I take my title from what Bobby Hackett told Max Jones about his friend Jack Teagarden, “The Good Lord said to Jack, ‘Now you go down there and show them how to do it.” (I am paraphrasing, because the book, TALKING JAZZ, is hiding from me.)
My subject is one of Jack’s noble colleagues, the trombonist Bob Havens, born May 3, 1930, in Quincy, Illinois — thus seventy-nine in the performance I will share with you, which he created at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend — with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, string bass; James Dapogny, piano. The song Havens chose for his feature is the venerable IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, which has its jazz immortality due to the 1927 Red Nichols recording featuring Adrian Rollini and Pee Wee Russell along with Red and Miff Mole. Bob’s performance is three choruses, a continuing amazement.
Bob Havens, 2016
What strikes me immediately is the serious ease with which Bob approaches the melody, not rushing, not being in a hurry to get to the “hot” part, but playing it, slightly embellished, in his first chorus.
His tone. His huge sound — a sound on which you could build your church. His generous but intelligently applied phrase-ending vibrato. His complete command of the trombone in all registers. And, for me, that first chorus is a complete meal in itself, so beautifully offered. But to look at the video and know, as I do, that there are two more choruses that will follow leaves me nearly open-mouthed.
Please, on your second and third viewing, and there should be occasions to revisit this splendor, savor the solid drumming of Arnie Kinsella, who knew how to play simply but with great soul; the delicious supportive work of Vince Giordano, who knows not only the right notes but where they should fall and how; James Dapogny’s intuitive embrace of both the soloist and the music in every phrase.
Bob’s turning-the-corner into his second chorus is exultant: now this is serious business, his shouting announcement seems to say. I’ve laid out the melody, now let me show you what I can do with it. Only a trombonist could explicate the dazzling variety of technical acrobatics — all beautifully in service of the song — Bob creates in that chorus, ending with a bluesy flourish. And the third chorus is a magnificent extension of what has come before, with technique and taste strolling hand in hand. (Again, no one in this quartet of masters rushes.) Admire the structure, variations on variations, as simplicity gives way to complexity but the simplicity — IDA is a love song! — remains beneath. Bob’s virtuosity is amazing, super-Teagarden thirty stories up, but his pyrotechnics never obscure emotions, and his sound never thins or becomes hard.
I invite you to admire someone who astonishes, who gives us great gifts.
What glorious music. in some ways, beyond my words.
This post is in honor of my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler, the young trombone whiz and friend Joe McDonough, and Nancy Hancock Griffith, who made so much beauty possible.
May your happiness increase!