Three good friends; three telepathic musicians, celebrating Mildred Bailey and the great songwriters of the period: Barbara Rosene, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Danny Tobias, trumpet, captured on a hot evening at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village, New York City.
This all happened in 2017, but Barbara is back in New York City for a visit — and there’s a gig (!) on Tuesday, August 3, at Swing 46 (349 West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues) from 9 PM — with sterling musicians and friends Michael Hashim, alto and soprano saxophone; Jesse Gelber, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.
I’d call the mood of the 2017 gig elegant barrelhouse, but you are free to create your own string of adjectives, your own oxymorons of praise.
WHERE ARE YOU?
IN LOVE IN VAIN, a masterpiece by Jerome Kern and heart-broken Leo Robin:
NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS:
What sensitive playful teamwork. And Barbara lights up the skies.
Since 2006, when permitted, I have been going to jazz performances with a knapsack of video cameras, etc. Hard on my shoulders, good for my soul.
In the musically-arid landscape of the pandemic, that world seems mystically distant, but it is accessible: what was fleeting was captured. I have been rediscovering joyous music to share with you.
One such evening was spent at Mezzrow, downstairs on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village, in the company of three heroic friends: Barbara Rosene, vocal; Danny Tobias, cornet; Conal Fowkes, piano — an intimate presentation of songs associated with Mildred Bailey . . . but each song made warmly individual by these three generous creators. And a bonus: Barbara’s delightful commentary, veering between heartfelt and hilarious, in between songs.
A different night at Mezzrow, but you get the idea.
Let’s start with some fun: Fats Waller’s CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU:
A revenge song with a bounce, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:
The people at the adjacent table had a loud discussion with the gracious waitperson — so this video starts after Barbara’s first chorus, alas, but I love this song, THE MOON GOT IN MY EYES, and couldn’t bear to lose it:
and, to close off this segment, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, particularly relevant:
If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others. It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.
But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers. But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read. In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion. And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.
These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me. It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936. These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.
Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord. Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured. And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe? I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.
Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d). Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added. Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).
Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection. (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)
I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records. I’ll have some listening comments at the end.
and the 78 version:
Flip it over, as they used to say:
This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:
If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches. However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):
and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):
Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler. That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly. They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians. I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers. (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did. I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music. The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923. I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto. I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend? (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is. An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be. In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit? Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale. It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir. Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times. Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious. What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans. Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
Bouncing has been shown to have salutary therapeutic effects, so join us!
The source of all this joy is the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, recorded in performance at the magical Redwood Coast Music Festivalon May 12, 2019. That’s Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone / compositions / arrangements; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jamey Cummins [right], Alex Belhaj [left], guitars; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums. . . . captured in a still photograph by the JAZZ LIVES staff:
Now to the music played for the first half of this gratifying set — what Mildred Bailey might have called “a hot half-dozen.”
Take us back to 1943, while Coleman Hawkins stands off to the side, smiling:
and something sweet that Jonathan calls DON’T WALK OUT (the harmonic hint is this — imagine Louis’ opening number as a rhythm ballad and you have it):
Winnie the Pooh couldn’t make it, but in his honor, HONEY JAR, his love:
SLIPPERY SLOPE, perhaps named because of ascending and descending lines:
I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK. If this is true, I have to invite Jonathan and Corinne to sit in Washington Square Park in the late spring:
Thinking of Austin, Texas, zoology, where THE BATS ARE SINGING:
The best news is that Jonathan and friends will be appearing — in whatever permutations they choose — at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2020. Here you can see a list of the other artists, a cornucopia of musical joys that increases my heart rate dangerously.
See you there!
Even better! — here is the schedule for the Festival. I can’t wait.
There’s a wonderful tradition that began on records in the late Twenties: sweet and hot singing — female or male — backed by a small improvising combination. To some, it reached its apex with the series of recordings done by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson, but it continues on in this century, something I find reassuring.
Vocalion Records ceased production a long time ago, and the last time I was near a diner jukebox, it lacked Red McKenzie, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Putney Dandridge, Maxine Sullivan, Nan Wynn, Tempo King, Lee Wiley, Connee Boswell, or Dick Robertson, but our friend Dawn Lambeth embodies the tradition beautifully. As do her Rascals, an ad hoc group of friends who swing.
Here’s the second half of a performance by a lovely little jam band of friends at the 2019 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Riley Baker, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Ike Harris, string bass; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Clint Baker, trumpet. And here‘s the first part.
The very antidote to melancholy . . . with the verse, no less:
I don’t think we automatically perceive hot jazz as the music of romance. After all, would you woo your Dearest One with ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, YOU RASCAL YOU, PANAMA, or GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD? But the hot jazz expressions of the late Twenties onwards were based on the music of love as expressed in pop songs with lyrics. These songs were accessible to the crowd, they could be danced to, and they could be swung. Think of the recordings of Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Louis Prima, Eddie Condon, and a thousand others up to the present day. (And I like the coincidence that the first song recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five was MY HEART, by pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong.)
It seems that for every “You trampled on my soul, you heartless cad” song, there are two dozen celebrating the joys of fulfilling love: TEA FOR TWO, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, EXACTLY LIKE YOU, SWEET LORRAINE, AS LONG AS I LIVE, HONEY, WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, I WISH I WERE TWINS, AIN’T SHE SWEET, ALWAYS, SWEET AND SLOW, I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU, YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, I WANT TO BE HAPPY, and so on.
In that spirit, I present four swinging love songs (vocals by Bob Schulz and Scott Anthony) performed and recorded at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” in Fresno, California, on February 9, 2019. The creators here are Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba, Ray Templin, drums, vocal.
Meaning no disrespect to the rest of the Frisco Jazz Band, please pay serious attention to what Mr. Skjelbred is doing, in ensemble as well as solo: I’d characterize it as his setting off small melodious fireworks in every performance. As he does!
Here’s the most ancient chanson d’amour, Tony Jackson’s PRETTY BABY:
and the song Louis used as his entry to a huge popular following (while always remaining himself), I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:
JUNE NIGHT, with a startling Skjelbred solo:
I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at a nice easy tempo:
This congenial, amiable ensemble will return to Fresno in February 2020.
Billy Hill knew how to write songs that were easy to hum (although not always easy to sing) and that stuck lovingly in our ears, memories, and hearts: THE GLORY OF LOVE, THE LAST ROUNDUP, WAGON WHEELS, EMPTY SADDLES, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?, and THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. And he breaks stereotypes. He was born in Boston and died there at 41, and although he spent the most productive decade of his life in New York, another of the Tin Pan Alley demigods, he seems to have deeply understood Americana in much the same way Willard Robison did. His songs touch us.
I’ve been thinking about cabins these days. The soundtrack is his 1933 melody:
The lyrics are somewhat sad, but Hill and his peers knew, I think, that songs with a center of heartbreak — that would be repaired when the lovers reunited — were more likely to find audiences than songs saying “My baby and me, we’re so happy,” perhaps because of demographics: more people were yearning than satisfied. Or that’s my theory for the moment. However, he did write THE GLORY OF LOVE, so he was emotionally even-handed.
Here’s a version I fell in love with immediately this morning, by the San Francisco-based singer / guitarist Sylvia Herold. I am sorry I didn’t encounter her in “my California period,” because she can really get inside this song and others:
She has a most endearing little cry in her voice, and she swings. I knew I loved this performance because I am now playing it for the sixth time.
Here are my heroes Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred, from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, introduced by the splendid singer Dawn Lambeth:
Now we move to the most Honoured Ancestors. Please note that they are not presented in some value-hierarchy: they all move me deeply in their own ways.
Mildred Bailey with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:
Al Bowlly (I prefer this less elaborate version):
I ask myself, “Why are you in tears?” But I know why.
The soul’s home can be an urban apartment, or right across from the BP gas station, but with the right vibrations it can become a dear rustic haven.
One of the great highlights of the 2018 Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea was the small flexible swing groups led by guitarist Larry Scala, featuring the wonderful singing of Dawn Lambeth. Without being consciously imitative, they harked back to the great Thirties and Forties recordings and performances of Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Count Basie, Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman, and more. But they weren’t ancient artifacts behind glass: they swung and were full of joyous expertise. Here are three more performances, the first two featuring Larry, Dawn, bassist Bill Bosch, trumpeter Danny Tobias, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland; the third, from the next day, featuring clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo instead of Danny, and adding drummer Danny Coots.
Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF:
Walter Donaldson’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME:
And from the next day, Dawn, Larry, and Bill, with Danny Coots, drums; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, for Cole Porter’s YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:
Thanks to all these creative people for bringing their own brand of sweet swing to Pismo. I hope they’ll be brightening the corners in 2019.
One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date? I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person. I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays! Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.
Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech. Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.
Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply. And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps. I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.
Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more. He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play. In life.
Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing. Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed. Medium tempos, too.
A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:
TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody. I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination. But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit. And they play the verse! Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:
Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING. Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else. And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!
Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear. But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:
What a pair! Mr. Waller approves. As do I. As did the audience.
Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.
Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.” And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.
You can learn more and hear something Savory here.
This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them. In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible. Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.
A Savory Disc
I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.
Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.” Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience. Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on. Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.
Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome. And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.
On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring. Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down. Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set). I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.
I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time. (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.) And the rhythm section! Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations. Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.
And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc. The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large. I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.
The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.
To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized: Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide. Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly. And I am sure I’ve left someone out.
These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.
I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can. But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music. When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons. Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect. Check the Mosaic discography.
I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.
Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser. And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat. I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat. Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets. Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months. You’ve been warned.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.
The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.
And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.
If you consider an artist’s works in chronological sequence (bibliography as well as discography) certain landmarks blot out their neighbors. In the case of Coleman Hawkins, there’s BODY AND SOUL, then the Hampton Victor date, then his big band — leading up to the small-group sessions of 1943-44 for Signature, Keynote, Savoy, and more.
The Varsity Seven sides — full of delights — recorded in December 1939 and January 1940 — haven’t received the admiration they deserve. Hawkins’ admiring biographer, the diligent John Chilton, calls them “a pastiche of Dixieland.” I disagree.
The Varsity label (please note the transparent pseudonyms for Hawkins and Carter) was run by Eli Oberstein, and it never seems to have been entirely out in the open. I don’t know that Oberstein was the equal of Herman Lubinsky of Savoy, but Eli seems to have been ingenious in his dealings. I believe the masters of these and other sessions were bought by Savoy, and thus the trail to licit reissues is complex. Were they Victor sessions, they would have been available straightforwardly for decades now, including “official” CD issue.
Another side-note is that the session — one or both? — was co-produced by Leonard Feather and Warren Scholl, which may account for a Feather composition being there. I knew two sides from this date because my Long Island friend Tom Piazza played them for me, forty-plus years ago: SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT and A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY. I don’t know where each of the musicians was working in 1939-40, whether Fifty-Second Street or Cafe Society or uptown, but they come together to create great jazz. Cheerful Jeanne Burns (known for work with Adrian Rollini and Wingy Manone) is a liability, but we’ve all heard less polished singers. Here’s the information for the first session.
Benny Carter, trumpet, alto saxophone; Danny Polo, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar, vocal; Artie Bernstein, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Jeanne Burns, vocal. New York, December 14, 1939.
IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (Burns, vocal). The first two choruses — bless Sullivan and Wettling, who are bringing Jimmy Ryan’s to a record date or doing the Commodore? — are flawless. Ms. Burns has pitch trouble, but I concentrate on Sullivan behind her. Polo and Livingston (the latter sounding much like a sweet Teddy Bunn) aren’t derailed by the young lady, and then Hawkins charges in, “I’m back from Europe, and let me remind you who is still King!” My idea of perfection is of course subjective, but the instrumental portions of this recording stand up with any other of this period:
EASY RIDER (Burns, Livingston, vocal). Hawkins starts off rhapsodically, and is then relieved by Polo, whose sound in itself is an aural landscape, no matter how simple his phrases. (In this, he reminds me of poets Joe Marsala, Raymond Burke, and Edmond Hall.) Ms. Burns Is much more at ease at this tempo and in this range, and her unusual mixture of Mae West and Mildred Bailey is her most successful vocal. Livingston’s vaudeville couplets are harmlessly archaic counterpoint, leading in to an ensemble where Carter and Polo take up most of the space, leaving Hawkins little to do. One must admire the lovely drumming of Wettling — and how beautifully Artie Shapiro’s bass comes through — before the consciously “old-timey” ending:
SCRATCH MY BACK is the one Leonard Feather composition, and a charming one, revisited by Dan Barrett a few years ago. I can’t figure out the changes beneath the melody — an experienced friend / musician says the first strain is similar to YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME. I love the opening ensemble, and Shapiro’s deep notes behind Polo, then Sullivan’s rollicking solo chorus, where Wettling is having a wonderful time — and the passage where Sullivan abstracts the melody for great dramatic effect. Then — what’s this? — a glorious alto solo by “Billy Carton” (heir to the cardboard box fortune) punctuated by a Livingston blues-pastoral. Everyone steps aside for Hawkins, and a recap of the theme with Livingston adding sweet arpeggiated chords. No complaints here:
SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA (Burns, vocal). Aside from the ending, I don’t think of this as “Dixieland”: rather a series of splendid improvisations from Carter, Sullivan, and two choruses from Hawkins — over a gently propulsive and balanced rhythm section. I find Burns’ version of Mildred Bailey’s upper-register-vibrato jarring, but I was listening to Polo, murmuring sweet limpid asides, and the rhythm section while she sang:
Fast forward to January 15, 1940: the same personnel except Big Joe Turner replaces Burns, an improvement.
And in his honor, they began with HOW LONG, HOW LONG BLUES. In the opening ensemble, Hawkins is nearly submerged (could this have been what irritated Chilton?) which leads into a lovely chorus by Polo — with plain-spoken rhythm section work. Then, Big Joe, in glowing voice, supported by a very powerful Sullivan, with lovely ensemble encouragements. It almost seems as if Hawkins has been waiting his chance, and he takes it eloquently, before Big Joe and the band return. At 2:23, apparently Turner has momentarily forgotten the lyric couplet or has gotten distracted. A fine improvised ensemble closes off the record, with a Wettling accent. This side seems slightly under-rehearsed, but the looseness adds to its charm:
SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT has always been a favorite, and this vocal version is a prize. If there’s a sound more engaging than this rhythm section following Sullivan, I have yet to hear it. Big Joe sounds positively exuberant (in touch with the lyrics); Polo and Livingston keep the forward motion going , and everyone is even more gleeful for Joe’s second chorus (“rub it all over the wall”) before particularly hot choruses by Carter and Hawkins follow, leading to jamming (with Wettling happily prominent) to end the record. If this is “Dixieland,” I want many more sides:
A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY was not a song much utilized for jam session recordings, but to have it here is a pleasure. I wonder if Oberstein said, “No more blues, fellows! Let’s have a hot one!” as Big Joe left the studio. Or it just seemed like a melodic yet under-played Berlin song, taken a little quicker than I imagine it was done in the Ziegfeld Follies. A very simple — even cliched — vamp led by Livingston starts things off before Polo takes the lead — which surprisingly turns into an ensemble passage, then a wonderfully quirky Sullivan solo AND Hawkins leaping into his chorus with the zeal of a great athlete (powerful playing from Shapiro, Livingston, and Wettling) — then a magnificent Carter solo and a romping ensemble close. This is one of the most successful sides of the eight:
And, finally, POM POM, a Carter original which might be a phrase from one of his solos scored for small band, with a particularly light scoring: I would have thought the opening 16 was scored for alto, clarinet, and tenor, but for the speed with which Carter plays trumpet on the bridge. Polo’s chorus is so tenderly levitating that if you, hearing his work on this session, don’t want to hear more, then I have failed. Hawkins is energized in his two-chorus solo, reminding me of the trio records he made in 1937, especially in his powerful second chorus — but Carter is as elegant a mountain-climber as I can imagine (with a distinct similarity to Joe Thomas or Bill Coleman of this period); another piece of swing lace-weaving from Livingston, and the record gracefully winds down — simultaneously hot and gentle. Is that a recording engineer’s “fade” or simply everyone getting softer? I don’t know, but it’s very sweet:
These aren’t flawless records. Some of them might have benefited from a second take. But they are uplifting examples of the stars willing to come in and play two dates for what I imagine was scale. All in a day’s work — and how glorious the results are.
One of the consistently thrilling aspects of sitting across from Dan Morgenstern is the immediate knowledge that here is a man who is both here now and was there then, his perceptions gentle but also sharp-edged.
A word about “immediacy.” I have written at length about John Hammond, read his memoir, read the biography of him, seen him on television, heard him interviewed, and from that collection of facts, stories, impressions I’ve made my own complex portrait of a man who was both immensely generous and intuitive, the man to whom we owe so much good music, from Garland Wilson to the last Buck Clayton Jam Sessions. I also grapple with the man who could turn cruel when not obeyed, the man who grew tired of formerly-admired artists and worked against them. So my mental portrait is complex, ambiguous, and shifting.
But as valuable as I think my study of Hammond might be, it shrinks when I can sit in a room with a man who’s heard Hammond say, “Come on with me, get in my car. We’re going up to Harlem. There’s someone I want you to hear.”
What you will also hear in this single segment (and I hope it has been evident all along) is Dan’s embracing affection for all kinds of what we treasure as jazz and blues. In this conversation of September 29, 2017, Dan spoke with warmth, humor, and insight of Hammond and the people who surrounded him: Barney Josephson at The Cookery, Helen Humes, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Hank O’Neal, Buddy Tate, Lester Young, Mildred Bailey, Booker Ervin, and Victoria Spivey. Too many people to fit in Dan’s living room, but he brings them to life:
I found Dan’s portrait of Booker Ervin — Texas tenor and Mingus-associate — particularly touching.
We met again just a few weeks ago in December 2017, and spoke of some famous “bebop and beyond” sages, including Bird, Tadd Dameron, and Dan’s rather famous neighbor and friend Miles Dewey Davis. More to come, and we bless Mr. Morgenstern for being himself so deeply.
Let us revisit 2010 for a brief tour of the Bill Savory Collection, with commentary by two of our heroic benefactors, Loren Schoenberg and Doug Pomeroy.
And from another angle, this 2016 article tells the tale.
Starting in 2016, through iTunes, listeners have been able to purchase and savor four volumes of downloaded music: featuring Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, John Kirby, Jack Teagarden, Joe Marsala, Leo Watson, Teddy Wilson, Glenn Miller, Bobby Hackett, Ella Fitzgerald, Carl Kress, Dick McDonough, Ernie Caceres, Vernon Brown, George Wettling, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Charlie Teagarden, Milt Hinton, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Joe Sullivan, Joe Bushkin, Ben Webster . . . and — for some of us — the great treasure of live Count Basie with Lester Young and Herschel Evans. I’ve written a preview of Volume Four here. It’s been the soundtrack for the past few days.
I and other collectors have heard rumors — whispered four-bar breaks — that in our lifetimes Mosaic Records would arrange to issue more of the Savory material on compact discs, and that blissful fantasy has taken shape.
In February 2018, a six-disc set will be released: $99 plus shipping. As always, it will be a limited edition of 5000 copies. It will have gorgeous photographs and the extensive annotation Mosaic is known for: most of the prose coming from Loren Schoenberg, but with some writers sitting-in: David Fletcher, Anthony Barnett among them.
Here you can read more. And here is my definition of auditory bliss.
The four volumes of iTunes downloads offered 76 tracks. The Mosaic box will contain 108 tracks: the new music will be by Mildred Bailey, Stuff Smith, Joe Sullivan, and Count Basie — 39 tracks by Basie alone. (That’s eighteen new Basie tracks, four of them from the legendary Randall’s Island swing festival.) Two of the Sullivan solo piano improvisations are astounding creative rambles: one is ten minutes long, the other seven. Incidentally, many performances are longer than the three-minute-and-some-seconds limit of the 78 records of the time; most of them are in far superior sound.
I didn’t take any college courses in Marketing, and I don’t make my living in retail, but this post is an open advertisement for the set, and for Mosaic Records in general. (I’ve purchased my Savory box set — full price, should you need to know.) Since the iTunes downloads started to appear, I’ve read vituperative blurts from some collectors who “hate Apple” and others who want to know when the music will appear on CD. Now, fellows (I am gender-specific here for obvious reasons), now’s the time to convert words into action.
If others of you are under economic pressures, which are — as we know — so real, pardon my words and go to the “auditory bliss” section of this post and enjoy what’s there. If the kids need braces or the car a new battery, all bets are off. Those who fulminate on Facebook because the set offers no performances by X Orchestra or Y should know that not all the heirs and estates of the musicians Savory recorded have agreed to permit music to be issued.
However, if there were to be the groundswell of support that this set deserves, some people who are currently saying NO to issuing music might change their tune to a more expansive YES. And I believe fervently that Mosaic Records deserves our support. In an age where people sitting in front of their monitors, expecting everything for free, some enterprises cost money. (I come from that generation where not everything was easily accessible, so I appreciate this largesse from my heart.)
So consider this post encouragement to purchase the long-awaited six-disc set. Feast your eyes on the track listing and soon you will be able to feast your ears.
COLEMAN HAWKINS: 1. Body And Soul (X) (5:51) / 2. Basin Street Blues (X) (5:50) / 3. Lazy Butterfly (X) (1:03)
ELLA FITZGERALD: 4. A-Tisket, A-Tasket (II) (2:22) / 5. (I’ve Been) Saving Myself For You (II) (2:50) /
FATS WALLER: 6. Yacht Club Swing (theme and intro) / Hold My Hand (RR) (3:39) / 7. I Haven’t Changed A Thing (RR) (3:56) / 8. (Medley): Summer Souvenirs / Who Blew Out The Flame? (RR) (5:38) / 9. (Medley): You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby / Sixty Seconds Got Together (RR) (3:44) / 10. I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams (RR) (2:26) / 11. When I Go A-Dreaming (RR) (2:50) / 12. Alligator Crawl (RR) (1:38) / 13. The Spider and the Fly (RR) (2:40) /
LIONEL HAMPTON JAM SESSION: 14. Dinah (7:01) / 15. Star Dust (2:58) / 16. Chinatown, My Chinatown (2:25) / 17. Blues (9:52) / 18. Rosetta (4:06) /
CARL KRESS & DICK McDONOUGH: 19. Heat Wave (EE) (2:20)
EMILIO CACERES TRIO: 20. China Boy (S) (2:26)
ALBERT AMMONS: 1. Boogie Woogie Stomp (A) (3:03)
ROY ELDRIDGE: 2. Body And Soul (II) (4:23)
ROY ELDRIDGE / CHICK WEBB: 3. Liza (II) (2:03)
FATS WALLER: 4. Honeysuckle Rose (QQ) (6:31) / 5. China Boy (QQ) (5:57) / 6. I’m Comin’ Virginia (QQ) (4:35) / 7. Blues (QQ) (5:24) / 8. I Got Rhythm (QQ) (2:05) /
JOHN KIRBY: 9. From A Flat To C (CC) (2:39) / 10. Blues Petite (DD) (3:43) / 11. Front And Center (AA) (2:50) / 12. Effervescent Blues (Z) (2:43) / 13. Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day (DD) (2:23) / 14. Echoes of Harlem (Z) (3:36) / 15. Boogie Woogie (BB) (2:56) / 16. Milumbu (Z) (3:23) /17. Rehearsin’ For A Nervous Breakdown (CC) (3:27) /18. Honeysuckle Rose (Y) (1:07)
BENNY CARTER: 19. More Than You Know (T) (4:26) / 20. Honeysuckle Rose (T) (1:21) /
JOE SULLIVAN AND HIS CAFE SOCIETY ORCH.: 21. China Boy (MM) (1:28)
JOE MARSALA: 1. Jazz Me Blues (FF) (5:26) / 2. California, Here I Come (FF) (6:53) / 3. When Did You Leave Heaven? (FF) (7:21) / 4. The Sheik Of Araby (FF) (4:42) /
BOBBY HACKETT: 5. Body And Soul (U) (2:12) / 6. Embraceable You (V) (2:48) / 7. Muskrat Ramble (V) (2:09) /
JACK TEAGARDEN: 8. Honeysuckle Rose (PP) (5:04) / 9. Jeepers Creepers (PP) (6:10) /
MILDRED BAILEY: 10. My Melancholy Baby (B) (3:41) / 11. Truckin’ (B) (2:41) / 12. Rockin’ Chair (theme) / More Than You Know (C) (4:14) / 13. The Day I Let You Get Away (C) (2:08) /
STUFF SMITH: 14. Crescendo In Drums (KK) (3:57) / 15. I’se A’ Muggin (JJ) (2:28) /
Dawn Lambeth, Kris Tokarski, Larry Scala, Nobu Ozaki, Hal Smith, Jonathan Doyle, Marc Caparone at the San Diego Jazz Fest
What Phil Schaap calls “the swing-song tradition” — a nimble swinging singer accompanied by an equally swinging group — is epitomized for most people by the 1933-42 recordings Billie Holiday made with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, and other luminaries. However, it was going on before Billie entered the studio (Connie Boswell, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey) and it continues to this day (Rebecca Kilgore, Daryl Sherman, Barbara Rosene, Petra van Nuis, and others). Dawn Lambeth shines in this setting, and the three performances captured here at the San Diego Jazz Fest both reflect the great tradition and show what joy and art these musicians bring to it. (I was reminded often, as well, of the late-life recordings Maxine Sullivan made in Sweden, which are very dear to me.)
I know that the tradition wasn’t exclusively female — think of Henry “Red” Allen among others — but I am holding back from making a list of all the swingers. You’ll understand.
If you more evidence of Dawn’s magic — and the band’s — before proceeding, I invite you to visit hereand here. She sounds wonderful, and there’s fine riffin’ that evening.
Here are three beauties from that same set. First, Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF (which is really quite a lament — but not when swung this way):
Then, the tender ONE HOUR — someone is sure to write in and say that it is really called IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT. Yes, Sir (there are no Female Corrections Officers in jazz-blog-land!) — by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer:
And finally, Mr. Berlin’s I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET, with thanks to Fred Astaire, as always:
To quote Chubby Jackson, but without a touch of irony, “Wasn’t that swell?” I certainly think so.
“A tender plea” is what the fine writer Harriet Choice calls this Sammy Cahn / Saul Chaplin song. PLEASE BE KIND speaks of the vulnerability of love — the way we say “Here is my heart” to the person whose love we gently ask for. When the plea doesn’t work, we could feel as if we’d painted an archery target on our t-shirt.
But when neither person has arrows or bow, happiness is possible, blossoming out of mutual understanding. Kindness becomes the common language, enacted more than spoken.
I’d heard many great versions of this song, by Mildred Bailey, Frank Sinatra, Carmen McRae — but this version, performed at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago (November 26, 2017) is slower, more tender, and infinitely more touching than any of the more famous ones.
Dawn Lambeth sings it from her heart, as if it mattered, which of course it does.
I’ve known Dawn’s music for nearly fifteen years, thanks to the blessed and much-missed Leslie Johnson, of The Mississippi Rag, who offered me a copy of her first CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, to review. And from the first notes of “If I Were You,” I knew I was listening to a splendid artist: someone who understood the words, who knew how to swing, whose voice was a gentle warm embrace of the song and the listener. And although it might be rude to speak of an artist “improving,” the emotional riches Dawn offers us now are lasting gifts.
Pianist Kris Tokarski’s little band is just spectacular — Kris on piano, Larry Scala (who set the magnificent yearning tempo) guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone — showing his heart utterly as well; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Marc Caparone, trumpet.
I know that comparisons are precarious, but this performance hits me gently where I live — as Louis and Lester do. Allergies are not the reason my eyes are suddenly damp.
This performance quietly says to me that even in the darkest moments, when I might think all is harsh and hard, “No, kindness and beauty and subtlety have not been lost and will not ever be lost.”
I hope you watch and re-watch this performance, that you go away with words and melody in your mind and ears, and that you, too, make the choice to be kind. It always counts.
For a quarter of a century, perhaps more, Teddy Wilson was unmatched as solo pianist, accompanist, and ensemble inspiration. Consistently inventive, reliable without being stale, he seems now both traditional and forward-looking, swinging and harmonically inventive, his melodic lines clear and memorable. And it is our good fortune that he worked and recorded with three of the great star-legends of the period, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey, in addition to recordings under his own name. To me, his great period begins with his 1933 work with Louis Armstrong and Benny Carter and gradually tapers off by the end of the Verve recordings — although he could still play magnificently.
He had many opportunities to record, not simply because of his splendid improvisations. Because Wilson was personally responsible — a quiet, businesslike man — you could count on him showing up on time, being prepared, being sober — no small collection of virtues. And he had a champion in John Hammond, who perhaps recognized not only the astonishing musician but a fellow patrician, a courtly intellectual. Thus, between 1935 and 1942, Hammond helped to get Wilson recorded often as soloist and leader for the ARC labels (Columbia, Vocalion, Okeh, Brunswick) and he was of course recording with Goodman for Victor and on Decca with Putney Dandridge and Bob Howard.
Wilson’s most famous sides are frequently reissued — think of MISS BROWN TO YOU and BODY AND SOUL with Billie and Benny, respectively, but many glorious ones are overlooked. Mosaic Records, the jazz benefactor, will be issuing a seven-CD set of Wilson’s recordings — leaving aside the ones made with Holiday — under his own name for the ARC family of labels between 1934 and 1942: details below. “Under his own name” is important here, because a few sideman sessions had to be omitted, some because they appeared on other Mosaic sets (Mildred Bailey, Chu Berry) and others because they don’t fit the premise of the set.
Two are glorious and worth searching out: I know Chick Bullock is scorned by some, but his sessions with Wilson’s band backing him are priceless, as are the sides made with Eddy Howard as the star (consider this personnel: Wilson, Bill Coleman, Bud Freeman, Benny Morton, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian . . . . ). The Bullock sides are on a Retrieval CD; the Howard ones on Neatwork or Classics. I’ve also heard the “safety” disc from the Howard session, which has the singer having trouble with WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS. It may have emerged on the Sony Charlie Christian box set.
But two sessions led by the elusive Redd Evans “and his Billy Boys” have never been reissued. JAZZ LIVES to the rescue! — although the sonic quality is flawed. (The Customer Service Department is out back; form a single line.)
Redd Evans (1912-72) was most famous as a lyricist, whose hits included “Rosie the Riveter,” “There! I’ve Said It Again.” “Let Me Off Uptown,” “No Moon at All,” “Don’t Go to Strangers,” “American Beauty Rose,” “The Frim Fram Sauce,” and “If Love Is Good to Me.” He was also a singer and he may have been a better-than-competent ocarina player, possibly at one time a member of the Horace Heidt dance orchestra. But for me, Evans is fascinating because of the rare 1939 recordings with Wilson, and, in one instance, Buster Bailey.
I know that Evans was born in Mississippi, but how deep his “hillbilly” roots went is hard to discern. On IN THE BAGGAGE COACH AHEAD, where Mother’s coffin is part of the lyric, he sounds seriously influenced by Jerry Colonna. THEY CUT DOWN THE OLD PINE TREE is yet another example of morbidity in swing, a “country” song written by people whose idea of “the country” might well have been a day trip to Long Island, Edward Eliscu and either David or Milt Raskin. “Brown” could have been a dozen people, so I leave that to you.
I am certain that John Hammond was involved in these recordings, and although their initial affect may seem strange, they are another reason to be grateful to Hammond for his limitless ambitions. For one thing, even though Wilson’s name is not on the label, Evans calls out to him on one side, and he is unmistakable. The sessions, also, were made when Wilson had left Goodman to lead his own band, which was an aesthetic success but not a financial one, so they may have been Hammond’s way of helping Wilson make money and re-establish an identity that had been subsumed with Goodman.
Too, Hammond was always looking for ways to merge his jazz stars with more popular artists — perhaps hoping for what we would now call a “crossover” hit that would give him even more freedom to record his improvisers. Think of the Glenn Hardman date with Lester Young, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones — perhaps a sideways glance at the sides Milt Herth was making for Decca with Willie “the Lion” Smith, Teddy Bunn, and O’Neil Spencer. Had Hammond known of the 1938 Pinky Tomlin Decca sides, which pair a “countrified” singer with a hot band — one of the issued sides being RED WING? Pairing Wilson — and other African-American musicians — with Evans would not only be crossing genres but also gently eroding race barriers. Perhaps the people who enjoyed Western Swing would find this side appealing, as well.
Evans made a few vocal sides with Charlie Barnet in 1945, but his 1939 sides are of most interest here, documented by Tom Lord:
Redd Evans (vcl) acc by tp, ts, g, Buster Bailey (cl) Teddy Wilson (p) unknown (b) J.C. Heard (d). New York, April 17, 1939.
W24381 They cut down the old pine tree Voc 4836
W24382 Red wing –
W24383-B Carry me back to the lone prairie 4920
W24384-A Red River Valley –
Redd Evans And His Billy Boys : Willis Kelly (tp) Floyd Brady (tb) Reggie Merrill (as) Clark Galehouse (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Al Casey (g) Al Hall (b) Cozy Cole (d) Redd Evans, “Hot Sweet Potato” (vcl). New York, August 11, 1939.
25189-1 Milenberg joys (re vcl) Voc 5173
25190-1 In the baggage coach ahead (re vcl) –
25191-1,2 Am I blue ? (re,hsp vcl) (unissued)
25192-1,2 When it’s springtime in the Rockies (hsp vcl) –
I find the personnel above intriguing, because it mixes players from Wilson’s band — the rhythm section and Floyd Brady — with “studio” players: Galehouse shows up on a Quintones session, Merrill on an Alec Wilder date. Willis Kelly, anyone?
I’ve never seen a copy of MILENBERG / BAGGAGE, but I was delighted to find a worn copy of RED WING / OLD PINE TREE on eBay. Again, I advise that my method of getting the sounds to you is at best odd, but it will have to do until the Real Thing Comes Along.
Wilson is immediately recognizable — admire his neat modulations out and in to Evans’ vocal key, the way he shines through the ensemble also. Whoever the ocarina player is, I like his work immensely, and the unidentified trumpeter has certainly listened to Roy Eldridge. The tune — with its memorably odd lyrics — bears some small melodic resemblance to WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE. Was it written tongue-in-cheek (rather like the story told about SONNY BOY) as a collection of down-home cliches?
RED WING is more familiar — an ancient campfire favorite, with connections to Robert Schumann and Kerry Mills, eventually to Woody Guthrie — and this recording is thirty seconds shorter, but it has the pleasure of a chorus split between Wilson and Buster Bailey, which is no small gift. I’ll take it on faith that the drummer is J.C. Heard, who was part of Wilson’s orchestra, and the record pleases me, even though the subject is sad indeed, the Native American maiden weeping over her dead lover night after night:
And here are the two other sides from April 1939, in a format that may or may not work for you (if it doesn’t, I invite you to Google “Redd Evans and his Billy Boys” and find them on your own).
A few words about the Mosaic set — seven discs, expected at the end of this year. As always, the Mosaic boxes are often highlighted for the previously unknown and unheard music they contain, which leads some value-minded collectors to sniff, “Only seven unissued sides? Why, that costs $ – – – a side!” I can’t tell anyone how to apportion their money, but Mosaic issues, to me, always expose the larger picture: hearing familiar sides in a context not available previously; hearing the chronological development of an artist’s work, as far as it can be documented in visits to the recording studio. I will say that the set begins with the May 22, 1934 piano solo SOMEBODY LOVES ME and ends with the July 31, 1942 B FLAT SWING, both in two takes. In between, there are previously unheard band sides, and a 1942 trio date with Al Hall and J.C. Heard that was issued in part — but now we have the whole thing, more than two dozen performances, because Bill Savory was the recording engineer for Columbia.
I have been fascinated by Wilson since the late Sixties, and one of the thrills of my college-student life was getting his autograph at a suburban shopping center concert. Of course I sought out the Billie and Mildred sets on Columbia, and then graduated into the deep territory that only Collectors know. But I do not have all of the issued sides on this Mosaic set, and I have (or had) the Meritt Record Society lps, the three-disc French Columbia Wilson box set, the Masters of Jazz CDs . . . and so on. So this will be a set to treasure.
And this is true: in today’s mail, I received a traffic ticket from a red-light camera (the county I live in loves such things) that will cost me more than the Wilson set. And paying that fine will give much less pleasure than listening to Teddy in his prime.
My title comes from a wonderful, lesser-known song by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, from a minor Paramount Pictures comedy, TROPICAL HOLIDAY — with Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye (possibly playing a matador) and Bob Burns.
We know the song because it was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938.
And it was performed anew by Petra van Nuis and Friends at the 2017 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.
Petra had herself a time with some of the best players I know: Ricky Malichi, drums; Frank Tate, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds; Noah Won, piano.
Petra, if you are new to her or her work, can also be seen having a wonderful swinging time at Cleveland here on Sunday morning with an entirely different cast of luminaries: John Di Martino, Nicki Parrott, and Hal Smith.
Rather like our swing ideal Rebecca Kilgore, Petra doesn’t choose to drown herself in melancholy on the bandstand: even when she sings EVENIN’, the brisk tempo reminds us that the grim lyrics are only half the story. Her outlook is optimistic, as you will see and hear in these four wonderful performances.
She began with an upbeat song, almost a century old, SAVE YOUR SORROW:
After that encouraging beginning, Petra moved to “an old Billie Holiday song,” but you’ll notice she doesn’t attempt to be the Lady — no meow, no rasp:
Another song identified with Billie and Basie (built on DIGA DIGA DOO, I now know by hearsay), SWING, BROTHER, SWING — also a policy statement from the van Nuis camp:
And finally, a real pleasure. Petra is tall and svelte, but here she extends an affectionate embrace to those who, like me, ruefully are neither. It’s Fats’ SQUEEZE ME, with the shade of Mildred Bailey in the wings, grinning:
It is so dreadfully unpopular these days to suggest that jazz of any kind is “happy music”; to some it conjures up nightmarish visions of striped jackets and straw boaters. But Petra and a first-class band create joy.
And hereis her website, where you can see other videos, learn all about her and the Recession Seven, and find out where she’ll be appearing next.
Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, January 18, 1944.
And here is the soundtrack: DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME, BILLIE’S BLUES, and I’LL GET BY, with Billie accompanied by Roy Eldridge, Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, and Sidney Catlett:
And you all know that Louis Armstrong, Teddy Wilson, and Mildred Bailey appeared, with the Goodman Quintet being beamed in from the other coast.
When I bid on and won that photograph of Billie and Sidney on eBay, it came with a small rectangular strip of yellowed paper taped to its back, which read
THE THRUSH AND THE SKINMAN
“Two top jive artists are shown at the Esquire All-American jazz concert, held at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 18th. Billie Holliday does the vocalizing as drummer boy Sid Catlett pounds the skins.”
I am nostalgic about 1944 music, but I am glad that no one feels compelled to write that way anymore. Incidentally, when I looked online to see where this picture might have appeared — searching for THRUSH and SKINMAN — I got a whole host of entries about candida, male and female yeast infections. Mmmmmmm.
My unanswered and unanswerable question about the photograph has to do with it being a posed, rather than candid shot. Notice that neither of the two participants is in motion; there is no blur. So. Did the photographer say to the two of them presumably before or after the concert, “Billie, Miss Holiday. Could you come over here? We need a shot of you and Sidney — how do you people say it — giving each other . . . some skin?” And for those who like metaphysics, which one put out a hand first for this hip charade? I know the photograph is in some ways fake, but the emotions behind it are not.
P.S. If you’re going to lift the photographic image for use on your own site, be my guest. I wouldn’t disfigure it with a watermark . . . but real gents and ladies also write, “Photo courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.” Thanks.
The ebullient woman shining her light in the photograph, Banu Gibson, is a superb singer who doesn’t get the credit she deserves as a singer.
If you have no idea of what she sounds like, here, take a taste:
Banu, Bucky, and Berlin — endearing adult music, no tricks.
I think Banu is undervalued because she is so powerfully distracting as an entertainer, and this is a compliment. We hear the wicked comic ad-libs, we see the flashing eyes, we admire the dance steps, we are entranced by the Show she puts on (that, too, is a good thing) but I think we don’t always hear her fine voice as we should — her warm timbre, her dramatic expression, her phrasing, her intuitive good taste, her swing.
But with her new CD, we have a chance to hear her, deeply. That CD, BY MYSELF, is delightfully swinging, at times poignant. The song list is a perceptive assortment of songs that haven’t been overdone: BY MYSELF / MEET ME WHERE THEY PLAY THE BLUES / ILL WIND / THE MOON GOT IN MY EYES – MOONRAY / WAITIN’ FOR THE TRAIN TO COME IN / YOU LET ME DOWN / UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG / THEY SAY / STOP THE SUN, STOP THE MOON (MY MAN’S GONE) / MY BUDDY / NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS / OH! LOOK AT ME NOW / DAYTON, OHIO – 1903 / OUR LOVE ROLLS ON / LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES. And Banu’s wonderfully empathic band is Larry Scala, guitar; Ed Wise, string bass; Rex Gregory, tenor sax and clarinet; Tom McDermott, piano on DAYTON and OUR LOVE.
Banu is a great connoisseur of songs, with a wide range of under-exposed great ones, as opposed to the two dozen that many singers favor. I’ve only heard her in performance a few times, but when she announces the next song, I always think, “Wow! How splendid! She knows that one!” rather than thinking, “Not another MY FUNNY VALENTINE or GOD BLESS THE CHILD, please, please.”
Song-scholars will notice that a number of these songs have sad lyrics, but this is not a mopey or maudlin disc. Every performance has its own sweet motion, an engaging bounce, as the musicians explore the great veldt of Medium Tempo.
Although a handful of songs on this disc are associated with other singers — Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Billie Holiday — BY MYSELF is not in a tribute to any of those great foremothers, nor is there any ill-starred attempt to recapture those recorded performances. If Rex and Larry happen to sound a little like Pres and Charlie Christian on these sides, that is a wonderful side-effect, but no one’s been asked to pretend it’s 1937 and John Hammond is in the studio. Everyone swings gently — the shared goal, with no artificial ingredients.
The disc is not narrow in its conception, either. Banu and the band approach each song as a separate dramatic playlet with its own mood, tempo, and feeling. It’s one of those rare and delicious discs where the emotions are not only intense but fully realized. I could not listen to it all in one sitting — not because it bored me, but because I felt full of sensations after a few tracks, and few CDs are so quietly arresting. Each song is treated tenderly and attentively, and although I suspect the underlying theme of this disc is deeper than “Hey, I haven’t made a CD in a few years and here are some songs I like,” we’re not whacked over the head with one emotion. Rather, it’s as if Banu wanted us to consider the whole spectrum of intimate personal relationships. She and her band have deep true stories to tell, but you have to figure out what they are, performance by performance.
Incidentally, I am snobbish, narrow, hard to please (ask people who have heard me discuss what I do and don’t like) but I fell in love with this disc in the first twenty or so seconds of BY MYSELF, which is a rubato duet between Banu and Larry Scala. (When is the world going to wake up about Scala? Come ON, now! But I digress.) Her diction is remarkable; her solo swing a model, and her voice is rich and full of feeling. Her sweet vibrato is so warm: there’s nothing mechanical in her delivery and her superb phrasing: the second variation on the theme is never a clone of the first. (Hear her variations on “He made a toy of romance!” in MOONRAY: nothing that a lesser artist could do or what have envisioned.) By the way, the Gregory-Scala-Wise swing machine (with two interludes from McDermott) is perfectly lyrical and swinging — Basie plus Lester with Basie taking a smoke break in the hall, or perhaps Skeeter Best / Oscar Pettiford / Lucky Thompson if you prefer. On many singer-plus-band sessions, the disparity between one and the other is sharp, so the listener waits through the instrumental interlude for the Singer to come back, or vice versa. Here, every note seems right, and the result is very affecting.
In the ideal world, Banu and her band would be touring the world — giving concerts and clinics and workshops — and I would hear this music from other cars’ radios when we were at red lights. But until this happens, I commend this splendidly-recorded disc to you: the emotional density of a great volume of short stories combined with the elation of a book of coupons to your favorite ice-cream shoppe. BY MYSELF — after many listenings — seems a series of gems. You can buy it here. You will rejoice.
I wish I could offer you a recording of Mildred Bailey singing this song in 1933, or in any other year. I can’t . . . but I can share this new discovery — Mildred on the cover of this sheet music:
I can, however, offer this version, from Dixieland Monterey in 2012, with Bob Schulz, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet and worried vocal; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jim Maihack, tuba; Scott Anthony, banjo; Hal Smith, drums. Choreography by Stomp Evans, vocal arrangements by the Spirits of Rhythm:
“Who gives you that ‘Hi, Baby’?” Plato worried over this, as did Nietzsche. Best not to worry so much.
Singers who perform in public — as they must — have singular obstacles to face in performance. Even though the ringing cash register is now a museum piece, there are so many extraneous sounds to surmount even when the audience is properly quiet and (imagine this!) everyone’s smartphone is shut off. Dishes and glasses clink; the waitstaff murmurs details of the specials, offers a dessert menu, presents the bill. The presumed answer to this is amplification, which can make a quiet sound audible at the back of the room, but in the process coarsens every nuance.
A CD session recorded in a studio has its own set of obstacles: the creative artist may be restricted to one small space, may be burdened with headphones and be banished into a booth . . . but we don’t see these travails, and the sound we hear through our speakers is a kinder representation of the human voice.
Hence, this delightful surprise (recorded by Malcolm Addey, so you can imagine the clear, accurate sound) in 2015:
In case you can’t read the back cover, the songs are I Walk a Little Faster / Wouldn’t It Be Loverly / Feel Like Makin’ Love / Lets Go Live In a Lighthouse / Cycling Along With You / Inside a Silent Tear / My Blue Heaven / A O Zora / You Turned the Tables On Me / Fly Me To The Moon / You Wanna Bet / The Brooklyn Bridge / The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
And the Orchestra with Vocal Refrain is Daryl, piano and vocals, with Harvie S, string bass, on tracks 2 and 10. It’s a delightfully old-fashioned CD: twelve tracks, fifty minutes, but no need to turn it over.
From the start, it’s a wonderful chance to hear Daryl — “her ownself” — as we might say in the Middle West a century ago. She is of course her own splendid accompanist, and her two selves never get in each other’s way. And I would direct some pianists who revere Tatum as their model to her spare, pointed accompaniment.
Her voice is the true delight here. Daryl sounds so much like herself, and is I think instantly recognizable, although one may call to mind Mildred Bailey, Blossom Dearie, and Dave Frishberg as musical colleagues and inspirations. I think she’s been undervalued because of what sounds (to the casual listener) like girlish charm, a high sweet voice with a conversational, sometimes wry delivery. But once the listener is into this CD for more than a chorus, the absence of other instrumentalists allows us to hear emotional depth beneath the apparent light-heartedness. This isn’t to say that the disc veers towards the dark or maudlin, but there is a true adult sensibility that makes even the most familiar material shine as if beautifully polished and lit. And even if you think you know how Daryl sings and plays, I submit that this CD is her masterpiece to date, sending us gentle immediacy of the most rare kind.
It’s a wonderful one-woman show, with nothing to excess, and a CD I’d like to send to many singers to show ’em how it can be done.
Matters of finance! If you send Daryl an email here, and say the magic words, “I’d like to buy MY BLUE HEAVEN,” her staff will help you do just that. You can also ask for an autographed copy. For now, checks only: $20 plus $ for shipping. You can also browse around her site to learn about upcoming gigs, to read her biography, see pictures, and more. I’m amused and pleased that four of the five videos are mine.
Musicians’ relations to their material — whether they choose it or someone else does — are complex.
For some, “the material is immaterial,” which means “I will have a good time playing or singing whatever song is placed in front of me, and I will make it my own.” In this category, I think of Louis, Lips Page, Fats Waller, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, and many others. Other musicians like the comfort of the familiar: I think of Jack Teagarden, whose many versions of BASIN STREET BLUES are often full of small delightful surprises. Yet the familiar can be a trap, encouraging some musicians to “phone it in” or “go through the motions.”
The Blessed Eddie Condon exists by himself in those categories. Because so much of his musical life was spent outside of the recording studio, on bandstands and in concert halls, there might appear to be a sameness in his discography, with multiple versions of IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE — but that “song” was simply a beautiful structure within which his brilliant strolling players could express themselves to the utmost. Eddie cared very deeply for and about good songs, material that hadn’t been done to death. That is why (without looking at the discography) you will find few versions of INDIANA, SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, and none of the SAINTS. And when he was working with the Blessed Milton Gabler — either for Commodore or Decca or World Transcriptions — the two men shared a love of melodic material. I don’t know who led the way, but I suspect that Eddie, who remembered songs, might have suggested to Milt a particular favorite of his childhood or the early Twenties: thus, DANCING FOOL; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; IDA; OH, KATHARINA, and this lovely oddity:
How did this song come to be? It’s not explicitly a war song — the premise is simply that a pretty Dutch girl is waiting for the singer, and implicitly in the premise is that the singer will be kissed seriously when he shows up. Were the fellows in the Brill Building making jokes about “two lips” when someone said, “Hey, let’s write a Dutch song!” Was the “beside me / Zuider Zee” rhyme irresistible? But it has a forward-looking melody for 1915, thanks to Whiting (I can hear the Wolverines playing this, in my mind) and the lyrics are of their time but not ponderously so.
Here is a contemporary version — not the most famous one by Henry Burr, but a good recording, one I would happily play for a listener insistent that music began with electrical recording or even later:
When Eddie and Milt decided to record this song for Decca, thirty-two years later, it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It wasn’t LADY BE GOOD or RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, and one hears an arrangement that (I think) was done by Bobby Hackett, and done prior to the date. Who could go wrong with Jack Teagarden singing?
The personnel for this August 5, 1947 session is Bobby Hackett, cornet, probably arrangements; Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Ernie Caceres, alto and baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; George Wettling, drums:
Although that is a very short recording, it is full of pleasures: Jack’s trombone lazily ornamenting the melody over the four-horn statement of the theme; Bushkin, immediately identifiable, modulating for Jack’s vocal, with a Wettling accent to encourage everyone; Jack’s gorgeous voice — slightly nasal, Bing meets Louis in Texas, perhaps, streamlined but deeply earnest (with a different horn background — scored obbligati for four horns with Bushkin brightly commenting — beneath him); a Hucko half-chorus, sounding sweetly as if Bud were in the studio; Jack taking the last sixteen bars, vocally, with a scored phrase to finish it all out. The only thing “wrong” with that record is that it could have had one more chorus and still been a perfectly respectable 10″ 78.
What impresses me at this distance of nearly fifty years is how musical it all is. It doesn’t need to parade its “improvisatory” credentials: “We’re hot jazzmen and singers, you know.” The Condon-Gabler world didn’t always want to read from scores, but the musicians were perfectly capable of doing so, and the scored passages are expertly played. I also imagine someone tuning in the radio — AM, of course, in 1947 — hearing this new Decca waxing, a new platter, and thinking, “That’s a great record!” Which it was and is.
Why am I suddenly delving in to such obscurities? Well, no record that has Eddie Condon on it is unworthy; the same goes for the rest of the personnel, especially Mister Teagarden . . . and I have been listening to these overlooked Decca sessions — in glowing sound, with many unissued alternates — from the new Mosaic Eddie Condon / Bud Freeman set, which I reviewed here. Ecstatically.
I know this Mosaic set might get overshadowed by the latest glorious gift, the Lester Young effusion, and the Condon / Freeman one is already OLD, having come out in mid-2015, but when it’s sold out, don’t ring my buzzer and ask me to burn you copies of discs seven and eight. You’ve been warned.