Tag Archives: memory

“OH, MEMORY! OH, MEMORY!”: The MANHATTAN RAGTIME ORCHESTRA at THE CAJUN, PART ONE: JOHN GILL, MATTHEW SZEMELA, JON-ERIK KELLSO, CONAL FOWKES, BRAD SHIGETA, PETE MARTINEZ, JESSE GELBER, ROB GARCIA (July 13, 2006)

The power of memory:

That girl, and the story of that girl, are both imperishable.  Not only does Mr. Bernstein recall her, but everyone who has ever seen CITIZEN KANE recalls him recalling her.  Or so I hope.

Music, so powerful and so multi-layered, is more slippery in the memory, giving us a mixture of sensations and emotions.  Of course people remember Louis playing 250 high C’s, but how many people can recall with clarity a performance full of lights and shadings that happened once, on the spot, and then was over?

Fortunately we have recording equipment of all kinds, and to think of what would have happened to jazz without it is impossible.  But here’s a New York story with gratifications attached, not simply narratives of what happened.

Exhibit A, “The Big Easy”:

Exhibit B, courtesy of eBay:

Exhibit C, self-explanatory:

In 2005, when I was once again free to explore, I discovered The Cajun, a traditional-jazz club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.  It closed in late summer 2006, and it was obliterated to become luxury housing, alas.

The owners were Herb Maslin and Arlene Lichterman (Arlene is still with us) and at our first encounter I offered to help publicize the club, even though I had not yet imagined having a jazz blog.  I was writing for The Mississippi Rag and other jazz periodicals, and offered help with press releases.  She was eager to have what festival promoters call Asses in Seats, so I could come anytime and make notes on performances and the general ambiance.  I was free to modestly of generic food.  (I worked my way through the menu, an explorer looking for edible land.)

I have said elsewhere that I’d seen people of my vintage shooting videos of their grandchildren and the ducks on the pond, and it dawned on me that I could buy one to document the music I and others loved.  Exhibit B was, after Flip, my first real video camera.  It recorded on 30-minute mini-DVDs, difficult to transfer, but it worked in the odd lighting and the built-in microphone was acceptable, especially when I sat close to the band.  At the time, I did not know what I might do with the discs — YouTube was only allowing postings of no more than ten minutes and my editing skills were not even rudimentary — but the thought of capturing what would otherwise be evanescent was entrancing.

Thirteen years later, I uncovered a number of videos from 2006: a small stack of mini-DVDs in plastic cases still sits in a bookcase as I write this.  Some videos, when I shared them with the participants (I ask permission first, the videographer’s “informed consent”) created hot-jazz-PTSD, and will remain unseen.  But the four sets of the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra pleased my hero John Gill, and the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, who encouraged me to  post them so that this splendid band would not be just a memory or a record.  I canvassed the musicians, some of whom are friends, and those who responded agreed that these performances should be enjoyed now.

John continues to believe in the music: he told an interviewer long ago, “It’s music of the people. It’s open and honest and straightforward and comes to you with open arms,” and he continues to live that truth in New Orleans.

Here is the first hour of music (a set-and-a-half of four) from the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, playing their own warm, spirited “radical pop music”: John is on banjo and vocals, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matthew Szemela, violin; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for leader Orange Kellin); Jesse Gelber, piano; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.

No tricks, no funny hats, no gimmicks: just real music.  A woman fanning herself: it was July.

Part One, including PORTO RICO / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEE NAH NAH (Gill vocal) with Arlene Lichterman cameos / BUDDY’S HABITS / HOME IN PASADENA (Gill) / HIAWATHA (Lizard On A Rail) / DEAR HEART – I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES //

Part Two, including a Buddy Bolden Medley: DON’T GO WAY, NOBODY – MAKIN’ RUNS / CONGO LOVE CALL / BOUNCING AROUND / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (closing theme) / CREOLE BELLES (Gill) / A BUNCH OF BLUES //

To me, much more gratifying that a fleeting glimpse of a girl and her parasol.  And there is another forty-five minutes of music to come.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL DANCE MUSIC: HENDERSONIA at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Here is one of the high points of a wonderful tribute to Fletcher Henderson’s “Connie’s Inn Orchestra,” led by Claus Jacobi, saxophone, with Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, Menno Daams, trumpet / cornet; Kristoffer Kompen, Graham Hughes, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Claus Jacobi, reeds; Keith Nichols, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar; Malcolm Sked, bass; Richard Pite, drums. Recorded on November 8, 2014, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

The song?  STARDUST.  What could be more beautiful? And this performance speaks to a time when rhythmic ballads could be both hot and tender, when improvisation could also be romantic dance music, when African-American bands could venture into Caucasian pop music . . . and play it beautifully. And the quietly eloquent shadow of Bix is evident throughout. (Would this performance also be possible without the genial angelic guidance of Louis?  I think not.) A profound gentle lyricism in dance tempo — a great achievement then and now (with heroic subtle playing from Mister Daams and the band as a whole).

Oh, memory.  Oh, memory.

May your happiness increase!

“THE MEMORY OF THINGS”

“The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician,” Louis Armstrong said. “Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the backyard on a hot night, or something said long ago.”

You don’t have to be Louis to draw pleasure from remembering . . . . perhaps by recalling these things, they are no longer gone from us.

But he provides the soundtrack to our thoughts — from 1956, with George Barnes, Ed Hall, Trummy Young, Lucky Thompson, Billy Kyle . . .

CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO REMEMBER THE MUSICIANS

 https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

REMEMBER!

It’s very important to me that the musicians I love never get forgotten. 

I know that the man-and-woman-on-the-street in 2011 don’t recognize the names Joe Oliver or Herbie Nichols.  That might be inevitable, but I don’t want these figures and a thousand others to be forgotten even more than they are now.

So I am sending out a global cyber-request.  Send no money, clicks, tweets, proofs of purchase, or boxtops.

But if your Mom or Dad was a musician or singer of note, your Uncle or Aunt or Grandpa . . . would you get in touch with me and consider telling your stories? 

I would be delighted to use JAZZ LIVES to celebrate my artistic heroes and heroines.  We could do a telephone interview (to be transcribed and printed here); we could talk face-to-face; I could take photographs of memorabilia; I could even bring my videocamera if you don’t live more than ____ hours away from New York City.

I’m absolutely serious.  My email is swingyoucats@gmail.com

And I understand that there are many jazz-children who would regard this request with puzzlement or suspicion, if their experiences made them sad.  I was once given the telephone number of the daughter of a musician, then dead, whose name you would recognize.  I called her and asked if she would be willing to talk to me about her father, and she was very politely puzzled, “What would I say to you?” she asked.  And she asked if I could call her back some other time, which I took (perhaps correctly) as a very veiled “No, thank you.”  

I promise I am not looking to pry or to uncover traumas.  But I am a born hero-worshipper, and I think many of my readers are too. 

And — if you are reading this entry and thinking, “Well, I didn’t have the good fortune to be Henry “Red” Allen’s son, but I did see him play,” I would be delighted to hear or read and print that story too.

Consider this blog a collective memory bank: no minimum deposits, everything repaid with grateful interest.

WRITE NOW!

images

The American novelist William Maxwell (1908-2000), who wrote searchingly and lovingly about his Illinois childhood, told an interviewer late in life that if people didn’t write down what they remembered, so many beautiful things would vanish forever. 

Maxwell was right, and I am reminded of this now more than ever before.

One of the Beloved’s friends has endured the deaths of her parents, both in their early nineties, in the past year.  I met her parents twice.  They had been political activists in the Thirties; the husband, a writer, had worked with Langston Hughes.  When they heard that I was immersed in the jazz of their era, they — in turn — became happily animated.  They had been to Cafe Society; they had heard Billie Holiday and Fats Waller frequently; they had particularly loved a pianist who played on Fifty-Second Street but couldn’t immediately call his name to mind.  (He was Clarence Profit.)  They had been at the 1941 Count Basie recording session when Paul Robeson tried to sing Richard Wright’s blues in praise of Joe Louis, KING JOE.

Each of these comments seemed to me like a doorway into the miraculous past: people stting in the same room had been there.  They had seen my heroes; they might have magical narratives to share. 

Of course, they no longer remembered any details.  Robeson had had a hard time; the clubs on Fifty-Second Street had been a  great pleasure; they beamed as we exchanged the magic names.  I had come too late.  And they took their stories with them.

I urge my readers to ask questions of the Elders of the Tribe.  The Elders don’t have to be musicians; they can be someone’s aunt, who owned a candy store where Ellington would buy cigarettes.  Or we ourselves can be the Elders, contributing our own memories before they — and we — vanish.  I never saw Clarence Profit, but I did see Bobby Hackett indicating to the band the tempo he wanted for the next number by clicking his tuning slide back and forth in time.  Having written that down, I have hopes that it has a less evanescent existence. 

What do you remember?

JAMES STEVENSON REMEMBERS CONDON’S

from THEW NEW YORK TIMES, September 4, 2009:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/06/05/opinion/20090904_opart.html

MY MOTHER AND THE COTTON CLUB

Sometime before 1928, my mother, a curly-headed child, is leaning out of a window, fascinated by the passers-by on — let us say — 135th Street in Harlem. In that same year, in a different part of the city, my father, dressed in a suit and a shirt with a painfully high collar, but having trouble hiding a smile, sits in the photographer’s studio, his mandolin on his lap. 

My mother’s image exists only in my imagination; I can pick up the framed photograph and stare at it.  These are my parents as the children I never knew, well before I was even an idea.  But music ties these memories together, and ties them to my life.   

At this late date, with my adolescence forty years gone, I think of how many hours I spent in my upstairs room in the suburban house my mother kept tidy, my father maintained.  I was constantly playing jazz records, surely too loudly.  The archaic but thrilling music of the 1920s and 1930s.  Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Eddie Condon, Bessie Smith. 

My mother died in 2000, my father in 1982.  What do I recall of their stories of their own childhoods? 

She told me about wanting a dog as a child and her grandfather bringing her “a white ball of fur” when she was sick in bed with scarlet fever, a dog that grew up to be a beloved chow. 

My father told me of his (entirely unaggressive) gang of Brooklyn boys – all with nicknames.  I remember only that one was Doc, another pair Itch and Scratch.  And their joke — perhaps beloved in his generation, his neighborhood? — to go under the window of your apartment and holler up to your mother, “Ma!  Throw me down a roll and a glass of water!” 

In my childhood, years later, while my father was working around the house, he sang the pop hits of his adolescence — in snippets, so that I didn’t know that they were real songs until I heard Bing Crosby and others sing them, twenty years later: “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “A Faded Summer Love,” “I Faw Down and Go Boom,” and more. 

cotton-club1

Some years after my mother died, my sister said, casually, “Did Mom ever tell you about the Cotton Club?”  I know I said, What?” and stared at her.  “Mom said that when she was a little girl — they lived in Harlem, you know — she would look out the window or sit out on the front stoop and watched the beautifully-dressed black people — so beautifully dressed with fine hats and gloves — on their way to the Cotton Club.”  I imagine one of them might have looked like the beautiful woman in this James Van Der Zee photograph.

vanderzee pretty girl

It pains me now that I did not know this, and that my mother (even with those Harlem rhythms of my records, years later, pounding above her head in her suburban kitchen) never thought to tell me.  I could have said, “Mom, what did those people look like?”  “Did you ever walk by the Cotton Club in the daytime?  The Savoy Ballroom?  The Renaissance?” and on and on.  I console myself that what is now critically interesting to me might not have occupied a great deal of space in her memory.  I didn’t think to ask my father, “When did your family get a radio, and what programs do you remember listening to?  Did you ever see any swing bands live?”   

Of course, my mother’s story is a myth, easily punctured and brought down to earth by facts.  I gather that the audiences at the Cotton Club were white.  And did the entertainment start so early that she was able to sit on the steps, perhaps on a hot summer night long after little girls were supposed to be asleep, watching the people?  Was she up early in the morning watching them come home?  Did she see musicians and dancers on their way to other clubs?  Could she have unwittingly seen someone whose music I now revere?  What details was she unwittingly misremembering?  But none of those details truly matter.  The fuzziness, the half-wrongness of the story is essential to its charm, its enchantment. 

That story is one of only a few windows I have into the life of my parents before I was born, before I saw them as My Parents, In Charge Of Everything.  I recall with cinematic force those rare moments when they gleefully revealed something of their youthful romantic selves.  Once, because of a record I was playing, they broke out of Being Parents to show me, in the living room with its gray rug, how they danced the Shag in the mid-forties.  That bit of unexpected choreography lasted no more than twenty seconds, but it is indelible today. 

There’s no moral to this tale, no implicit suggestion to readers, whether they are parents or children.  Many of the questions that we want to ask we can no longer ask, and the dead take their past lives and their untold stories with them.  But the glimpses they give of what it was like Before The World Was Made are tantalizing, lovely, elusive.