Tag Archives: Mother’s Day

MISS LIL, FOREMOTHER

I like the universe I was born into, but I imagine alternate ones all the time — the debt I owe to my Big Sister, who introduced me to Golden Age science fiction in my late childhood.  So I imagine one where this woman — pianist, singer, composer, bandleader, natural leader, innovator — was a star of the magnitude she deserved.

Lillian Hardin

Lillian Hardin is ill-served as being perceived primarily as just “the second wife of Louis Armstrong.”  My admiration and love for Louis is beyond the normal measuring tools, but Lil is someone and would have been someone if she’d never devoted her energies to that chubby young man from the South for a decade or so.  She herself didn’t have a substantial ego, which may have accounted for her somewhat shadowy presence in jazz history.  How she would have been celebrated had she not been female is something to consider.

You could ask one of the heroes of this music, Chris Albertson, about Lil, for sure. Here — on Chris’ STOMP OFF blog — is a trove of information, all enlivened by his love for Miss Lil.  (His memories of Lil — including a three-part audio interview — are treasures.)

Rather than write about her in ways admiring or polemical or both, I offer a banquet of her Swing Era Decca recordings, which — I know it’s heresy — stand up next to the Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and Henry “Red” Allen small groups of the period for swing, charm, melodic inventiveness, and fun.  On these discs, I know our ears go automatically to the horn soloists — but imagine them with a flat rhythm section and inferior tunes.  Lil’s exuberance makes these recordings much more memorable.  Although none of her original compositions had much longevity except for JUST FOR A THRILL, sixteen of the twenty-six are hers, and I’d guess the effective arrangements are hers as well.

Underneath the picture on the YouTube posting are all the titles: further details here: Lillian Armstrong And Her Swing Band : Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) Huey Long (g) John Frazier (b) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  Chicago, Oct. 27, 1936.  OR LEAVE ME ALONE / MY HI-DE-HO MAN / BROWN GAL / DOIN’ THE SUZIE-Q / JUST FOR A THRILL / IT’S MURDER /

Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Robert Carroll (ts) James Sherman (p) Arnold Adams (g) Wellman Braud (b) George Foster (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, April 15, 1937: BORN TO SWING / I’M ON A SIT-DOWN STRIKE FOR RHYTHM / BLUER THAN BLUE / I’M KNOCKIN’ AT THE CABIN DOOR /

Shirley Clay (tp) replaces Joe Thomas, Prince Robinson (ts) replaces Robert Carroll, Manzie Johnson (d) replaces George Foster.  New York, July 23, 1937:
LINDY HOP / WHEN I WENT BACK HOME / LET’S CALL IT LOVE / YOU MEAN SO MUCH TO ME /

Ralph Muzzillo, Johnny McGhee (tp) Al Philburn (tb) Tony Zimmers (cl) Frank Froeba (p) Dave Barbour (g) Haig Stephens (b) Sam Weiss (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, Feb. 2, 1938: LET’S GET HAPPY TOGETHER / HAPPY TODAY, SAD TOMORROW / YOU SHALL REAP WHAT YOU SOW / ORIENTAL SWING /

Reunald Jones (tp) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) O’Neil Spencer (d).  September 9, 1938: SAFELY LOCKED UP IN MY HEART / EVERYTHING’S WRONG, AIN’T NOTHING RIGHT / HARLEM ON SATURDAY NIGHT / KNOCK-KNEED SAL (is the unidentified male voice on the last track Clarence Williams?) /

Jonah Jones (tp) Don Stovall (as) Russell Johns (ts) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) Manzie Johnson (d) Midge Williams, Hilda Rogers (vcl).
New York, March 18, 1940: SIXTH STREET / RIFFIN’ THE BLUES / WHY IS A GOOD MAN SO HARD TO FIND? / MY SECRET FLAME /

I salute Lillian Hardin as a joyous Foremother.  Her virtues should be celebrated on many other days of the year.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR MOM, OR ABOUT HER (May 8, 2016)

I don’t mean to be irreverent on this Mother’s Day, or certainly not irrelevant, but here’s a wonderful musical tribute to the women without whom we wouldn’t exist.

Mammy O'Mine

The song is an ancient one (recorded by the ODJB and others — a hit in 1919-1920.  And I suspect that twenty years later, either Milt Gabler or Eddie Condon or both remembered it as a favorite of their childhood or just a good song to jam on, so we have this recording from 1942, with Eddie Condon And His Band: Max Kaminsky, cornet; Brad Gowans, valve trombone or valide; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Al Morgan, bass; George Wettling, drums.

Maternal affection, Chicago-style.  For all the Mothers in the house.  (My mother’s been gone since 2000, and she would have disliked this music, but as she used to say, “It’s the thought that counts.”  So she is being thought of, even in my own left-handed way.)

May your happiness increase!

CHERISH THE LADIES*: SPEND MOTHER’S DAY 2013 with The EarRegulars!

On Sunday May 12th, The EarRegulars move north for a few hours for a Mother’s Day Brunch at The Stage at Rockwells American Restaurant, 105 Wolfs Lane, Pelham, New York 10803.  There are three seatings, 11:30am-2:30pm. Reservations (914) 738-5881.

If you’ve been following JAZZ LIVES for more than thirty-two bars, you know how valuable The EarRegulars are to Western Civilization.  They hold regular EarRegular seances at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York — but for those north of the border, those with a Monday-morning 6 AM alarm clock, those who want to make sure that Mother is feted in the best style . . . hie yourself northward for swing!

And if you don’t know them, or you need a Serious Jazz Authority, how’s this:

“There’s nothing regular or ordinary about this group of dazzling, swinging, world class New Orleans traditional jazz phenoms who we’ve coaxed up to ‘burbs from Spring Street’s beloved watering hole to complete our Mother’s Day / Brunch / Jazz triple play celebration on May 12th. Maybe whatever short-circuited parts of the Ear Inn’s neon sign out front also sent a charge through the place, catapulting the musicians, wedged in a corner, back half a century, then down to the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, and on this occasion, to your neighborhood, at the Stage at Rockwells. Discover one of the City’s best kept musical secret, “Old time jazz swing with a modern metabolism.” – Nate Chinen, NY Times.

This splendid quartet will be Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Lopeman (clarinet and tenor saxophone), and Pat O’Leary (bass).

About the asterisk in my title.  CHERISH THE L ADIES is, I hope, appropriate to Mother’s Day — but I know that male accompanists are encouraged.  It had been suggested to me by a colleague that I title this post I HEAR YOUR MOTHER LOVES TO SWING, but the JAZZ LIVES Legal Department said that such a statement could lead to legal action of a prolonged and costly sort.

So — eschew the usual box of candy or bouquet of f lowers this year, and make your Mother a true EarRegular!

May your happiness increase.

“PLAY NICE!” (THE EAR INN, May 8, 2011)

At its best, jazz improvisation is spirited play, even when the musicians are creating a slow blues or a heartbroken lament.  Since the musicians are finding their paths on their own, bar by bar, there is no choice but to be flexible and leap in.  Risks lead to rewards!  It doesn’t surprise me that many of the finest improvisers are also verbally witty — not tellers of jokes, but people able to see the possibilities for hilarity in ordinary conversation, everyday situations.

So when we say that a jazz group played something beautifully, we mean more than the casual phrase says.

The second set at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) this last Sunday — Mother’s Day 2011 — was a hoot and a holler.

Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso*, trombonist John Allred, guitarist Matt Munisteri, and bassist Neal Miner share the same sensibility and some of the same wit — intellectual and musical — so the attentive viewer will see many smiles among the band.  You can’t always see the audience, but the atmosphere at The Ear was quietly, intently joyous.

And when Ray Heitger, clarinet, vocal, and father of the sterling Duke, joined in, the air was thick with happiness; when Dan Block brought his alto sax to the meeting, no one could ask for more.

Here are four leisurely selections from that evening, play at its finest.

LINGER AWHILE (why not sit a spell?  To quote John Gill, “Make yourself to home!”).  The ensemble choruses that close this performance made me think, “Ah, Fifty-Second Street South!”:

GORILLA MY DREAMS (or, for the prudish, GIRL OF MY DREAMS — composed by the bandleader Sunny Clapp) with a surprise — a rocking, down-home vocal by Ray, who sends us!

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, for James P. Johnson and Kenny Davern, both:

And to close, Jelly Roll’s MILENBERG JOYS (or perhaps it’s MILNEBURG?  But the JOYS remain unshakeable).  I think the ensemble sound in the opening and closing choruses is what the angels swing to.  (Wherever they are, Lips Page and Eddie Condon are smiling.)  And please admire Neal Miner’s bass solo — something so eloquent and fleet that no one talks through it:

Oh, PLAY those things!

*It was Jon-Erik’s birthday, but (as always) he gave presents and presence to us. 

MOTHER’S NIGHT AT THE EAR INN (May 9, 2010)

Does Mother’s Day come to a halt at 6 PM?  Obviously not at The Ear Inn, the last place I’d expect to find observance of such synthetic “holidays.” 

The Ear Regulars showed up last Sunday night fully prepared to do honor to dear old Mom.  Co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri were there with bassist Pat O’Leary and a new face — Ohio trombonist Jim Masters, who’s done time in the Buddy Rich band and (more serenely, I’d wager) in the Widespread Jazz Orchestra alongside such New York stalwarts as Michael Hashim and Jordan Sandke.  Jim played beautifully, suggesting a modern combination of Urbie Green and Vic Dickenson, a lovely mixture. 

To the music:

The holiday brought up the idea that the members of the ensemble had once been newborns, thus suggesting I FOUND A NEW BABY.  (What the subliminal connection to other songs played that night, I NEVER KNEW, and JUST LIKE THAT, might be, I leave to readers):

Later, the much-hoped for second-set jam session developed: Chris Flory sat in for Matt, and Dan Block unsheathed his mighty alto saxophone for a sweet IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

And they continued with PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

Mother’s Night at The Ear concluded with a sweet paean to pastoral life by Jon-Erik, Matt, Jim, and Pat: LAZY RIVER:

As Louis would say, “Oh, mama!”

P.S.  I was seated at the bar between two fascinating individuals: to my right, the jazz photographer John Rogers, whose work you’ve seen in a variety of places (http://johnrogersnyc.com/about.html) .  To my left, a visitor from the UK — boppish trumpeter by night / sociology professor by day John Macnicol.  An entertaining pair to sit between!  And deep in The Ear, banjoist / singer / composer Eddy Davis held court at the bar, grinning and listening intently.   

And they (unlike some of our younger colleagues) didn’t feel it necessary to talk over the music . . . or to talk through it and then yelp “Woohoo” at the end of a performance they had heard little of.  Alas.  The music prevails, of course.