Tag Archives: Monk Hazel

“EACH DAY BROUGHT JOY”: HOWARD KADISON CELEBRATES CONNIE JONES

Connie Jones was an earthly being.  I saw him eat ice cream, talk about football, smile affectionately at his wife.  And of course, I saw him play the cornet, and sing.  But my encounters with him from 2011-2015 convinced me that although he resided in an ordinary envelope, his soul was always striving for beauty, too large for mere mortal things.  He visited us; he left us; his spirit vibrates on.

Consider this:

and this:

and this:

Connie’s playing seems as close to celestial architecture as we might encounter.  I am not the only one who felt this.  My friend Howard Kadison — who appears on recordings with Connie’s Crescent City Jazz Band but whom I knew first as Donald Lambert’s chosen drummer — told me this about Connie:

I worked in Connie’s band for about seven years, off and on, mostly on, and I went to Bogota, Colombia with him during the Bicentennial in 1976. We were there for a month, playing. Part of it was a trade show and part was a Fourth of July celebration at the embassy there. We stayed in a hotel for a month and did a nightly performance.

What was interesting about Connie: of all the musicians I’ve ever known, he was one of the most principled, one of the most studious.

He was a good guy. He could be a tough leader. He once was in a jam, and he hired a guy to play tuba who wasn’t a very good player, and I was having a hell of a time trying to keep things together, and Connie turned around. There was a little riser for the drums, so he put his face right in my face, and he turned around and said, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on back here. Fix it.” That’s all that he said: “Fix it.” I was so pissed that I couldn’t see straight, like I’m supposed to teach this guy how to play?

He could be tough, he could be demanding, but he had a good sense of humor, and he was fun to work with. He was a very very specific kind of a player. He always said he just wanted to play with a good stand-up Dixieland band, that was his phrase.

I brought Connie and Dick Sudhalter together. At one point in my life — it’s the only time as an adult that I wasn’t playing full time — I was very lucky, once I started working, I never stopped. At one point I took a gig on the steamboat, the Delta Queen, on the Mississippi River, and I ended up staying with the gig for ten years, but not playing in the band. I became a manager. I still don’t understand how it happened, but I had a friend who was in the management part of the company and I ended up being in the entertainment department, and subsequently I became director of operations of the land part of the cruise. As you know, putting together all the things that happened “on the bank,” as they called it, on the shore, where they would have all these programs.

I knew Dick Sudhalter from a gig I had in Cape Cod, years before, and I ran into him again and thought he’d be a perfect guy to get to know Connie. I wanted to put a program together where they’d both play on the boat and talk about jazz, because we had jazz cruises. They were on the boat together — remember when we had that Black Tuesday, in the Eighties, with the stock market? — they were both on the boat, on the Cumberland River, in the Nashville area, they were working on that program and I was hanging out with them. They had put together a program where they would both play trumpet and talk about music. It never reached fruition, but they got to know each other, and that recording took place. Getting them together was purely accidental. At the time I was working part-time, playing for Al Hirt, and working for the Delta Queen. Eventually I quit, and went with Jumbo full-time in 1992.

I wanted to tell you one story about Connie that speaks volumes about who he was and what he was. I was working for him, and I had to get a night off, because I had a gig that really paid well. Connie was the kind of guy who would say, “You can make some money? Do it.” He hired a guy named Al Babin. Al was a New Orleans drummer who had what they call a broom route: people sell brooms door-to-door in New Orleans, for housewives, the New Orleans version of the Fuller Brush man. Babin was a great fan of the drummer Monk Hazel, a wonderful self-taught drummer who’s on a lot of recordings. Babin could play just like Hazel, and Connie used to love Hazel’s playing on all those Southland recordings. He hired Babin that night, and watched him very intently, and when I came back to work the next night, and at the end of the gig, he said, “You want to hang a little? I want to talk to you.” He sat down behind the drums and showed me everything he’d watched Babin do, and he could play them perfectly.

And he explained the way Hazel would build in the ensembles, and developed this tremendous push, and he even showed me the grip, the way Hazel would hold the stick. He would play the outchorus on the Chinese cymbal, and he would hold the stick between his index finger and second finger, rather than between his thumb and index, and he would play with the shoulder of the sick on the edge of the cymbal. Connie had watched Babin doing this, very carefully, and he showed me how it was done. It wasn’t necessary, to get that sound, but it interested me that Connie was so astute and careful, that he showed me every aspect of Babin’s playing, which helped me understand more about Hazel’s playing. That’s the kind of musician Connie was.

He was very strong in harmony. He shared that with Bobby Hackett, who had a great harmonic knowledge. Hackett, of course, played guitar with Glenn Miller part of the time. Connie played good piano, and saxophone. But the thing he was most proud of, his father had the parking lot at the Jung Hotel in New Orleans, and Connie used to work for his father sometimes, and he said he could drive a car in reverse faster than anyone.

Connie was like a singer. He would sing on his horn. He played beautiful, lovely music. There was a lyricism. He was funny, too. He said something once that really struck me. Before my wife and I bought our house, we had an apartment on the very last block of Bourbon: we were on the other side of the Esplanade. Connie would always park over there, and we’d walk to our gig. We’d walk about six or eight French Quarter blocks from my house. We had an afternoon gig at that point, we would start at noon and work until four or five. It wasn’t Connie’s gig; we were working for another leader together.

He’d come over and we’d hang, have coffee in my kitchen. We were talking one day, and he just blurted out — it was completely out of context, a surprising thing he said, “If you had one day left to live, what would you do?” Just a question out of the air. I thought about it a while, and said, “I’d probably just do what I’m doing. I’m having a nice time, and it’s fun, so I don’t imagine I’d do anything differently.” I came back at him, and said, “What would you do?” He looked at me and said, “Practice.” I never forgot that, and I’ve thought about it a lot since then.

Connie, location and date unknown, inscribed to Al White, jazz party photographer.

Here’s a little more music from the last time I had the honor of being in Connie’s presence: on the top deck of the steamboat Natchez, during the 2015 Steamboat Stomp.  He’s accompanied by Ray Heitger, clarinet; Tom Saunders, tuba; Neil Unterseher, banjo, singing and playing SUGAR (September 19, 2015):

When Connie moved on, in 2019, at 84, Howard wrote, “He was my friend and teacher.  It was a privilege to know him, share time with him, and play music with him.  Each day brought joy.”

Although I was only an audience member, I understand this.  That joy continues.

May your happiness increase!

“BIG EASY BIG BANDS: DAWN AND RISE OF THE JAZZ ORCHESTRA,” by EDDY DETERMEYER

A successful book on jazz has to be accurate, unbiased, and deep.  The writer shouldn’t twist evidence to fit an ideology; (s)he has to base conclusions on solid research; ideally, the book has to contain something new.

Eddy Determeyer’s new book on New Orleans “big bands” is successful in these ways.  I knew his work from his 2009 RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS: JIMMIE LUNCEFORD AND THE HARLEM EXPRESS — a beautifully thorough and lively study of that band and its somewhat elusive leader — so I was eager to read BIG EASY BIG BANDS.

BIG EASY BIG BANDS

It’s a fascinating book because it focuses on an aspect of New Orleans jazz and dance music that we knew existed but that apparently never received such loving attention — “orchestras,” groups larger than five or six pieces, relying on written arrangements — from the teens to the present day.

Determeyer’s scope is broad: in this book, one finds Louis Armstrong and Joe Robichaux, Champion Jack Dupree, Aaron Bell, Benny Powell, Ornette Coleman, Papa Celestin, Wallace Davenport, Sam Lee, Ed Blackwell, Dooky Chase, “Mr. Google Eyes,” Papa Jack Laine, and many others.

That a number of those names are less familiar is the point of the book, and testimony to the hard work behind it.  For one thing, Determeyer has shown by his research that there was a vital musical tradition in New Orleans running parallel to the one that most of us acknowledge: street musicians, small improvising bands, larger marching aggregations.  But — so runs the accepted myth — the “big bands” came out of Kansas City, New York, and Chicago, leaving New Orleans as a kind of improvisers’ Eden, both pure and somewhat behind the curve.

Determeyer’s research, from Congo Square to hard bop, shows that there was much more going on: picnics at Milneburg, steamboats and minstrel shows, Sam Morgan’s band, the excursion boats — with Fate Marable in charge (including drummer Monk Hazel’s account of a cutting contest between Emmett Hardy and young Louis (where Louis is reputed to have said, “You is the king!).

One of the strengths of Determeyer’s book is that the reader glides happily from one vivid anecdote to another: Huey Long saws off one leg of a three thousand dollar Steinway grand so that it can get into a club; Joe Robichaux, forty years later, is nearly done in by the erotic / financial insistence of a Japanese prostitute.  Cap’n John Handy sits in with his younger namesake, John Handy, and they have a good time.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining and informative book — stretching from the 1700s in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina — with a number of surprising photographs, an index, and clear links to research sources.

You can purchase a copy at the Determeyer’s webstore — BIG EASY BIG BANDS is surprisingly affordable.  It will entertain and enlighten . . . what more could we ask?

May your happiness increase.

THE SOUNDS OF NEW ORLEANS (on DISC)

Three recent CDs from the George H. Buck family of labels are unusual sound-pictures of the riches of New Orleans jazz.

GEOFF BULL IN NEW ORLEANS (GHB BCD 203) is a CD reissue of trumpeter Bull’s first American session (October 1977, first issued December 1999).  Although Bull says that his first influences were George Lewis and Bunk Johnson, the music he made at Preservation Hall on this recording is far from what we would expect: light, floating, subtle.

A good deal of this is due to his beautiful playing, at times reminiscent of Bunk at his most lyrical (think of the American Music trios with Don Ewell); Bull can also sound like Marty Marsala or Henry “Red” Allen, but he is his own man, with a relaxed conception.  Making this session even more memorable is clarinetist Raymond Burke, free to roam in the front line alongside Bull.  Bassist James Prevost is a melodic swinger, and the rhythm section is completed by two strong individualists: Sing Miller, piano and vocal*; Cie Frazier, drums.

Rather than choose a program of Preservation Hall favorites, Bull and friends opted for pretty tunes not often played: PECULIAR / DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / ONE FOR THE ROAD (a leisurely blues) / I’M NOBODY’S BABY / ALL ALONE / NEVERTHELESS / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME* /JEEP’S BLUES / ZERO (I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO) / THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN* / LET JESUS FIX IT FOR YOU* / HONEY – WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM*.The results are sweet thoughtful jazz, conversational music that musicians play for their own pleasure.

My own Geoff Bull tale is musically rewarding: I hadn’t heard him play before encountering him (unbeknownst to me) in an after-hours jam session during the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival.  Here’s his performance (with Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys) of MAMA INEZ — Geoff’s rangy, relaxed lyricism is a standout:

Two volumes of rare, previously unheard material from producer Joe Mares’ archives (he was the younger brother of trumpeter Paul) are fascinating, and not only for their rarity (GHB BCD 522 and 530, available separately).  Almost all of the material is in excellent fidelity, and this selection from Mares’ collection — which, when transferred to CD, filed twenty-seven discs — comes from concerts and local clubs as well as radio broadcasts between 1948 and 1953.  Students of New Orleans jazz will be thrilled by new material from their heroes, captured live; others will simply find the music energetic, varied, and refreshing.

Volume One begins with the hilarious HADACOL RAMBLE — with an ensemble vocal chorus — that is somewhere between folk-song, medicine show, down-home comedy, and vaudeville routine advertising the miraculous benefits of Hadacol, a New Orleans patent medicine apparently far more efficacious than Geritol or Serutan.

Other delights on this disc include appearances by Johnny Wiggs, Irving Fazola, Bujie Centobie, Raymond Burke, and Dr. Edmond Souchon.  The repertoire is often familiar, but the musicians play INDIANA (for instance) as if it had not been worn out by decades of bandstand tedium.  The songs are HADACOL RAMBLE / HADACOL RAMBLE (vocal) / I’M GOIN’ HOME / BASIN STREET BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / TIN ROOF BLUES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SAVOY BLUES / THAT’S A PLENTY / HIGH SOCIETY / BASIN STREET BLUES / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BILL BAILEY — and the collective personnel is Sharkey Bonano, Tony Dalmado, George Hartman, Johnny Wiggs, Pinky Vidalcovich, Irving Fazola, Harry Shields, Raymond Burke, Bujie Centobie, Julian Laine, Emile Christian, Jack Delaney, Roy Zimmerman, Bill Zalik, Burt Peck, Stanley Mendelsohn, Frank Federico, Edmond Souchon, Sherwood Mangiapane, Chink Martin, Arnold Loyocano, Johnny Castaing, Fred King, Roger Johnson, Monk Hazel, Abbie Brunies — a fine mix of veterans and less-familiar players — but everyone solos with fine brio and no one gets lost in the ensemble.

The second volume is equally good — with most of the same players remaining.  (This selection adds Tony Almerico, Tony Costa, and Lester Bouchon.) Three standouts are the fine Stacy-inspired pianist Jeff Riddick (heard on seven selections), inspired work from drummer Ray Bauduc (on five), and Jack Teagarden — whose performance of BASIN STREET BLUES is especially inspired and happy, contrary to my initial expectations.

The songs are CLARINET MARMALADE / ALICE BLUE GOWN / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE /PECULIAR / THE LAND OF DREAMS / INDIANA / SHE’S CRYING FOR ME /MISSOURI TWO BEAT / BASIN STREET BLUES / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / TIN ROOF BLUES / MARIE / HIGH SOCIETY / I’M A DING DONG DADDY / I’M GOIN’ HOME.

If you find yourself tired of routine performances of the “classic” repertoire, these three discs will be a refreshing corrective.

May your happiness increase.