Tag Archives: Mike Walbridge

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

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“FRANK CHACE, 1964,” TWICE

Thanks to cornetist Ted Butterman, a long-time Chicagoan, we now have the audio from a 1964 performance featuring the irreplaceable clarinetist Frank Chace, with Mike Walbridge, tuba, leader; Steve Mengler, trombone; Bob Skiver, tenor saxophone; Bob Sundstrom, banjo; Wayne Jones, drums.  The song is BEALE STREET BLUES, and the seven-minute performance is offered twice — which gives a listener more opportunity to hear Chace muttering his way through the ensembles and offering his own sharp-edged variations on the theme in his solo:

Here is another fleeting but memorable glimpse — video as well as audio, thanks to Terry Martin — of the man who continues to be vivid in my thoughts and ears, complete with the photograph of his bus pass, that artifact he sent me when I asked him for a picture.

How could someone so quirkily alive as Frank Chace leave the neighborhood as he did?

May your happiness increase!

“YOU ASKED FOR A PICTURE”: GLIMPSES OF FRANK CHACE

I offer this as a remembrance of clarinetist Frank Chace, one of the most elusive of men.  He and I had perhaps ten phone conversations and a dozen conversations-by-mail at the end of the last century, continuing into 2003 or so. At first, I think Frank was flattered by my interest, intrigued by someone so curious, so intent, but soon he retreated back in to the shadows.  I can remember the odd feeling of telephoning him on an early Sunday evening and hearing the phone ring on.  I picture him waiting for it to stop ringing.

But he did respond to my hero-worshiping curiosity in whimsical ways.  A cassette he had mentioned, a concert recording of himself with Marty Grosz and Dan Shapera — something he thought he had lost but surfaced unexpectedly — came to me in an envelope, with a few words handwritten on a scrap of paper torn from the back of an envelope.

Earlier, I’d asked him for a picture (don’t all fans do this?) and he’d sent a newspaper clipping with a dim photograph of him as one tiny figure in a band. Then this — his expired bus pass, with Frank staring in to the camera in that fixed pose we all assume for drivers’ license photographs.

I treasure it as an artifact even more because of the whimsy behind it. I’d rather have this than a studio portrait of Frank wearing a striped vest and a straw boater.  I carry it in my wallet, which will certainly confuse someone who goes through my belongings posthumously. (“When was Michael riding buses in Chicago? That’s such a bad picture — it looks nothing like him.”)

Frank’s elusiveness, his desire to be left alone, had something to do with his learned disdain of the modern world, with the political landscape, with the ungrammatical announcer on Monday Night Football, with the bad jazz he heard on the radio.  But it was also a state of mind he treasured. He was happy when I told him that a working title for my biographical piece would be THE J.D. SALINGER OF THE CLARINET.  (But, like Salinger, although he wanted to be left alone, I do not think he wanted to be forgotten.)

But every now and then the vault door opens for a moment and something precious can be glimpsed before the door closes again.  Frank’s friend, protector, and executor, the jazz scholar Terence E. Martin (“Terry” to friends) shot some 8mm film of Frank — and friends Bob Neighbor, trumpet; Mike Walbridge, tuba; Don Stiernberg, banjo; and Rich Fidoli, saxophone — at a gig that may have been Mike’s retirement-home gig, the date and place unknown at the moment.  But here is a minute of Frank in action among friends:

I find this more than remarkable — impassioned and perfectly controlled, brave and searching.  Terry tells me that there are other minutes of Frank, but for now I savor this brief intense sighting. It is like nothing else I know. There is the sound — and even more, his physical presence . . . especially the half-embrace he gives himself and the clarinet at the end, a rare moment of pleasure he allowed himself. And us, for all time.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH RECALLS WAYNE JONES

With Hal’s permission, here is a tribute from one great jazz drummer to another — its source Hal’s website.

jones

My friend and teacher Wayne Jones passed away on Thursday, May 30. He celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21, and married the devoted and caring Charlotte on May 24.

It is difficult to express just how much Wayne meant to me as a person and as an inspiration for drumming. From the time I met Wayne — at the 1972 St. Louis Ragtime Festival — there was never a moment when I worried about his friendship.

Though I had heard Wayne on 1960s-era recordings by the Original Salty Dogs, hearing him live was a life-changing experience! He unerringly played exactly the right thing at the right time, with the right touch and the right volume, with an economy of motion, though I think he must have had the loosest wrists and fingers of any drummer I ever saw! The Original Salty Dogs were, and are, one of the greatest Traditional Jazz bands of all time. But with Wayne on drums, they were something else. The late Frank Powers described the Dogs’ rhythm section as “The Cadillac of Traditional Jazz Rhythm Sections.” Frank’s description was spot-on, and Wayne’s drumming was an integral part of that sound.

He played with a lift, even when using woodblocks and temple blocks to accompany John Cooper’s ragtimey piano solos. (I remember when a musician who heard one of my early recordings, featuring woodblocks, said “You need to listen to Wayne Jones. Now, there’s a drummer who swings!”) That stung at the time, but my critic proved to be correct. Wayne swung when he played Traditional Jazz! 

Not only did Wayne inspire me with his onstage performances. He also made invaluable contributions to my Jazz education by sending boxes and boxes of reel (later cassette) tapes, LPs, CDs and photocopies of articles. A chance comment such as, “You know, I’m really interested in Vic Berton” would result in a large box of cassettes arriving a few days later, containing every Berton recording in the Jones collection. Wayne was totally unselfish and giving, and I am humbled to think how much of his free time was taken up with educating “The Kid.” Whether in person or in a letter he could be gruff, but always soft-hearted. No one ever had to question his sincerity or generosity.

Years later, Wayne wrote some wonderful liner notes for projects I was involved in. I will never get over the kind words he wrote for a session I made with Butch Thompson and Mike Duffy, but anyone who reads those notes should be aware that my best playing is because of Wayne’s influence!

By the time he wrote those notes, I considered Wayne to be family. I know Wayne felt the same way…Once, during the San Diego Jazz Festival, I commandeered an empty venue with a piano to rehearse the “Rhythmakers” for a recording to be done immediately following the festival. We had been playing for just a few minutes when Wayne wandered in. Obviously he was out for a stroll, in search of coffee for when he walked in the room he was in street clothes — no band uniform or musician badge. He found a seat near the back of the room and settled in to listen. Vocalist Rebecca Kilgore looked up from her music, spotted Wayne and stammered, “Th-th-this is n-not open to the p-public!” Wayne replied, “It’s o.k. I’m family!”

wayne jones color

We had many wonderful “hangs” over the years, during festivals in St. Louis, San Diego and elsewhere. “Talking shop” was always fun, though Wayne had interesting opinions on all kinds of things besides drums and drumming! For instance, he was passionate about Elmore Leonard’s writing and frequently quoted lines of dialogue from Leonard novels when he wrote letters. During the past couple of years, I always enjoyed the phone calls with Wayne when we discussed the characters and plots of the television show “Justified” (which is based on Elmore Leonard characters).

Fortunately I had a couple of chances to visit Wayne at home while he was still able to talk and listen to music for extended periods of time. He had slowed down considerably, but still had a fantastic sense of humor and well-informed opinions concerning a variety of subjects — particularly the contemporary Traditional Jazz scene. The last visit was a lot of fun until his expression turned serious and he looked down at the ground and asked quietly, “You want my cymbal, Kid?” Wayne knew that his playing days were over, and he wanted to find an appropriate place for his “signature” cymbal. It was difficult to keep my composure, but I gratefully accepted “that” cymbal which livens up so many recordings by the Dogs, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the West End Jazz Band, Neo-Passe’ Jazz Band and more. The cymbal went to a good home, where it is respected, well-cared-for and used in special circumstances only. The first time I used it — with the Yerba Buena Stompers — John Gill, Leon Oakley and Tom Bartlett looked up immediately, recognizing the presence of an old friend on the bandstand.

On a recent phone call, Wayne had difficulty conversing on the phone. We got through the conversation — barely — and I wondered if that would be the last time we talked. Unfortunately, it was. When I called again, he had fallen and was headed for the hospital. He died peacefully in the early hours of May 30 and I never had a chance to tell my mentor “good-bye.” But fortunately I was able to convey how much he meant to me during a performance a few years ago. 

There are certain “Wayne licks” that have great appeal to drummers who studied his records and his live performances. (Drummers who have listened closely to Wayne, including John Gill, Chris Tyle, Steve Apple, and Kevin Dorn, will know what I mean). At a festival in the late ’90s, I was playing with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band when Wayne came into the room and took a seat a few rows back from the stage, but directly in view of the drums. He scrutinized my playing with the usual poker face. I thought about the description of Baby Dodds seeing George Wettling in the audience one time and “talking” to George with the drums. So I deliberately played in Wayne’s style. Tom Bartlett wheeled around and grinned through his mouthpiece. Kim Cusack eyed me and gave a quick nod, as did Mike Walbridge. But, best of all, out in the audience Wayne looked up, set his jaw and slowly nodded his acknowledgement. I would not trade that moment for anything.

Farewell, Wayne. Friend, teacher, inspiration. You will never be forgotten and you will always be loved.

Hal Smith

May 31, 2013

A few words from JAZZ LIVES.  I’m happy that we can see and hear Wayne swing the band.  Here’s YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (I’LL TELL YOU MINE) by a 1996 edition of the Salty Dogs.  Although Wayne doesn’t solo, his sweetly urging time is always supporting the band, and the just-right accents and timbres behind the ensemble and soloists are masterful.  Catch the way Wayne ends off the tuba solo and rounds up the band for the final ensemble choruses.  The other players are Kim Cusack, clarinet; Bob Neighbor, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; John Cooper, piano; Jack Kunci, banjo; Mike Walbridge, tuba:

And at the very end of 2010, nearly the same band (Cusack, Bartlett, Kunci, Walbridge, Jones) with two ringers: Andy Schumm, cornet; Paul Asaro, piano, performing SMILES.  Again, masterful work: hear the end of the banjo chorus into Bartlett’s solo, and the way Wayne backs Schumm:

Thanks to Ailene Cusack for these videos (and there are more appearances by Wayne and the Dogs on YouTube).

After hearing the news of Wayne’s death, I kept thinking of the star system of jazz — which elevates many wonderful players, giving them opportunities to lead bands, have their own record sessions, and we hope make more money.   But so many exceedingly gifted musicians are never offered these opportunities.  I would take nothing from Gene Krupa, for instance, but for every Gene there were many beautiful musicians half in the shadows: think of Walter Johnson, Jimmie Crawford, O’Neill Spencer, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Nick Fatool, Harry Jaeger, Gus Johnson, Shadow Wilson, Denzil Best . . . and Wayne Jones.

Wayne didn’t lead any recording sessions; he might not have had his picture in DOWN BEAT advertising a particular drum set — but he lifted so many performances. Wayne leaves behind some forty years of recordings with Clancy Hayes, Marty Grosz, Frank Chace, Eddy Davis, Jim Kweskin, Terry Waldo, Edith Wilson, Frank Powers, Jim Snyder, Carol Leigh, Tom Pletcher, Bob Schulz, Jim Dapogny, Turk Murphy, John Gill, Don DeMicheal, Jerry Fuller, Sippie Wallace, Franz Jackson, Jim Cullum, Ernie Carson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Karoub, Ray Skjelbred, Peter Ecklund, Bobby Gordon, and three dozen other players in addition to the recordings he made with the Salty Dogs.

We won’t forget him.

May your happiness increase.

THE GLORY DAYS: FRANK CHACE in CHICAGO, MARCH 30,1964

This newspaper photograph depicts a wonderful band caught in action at the Chicago Historical Society.  The leader is the elusive, wise, generous, acerbic, witty, sad clarinetist Frank Chace — you can see his bass sax to the rear.  Next to him is cornetist Lew Green, then cornetist Jim Dapogny, surely also playing piano on the date, and the late trombonist Jim Snyder.

Brother Hal Smith filled in the other personnel for us, people not shown in the photograph but essential: Bob Sundstrom, banjo; Mike Walbridge, tuba; Wayne Jones, drums.  An unissued on-location recording also exists, although I think I have not heard it.

Were they playing THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE or perhaps RIVERSIDE BLUES?  Ah, to have been there!

But we have the photograph — courtesy of a Chicago wire service and then eBay.  For once, I succumbed and bought it.  There’s a space on my bedroom wall that needs filling with memorable hot jazz.

May your happiness increase.

NEW OLD SONGS (by ANDY AND HIS GANG, March 2010)

Although it’s always a pleasure to hear JAZZ ME BLUES, for instance, listeners like to be surprised as well — not by mere novelty (playing the theme from FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in hot style, for instance) but by songs in the idiom that aren’t overly familiar.  Here are two such performances from the 2010 Tribute to Bix, played by Andy Schumm and his Gang (Andy, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, reeds / vocal; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Leah Bezin, banjo; Vince Giordano, bass sax, tuba, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums). 

The first is WHAT A DAY, taken from a post-Bix session done by Frank Trumbauer:

It’s not the most inventive song — the three-note motif gets repeated cheerfully, almost without letup, but it bounces along.

The second, DON’T WAKE ME UP, LET ME DREAM, is more obscure (Abel Baer-Mabel Wayne) and has a certain oblique similarity to GOOD LITTLE, BAD LITTLE YOU — but it, too, gets a jaunty performance.  In this version, Vince got to take a much-needed breather and his place was taken by Mike Walbridge on tuba.  And Andy pounces on the melody from out of the ensemble in fine Goldkette style!

We have the intrepid Flemming Thorbye to thank for these videos: from the back of the hall, but steady and in clear sound — all that anyone could want and more!

JAZZ TRANSPORTS!

Like most Americans, I commute to work by car, even though I know that my choice has huge adverse effects on the planet.  When I can, I take the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan, but the train is at best inconvenient.  Even when I bring my iPod or The New Yorker, the LIRR is tedium on wheels.

Here’s the ideal solution to the problem.  If my train ride could be like this, morning and evening, I swear I would sell my car:

This catches the West End Jazz Band (with friends) on the South Shore train line, recorded May 31, 2009, on their way to the annual Hudson Lake celebration.  (Hudson Lake, as you know, is a sacred site that connects Bix Beiderbecke, Pee Wee Russell, and other kindred spirits.)  You hear and see Mike Bezin and Sue Fischer on washboards; John Otto on clarinet; Frank Gualtieri on trombone; Andy Schumm and Mike Walbridge on cornets; Leah Bezin on banjo; Dave Bock on tuba; Josh Duffee on drums, performing LOUISIANA.  And a slightly smaller version of the group offers a spirited SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL. 

These clips are courtesy of “manidig” on YouTube — a fellow after my own heart.  I subscribed to his channel about two minutes into LOUISIANA.  Thanks, Mr. Dig!

What time will the next jazz train arrive?