Tag Archives: Muggsy Spanier

“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!

“TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES: SONGS BY JOE BUSHKIN,” BOB MERRILL and FRIENDS

It’s always a generous idea, karmically, to honor the Ancestors.  If you’re trumpeter, singer, and composer Bob Merrill it’s not only easy but gratifying, because the Ancestor in question is his late father-in-law Joe Bushkin, pianist, trumpeter, singer, and composer.

The formulaic way to pay tribute to Joe would have been to assemble a band and have them play transcriptions of his famous recordings — from Berigan, Condon, Spanier, to his own performances.  But that approach might have run into obstacles early.  Joe was a singular pianist, whether he was musing his way through RELAXIN’ AT THE TOURO or dazzling us on HALLELUJAH!  And fifteen minutes with YouTube shows Joe at his best as player and singer.

But Joe’s talents as a writer of songs have been overshadowed by his brilliance at the keyboard.  He was fortunate in that Sinatra and Lee Wiley recorded OH, LOOK AT ME NOW; Bing sang HOT TIME IN THE TOWN OF BERLIN; Louis gave Joe and his new bride the wedding present of recording LOVELY WEATHER WE’RE HAVING.

Bob Merrill’s new CD, “TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES,” devoted to Joe’s songs — and it’s the first volume of several planned — is rather like Joe himself: melodic, light-hearted even when the lyrical thread is slightly somber.  It’s a wonderfully varied offering, and rather than describe it first, I offer samples here (scroll down to the lower half of the page).

Not a simple presentation of songs with the same approach and instrumentation, the CD could have been called THE MANY FACES OF JOE BUSHKIN’S MUSIC, with each track a little dramatic presentation in itself.  Some of the tracks so wittily and cleverly develop the theme that they sound like display numbers for a yet-to-be produced Broadway show. Consider HOT TIME IN THE TOWN OF BERLIN, which begins as if it were an unissued 78, with Bing’s wife Kathryn singing over a hot band, then morphs into the twenty-first century embodiment of the Andrews Sisters — Kathryn, Bob, Shannon Day, and Lisa Gary, over a modern arrangement for hip vocals over a shouting band.  Nicki Parrott convincingly masquerades as a diner waitress for several minutes on BOOGIE WOOGIE BLUE PLATE.

MAN HERE PLAYS FINE PIANO has not one, but three pianists soloing and trading phrases: Rossano Sportiello, Laurence Hobgood, and John Colianni. Other pleasures here are the wildly virtuosic trombone of Wycliffe Gordon, who turns in a fine vocal — seriously evoking Hot Lips Page — on GOIN’ BACK TO STORYVILLE. Eric Comstock is responsible for a number of smooth, winning vocals: I especially admire his reading of WISE TO MYSELF, a song well worth performing in this century, and Bob himself sings splendidly (with a touch of New York wryness) as well.  In case you don’t know his trumpet playing, it’s expert and swinging: he’s never at a loss for notes, and his brass battle with Wycliffe, who could overwhelm lesser players, is truly a draw.  Bob has the best musical friends, as you will have noticed, in Nicki Parrott, Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Harry Allen, Steve Johns, and Adrian Cunningham.  Yes, the CD is a loving evocation of Joe’s many talents, but son-in-law Bob is operating at the same level of swinging joy.

If this sounds like an exuberant, vivid musical package — full to the rim and never monotonous — you have a good idea of what TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES offers.  And the music is framed by two wonderful anecdotes about Joe, told by his remarkable friends.  At the close of the CD, Red Buttons delivers a sweet, naughty elegy which ends with a story about Joe, Bing, and some sleeping potions delivered in an unusual way.  And the CD starts with Frank Sinatra, Joe’s long-time friend, telling a story about Joe and illicit stimulants.  That tale is worth the price of admission in itself.  And, for once, the CD itself comes in a splendid package with notes, stories, and photographs — much better than any download.  You can buy this generous offering here.

May your happiness increase!

“I THOUGHT I HEARD”: November 1945

No blues lyrics that I know begin with “The mail carrier came today, and (s)he brought me good news,” but it happens to be the case.  Evidence herewith:

Once again, prowling eBay about ten days ago, I saw ten issues of Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD — a short-lived and wonderful magazine on sale — and I took money out of the  grandchildren’s retirement fund and splurged.  The issues were the prized possession of someone whose name I can’t quite read, and their original owner not only read them avidly, but had a cigarette in his hand . . . typical of the times.

I will in future offer selections — a concert review, or a letter to the editor complaining about varying prices for King Oliver Gennetts — but this is what caught my eye immediately, and the neighbors called to complain that my whimpering was upsetting the dogs in this apartment building.  You will understand why.

On the inside front cover, there is a print column titled I Thought I Heard . . . Buddy Bolden wasn’t audible in 1945, but his heirs and friends were certainly active in New York City.

Stuyvesant Casino, 2nd Ave. at 9th St. — Bunk Johnson’s New Orleans Band

Nick’s, 7th Ave. and 10th St. — Miff Mole and orchestra with [Bujie] Centobie, [Muggsy] Spanier, [Gene] Schroeder, George Hartman, bass, Joe Grauso.

Down Beat, 52nd St. — Art Tatum.

Onyx, 52nd St. — Roy Eldridge.

Three Deuces, 52nd St. — Slam Stewart, Erroll Garner, Hal West. 

Ryan’s, 52nd St. — Sol Yaged, clarinet; Danny Alvin, drums; Hank Duncan, piano.

Cafe Society Downtown, Sheridan Sq. — Benny Morton band, Cliff Jackson, piano.

Cafe Society Uptown, 58th St. — Ed Hall and band.

Spotlight, 52nd St. — Ben Webster.

Yes, Sol Yaged is still with us — the only survivor of those glorious days.

To keep the mellow mood going, here is twenty-nine minutes of Art Hodes and friends from those years.  Spot the typo, win a prize:

May your happiness increase!

DID MARVIN GO?

Here’s a little mystery, courtesy of the great attic / basement / rummage sale / museum that is eBay: two sides of a postcard, and the question of my title.

maltz-stuyvesant-casino-front

Flip it over . . .

maltz-stuyvesant-casino

Maybe Marvin was tired from his workweek; $1.50 meant much more in 1948 than it does today.  But I hope he got to the Stuyvesant Casino and heard the band, and had a wonderful time.  In my ideal fantasy, he saved the postcard because he did go . . . he’d kept it in his shirt pocket and his fountain pen leaked on the bottom right corner above.

Incidentally, the eBay seller (link here) is asking one hundred times the admission price for this artifact: make of that what you will.  Inflation, for sure. But shipping is free.

Internet research, always treacherous, shows me that 41-63 Frame Place still exists, and that there is “a” Marvin Dunenfeld, 89, who now lives in Willis, Texas. The age would be right, but it’s a much longer trip from Flushing to Willis than it might have been from Flushing to the East Village.

The moral to the story (there must be a moral) is that we don’t always know what Wonders are happening in our midst: almost seventy years later, this casual Friday night concert seems to us like a gathering of deities, correctly.  Get out and hear some live music if you can, while you can.  If you can’t, then buy a CD. If that’s not possible, have a friend over and play some music . . . spread the word.  Chippie Hill isn’t showing up for gigs any more, but we can still hear her.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON, BUD FREEMAN, and THE CREATION OF JOY

Commodore Love

Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, and I go ‘way back, although those two gentlemen would not have noticed me all that much.  I only saw Eddie once at close range, in the summer of 1972, and at several late concerts; I saw Bud once at a Newport in New York tribute to Eddie.

But I have been following both men since I was a youth in suburbia, when department stores had record departments and there was always a reason to walk to the one nearby or tag along when my parents, who loved to shop for what I think of as home-trivia, went to one that I couldn’t walk to.

I started collecting Louis Armstrong records, which should not shock anyone. But soon I decided that Jack Teagarden was fascinating as well, and bought THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, which featured Pee Wee Russell, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Wettling, and others.  Then, in 1969, the Mainstream label started to issue vinyl compilations drawn from the Commodore Records catalogue.  Most, if not all, were in reprocessed stereo, had obtuse liner notes, limited discographical information . . . but here I could hear SERENADE TO A SHYLOCK.  I was hooked for life.  And I became a deep convert to Condonia, and the territory known as the Land of Bud.

Both of them are ferociously underrated musicians and their music, when mentioned, is often viewed patronizingly.  More about that later.  But I would fight for the Commodores and later Deccas to be taken as seriously as any small-group recordings of the period.  Click here for several sound samples: clear your mind of jazz-history debris (the categorization of this music as Not Terribly Innovative and Created Mostly by Caucasians) and listen.

CONDON MOSAIC

I’ve had the new Mosaic Records cornucopia of the Condon / Freeman Commodore / Deccas 1938-1950 sitting on my coffee table, the box unwrapped but the discs still virginal, for two weeks now.  I think I was afraid of breaking the spell.  Sometimes the hallowed records one remembers just aren’t what one has idealized, and one hears all the flaws.

But I began to listen, and disillusionment never appeared.  I approached the set in two ways — front and back — starting with the first Commodore session (admiring the way that I could hear shadings and subtleties I’d never heard before) and then the later Deccas . . . unheard Dave Tough, James P. Johnson, Johnny Windhurst, and more.

Here are the details.  Eight CDs, 199 tracks, many new Decca alternates, everything in gorgeous sound, $136.00.  Wonderful photographs, many new to me — and I’m a Condon obsessive.  Notes by Dan Morgenstern, a real plus.

The Commodore and Decca band sides of the first period, 1938 to 1944, are elated and elating music.  Even at slow tempos, a delicious energy bubbles through.  Condon and the Blessed Milt Gabler, the guiding light of Commodore, favored obscure pop songs of the early Twenties — PRAY FOR THE LIGHTS TO GO OUT, TELL ‘EM ABOUT ME, YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER, IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND, as well as impromptu blues and durable ballads. Where some of the later Commodore sessions (for example, those led by Muggsy Spanier) sound heavy in their earnestness, the Condons sound light, frisky.  One can study a record like MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND or TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL for its ensemble lightness or densities, as well as the glowing solos.

And the Deccas that follow are almost as glorious — with alternate takes of beloved performances (IDA and JUST YOU, JUST ME) as well as familiar ones in wonderfully clear sound.

As with any Mosaic set, the incautious listener will go down into the depths and arise befuddled by an over-abundance of beauty.  Although the price is far lower than a collection of the original 78s, I urge any student of the music to listen with serious caution, as one might have in 1938 or 1945: two sides, at most, making up a listening session.

I have written elsewhere at length about my hopes for a re-evaluation of Eddie Condon as a color-blind prophet of authentic music, but here I wish to praise him as a beautiful Intuitive, someone who knew what tempos (the plural is intentional) would work, a guitarist who knew the right chords and whose beautiful sound uplifted any group.  Even in his last appearances, when the guitar was more an ornament than an instrument, Eddie knew how to make a group cohesive and sprightly.  I mean to take nothing away from Freddie Green, but rhythm guitarists and aspiring swingsters should study his work on these sides.  And if you take contemporaneous sides recorded by similar bands where Condon is not present, his absence is immediately heard and felt.  That’s the musician.  As for the man, history — taking his actions and utterances as the only evidence — has leaned towards a portrait of a man more enamored of alcohol than anything else, a wise-cracking smart-ass whose jibes were often mean. Some of that might be true: his quick-witted retorts were often not gentle, but the music, ultimately, is what counts.  And the Mosaic set offers it in glorious profusion.  (I would offer the WOLVERINE JAZZ sides as an engaging way to play “jazz repertory” that isn’t bound and gagged by the originals.)

Several heroes also shine through these sides.  One of the most noble is Jack Teagarden — as singer and trombonist.  I suspect that Teagarden has been ill-served by his durability (which is an odd statement, I admit) and his narrowing repertoire.  If one were to see him merely as a re-creator, say, of BASIN STREET BLUES into infinity, one would do him a great disservice.  I defy any trombonist to be as limber, as inventive, as surprising.  And as a singer he is simply glorious, even on the less inspiring material, such as IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND (which I find and always found terribly endearing).

I can’t say enough about Charles Ellsworth Russell, so I will simply say this.  To me he is the equal of Lester Young, of Benny Carter, and (yes!) of the King of Swing.  Too much has been made of his “eccentricities,” which are ultimately the hallmarks of an utterly self-aware and courageous musician.

The later Commodores often featured a violently effective front-line pairing of Wild Bill Davison and George Brunis, but these sides most often have Bobby Hackett and other lyrical trumpeters / cornetists: Max Kaminsky, Billy Butterfield, even Johnny Windhurst.  Hackett is my idea of angelic music: let that statement stand by itself, and Kaminsky’s even, compact playing is a wonderful model.  The rhythm sections on these records are delights in themselves: consider Jess Stacy or Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Dave Tough, coming-to-the-rescue Lionel Hampton and even on one long delicious 1943 date, Sidney Catlett.  I can’t ignore delicious cameos by Fats Waller and Lee Wiley.

In 1969 and onwards, I tended to skip over the Bud Freeman trio sessions (with Stacy and Wettling).  How narrow my perspective was.  I now hear them as gloriously radical creations, slyly subversive answers to the Goodman Trio. In some ways, they are the most “free” recordings before the term became more common in jazz: three rollicking eccentrics going at it, each on his own path, improvising wildly and sometimes acrobatically.

And since Miles Davis is the Great Exalted Potentate of All Jazz in the past decades, I present this little passage (found my accident) where he speaks of Lawrence Freeman:

Lester had a sound and an approach like Louis Armstrong, only he had it on tenor sax. Billie Holiday had that same sound and style; so did Budd Johnson and that white dude, Bud Freeman. They all had that running style of playing and singing. That’s the style I like, when it’s running. It floods the tone. It has a softness in the approach and concept, and places emphasis on one note.

I didn’t make that up.

Rather than reading more of my words, I hope you listen to the music presented on the Mosaic site.  These sessions are as precious as any of the more “hallowed” contemporaries.  I would put them next to the Ellington, Hampton, Basie small groups of the period, and they stand up splendidly in comparison to the independent-label recordings of the Forties.  Clear your mind of the odious categorizations and enjoy.

Postscript: before writing this post, I intentionally did not read the beautiful liner notes by Dan Morgenstern, who was on the scene and knew Eddie . . . because Dan’s influence is so strong (in the best way) that I wanted to attempt to write this from my own perspective.  But I know that Mister Morgenstern and I will agree.

May your happiness increase!

CLESS IS ALWAYS MORE

Clarinetist Rod Cless, one of my heroes, died far too young.  To most people, his is an unfamiliar name, encountered — if at all — in liner notes or on the label of a few 78s.  But he had a beautiful bright tone and was a delightfully satisfying ensemble player.  As a soloist, he had some of the surprise of Pee Wee Russell but his energies were more often quietly subversive: a Cless chorus sounded sometimes like an easy melodic paraphrase, broken here and there by logical chord explorations — but when it was through, it stuck in the mind as a compact invention of its own.

I’ve written about Cless here (this posting has four audio samples) and here is a reminiscence by clarinetist Paul Nossiter, who actually took lessons from Cless. And my friend Jim Denham has offered his own touching assessment, the very beautiful elegy by James McGraw, and four other audio samples here.

It’s easy to feel isolated in this world, so one of the nicest parts of having this blog is that people reach out to me.  I’m in touch with a young woman whose grandfather dated Billie Holiday, and I hope to have more of that story for you in the future.  And another benevolent reader — Nick, from the UK — found me and offered his own comprehensive audio collection — downloadable files — of everything Rod Cless recorded.  These links, he mentions, may be taken down soon if not used — so let that be an encouragement to you to immerse yourself in Cless, and to have another spirit-friend in music lift up your days and nights.  (If you encounter problems with the links, he bravely suggests that he can be reached at nddoctorjazz@googlemail.com.)

Here is what Nick sent to me.  I think it’s a generous gift.

“Many years ago I gave a record recital to my local society on Joe Marsala. At that time I thought that I should do the same for another clarinet player, Rod Cless, but was surprised to find how little of his music was in my collection apart from the Muggsy Spanier Ragtime Band sessions. I wrote to my old band leader, an excellent amateur clarinettist, for help and he also had very few recordings by him! Many of the original records had not been reissued in Europe. I abandoned the idea and kept my eyes open for likely discs on second-hand record lists. By last August I had enough to give the recital.

I then decided to collect his entire oeuvre together using Tom Lord’s Discography as my source. The music has never been published in this way before. On a couple of the early sessions, he does not solo and may not be present but all is included. I had to use the internet for a few tracks to fill gaps. For instance, I have a Doctor Jazz LP (Signature 78s material) with the Yank Lawson Band but it omitsWhen I grow Too Old To Dream for no obvious reason as It is a good track. I found this on a blog, Jazz Rhythm, <http://jazzhotbigstep.com/24264.html > from a radio program on James P Johnson with guest commentator Mark Borowsky. Other material has poorish sound. Even some commercial CD reproduction is substandard, i.e.: Art Hodes Columbia Quintet. I don’t think that the originals could be improved!

Having got this material together, it seemed a shame not to share it. Apologies for the variable sound and file formats.

It has all been uploaded to Zippyshare which is a no frills site, which restricts file size to 200 MB:

Rod Cless – 1 ~ Early Years & Discography.rar (Size: 98.73 MB)

http://www17.zippyshare.com/v/sgGS4s3f/file.html

Hodes-1940 Groups.rar (Size: 190.05 MB)

http://www17.zippyshare.com/v/mZ2Jth9r/file.html

Hodes-1942 Groups.rar (Size: 71.1 MB)

http://www8.zippyshare.com/v/BBKxGbKi/file.html

Hodes Chicagoans-1944.rar (Size: 164.21 MB)

http://www1.zippyshare.com/v/2JPVJGQW/file.html

Rod Cless – Small Groups (1943-1944).rar (Size: 149.38 MB)

http://www35.zippyshare.com/v/A3rvXrQH/file.html

KAMINSKY-1944.rar (184.8 MB)

http://www35.zippyshare.com/v/PbMmXfd3/file.html

The Spanier sessions are not included as I expect most people have them with alternate takes.”

May your happiness increase!

CONFESSIN’

Muggsy_Spanier

I just acquired the late Bert Whyatt’s bio-discography of Muggsy Spanier, THE LONESOME ROAD.  Published by Jazzology Press in 1995, it feels fresh.

I read non-fiction books haphazardly, especially when I know the shape of the narrative, but for some reason I began this one at the beginning, where Bert wrote of his connection with Ruth, Muggsy’s widow, and her wholehearted cooperation in the book, which combines his research with her unpublished memoir.

I found this passage on page 7 and think it moving beyond simple explanation. (Note: in his last years, the Spaniers lived in Sausalito, California, a town the Beloved and I came to know):

One evening, we [Bert and his wife and Ruth] returned to Sausalito from San Francisco and Ruth asked us to pull the car off the road which runs down from the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We often would stop here for a last cigarette after the Club Hangover had closed for the night,” she said.  “It helped Muggsy to unwind and we would usually sit quietly, saying little.  Sometimes he would seek reassurance that I loved  him. ‘I feel so lonely and afraid,’ he would say. I would remind him of the affection felt for him worldwide, of all his friends who loved him and, of course, that I did too.”

She paused and then said, “If we ever get that book finished, we should call it ‘Muggsy Spanier: The Lonesome Road.'”

My first reaction to this little tale was astonishment, then sorrow.  To think that a man so much at one with his art, after an evening of sharing joy through his music, could feel so desolate and frightened, was nearly shattering.

I then thought wryly that I had been wrong in assuming that playing hot cornet was armor against existential dread. . . . that a plunger mute could keep such essential anxiety at a distance.

But even as I felt sorrow and sympathy for Muggsy, I was flooded with pride and admiration.  He was born in 1901, and it might be cliched to write  that men of that generation were told it was unmanly to reveal their hearts with such openness, perhaps even to their wives.  Being male required staunchness and emotional reserve. Oh, one could say “I love you!” to one’s Beloved, one could woo the person one wanted to be intimate with by using words like those, one could say it to children.  But to say I NEED LOVE and I AM AFRAID was not something men were trained or encouraged to do. Candor like that might have seemed a confession of weakness.

But somehow Muggsy knew that his emotions were the magical element that made him able to play the blues, or the love song that he aimed directly at Ruth in their courtship, I’M CONFESSIN’. Love was at the center of his art.  And such heartfelt candid utterance.  And he found the courage to push aside his expected role and, in the darkness, speak his truths.

I celebrate Ruth also for creating an atmosphere where her husband could confess his inmost heart and receive reassurance and love, not dismissal or mockery.  She must have understood her husband’s need as genuine and commendable.  She didn’t say to him, “What is wrong with you, talking like that?”

Perhaps she knew that it takes a brave individual to openly say, “I am afraid,” an honest one to say, “I am lonely.”

Because of this anecdote, the man I admired as a jazz musician is now enhanced rather than diminished, a figure larger and more beautiful than an anxious man seeking reassurance.  Muggsy Spanier, perhaps an unlikely figure, is the embodiment of our deep need for love — a hero of that exalted emotion.  He seems to have known that without it, we wither.

His own road might have been lonesome, but I find his openness inspiring and brave.

May your happiness increase!