply reels! And if you’re going to write in, taking me to task for leaving out Bent Persson, Ben Webster (with or without strings), Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, Hal Smith, Red Allen, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Dave Frishberg, Bennie Moten in 1932, Goodman, Jess Stacy, Teddy Wilson, Mel Powell, Ehud Asherie . . . . I know, I know, I know. It’s only a game, mind you.
A delicious interlude: Lynne Koehlinger and Peter Varshavsky do an inspired Charleston routine to Jimmie Noone’s “Every Evening,” at the 2008 Gatsby Ball.
Lynne and Peter defy the laws of physics. At some points, they seem to be moving in slow motion, with every kick and turn clear, never blurred. But you know that they’re really dancing at an exhausting pace. Hard work made to seem effortless! Their routine has a lovely shape: they begin as a couple in perfect physical harmony, then break out for inspired capers during Earl Hines’s solo and the stop-time chorus, and conclude as a pair. It’s worthy of Olympic consideration. Why there isn’t a category for Jazz Dance still mystifies me. Let’s call it Hot Made Visible.
Thanks to SUN, the Singers’ Underground Network (I just made that up) of Meredith Axelrod and Melissa Collard, who passed this gem on to me. And now, to you.
Melissa Collard should be someone readers of this blog know and admire. Her first CD, OLD FASHIONED LOVE, is a treasure. Rumor has it that she and Hal Smith have completed a second one, which is great news.
Meredith Axelrod, who often works with guitar genius Craig Ventresco, has thoroughly internalized the vocal styles of the early twentieth-century in a way both eerie and exhilirating.
Getting from New York to Maui (with a brief stopover in Los Angeles) is not all that arduous, and we are lucky to have such travel plans. But time spent in an airplane seat tends to drag (the recycled air, the shrinking space one is allowed, the stranger who wants ever so eagerly to talk about life in the plaster business) so the iPod is more and more a blessing. (With noise-cancelling earbuds, of course.)
Here’s my entirely self-referential list of what I was listening to on this most recent trip, in no order of preference:
John Gill, LEARN TO CROON (from his upcoming CD of the same name for Stomp Off, honoring Bing Crosby)
Jeff Healey / Dick Sudhalter / John R.T. Davies, A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH AND YOU (from”Among Friends”)
Louis Armstrong and assorted Hawaiians including Lionel Hampton, TO YOU, SWEETHEART, ALOHA, and ON A COCONUT ISLAND (good psychic warmups for the islands)
the Norman Payne tracks from the two-CD set, “The Influence of Bix Beiderbecke” on Jass Masters
Jon-Erik Kellso / Scott Robinson / Mark Shane, ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY, from Jon-Erik’s “Remembering Ruby,” on Gen-Erik Records
Connee Boswell / Bunny Berigan, IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE, and ME MINUS YOU (Mosaic)
Jack Teagarden, THANK YOUR FATHER, “1930 Studio Sessions,” (Jazz Oracle)
The Blue Note Jazzmen, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (both takes)
Ehud Asherie, A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID, from “Swing Set,” on Posi-Tone Records
the four new CDs Anthony Barnett has released on his AB Fable label — devoted to Eddie South and a variety of improvising violinists and hot string ensembles
Melissa Collard, WHEN SOMEBODY THINKS YOU’RE WONDERFUL, from “Old Fashioned Love,” Melismatic Records
Becky Kilgore / Dave Frishberg, SAY IT, from “Why Fight the Feeling?” on Arbors Records
There was more music, but I’m trying to save something for the return trip. I bought a car kit for the iPod and have (by mutual consent) been playing the early Thirties recordings of the Mills Brothers. And marveling, of course — although the back seat of the tiny rental car sometimes starts to feel crowded, even with only one guitar.
Like you, I tried to imagine all those players assembled in one place and failed. But everything is possible on YouTube. Melissa Collard called my attention to the Don Redman / Betty Boop clip, circa 1932-33.
Has anyone written a history of Max and Dave Fleischer and associates? I know there are Betty Boop fanciers, but I wonder about Fleischer’s choosing famous African-American jazz musicians and their bands in his cartoons. Did he love the music? Or was it because he could get these bands and players (think of Louis, Cab, and an uncredited Luis Russell ensemble) fairly inexpensively? Anyway, here is I HEARD:
The opening theme is CHANT OF THE WEED — the vipers’ theme song, punctuated by wood blocks and the oceanic swaying on beautifully-dressed musicians. Then we enter the deliciously surrealistic world of the Never Mine — the noon whistle eating its lunch, the beaver cooking pancakes on its tail. Not to mention the whole peristaltic underground travel system. All of this while Redman himself sings HOW’M I DOIN’? I hope he didn’t mind being transformed on film into a canine member of the waitstaff. Betty’s vocal (presumably that is Mae Questel) is also accompanied by a miniature mixed choir who pop in and out of the staircase in time.
When the lunch hour is through (note how that whistle lets everyone know) all the miners reverse their steps — going back under the shower which now rains down filth so they are suitably attired for the mine — to the strains of I HEARD. Don’t miss the cat-telephone-switchboard while Claude Jones, Ed Inge, and Bob Carroll have brief solo spots before Don’s vocal. It’s hard to keep up with the action of a terrifying descent down an elevator shaft (Betty, characteristically, loses her dress for a moment), ghosts playing baseball with a bomb — all the nightmare anyone could imagine while the Redman band plays goblin music. But everything ends well — the bomb does the miners’ work for them and they can go home to the strains of WEED, which is perhaps an in-joke here.
These cartoons happily mix the surreal and the swinging, the wild camera angles anticipating later films.
After that, almost anything would seem sedate. However, an Eddie Condon group (circa 1952) does its best in real time, no animation, working out on FIDGETY FEET with Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Condon himself, an off-camera Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman. (I was reminded of this and the last clip by Loren Schoenberg.)
The Mob seems to be doing a gig on an aircraft carrier, but that’s of less import than the fine sound and the beautiful interplay of this group. They had performed FIDGETY FEET thousands of times at the club, so the routines are razor-sharp in performance, but what I delight in here is the collective exuberance, particularly that rhythm section. Cliff Leeman!
And watching a very expert and enthusiastic Gene Schroeder makes us remember just how much piano he played, night after night, without anyone paying sufficient attention. (He made one 78 session, four songs, as a leader, for the Black and White label, in 1944, but he deserved more.) And Condon himself, so often slyly categorized as someone who talked more than played and drank more than he talked, shows how he directed and drove this band. Imperishable stuff, fierce and compact at the same time.
Finally, how about seeing — not just hearing — Lester Young play POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS?
The rhythm section on this Art Ford telecast (from 1958, I believe) is Ray Bryant on a terrible piano, a happy Vinnie Burke on bass, and an unacknowledged drummer who sweeps his brushes most respectfully. Yes, the clip is out of synch, but that adds to the poignant dreaminess of the performance, with Rex Stewart wandering in the shot. Since there’s so little Lester on film, this is even more precious.
What follows suggests that no one — at the moment — recognized how beautiful a performance it was, or perhaps it was just that Art Ford (and his passel or posse of jazz critics at home, ready to call in) had to “keep it rolling.” Sylvia Syms, with the same rhythm and a perky Rex Stewart offstage, wisely change the mood. Who would be foolish enough to follow Lester in the same lovely, mournful mood?
The first clip, merging DARK EYES and ST. LOUIS BLUES, is from 1936 and features Jerome Darr (guitar), Bruce Randolph (kazoo), Arthur Brooks (piano), Len Harrison (spoons), Harold Randolph (kazoo), Derek Neville (alto sax), and Bruce Johnson (washboard).
In this 1933 clip (very brief), the Serenaders treat us to a wild “A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN.”
They didn’t have the finesse of the great bands of the period, but they are incendiary in their own fashion. Thanks to the wondrous singer and musical thinker Melissa Collard for pulling my coat to these YouTube clips.