Tag Archives: New Orleans

LOUIS GOES WEST: 1946 and 1950

I believe that most people reading these words understand the sustained power of Louis Armstrong through the decades.  (If you think he went into “a deep decline” or “became commercial,” please go away and come back next week.)

But I think that many are in danger of taking Louis for granted, in the same way we might take air or sunlight as expected.  Yet there is always something new and uplifting to experience.  My text today is the glory of Louis in his and the last century’s late forties, as displayed on two very different but equally desirable CDs.  “Mid-century modern,” we could call it, with no side glances at  architecture aside from Louis’ own creations.

Two new CDs provide heartening reminders.  Both are equally delightful: suitable as gifts to others or to oneself, with no greater occasion needed than “Wow, I got through that week!”

The first, on the Dot Time label, presents music few have ever heard, taken from Louis’ own archives, the “Standard School Broadcast” of January 30, 1950, recorded in San Francisco, featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, and a clarinetist, string bassist, and drummer whose names are not known or are — in the case of the clarinetist — a guess.  (If anyone known more about “Lyle Johnson,” please write in.)  Clancy Hayes is the master of ceremonies — he doesn’t sing — and the premise is that he is helping Jack Cahill, “Matt the Mapmaker,” construct a musical map of America: in this case, New Orleans jazz.

There is a good deal of music issued that presents Louis alongside Jack and Earl.  But this CD is better than what we already know.  For one thing, there is a very small studio audience, and the recorded sound is superb: when Hayes picks up his acoustic guitar to add rhythm, it’s nicely audible.  And everyone sounds relaxed, playful, inventive, even with familiar repertoire.  I know that some listeners might pass this CD by because, “I already have two versions of Louis playing LAZY RIVER and I don’t need another.”  That would be an error, I suggest. Not a note on this disc sounds routine or stale.

About that repertoire: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  [plus two rehearsal takes] / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BASIN STREET BLUES / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / BOOGIE WOOGIE ON THE ST. LOUIS BLUES / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / PANAMA / LAZY RIVER / BACK O’TOWN BLUES [issued performance plus Louis playing along with the 1950 tape two years later].  Those wise enough to purchase this CD and play it — attentively — all the way through will have a wondrous aural surprise on the final track, where Louis duets with himself.  When the performance is over, he’s still practicing, and there is a solo exposition of the first sixteen bars of the current pop tune, I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT, that is positively awe-inspiring.  Louis, completely alone and at his peak, one of many.

DotTime Records is releasing the Louis Armstrong Legacy Series — four CDs, of which this is the first, and the second, “Night Clubs,” has just come out.  For more information, visit their website.  These issues have funny, friendly, edifying notes by Ricky Riccardi, the Louis-man of great renown.

The other Louis issue is possibly more familiar to collectors but is musically thrilling.  Here’s Bert Stern’s famous photograph to get you in the mood, or perhaps the groove.

That photograph comes from the film NEW ORLEANS, which starred Louis and Billie Holiday, Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, and others too rarely seen on film.

I remember sitting in front of the television in the den of my parents’ house in early adolescence, having waited all week for this movie to be shown, perhaps on MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE on a weekday afternoon.  The consensus was that the film was disappointing.  As a showcase for my heroes, even more so.  Watching it, waiting for my idols to break through the terrible script, was depressing.  I had grown up on false representations of the jazz-past (“The Roaring Twenties,” starring Dorothy Provine, for example) but NEW ORLEANS was spectacularly bad, especially when Louis and Billie would appear, read a few lines, do their feature numbers, and disappear.

Some years later, an album — music recorded for the film but for the most part not used — was issued on the Giants of Jazz label.  I see in the discography that the Giants of Jazz issue was “reissued” on several bootleg CDs, and it now appears, with even more music, on the Upbeat label — which issue I recommend to you.   The music was recorded in Hollywood in late 1946, and the participants, in addition to Louis, Billie, Bigard, and Kid Ory, are Charlie Beal, Red Callender, Zutty Singleton, Minor Hall, Meade Lux Lewis, Arthur Schutt, Mutt Carey, Lucky Thompson, Louis’ 1946 big band (that recorded for Victor) and more.

As poor as the film was, the music on this CD is just as wonderful.  Anything even tangentially associated with “my old home town” made Louis happy, and that happiness and relaxation comes through the music.  I expect that because he and Billie were pre-recording music for the film, they had not been compelled to face what their roles in the film would be . . . Billie playing a maid, a grievous insult.

The CD enables us to spend seventy minutes embraced by the music itself, with Louis in the company of old friends and mentors Ory and Mutt Carey, playing “good old good ones” — the cadenza to WEST END BLUES, FLEE AS A BIRD, SAINTS, TIGER RAG, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, KING PORTER STOMP, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, heard in multiple versions.  For one example, there is DIPPERMOUTH, played as a medium-slow-drag with Mutt Carey in the lead, as if taking Joe Oliver’s place, then a version at the expected romping tempo with the young “modernist” Lucky Thompson audible in the ensemble before Barney Bigard takes the Johnny Dodds solo.  Fascinating, and I looked in astonishment to see that the second version was only one minute and thirty-four seconds, because it felt so complete.

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, BALLIN’ THE JACK, KING PORTER STOMP, and MAHOGANY HALL STOMP also feature this splendidly hybrid band of Louis, Mutt, Lucky, Ory, Bigard, Beal, Callender, and Zutty: realizations of what was possible in 1946. One could do a fascinating study of ensemble playing as created by Ory and Lucky, side by side.  They solo in sequence on KING PORTER STOMP as well.  Incidentally, if you are familiar with the jazz “journalism” of this period, as practiced by Feather, Ulanov, Blesh, and others, you might believe that the “beboppers” loathed and feared “the old men,” and the detestation was mutual. Nothing of the sort.  What is audible is pure pleasure: hear Louis on the two versions of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, leisurely and intense.  Attentive listeners will also delight in the very fine string bass work of Callender — someone who deserves more celebration than he has received.

I have said little of Billie Holiday’s recorded performances on this CD: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS (twice), FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE, THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ — these tracks have often been issued in various forms, and she sounds wonderful.

I thought of printing the complete discography of what music had been issued, but it was a confusing labyrinth, so I will simply list the titles on the Upbeat release and hope that purchasers will be guided by their ears:  FLEE AS A BIRD – SAINTS / WEST END BLUES / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / BRAHMS’ LULLABY / TIGER RAG / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (2) / BASIN STREET BLUES / RAYMOND STREET BLUES / MILENBERG JOYS / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE / BEALE STREET STOMP / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES (2) / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / BALLIN’ THE JACK / KING PORTER STOMP / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (2) / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ / ENDIE / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / HONKY TONK TRAIN / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP / ENDIE / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’.

The Upbeat issue is generous: the last five titles are from issued Victor 78s of the same songs, giving us an opportunity to compare.  Here is the Upbeat site where this disc can be ordered.

Incidentally, to see the wonderful photographs Phil Stern took of Louis and other luminaries, visit here.

And for those who have never seen the film NEW ORLEANS or don’t believe me, here is the whole thing uploaded to YouTube.  But don’t get your hopes up: once the first three minutes of WEST END BLUES is over, we have left the reality of the “Orpheum Cabaret” for the melodrama of a routine script:

At times the subtitles are the most diverting thing.  But we have the music, in full flower, on the Upbeat CD.

May your happiness increase!

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APPLY HEAT: “HOT CLASSICISM” (KRIS TOKARSKI, ANDY SCHUMM, HAL SMITH) IN NEW ORLEANS, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

I’ve posted a good deal by this very satisfying band: Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, hereherehere — and a few other posts.  You could search them out without too much fuss.

Their first CD!

Because to me this music is very lively, spicy, and energizing, here are a few more gratifying performances from their evening gig in New Orleans’ Snug Harbor (during the last Steamboat Stomp) on September 25, 2016.

Very mellow, very groovy, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Is there a causal link — that she was once FUNNY THAT WAY and now she’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART?  Calling all psychotherapists and cultural critics:

Even though it’s a warm August, chiles are good for you, so HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

The title of this Irving Berlin classic causes great merriment in the balcony, A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

Albert Wynn’s 1928 ecstasy, PARKWAY STOMP:

FORTY AND TIGHT (“Use your imagination,” says Kris.):

And the rallying call for this magnificent trio, STOMP OFF, LET’S GO:

Restorative, curative, no prescription needed: “Apply Hot Classicism to the inflamed area and the afflicted soul. Repeat as desired.”

May your happiness increase!

VALUABLE REAL ESTATE: MILK CRATE BANDITS, “THE NEIGHBOURHOOD”

I’m happy to announce that another small swinging group of hot-jazz-plus individualists exists, and there’s recorded evidence to prove their ability to spread good sounds.  This new band’s motto is CRIMINALLY GOOD MUSIC, and their cover picture is of leader Jack Ray, furtively walking off with a plastic milk crate that wasn’t his a minute before but is his now.  But since you can’t listen to a plastic box, the band has released a debut EP:

And you needn’t fear Jack and friends: all they want would be your ears. The MCB is an international band: Jack (who plays tenor banjo, sings, and composes) has rounded up some Vancouver friends — string bassist Jen Hodge and reedman Connor Stewart among them — and the New Orleans trumpet star Kevin Louis — to make a disc that has wonderful echoes of songs and swing but ultimately has its own distinctive personality.

There is a good deal that initially sounds familiar on this disc: New Orleans street rhythms, the prominence of the banjo — which in this case, is an excellent thing, since Jack truly knows how to play it.  But the MCB offer pleasing surprises to even the most jaded listener.  Many of the originals here seem for a moment to borrow a cadence or two from jazz classics, but if you blink, the echo is gone and the song has gone its own way, refreshingly.  The instrumental voicings, as well, move in and out of the familiar, and for those wanting to know Who or What this band “sounds like,” I kept thinking of Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers, and those who know me will know that is high praise. But there’s also a distinct folk flavor here (it doesn’t get in the way of the swing, lest you worry) and by the time I’d played the disc twice, I had come to think of Jack and friends as writers of musical vignettes: each one brief, memorable, quirky, unpredictable.

They deserve an attentive (although gleeful) listen.

Here‘s their Facebook page and website.  You can see videos of the band in action here and buy / download their CD here.  Every human need (at least as far as it relates to the lively music of the Milk Crate Bandits) gratified.

May your happiness increase!

“AIMING TO THRILL”: CONCERT-GOING, 1935 and 1939

From The Historic New Orleans Collection: evidence of Louis in New Orleans, 1935, in the Astoria section at a nightclub (for African-American audiences):

 

I’ve been telling my students that when they read older fiction, one of the things they might notice is money: a character in a 1940 story set in Mississippi thinks ten cents is a substantial amount.  It would buy a cocktail here, or if you had the price of and eleven cocktails plus tax, you could hear Louis.  (And it cost five times more to see Louis than Kid Clayton and his Four Pals.  Sorry, Kid.)

Patrons at the Golden Dragon might have heard this:

and most certainly you would have heard this:

Louis’ new record contract with the Decca label didn’t result in sessions until October, so patrons would have had to wait for I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE or GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT.

To learn more about that poster (now held by The Historic New Orleans Collection) read here:

I missed the Golden Dragon appearance.  But perhaps someone in my readership was alive in the UK in 1939?  Coleman Hawkins and Jack Hylton were appearing (not in that order) before Hawk returned home.

Let’s open the program, where COLEMAN HAWKINS is in the same typeface as THE KNIFE-THROWING DENVERS, who were of course “Aiming to Thrill”:

And the back cover:

Hawkins with Jack Hylton, 1939:

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS: “THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME TWO”: TIM LAUGHLIN, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, HAL SMITH

Simply stated, this is a second disc (recorded on February 7-8 of this year) by one of the world’s most satisfying jazz trios: Tim Laughlin, clarinet (and a few originals); David Boeddinghaus, piano; Hal Smith, drums.  Volume Two, logically, is the successor to Volume One, issued three years ago.  I loved the first one and said so here.

But a New York winter has been very hard on my adjective hoard, so I called upon two of the musicians to help me out — fellows who can write as well as play. (David, terribly articulate, was otherwise occupied.)

I went deeply into the Obvious and asked Tim about the arresting cover, and he said, “I ran out of pictures of steamboats and wrought iron. I have new frames for my glasses and decided to grow a pencil-thin to complete the caricature.” And we agreed that “iconic black and white” really stands out, which is what you want from multi-tasking easily distracted (my words, not Tim’s) music purchasers.

Then I thought I’d ask another member of the trio for his thoughts, and the logical choice was Hal Smith, jazz scholar and former journalism major (if we want to go back a piece):

“It amazes me that Tim continues to come up with outstanding original material — especially ‘Gert Town’ and ‘Roundabout,’ which refer to an area of New Orleans and a traffic circle, respectively.  Tim has a genuine NEW ORLEANS sound on clarinet; rich and woody in all registers. He also has a natural swing in his playing that is infectious (especially for his accompanists)!  David’s playing encompasses many of the best traditions of Classic Jazz and Swing piano — Morton, Waller, Hines, Sullivan, Wilson — but it always comes out sounding like Boeddinghaus. That’s the way piano was meant to be played!  Drumming with these guys is as easy and pleasurable as putting on slippers and settling into the recliner with a good book, an adult beverage and a black cat.”

“Easy and pleasurable” nicely characterizes the comfort this CD offers us.  It’s miles away from EASY LISTENING, but there’s no strain, no chasing after crowd-pleasing effects.  Melody, rhythm, subtle harmonies, all combine in performances that are both logical and warmly inviting.

More about the repertoire, and the sound.  The familiar songs are presented with their rarely-played verses, which are wonderful surprises in a few instances: THANKS A MILLION, ALL BY MYSELF, CABIN IN THE SKY (a small poignant masterpiece), LA VIE EN ROSE, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, UP A LAZY RIVER.  Then, some hot classics: WOLVERINE BLUES and PONCHARTRAIN BLUES for Mister Morton, MESSIN’ AROUND, and THERE’S YES, YES IN YOUR EYES — which has a surprise at its center, and an arrangement credit for Dan Barrett.  (Extra credit for those who know which Arbors Records session this one came from.)  Then Tim has contributed two of his own, ROUNDABOUT — where the reference is to rapid-fire playfulness in the band as well as the traffic circle — and GERT TOWN BLUES, named for a New Orleans neighborhood that is explained more fully here.

The sound of this disc deserves its own paragraph, at least.  Thanks to Ben Lario, recording engineer, and David Farrell, mastering, this is one of the most authentic-sounding CDs I’ve heard.  I  have to preface this by saying I’ve heard the three members of the trio in a variety of settings, with David’s piano and Hal’s drums the least victimized by amplification, but often I have been seated at a distance from those instruments in a large hall.  Even in small venues, the sound is compromised by people gently moving or rattling paper.  Tim’s clarinet, its sound so delicious, I’ve heard out-of-doors or again through amplification for the most part.  (And when I’ve video-recorded these players, the sound of my videos, even through a good microphone, is at some distance from the real thing.)  This CD sounds gorgeously authentic, as if I were seated in front of the trio in a moderate-sized living room.  Nothing harsh or shrill, nothing unnatural, and the balance between the three instruments is as fine as I would hear in life.

You can hear samples and buy the disc here or download the music here.

May your happiness increase!

TIMELESS SWING ON CONTI STREET: LARRY SCALA / KRIS TOKARSKI TRIO featuring JAMES SINGLETON (January 12, 2017)

Larry Scala, January 2017, New Orleans. Courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.

Larry Scala, January 2017, New Orleans. Courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.

The title is all you need to know, or almost.  Jazz in New Orleans (or “New Orleans jazz”) is widely and wildly diversified, with many savory tastes . . . but what follows is some of the best, of a kind you don’t always  hear — smooth, lyrical, rocking small-band swing that draws from Fifties Basie as well as the great standards.  The heroes are the deeply melodic guitarist Larry Scala, his equally lyrical comrades, pianist Kris Tokarski and string bassist James Singleton.  These four performances come from a wonderful session held at The Bombay Club in the Prince Conti Hotel on Conti Street on January 12, 2017, underthe benevolent guidance of Mr. Scala.

First, a very rewarding warmup on I CAN’T GET STARTED — music for expandable duo.  I have a very sweet feeling about the music made before the gig officially starts, but very rarely is it as poised and satisfying as this:

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

And a Basie classic in miniature!  BLUES IN HOSS FLAT:

I celebrate the absence of cliche in people’s solos, the easy friendly interplay, and the irresistible rocking motion.  You’re free to say what and whom “it sounds like,” but often I was reminded of an imaginary Herb Ellis session — but it was taking place in front of my own two looking eyes, which is a great and remarkable thing.  Thank you, Messrs. Scala, Tokarski, and Singleton, for making an evening in New Orleans both subtle and completely memorable, with nary a parasol in sight.

May your happiness increase!

A NIGHT AT THE BOMBAY CLUB (Part Two): KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (September 22, 2016)

bombay-clubYes, The Bombay Clubthat luxurious New Orleans hangout in the Prince Conti Hotel, home to good music, food, drink, and friendships.  I visited it for the first time on the date above, to hear Kris Tokarski, James Evans, and Hal Smith — my premiere offering from that session can be found here.

And here is Part Two: listen to the way this trio blends the three voices into a larger, delightful organism, with each member keeping his individuality.

An absolutely gorgeous SOPHISTICATED LADY:

GET HAPPY, thanks to Harold Arlen at the rehearsal piano:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAILS:

Yes, there are several more joyous instant-classics from this session, and they will appear.

May your happiness increase!