One of the great rock songs in classic hot music: that is, you’ll rock back and forth in your chair. Guaranteed. And here’s a splendid version by four of the best: Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal, tour guide; Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Jen Hodge, string bass.
Boundless enthusiasm and contrapuntal joy free of charge.
This was performed at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, before the lights went out on Broadway. Happily the city and the music blaze again all over town.
Albanie explains it all, but if you crave an even more detailed socio-geographical-musical history of “Milneburg,” the New Orleans neighborhood that the song is named for, visit here. And about the composer credits: the introduction is by Jelly Roll Morton (thus my title) appended to the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ composition GOLDEN LEAF STRUT, which is its own universe.
But the rollicking music is its own glorious explanation:
That satisfies all of our daily food group requirements and more.
Hereis one perspective on Hank O’Neal — writer, archivist, record producer, photographer, friend of Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbott . . . and many jazz musicians from Willie “the Lion” Smith to Borah Bergman. Hank is also an incredible resource and storyteller, someone I am thrilled to call a friend: reasons that Hank visits JAZZ LIVES, as he speaks with great fondness of Squirrel Ashcraft. If you say, “Wow, Squirrel!” then you have come to the right place. If you say, “Who IS that?” you’re also in for pleasure and enlightenment.
Hank O’Neal by Annie Tritt for the Boston Globe, 2018.
And since Hank is a masterful photographer, here is another character study, one I like even more — shot by Sherry Sereboff (2017, near Fort Worth, Texas) even better. When I meet Hank next, I will ask what was on his plate:
I had asked Hank to speak about Squirrel for JAZZ LIVES, and the conversation began very informally, as he was paging through Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft’s scrapbook. I just started videoing . . . with happy results — little anecdotes about sacred objects connected to Bix, Tesch, and Dick Voynow. But for future researchers, any time someone you respect says the words, “Letters from Brad Gowans,” you know something important is being revealed:
“Who was Squirrel Ashcraft and how did I meet him?”:
Paging through Squirrel’s 1928-9 notebook, “JAZZ MUSIC,” with entries devoted to the Wolverines, Hoagy Carmichael, Benny Goodman, the Georgians, Jack Pettis, Leon Roppolo, Henderson’s adaptation of RHAPSODY IN BLUE, and more:
I first learned about Squirrel through EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ (a book Eddie did with Hank) and then through Squirrel’s home recordings, later issued on rare lps by . . . Hank. Here’s the story of Squirrel’s career — about fifteen years — as an archivist of home recordings, often aluminum, including performances by Johnny Mercer, Joe Rushton, Jimmy McParland, George Barnes, Boyce Brown, Bob Zurke, Spencer Clark, Rosy McHargue, also Joe Rushton, his motorcycle, and Pee Wee Russell, and Squirrel’s later playing career in Washington, D.C., and sidelights on Jean Bach, Jimmy Dorsey, and jazz reunions at Princeton University from 1975-79:
Finally . . . Hank brings us up to date (Squirrel died in 1981, but his relics are going to a good place. And don’t miss the story about the Bob Crosby band: Squirrel and friends obviously knew how to live:
The best part of this story, just over an hour with Hank, is his obvious affection and indebtedness to Squirrel, and Squirrel’s sweet feelings for the music and musicians. Thank you, Hank, for making the reclusive Squirrel appear to us in this century.
And . . . because Hank is a wonderful writer, here’s his “little piece” on Squirrel from his book on pianists. Some of the stories you will have heard from the videos above, but they don’t wilt with a second telling:
SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT September 20, 1905 – January 18, 1981
Edwin Maurice Ashcraft III, better known as “Squirrel”, is the least known pianist in this book, but he was by far the most important to me. It all started because of two courses I’d taken at Syracuse University; one in Russian Studies and another in African Studies. The Russian Studies course ultimately led me to be employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The African Studies course, particularly one taught by Eduardo Mondlane, who was later to lead and win the revolution in Mozambique, led me to the CIA’s Office of Operations, where Squirrel Ashcraft was the Director.
Though forgotten today, Squirrel was a legendary figure in the world of jazz, at least into the mid-1970s, but much can be lost and forgotten in a quarter of a century. He was, for example, the only person I knew who had heard Louis Armstrong and King Oliver at the Lincoln Gardens, and had known and associated with a host of other legendary players from the 1920s, who were just names in a book or music in the grooves of old records to me. He was the kind of man who could make a simple telephone call and John Hammond, Neshui or Ahmet Ertegun would welcome me warmly. The same was true of any number of musicians of a certain age, i.e. the Austin High Gang, and their musical associates or disciples.
He was the first jazz artist I ever heard perform in an informal setting, that is away from a concert hall or club, where I was a paying spectator. By that time, he was in his 60s, hadn’t played regularly for years, never had been a first rank player anyway, and now had an affliction in one of his hands that affected his dexterity. But for someone of my age, and limited experience, it was more thrilling to be standing two feet from a legendary figure in his living room than hearing a great pianist from the top balcony in Carnegie Hall.
He was also the man who first introduced me to an active jazz musician, in this case, Jimmy McPartland. Later, he would introduce me to many others, and simply because he made the introduction, I was accepted by these men and women without question.
A little background is in order. Squirrel was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1905. His family was socially prominent and well situated. In the early 1920s he discovered jazz and became as deeply involved with it as possible. He was active in Chicago in the same way John Hammond was in New York, and he met many of the up and coming young jazz musicians in that city long before they had come up, befriended them, helped them whenever possible, and continued to for years and years.
Squirrel came east in the late 1920’s and attended Princeton. He played both piano and accordion, was part of Princeton’s Triangle Club, wrote songs, recorded with the Triangle Jazz Band, was known to and played informally with such legendary figures as Bix Beiderbecke, and even corralled the elusive cornet player one night, convincing him to record with the Princeton band. It almost came off, but not quite; Bix was there when everyone fell asleep but had vanished when they woke up. He continued at Princeton, but eventually returned to Chicago in the early 1930s, and took up his post in the family law firm.
He opened his home to every jazz musician who could find their way to Evanston, and hundreds did, usually on Monday nights. The sessions at Squirrel’s featured a who’s who of whoever was in Chicago at the time. He began to record these proceedings in about 1933 and, until he left for World War II, hundreds of private discs were made, sometimes with the help of his friend John Steiner. Steiner eventually issued some of the goings-on on Paramount 78 rpm discs and later on 10” LPs.
World War II closed down the Monday night sessions; Squirrel was inducted in the U.S Navy, and assigned to naval intelligence. After the war, he returned to Chicago, his law practice, and the music and recording began again, this time on a crude tape recorder that used paper tape. The music didn’t last long, however, because in the late 1940s Squirrel was selected by the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency to run its Chicago field office, and the music slowed down once again. He was so good at the CIA game, he was urged to become the Director of all domestic operations in the early 1950’s.
Squirrel accepted the challenge, closed down the house in Evanston, moved to Washington, and vanished into another world, his whereabouts unknown, except to the musicians and friends with whom he kept in touch. There were no sessions at Squirrel’s massive apartment in Washington. When I arrived on the scene in 1964, his piano sounded a bit like one from a Charles Addams’ haunted house. But that was soon to change.
Suddenly there was someone around who knew his past, and even had one of those old John Steiner-issued Paramount records to prove it. I was the junior guy in the Office of Operations, but I had immediate access to the Director because of the music. This is when I learned that love of jazz of a certain sort could cross any cultural divide, regardless of age, race, or anything else.
It didn’t take long before the piano was tuned and regulated, and informal musical gatherings began. The first was with Jimmy and Marian McPartland, and two wonderful local Washington musicians, clarinetist Tommy Gwaltney (who founded and owned Blues Alley) and guitarist Steve Jordan. Squirrel got his hands back in shape, so he could spell Marian when she wanted to relax and, just like in the old days, everything was recorded. The first “new” informal session was eventually issued as a record that was given away to anyone who wanted one. I cut my recording teeth on Squirrel’s Ampex F-44 and two Electrovoice microphones.
Listening back to the old acetate and aluminum recordings from the 1930s, Squirrel reminds me of a pianist like Frank Melrose. A great deal more passion than technique, but good enough to get the job done. He was a better than average amateur in those days, and could easily hold his own with his peers, and provide good accompaniment to A-list artists when it was required. I remember him telling me that one night the entire Bob Crosby band came out to his house for a Monday night session. The thing that pleased him most was that the first complaint was from a neighbor whose house was three blocks away. And he got to play with the band when Bob Zurke was doing something else.
Squirrel’s influence in the jazz world was not as a pianist. He was always behind the scenes and, eventually, way behind the scenes. If Eddie Condon couldn’t get a liquor license to open Condon’s; Squirrel could make the call to the right person so it could be worked out, despite the checkered past of some of the club’s owners. If a certain player were down on his luck, there would be a check in the mail. There were any number of people he supported for life. He was a safety net for many, many of the first generation of jazz musicians, and probably some of the second and third. My guess is he was a safety net for a lot of people I didn’t know about, musicians, old friends down on their luck, or even a struggling bullfighter.
After he officially retired in the late 1960’s, Squirrel spent less and less time in Washington and more time at his home in Spain. Sometimes a year would pass and I wouldn’t see him, except perhaps to see him off on either the ocean liners Michaelangelo or Rafaello, his favorite modes of transportation between New York and Spain. When in Spain, he had little time for music, but towards the end of a letter from there, dated November 12, 1969, he says, “We are listening, which we do seldom at all, to Miles’ Sketches, and I wish so very, very much that Bix could have heard it…. We think about you often. Please write the whole story.” I’m not sure I ever did, but in the 1970s, and early 1980s, he had a burst of musical energy, at least every June, for half a dozen years.
In 1975, Jack Howe liberated a funny little band, affectionately called The Sons of Bix, from cornetist Tom Pletcher. Jack was an amateur tenor saxophone player, who’d been part of the in the Princeton Triangle Jazz band with Squirrel in the 1920s. He augmented the SOBs with Princeton alumni musicians, aided by the likes of Spencer Clarke, Bob Haggart, Max Kaminsky, Maxine Sullivan and others. The band only had one certain engagement each year, to play a class reunion at Princeton. It turned out, however, the band played the reunion of the Class of 1929 or the Class of 1930, every year until at least 1982. Squirrel actually played a little piano on all the dates until 1981. I recorded the performances, which, as often as not, were presented in tents. Squirrel and Jack then chose their favorite tunes, and I arranged for a few LPs to be pressed up and distributed to the dwindling faithful. The records are often spirited, but not landmark recordings. A friendly souvenir, but little more. Much to my surprise, some of them have been listed in Tom Lord’s landmark The Jazz Discography.
In those years, if I had to be in Washington, for whatever reason, Squirrel’s Watson Place apartment was always open, whether Squirrel and his wife, Patter, were in residence or not. I haven’t stayed in a hotel in Washington since 1960; but to confess, I only went back a few times after Squirrel died in 1981. The last time I was there was at the urging of his wife. She telephoned in the mid-1980s and said she was cleaning out files and had found some correspondence from me in a box of music-related junk in the back of a closet. Would I please come down and save all these found items from the trash collector? I was also urged to pick up the crank-up Victrola with the bamboo needle cutter that was now stored in the basement. I’d first seen it at an old filling station somewhere in Virginia in the mid-1960s, offered the owner $10, which he was happy to have, and had passed it on to Squirrel, so he could play his old Hot Five 78s as he played them in the 1920s, when they were fresh and new. I was happy to have it back, and it still works just fine.
I drove down, had a nice visit with Patter, and loaded all the papers, the boxes of stuff she’d found in the closet, and the old Victrola in the back of my car. I had a last look around, and never went back, but stayed in touch with Patter until she became ill and her Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where she didn’t know who I was.
When I got home after that last trip, I had a good time looking at the correspondence, the old clippings from the 1930’s and 1940s. At the bottom of the box I saved from the trash man, I found the bell of a battered cornet, with a note from Jimmy McPartland. This was all that was left of the cornet Bix had bought him, when Jimmy replaced Bix in the Wolverines. This was the kind of thing that turned up at Sqiurrel’s house. And I’ll bet things like that don’t turn up too many other places.
Squirrel Ashcraft was a kind and generous man who touched the lives of many men and women in a positive way. When he found time to touch a piano, it was equally positive. I never heard him play the blues.
It’s January, and the temperatures are, shall we say, brisk. Let’s assume your house has drafts — air pours through windows and air-conditioners — or it’s simply not that warm inside. You could buy this to solve the problem:
or, in honor of the King of Swing, you could put on a sweater (credit to CLEO of Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland):
But I have a more immediate solution, one that won’t require you to wait several days for a product to be shipped. That is, you could invite — through cyberspace — Colin Hancock and the Chicago Cellar Boys over for a visit. You can learn more about Colin, a tremendously gifted multi-instrumentalist, arranger, vocalist, bandleader, and scholar here, or on this blog here. Colin was at the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest this past November with the Original Cornell Syncopators, and you will see some videos from their performances shortly. But the Chicago Cellar Boys were also there — Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, saxophone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba. Learn more about them here or on the blog herealso.
At the San Diego Jazz Fest, there were two bright shining moments — Hot Camelot, if you will — when Colin sat in with the Chicago Cellar Boys and magic ensued. See if the room temperature doesn’t rise.
SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the Chicagoans (and https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/the-latest-prance-words-and-music/ is the music and lyrics for that intoxicating 1917 melody):
WEARY BLUES, for Johnny Dodds and Louis and generations to come:
It feels like May now, thanks to these great hot spirits.
Enthusiasm, precision, and love are qualities that the Original Cornell Syncopators brought to their New York debut at the Triad Theater on West 72nd Street.
“Direct from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, your favorite collegiates, the Original Cornell Syncopators, bring you Hot Jazz from the 1920s and 30s to the Triad Theater! Music includes songs by King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Paul Specht, The Original Prague Syncopated Orchestra, Bennie Moten and more!”
This joyous young band is not only curious about where the music we love came from, but righteously works to make sure it doesn’t get dusty. They delve into “all of jazz’s earliest forms, from its first recorded sounds, to the roots of Swing and beyond.”
Can you tell I admire and love this band and that it was a joy to see and hear them in Manhattan? (I’ll see them again — and you can too — at the San Diego Jazz Fest. You could come, too.)
Here are four of my rather informal videos: Colin tells me that professional videos and a CD issue of this concert are coming . . . a great pleasure.
The “Syncs,” as they jovially call themselves, are Colin Hancock, cornet, clarinet, vocals; Lior Kreindler, trumpet, vocals; Dave Connelly, trumpet; Rishi Verma, trombone; Kieran Loehr, alto saxophone, clarinet; Stephen Newcomb, alto and baritone saxophone, clarinet; Troy Anderson, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Clare Burhenne, tenor and baritone saxophone, vocals; Uche Chukwukere, violin;
Robbert Van Renesse, banjo, guitar, vocals; Christina Li, piano; Noah Li, drums;
Sarah Cohn-Manick, tuba. And, remarkably, not one of them is majoring in music at Cornell . . . so they have (as we say) other strings to their bow.
I WONDER WHAT’S BECOME OF JOE sports a fervent vocal by Clare and superb ensemble work by the OCS:
SWEET LIKE THIS is a melancholy 1929 King Oliver rumination:
ECCENTRIC summons up the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, always welcome:
And BLUE (or BLUE AND BROKENHEARTED) is homage to the Goodman – McPartland hot ballad:
This just in! SYNCS TAKE TO THE PARK! (Who said jazz musicians are solely nocturnal?)
The Tim Laughlin – Connie Jones All Stars, a band I was fortunate enough to hear for a few years at the San Diego Jazz Fest, remains in my mind as a transcendent listening experience: a completely melodic group with great sensitivity and a wonderful quiet drive.
Here’s another sample of their magic, from the 2014 Fest — with a romper, a groove, and a pretty ballad — each gloriously realized. The players are Tim, clarinet; Connie, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.
THAT DA DA STRAIN has nothing to do with baby talk or with Marcel Duchamp; like many other songs of the times, it describes a dance that would bring dancers bliss. Mamie Smith, early on, then Eva Taylor, then the NORK, and on. Everyone solos here except Marty (who will on the next performance) but I’d call special attention to Hal, who rocks the church:
Here’s another Twenties song (popularized by Paul Whiteman) with an equally onomatopoetic title, THE WANG WANG BLUES. We’ve looked for deep meaning in that title, but I recall reading somewhere that one of the three people listed on the cover thought that WANG made a good sound once, and twice was even better — so it added a little spice to the conventional she-went-away-and-I’m-so-sad. As far as I can tell, there was no other intention, not Asiatic or anything else.
Now to move forward to 1947, to a song immediately taken up by Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Billie Holiday — connected to the film NEW ORLEANS. This performance has a surprise in it: Tim talk-sings the lyrics, and it is a heartfelt effusion of feeling for him, because he has a deep connection to his city, immediately evident in his playing and now in his song:
What a band. How generously they offer splendid subtle music to us. And I count myself fortunate that I will see Tim (and Kris Tokarski) at the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of this month, and then at the Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans in September.
Tom Lord, in his well-known online jazz discography, lists 749 versions of THAT’S A PLENTY, beginning with Prince’s Band / Orchestra in 1914, which might not be the same as this song (which most of us associate with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings). The title seems to have been a slangy catchphrase at the start of the last century, so there are several songs with that title but different music and lyrics.
Here’s another version, quite elevating, from April 17, 2015, with Dan, trombone, leadership, and comedy; Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Tom Fischer, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Sean Cronin, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums.
WHEE! (When you begin to watch the video, all will be revealed):
It’s a wonderful song, a riotous performance, and a fine advertisement for the 2016Atlanta Jazz Party.
At the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, someone titled this band and this set “The Freshmen,” but it’s clear the players were well beyond post-doctoral studies. Claus Jacobi, Mauro Porro, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Spats Langham, banjo; Phil Rutherford, bass; Josh Duffee, drums.
First, two from the collaboration of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and Jelly Roll Morton:
And from the Wolverines book —
SUSIE (she was from the Islands, if I recall. Which ones?):
If you feel like visiting the real thing in its native element, I can’t urge you too much to investigate an actual pilgrimage to the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party which will happen Nov. 6-8, 2015. I know from past experience that tickets and seats are quickly getting snapped up. And it’s never to early to make plans to get hot.
Before the band starts MILENBERG JOYS, Claus asks, gently, “Wonderful, isn’t it?” I would change the question to an affirmation.
David Boeddinghaus is a superb pianist and arranger, but I’ve never had the pleasure of watching him time-travel back to the Twenties in ways exuberant and exact. Here he is at the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, with Andy Schumm, cornet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Mauro Porro, Matthias Seuffert [only on SHE’S CRYING FOR ME], reeds; Spats Langham, banjo; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums.
SHE’S CRYING FOR ME:
FIREWORKS (harking back to the Original Memphis Five, not Louis and Earl):
A JAZZ HOLIDAY:
FRESHMAN HOP (all hail Jack Pettis!):
WALKIN’ THE DOG (in honor of Carmichael’s Collegians):
What fine hot music they make. And there’s more to come in November 2015 at
The 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest was the living embodiment of jazz abundance (an overwhelming assortment of choices!) so it’s appropriate that it featured one of my favorite bands — the truly abundant Yerba Buena Stompers, here closing a jubilant set with a song that speaks of overflowing largesse. The Stompers are Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums. Everyone can be heard — I find the two-trumpet conversation thrilling, but the band rocks. But that’s no surprise:
If you saw this young woman on the street, you would think, “She has a nice smile,” but you might not know that she has several secret lives.
All will be revealed about Lucy Weinman in this post. She doesn’t have multiple-personality disorder, her own lingerie business, nor a quiz show with Garry Moore. Her Columbia University transcript would show that she is majoring in biology, is a research fellow at the Kelley Lab — far beyond the high school biology I knew. You might also encounter her as an enthusiastic swing dancer at a number of venues or a delighted audience member at jazz concerts by people like Dennis Lichtman and Gordon Au.
But this is how I first encountered Lucy. In full flight and in good company — with Dennis Lichtman and Chloe Feoranzo, Kevin Dorn and other notable souls:
Notice the trumpet attached to our Miss Weinman. To quote Eddie Condon, she owns it and she plays it. In fact, Lucy is a really impressive hot trumpeter with a large sound, a truly swinging conception, and a good deal of spice. She, Jeff Weinman (guitarist / pianist / and also Lucy’s father) and Miss Cherry Delight (vocals) make up the Big Tent Jazz Band with a variety of ringers and sitters-in. Their Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Miss-Cherry-Delight-and-The-Big-Tent-Jazz-Band/343542389217?v=info&sk=info.
That should be enough. BIO WHIZ GIRL ALSO HOT TRUMPETER would be a nifty headline on an imagined newspaper in a Thirties movie. But Lucy has more surprises for us.
One is the Columbia University Semi-Formal Swing Dance — coming up on December 9, 2011. Here (in excited prose I didn’t dare edit) are the details:
CU Swing Dance – This Joint is Jumpin’ : a stompin’ swing dance fiesta featuring New York’s own Grand Street Stompers. Feel-good New Orleans jazz, lovely dancing, lovelier company, and good times will abound. Show up in your semi-finest attire and stretch out those hamstrings cause THIS JOINT’S GONNA BE JUMPIN’! How it’s gonna go down: 8:30- 9pm – A beginner swing dance lesson provided by CU Swing Dance (No prior experience or partner necessary, ya dig? You got no excuse!) 9pm-12am – The band JUMPS and so do we. It’s that simple. CUID holders: $8 Non-CUID: $10 *The Grand St. Stompers is a swinging-hot traditional jazz band led by rising young trumpeter Gordon Au and featuring the evocative and joyous vocals of Tamar Korn. With one foot stomping in vintage tradition and the other in modern style, they’ll throw down everything from Louis Armstrong hits and New Orleans standards to Gordon’s exciting originals to surprisingly swinging adaptations of classical pieces and Disney tunes. The bottom line is this: whenever they play, it’s a helluva show. **Directions: Take the 1 train to 116th St. Walk north on Broadway to Barnard’s Gates at 119th St. Enter campus, turn right, and look for the orange building (The Diana Center). Go down one floor to LL1. Give money to the smiling Columbia students, get your hand stamped, and dance to your heart’s content!
But wait! There’s more. WKCR-FM (the radio station of Columbia University, also accessible streaming live on the web at http://www.wkcr.org) is known for seventy years of jazz programming. One of its long-standing programs — I remember listening to it as far back as the early Seventies — is OUT TO LUNCH, a weekday jazz show from 12-3. This radio station plays the whole range of recorded jazz from 1917 to the present, from the ODJB to the world of free. Splendid! But often — not surprisingly — what’s known as “traditional jazz,” loosely defined as New Orleans, Chicago, early Swing — is left to the very scholarly divagations of the Dean of New York Jazz Radio, Phil Schaap.
Some weeks ago, I was driving home in the early afternoon on a Tuesday, and I turned on my car radio, whose first preset is 89.9, WKCR. I forget what exactly was coming out of the speaker — was it I MUST HAVE IT by King Oliver or was it FAREWELL BLUES by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings? — but it was a delicious jolt. The “disc jockey,” the archaic term for the person choosing what records to play, stayed out of the way of the music for a good long time. Then she announced herself as “Lucy,” and the veils dropped from my eyes. I am not embarrassed to say that I called the station and said, mock-ominously, “WHAT are you doing playing all that good hot jazz? What’s the matter with you?” or words to that effect. Then I introduced myself — Lucy and I know each other from Radegast and The Ear Inn — and we both started laughing happily.
Lucy Weinman is on the air every other Tuesday — her next show is December 13. She has a clear voice, can pronounce the musicians’ names correctly, and her love for the music comes right through the speaker. Today, when she was through playing a nice long set of Louis and Earl from 1928, including KNEE DROPS, she began her commentary with a hushed, “Oh, my God. Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines,” which is proper reverence.
She has at least three or four brilliant careers in front of her, and JAZZ LIVES salutes her varied endeavors — while unmasking her secrets, which is the privilege of Hot Jazz Journalism. Find out more about her lives at http://www.facebook.com/Lucy.Rae.W. And if you’re lucky, she’ll bring her horn to a gig. Pleasant surprises await!
Having taken the opportunity to celebrate the 105th birthday of one Eddie Condon, I remain convinced that he did much more than play rhythm guitar and talk to the customers at a variety of saloons in New York City.
Although some I’ve spoken to seem to find the topic of racial integration no longer interesting, Condon has never gotten the credit he deserves as a pioneer.
His achievement was more than shepherding Fats Waller to the Victor studios so that he could make two sides with a mixed band in 1929. It was larger than quietly playing his banjo alongside Louis Armstrong and the Luis Russell band in that same year.
It can’t be overemphasized that Eddie was one of the earliest figures to make sure that black and white musicians could stand on an equal footing, playing their music for posterity.
It was one thing to have a mixed jam session at 4 AM in Harlem; it was quite another thing for records featuring mixed-race bands to be made, to be known as such, to be recognized as classics. Much attention has been paid (rightly so) to the roles of Benny Goodman and John Hammond in encouraging mixed ensembles in public.
But that was 1936: Condon’s efforts had been going on for seven or more years. If you could get listeners accustomed to hearing mixed bands on record, then they would be more eager to see their favorite artists perform in public. Condon had the first mixed band on Fifty-Second Street; his mixed troupe of jazz artists was closed out of a Washington, D.C., concert hall because of protests from the DAR.
He was genuinely color-blind when it came to music, and that equality of thought and feeling had an impact. When white and black troops were serving in the legally sagregated armed forces, both sets of soldiers could hear color-blind music coming from V-Discs and AFRS transcriptions.
I think of Charles L. Black, a young Southern lawyer who found himself shaken out of his racist assumptions by hearing Louis Armstrong in 1931: Black went on to write the legal brief for Linda Brown in Brown vs. the Board of Education, the decision that made such segregation illegal in the United States.
I believe that soldiers who thought that “Negroes” were inferior had their beliefs changed, however subtly, by hearing Hot Lips Page and Pee Wee Russell play thousands of miles away at a Condon concert. Consider someone with similar inbred views, ten years later, seeing Ralph Sutton, Walter Page, Edmond Hall, and George Wettling play at Eddie’s club, noting that these four men got along especially well, no one was superior or inferior to anyone else on the stand.
Eddie Condon made such things possible. It’s a cliche of the theatre that you can make people think about larger issues if you make them laugh in the process or if you set the ideas to music: Eddie did both, in person and as part of many ensembles.
He also improved every band he was a part of: Joe Bushkin insisted on acknowledging Condon’s phenomenal harmonic sense and knowledge of songs (and, in fact, Eddie helped Bushkin through his early shaky beginnings on Fifty-Second Street by calling out the chords to songs Bushkin only half-knew).
Eddie also had a fine dramatic or structural sense — listen closely to any recorded performance, in the studio or in concert. Riffs, backgrounds, knowing when to encourage one player to go on or to subtly say to another, “You’ve had your say,” all of this was second nature to Eddie — a great orchestrator who didn’t work from a printed score.
How anyone ends up to be what they are as an adult may be mysterious, but Condon’s growth and development seem particularly remarkable. His birthplace, Goodland, Indiana, was not exactly the cradle of jazz. He came from a large family; his father was somewhere between a saloon-keeper and the man who greeted people in the saloon, sat down and chatted with them. It would have been very easy for Eddie to become nothing more serious than a young man who played the banjo now and again while someone else sang pop hits of the day, or while someone else played the C-melody saxophone.
But something hit the young man from Goodland with the force of religious revelation. I don’t know quite how it appeared to him: was it a record by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, or one by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings? Was it the proximity to Chicago? Jazz music — and playing that music — must have seemed the most thrilling things possible. However it grew, the transformation from Indiana boy to Chicago jazzman was quick, and it gave shape to Eddie’s life, and thus gave pleasure to so many.
Eddie Condon’s club on West Third Street no longer exists: it is now part of the New York University conglomeration of buildings. Nick’s on West Tenth Street is now a gourmet supermarket. So the Condon landscape has shifted and been obliterated.
But one shrine remains: the New York apartment still inhabited by his daughter Maggie, her husband Peter, their son Michael. I paid them a return visit (with my camera) and have some new delights to share — holy artifacts, as far as I’m concerned.
Although many of Eddie’s effects “went away” after hie death (Maggie thought that Phyllis Condon had simply given away many things to Eddie’s relatives), she still has “Slicker” Condon’s first banjo, circa 1924. It no longer has its neck or strings, but what remains is delicate and precious (even if a few of these photographs unintentionally intensify its resemblance to a nicely browned souffle). The stenciled lettering on the front reads _ _ _ _ _ JAZZ BAND, but the top line is somewhat difficult to decipher.
From the top!
An alternate take . . .
“Slicker” Condon! I don’t know if that is Eddie’s Twenties handwriting or not . . .
Another view . . .
And one more. That looks like May 1, 1924, but rry Kaylor is elusive, although I don’t have my copy of WE CALLED IT MUSIC nearby.
And one more series of photographic studies. Consider this:Collage, anyone?
Not an exhibit at MOMA (not yet).
One of Eddie’s trademarks was his hand-tied bowties, and here’s a whole stash of them (with a birthday drawing done by brother-in-law Paul Smith as ornament).
More to come! But for the moment, listen closely to one Eddie Condon recording and celebrate the man who made it possible. And, in doing so, slowly changed the world.
Glinda the Good Witch was right: there is no place like home.
Especially when “home” is defined loosely as the places where you are made to feel welcome.
The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in New York City) is just such a place. I know all about it — from the warm hello I got from Victor, who knows all there is to know about English gardens to the friendliness of Jim and Grace Balantic, to the hot jazz that the EarRegulars played that night.
The EarRegulars began as a conversation among four jazz friends: Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, co-founders; John Allred and Jon Burr, charter members. (One of the musicians that night essayed the appropriate joke: “Three Jo(h)ns — no waiting!”) And Harvey Tibbs and Dan Block, faithful and true, came to join the festivities. Here’s some of what I basked in that night:
Jon-Erik pointed out that August 29, as well as being Charlie Parker’s birthday, was also the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He has a special fondness for New Orleans, and called a number of tunes that had connections to that city.
Here’s a song that leaps into your lap and says YES — ‘DEED I DO:
JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE where, if you look closely, you’ll see Jon-Erik playing air trombone (to fit in with the general sliding going on) and hear John Allred sing a few high-pitched countermelodies — everyone having a wonderful time:
MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND began with the verse — played as a duet for trumpet and guitar — before the jamming on the more well-known chorus began:
NEW ORLEANS, written by Hoagy Carmichael, sung by Louis and Jimmy Rushing, among others, got a beautifully pensive treatment:
THAT DA DA STRAIN went back to the New Orleans Rhythm Kings — recorded first in the very early Twenties and still a very lively piece of jazz history:
And the way that everyone wrapped up the evening was a collective improvisatory musing on the question that continues to be central to philosophical and ontological inquiries, HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO DO DO (I Ain’t Done Nothing To You)? It’s such a deep issue that the EarRegulars took a long time to consider the issue and its implications:
I don’t think I have to praise young Mr. Schumm in this post — the video clips I’ve been posting (my own, from Jamaica Knauer and others) are eloquent testimony. But here he is, surrounded by his musical elders, entirely comfortable, playing the music of Bix Beiderbecke that he loves, as well as a few rarities from the period. Those well-known elders are Bob Havens on trombone; Scott Robinson on reeds; Andy Stein on violin and baritone sax; James Dapogny on piano; Marty Grosz, who needs no introduction here; Vince Giordano, ditto; Arnie Kinsella, drums.
Andy opened his set with a slower-than-usual LOUISIANA, whose beginning I missed. I especially admire Dapogny’s tremolos behind Scott Robinson’s Lesterish clarinet, and the way that Andy leaps in. And Dapogny, playing the verse as an unaccompanied interlude, slyly reminds us that Mister Jelly was also in Chicago when Bix and the boys were visiting. I apologize deeply for the lurching of the camera near the end. Was I carried away with emotion or was it something more mundane? Either way, the jazz ship was in no danger of going down:
The second tune was ANGRY (it wasn’t really), which I associate with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings ans George Brunis, from the start of career to the end. That’s some rhythm section! Note the enthusiastic backing Arnie Kinsella gives Bob Havens, and the ferocious way Dapogny lets everyone know that he’s here at the start of his solo, emphasizing that three-note ascending phrase. The tuba isn’t always a melodic instrument, but Vince just forges ahead, creating long-lined inventions that stick in the mind. And I especially love it that Andy Stein said to himself, “This piece needs a baritone saxophone more than a violin,” picks his up, and boots the final chorus along energetically:
Next, from the Bix and Tram book (recording as “The Chicago Loopers”), the Fats Waller tune, I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED. Perfectionists will note that there is a moment, coming out of the ensemble, where the team seems to have forgotten the signals (and what was the esoteric meaning of Dapogny’s right-hand gesture to the band — was it “My hand hurts,” or perhaps, “Could we start this thing, for the love of Jo Trent”?) but the performance recovers nicely. Dapogny’s solo is a model of hot construction, and the rhythm section passage, with Vince finding his low notes and Arnie rocking the temple blocks, couldn’t be better:
And two rarities: ROSY CHEEKS (you can almost invent the bouncy lyrics without ever having heard it sung — it seems an illegitimate relative of BABY FACE, which makes sense in a plagiaristic way). Although few members of this group could have been intimate with the song, it seems to have simple, if not simplistic chord changes, and they leap right in. That no one in the house cheered when Scott Robinson concluded his energetically labyrinthine solo is a mystery indeed. Perhaps they were busily concentrating on their heaped-high plates of food? Notice how Arnie Kinsella drives the band along in the last chorus — his beat more nourishing than what was on those plates:
Then, a song recorded by Harold Austin’s Ambassadors for Gennett in 1930 (what resonance those words have) — an unusual pop tune called MONA*. Andy’s lead is, like Bix’s late work, a both poignant and urgent. The chorus split by and shared by Andy Stein (on baritone) and Scott (on metal clarinet) is a wonderful impromptu creation, again under-appreciated. And the band energetically takes it out, with Andy Schumm showing the way:
To conclude the set (perhaps to everyone’s relief), Andy called NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, much more familiar material. Two endearing things happen at the end of the first ensemble chorus: Marty reaches forward and turns off the light on his music stand, because he doesn’t need it, and Arnie shifts into his own version of Jo-Jones-on-the-hi-hat, to encourage the congregation. Am I the only one who finds such shifts, when done masterfully, absolutely levitating experiences? And then, Scott whispers to Andy — certainly something about trading phrases. What happens next reminds me a great deal of Bix and Tram on YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, except we know it’s being created there in front of our eyes, gloriously. More split choruses (Andy Stein and Marty, Vince and Arnie) lead into a final chorus that begins with some tentativeness and then gets heated in a nice “Chicagoan” way just in time for the last eight bars:
Yeah, man! And more Andy Schumm footage to come – – –
*There’s also a fascinating YouTube clip of Austin’s recording — a good hot dance band of the period, with a debatable vocal — that uses period phonograph advertisements as illustrations — don’t miss the naughty postcard and the Hebrew family illustrations! But you’ll have to search it out on your own.