Tag Archives: Mills Brothers

ASKING THE MUSICAL QUESTION: “BABY, ARE YOU SATISFIED?”

Some questions are too deep for simple answers. And for me, the complete absence of punctuation only adds to the plaintive nature of the inquiry.  Commas and question marks are for those easily distracted from the emotional depths.  This inquiry was recorded on June 27, 1933.

Here is another sound source to muse on.

This recording is a remarkable oddity — left out of the most current expansive online jazz discography.  It was recorded in three takes, the last one being the master, and it was the only side issued, everything else being rejected — they attempted SMOKE RINGS, ANGELINE, THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN with different vocalists including “Detroit Red,” Heywood and Eddie Jackson, unheard washboard by Sammy Page.  At a later session, December 21, 1933, a similar band attempted BABY, ARE YOU SATISFIED? (the discography by Brian Rust adds the comma and question mark) and RED, WHITE, AND BLUES.  I know that Columbia Records (or the American Record Corporation) was nearly bankrupt, which may account for the typographical errors: the first session was, I believe, credited to “DICKEY WELLS’ SHIM SHAMMERS,” and the second to “DICKIE WELLS and KENNY’S KELLOWATTS.”

Dicky Wells (or Dickie Wells) was not the extravagantly creative trombonist, but a dancer who ran the Shim Sham Club in New York’s Harlem, where this group appeared. Pianist Kenny Watts led Kenny Watts and his Kilowatts; drummer Eddie Dougherty is not well-known but is marvelous (catch his work with Bennie Morton, James P. Johnson, and Mildred Bailey).  My late dear friend Mike Burgevin asked bassist Johnny Williams about Eddie and was told that he pronounced his name “Dockerty.”

The personnel provided to us by collector-scholar Steve Abrams (his YouTube channel, a cornucopia of marvels, is SMARBA100) is this: Heywood Jackson, Eddie Johnson, Milton Lane, kazoo; Fred Voorhees, guitar; Watts; Dougherty; Carroll Waldron, string bass.  What they do with the simplest melodic and lyric material is fascinating.

To me, it is a study in timbres: the textures of the singer, who may or may not be the avian whistler, the riffing kazoos, the guitarist’s tone (contrapuntally or in solo), the plunk of the string bass, and the quiet drumming.

The three kazoo virtuosi, who create an odd melancholy haunting reverie that makes me think of 1933 Ellington — the trombones? — and looks forward to Basie.  And the record ends with an engineer’s fade-out, not usual for 1933.  Yes, it runs parallel to the Mills Brothers, the Spirits of Rhythm, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Red McKenzie’s groups, perhaps the Tramp Band and other skiffle combinations . . . but its very elusiveness makes it memorable.  If we had twenty-four sides, perhaps the magic would grow predictable, but this one three-minute tone poem is precious.  And strange, which increases the magic.  Thanks to Steve Abrams for bringing this one back into our consciousness.

However, an online search for any information turned up this excerpt from dancer Howard “Stretch” Johnson’s unpublished memoir, in a book I immediately bought:

One of the most popular after-hours clubs was Dickey Wells’s Shim Sham Club, which also catered to white customers.  Today, in keeping with the parlance of the recording industry, the Shim-Sham would be called a crossover club.  The Shim-Sham or Shimmy was a dance invented by homosexuals from the chorus line of the 101 Ranch [which Johnson identifies as having a “bizarre transvestite and homosexual chorus line” in the preceding paragraph].  “Shim” was a contraction of the term she-him, and the “sham” was a word serving the dual purpose of denoting the female role as played by males, as well as the shambling nature of the steps, particularly the first eight bars.  The Shimmy combined a hip and shoulder wiggle that was part of the opening movements.  

Dickey Wells was a former Cotton Club dancer who later became a pimp and an entrepreneur.  He ran his club as economically as possible, employing a “jug” band called the Shim Shammers or Kenny Watts and his Kilowatts, instead of regular musicians.  Watts played the piano, Eddie Dougherty drums, Fletch Jahon, Eddie “Hawk” Johnson, Heywood Jackson, and Milton Lane played kazoos [another source mentions that the band had one or several baritone kazoos],  with Carol Walrond, the brother of Harlem Renaissance poet and author Eric Walrond, on bass.  The sound they created was somewhere between Red McKenzie’s Mound City Blue Blowers and Duke Ellington, if you can imagine that.  Fletch and Sammy Page did vocals and whistled, and the group was fronted by an extraordinary “hoofer” whose percussive rhythms afforded an unusually inspirational jazz motif.  His name was Baby Lawrence, a master of  technique, rhythmic flow, and continuous improvisation.  Later, during the bebop phase, he was recognized as the preeminent jazz hoofer.  [Source:  Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of African American History Told by Those Who Lived It, edited by Herb Boyd.]

That is intensely revealing; it conjures up a scene, and it suggests to me that there is much more to the apparently simple question of the title than we might have naively assumed.  Satisfaction is nothing to take lightly.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING DAN MORGENSTERN, WHO GIVES SO MUCH TO US

On October 24, 1929, Bennie Moten, Lud Gluskin, Horace Heidt, Junie C. Cobb, Jack Hylton, and a few other bands made records.  In the United States, terrible things were happening to the economy.  But in Munich, Germany, our hero Dan Morgenstern was born.  Whether his first cries were in 4/4, there is no evidence,  but I would venture that it was an early example of spontaneous scat singing.

Given the math above, even I can add up the figures to write that Dan will be 88 this week.  I’m not the only one celebrating.  There will be a musical birthday party hosted by David Ostwald, who leads the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, New York City, this Wednesday, the 25th, from 5:30 to 7 PM.  And I’ll bet Dan chirps a few with the Band. You can reserve online (and you should) here.

On Saturday, October 28th, from 1-4 PM, Loren Schoenberg (a very good friend of Dan’s and a scholar in his own right) will host a celebration / interview of Dan at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, 58 West 129th Street, New York City. Details — to reserve a seat / buy a ticket at a nominal price — here — or here.

While you’re making your reservations, a little Morgenstern-music to accompany your mouse-clicks:

I don’t have a jazz club or museum as a place to honor Dan.  But JAZZ LIVES is not without its resources, and as readers know, I have had the honor of interviewing Dan at length . . . an utterly gratifying experience for me, so I will share two as-yet-unseen segments.

One takes Dan back to Copenhagen in 1938.  I knew he had delighted in Fats Waller on Fats’ European tour, but I hadn’t known he had seen the Quintet of the Hot Club of France AND the Mills Brothers.  Dan also recalls his first jazz records.  Wonderful memories:

Remembering the Quintet also led to Dan’s enthusiastic portrait of violinist Svend Asmussen:

“A wonderfully enveloping good nature,” Dan says of Fats.  He would never say it of himself, but it is no less true.  It is our immense good fortune to know Mr. Morgenstern.

May your happiness increase!

AS CINEMA, IT HAS ITS LIMITS: AS A TIME MACHINE, IT’S FLAWLESS: “HARLEM IS HEAVEN” (1932)

The great connoisseur of popular culture, especially women singers, Alan Eichler, just shared with us his VHS copy of the 1932 film HARLEM IS HEAVEN.  It’s a great gift, as it may be the first “all-colored” feature sound film, with starring roles for Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Putney Dandridge, James Baskett, and with incidental music provided by Eubie Blake and his Orchestra, also with an appearance by Noble Sissle.

HARLEM HEAVEN poster

Now, I have reservations about the film itself.  Henri Wessell as “Chummy” and Anise Boyer as “Jean” are both beautiful young people, although their naturalistic acting is, to my taste, none too subtle.  And the plot (the film was written and directed by Irwin R. Franklyn) is thin to the point of transparency.

But what other film shows us so much of Bill Robinson as an actor, singer, and dancer — the stair dance sequence has been shown often but without credit, but the rest was new to me.  The dancers are presented to us as the world-famous Cotton Club entertainters, which is a look behind the scenes that we would otherwise not have had.

And this is serious business: is there any other film in the history of cinema that has Putney Dandridge as a deadly moral avenger who is never arrested or tried? I rest my case.

Even though I could not view the whole film in one sitting, I was captivated from the start by the little touches of 1932 Harlem reality: the marquee reading MILLS BROS. and the glimpse of the exterior of Connie’s Inn. Then, later on, there is a whole history of early-Thirties theatre and music and dance.  For fans of pre-Code splendor, “Jean” takes off her dress, revealing beautiful silk lingerie, while “Chummy” looks elsewhere, and later on there is a brief catfight between “Jean” and “Greta Rae.”  Worth viewing?  That’s up to you.

Here’s the film.

On its own terms, it is indeed Heavenly.  Thank you, Alan.  And here — reaching back even more — is Bill, in Technicolor (!) in the 1930 DIXIANA:

May your happiness increase.

WHEN BLISS HAPPENS! AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH, BEAU SAMPLE (Nov. 30, 2014)

SAN DIEGO 2015 flyer 2

One of my friends recently asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m flying to San Diego for a wonderful jazz festival,” and this is why: the San Diego Jazz Fest (all schedules subject to change, but this is a filling menu indeed).

The names you don’t see on the flyer above are Marc Caparone, Kim Cusack, Chris Dawson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, and many others.  I know that some of you will say, with good reason, “That’s too far away,” and I understand that.  But if you say, “Oh, that’s just another California trad festival,” I hope you are not within swatting range, for it isn’t.  But rather than take this uncharacteristic vehemence as merely the expression of the writer’s personality, look below.

Evidence from November 30, 2014: a small-group session led by Ray Skjelbred, piano and vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello, Marc Caparone, trumpet.  I’ve posted other videos from this session, but here are the two that closed it.  One lyrical, one steaming.

The first song, ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE, which I associate with Lee Wiley — who recorded it a half-dozen times between 1950 and 1972.  Wiley wrote the lyrics; Ned Washington and Victor Young the melody.  I suspect that Ray knew it first from the Mills Brothers recording, but perhaps from the Chick Bullock, Ellington, Hackett, or Nat Cole sides, too.

It is one of those rare love songs that isn’t I WISH I HAD YOU or YOU BROKE MY HEART, but a seriously intent paean to fidelity (rather like I’LL FOLLOW YOU, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, or I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN).  Yet unlike those two songs, it doesn’t stress super-heroic behavior as testimony of diligent indefatigable fidelity.  There are no caveats: “I have to check my calendar.  I can’t be devoted to you this Tuesday.  How about Wednesday?” There aren’t any mighty distances, rivers, or mountains.  The singer simply says, “Ask for me and I’ll be there,” which I find touching. And Ray’s spare, whispered declaration of the lyrics makes it even more so.  I don’t hear his singing as evidence of a limited vocal range; rather, he sounds like someone uttering his deepest heart-truths about devotion in the form of a vow. A Thirties pop song about love — what could be more common — that suddenly seems a sacred offering:

From a sacred offering delivered in hushed tones to another song-of-relationships, the critical / satirical NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, which — with lyrics — details the small-town girl who has come to the big city and quickly become unrecognizable.  Perhaps she’d come to the South Side of Chicago and started hanging around the Lincoln Gardens?  If so, I’d assess her transformation as an improvement.  Note the easy hot tempo — that’s no oxymoron — and how Marc Caparone sounds a bit like a holy ancestor from Corsicana, Texas.  To quote Ring Lardner, you could look it up.  Or you could simply immerse yourself in the video:

Here’s the festival’s home page and the relevant Facebook page.  I hope you’ll heed the siren call of Good Music and join us there.  Festivals need more than enthusiastic watchers-of-videos to survive.

I hope I will be forgiven for ending on an autobiographical note.  Five years ago, I had some cardiac excitement that was repaired by the best kind of Western medicine: open the patient up and put a little machine in.  It works; I’m fine.  Ask my electrocardiologist.  But when I watch and listen to music at this level — music that I experienced then and have revisited often — I think, “Goodness, I could have died and never seen / heard this,” in a state of astonished gratitude. Not a bad place to be. Rather like the San Diego Jazz Fest.

May your happiness increase!

HIS WESTERN SWING (Marty Grosz / Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars, August 15, 2014)

Marty Grosz, a citizen of the world who has spent much of his time in the eastern United States, visited California for nearly two weeks in August 2014.  I’ve documented some of his musical activities, especially a glorious afternoon at Cafe Divine with Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco here and here, but the Grosz Tour also touched down on Friday, August 15, at the nexus of Hot, Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, to play some with Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars: Clint, string bass / vocal; J Hansen, drums; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, soprano saxophone; Jim Klippert, trombone.

Here are three highlights of that session.

A 1936 song we associate with Louis, Red Allen, and Wingy Manone: ON TREASURE ISLAND:

A nineteenth-century favorite that I heard in childhood, both in a lewd parody and in the Louis / Mills Brothers disc, IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE:

And a classic song to send the dancers home in a romantic haze — here performed at a groovy dance tempo with a heartfelt sing-along that almost took off, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

Thank you, Marty, and the gentlemen of the ensemble.

May your happiness increase!

JACK KAPP INSISTS

Two stories from the past.

One comes from someone’s reminiscence of being on the bus with the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe — this could have been in 1957 — where Sonny Stitt, a brilliantly virtuosic player, was walking up and down the aisle of the bus, horn in full flight, playing everything he knew, pulling out every impressive piece of acrobatic improvising to wow his august audience.  Lester Young, probably seated in the back of the bus, is supposed to have said, “That’s very nice, Lady Stitt.  But can you sing me a song?”

Bing Crosby and Jack Kapp (1901-1949) in the studio

Bing Crosby and Jack Kapp (1901-1949) in the studio

Jack Kapp, the head of Decca Records, was famous for wanting his artists — Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Louis Armstrong, the Andrews Sisters — to play and sing the melody so that the ordinary listener knew it was there.  Some sources say there was a wooden Indian at one end of the studio with a sign around its neck, WHERE’S THE MELODY? — others remember it as a picture of a Native American maiden with a cartoon balloon in which the same question was written in bold letters.

Famously, Kapp has been depicted in recent years as a fierce oppressor, someone who chained his free-spirited artists to the black dots on the manuscript paper.  It was all about the money, scholars propose, aiming music at the lowest common denominator who couldn’t understand anything they couldn’t hum along to.

Jazz writers like to imagine “what would have happened if (fill in hero / heroine’s name) had been able to record for a more hip company.  What magical music would we have now?”  They shed tears for Louis Armstrong, “forced” to record Hawaiian songs with Andy Iona.

Third story.  Time: 2014.

I received a CD not long ago by a jazz group I hadn’t heard of, although their credentials and associations were impressive.  And the CD had many beautiful songs on it — lovely melodies that I looked forward to hearing.  When I put the CD on, I was immediately taken with the beautiful recorded sound, the expansive improvisations, the sophisticated technique of the players — no one seemed to take a breath; no one faltered; the improvisations — at the highest level — went on without a letup. But in each case, the improvisations were so technically dazzling, so dense with musical information that the song, hinted at in the first chorus, sank deeper and deeper under the water.  Intricate rhythmic patterns, hammered out unceasingly; layers of substitute harmonies; unusual tempos (ballads taken at triple speed) dominated every performance.

The disc lasted about an hour.  It was brilliant and awe-inspiring but I found it truly exhausting and, to me, antithetical to the spirit of the original songs.  I know, I know.  Jazz is “about” improvisation, right? Only dullards play exactly what’s on the page, correct?

I listened to the whole CD, and as much as I marveled at the technique, the assurance, the bold dash of the whole thing, all I wanted to do was to hear something beautiful, something songful and soulful.  Ben Webster playing HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?  Louis playing and singing WHEN YOU’RE SMILING. Bird with Strings.  A Johnny Hodges slow blues.  Benny Goodman playing LADY BE GOOD.  Miles Davis exploring the PORGY AND BESS score.

I always agreed with the commonly held notion of Jack Kapp as a materialistic soul-destroying enemy of creativity.

Now I might rethink my position, because beautifully playing the melody seems like balm to my ears.

And I think that many musicians would say it is much more difficult to play that ballad “straight” and convey the song’s emotions than to leave the original behind in thirty-two bars in the name of improvisation.

I hope you find beautiful melodies wherever you go.  They are all around us.

May your happiness increase! 

DOIN’ THE HORTICULTURAL: EMILY ASHER’S GARDEN PARTY LIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO, JANUARY 16, 2014: PART ONE

A good time was had by all.

Emily Asher’s Garden Party — captured here nearing the end of their 2014 West Coast Tour (historians take note).  Here they are at a very rewarding house concert in San Francisco, hosted by Daniel Fabricant and Vic Wong, offering good-old-good ones, Hoagy Carmichael, music associated with Louis Armstrong, and a few locally-sourced originals.

The GP in these videos is Emily, trombone, vocals, arrangements / compositions; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Tom Abbott, reeds; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. (My videos are a little dark but the music blazes brightly.)

For Ella, the Mills Brothers, Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the elusive Hy Zaret, DEDICATED TO YOU:

Emily’s original, dedicated to a clamorous stretch of road in her home town, EAST MERIDIAN:

TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, a sweet bit of Carmichael voiced for Asher and Davis, soft-shoe tempo provided by that nimble rhythm section:

Appropriate for a Garden Party, WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

Thinking again of Ella and Chick, the band shouts HALLELUJAH!:

A small Louis-Jack trilogy (catch Mr. Davis’ beautiful sound here) STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

From ‘way out West, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

At a nice tempo, MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

Emily’s original, for her flowering niece, SWEET PEA:

Music in blossom, with more to come!

May your happiness increase!

AT PLAY IN SONG: MEREDITH AXELROD and TAMAR KORN at CAFE ATLAS (August 10, 2013)

Generous and expert, they filled the air with song.

Here are the final five magical explorations by two brave sweet improvisers, Meredith Axelrod and Tamar Korn, at San Francisco’s Cafe Atlas on August 10, 2013.

LONESOME AND SORRY:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:

When I was finished watching and editing these videos for the blog, I kept thinking, “This isn’t the only kind of music I love, but it’s entirely real.  How lovely to see their pleasure, given freely to us.”

Two other notes.  The previous postings from this cheering afternoon of song can be found here and here.  The series of postings are, of course, for the Beloved, Confetta and Anatol, Louise and Jay.  They know why!

May your happiness increase!

FOUR MORE BEAUTIES BY MEREDITH AXELROD and TAMAR KORN at CAFE ATLAS (August 10, 2013)

Here are four more magical explorations into the deep heart of song by two wonderful singers and improvisers — Meredith Axelrod and Tamar Korn, flying free at San Francisco’s Cafe Atlas on August 10, 2013.

Not only did they use their voices to sing the lyrics and chart the melodies in most harmonious ways; they became a small orchestra of trumpets without brass or mouthpieces, a violin of the soul — needing no strings, rosin, or bow, and tweeting ensemble of airborne birdcalls.

I thought of the words that appeared on the label of the Mills Brothers’ early Decca records:  No musical instruments or mechanical devices used on this recording other than one guitar.

Who needs more?

And fittingly, here’s a song the Mills Brothers recorded early on — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

The 1920 classic, MARGIE, with a verse that explains it all:

For Bing and Louis and all the dreamers, WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

And Tamar lets us know it with JEALOUS HEARTED ME:

Thank you once more, Meredith and Tamar, for reminding us how light-hearted yet how deep beauty really is, and for encouraging us to be as free in our lives as you are in your song.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER SUNDAY SUPPER AT BRENDA’S WITH GAUCHO (DAVE RICKETTS, ROB REICH, ARI MUNKRES): JUNE 23, 2013

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Dr. Matilda Weinstein (the JAZZ LIVES house physician) asks, “Have you had your GAUCHO today?”

Here’s a hot and sweet musical tonic from my visit to one of GAUCHO’s regular spots — Brenda’s French Soul Food on Polk Street in San Francisco — on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

Dave Ricketts brought along his ever-reliable Tin Man (you’ll see it in his lap) but also his cornet, where he displays an admirable calm lyricism; Rob Reich swung out on the accordion in ways that the instrument isn’t accustomed to — all for the good! — and Ari Munkres showed again why he is a one-man rhythm section.

A hot SWEET GEORGIA BROWN (I got my camera in action late, but the second half is delicious):

The little-known rhythm ballad, MOANIN’ FOR YOU (courtesy of the Mills Brothers and patented Ricketts-Romanticism):

And for those who like their New Orleans cuisine with Middle Eastern touches, THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

Tasty (as is the food at Brenda’s)!

May your happiness increase!

CONNIE, VET, AND MARTHA: SOUL SISTERS!

I’ve been thinking about Connie (or Connee) Boswell for the last few days.   This was one wonderful provocation, found on eBay.

I wasn’t around in the era when a pretty girl would come up to my / our table in a night club, take a flash picture of us, and return with copies — a great momento of an evening out.  But here’s a piece of paper that evokes that experience:

LOOK PLEASANT PLEASE! is always good advice, but this charming souvenir of days gone by has an even more important flip side:

Yes, Connie Bowell in 1942.  It would be impossible to look anything but pleasant if she were on the scene.

But my thoughts wandered to the larger question.  The Boswell Sisters were the most hip singing group on the planet — with deference to the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Andrews Sisters, and a long line of male and female singers, as inventive as they are.  But they aren’t as well-known as they should be.  In their time, they were admired and respected by the most innovative musicians in the business, including Bing Crosby and the Dorsey Brothers.  But the Sisters didn’t stay in the limelight for decades (they would have been astonishing on television every Sunday night).  Musically, they also present a paradox.  The casual listener, only mildly attentive, can say, “Oh, that’s another vocal group with a nice beat.”  But I think that the recordings and performances the Sisters left for us are so rich with information, with textures, that listeners find themselves overwhelmed: the music is too dense to be properly ingested as a pleasant background.

Consider this:

That performance swings as hard as anything recorded up to 1932: I would put it head-to-head with the Bennie Moten band or anything else you’d like to name.  Of course, the Sisters had several other things that made them less well-regarded than they might be.  They weren’t tragic; they were Caucasian; they were popular; they were women.

Connie Boswell went on to great success in the decades after the Sisters (Helvetia, “Vet,” and Martha) decided to retire from performing in 1936.  But she, too, suffered from the curse of being apparently stable and popular.  There was a more famous singer — her name was Ella Fitzgerald — who said she owed everything to Connee.  And Ella said it over and over to anyone who would listen.

Connie was one of the most soulful singers ever.  Her opening choruses are masterpieces of deep feeling and respect for the memory; her voice a thrill.  Her second choruses show what a superb improviser she was . . . straight from New Orleans but with her own deep swinging identity.

Consider this:

I don’t want to suggest that Connie, Vet, and Martha “suffered” — but I think in a society that didn’t insist its women singers be beddable, a world that didn’t see race or gender but just heard the music, they would be heroic figures today.  They had SOUL.

May your happiness increase.

DUKE’S APPLE, OR ADVENTURES IN SOUND

IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, composed in 1905 by Williams and Van Alstyne, may have seemed nostalgic even when it first appeared.  The lyrics describe some caressing and blushing and a promise of pastoral fidelity although they are now apart.  But no one has been thrown out of the Garden.

To establish the song, here’s a 1929 Max Flesicher SCREEN SONGS cartoon — a whole show in itself, with a comic prelude, the cynical vaudeville patter (is the singer Billy Murray?), then two verses, two choruses.  The satire of the cartoon jostles the innocence of the lyrics and melody.  (As the lyrics describe pastoral pleasures — the birds, bees, and flowers — the sandwich refuses to be eaten, the dachshund is nearly caught in the shrinking building: slapstick proliferates.)

Here’s Duke Ellington’s version from August 15, 1933:

This has been one of my favorite recordings for years, showing once again how beautifully jazz improvisers take the most simple material and make it spacious, relaxing in the freedom that simple melodies and harmonies afford.

It begins with the reed section stating the first notes of the melody against a simple stride figure from Ellington’s piano — a stripped-down Willie “the Lion” Smith motif, perhaps? — that suggests both a vaudeville vamp and someone ambling down the street.  The reeds and piano (over Wellman Braud’s happily prominent string bass) converse in a most pastoral manner . . . suggesting that a sweet band is taking the stand (although Duchin could never have managed that piano figure with such swing) until ominous rumblings are heard in the background.

Did a large dog make its way into the Brunswick studios?  No, it’s just Cootie Williams with his plunger mute.  I think in the second half of the chorus either Freddy Jenkins or Rex Stewart takes over to continue the sweet satire.  If, in the first thirty seconds, the Jungle Band was peeking sideways through the sweet foliage, the second half of the first chorus is more raucously comic — the apple tree gets connected to horse racing, to a repeated blues phrase, and the trumpet soloist ends his chorus with what sounds like a genuine guffaw.  Obviously more than “the dull buzz of the bee” is evident here.

So far, by the way, one might think this a small band recording — a three-piece rhythm section, a reed section, and one or two trumpeters at most.  None of the annunciatory “big band” power of trading sections.

The next eight bars suggest that satire — or at least a distinctively mocking voice — has taken the upper hand.  Could anyone mistake the half-muted plunger sound of Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, offering his own wry commentary on what exactly might be going on in the wildwood — certainly blushing and caressing are the least of it, for the imagined lovers have given full vent to their animal passions!  Then Tricky (in the next eight bars) seems to jam his plunger mute fully into the bell of his horn, sounding like another musician completely, ending his chorus with a huge guffaw or Bronx cheer.

So far we’ve had the counterpoint between the decorous (although swinging) reeds delineating the melody and the much naughtier brass voices.  Ellington saves his most dramatic soloist for the next chorus — the golden sound of Johnny Hodges, turning this simple melody into a blues, then adding a Louis-inspired upwards phrase to move us completely away from melodic embellishment.  There is no satire here — rather a mixture of the blues and a dramatic aria.

One more chorus remains.  What sounds like the whole ensemble (did Ellington have all his thirteen players in the studio for this or was it a smaller band?) — muted brass playing staccato phrases, supported by the reed section . . . but wait!  A beautiful embroidery of woody, swooping phrases (“that’s Barney Bigard on clarinet / you ain’t never heard nothing like him yet”) decorates the clipped phrasing.  That phrasing, to my ears, is so reminiscent of music for a tap-dance routine that I wonder if Ellington began playing this piece in theatres for a group like the Four Step Brothers.

And after a decorous, rather formal ending, the piece closes with a reiteration of those brass mockeries, doo-wahs that look backwards to the Jungle Band and IT DON’T MEAN A THING.  Whatever happened under the Old Apple Tree might have been less nostalgic, in Ellington’s imagination.

On paper, this is a very simple series of inventions: the reed section (and then the brass) keeps stating a pared-down version of the melody, while a small number of soloists improvise over it.  But what a variety of sounds!  And although I may have heard this recording several hundred times, and I know who and what is coming next, it never fails to be a delightful surprise.  No drama in volume, just a beautiful series of dance-vignettes celebrating individual sounds.

Twelve years later, Ellington returned to the piece and offered it regularly as part of his 1945 radio broadcasts from theatres.  One such version, recorded on May 26 in Chicago, made its way onto a V-Disc, which is how we have it here.  The band is larger: Rex Stewart, Shelton Hemphill, Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson (tp) Ray Nance (tp,vln,vcl) Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Claude Jones, Lawrence Brown (tb) Jimmy Hamilton (cl,ts) Johnny Hodges (as) Otto Hardwick (as,cl) Al Sears (ts) Harry Carney (bar,cl,b-cl) Duke Ellington (p) Fred Guy (g) Junior Raglin (b) Sonny Greer (d).

The outlines of the original performance are still visible, but the whole recording has a rather leisurely — even lazy — feel to it, as if this was a piece that Ellington’s band didn’t have to work too hard to perform:

And just in case you’d like another taste of the Apple . . . here’s my own personal Paradise, a sublime quintet:

May your happiness increase.

BLOSSOMS AND TREES: CLICK HERE FOR LOUIS!

As a recovering homeowner, I remember working in the suburban garden . . . without much pleasure.  It’s all a blur of shovels and gloves, pine bark chips, perennials and annuals.

But now you and I have an opportunity to make a garden grow — without raising a blister or breaking a sweat.  Perhaps you will also grow enthusiastic about this project when I remind you that it is the garden of the Louis Armstrong House Museum I am referring to.

If you like a logical Mobius strip, let me propose this one.

Louis Armstrong continues to make us happy even though the medical examiner said he was dead on July 6, 1971.  We can do something to make him — wherever his spirit is — happier by moving our respective computer mice.  And we are alive . . .

The Louis Armstrong House Museum was named one of forty historic places by American Express and the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation. There’s a competition  — which began on April 26, 2012.   New York City’s first-ever citywide grassroots preservation contest will run through May 21st, 2012.

Partners in Preservation asks the public to vote online for the preservation project they like best.

And — no surprise — the Louis Armstrong House Museum is the only preserved home of a jazz legend in the contest!

“We are honored and excited to be among 40 organizations to compete in this preservation grant contest,” noted Michael Cogswell, Executive Director of the LAHM. “If we win, and we hope we do, the funds will preserve Louis and Lucille’s garden.” Louis Armstrong celebrated his 71st birthday in his beloved garden, two days before his death.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum is a living memoir of Louis and Lucille Armstrong: the house where they entertained friends; the den where Louis practiced, ate sardines, had a good time for nearly thirty years. LAHM, a non-profit 501c(3) organization, is a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark. All of its furnishings are original and have been preserved, giving visitors the feeling that Louis and Lucille just stepped out for a minute. The Louis Armstrong House Museum holds collections of photographs, sound recordings, letters, manuscripts, instruments, and artifacts, making it the largest publicly held archival collection in the world devoted to a jazz musician.

Until May 21, 2012, anyone 13 years of age and older, anywhere in the world can vote online for the Louis Armstrong House Museum either from their web-enabled mobile device, online or on Facebook.

The best way to vote is at http://www.facebook.com/louisarmstronghousemuseum.

Votes can be cast directly at http://partnersinpreservation.com/

Everyone can vote once a day for Louis Armstrong House Museum for 26 days up through May 21. On May 22, the top three vote-getters and the grants for their preservation projects will be announced.  Money will also be awarded for the most imaginative campaign . . . which we hope this is!

American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and an advisory committee, will review the votes of the remaining sites along with each site’s monetary and preservation needs to determine how the rest of the $3 million in grants will be awarded.

“We are thrilled to bring this important preservation program to New York and highlight this city’s many historic treasures while emphasizing the importance of grassroots preservation efforts,” said Stephanie Meeks, President, the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Preservation of our historic places helps strengthen communities, generate jobs and build sustainable cities and towns. We hope Partners in Preservation will foster a deeper interest in protecting New York’s important historic and cultural sites for many decades to come.”

What does this mean to JAZZ LIVES readers, people who (I assume) love Louis and his music? It means we all have a chance to honor and help Louis and Lucille and their house . . . with a click of a mouse.

Spread joy — as Louis did — even if you never picked up a rake, a bag of fertilizer, or a trumpet. I’ve done my daily click. Won’t you?

Here’s a swinging pastoral reward for your good works:

May your happiness increase.

CRAZY RHYTHM and MORE: CASEY MacGILL’S BLUE 4 TRIO

Mike Daugherty, Matt Weiner, Casey MacGill

A band that calls itself “the Blue 4 Trio” has a touch of surrealism about it — reminiscent of the Magritte painting of a pipe that is subtitled “This is not a pipe.” But don’t let the quartet-that’s-really-a-trio disconcert you.

Casey MacGill and his colleagues make delicious music — in the best old-fashioned ways without being a “repertory orchestra” devoted to copying vintage 78s.

Casey, Matt, and Mike all sing — in that infectious way that recalls the Mills Brothers, the Spirits of Rhythm, the early King Cole Trio, Duke Ellington’s 1937 vocal trio, Slim and Slam, the Cats and the Fiddle, with touches of Fats, Louis, and Bing added to the mix.

Instrumentally, Casey is a fine pianist, ukulele player, and a heartfelt middle-register cornet serenader.  You’ve heard Mike Daughterty swing the First Thursday Jazz Band; here he gets many opportunities to show off his skill on the wirebrushes; bassist Matt Weiner who would make Milt Hinton proud.

I stress the inherent musicality of the B4T because many groups across the country market themselves as “swing bands” offer a rigid, by-the-numbers version of swing.   Sartorially, they are perfect: the hats, two-tone shoes, suits, but their music is rigid and limited.  Not this little band.

I listened to the Blue 4 Trio at length — two CDs worth — while driving back and forth to work.  I would testify under oath in Jazz Court that they swung, that every track lifted my spirits.

There’s no postmodern irony here, no “distance” from the material: their readings of I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY or I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ (memories of Jack Teagarden in 1934) are deep inside the song.  I now know the verse to CRAZY RHYTHM, which is no small boon.

Here’s a three-minute video portrait of these fellows and the band — created in Casey’s Seattle living room by filmmaker Keith Rivers:

Although the Trio’s repertoire is drawn from the Swing Era, they aren’t prisoners of 1936: their CDs and performances feature a few idiomatic originals and some more recent material: DAYDREAM (by John Sebastian) and the Leiber-Stoller THREE COOL CATS.

Visit here to hear music samples, keep up with the band’s gig schedule, and more.

And if you visit here and click at the top of the page, you can hear Casey and Orville Johnson play and sing ALOHA OE BLUES . . . a pleasure.

The two CDs I got so much pleasure from are THREE COOL CATS (which has guest appearances from guitarists Orville Johnson and Del Ray, as well as tenor sax and clarinet from Craig Flory).  The songs are GANGBUSTERS / THREE COOL CATS / I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY / LULU’S BACK IN TOWN / SUNNY AFTERNOON / UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE / THE SPELL OF THE BLUES / EVERYTHING BUT YOU / IT’S MY LAZY DAY / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / CHICKEN DINNER / DAYDREAM.

and the newest one, BARRELHOUSE (a MacGill original with clever lyrics), features the Trio plus Orville Johnson, Hans Teuber on tenor sax and piccolo, and New York’s own guitar master Matt Munisteri.  It begins with the title tune, and goes on to PALM SPRINGS JUMP / CHANGES / ME AND THE MOON / OUT OF NOWHERE / SMALL FRY / CRAZY RHYTHM / COW COW BOOGIE / I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ / I’VE GOT TO BE A RUG CUTTER / BLUE BECAUSE OF YOU / WARM IT UP TO ME.

They are the real thing.  Accept no substitutes!

THE SWEET AND HOT CORNUCOPIA (September 2-5, 2011)

How about spending Labor Day weekend 2011 with these musicians:

Howard Alden, John Allred, Dan Barrett, Chris Calabrese, Marc Caparone, Katie Cavera, Chris Dawson, Bob Draga, Eddie Erickson, Yve Evans, Chloe Feoranzo, Joel Forbes, Jim Galloway, Banu Gibson, Connie Jones,  Rebecca Kilgore, Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys, Dave Koonse, Sue Kroninger, Tim Laughlin, Dan Levinson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Russ Phillips, Randy Reinhart, John Reynolds, Ralf Reynolds, Molly Ryan, Mark Shane, Ed Shaughnessy, John Sheridan, Richard Simon, Hal Smith, Putter Smith, Allan Vache, Johnny Varro, Westy Westenhofer . . . and others to be announced?

It can be done!  (The Beloved and I have made our plans.)

The players and singers above will be appearing at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival, September 3-5, 2011, at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel.  For information about the hotel: http://www.sweethot.org/hotel.html

I am a self-confessed jazz snob, with a happily narow range (although I tell people my immersion is deep).  But many people want much more variety.  They will find it easily at Sweet and Hot, which has a broad range.

There will be The Mills Brothers – not the foursome we knew from 1936, but a group led by John Mills (son, grandson, and nephew of the original Brothers) their descendents, performing their classic hits.

Singers Ernestine Anderson and Barbara Morrison will perform, and perhaps the patriarch of 1940-1 Ellingtonia, Herb Jeffries, will be there.

A Classic Classical piano set will feature Warner Bros recording artist Yolanda Klappert, joined in a four hand-one piano extravaganza by thirteen-year old Lucas Crosby.

Those who can’t get enough of Gypsy swing will revel in the playing of the Argentinian Gonzalo Bergara Quartet.

The Cunninghams will appear for the first time, playing and singing the Great American Songbook — straight from Vegas.  Alicia and Don duet, and he plays the sax and vibes.

The irrepressible Banu Gibson will bring her band as well as an eighteen-year old trumpet player who is that is the city of New Orleans’ Junior Satchmo Ambassador.

Speaking of the future of jazz, there will be the Jazz America of 2011: a group from 11 to 18.

Cajun music from Gator Beat, four dance bands, and many special sets to be announced . . . from boogie woogie to Broadway, Oscar-winning performers and writers including Sean Callery and John Altman, as well as the Hues Corporation of Rock the Boat fame.

All of this sounds expensive, right?  I wouldn’t presume to tell JAZZ LIVES readers how to spend their savings, but I will quietly point out that someone can buy an all-events badge — covering all the music for four days straight — for $100.  Individual day badges are priced accordingly, with discounts for youth:

http://www.sweethot.org/tickets.html

Something for everyone!

NEW OLD JOYS in BROOKLYN (April 21, 2011)

In the short time I’ve known them, I’ve come to trust trumpeter / composer / arranger Gordon Au and singer / Mills Sister  / air-fiddler / Tamar Korn as artists whose path leads to valuable, inquisitive music that embraces the old (whether that’s embodied by Connee Boswell or Bob Wills) and the new (original approaches to their material, original compositions, or reinventing a wide variety of songs).

So when I found out that they would be one-half of a group led by five-string fiddler Rob Hecht, with bassist Ian Riggs, I made another journey to Williamsburg, Brooklyn — to Teddy’s, a restaurant / bar / music room [fine food, delightful Pilsner, delightful staff] situated at 96 Berry Street — with video camera and tripod.  The results appear below!

Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys have been gone for about seventy-five years, but the combination of violin and trumpet, swinging out, is still intoxicating.

But first: the quartet was mostly unamplified, and listeners easily unnerved might at first find the balance between music and conversation not to their liking.  See my postscript below for further ruminations on this subject.

Here’s the Rob Hecht Quartet, featuring Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, and Ian Riggs.

They began with what might seem an odd choice for an opening song, WHEN DAY IS DONE — but the sun had set a few hours ago, and the song is one of those that blossoms at a variety of different tempos:

Then, everything locked into place with that 1929 assertion of Love on Good Behavior, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

How about another love-affirmation: you’re the Beloved my mother told me to wait for?  Or, to put it another way, EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I think the river closest to Teddy’s would be the East River — not exactly what Hoagy Carmichael may have in mind as a pastoral spot, but it would do as an inspiration for this rendition of LAZY RIVER:

The hopeful optimism of Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh in ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET is always welcome:

Tamar sat out for an enthusiastic trio reading of LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

If you listen closely to the lyrics, SOME OF THESE DAYS is one of the most finger-waggling of songs: YOU BE GOOD OR ELSE YOU’RE GOING TO WAKE UP ALONE!  I hope no one in the JAZZ LIVES audience has to hear it sung to him or her for real — but we can be safe with this rocking version:

GIVE ME A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM on comes from a rather patchy movie, THE STRIP — but when your pretty song is introduced by the Great Romantic, Louis Armstrong, how could anything possibly go wrong?  And Tamar offers it in her most tenderly hopeful way:

Another superbly uplifting song about the possibilities of imagining a way out of your troubles is Harry Barris’ classic WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS — I believe in this song, especially when Miss Korn so earnestly tells us it’s all possible:

Although we cherish everything that is NEW and IMPROVED, what is better than OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, however you might define it?:

And something else sweetly and enduringly old-fashioned: a bounding rendition of WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (And I Wore A Big Red Rose), which will keep me elated for a long time.  You too, I hope:

P.S.  Although the crowd at Teddy’s applauded in the right places and no one shouted at the television sets over the bar in response to someone scoring a goal, the sound of their conversation is noticeable.  But someone who wishes to do so can, as I did, concentrate on the music, which was varied and lovely.  And my new line of response to people who complain about inattentive audiences will be, “Yes, I know.  If you and your friends had been there, listening, there would have been that much more delighted attentive silence in the room.  Come on down!  Join us next time!  Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt never said, ‘Better to go to a jazz club and swell the ranks of the inspired than sit at home and complain about the unenlightened.”

FAMILIES THAT PLAY TOGETHER (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY, March 5, 2011)

They stay together, if you hadn’t noticed.

Here’s more rollicking joy from Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) that I attended in March 2011.

(“Attended” isn’t really the right word — too formal — but I can’t find a really good way to say “floated.”  I’m still floating, and if you wonder why you need only to sit down in front of the videos below.)

This was a session held at the Wharf Theatre.  It wasn’t billed as FAMILY REUNION, but it might as well have been. 

First, the Reynolds Brothers (and they are!): John Reynolds on National steel guitar, vocals, and sweet whistling, and brother Ralf on washboard, whistle, emotional uplift, and traffic control. 

Then there’s the Caparone Family.  Marc on cornet; his father Dave (the fellow over to the left of your screen, looking very serious, sounding like Benny Morton — in fact, sounding like Don Redman’s trombone section of 1932-3 with an occasional nod to Dicky Wells — a real prize!), and daughter-in-law Dawn Lambeth (vocals, piano, and cheer). 

Observant eyes will catch that Dawn is about to become a Jazz Mommy (Marc had something to do with this, it was told to me) so there’s another generation of Caparone onstage.  And baby does make three! 

The sole non-relative was the sweetly leafy Katie Cavera (string bass and vocals) . . . but everyone who meets Katie adopts her within the first few minutes, so she’s not an outsider.

Free-range and locally sourced, too!  She’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW (for the dancers):

Jazz scholars will note so many wonderful influences floating through these performance: Bing, the QHCF, Louis, Basie, Steve Brown, Red Allen, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, the Marx Brothers, Brunswick Records, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Steve Washington, and more.

Time for something deeply satisfying in its sweetness: and watch everyone’s face as they feel the love on that stand, just as we do.  What tenderness as Dawn, Dave, and Marc celebrate SUGAR!

Something exultant — from the man who wrote the brooding ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET — a song from A DAY AT THE RACES (originally sung by Ivie Anderson).  How they rock it here!  And at the end, Marc reminds us of a song from another 1937 movie.  Hint: “Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out.”  Here’s ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM:

Dawn had a cold — a great problem for a singer! — but her natural swinging heart, her spirited earnestness comes through complete . . . and no one bends and slides into notes as she does.  Here, MY BLUE HEAVEN, the perfectly appropriate song for the moment, with the verse.  And Marc suggests what might have happened if Louis and the Mills Brothers had recorded this one for Decca, before Papa Dave and John show what they can do:

One of the great delights is being introduced to a “new” “old” song — from 1922 or 1923 . . . a song Vic Dickenson loved (although I never heard him play it), TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME.  Isn’t it wonderful how lovely / hilariously comfortable Whislin’ John Reynolds is in front of an audience!  He’s a thrill and a hoot all in one.  And the brass section — worth another watching.  Like father, like son.  More below*:

Finally, something sweet and tenderly nostalgic — Dawn sings BLUE ROOM, which has very endearing lyrics (although the position the lovers find themselves in — an innocent one — might lead to neck pain, whether your head is wee or not):

“Every day’s a holiday” with a band like this, for sure!

While watching these videos, I keep thinking of Baby Lambeth-Caparone, who’s going to greet the new day at the end of March 2011.  Someday that Baby is going to be able to see these clips and say, “There’s Mommy, and Daddy, and Grandpa, and I was there, too!”  Yes, Baby — you were swinging with your families.

CLICK HERE TO GIVE BACK TO THE MUSICIANS IN THE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

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SUE, EDDIE, and CHRIS: “HOW THEY HYPNOTIZE!” (Hidden Valley Music Seminars: March 4, 2011)

I had an extraordinarily good time at Dixieland Monterey 2011 (March 4-6) which took place at the Convention Center and other venues.  For those who might quail at the word “Dixieland,” there wasn’t a sleeve garter in sight — at least not among the musicians.  And there was plenty of soaring hot jazz, as my videos will show.

But the weekend started off in a more lovely pensive fashion: Sue Kroninger (vocals, commentary, washboard); Eddie Erickson (vocals, banjo); Chris Calabrese (hot piano) gave a lighter-than-air presentation on five great American songwriters — Irving Berlin, Walter Donaldson, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Hoagy Carmichael.

All this took place at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, California — in a beautiful room with wood walls, a lovely piano, a delighted audience.  Click here for more details: http://www.hiddenvalleymusic.org/.

Here is the whole precious program (I couldn’t bear to keep a note of it to myself).  Catch the wonderful interplay, wit, and feeling.  Unlike other programs of the sort I’ve seen, this one is beautifully balanced among the three players, who obviously like each other a great deal.  And Sue knows her stuff without being stuffy!

(A note to the suspicious, something perhaps superfluous.  Some of my readers will see a woman with a washboard and two whisks to keep time, a banjo player, a pianist . . . and they will think, “Oh, no . . . ” and skip these videos.  I understand their terror — their primeval fears.  But this trio makes such beautiful swinging deeply-felt music that nothing they do could scare off anyone.  I promise.  Or your money back.)

Sue began the program with a 1913 Irving Berlin tune, AT THE DEVIL’S BALL — which features both hilarious vaudeville lyrics and a tune that, once heard, is impossible to extract from your cortex.  And Sue is having the time of her life.  And ours:

Then, Eddie took on a wonderful song (I associate it with Louis and the Mills Brothers — can you blame me?) from 1927, THE SONG IS ENDED.  It might seem an odd choice for the second song of a program, but it’s such a good song!  And Eddie, dear Fast Eddie, sings it so beautifully:

Finally (for Berlin), Chris took a wonderful turn at ALWAYS — with hints of the Master, Dave McKenna:

Less well-known than Mr. Berlin was Walter Donaldson (but think of AT SUNDOWN, MY BUDDY, and fifty others).  Sue called for Eddie to perform a hit from the early Twenties — nothing could be sweeter than Eddie singing CAROLINA IN THE MORNING.  Hear the variations he brings to his timbre and delivery — and how Chris rocks:

Then a rollicking rarity (a bit of social commentary) that Sue explains, with the irreplaceable title YOU HAVE TO PUT A NIGHTIE ON APHRODITE TO KEEP THE MARRIED MEN HOME (or words to that effect).  I think hearing that song was worth the airfare from New York.  Hope you agree.  Sue is a born entertainer who grabs any audience as soon as she opens her mouth to sing:

And what might be the best-loved song in America (easier to sing than STARDUST), MY BLUE HEAVEN — with the lovely verse, delightfully played by the quiet man Sue calls “Mr. Excitement”:

Onward to the deservedly famous — and short-lived — George Gershwin, with an old favorite, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, winningly sung by Sue.  She isn’t Lily Pons or Sarah Vaughan when it comes to a four-octave range, but this is all to the good: her casual, understated delivery comes from the heart:

STRIKE UP THE BAND shows off Chris (and friends) without ever being militaristic:

Then, a high point for me — Eddie’s rendition of EMBRACEABLE YOU.  Eddie gets terribly embarrassed when I praise him, so I’ll go easy in print here (but I might just say very quietly that I’ve called him “our Sinatra” and I mean it).  Chris’s subtle traceries make me think of Tommy Flanagan:

Changing the mood, here’s Johnny Mercer’s cheerful life-affirmation, AC-CEN-CHU-ATE THE POSITIVE, always good advice:

From a title that’s nearly impossible to spell to one of the simplest — Chris leads the trio through a jaunty version of DREAM:

And as a special favor to me (I had said that I would like to hear Sue “unplugged”) she indulged me with an acoustic JEEPERS CREEPERS, happy as the day is long:

The trio’s version of RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE calls to mind the young man from Davenport, Hoagy Carmichael’s pal Bix — note the funny little personalizing Sue does with the bouncy lyrics (after Chris makes sure that the joint is entirely jumping):

LAZY RIVER (not UP A) shows off the easy grace of Mr. Erickson, Louis-inspired without a bit of gravel in his hopper:

And — instead of the more hackneyed Fourth of July closing — Sue chose one of the most tender songs in the last century, the Carmichael-Loesser TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, where the melody, the lyrics, and the loving wit come together exquisitely for Sue, Eddie, and Chris:

My weekend at Dixieland Monterey was off to the most gratifying start: these three dear artists already had me floating with pleasure, and it wasn’t even lunchtime.

CELEBRATE THE LIVING MUSICIANS: CLICK HERE!

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THE SPIRITS OF RHYTHM SIGN IN on eBay

I admire the Mills Brothers; I revere the Boswell Sisters. 

But I have a special place in my heart for a group that has received far less attention — the aptly-named Spirits of Rhythm, featuring Douglas Daniels and his brother Wilbur on tipple (a twelve-string instrument), Teddy Bunn on guitar, and Leo Watson on vocal, occasionally drums. 

Their recording career was brief: their records can fit on one compact disc (it’s worth searching for — on the Timeless / Retrieval label) and they flourished, intermittently, between the early Thirties and the mid-Forties.  Electrified, Bunn went on to record into the Fifties; Watson drifted into obscurity and died in 1950.  What happened to the Daniels brothers I do not know (although I just sent an email to Wilbur’s granddaughter, found on YouTube — the internet makes such deliciously odd things possible!). 

I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog the two clips of the Spirits — or variant combinations — on film, and they can be found on YouTube.  One is an exceedingly out-of-synch TOM TOM THE ELEVATOR BOY, from a 1941 musical SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS.  The other features Eddie Cantor impersonatory Jackie Greene in ALABAMY BOUND. 

But here’s some music.  First, I GOT RHYTHM from 1933:

And DR. WATSON AND MR. HOLMES (lyrics by Johnny Mercer, 1937):

What else would anyone need?

How about some calligraphic evidence?  Here’s a contract offered to the highest bidder on eBay: dating from 1942, it offers the signatures of Ramon La Rae (a singer?  a bassist?), Teddy Bunn, Leo Watson, and the Daniels brothers.  I never thought I’d see something like this:

Here’s a closeup:

My only question now is whether I want the image below on a sweatshirt or will content myself with the wall hanging. 

Design suggestions, anyone?

The bidding ended — someone offered over $325 for this rare piece of paper.

KEEP EVERYONE’S SPIRITS HIGH: CLICK HERE (ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS)

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“EVERY NICKEL HELPS A LOT” (THREE VERSIONS)

Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, 1936 — written for Mr. Strong:

Four Boys and a Guitar:

Lester Young, Count Basie, Carl Smith, Walter Page, Jo Jones:

EVERY NICKEL HELPS A LOT!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

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DOIN’ THE MIDTOWN LOWDOWN at Birdland (Dec. 1, 2010)

Wise New Yorkers know that the place to be on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:15 is Birdland, where tubaist David Ostwald leads the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band through music associated with the man Eddie Condon affectionately called “Mr. Strong.” 

Last Wednesday, even though the rain was occasionally torrential, we were warm, even hot, indoors, listening to a wonderful edition of the LACB, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, euphonium, and vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And here are some highlights:

The LACB always begins its set with a living homage to Louis and the All-Stars: a powerful reading of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH that picks up the tempo for a rousing BACK HOME IN INDIANA:

In keeping with Louis’s avowed romantic nature, they played I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at a bouncing tempo — exultant rather than pensive — imagine Louis hearing that Lucille would marry him!  Beautiful creamy alto playing from Dan Block, and some apt cantorial comments from Jon-Erik Kellso:

In the same mood (although a little slower), Eubie Blake’s YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME, where Jon-Erik’s solo, full of death-defying leaps, has a good deal of Eldridge bravura:

SHINE has appalling lyrics, but Louis, Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, and Benny Goodman had a wonderful time playing and singing it:

THE MEMPHIS BLUES is another classic by “Debussy” Handy – – -and Jim Fryer sings it most convincingly without strain (don’t miss Jon-Erik on air trombone in the chorus!):

Bless Harry Barris — not only WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, IT MUST BE TRUE, and IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL, but I SURRENDER, DEAR.  Mellow and ruminative indeed, suggesting Eldridge, Hilton Jefferson, and Bing (with Jim picking up his euphonium, which sounds like a lower-pitched French horn rather than a baby tuba, owing to his graceful playing).  Rossano’s little interlude is another gem:

The LACB usually ends its Birdland gigs with a romping statement of purpose: they’re as happy as they can be when they SWING THAT MUSIC for us.  And please watch the hilarious yet meaningful pantomime before the song begins (Jon-Erik is directing the band, not making shadow puppets on the rear wall).  The result is a wonderful vocal interlude from Dan, someone who doesn’t sing enough on gigs, and a seriously swinging performance, thanks to everyone, especially Rossano and Kevin. 

When we had said our good-byes and left Birdland, the rain had stopped; the skies were clear.  The Weather Channel must have had its own explanation, but I think the hot music inside chased the clouds and torrents away.

POETRY IN SWING: BOB BARNARD / BOBBY GORDON at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

This was a wonderful set — full of love in the lyrics and love for the music. 

It took place at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua party, and a quintet full of beautiful singer-poets was in the spotlight.  Trumpeter Bob Barnard, clarinetist / singer Bobby Gordon, pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Jon Burr, drummer John Von Ohlen played Irving Berlin and Harry Warren, paid homage to Louis and King Oliver, Bix and Basie, as well as Edith Piaf and Dick Powell.  You wouldn’t want any more, would you, in the space of half an hour?  

Bob Barnard has a great love for melodies and their associations, so THE SONG IS ENDED resonates with him as a triple play: Louis, the Mills Brothers, and Irving Berlin.  But Bob is also a sly humorist: how many players start the set with this title?  Even though “the melody lingers on,” as it does here:

Then Bob wisely asked Bobby Gordon what he had in mind for a second number, and the poetic Mr. Gordon chose that old favorite SWEET LORRAINE.  I don’t know why I broke it in two, but I suspect I was carried away by the emotions Bobby aimed at all of us.  And — let there be no mistake here: Bobby looks somewhat frail in this performance, sitting in a chair, bringing the microphone close to his lips, but his heart is strong, and that’s what matters:

That fellow Louis recorded I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU late in the Fifties, and it’s a wonderful creation.  I don’t know whether Bob had that one in mind or he simply knew the tune — or perhaps saw the film with Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and those Busby Berkeley exuberances.  Whatever the reasons might be, it’s an intriguing and less-played song to improvise on:

Then — in his own romantic exultation, singing of passion and loss, Mr. Barnard offered LA VIE EN ROSE, his lines arching into the night and the room, ecstatically and sadly:

But an audience needs something of a different emotional tenor to conclude, so Bob called for the faithful ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and sent it off at a Basie tempo:

I can’t forget to praise that wonderful rhythm section — the two singular melodists Rossano and Jon, and the honest timekeeper John — who made this an ideal small group, swinging, poetic, intuitive, and full of feeling.