Tag Archives: mystery

JULY 6, 2013. LOUIS LIVES. AND WE FEEL IT DEEPLY.

This story begins in a sweetly undramatic way.

The Beloved and I had spent the afternoon of July 6 doing a variety of errands in the car.  We had some time before we had to return home, so she suggested that we do a short bout of “thrifting” (visiting our favorite thrift stores) in the nearby town of San Rafael, California.  She favors a hospice thrift place called HODGE PODGE; I opt for GOODWILL, which is half a block away.

Once in Goodwill, I looked quickly at men’s clothing and took two items off the rack for more consideration.  I saw there were many records in the usual corner, perhaps three hundred LPs and a half-dozen 78 albums.

Just as I write the novella of the life of the person ahead of me on line in the grocery store by the items (s)he is buying, I create the brief biography of a record collector by what patterns there are.  Admittedly, the collection I perused was not solely the expression of one person’s taste, but it seemed a particularly deep 1959 collection: original cast, Sinatra, Dino, Hank Williams, comedy, unusual albums I had not seen before.

In about ten minutes, I found a Jack Lemmon record on Epic, where he sings and plays songs from SOME LIKE IT HOT (he was quite a good pianist), the orchestra directed by Marion Evans.  (Particularly relevant because I am also finishing the 1999 book, CONVERSATIONS WITH WILDER — that’s Billy — and enjoying it greatly).  A Murray McEachern mood-music session for Capitol, CARESS, with Jimmy Rowles; the somewhat dubious JAZZ: SOUTH PACIFIC, with Pettiford, McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Rudy Williams; Ethel Waters doing spirituals and hymns on Word; Clancy Hayes with the Salty Dogs — Jim Dapogny on second cornet / valve-trombone, Kim Cusack on clarinet — OH BY JINGO on Delmark.

Then I moved to the 78s.  I thought about but did not take a Black and White album of six songs by Lena Horne with Phil Moore, but took without hesitation a Capitol collection of Nellie Lutcher, because Sidney Catlett was on a few sides, I think.

More than a few minutes had passed.  My knees were beginning to hurt and other people, one with a well-behaved dog, had been drawn to the trove.

The last album I looked at was an unmarked four-record 78 album.  The first sleeve was empty.  The second one held a Fifties TOPS record “Four Hits On One Record,” which I disdained.  The third was a prize — a late-Thirties Bluebird of Fats Waller and his Rhythm doing AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (“Recorded in Europe”) and GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR, which pleased me a great deal.  It would have been the great treasure of my quest.

I turned to the last record and caught my breath.  I know this feeling well — surprise, astonishment, intense emotion — the equivalent of a painless punch in the solar plexus.  I’ve felt it other times before — once a year ago in California with a Bluebird 78 in a Goodwill (take that confluence as you will) which I have chronicled here.

This record was another late-Thirties Bluebird, this one by Louis.  One side was Hoagy Carmichael’s SNOWBALL (which made me smile — it’s a great sweet song).

Then this:

SUPERMOON and SWING YOU CATS 011

For nearly a decade my email address has been swingyoucats@gmail.com.

Initially, I took it as a self-definition and an online “alias” because those three words are to me a collective exaltation — “Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters!” in a swinging four – four.

But “Swing you cats!” is not only exhortation — “Let’s unite for our common joyous purpose!” but celebration that we are communally on the same delighted path.

As I did in the previous Goodwill experience, I took the record over to the Beloved, who was seated peaceably, reading a local free paper.  “What did you find?” she said cheerfully.  I went through the records I’ve described, and then reached for the unmarked album and said, “Look at this.”

She admires Fats as I do, so GEORGIA ROCKIN’ CHAIR was properly celebrated.  Then I silently showed her the final record, and we both drew in our breaths.  When she could speak, she said, “Is today a special day?  Some anniversary of your blog?”

And then it dawned on me.  Choked up, I eventually said, “This is the anniversary of Louis’ death.  July 6, 1971.”  After a long, tear-stifled interval during which we simply looked at each other and the record, I took my treasures to the cashier, paid, and we went home.

To describe my feelings about this incident, I run the risk of characterizing myself as one of the Anointed and elaborating on this fantasy vision, where Louis, in the ethereal sphere, sees what I do in his name and approves — sending a little token of his approval my way.

I know that some readers might scoff, “Please!  That record was a manufactured object.  Thousands of copies were made.  It was simple luck that you got it.  Do you think Louis — dead for forty-plus years — would know or care what your email address is?”  I can certainly understand their realistic scorn.

But since I am sure that the Dead Know — that they aren’t Dead in any way except the abandoning of their bodies, who is to say that my taking this as an affirmation from Somewhere is so odd?  How many of us, for whatever reason, have felt the presence of someone we love / who loved us, even though that person is now “dead”?

So I felt, in a more intense way, connected to Louis Armstrong.  That is not a bad thing.  And I could hilariously imagine the way I might have popped up on one of his letters or home tapes.

I hope all my JAZZ LIVES readers, cats indeed, will happily swing on now and eternally.

I send them all my love.

And I celebrate SWING YOU CATS by making it the first whirl of the JAZZ LIVES homemade video jukebox*:

For those who want to know more about this record, read and hear my man Ricky Riccardi’s essay on SWING YOU CATS, here.

*I have witnessed much high-intensity irritation on Facebook directed at people like myself who make YouTube videos of a spinning vintage record without using the finest equipment.  I apologize in advance to anyone who might be offended by my efforts.  SWING YOU CATS sounds “pretty good” to me.  And my intermittent YouTube videos — the “JAZZ LIVES” DANCE PARTY — will offer 78 sides that aren’t on YouTube.  Just for a thrill.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“IT’S A TÉCLA PEARL!”

At great cost and expense, a major mystery has been solved.

But first, the problem.

Here’s Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra, with George Elrick singing GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — music by Arthur Schwartz, words by Howard Dietz, from the 1935 revue AT HOME ABROAD, where the song was sung by Ethel Waters:

And here’s singing / tap-dancing Eleanor Powell’s version of the same song with the young Tommy Dorsey Orchestra:

After the bridge, the singer (male or female) sings of donning a “tiepin” or “stickpin,” that’s a genuine “Técla pearl.”  In these versions, “Técla” rhymes with  “Decca,” more or less — although the two most famous versions of this song — by Mister Strong and Mister Waller — pronounce the first syllable to rhyme with “week.”

Since Thirties men’s fashion is not a subject I have studied well, I thought the singers were referring to something particularly arcane: a “T-clasp pearl,” which suggested a jeweled tie clasp.  I only found out that what they were singing was “Técla pearl” when I bought the sheet music for the song at an antique store about a year ago.

Trying to find out what kind of pearl a Téecla pearl was . . . . I must not have had my websurfer’s hat (the one with the light on) fastened correctly.  So I despaired.  I thought it would be another unsolved mystery.  But then a friend recommended that I secure the services of Sir Damien Sitzfleisch, the world’s most successful tracer of the obscure.  We haggled over price, but one we had agreed, results were immediately forthcoming.  Hence and forthwith.

Serene and radiant.

And (circa 1923) there was only one Técla shop in America, so the wearer of such a pearl was someone of means who knew (and wore) the best.  I’m also fascinated with the lyric as an early example of product placement, or perhaps giving a company a free advertisement . . . and that something so well-known in 1935 has become completely obscure today.  With or without the accent over the first E (the sheet music lacks the accent, I believe).

In 1913, the Técla pearl was a standout in Germany:

It was especially ELEGANT in France in 1932:

And here — as a special treat — is the May 2012 version of this song (in G, no less) by John Reynolds, guitar and vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Clint Baker, trombone; Katie Cavera, string bass.  John knows about a Técla pearl, because I shared the results of my preliminary research with him . . . but he hasn’t seen the advertisements!

Not only is the mystery solved, but we get to hear John sing (twice), Marc and Clint, Ralf and Katie rock it for all time . . . !

And perhaps someone more gifted will share the Louis and Fats versions on YouTube if we all ask politely . . . ?  Perhaps some JAZZ LIVES readers are specialists in early twentieth-century jewelry and can tell us more.  But for me, anything that Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz created, that Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Eleanor Powell, Henry Hall, George Elrick, and the Reynolds Brothers s(w)ing out is important in itself.  (There’s also an instrumental version by Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman on a wondrous Chiaroscuro recording, FATS WALLER’S HEAVENLY JIVE . . . )

You won’t find me wearing a string of Técla pearls at the next jazz party, but that’s only because they make my complexion look sallow.

P.S.  398 Fifth Avenue, once the home of Técla pearls, now is the home of a rug company.  Nothing against rugs, mind you, but sic transit gloria mundi.

May your happiness increase.

DREAMS, BLUEBIRDS, GOODWILL

I don’t usually write blogposts about blogging, but I ask my readers to follow this one to the end.  It has its own surprises.  The Beloved and I sometimes talk about worry and its ubiquity and how to shake it off.  About a week ago, I posted GET HAPPY?  And a day later, the Beloved posted her own variations on the theme, MY WORRY CUP.  Both of these blogposts have this piece of music in common:

I am always moved by the wistful optimism of the song and the beauty of Bing’s voice — and the way that this performance has its own satisfying dramatic shape, moving from song to recitative to whistling.  It’s a very compelling performance, and it always reminds me that one’s troubles can be made to vanish if you gently wrap them in dreams.  The lyrics also suggest that there is a limitless supply of dreams in the universe — always a good thing to hear.

You will notice that the YouTube video begins with a close-up of a lovely record label — what collectors call a “buff Bluebird,”very attractive in itself.  Bing recorded the song in 1931 and the record seen here is from mid-1937.

A few days after we had published our blogposts, the Beloved spotted a Goodwill store we had both delved into in 2011, always finding treasures.  We went inside, elated and curious, and threw ourselves into the treasure hunt.  I found a spectacularly bold Hawaiian shirt; the Beloved found her own prize.  I remembered that in 2011 I had bought a half-dozen late-Twenties records there, so I knelt on the floor among scattered 78s.  I opened one of the ten-record brown cardboard albums and saw a buff Bluebird label.  Expecting nothing remarkable, I drew out a well-preserved copy of Bing’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, a record I had never owned.

It is a cliche to write, “My mouth fell open.  I was speechless,” but it was true.  Carefully I put the record into a paper sleeve and, holding it behind my back, went over to the Beloved and said, quietly — in the presence of Mystery — “You won’t believe this.”  And we marveled at the artifact that had appeared to us.

The object and its suggestive powers are both powerfully in our thoughts.  If you like the mathematical: what are the chances that a piece of fragile, breakable shellac would emerge intact after seventy-five years?  What are the chances that it should appear to us, who had been humming and singing and thinking about that song for the days immediately before?

I could hypothesize that Someone or Something put it there for us to find, as a little gleaming light on the path, or The Path.  Since I believe that the dead know what is going on on this planet, I could — with some quiet amusement — think momentarily that Bing had arranged for it to be there.  I could even entertain the possibility that it was there as a reward in a universe where such synchronicities are all around us if are hearts are open to them.  I could turn the whole idea on its head and think that this disc was the starting point for my journey and the Beloved’s, that we had thought of the song and written our posts because the record was waiting to be found.  I think it meaningful that the disc appeared in a place called GOODWILL, where many less fortunate people come to shop — their troubles larger than their abilities to dream them away.  All the omens, including the hopeful Bluebird, augur well.  The other side of the 78, and I think not by accident, is an Irving Berlin song called THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE.  Ponder that.

I have no real answers.  But I am awestruck, delighted beyond the quick formulaic responses with which we brush away the beautiful Mysteries: “accident,” “randomness,” “luck,” or “coincidence.”

What do my readers think?

And while you muse and dream, please listen to Mister Crosby.

I send thanks to Bing, to Harry Barris, Ted Koehler, Billy Moll, David J. Weiner.  I hope to spread Goodwill through JAZZ LIVES.

May your troubles be small.  May your dreams be powerful.

May your happiness increase.

SENIOR BALL, JUNE 9, 1939

Just give me a June night, the moonlight, and you . . .

Here’s an object with untold stories surrounding it.  Three pictures tell us something, but the whole story remains hidden.

Until my friend David Weiner gave me this (he is the generous Prince of eBay and his subjects love him) I had never seen an actual dance card before.  Oh, I had said “My dance card is full,” often enough, but I was struck by this one, complete with working pencil.

Open the cover and listen to the jazz come out . . .

That’s the only time I’ve ever seen Hackett’s first name misspelled, although there are still people who confuse him with comedian Buddy.

Now we move from jazz to romance.  The owner of the dance card — for the evening and into the future — had some romantic connection to “Gene,” who got the first dance, the last dance, and two more in between.

Did they hold each other close to EMBRACEABLE YOU?  Who found Mother’s or Grandmother’s dance card and put it on eBay?

Now, when you hear, “My dance card is full,” I hope you think of the Senior Ball, June 9, 1939, and the sounds of Bobby Hackett and his Orchestra.

HUSK O’HARE’S PEACOCK STRUTTERS, JULY 1926

eBay continues to amaze.  Any comments from the hot cognoscenti?

FRANK CHACE, SEEKER

Clarinetist Frank Chace stood very still when he played, his eyes closed.  In the fashion of the true mystic, he looked inwards, seeking something new, beautiful, personal.  His own speech, his own pathways. 

A Chace solo winds around the melody and the chords, hesitant but guided by its own self-trust: “I don’t know the way but I know where I’m going.” 

He didn’t record enough for any of us, and often he seemed to be making his way through his fellow players — yearning to break free.  When he was playing alongside his great friends Don Ewell or Marty Grosz, he knew that they would supply an indefatigable rhythmic pulse, they would lay down the right chords, and he could then soar.

And soar he did.

In 1985, when I had only recently encountered the mysterious, elliptical Chace universe, Jazzology Records issued a record of a live session led by pianist Butch Thompson.  I thought it remarkable that here was a new Frank Chace record: it remains a treasure.  Charlie DeVore, cornet, John Otto, clarinet, alto sax, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass, were the other fellows on the stand.  And the session was full of delights, aside from Frank: Hal’s press rolls and shimmering hi-hat; the solid rhythm section; Otto’s sweet, thoughtful alto; De Vore’s Muggy Spanier-emphases.  But Frank Chace produces marvel after marvel. 

Hear him chart his own paths, his eyes closed, his only goal to create his own speech.  Frank was rarely — if ever — satisfied with something he had recorded, so I can’t say that he was complacently pleased with this or any other disc.  About an early session with the Salty Dogs, he told me, “I was fighting for my life!”  But no strain can be heard here: just beauty, impassioned or quietly subversive.     

Now, the complete session (offering twenty-four selections) is available on a double-CD Jazzology set.  (JCD 373/374), available at a variety of online sources.  I can’t praise it highly enough. 

The selections are I FOUND A NEW BABY / ROSE ROOM / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / ONE HOUR / JAZZ BAND BALL / IDA / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET LORRAINE / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / HOME / JELLY ROLL / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / FROM MONDAY ON / S’POSIN’ / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS / THANKS A MILLION. 

Frank doesn’t make an obsession out of being “untraditional,” but he won’t play the expected lines, the predictable harmonies.  You might think you know where his next phrase is going . . . but it turns out that he has led us in his own way, eyes closed, finding new surprises.

Listen to his ardor, his courage, his whimsical explorations. 

“THANKS A MILLION”: CLICK HERE.  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

THAT’S “MISTER McKAY” TO YOU

A small mystery.  I understand the larger fascination with Billie Holiday: as jazz singer, as iconic figure, as beautiful and doomed.  But one of the most frequent searches is for “Louis McKay,” or “billie holiday husband.”  Does the cyber-world need a Louis McKay blog?  Please advise.  And here, due to popular demand, is the man himself — from what I can gather from the recent Holiday biographies, not precisely a model husband.  But that might increase his fame.

Let us hope that Billie was genuinely happy and remained so when the flashbulb’s illumination had faded . . .