Tag Archives: Nat Shilkret

JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

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GOOD OLD NEW YORK: BOB WILBER AT BIRDLAND (September 1, 2010)

One of the more reassuring aspects of the New York jazz scene is that a few steady gigs remain — the Sunday and Monday night hoedowns at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street; the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn on Sundays; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (now on Monday and Tuesday) downstairs in the Hotel Edison.  And this year David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or Gully Low Jazz Band) began its second decade of early-evening sessions at Birdland — Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:15.

Last Wednesday the Beloved and I took our accustomed table and I prepared to record the festivities.  And festive they were for sure, with David on tuba and patter; Marion Felder on drums; Ehud Asherie on piano; Harvey Tibbs on trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, and special guest Bob Wilber on two sopranos, straight and curved, and clarinet (in sequence, not at once).  And David even arranged for the two singers in the audience — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) to come up and do a Louis-themed duet.

In his own way, Wilber is the last of a great breed — whether you think of him as Bechet’s curly-haired boyish protege, half of Soprano Summit / Summit Reunion, or in his many other roles — someone who’s been playing his heart out for over six decades.  And the LACB was delighted to have him on the stand and inspired by his presence: Jon-Erik and Harvey played majestically and with slippery grace; Ehud was as nimble as ever; David provided his own special propulsion, and Marion once again taught us all how to swing on the often-ignored snare drum (no monotonous ride cymbal for Maestro Felder).  Here’s what the festivities sounded like:

The opening, seguing from WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH into INDIANA, was the start of Louis’s concert appearances with the All-Stars for a long time:

Then, a moody classic Louis recorded in 1931 (playing the Reverend in front of his Chicago band full of New Orleans homeboys), THE LONESOME ROAD:

And an experiment — a Hot Five song that the LACB hadn’t tried before, one of the lesser-known recordings, WHO’S IT (or I’ve also seen it typed as WHO’SIT) which the band not only handled beautifully but made swing out in a long, leisurely rock:

A lovely feature for Wilber, Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR (which summons up not only Louis but also Jack Teagarden, Bix Beiderbecke, and Mildred Bailey):

I don’t think I’M A DING DONG DADDY (by Phil Baxter) would have had its fame — spreading to the Benny Goodman small groups by way of Lionel Hampton, who appeared on Louis’s original recording — had it not been for Louis, even with the wonderful tongue-twisting lyrics:

And another romper — CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN (all hail Lips Page, too!):

Because the Birdland audience held not one but two singers — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) — David decided to call them both up (a first!) and they essayed a loose, friendly version of JEEPERS CREEPERS, which (as you know) Louis originally sang to a horse of the same name in the film GOIN’ PLACES:

And the session closed, as it always does, with a rousing SWING THAT MUSIC:

Thanks to all the musicians (and singers) in the house for the good sounds!