Tag Archives: Nice Jazz Festival

FIRST AMONG EQUALS: BOB WILBER AND FRIENDS, 1975

Bob Wilber with the superb drummer Bernard Flegar, after their gig in Bülach, Switzerland, June 11th 2005.

Oh, when Bob Wilber moved on we lost a kind, intense, brilliant musical sparkplug, someone who —  like Sidney Catlett, Nat Cole, Milt Hinton, and Bobby Hackett among others — made everyone not only play better but want to play better.  a phenomenon I have witnessed for myself.  A true catalyst.

YouTube has a good deal of video evidence of Bob’s superpowers, but here are two instances especially dear to my heart.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a video camera for all the times I marveled at him in the Seventies and beyond.

Here is or are ten minutes from the Nice Jazz Festival of July 1975.  The session wouldn’t have been the same without Bob.

And here‘s more music from that same year, with two editions of The World’s Greatest Jazz Band.

Finally, here is the post I published on August 6 to say something about the large hole in the universe Bob left when he moved on.  I won’t say he left the temporal for the celestial, because he was always the latter: romantic, energized, surprising.

May your happiness increase!

JULY 21, 1975: NICE, NICER, NICEST

 

“La grande parade du jazz” is what the people in charge of the Nice Jazz Festival called it in the last half of the 1970s.  And that it was for sure.  Here, through the good offices of the scholar Franz Hoffmann, is a nearly ten-minute SWEET GEORGIA BROWN with sixteen of the great players (Bob Wilber and Marty Grosz, still happily with us) participating.

Twelve horns in the front line might mean chaos, but there is expert, funny traffic direction here by experienced musicians who knew (this was the last performance of a set) that allowing everyone to play three choruses could extend the performance well past plausibility.  And SWEET GEORGIA BROWN is so familiar that no one could mess up the chords on the bridge.  And although the director / cinematographer on some of these Nice videos made them hard to watch by cutting from one angle to another every few seconds, here the editing is much more sedate and pleasing.

The performance is full of sweet little touches — the affectionate respect these musicians had for each other and the idiom.  After an ensmble where — even amidst all the possibility for clamor — Bobby Hackett is audibly leading, with mutters from Vic Dickenson, which then turns into a very characteristic propulsive Art Hodes solo, all his traits and signatures beautifully intact.  Watch Barney Bigard’s face as Maxim Saury plays a patented Bigard motive, how amused and pleased he is with the younger man’s tribute, and how he (Barney, that is) pays close attention afterwards.  (For what it’s worth, Herb Hall and Barney sound so sweetly demure after Saury.)  After some inaudible asides, Alain Bouchet (brave man!) trades phrases with a very impressive Hackett, then, before any kind of disorder can take over, Vic takes control over the trombone section, with Willcox and Hubble having fun playing at being Vic.  A conversation between Dick Sudhalter and Pee Wee Erwin reveals two concise lyricists; Bob Wilber, so durable and so profound, soars through his choruses (notice Wingy trying to break in after the first).  Wingy takes his turn in opposition to a beautifully-charged Hackett, with supporting riffs coming in for the second chorus (Hackett quotes WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU, so gorgeously) before the whole ensemble charges for the exit, Moustache commenting underneath, his four-bar break hinting at a deep study of Cliff Leeman:

Wingy Manone, Bobby Hackett, Alain Bouchet, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, cornet / trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble, Spiegel Willcox, trombone; Barney Bigard, Herb Hall, Maxim Saury, clarinet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Moustache Galepides, drums.

Almost ten minutes of bliss, with no collisions and no train wrecks.  And if you care to, on the third or fourth viewing, watch the musicians themselves closely — the ones who aren’t playing, as they smile and silently urge their friends, colleagues, and heroes on.  Their love is tangible as well as audible.

It’s a cliche to write that “Giants walked the earth,” but this summer performance proves the truism true.  And one of the most dear of the giants — never in stature — the blessed Bobby Hackett — wouldn’t live another full  year.  Oh, what we lost.

For more from Franz Hoffmann, and he has marvels, visit his YouTube channel.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW CHORUSES AGO

The Nice Jazz Festival, 1948.  Henry Goodwin, trumpet; Robert Sage Wilber, clarinet / soprano saxophone; Jimmy Archey, trombone; Pops Foster, string bass; Sammy Price, piano; Mezz Mezzrow, clarinet.  Not photographed: Baby Dodds, drums.

Mezzrow Band

Happily, Mr. Wilber — then the baby of the band — is still with us, playing, recording, and traveling. Music keeps you young. Thanks to Pug Horton for providing this glimpse of the past, only sixty-six years ago.

May your happiness increase!

GENEROSITIES OF JULY 1975 / 1976, NICE JAZZ FESTIVAL: EARL HINES, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, BARNEY BIGARD, BENNY CARTER, JOE VENUTI, RED NORVO, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, HARLEY WHITE, EDDIE GRAHAM

Then and now, jazz critics to look scornfully on “all-star” sets at concerts.  Some of the musicians play to the crowd; solos go on too long or were rushed; tempos were brisk; the repertoire simplified; the gatherings weren’t always well-planned.

But now, nearly forty years after this jam session at the Nice Jazz Festival, we can only give thanks for such an assemblage.  We can note mournfully that almost all of the musicians named above — with the exception of Harley White and Eddie Graham — have departed.

Here are giants.

And you’ll see delightful fashion statements as well — Norvo’s summer casual; Carter’s psychedelic trousers; Hackett’s demure mandarin collar, and more.  Hines’s attire needs its own posting.

George Wein announces Hines; the stagehands move around; we see Duvivier toting his bass and Rosengarden making those preliminary percussive noises before Hines appears, smiling widely.  He begins a brisk OUR MONDAY DATE with the rhythm falling in line — and all the flash, daring, and exuberance is entirely in place, forty-five years after his early bravura playing in Chicago.  The ensemble that follows is cheerful although the instrumental voices seem to float to the surface and down again — perhaps because of the cinematography of Jean-Christophe Averty (usually known for his incessant cutting between shots) focuses on Hines.  Carter is majestically fleet for two; Norvo cool and mobile for his, raising and lowering his shoulder as always.

But little dramas are going on.  Carter is dissatisfied with his reed and is working on it; Vic looks as if he’d rather be elsewhere, at a slower tempo (although his bridge is splendid).  The other all-stars seem to have decided that the way to deal with Hines’ tempo is to split choruses — Bigard / Venuti swap trademark phrases for two choruses (while Bigard plays, Venuti tidies his bow); Hackett and Carter embark on the same playful gambit, but the King looks quite surprised at a squeak and is almost ready to put his horn down for its misdemeanor.  Hines returns for two exuberantly showy choruses, mixing lopsided shards of the melody with surrealistic stride, calling the band in for a final chorus (where the camera stays on them), Hackett more powerfully leading — into the leader’s showy extended ending: nine minutes later.

A year later, it is Hines (in green) with Harley White, bass; Eddie Graham, drums, paying tribute to early Ellington with BLACK AND TAN FANTASY in a reading that sticks closely to the original arrangement — then a romping C JAM BLUES which is all Hines at his flying best, with an equally flying solo by White and a half-time ending.

What follows is, for me, magic: Vic Dickenson playing a ballad, I GOT IT BAD, with no other horns.

Please note how he quietly puts the tempo where he wants it (slower than Hines has counted it off) and his amazing variety of tones and moods — exultation and pathos, sadness and near-mockery.  No mutes, nothing but years of lip technique and experimenting with the kinds of sounds both he and the horn could make.  The delicacy yet solid swing of the last eight bars of his second chorus; the entire solo returning to the melody but the very antithesis of “straight” playing.    Vic isn’t cherished as he should be, for his mastery of “tonation and phrasing,” but his vocalized range, his soulful use of vibrato, his balancing the blues and wit . . . there should be statues of Vic Dickenson!

What comes next seems from another world, with all respects to the very excellent drummer Graham — a lengthy CARAVAN, with some reflections of Jo Jones.  Appropriately.

It is a varied half-hour, and viewers will have their favorite moments, as I do.  But we owe thanks to our YouTube friend (details below) for sharing this with us, and (even before this) French television for having the foresight to record such gatherings . . . against the day when the giants would no longer honor us with their presence.

The begetter of this slice of delicious French television,”belltele1,” on YouTube, seems to have a special key to the treasure chest of jazz video rarities.  In a half-hour of casual browsing, I saw Eldridge, Brubeck, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bechet, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Monk, Rollins, Mingus, Teddy Buckner, Louis, Jonah Jones, Ellington, Basie — the marvels are there for the viewing.  And he offers DVDs of the programs . . . .

May your happiness increase!

WITH A STROKE OF THE PEN

More eBay autographs . . . some surprises! Of course, Louis signed his name how many thousand times from the middle Twenties to 1971 . . . but each one is its own treasure.  Lucky Bill! The seller describes this as signed in green ink (a mark of authenticity) even though it reproduces as blue. Here’s something much more unusual.  At first, it looks only like an antique check (1936) but then you see it’s made out to trombone legend Miff Mole, and the person handing over the thirty-two dollars is Rudy Vallee.  Not to be mean-spirited, but Rudy had a reputation for being reluctant to let money out of his possession, so this is doubly or triply rare — and thirty-two 1936 dollars are a substantial sum. And the reverse, where Miff endorsed the check over to one Louis Mussi.  The story?: Here are the signatures of one version of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Narvin Kimball (banjo); Willie Humphrey (clarinet); “Sing” Miller (piano, in a rebus); Percy Humphrey (trumpet); Allan Jaffe (tuba); Josiah “Cie” Frazier (drums); Frank Demond (trombone): That in itself would be pretty good — as satisfying as a half-pint of Mrs. Circe’s gin . . . but the “unidentified” signatures on the back of this page are also intriguing: Some of those might remain mysterious — I have trouble turning my head to the required angle . . . but top left (March 15, 1978) is Arnett Cobb and long-time Lionel Hampton guitarist Billy Mackel; to the left is Andy McKee, and in the middle I am certain that Robert Sage Wilber — otherwise known as Bob — signed in.  My intuition tells me that this page comes from a Nice Jazz Festival . . .

May your happiness increase.

REDISCOVERED PLEASURES

cassetteOf late I have been living in a temporary self-created chaos, attempting to pare down a surfeit of possessions from my apartment.  Today I opened a closet and decided to move a stack of four wooden crates containing about a thousand cassette tapes collected and traded over the past twenty-five years.  Drawn irresistibly to their labeled spines, I thought, “My God, there’s so much music here that I haven’t heard in years — and would delight in — that I really should dig out a half-dozen and enjoy them.”  The cassettes, as well, brought back memories of years of tape-trading with generous collectors, including Bill Coverdale, John L. Fell, Bob Hilbert, Manfred Selchow, Tom Hustad, David Goldin, and a dozen more. 

So this morning, I was driving into Manhattan, exulting in an hour of rare Don Byas (with John Mehegan, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, and perhaps Lem Davis on alto) — including rehearsal versions of INDIANA and I GOT RHYTHM, preliminary to the famous Byas – Slam duets at Town Hall in 1945.  These acetates, by the way, were recorded by Baron Timme Rosenkrantz in his apartment.     

The music pleased me more than I had expected, so I have resolved: the cassettes are coming out into the open, where I can play them (the space in the closet will be filled, easily) and rather than be tempted to buy the first new jazz compact disc that winks at me, I will rediscover some of these treasures.  Not, mind you, as an exercise in asceticism or frugality, but as another way to pleasure.  At this stage of my life, I am not prepared to swear off new compact discs.  I am also not organized sufficiently to have an official rediscovery every day, but since my car still has a cassette deck, these old-time artifacts can enlighten and elevate me during my commute. 

What awaits me?  Lee Wiley.  Louis with Gordon Jenkins on television from 1952, on-location recordings from the Nice Festivals of 1974-5, and more. 

I urge my readers to revisit those treasures they haven’t played in years — whether the stash is under the bed, in the basement, or simply on high shelves.  And if the collection is fertile, you could almost close your eyes and pick “the fifth cassette from the left” and come up with a pleasant surprise.  If you come up with something you dislike, perhaps it means that the particular cassette isn’t worth saving.  Either way, you win. 

I’d vbe fascinated to hear from readers about what delights they find . . . .

NOT SO NICE, 2009

World traveler Bill Gallagher sent along his photograph of the latest Nice Jazz Festival lineup:

Nice 2009

Some of my readers will rejoice at the names of venerable jazz players Rollins, Corea, and Burton; others will be pleased to see younger players. 

It must mark me as someone of a nearly-extinct generation when I write that I miss the old days.  European friends, over the years, sent me on-location tapes from Nice festivals in the Seventies, featuring Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Bill Coleman, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Joe Venuti, Jo Jones, Sir Charles Thompson, Mark Shane . . . proving that swinging jazz was what prevailed. 

Now they’ve been replaced by  James Taylor?

Of course, many of the players at Nice in the Seventies are now dead.  But there are five or six dozen younger musicians — from Kellso to Caparone, Block to Blake, Dorn to Nick Ward . . . who would show anyone that jazz existed before Madeline Peyroux.