Tag Archives: Mound City Blue Blowers

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL AT THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL, PART ONE: HAL SMITH, STEVE PIKAL, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, JONATHAN DOYLE (May 11, 2019)

This is part of the world that Hal Smith’s Swing Central comes from — but the world of Swing Central is living and thriving now.

Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives

This little group is packed with pleasures.  It’s Hal Smith’s evocation of a world where Pee Wee Russell and Lester Young could hang out at Jimmy Ryan’s, where Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Eddie Condon, Pops Foster, and Dave Tough could have breakfast after the gig, perhaps chicken and waffles uptown.  And the music they created as naturally as breathing was lyrical hot swing that didn’t have the time or patience for labels.

This version of Hal’s group has him on drums and moral leadership, Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and some original compositions, Dan Walton, piano and vocal, Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummns, guitar.  This is the first part of a long leisurely showcase at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California.

and a Bing Crosby hit that justifiably entered the jazz repertoire:

Jonathan Doyle’s wonderful HELLO, FISHIES:

something for people who have been to Austin, Texas, or for those who need to take a trip there, BATS ON A BRIDGE:

A dedication to one Mister Capone, who liked jazz when he wasn’t working:

Dan Walton sings and plays Moon Mullican’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, while everyone joins in on this jump blues:

for the Chicagoans and the rest of us as well, WINDY CITY SWING:

and we’ll close the first half of this uplifting set with HELLO, LOLA — a reminder of Red McKenzie and his friends:

Hal’s beautiful little group also made a CD where they strut their stuff quite happily: I wrote about it here.

And they will be appearing — with Kris Tokarski and Ryan Gould in for Walton and Pikal — at the Austin Lindy Exchange, November 21-24 — which, like love, is just around the corner.

Not incidentally, the Redwood Coast Music Festival is happening again, thank goodness and thanks to Mark Jansen and Valerie Jansen, from May 7-10, 2020.  More information  here as well.  Some numbers: it’s their 30th anniversary; it runs for 4 days; there are 30 bands; more than 100 sets of music.  Do the math, as we say, and come on.

May your happiness increase!

HOT AND LOVELY: ANDY SCHUMM and his GANG in DAVENPORT, IOWA (August 1, 2018)

CHRIS and CHRIS

Thanks to Chris and Chris!  Here’s the first set at a bar called GRUMPY’S.  Beautifully recorded and annotated, too:

Bix Beiderbecke’s 47th Annual Memorial Jazz Festival 2018 had a pre-arranged gathering at Grumpy’s Village Saloon, Davenport, Iowa, August 1st. The Fat Babies, here somewhat reduced in numbers, but with sit-in David Boeddinghaus on piano and Andy Schumm cornet, clarinet, saxophone, John Otto reeds, John Donatowicz banjo, guitar, Dave Bock tuba, gave us, the lucky ones that day, a jolly good time. This plus-hour full first set was videographed in one-go, in pole position, head on, with a handheld SONY Handycam, FDR-XA100 in quality mode. For those who couldn’t make it to Grumpy’s, this coverage might be the next best thing. Enjoy!

THAT’S A PLENTY (with a special break) / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / Andy introduces the band / HE’S THE LAST WORD (which I hadn’t known was by Walter Donaldson) where Andy shifts to tenor sax to create a section, and Maestro Boeddinghaus rocks / FOREVERMORE, for Jimmie Noone, with Andy and John on clarinet: wait for the little flash of Tesch at the end / Willie “the Lion” Smith’s HARLEM JOYS / a beautifully rendered GULF COAST BLUES, apparently a Clarence Williams composition [what sticks in my mind is Clarence, as an older man, telling someone he didn’t write any of the compositions he took credit for] / HOT LIPS / Alex Hill’s THE SOPHOMORE, and all I will say is “David Boeddinghaus!” / THE SHEIK OF ARABY, with the verse and a stop-time chorus.  Of course, “without no pants on.” / Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET RAG / GETTIN’ TOLD, thanks to the Mound City Blue Blowers / Andy does perfect Johnny Dodds on LONESOME BLUES, scored for trio / For Bix, TIA JUANA (with unscheduled interpolation at start, “Are you okay?  Can I get that?” from a noble waitperson) / band chat — all happy bands talk to each other / a gloriously dark and grieving WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE that Louis smiles on / and, to conclude, STORY BOOK BALL (see here to learn exactly what Georgie Porgie did to Mary, Mary, quite contrary.  Not consensual and thus not for children.)

A thousand thanks to Andy, David, John, Dave, Johnny, and of course Chris and Chris — for this delightful all-expenses paid trip to Hot!

May your happiness increase!

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!

“YOU HAD TO WORK FOR YOUR MUSIC”: DAN MORGENSTERN on RECORD-COLLECTING (April 21, 2017)

More delightful memories and stories from Dan Morgenstern.  I’d asked him, “What was it like to buy records in the Forties?” — a scene that few people reading this post have experienced.

First-hand narrative: there’s nothing to compare with it.

Here’s another part of the story of Big Joe Clauberg, as excerpted from Amanda Petrusich’s excellent book, DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE.

I took my title for this post from Dan’s recollections of his first phonograph, a wind-up acoustic one, but it has larger meaning for me.

There is still something wondrous about going in to a shop that happens to have a pile of records — an antique store or something else — getting one’s hands dirty, going through a pile of mail-order classical records, red-label Columbias of Dorothy Shay, incomplete sets, and the like — to find a 1938 Brunswick Ellington, Teddy Wilson, or Red Norvo.

Later, the pleasure of going in to an actual record store and looking through the bins — name your dozen favorite artists — and finding something that you didn’t know existed — in my case, recordings of the Eddie Condon Floor Show on Queen-Disc.  More recently, the same experience with compact discs at now vanished chain record stores.

All gone.  The alternative?  Stream forty hours of your cherished jive through one of the services that doesn’t pay the musicians.  Oh, there are happy exceptions: the Blessed Mosaic Records.  But nothing replaces finding treasure on your own.

And, in case the thought hasn’t yet occurred to you, Dan Morgenstern is one of those treasures.

Here’s one of the sides from Dan’s birthday present:

May your happiness increase!

“LAUGH MY WEARY BLUES AWAY: ST. LOUIS JAZZ OF THE 20’S”: THE SIDNEY STREET SHAKERS

This one’s a keeper.

shakers

Before you ask, “Who are they and if they’re any good, why haven’t I heard of them?” please listen to their version of BLUE GRASS BLUES:

Now, that’s seriously interesting to me because it sounds genuine — it’s not 1925 heard through the perspective of 2017 (no one inserts a favorite Real Book lick in where it doesn’t belong).

St. Louis jazz is not the subject of too much historical analysis: the attentive among us know about Charlie Creath and Clark Terry, Joe Thomas, Dewey Jackson, Trumbauer’s orchestra with Bix and Pee Wee, even the upstart son of Doctor Davis the affluent dentist. I knew the Mound City Blue Blowers, Gene Rodemich, the Arcadian Serenaders, and the Missourians, but I’d never heard of the Searcy Trio, Powell’s Jazz Monarchs, or Harry’s Happy Four.

Here’s a “live one,” wordplay intentional:

The players on this 2016 CD are TJ Miller, trumpet, comb, vocal; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, C-melody saxophone; Kellie Everett, bass saxophone, tenor saxophone, kazoo; Jacob Alspach, trombone, tenor banjo, vocal; Kyle Butz, trombone; Joe Park, plectrum banjo, guitar; Mary Ann Schulte, piano; Ryan Koenig, washboard, percussion, vocal; Matt Meyer, drums; Joey Glynn, upright bass.  Our friend Mike Davis brings his cornet for A LITTLE BIT BAD.

Because the repertoire chosen by the SSS is often so obscure, it feels new.  So it’s almost like discovering a new hot band playing authentic music that hasn’t had the shine rubbed off of it through overexposure.  (JAZZ LIVES readers can compile their own — silent — list of famous although overplayed songs.)  OZARK MOUNTAIN BLUES / THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS / SOAP SUDS / BLUE GRASS BLUES / RED HOT! / MARKET STREET STOMP / GO WON TO TOWN / SWINGING THE SWING / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / A LITTLE BIT BAD / AH! AH! ARCHIE / EAST ST. LOUIS STOMP / YOU AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ I WANT / HOT STUFF / LAUGHING BLUES.  (I consider myself knowledgeable about this period, but only a third of the titles immediately came to mind with connections to a particular band or recording.)

And it should be obvious that there’s beautiful energized hot music on this disc, the product of deep loving study to create artistic authenticity.  This band has the Twenties in their bones, and no one — out of force of habit — brings a favorite Lee Morgan lick to a solo on a 1926 piece.  Their playing feels real: no Dorothy Provine here, and the hot numbers romp and frolic, but without any over-respectful museum dustiness.  I also note the total lack of condescension — some bands, when they go back before Basie or Bird, let a little hauteur be heard and felt in their work, as if saying, “Gee, these old guys were so primitive: no one would play with that vibrato today, but I will do it for this date” — not so the Shakers.

You should enjoy this one for yourself.  The band’s Facebook page is here; the site for Big Muddy Records is here; you can download the session here.

You can fly to St. Louis very easily, but you can’t always visit the Twenties on your own: the Shakers are excellent tour guides.

May your happiness increase!

PROPINQUITY COULD BE BLISS, AND AFTER THE FIRST SIXTY MINUTES ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU

A short series of blissful interludes, courtesy of James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer (1930).  First, Bobby Hackett floating over an orchestra “conducted” by Jackie Gleason:

Ruby Braff, cornet; Dick Hyman, Baldwin organ — with a closing chorus of great majesty:

and for the historians among us, where it all started, with thanks to Red McKenzie, Coleman Hawkins, Pee Wee Russell, and Glenn Miller (note that the label of the Bluebird reissue credits the song to “McKenzie-Kruppa”: when asked, did one of them tell the recording supervisor that the composition, ONE HOUR, was theirs?):

and the 1930 recording by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, with vocal refrain by one of my favorite singers, George Thomas:

Eva Taylor’s very tender version:

Near the end of Vic Dickenson’s life, he created this touching performance — holding up TWO fingers:

And — at the end  because nothing could follow it — Louis, explicated by our very own Ricky Riccardi here.

Who knew that the state of yearning, of wanting a complete love and not yet attaining it, could be the source of such healing music?

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ AND HIS CELESTIAL BEINGS (ANDY SCHUMM, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOHN SHERIDAN, PETE SIERS): SEPTEMBER 21, 2013

Here are three informal pleasures from the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now reborn in a westerly direction as the Allegheny Jazz Party), created by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, asides; Andy Schumm, cornet, “secret weapon”; Scott Robinson, alto clarinet, tenor saxophone; John Sheridan, piano; Pete Siers, snare drum, wire brushes.  These performances come from September 21, 2013, but they evoke any number of small groups that flourished in the preceding century. And still flourish.

It’s delightful how much music can come from a small group with apparently “unorthordox” instrumentation: no third or fourth horn, no amplified guitar or string bass — no string bass at all — and a seriously minimalist drum kit. I think of other Grosz assemblages that have the same lilt, or the EarRegulars, or the Braff-Barnes quartet, some Basie small groups, skiffle extravaganzas, Josh Billings, blue-label Deccas, or any number of groups that one could find on Fifty-Second Street or in the decades that followed.

Here are three delights.

James P. Johnson’s perennial bit of yearning, ONE HOUR — recast as a living tribute to the Mound City Blue Blowers, eminently lyrical:

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, that jaunty 1936 love song, which always makes me think of Bing and Pee Wee:

And another expression of Swing Amour, ALL MY LIFE, also a new tune in 1936:

Marty calls this “music from a vanished era.” Or did he say “banished”?  Hard to tell, and either works in this context.  But as long as these players — and their descendants — walk the earth, such music has a good chance of surviving and enriching our lives and those of future generations. and Mister Grosz walks among us, still making those quarter notes swing: he is on the West Coast, among friends, as I write this.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC IN THE AIR: STEVE WRIGHT, RAY SKJELBRED, CANDACE BROWN, DAVE BROWN (October 3, 2013)

Thirty years ago, if you had told me that a quartet — Steve Wright (cornet, reeds), Ray Skjelbred (piano), Candace Brown (banjo, guitar), Dave Brown (string bass) had performed in a restaurant in Washington (a place beyond my reach at the moment), my thoughts would have run something like this, “Oh, I wish I had been there.  I wish I had heard them play.  Maybe someday they will make a record together and I can purchase it?”

The technology that we take for granted in this century, which can be so irritating at its worst, has made my wistful questions irrelevant.

Here are video-recordings of this delightful hot band on the job on October 3, 2013: the First Thursday Jazz Band at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  The associations reach far and wide: a jealous lover bent on vengeance, a Southern railroad line; Sigmund Romberg, Red McKenzie, Pee Wee Russell, boogie-woogie, Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Irving Berlin, Earl Hines, King Oliver, and many other mythical figures — who come to life in the sounds of this quartet.

HELLO, LOLA:

LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

A very sweet WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD:

Asking the perennial question, HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY?:

A thoughtful BLUES IN THIRDS:

Ray plays Mary Lou Williams’ OVERHAND:

A romping YELLOW DOG BLUES:

The generous Mister Wright has also posted other videos on YouTube — see them here and on his Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

BLUE-BLOWING IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: ANDY SCHUMM HONORS THE MOUND CITY BLUE BLOWERS at WHITLEY BAY 2012

During this set at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, it began to snow, but Andy Schumm and his Blue Blowers brought so much heat to the room that we barely noticed the changes being made.

We know young hero Andy as a paragon of the cornet, to which he has added piano, various reeds, drums, and now the comb and newspaper (or is it tissue paper?) in the manner of the heroic Red McKenzie, late of St. Louis.

The collective swingers for this set include our master of ceremonies Mike Durham (Mike was temporarily unable to lead on brass — doctor’s orders — but will be back blowing hot in 2013); Emma Fisk, violin; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Norman Field and Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Martin Seck, piano; Spats Langham, vocal, banjo; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums.  “Hotter than a depot stove!” to use the ancient but appropriate phrase — on these performances of music first recorded between 1927 and 1929.  Connoisseurs of the paranormal will note spectral (approving) appearances by Glenn Miller, Joe Venuti, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Teschemacher, Adrian Rollini, and the mysterious Jack Bland.

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

HELLO, LOLA:

ONE HOUR:

Fire extinguisher, anyone?  Perhaps next year I could request a ballad-tempo I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, one of McKenzie’s finest records.

May your happiness increase.

THE SHAPE OF A CAREER: RED McKENZIE, 1924-1947

Photograph thanks to Scott Black: a trio of solid senders, Frank Trumbauer, Red McKenzie, and their former boss Paul Whiteman

William “Red” McKenzie, born in 1899, had a career whose highs and lows might have made a good — and sad — film biography.  Let us begin with a phenomenal hit record, the 1924 ARKANSAS BLUES — a smash for the novelty group, The Mound City Blue Blowers (McKenzie on comb and newspaper, Jack Bland on banjo, Dick Slevin on kazoo):

A word about his musical abilities, unique to him.  McKenzie’s singing isn’t to everyone’s taste; he is earnest, declaratory, even tipping over into barroom sentimentality.  But he could put over a hot number with style, and his straight-from-the shoulder delivery is both charming and a product of the late Twenties.  As an instrumentalist — on the comb and newspaper, a homegrown kazoo with panache — he had no equal, and the remarkable thing about the records on which he appears is how strongly he stands his ground with Coleman Hawkins and Bunny Berigan, powerful figures in their own right.  Both singing and playing, McKenzie reminds me greatly of Wild Bill Davison, someone who had “drama,” as Ruby Braff said.

In the late Twenties McKenzie was not only a musician but an activist for the music, bringing hot jazz players — Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Jimmie Noone, the Spirits of Rhythm — to the attention of record companies and creating early record dates where Caucasians and African-Americans to record.  Without McKenzie, Coleman Hawkins would have waited a number of years to be allowed into the recording studio to perform with mixed groups.

Here is McKenzie in 1929 — out in the open in the short film OPRY HOUSE as a delightfully unrestrained singer, with Bland, banjo; Josh Billings, whiskbrooms and suitcase:

His popularity grew — as s singer and someone whose face might sell sheet music of a new song:

McKenzie was the featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra — an orchestra, we should remember, that had launched the careers of Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey — with a pretty 1932 tune, THREE ON A MATCH (featured in the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis):

He continued to be someone whose presence could help sell new songs — this 1936 number, that most of us know through Billie Holiday’s recording:

and this 1936 song, more famous in Bing Crosby’s recording:

At forty, McKenzie went into a temporary retirement — moving back to his hometown, St. Louis, to work at a brewery for four years.  Apparently he was one of the great heavy drinkers of his time, and only the support of his great friend Eddie Condon kept him in the limelight in the Forties, where he appeared now and again at a Condon concert or a Blue Network broadcast.  The latter, I think, accounts for McKenzie’s 1944 appearance on a V-Disc and a session for Commodore Records — where Milt Gabler also thought the world of him.  Gabler produced record sessions simultaneously for Decca Records and the World Transcription System: here’s a 1944 version of DINAH with McKenzie, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, and Pee Wee Russell:

Here’s McKenzie as captured by William P. Gottlieb in an October 1946 photograph:

But little was heard from McKenzie for the last years of his life, except for one 1947 record date — shown in a newsprint advertisement for four sides on the National label.  His obscurity is nodded at — another “comeback story” in the sad word REINTRODUCING:

By February 1948 McKenzie was dead — cirrhosis the official cause.  I find IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER and HEARTACHES sad reminders of what had happened.  I would hate to think that his life could be summarized as an equal devotion to hot music and hard liquor, the latter winning out over the former.

Had he been in better health, he could have been one of those apparently ancient but still vivacious stars who appeared on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW and the HOLLYWOOD PALACE alongside Crosby, Sophie Tucker, Durante, and Ted Lewis . . . but it was not to be.

May your happiness increase. 

WINNER OF THE MISC. INSTRUMENTS CATEGORY, 2012: MR. ANDY SCHUMM!

First Andy mesmerized us with his cornet playing, then his pianisms (rollicking or pensive), then his tenor saxophone and clarinet.  Now . . . the pocket comb and a strip of paper — the kazoo’s elegant cousin — in tribute to Red McKenzie.

Marty Grosz told me that Andy uses real newspaper.  That boy’s got the right spirit, even if the WORLD-TELEGRAM and the JOURNAL AMERICAN (the papers of choice for Mr. McKenzie) are no more.

Here Andy leads an all-star band at the 2012 BixFest — thanks to Phil Pospychala.  Thanks to Tom Warner for the video, complete with do it yourself closeups for the folks at home.  Here’s an evocation of the 1933 “Mound City Blue Blowers” recording — unissued at the time — of GIRLS LIKE YOU WERE MEANT FOR BOYS LIKE ME, which featured Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, and Coleman Hawkins.

The other notables making such sweet music are John Otto, reeds; Frank Gualtieri, trombone; Jason Goldsmith, reeds; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Leah Bezin, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba; Josh Duffee, drums.

I hope that at the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua, Andy and Marty get to do a small-group set together: it will be dynamite!  And I predict a run on the dollar stores once this video reaches its widest audience — for jazz combs, of course.

May your happiness increase.

DON’T FORGET EDDIE LANG, PLEASE!

Our ’20s guitar man

South Philadelphia’s Eddie Lang, the “Father of Jazz Guitar” who died in 1933, lives again at Chris’ Jazz Cafe.
By Dan DeLuca

Inquirer Music Critic

From Django Reinhardt to Jimi Hendrix, the names that commonly appear on argument-starting lists of the greatest and most influential guitarists of the 20th century are familiar.

But there’s one flat-picking virtuoso from South Philadelphia typically left out of the conversation, whose music has receded into obscurity despite a trailblazing career cut short by his tragic death in 1933: Eddie Lang.

That’s an injustice an aggregation of local musicians and Lang enthusiasts are doing their best to redress, starting with a multi-act show that will bring Lang’s music to life at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City on Monday.

It’s the 108th anniversary of the birth of Lang, who died of complications from a tonsillectomy that his friend and collaborator, Bing Crosby, urged him to get. And it’s been declared Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia in a proclamation from Mayor Nutter that “urges all citizens to be aware of Eddie Lang’s history-making musical legacy as well as the role of Philadelphia in the development of early jazz music.”

And it’s about time, say ardent fans of Lang, frustrated that such a prodigiously talented and innovative figure could be all but forgotten by all but jazz cognoscenti.

“He’s somebody who died at a young age who had a brief, meteoric career,” says Aaron Luis Levinson, the Grammy-winning Philadelphia record producer who helmed Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson, the 2008 release that re-created three of the historic guitar duets between Lang and African American guitarist Johnson that broke the recording industry’s color line in 1928 and 1929.

At Chris’ on Monday, all 12 of the duets – which Lang recorded under the pseudonym Blind Willie Dunn so as to not arouse suspicion of music miscegenation – will be reprised by guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Jonathan Dichter, who will “play” Lang.

“He’s not someone anybody ever remembers to talk about when they talk about Philadelphia music,” Levinson says. “There’s something really unfair about cultural memory. It’s like anything that happened before Elvis Presley gets treated like it happened in the dinosaur age.”

Lang’s life story may be little known, but it reads like an unwritten screenplay about a dazzlingly talented, thoroughly modern musician. Born Salvatore Massaro in 1902, Lang took his stage name from a favorite basketball player for the club team the Philadelphia Sphas (an acronym for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association).

The son of an Italian American immigrant instrument maker was among the pioneers of the flat-picking style (which involves playing with a plectrum held by, rather than attached to, the fingers) and is credited with popularizing the guitar over the louder, previously more prevalent banjo, as a key instrument for the jazz bands of the 1920s. So much so that the historical marker across the street from the Saloon restaurant in Lang’s old neighborhood at Seventh and Clymer Streets, put up in 1995, proclaims him “the Father of Jazz Guitar.”

Along with his childhood friend, violinist Joe Venuti, Lang laid the foundation for the improvisational gypsy jazz stylings of Reinhardt and his violin-playing counterpart, Stephane Grappelli.

Crosby biographer Gary Giddins writes that in contrast to Venuti’s merry-prankster personality, Lang was “quiet, thoughtful and responsible, a ruminative Catholic.”

In A Pocketful of Dreams: Bing Crosby, The Early Years, 1903-1940, Giddins writes that after cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Lang and Venuti were “arguably the most influential white jazz musicians of the 1920s, serving as a sort of template for the famed European jazz ensemble of the 1930s, the Quintette du Hot Club de France.”

Lang and Venuti made their names together playing in Philadelphia and Atlantic City showrooms, and according to Dichter, a music historian as well as a guitar teacher at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, toured in England with the novelty band the Mound City Blue Blowers.

In 1929, they were hired by bandleader Paul Whiteman, and it was there that Lang first began to accompany Crosby, who said of Lang’s playing: “He made you want to ride and go.” Giddins calls Lang Crosby’s “jazz conscience,” and the singer’s “most intimate friend, almost certainly the closest he would ever have.”

Crosby brought Lang for the 1932 film The Big Broadcast. He also negotiated a deal for Lang to have speaking parts in all his movies, which is why he urged him to have an operation to rectify the chronic hoarseness attributed to tonsillitis.

Richard Barnes, a guitarist and photographer who lives in Aston, is the driving force behind Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia and will perform at Chris’ with his band, the Blackbird Society Orchestra. He’ll also do a number of Lang-Venuti duets with violinist Michael Salsburg. Barnes first got the Lang bug after he saw Leon Redbone perform in West Philadelphia in the early 1990s.

“That was my exposure to 1920s music,” Barnes says. “I got a couple of CDs, and when you listen to Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, there was always this one guitar player that I really liked. It was totally different. Not strumming.

“Not blues. He plays in an almost pianolike style. Very interesting chord inversions, always complementing the singer. A real distinct sound. It turns out it was Eddie Lang.”

Barnes put an ad on Craigslist this year, reading “Eddie Lang Day, This October.” One of the interested parties to inquire was Mike Hood, who suggested Chris’ as a venue, and will play on Monday with his band Cornbread Five.

The event will raise money for the Eddie Lang Music Scholarship Program for underprivileged children, and Barnes hopes to turn it into an annual Eddie Lang Festival at Chris’ every October.

Barnes, who says business for his 1920s-style Blackbird Society Orchestra is looking up thanks to interest in HBO’s Atlantic City mob drama Boardwalk Empire, got the idea to approach the Nutter administration from one of his first musical memories.

“When I was 13, my first concert was seeing Elton John at the Spectrum,” he remembers. “And there was a picture of Frank Rizzo in the newspaper with Elton John, when he declared it Elton John Day. I thought it would be so cool if I could get the mayor to do that with Eddie Lang.”

The attention is well-deserved, says Dichter, who plays in a band called Beau Django, and who talked to Les Paul about Lang’s influence before the guitarist’s death at 94 last year. “He said it was just too long ago,” Dichter says. “It’s convenient to forget.”

Barnes says he’s always on a mission to bring Lang’s music to a wider audience. “I’m not trying to form the fan club or anything,” he says. “But I do think that people would appreciate this music and enjoy it. It’s something you don’t hear all the time.”

“He invented single-string guitar playing,” Dichter says of Lang, who is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon. “I would call him the most influential guitarist in terms of melody, and then he had this incredible sense of rhythm that really made you want to dance. He laid the foundation, and then he died.

“Charlie Christian is remembered. Jimi Hendrix is remembered. What about Eddie Lang?”

“SEARCH ENGINE TERMS,” February 2010

When you have a blog — this one or any other kind — you find out the words and phrases that people have used on Google or other search engines to come to your blog.  Sometimes the journey is a straight line (the most frequent searches are for “Louis Armstrong,” “Billie Holiday,” “Frank Sinatra,” “Joel Helleny” and so on).  But occasionally imagining the original impulse in the searcher’s mind and trying to reconstruct the journey from idea to JAZZ LIVES is both difficult and hilarious.  Witness these recent examples of inexplicability:

First, we have the MIS-SPELLERS:

“man city blue blowers”

Phonetic-ese for MOUND CITY (St. Louis) which makes for a particularly testosterone-heavy group of comb-and-tissue players; men whose kazoos are formidable instruments.

lester young, lady be god

Perhaps the deification of Billie Holiday by Lester Young?

meaning atterly deplorable

Here, I don’t know if the writer was looking for a defintion of the phrase or saying that my blog was atterly, atterly to be deplored. 

was is billie holiday’s nationality

Was American, korrekt?

talk less – miss holiday

1)  I can’t say; my lips are sealed.    2)   If you don’t say anything, they take away your sick days at work?

jazz pianist and singer black overweight

I assume that someone here was thinking of Fats Waller but couldn’t recall the name, or was shy about typing in his name for fear of causing offense: the computer would shut down because of such offensive language.  One never knows, do one?

jazz vocal shout face

My first thought was that someone was looking for a Google Images piece of clip art — a singer whose face was showing the joyous possibilities of shouting in rhythm.  But then I said, “No!  Someone’s looking for information on the almost-unknown hot singer SHOUT FACE, who made three records with Billy Fowler and his Howlers in Atlanta in 1927.” 

It’s all a mystery!

LES RED HOT REEDWARMERS, OH MY! (July 11, 2009)

By popular demand, here are five more hot numbers from Les Red Hot Reedwarmers, the band that lives up to its name, caught live at the 2009 Whitley Bay International Jazz festival, featuring Aurelie Tropez, Stephane Gillot, Martin Seck, and an enthusiastic rhythm section.  (I’ve posted a few performances from this set where Bent Persson joined them — see RED HOT AND BENT. . . ) 

From the book of their idol, Jimmie Noone, they perform IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (a phrase of enthusiastic celebration that has nothing to with Manhattan parking spaces or constricting waistbands):

And a rhetorical question anyone can answer in the affirmative, even if you’re an only child: OH, SISTER!  AIN’T THAT HOT?:

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is now sometimes used to signal that the evening’s entertainment is over and that it’s time for well-behaved listeners to go to bed.  But in the Twenties, it was a brisk dance tune (think of the Henderson version with Louis), so the RHR weren’t ready to stop, as you’ll hear:

SAN was recorded not only by Noone, but by the Mound City Blue Blowers, and by a small band out of the Paul Whiteman organization featuring Bix Beiderbecke.  The RHR live up to their heroic antecendents with style:

And, finally, MY DADDY ROCKS ME — where the reference is neither to hammocks or to Pilates.  “With one steady roll,” say the lyrics.  You’ll figure it out once you’ve heard this rocking performance.  And that trumpet man?  None other than our hero, Mr. Persson:

The RHR’s two Stomp Off CDs are also splendid: the band comes through whole on every performance.  I admire the band tremendously for the fervency and beauty of their solo improvisations, but would call your attention to their exact, swinging ensemble playing — those unison passages are suely difficult to execute at any speed, and the band adores racing tempos! 

This post is for M. “Stompy” Jones, President and Treasurer of the Mlle. Aurelie Tropez Fan Club, Canadian Division.

MOUND CITY BLUE BLOWERS: “NINE O’CLOCK FOLKS”

This Vitaphone short (circa 1931) is ten minutes long, and viewers who suffer from even mild impatience may want to fast-forward through the hillbilly jokes that take up the first four minutes: the man sitting on a box of eggs because his hen has wandered off, the local constable directing traffic (it’s another man and his cow).  Cinematic vaudeville at its finest and broadest, as those city slickers show how dumb the rubes are.

But things start to get hot when the trio from the local cafe, “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” (who are they, really?) sing a low-down melody, an eccentric dancer capers around the stage on clown shoes.  That would be intermitently hilarious vaudeville, but the jazz content would be low.  However, you can begin to hear Red McKenzie creating wailing phrases behind the dancer, as if he couldn’t contain himself.  Then, after some more labored banter, the trio-that-became-a quartet takes the stage for a ferocious ST. LOUIS BLUES — from left to right, there’s Red (blowing his comb wrapped in newspaper into his hat), Josh Billings whacking a suitcase with whiskbrooms and kicking it for bass-drum accents, Eddie Condon and Jack Bland, playing what appear to be Vega lutes.

Josh Billings, by the way, is credited with one of the great wry aphorisms of the last century.  Someone is supposed to have been complaining about how things were in what would later be called the Great Depression.  “Will it ever get better?” lamented the nameless interlocutor.  Billings said thoughtfully, “Better times are coming . . . now and then.”

The rocking interlude is over too soon, and we descend into a drunken-dog act . . .  I find it weirdly significant that Whitey the dog gets star billing, but no matter.  How else would we have seen the Mound City Blue Blowers?  Thanks to Vitaphone, to Roy Mack, the director, to TCM, to Dailymotion, and others.

And now, ladies and gentlemen . . . !