Tag Archives: Mike Durham

WE LOST A CHAMPION: MIKE DURHAM

Mike Durham died this morning, peaceably, his family at his bedside.  He had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer six or seven weeks ago.

Some of you might not know Mike Durham — from Newcastle, England.  He played trumpet, cornet, and kazoo; he sang; he told stories and jokes; he ran a large-scale jazz party (the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival or the Classic Jazz Party) for over two decades.

But all that is not as important as the feeling Mike inspired in people.  When I heard of his death this morning, the words that leaped into my head were Eddie Condon’s — when Eddie was asked to comment on the death of Edmond Hall. And those words are my title.  Mike would be happy to be mentioned in the same paragraph with Eddie and Edmond, for they made his kind of music.  And the reverse was also true.

Mike had so many aspects or facets that it is hard to know where to start — should I begin with the trumpeter, jazz scholar, festival creator, charming man?

He had a deep sense of humor, so perhaps I will begin this post with an example of Mike in action (in front of my video camera, no less) — essaying a Ted Lewis favorite.  Mike would have been amused by the juxtaposition of that title and this occasion, I assure you:

You see there a sly singer, a terse but effective trumpeter (when I first began to hear Mike, I knew he was no exhibitionist, but a subtle creator of epigrams, some sweet, some naughty).  But I first came to know him as the indefatigable organizer of the annual Whitley Bay extravaganzas.  He was gracious and kind, but efficient — and often just a touch exasperated — because he was someone for whom the difference between EXACTLY RIGHT and ALMOST THERE was clear.  So I regret that I rarely had the time to see him when he was not in motion.  I knew, however, that he was a man with depths.

In the four years I knew him (those weekends plus emails) when we could stop talking about the music that was swirling all around us, Mike would speak about something that always surprised me: his experiences in America while working for Proctor and Gamble (or, if I misremember, the large ad agency that handled P&G); his experiences with race relations in the American Midwest; his memories of his father; his serious love of American poetry — ranging from Emily Dickinson to the moderns, all of which he could recite at will.  Right now the Mike I miss is not simply the trumpet player or singer, but the serious man whose utterances, never pompous, seemed deeply felt and deeply observed — I always went away from a conversation with Mike with his gently vehement words ringing in my head.  (By “gently vehement” I mean that he was soft-spoken but emphatic, and his conversation gave one the sense that he had a clear sense of where he was going when he began . . . he didn’t ramble, meander, or repeat himself.)  We had discussed plans to have dinner sometime and actually speak of things . . . but it never came to pass, so the half-dozen hallway conversations were all I ever got to savor.

But I knew him through the music.  Mike loved and understood the hot jazz that shone and blossomed between the wars, and he and his friends took great pleasure in exploring those pathways on their own.  He loved it when a band “got hot” and made the patrons and the room rock.  And you could feel and see his pleasure whether he was leading the band or standing off to one side, tuxedo-clad, ready to introduce the next song.

His pleasure in the music was more serious, his belief in the purity of Hot was deeper than most people’s, and it resulted in his more than two decades’ of nearly religious devotion to its ideals.  Mike didn’t think that simply playing his cornet (he was a great collector of brass instruments) with the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings or playing his records for friends was enough — the music deserved better.  So his Whitley Bay parties were the most vivid, lively, and entertaining jazz “museums” I have ever encountered.  With a cast of international jazz characters — male and female, European, Asian, and South American as well as the usual types — he strove to make the music come alive in front of our eyes and ears.  He didn’t mind an ad hoc group of fellows and gals romping through LESTER LEAPS IN, but that was for the after-hours jam session in the Victory Pub.  Mike’s idea of honoring jazz was serious, and it required much work: to have bands playing the music of particularly notable ensembles and soloists — playing it well, playing it accurately with fervor.  I will offer a video example at the end of this blogpost so that you may understand what Mike did — working all year with his beloved wife Patti — so that we should know what the past REALLY must have sounded like.  And the Rhythmakers, Bix and his Gang, the 1937 Goodman band, Louis and Lillie Delk Christian, and more.  In 2012, he was recovering from an operation and was unable to play the trumpet, but he was a marvel of intense focus and energy — jazz listeners will understand so well that it is not only the musicians on the stand that make the music happen, but the festival organizer who has planned everything twelve months in advance.

A good deal of Mike’s catch-his-breath conversation was based on jokes . . . most of which were new to me, and he never got offended when I held up my hand and said, “Let me save your energy.  Is the punchline ‘And she won’t either?'”  He would move on to one that was even better.

Here I turn to my friend Bob (Sir Robert) Cox, who tells a story: “I knew Mike for 5 years, he always had ready wit and a story or joke to tell.

He was a great fan of Humphrey Lyttelton and his ‘Antidote to panel games’ I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue‘.  Four years ago Mike did a tribute to Humph to include his music and wit.  Unfortunately, Mike left all his notes at home but managed to deliver a side splitting 50 minutes using quotes from a book of Humph’s I just happened to have with me and hastily scribbled notes I handed him from my memory about Samantha, Humph’s scorer on the programme.

Samantha has to go now as she’s off to meet her Italian gentleman friend who’s taking her out for an ice cream.  She says she likes nothing better than to spend the evening licking the nuts off a large Neapolitan.

I will miss Mike as a friend and generous jazz patron.”

Patti Durham very kindly emailed me the news of Mike’s death; it was one of the first things I read this morning.  Later today, at work, I encountered a colleague who told me of the death of her beloved partner — they had been together for four decades — and we both had a hard time not breaking down in the corridor.  With a lump in my throat, I said to her, “The dead know when we weep over them,” something I deeply believe to be true.

But Mike was so impish that I think the tears I shed over him should be in the form of hot jazz.  He was so open-handed in the music he gave us, the music he made possible, that I will close with this video — a small group led by Michel Bastide performing WA WA WA.  “Why is that appropriate for memorial?” some of you might ask.  Oliver, you might know, was a genius at making human sounds with his cornet and a variety of mutes; one of his specialties was imitating a baby crying (he and Bill Johnson had worked up an act that satirized how Caucasian and African-American babies cried).  So my tears, our tears for Mike, will be expressed in JAZZ LIVES through a song whose title reminds me of weeping:

Yes, the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party will go on — as a living, energized memorial to Mike, run by several of the musicians and his young acolytes Julio and Jonathan.  I am certain of this, and have booked a hotel room for that weekend.

I know, however, that I will be shocked a dozen or more times during the long jazz weekend because I will be looking for Mike — well-groomed, tall and slender, running his hand through his white hair in polite exasperation at something . . . the fact that I can’t sit him down and say, “Tell me more!” will make me sad whenever I think of him.

We lost a champion.  We really did.

I send love and sorrow to Patti, Cassie, Chris, and the extended family.  And now I can write no more.

Mike and Patti Durham

Mike and Patti Durham

 

P.S.  For details of Mike’s funeral (March 21, 2013) please click here.    

May your happiness increase.

“LIVE SPORT”: A JAM SESSION AFTER HOURS IN THE VICTORY PUB, NEWCASTLE (Oct. 28-29, 2012) with the STARS of THE WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Once more . . . if “Mister Mike” isn’t someone recognizable to you, would you kindly take a minute and read this?  It would mean a great deal to many people, and, to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie, “No him, no this.”

“This” turns out to be my video record of the closing notes of the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — a jam session on Sunday night held in the Victory Pub of the Village Newcastle.  Some of the details are indistinct — I would have made a very bad spy — because a video camera, even on a tripod, is an ungainly dance partner.  I wrote down personnels on the back of two JAZZ LIVES cards, which have now vanished into that place where Things That Vanish go.  So if I’ve left out the name of a noble participant, email me at swingyoucats@gmail.com. and tell me.

Or you can simply observe musicians brilliantly at play in the dark.

LONESOME BLUES (from the Hot Five book) Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Martin Litton, keyboard — he deserves a grand piano! — ; Roly Veitch, guitar; Josh Duffee, drums):

AFTER YOU’VE GONE (Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Martin Litton, keyboard; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Josh Duffee, drums):

I NEVER KNEW Andy Schumm, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, Norman Field, reeds; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone, and others):   

ONCE IN A WHILE (for Louis and the Hot Five — performed by Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, Norman Field, reeds; Spats Langham, guitar; Manu Hagmann, bass; Josh Duffee, drums, and others):

MY MELANCHOLY BABY (traditionally the dreaded request by inebriated patrons in the bar, but Spats Langham turns it into a masterpiece of tender swing here, aided by Andy Schumm, cornet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone; Michael McQuaid, alto saxophone, Josh Duffee, drums. The admiring watchers include Frans Sjostrom, Martin Wheatley, Stephane Gillot):

I SAW STARS (which I associate with the 1934 debut of Django and Stephane on Ultraphone — here rendered with sweet fervor by Roly Veitch, guitar / vocal; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert, Michael McQuaid, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums):

Then, as if by magic, the scene shifted . . . suddenly it was 1941; we were at Minton’s (or someplace north of 125th Street in Harlem, New York City; I had turned into Jerry Newman, recording swing-to-bop for posterity . . . you’ll hear what I mean.

LESTER LEAPS IN (Martin Litton, keyboard; Michael McQuaid, alto saxophone; Rico Tomasso, Andy Schumm, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone; Martin Wheatley, Roly Veitch, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums):

TOPSY (Martin Litton, keyboard; Michael McQuaid, alto saxophone; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone; Martin Wheatley, Roly Veitch, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums):

After those last notes had stopped echoing, I (and some others) made our weary, happy way to bed . . . rocking gently on what we had heard, dreaming sweetly of the 2013 Party.

For Mister Mike.

And, as always, tickets are on sale to the 2013 Party, the best-organized high-spirited living jazz museum, here.

May your happiness increase.

ONE MORE FOR MISTER MIKE: “NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE”: MICHAEL McQUAID’S HALFWAY HOUSE ORCHESTRA at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Oct. 28, 2012)

If “Mister Mike” isn’t someone recognizable to you, would you kindly take a minute and read this?  It would mean a great deal to many people, and (to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie) “No him, no this.”

In a rollicking tribute to the under-acknowledged Halfway House Orchestra, a memorable amalgam of hot and sweet, Michael McQuaid leads his ebullient troops onwards at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (this session recorded on Oct. 28, 2012): Andy Schumm, cornet; Michael and Stephane Gillot, reeds; Martin Seck, piano; Spats Langham, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass / brass bass; Nick Ward, drums.

PUSSY CAT RAG (with Stephane acting the part of Leon Roppolo):

LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART:

SQUEEZE ME (with the authentically wrong verse):

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:

IT BELONGS TO YOU:

SNOOKUM:

LOVE DREAMS:

I WANT SOMEBODY TO LOVE:

JUST PRETENDING:

If you’ve wondered why people are so passionate about the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, this music should be convincing on its own.  But please notice: the best international musicians diving deep into under-explored but rewarding songs and repertoire.  Other festivals provide their own blend of pleasures, but Whitley Bay is and has been remarkable for just this . . . a vivid embodiment of Gavin Stevens’ words in a William Faulkner novel: “The past isn’t dead.  It’s not even past.”  Especially not when it sounds like this!

And, as always, tickets are on sale to the 2013 Party, that hot cornucopia, here.

May your happiness increase.

“SAY A WEE PRAYER” FOR MIKE DURHAM

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010.  Photo by Michael Steinman

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann, pensive, at Whitley Bay, probably 2010. Photo by Michael Steinman

I last saw trumpeter / singer / benefactor / tireless festival organizer Mike Durham in November 2012 at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  Although he was recovering from minor surgery, he was entirely himself, masterfully running the huge enterprise with wit and love.

A few weeks into 2013, I was told that he was suffering from a grave illness and would not recover — news I was asked to keep to myself.

Yesterday, his daughter posted this on Facebook:

Dear Mike’s Facebook friends….for those of you that do not know already, I have some sad news.  This is Cassie Durham, Mike’s daughter, and I am writing to tell you that Dad is seriously ill having being diagnosed with terminal (and untreatable) brain tumours on January 22nd.  Things have moved on very fast and he is now in a hospice in Newcastle.  I could not think of another way of letting everyone know and this seemed a good an option as any.  As you can imagine, it has been a huge shock to Mum and Dad and my brother and I and all I can say is that he is comfortable and is not in any pain….say a wee prayer for him all of you – thanks.

This news makes me so sad.  I will have more to say about Mike eventually, but I thought, “Since we can send love through the universe just in our focused thoughts, why not send some of it to a man who has brought nothing but love to us?”  

I don’t mean a message to his family — who must be suffering with what is unendurable already.  But I would like to imagine Mike comforted by love.   

If you’ve appreciated any of the videos I and others have taken at Whitley Bay; if you’ve dug Mike’s own playing live or on disc; if you’ve had a good time because of him, send him a wordless THANKS.  

A “wee prayer” is never wasted.    

And here’s a JAZZ LIVES prayer suggestion.  Find a track with a hot trumpet passage and play it louder than usual.  Play it again.  

May the gentle spirits of Louis, Papa Joe, Muggsy, and Mike’s other friends and heroes guide him from one bandstand to the next.

“This one’s for you, Papa Mike.”

Here’s Mike in action — as trumpeter and spiritual leader — in a jam session at the Victory Pub in July 2010, with friends Andy Schumm, Martin Seck, Attila Korb, and ten others, moving easily through MY GAL SAL.  Mike gave us two gifts: not only did he play his horn but he made it possible for lovely jazz to go on all around him:

And the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party is rolling along — musicians booked, tickets sold, everything pointed forward under the guidance of some of Mike’s devoted musician friends and his two young lieutenants Julio Schwarz Andrade and Jonathan David Holmes . . . so the music will go on, as he would have wanted.

May your happiness increase.

“SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT”: THE RETURN OF THE DIXIE SYNCOPATORS at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (October 28, 2012)

A hot band is good to find.  And this splendid evocation of romping big band jazz is a special treat — led by pianist / scholar Keith Nichols at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party on October 28, 2012, it evokes King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators, a particular favorite of the guiding genius of the Classic Jazz Party, Mike Durham.

Alongside Keith, there are Duke Heitger (trumpet, vocal), Andy Schumm (cornet); Kristoffer Kompen (trombone); Gavin Lee, Matthias Seuffert, Rene Hagmann, reeds, with a guest appearance from Norman Field; Martin Wheatley (banjo); Phil Rutherford (brass bass), Josh Duffee (drums).

TOO BAD:

DEEP HENDERSON (the reference in the title is to a river, not to Fletcher or Horace):

SNAG IT (with vocal refrain by Mr. Heitger):

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART (with a guest appearance by Mr. Field as Mr. Dodds):

DOCTOR JAZZ:

WANG WANG BLUES:

SUGAR FOOT STOMP:

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT:

For Mister Mike.  And, as always, tickets are on sale to the 2013 Party, the garden of delights, here.

May your happiness increase.

BEAU KOO LOUIS: BENT PERSSON’S SAVOY BALLROOM FIVE at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (October 28, 2012)

The music that Louis Armstrong and colleagues made in 1928 Chicago remains vivid.  But aside from WEST END BLUES and NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (the latter a song Ruby Braff particularly liked) the repertoire hasn’t been explored all that much, perhaps because the Don Redman arrangements are complex.

BEAU KOO JACK was once a famous showpiece, a way to honor Louis: hear the 1929 Earl Hines band’s recording for Victor, with the trumpet section doing a splendid job of becoming the Master in triplicate:

Thus, the idea of Bent Persson and his noble colleagues playing this music in front of me at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party was something I looked forward to with great eagerness.  And I was not disappointed.  You won’t be either.

Bent’s Savoy Ballroom Five (but who’s counting?) are Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Michael McQuaid, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Martin Litton, piano; Spats Langham, banjo and guitar; Nick Ward, drums (including the delightfully idiomatic and rare “bockety-bock” cymbals in honor of Zutty Singleton); Rico Tomasso, vocal and trumpet.

FIREWORKS (aptly titled):

SKIP THE GUTTER:

KNEE DROPS (what are knee drops?  A dance maneuver, something to eat, or an ailment?):

TWO DEUCES (celebrating the friendship of Louis and Earl, I assume):

NO, PAPA, NO (or simply NO), by Victoria Spivey:

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (Rico on trumpet for Bent):

ST. JAMES INFIRMARY (with an atmospheric vocal by Rico):

GRANDPA’S SPELLS (a duet for Bent and Martin Litton, with a solo taken from the Hot Chorus book):

SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA (vocalizing by the romantic Mr. Tomassi):

BEAU KOO JACK (“lots of money,” you dig?):

Beaucoup jazz!  And this one’s for Mister Mike.  Visit here to find out more about the 2013 Party, where marvels like this blossom.

May your happiness increase.

“FORTY YEARS OF JAZZ”: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ORIGINAL THINKER — at the 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (October 28, 2012)

Many of the most admired jazz improvisers don’t sit down and “compose” music on manuscript paper; rather, they invent new compositions on the spot while playing.

The reed master Matthias Seuffert is a heartening exception, and this set at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, “Forty Years of Jazz,” allowed him to show off more of his considerable talents.  The premise was remarkable in itself: Matthias presented original compositions that evoked the first four decades of jazz and paid tribute to the great figures.

The set also displayed the marvelous professionalism of the players, for I suspect that some of them were seeing these scores for the second time in their lives.  The music would have been more polished had there been several long rehearsals, but it exuberantly got to the heart of things.

The players are Matthias, reeds and a surprise vocal; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Martin Litton, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums.

For Louis and Earl, circa 1928 — SATCHELMOUTH STRUT:

Mr. Beiderbecke, meet Mr. Trumbauer — TAKE A TRAM TO BIXVILLE:

For Fats Waller and his Rhythm — a special tribute to Mike Durham, the generous genius of the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, with a heartfelt vocal by Matthias — WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT YOU?:

The one, the only Coleman Hawkins — FOR THE BEAN (or TO FATHER BEAN):

Ditto for Edward Kennedy Ellington — SOPHISTICATED EDDIE:

For BG, Teddy, and Gene — OPUS 5/6 or 7/8:

And a mid-Forties reconsideration of “I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA,” in which she definitely has a new outfit — VIRGINIA BOP:

What an imagination!

May your happiness increase.