The bare facts: Charles Henry Christian, electric guitar (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942).
I’m not sure that much could be sadder than that. But Charlie had one piece of good fortune in his brief life. However you write the story of his “discovery,” he was well-known, heard by many, and captured by various microphones for our listening and that of future generations. From August 1939 to June 1941, he appeared in the recording studio, the concert hall, radio studios, and after-hours jazz clubs. Tom Lord’s standard online jazz discography lists 94 sessions on which he appears, and his recorded oeuvre can (loosely) be contained on ten compact discs.
Between 1992 and 1994, the French CD label “Masters of Jazz” attempted to present his recorded work complete on eight discs. Nearly a decade later, they issued a ninth volume which presented music that had eluded them, plus three performances that had never appeared on record . . . which it’s my pleasure to present here. The preponderance of Charlie’s recorded work was with Benny Goodman, who was generous in featuring his brilliant young sideman. (Not only that, but had Christian been working with a less-famous organization, how much of his work would have been lost to us?) Two of the three performances, alas, incomplete, are with Benny’s Sextet. But Charlie had another life, one blessedly captured by Columbia University student-archivist Jerry Newman . . . so we can follow him to Minton’s Uptown House.
The blissful music.
POOR BUTTERFLY, April 27, 1940 (Christian, Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Guarnieri, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool):
STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, May 8,1941 (Christian, Lips Page, Joe Guy, Don Byas, Kermit Scott, “Tex,” Nick Fenton, Kenny Clarke):
STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, June 1941: the last recording we have of Charlie, “Monte Prosser Dance Carnival,” Madison Square Garden, New York City (Christian, Goodman, Cootie Williams, George Auld, Guarnieri, Walter Iooss, Fatool):
Charlie, we miss you. Thank you for the jewels you left us: they still shine so brightly.
And if you are, like me, fascinated by Benny Goodman, you’ll want to read this. Enthralling.
You wouldn’t think that a long-playing record issued in the US in 1974 could be rare, but this one is — I heard this music first on a cassette from one of my devoted collector friends, and then found a copy for sale (inexpensively, because I think few people sensed what delightful music it contains) — and it isn’t even listed in Tom Lord’s comprehensive THE JAZZ DISCOGRAPHY. So I thought it would only be right to share it with you.
Lamare is not well-known, or if he is, it’s for novelty vocals with Bob Crosby and Wingy Manone, and later in his career he was placed in the role of a straw-boater-and-striped-jacket-banjo-player, which reputation tended to follow him, especially for those of us who saw his apparently stereotypical records at yard sales. But it’s obvious he could play, he could swing, and he could inspire an ensemble. I offer this 1941 Epiphone advertisement as proof of life without a straw boater:
But to our musical sermon for today.
The facts, according to Jack Webb, who loved this music.
a) Chuck Mackey, Johnny Windhurst, trumpet; Matty Matlock, clarinet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Marvin Ash, piano; Nappy Lamare, guitar; Morty Corb, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums. 9.14.47
b) George Thow, trumpet; Matlock; Bud Wilson, trombone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Lamare, Ash, Corb, Ray Bauduc, drums. 9.28.47
c) as for a) but Joe Yukl replaces McGarity and John Freeling replaces Fatool 9.21.47.
The songs: DIPPERMOUTH (a) / PEG O’MY HEART (b) / IN THE MOOD (a) / WOLVERINE BLUES (a) / SENSATION RAG (b) / I’M GONNA MOVE TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN, vocal Lamare (b) / CHARMAINE (c) / TIM ROOF BLUES (c).
Recorded by Dave Caughren onto 12″ acetates with a single microphone, released on Fairmont Records LPM 105.
You’ll have your own champions here, but Fatool, Bauduc, Windhurst, and McGarity make the angels dance:
The multi-talentedChris Smith has a YouTube channel, as I may have mentioned, that will reward your attention — he’s been uploading out-of-print music by Jim Dapogny, all wonderful, and other treasures. This morning, a “supermarket record,” an lp sold near the cash register in A&P or Bohack’s, perhaps for 69¢. The labels were often not terribly honest: Spin-o-Rama, Craftsman, Tops — but you could find RCA Camden there, and there were sessions created specifically for this market, wordplay intentional:
This recording is called DIXIELAND (a musical product as clearly labeled as Ajax or Comet) by “Matty Matlock and his Dixie-Men,” for those who didn’t know of Matty — clarinetist and arranger for twenty years and more before 1957. I know some readers will bristle my open use of the D-word, but the shoppers in Waldbaum’s fifty years ago weren’t as enlightened. Forgive them, Brother Matthew, for they knew not what they did: they just wanted some good music.
Speaking of good music, how’s this?
Although TISHOMINGO BLUES is First World War vintage, the band has an easy sophisticated glide. These were musicians who took an afternoon off from studio work — reading Matty’s minimal, shapely charts on familiar songs. But there’s no cliche, no fake-Roaring Twenties clatter: the band is more Forties-Basie (whisper it!) than Bailey’s Lucky Seven. Dick Cathcart, trumpet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Matty Matlock, clarinet; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Stan Wrightsman, piano; Al Hendrickson, guitar; Phil Stephens, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums. No striped vests, plastic boaters, club-date amateurishness.
Here’s the whole playlist — a wonderful aubade for those so inclined:
Let’s go shopping to this elegantly rousing soundtrack. Piggly Wiggly has chuck roast at 59¢ / lb. Don’t be late: we’ll have to ask the manager, Carmine, for a raincheck, and a raincheck won’t feed the four of us.
Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert. In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh. The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.
Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.
The performance began with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”
Here is the first part of this glorious concert, almost eighty minutes in four segments. . . . . and now the second part (all of this divided arbitrarily by YouTube, but not disastrously).
This segment continues the rocking SWEET GEORGIA BROWN that now includes (unobtrusively) the banjoist Hanju Pape and perhaps some of the young players at the rear of the stage, but the real delight is the way the Bob Cats trade phrases — the audience delights in it, also. Peter Buhr then introduces Pape to sing and play NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT, quite idiomatically. Haggart quietly and effectively backs him up: friendship on the bandstand! Fatool adds so much during Pape’s OH, SUSANNAH (is Haggart checking the chords?), then Stein joins in for S’WONDERFUL, and the Cats gentle reassemble behind and around Pape. Havens begins a beautiful BASIN STREET BLUES — incomplete (in the middle of a Lawson phrase) but to be resumed in the next segment:
The band provides Havens superb stop-time backing (and someone says, fervently, “Yeah, Bobby!) and then the mood changes for the Haggart-Fatool duet, BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA, a beautiful version: great visual and auditory theatre that pleases the audience immensely. Lawson then begins SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY with Fatool, Haggart, and Stein — tightly muted and whispery, before playing the sound games of which he was a master: this quartet session is reminiscent of the Ruby Braff live gigs I saw, and makes me think it was a pity that Lawson never did a whole session as the only horn. “We meet again,” says Marty Grosz, before beginning his solo segment with BREAKIN’ THE ICE (catch the descending phrase behind “I guess you know what it’s for”) then ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, with a nod to Clappo Marx, in a truly swinging version, interrupted before the final words, but you know what they are:
“. . . .got swing.” Then, SQUEEZE ME, at a leisurely tempo with beautiful expressive solos by Lawson, Havens, and Miller — followed by a rhapsodic MY FUNNY VALENTINE featuring Stein and masterful accompaniment from Haggart and Fatool. Then what might have been a deplorable interlude — WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN — plus Pape — is transformed by this band’s irresistible swing and quiet lyricism. Mainstream jazz, my friends: consider Miller’s splendid solo before the applause, band introductions, and more applause. The band goes off, but there must be an encore, and we know it, SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE, started off by Fatool, whose playing is a graduate seminar in itself:
and here it is! — with everyone knowing just how it should sound, splendidly, Most nodding to George Lewis once or twice, Miller soaring, and Lawson climbing above the ensemble in the best Blackhawk fashion:
“Drive carefully going home,” Lawson tells us, before Peter Buhr closes off the evening for us and we watch the pleasantly-dressed audience leave the hall.
But wait! Here’s Eddie Miller playing SOPHISTICATED LADY with the same rhythm section at the Cork Jazz Festival, a year later. Too good to ignore:
And a few words about labeling and categorization. Dick Gibson named this band and its offshoots THE WORLD’S GREATEST JAZZ BAND as a marketing idea (it was more memorable than the TEN GREATS OF JAZZ on a marquee) and also because he believed it. But at Gibson’s parties you’d also hear Carl Fontana, Sweets Edison, and Benny Carter. However, many jazz fans — perhaps those who believe that the music began with KIND OF BLUE — sneered at the label and at the band. To them, these musicians were elderly, repeating old routines. I will leave the ageism to those who dote on such things. But as you listen to “The Bob Cats,” even though some of their repertoire goes back to the ODJB, and a few routines are pre-war, the solos and ensembles are so lively, so timeless. Mainstream jazz, not museum jazz. All it requires is that listeners are open to the individualities, the sincerities, and the swing.
Heartfelt thanks again to Bernard, Peter, Yank, Bob, Eddie, Abe, Lou, Bob, Nick, Marty, Hanju, another Michael, and that pleasant audience . . . for making these hours of joy possible then and now. And I can testify that this concert improves on repeated listening.
Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert. In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh. The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.
Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.
The performance begins with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.” Here, he plays a chorus of MY INSPIRATION on saxophone with Lou Stein, Marty Grosz (looking at the music for the chords) and Nick Fatool. Then the full band assembles for an easy ST. LOUIS BLUES, with Bob Haggart glaring at a recalcitrant bass amplifier and even giving it a gentle kick at one point — catch the ingenious Lawson-Fatool conversation; then they head into a very leisurely LAZY RIVER (incomplete on this segment):
More LAZY RIVER, with lyrical Miller and Havens, Marty Grosz shifting in and out of double-time behind them, leading up to a Lawson muted specialty and a gracious interlude for Most and Stein, then a Louis-inspired double-time segment before the impassioned Lawson cadenza. AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL does not show its age: the rhythm section rocks (Haggart only glares at his amplifier once and takes a solo) and the musicians’ body language suggests comfort and pleasure. Lou Stein’s feature on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE blissfully starts with a rubato verse — always a lovely touch — before heading into Sullivan / Sutton territory, with side-glances at Dave McKenna. Havens’ STARS FELL ON ALABAMA of course evokes Jack Teagarden — with Havens’ plush sound that you could stretch out on. (It stops abruptly, but don’t despair: the third video completes it.)
Here’s the conclusion of ALABAMA (I can see the meteor shower) — gorgeous. And now for something completely different, Marty Grosz, all by himself, in fifth gear (after the obligatory German joke) for I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — with a slightly more truncated version of Marty’s extensive encomium of Fats before he changes the mood for a truly touching LONESOME ME. What could follow that? A jubilant JAZZ ME BLUES, and we’re back to the Blackhawk Hotel in 1937, with wonderful percussive commentary from Nick. Eddie Miller’s SOPHISTICATED LADY from this concert has been lost, but we’ll make it up to you someday:
Abe Most’s classic take on AFTER YOU’VE GONE seems familiar until one listens closely: his harmonic and rhythmic sense went beyond 1938 Goodman, with wonderful results. (Catch his ending!) Haggart leads the group into a sultry, not-too-fast BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME. The tempo slows down as this one proceeds, but the Lawson-Fatool duet is magnificent, and the solitary clapper gets the hint and stops, more or less — a nice shuffle beat behind Eddie Miller. Then, an introduction: does Yank really say, “Get some Coca-Cola”? before the audience, undecided, half-heartedly starts what I think of as European “We want seventeen encores!” applause, and we see the lovely faces of the listeners. The second half begins with the Bob Cats’ rhythm section — without Marty — surrounded by the high school band for a thoroughly competent SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, with the Bob Cats’ horns joining in later:
The arbitrary editing comes from YouTube, not from any human, but I don’t think that music is lost. And I promise the second half shall follow — as the night does the day, to quote Polonius.
I’ve known and admired the drummer and thoughtful man Kevin Dorn for fifteen years and more. I could see Kevin in a jazz club, lifting the rhythm and making the other musicians happier — to say nothing of the audience. In fact, Kevin came by and sat in at Cafe Bohemia for the last pre-pandemic gig, whose date is seared into my neural pathways, March 12, 2020.
Years gone by: 2008.
Kevin is also one of those musicians able to talk about what he is doing in terms that do not bore the insiders nor puzzle the civilians: he is a superb teacher / explicator with no hint of pretension . . . and he is one of those who “can do” as well as explain. I know this because of the gratifying YouTube videos he has been creating for a year now: just him, his drum set, assorted essential paraphernalia, and a fine clear soundtrack of music and words. Here is his YouTube channel.
He’s explored the work of Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Cozy Cole, Morey Feld, Nick Fatool, Jake Hanna, and Cliff Leeman so far, and I know his one-man seminar on Buzzy Drootin is in the works.
But this wonderful solo performance caught me in many ways. Many drum solos lack a compositional shape, but not this. And in this wildly “busy” world where no one has much time for anything, this solo is forty seconds long. I urge you to take the time and immerse yourself in the world Kevin creates in honor of Cliff Leeman. I call it “three-dimensional” because not only can we hear the songs Kevin creates on Cliff’s snare drum, but we can watch the ever-changing human sculpture of his moving arms, one visible leg, and hands. Art, dear viewers.
The back covers of long-playing records (“microgroove”) that I grew up with often wooed the prospective buyer with IF YOU LIKED THIS LONG-PLAY RECORD, YOU’LL LIKE THESE — and then showed tiny cover portraits. That appeal is a long way back into the past, but if you enjoyed the video above, let me direct you to a more elaborate one: Kevin’s variations on WOLVERINE BLUES:
Initially, I was somewhat skeptical of this set, having heard the late cornetist — in person and on record — repeat himself note-for-note, the only questions being whether a) he was in good form and thus looser, and b) whether the surrounding musicians provided some extra energy and inspiration. However, this 2-disc set, released in 2015, is fascinating and comprehensive . . . even if you were to find William a limited pleasure. The Amazon link — which has a title listing — is here.
The set covers Bill’s work from 1925 to 1960, and I would bet a mint copy of THAT’S A PLENTY (Commodore 12″) that only the most fervent Davison collectors would have heard — much less owned — more than twenty percent of the 52 tracks here. Thanks for the material are due Daniel Simms, who is undoubtedly the greatest WBD collector on this or any other planet. (And some tracks that I’ve heard and known for years in dim cassette copies are sharp and clear here.)
A brief tour. The set begins with three 1925 Gennett sides where Bill is a member of the Chubb-Steinberg Orchestra of Cincinnati. He’s much more in the open on three 1928 Brunswick sides by the Benny Meroff Orchestra, SMILING SKIES being the most famous. On the Meroff sides, although Bill was at one point billed as “The White Armstrong,” I hear him on his own path . . . at times sounding much more like Jack Purvis, exuberant and rough, rather than Louis.
We jump forward to 1941 — Bill sounding perfectly like himself — and the two rare “Collector’s Item Cats” sides featuring the deliciously elliptical Boyce Brown on alto, and eight acetates from Milwaukee — where Bill plays mellophone as well as cornet, offering a sweet melody statement on GOIN’ HOME before playing hot. Two Western Swing sides for Decca, featuring “Denver Darling” on vocals and “Wild Bill Davison and his Range Riders,” from 1946, follow — here I see the fine sly hand of Milt Gabler at work, getting one of “the guys” another gig.
A live recording from Eddie Condon’s club — with Brad Gowans, Tony Parenti, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling — is a rare treat, and with the exception of the “American Music Festival” broadcast from 1948 on WNYC, much of the second disc finds Bill and Eddie together, with Pee Wee Russell, Lord Buckley, Walter Page, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Buzzy Drootin and other heroes, both from the fabled Condon Floor Show and even Steve Allen’s Tonight Show, covering 1948-1953, with a lovely ballad medley on the last set. One track, KISS ME, a hit for singer Claire Hogan, has her delivering the rather obvious lyrics, but with some quite suggestive yet wholly instrumental commentary from Bill which suggests that more than a chaste peck on the cheek is the subject. Incidentally, Condon’s guitar is well-recorded and rich-sounding throughout these selections.
A basement session (St. Louis, 1955) provides wonderfully fanciful music: Bill, John Field, Walt Gifford, improvising over piano rolls by Zez Confrey, Fats, and James P. Johnson. These four t racks — beautifully balanced — offer some gently melodic improvisations from Bill as well as nicely recorded bass and drums. Also from St. Louis, six performances by a “Pick-Up Band” with standard instrumentation, including Herb Ward, Joe Barufaldi, and Danny Alvin (the last in splendid form). Four unissued tracks where Bill, George Van Eps, Stan Wrightsman, Morty Corb, and Nick Fatool (the West Coast equivalent of Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson) join Bill in backing the otherwise unknown singer Connie Parsons; and the set ends with three tracks from a 1960 session where Bill shares the front line with the astonishing Abe Lincoln (who takes a rare vocal on MAIN STREET) and Matty Matlock.
The level of this set is much higher than what most have come to expect from a collection of rarities — in performance and in audio quality. It isn’t a typical “best of” collection, repeating the classic performances well-known to us; rather, it shows Bill off at his best in a variety of contexts. Thus, it’s the kind of set one could happily play all the way through without finding it constricting or tedious. I recommend it highly.
I have no intention of detailing my trips to Trader Joe’s and Macy’s. To do so would bore even the most fervent reader of JAZZ LIVES. But yesterday, I went to one of the three thrift stores I favor. There I found a new chamois L.L. Bean shirt, a blue glass soap dish, both much desired . . . and two records.
One is yet another posthumous Glenn Miller reunion, recorded 1958 for Enoch Light’s Grand Award label (GA 33-207). The orchestra is conducted by trombonist Bobby Byrne, and the personnel is wonderfully authentic: Dale “Mickey” McMickle, Bobby Hackett, Bernie Privin, Steve Lipkins, trumpet; Bobby Byrne, Al Mastren, Frank D’Annolfo, Harry DiVito, trombone; Jimmy Abato, Peanuts Hucko, Hank Freeman, Tex Beneke, Al Klink, Mannie Thaler, reeds; Lou Stein, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Trigger Alpert, string bass; Maurice Purtill, drums. They play MOONLIGHT SERENADE, LITTLE BROWN JUG, TUXEDO JUNCTION, STAR DUST, STRING OF PEARLS, SUNRISE SERENADE, JOHNSON RAG, RHAPSODY IN BLUE, AMERICAN PATROL, ADIOS, ALICE BLUE GOWN. The sleeve says the recording is monaural, but the disc is true stereo.
As a deep Hackett fancier, I can report that he offers interesting variations on his STRING OF PEARLS solo. I am amused to note that since he was presumably still under contract to Capitol Records, although his name is listed in the personnel, the notes are very quiet about his presence: “Here again you hear a famous trumpet soloist take his famous solo on A String of Pearls — but this time in high fidelity!”
It is indeed high fidelity; the arrangements are expertly played, and there are solo spots as there were on the originals.
Here’s A STRING OF PEARLS (a diligent YouTube searcher can find more):
But there’s more. And I’m not even talking about the soap dish.
I’ve passed this record by several times — one can’t buy everything at once — but now I didn’t. It’s Bing, with Bob Scobey, Frank Beach, trumpet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Matty Matlock, clarinet; Dave Harris, tenor; Ralph Sutton, piano; Clancy Hayes, guitar; Red Callendar, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums, recorded in Los Angeles in February 1957. The songs are a delicious collation of old-time favorites and Bing is in fine form — as is the band. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME / SOME SUNNY DAY / I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER / TELL ME / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / LET A SMILE BE YOUR UMBRELLA / MAMA LOVES PAPA / DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS / LAST NIGHT ON THE BACK PORCH / ALONG THE WAY TO WAIKIKI / WHISPERING / MACK THE KNIFE. Scobey is particularly fine, and glimpses of Lincoln and Fatool are always life-enhancing. (A collector’s perhaps silly side-note: the previous owner paid $18 for the record at a New York City record shop.)
And here’s the music. How easy and rich it sounds.
I know that the Crosby recording was issued on CD, but the thrill of finding both these records by surprise (amidst banjo discs, Andy Williams records, and other items) is not to be sniffed at. Each disc cost slightly more than a dollar. Good value.
Someone who loved “Dixieland” may have died, or at least no longer uses or owns a turntable, and the records now cheer another listener. I left behind an anonymous record by “the New Orleanians” and the Project 3 issue of Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, called THIS IS MY BAG — which I already have. Let others get wonderful surprises, too. Music is meant to be heard, not hoarded.
A fairly well-known (now obscure?) pop song from 1951 is the text for my mellow sermon for today:
This ten-inch Decca recording — more than fifty years old now — which I guard tenderly — is the music of my childhood that has never disappointed me.
And just because the photograph of Louis and Gordon turned up on eBay ( I know nothing about the photograph below it) here it is once again:
Since my dear friend Ricky Riccardi is in New Orleans for the 2015 Satchmo Summerfest, I asked his permission and checked with his legal staff and was allowed a one-time exception to create a Riccardi-style posting which, of course, is not up to his standards . . . but he’s about half my age. More energy.
Let’s begin where it all began — Charles G. Dawes’ MELODY [or sometimes, MELODY IN A]. Dawes is the most unlikely composer I can think of, a Brigadier General who had taught himself piano and composition, a banker who became Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. Dawes lived a long time — 1865-1951, and wrote this piece in 1911. Here is a 1924 recording with Fritz Kreisler, violin; Carl Lamson, piano:
The opening phrase — a simple ascent and descent — is what we call a hook now, although that phrase wouldn’t have applied in 1911. It’s in 6/8, and it seems as far as one could get from a danceable pop tune in 1924 and later. But wait.
In 1940, Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra recorded LET ME DREAM, “adapted” from Dawes — I don’t think the melodic emendations are improvements, and I note that on the Decca label no lyricist is listed. Bob Eberly sings it pleasantly enough, but the lyricist may have wanted to remain anonymous:
Two years later — perhaps as part of the famous Dorsey rivalry, perhaps in an attempt to find non-ASCAP material — brother Tommy recorded what I consider the first truly beautiful “modern” version, on a Red Seal Victor label which meant it was (loosely) a classical recording:
I don’t know who did the string arrangement, but it is dreamily beautiful even before Tommy enters. And the trombonists in the audience (along with the rest of us) can marvel at Tommy’s tone and range.
I can’t find other recordings of this beautiful melody, but in 1951 Carl Sigman wrote lyrics for it and changed its name to IT’S ALL IN THE GAME. Whether he modified the high notes or an arranger did — somewhere — I can’t say. But this is the composition and performance I grew up with: Louis and Gordon Jenkins. Note: some listeners find the pairing of these two great artists unsatisfying; others make light of Jenkins’ sound, vocal and string arrangements. I won’t have it. If you want to write dismissively of this side, please refrain and come back tomorrow.
Incidentally, the personnel here is more than respectable in jazz players per inch, in addition to Louis and Gordon: Charles Giffard [misspelled as Gifford in all reference works: see below], George Thow, Bruce Hudson, trumpet; Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, tenor saxophone; Charles LaVere, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Phil Stephens, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums . . . plus strings.
What you’ll hear is not just a 1951 pop tune orchestrated for jazz singer, small jazz band, and strings. It has a compositional density — Jenkins thought orchestrally, his work a beautiful offering of contrasts and similarities — and the listener who is attentive will hear beautiful sounds. I know: I’ve been listening to this record since perhaps 1959. I’m never bored with this 3:22 concerto.
I don’t know if the “new” IT’S ALL IN THE GAME has a verse or an elaborate introduction, so I am assuming that this one is Gordon’s creation. And what an oddly ominous one it is: the first fourteen seconds a variation on the ascending figure with accents from orchestra bells. It sounds to me as if a funeral is approaching, or (perhaps) a variation on the verse to WHEN DAY IS DONE — both unusual ways to approach a song that is ultimately redemptive. Sigman’s lyrics are not about death, but a beautiful escape from emotional death: the lovers have had a serious spat and all is / can be repaired — so that the end is a love-ecstasy. And the singer — in this case Louis — is beautifully asked to play the part of a gentle wise elder, counseling the young lover who is tearfully despondent: “It’s going to be all right. You just wait. I know,” which is advice all of us have needed at some time.
The minor mood gets slightly brighter when the strings enter, the top end of the violin section quite high, with beautiful shifting harmonies underneath — the most glorious waltz one could imagine.
Then, about a minute and a quarter in, one hears the jazz ensemble start to underpin the whole beautiful enterprise — the shift to 4 / 4 made clear by the addition of the rhythm section — and the horns and reeds create a simple echoing descending figure to change the key. But before we can take this in for long, Louis enters at 1:30. (Notice, please, that the recording is nearly half over before its Star comes on — which suggests that Gordon knew that Louis deserved the most wondrous buildup.)
The vocal is just sublime. All the people who dismissed Louis as a romantic singer, someone who made nonsense of words, “gravel in his throat,” might do well to listen to this. The horns play simple figures behind him and the rhythm section of LaVere, Reuss, Stephens, and Fatool — the best imaginable on the West Coast at that date) rock softly and with conviction. And Louis treats the simple words with the utmost respect. And close listeners well-versed in the Gospel of Louis will of course notice that Gordon’s figures are evocative of Armstrong licks. (A liner note writer for a CD issue of this material whose name I am choosing to ignore called this practice “blatant,” not understanding that it was both an in-joke and an expression of the deepest reverence: surrounding Louis with Louis, amen.)
The strings come in when the lyrics describe having “words with him” — interesting that the singer is speaking to an unhappy young woman. Singers, please pay attention to the rubato within “And your future’s looking dim!” — the phrasing there is worth a whole Jazz Studies degree. And, happily, after Louis sings “above,” the strings play — written — one of Louis’ most famous scat figures. I can’t imagine that Louis wasn’t dee-lighted to hear that.
A looser, warmer vocal conclusion follows, ending in “And your heart will fly away,” ending in a scat passage that is like a caress, like someone’s dear hand making the grief go away.
When I hear this recording, I have tears in my eyes, but they are tears of joy. Recovery is possible.
I didn’t know where in this post to place the more famous (how could this be?) recording of the song — by Tommy Edwards in 1958. It was an immense hit and sold three million copies. I think it is a descent from the heights, singer and orchestra, but you are welcome to enjoy it. Quietly, please. Use your earbuds:
If you want to understand the majesty of Louis and the gracious warm world that Gordon Jenkins created, though, go back to the penultimate version.
I will close with a little anecdote. In graduate school, one of my professors was Dr. Spencer — a tall woman who had been born in the UK and had retained a crisp manner of speaking. We were discussing some nineteenth-century love poem, and she said, “There was a hit pop song some years back called IT’S ALL IN THE GAME, and it referred to “the wonderful game that we know as love.” Taking her glasses off and looking at one impish and weary, she said, “Of course, love is a game. But you must be sure you know the rules of it, and always bring the right equipment.” Then she said, “I will see you on Thursday.” I’ve never forgotten that.
Postscript: one of the many wonderful things about having this blog is the people who write in — not to criticize, but to add information that is true and little-known. I bless Michael Sigman, son of lyricist Carl Sigman, for sending me this beautiful information about the song:
The most interesting story-behind-a-song saga in Carl’s career began with a phone call from a publisher. For years Carl had thought about writing a lyric for a tune he remembered from his classical training. “The Dawes Melody,” or “Melody In A Major,” was a classical violin and orchestra piece composed in 1911 by none other than Charles G. Dawes, later Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge.
Dawes composed the piece in a single piano sitting. “It’s just a tune that I got in my head, so I set it down,” he told an interviewer. He played it for a friend, the violinist Francis MacMillan, who liked it enough to show it to a publisher, and Dawes was officially a composer. The tune garnered some popularity when Jascha Heifetz used it for a time as a light concert encore.
Early in 1951, Carl decided to try and write a lyric to the theme, believing that it was in the public domain, as free of complications as an old Mozart melody. He knew the two-octave range would be a problem, but figured he could fool around with the melody, take out the high notes and make it more singable.
By sheer coincidence, Warner Brothers publishing exec Mac Goldman called one day to ask Carl to consider writing a lyric to “The Dawes Melody,” the copyright for which, it turned out, was owned by Warners.
Once Carl recovered from the news that the song was in fact already copyrighted, he rejiggered the tune and realized that a phrase from another song he was working on, a conversational phrase he’d plucked from the vernacular, was perfect for this tune. Once he plugged that title into its proper place, the lyrics to “It’s All In The Game,” to quote Carl, “wrote themselves.”
It’s All In The Game
Many a tear has to fall but it’s all in the game All in the wonderful game that we know as love
You have words with him and your future’s looking dim But these things your hearts can rise above
Once in a while he won’t call but it’s all in the game Soon he’ll be there at your side with a sweet bouquet And he’ll kiss your lips and caress your waiting fingertips And your hearts will fly away
Carl also wrote this never-recorded intro, to be sung prior to “Many a tear…”
Where love’s concerned At times you’ll think your world has overturned But if he’s yours, and if you’re his Remember this…
Unfortunately, the Vice President never got to hear the lyric. On the day Carl handed in the finished assignment, Dawes died of a heart attack, prompting Mac Goldman to quip, “Your lyric must have killed him.”
“It’s All In The Game” found its way to prominence in a prototypic version, in waltz time, by Tommy Edwards. That record made the top twenty in late 1951, and the song was quickly covered by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Dinah Shore and Sammy Kaye. Seven years later, Edwards, still recording for the MGM label, re-cut the song in the contemporary 4/4 tempo doo-wop mode, and it became one of the biggest hits of the fifties, staying in the top 10 for twelve weeks, six of them at #1.
During the summer of ’58, when “It’s All In The Game” was battling it out for the top spot with another classic, Domenico Modugno’s “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu),” I was a nine-year old attending Kings Point Country Day Camp. As I changed into my baseball uniform in the locker room every day, I’d burst with pleasure when the radio played our song, and “boo” whenever “Volare” came on.
It’s always reassuring to find out that other people love your heroes as much as you do. Jon-Erik Kellso shared music from the blissful October 1955 COAST CONCERT on Capitol Records — featuring Jack Teagarden, Abram Lincoln, Matty Matlock, Don Owens, Nappy Lamare, Phil Stephens, Nick Fatool — and a new Facebook acquaintance, Art Wood, shared a radio program I’d not known. It was originally broadcast on WTIC, “A One-Night Stand With The Big Bands,” Hartford, Connecticut, in June 1972: and it features what might be the longest publicly-available interview — done by Arnold Dean — with a very relaxed Bobby Hackett here. Yes, there are a few flaws in the tape, and you’ll hear some period commercials — but it’s priceless time spent with Mister Hackett.
We love every note. Bobby Hackett was a quiet man if he didn’t know you, but very kind. His soul lives on in his music.
A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?” I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality. I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.
It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz. We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies. Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.
But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming. Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage. There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.
Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.
Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance. Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.
But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom. People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm. Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like. Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record. Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk. Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.
If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong. You have to get the gigs. You have to handle the money.
You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)
You have to talk on the microphone. You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs. You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.
Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks? Is that all?” “My shepherd’s pie is cold.” I hate that song. Do we have to play it?”
To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”
So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane. They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”
A brief, wholly improvised list:
Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.
And a thousand more. And certainly their living counterparts. (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated. You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)
These people don’t win polls. They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters. But where would we be without them?
At the most recent (November 2013) San Diego Jazz Fest, a friend introduced a smiling woman to me with these words, “Michael, this is Vonne. Her father was Tommy Thunen.” I was very excited, and told Vonne so, for I knew her father’s name for years: as the second or third trumpet player on many Red Nichols recordings. She was happy that I was so excited, and she promised to send more about her father.
The children of jazz heroes — a rare breed — fascinate me. Many of the musicians I admire were childless, or their relations with their children were less than ideal — so my occasional attempts to speak with these survivors have not always been successful. Nephews and nieces, grandchildren and cousins have surfaced but little substantial has come of these brief contacts. (A notable exception has been the interchanges I’ve had, documented in JAZZ LIVES, with the very generous son of Leo McConville, a trumpeter who probably sat alongside Thunen many times in the late Twenties and middle Thirties.)
But Vonne clearly remembers her father with affection:
My dad, Tommy Thunen, played with Red Nichols, Paul Whiteman, and later Russ Morgan. As you probably know, Russ Morgan played at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley for a number of years. My dad played with Abe Lyman’s Orchestra in the 30’s I believe. He also played on two radio programs in New York. One was called “Waltz Time” on Friday nights and the other was “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” on Sundays. I believe it was one of the major radio stations in New York.
In later years he was living in San Fernando Valley and played with a band led by Rosy McHargue at a place called The Cobblestone, and he also played with Rosy in Las Vegas. Musicians have told me that he had a “sweet” sound. He also played cornet and alto sax. One of his first “gigs” was at age 13 when he played at an Armistice parade at the end of the first World War.
My own investigation into Tommy’s recorded work as documented in the “jazz” records to be found in Tom Lord’s discography shows him to be a New York regular who traveled in fast company: not only with Nichols, but the Irving Mills recording groups that used men out of the Ben Pollack Orchestra, starting in 1929.
Tommy played alongside Gene Krupa, Jimmy McPartland, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Larry Binyon, Ray Bauduc, Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, Mannie Klein, Dave Tough, Red McKenzie, Pee Wee Russell, Fud Livingston, Glenn Miller, Irving Brodsky, Joe Tarto, Mickey Bloom, Rube Bloom, Babe Russin, Adrian Rollini, Tommy Dorsey, Tony Parenti, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Miller, and other New York Reliables — all of this in 1929-30. He surfaces again on some hot recordings by the Abe Lyman band in 1933, and then not again until working with Rosy McHargue in 1957, and — fittingly — he is the sole trumpet, out in the open, on his final recordings with Jack Teagarden in Jack’s Sextet that same year: the soundtrack from a television program, a July appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, and a promotional record of the Marlboro cigarette jingle in September — alongside Jerry Fuller, Don Ewell, Stan Puls, and Monte Mountjoy.
I can’t offer JAZZ LIVES readers tangible evidence of Tommy’s sweet sound, but here are two records where he is said to be playing. Is that him on the bridge of I’VE GOTTA HAVE YOU? (The pleasure of hearing Red McKenzie — and tenor saxophone soloing by Pee Wee Russell — makes up for all uncertainties.)
Other recordings on YouTube might have Tommy in the personnel: a search will turn up some lovely music from Annette Hanshaw, among others.
But now for the photographs!
Here’s bandleader Abe Lyman, inscribed to Vonne:
“Jean Wakefield and her Mischief Makers”:
All I know about mischievous Jean is she and the Makers are listed in the radio section of the Berkeley, California, Daily Gazette for Saturday, November 7, 1931, broadcasting over KLX at 7 PM. (Airchecks, anyone?) To me, the most important part of that photograph is the inscription on the left.
Here’s a band appearing at a nightspot with its own kind of transient fame, Fatty Arbuckle’s Cobblestone Cafe:
and some needed identification:
I haven’t found any reference to the Cobblestone Cafe, although I don’t have a biography of Arbuckle at hand. He was dead in mid-1933 and this photograph is from some decades later. Aside from Tommy, the most famous musician, pianist Arthur Schutt, who lived until 1965, is hidden from view. Clarinetist Gene Bolen, however, recorded from the late Fifties onwards, so I await informed speculations about a more precise dating.
Rosy McHargue and his Dixieland Band, dated 1953:
I hope we will find out more about the life and music of Tommy Thunen, not only from his daughter.
I think of him as a professional musician who is now characterized, if at all, as a “jazz musician,” then a “studio musician,” perhaps a “Dixieland jazz player.”
But the music we hold dear is not simply a matter of famous soloists and stars, the people about whom biographies are written, but of reliable professionals whose names aren’t famous, indispensable craftspeople nevertheless. These quiet men and women might appear predictably bourgeois, not exciting. But any communal art form — be it jazz, the symphony, or the theatre — needs people one can count on to be on time, well-prepared, clean, sober, expert. After the fact, people tell tales of the brilliant musician who is also unpredictable — but such artists are at best hard on everyone’s nervous system. But we are more intrigued by Jack Purvis or Charlie Parker than Mannie Klein or Hilton Jefferson.
How many beautiful players were there who did their work superbly but never got interviewed, whose names were known only to fellow musicians and discographers . . . who made the whole enterprise of music go on as it did?
I’d like to see books called THE JAZZ PROFESSIONALS — consider among thousands Harold Baker, Buster Bailey, Murray McEachern, Helen Humes and Nick Fatool — people who didn’t lead bands or win Metronome polls, but who were the very foundation of what we take for granted.
And Tommy Thunen, about whom we now know a little more, thanks to his daughter.
I bought myself a truly gratifying holiday present:
For details from the Fresh Sound website, click here.
It’s possible that some readers might be unfamiliar with the Keynote Records catalogue, so if the tiny portraits above don’t pique your interest, here are a few words. Between 1941 and 1947, with the bulk of its sessions taking place in 1944-6. this independent jazz label produced a wide sampling of the best jazz records ever made — from the New Orleans jazz of George Hartman to the “modern sounds” of Lennie Tristano and Red Rodney. Keynote was the expression of one man’s intelligent taste — the Javanese jazz fan and producer Harry Lim (1919-1990). Lim’s records neatly balance written arrangements, head arrangements, and improvised solos. Many of the Keynote issues were recorded for issue on 12″ 78s, thus giving musicians room to create in more leisurely ways. In fairness, the Keynote sessions were not the only ones taking place in the wartime years: Lim’s issues ran parallel with Commodore, Blue Note, Hot Record Society, Signature, and even smaller labels — Asch, Jamboree and Wax among them. Keynote featured jazz players who were already stars: Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Red Norvo, Benny Carter, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges, Slam Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Count Basie (pseudonymously), as well as improvisers of equal worth who were often not given their due: trumpeter Joe Thomas, Milt Hinton, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Kenny Kersey, Jonah Jones, George Barnes, Johnny Guarneri, Emmett Berry, Aaron Sachs, Herman Chittison, George Wettling, Hilton Jefferson, Tyree Glenn, Gene Sedric, Juan Tizol, Rex Stewart, Pete Brown, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Nick Fatool, Bujie Centobie, Irving Fazola, Allan Reuss, Dave Tough, and many others. Three particularly remarkable sessions brought together like-minded but singular horn players: trumpeters Eldridge, Thomas, and Berry; saxophonists Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Harry Carney; trombonists Vic Dickenson, Harris, Claude Jones, and Benny Morton.
Several things need to be said about the new Fresh Sounds reissue. For one, it is a “European bootleg,” which will repel some collectors of this music, and I think rightly so. However, the Keynotes have never been issued in any systematic way on compact disc — in their home country or otherwise. And the Fresh Sound set concentrates, with a few exceptions, on issued material. I don’t know whether this was a choice designed to entice listeners who find alternate takes annoying, or to keep the set’s price attractive. (I bought mine on Amazon for $94, which seems a good value for 243 sides.) The sound is good, although I haven’t compared it to any 78 or vinyl issues. True Keynote devotees will, of course, have their own copies of the comprehensive vinyl issue of the label’s offerings, and the Fresh Sound box won’t replace that.
The reissue history of the Keynote recordings is characteristically odd — leaving aside the comprehensive vinyl set — with early vinyl assortments assembled by instrument (trumpet, trombone, or saxophone), then later ones featuring stars Hawkins, Young, Woody Herman sidemen, Norvo, Tristano, etc. As I write this, I am taking great pleasure in the sixth disc — selected at random — hearing sessions led by Barney Bigard, Horace Henderson, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, and Milt Hinton — a fascinating cross-section of timeless jazz recorded in 1945. “Fresh Sound” is an apt description for these sides recorded more than half a century ago.
Fresh Sound producer Jordi Pujol made an intriguing and ultimately rewarding choice when looking for documentary material to fill the 125-page booklet. He included a careful history of the label — sources unknown — which tells a great deal about how these sessions came to be. (I feel, once again, that we should all give thanks to selfless men such as Harry Lim.) Then, rather than reprint the enthusiastic, empathic notes written by Dan Morgenstern for the Keynote vinyl box set, Pujol returned to the archives of DOWN BEAT and METRONOME for contemporary reviews and session photographs. The photographs — although many of them have been reproduced elsewhere — offer a few treasures: Lester Young, Johnny Guarnieri, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett at their December 1943 session, and photographs from the jam sessions Lim created before Keynote began recording regularly: one, in particular, caught me: a 1940 Chicago session featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Earl Hines, John Simmons, Tubby Hall . . . and the elusive Boyce Brown. The reviews from the contemporary jazz magazines are both grating and revealing. One might forget just how hard those writers and editors worked to appear breezy, slangy, hip — Catlett is referred to as a “colored tubman” in one review — and how severe they were in assessing what now seem masterpieces, using “uneventful,” “nothing distinctive,” “routine,” “pleasant,” “don’t emerge as anything too special.” Lester Young is referred to as “Les,” his tenor sound as “muddy-toned.” That the music survived this critical approach from writers who were its advocates says much about its durability. Here, by the way, is a side DOWN BEAT termed a “fiasco” and gave it a grade of C. I rest my case:
I think I got more than my money’s worth. You might agree.
Here is an engaging record with the spontaneous energy and lilt of the best small-band swing, but with neat arranging touches. The players were from the Benny Goodman Orchestra of 1939:
This performance was recorded December 26, 1939 with Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Toots Mondello, Elmani “Noni” Bernardi, alto sax; Jerry Jerome, Arthur Rollini, tenor sax; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Ben Heller, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums.
From a splendidly informative profile by Christopher Popa (including an interview of Martin Elman, Ziggy’s son) we learn that Bernardi created the arrangements for the sides Ziggy did for Bluebird Records, Victor’s budget label. The profile — superbly done for Popa’s BIG BAND LIBRARY, can be found here.
This post had its genesis in something not a recording or a performance, but the result of a record session and the hope of making money from a hit. On eBay, I found this two-page contract between music publisher Bregman, Vocco and Conn, and Elman and Bernardi — for this song, then called I’M TOOTIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME. (This title is a play on Maurice Chevalier’s 1931 hit WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME — recorded by, among others, Louis and Nat Cole.)
From this vantage point, the contract seems anything but lavish, although the format is standard and the terms might have seemed a good deal at the time. I don’t think this venture made anyone richer. I’ve never seen a copy of the sheet music? And if one wishes to perceive BVC as exploitative, I am sure there is reason, but they at least published this folio, a good thing:
“Ziggie” is both nearly forgotten and much missed. Like Charlie Shavers, he could forcefully swing any group in many ways (consider his work on sessions with Mildred Bailey and Lionel Hampton). Harry Finkelman (his birth name) could do much more than play the frailich for AND THE ANGELS SING. Those Bluebird records are understated delights (with a beautiful rhythm section for this session).
With Hal’s permission, here is a tribute from one great jazz drummer to another — its source Hal’s website.
My friend and teacher Wayne Jones passed away on Thursday, May 30. He celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21, and married the devoted and caring Charlotte on May 24.
It is difficult to express just how much Wayne meant to me as a person and as an inspiration for drumming. From the time I met Wayne — at the 1972 St. Louis Ragtime Festival — there was never a moment when I worried about his friendship.
Though I had heard Wayne on 1960s-era recordings by the Original Salty Dogs, hearing him live was a life-changing experience! He unerringly played exactly the right thing at the right time, with the right touch and the right volume, with an economy of motion, though I think he must have had the loosest wrists and fingers of any drummer I ever saw! The Original Salty Dogs were, and are, one of the greatest Traditional Jazz bands of all time. But with Wayne on drums, they were something else. The late Frank Powers described the Dogs’ rhythm section as “The Cadillac of Traditional Jazz Rhythm Sections.” Frank’s description was spot-on, and Wayne’s drumming was an integral part of that sound.
He played with a lift, even when using woodblocks and temple blocks to accompany John Cooper’s ragtimey piano solos. (I remember when a musician who heard one of my early recordings, featuring woodblocks, said “You need to listen to Wayne Jones. Now, there’s a drummer who swings!”) That stung at the time, but my critic proved to be correct. Wayne swung when he played Traditional Jazz!
Not only did Wayne inspire me with his onstage performances. He also made invaluable contributions to my Jazz education by sending boxes and boxes of reel (later cassette) tapes, LPs, CDs and photocopies of articles. A chance comment such as, “You know, I’m really interested in Vic Berton” would result in a large box of cassettes arriving a few days later, containing every Berton recording in the Jones collection. Wayne was totally unselfish and giving, and I am humbled to think how much of his free time was taken up with educating “The Kid.” Whether in person or in a letter he could be gruff, but always soft-hearted. No one ever had to question his sincerity or generosity.
Years later, Wayne wrote some wonderful liner notes for projects I was involved in. I will never get over the kind words he wrote for a session I made with Butch Thompson and Mike Duffy, but anyone who reads those notes should be aware that my best playing is because of Wayne’s influence!
By the time he wrote those notes, I considered Wayne to be family. I know Wayne felt the same way…Once, during the San Diego Jazz Festival, I commandeered an empty venue with a piano to rehearse the “Rhythmakers” for a recording to be done immediately following the festival. We had been playing for just a few minutes when Wayne wandered in. Obviously he was out for a stroll, in search of coffee for when he walked in the room he was in street clothes — no band uniform or musician badge. He found a seat near the back of the room and settled in to listen. Vocalist Rebecca Kilgore looked up from her music, spotted Wayne and stammered, “Th-th-this is n-not open to the p-public!” Wayne replied, “It’s o.k. I’m family!”
We had many wonderful “hangs” over the years, during festivals in St. Louis, San Diego and elsewhere. “Talking shop” was always fun, though Wayne had interesting opinions on all kinds of things besides drums and drumming! For instance, he was passionate about Elmore Leonard’s writing and frequently quoted lines of dialogue from Leonard novels when he wrote letters. During the past couple of years, I always enjoyed the phone calls with Wayne when we discussed the characters and plots of the television show “Justified” (which is based on Elmore Leonard characters).
Fortunately I had a couple of chances to visit Wayne at home while he was still able to talk and listen to music for extended periods of time. He had slowed down considerably, but still had a fantastic sense of humor and well-informed opinions concerning a variety of subjects — particularly the contemporary Traditional Jazz scene. The last visit was a lot of fun until his expression turned serious and he looked down at the ground and asked quietly, “You want my cymbal, Kid?” Wayne knew that his playing days were over, and he wanted to find an appropriate place for his “signature” cymbal. It was difficult to keep my composure, but I gratefully accepted “that” cymbal which livens up so many recordings by the Dogs, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the West End Jazz Band, Neo-Passe’ Jazz Band and more. The cymbal went to a good home, where it is respected, well-cared-for and used in special circumstances only. The first time I used it — with the Yerba Buena Stompers — John Gill, Leon Oakley and Tom Bartlett looked up immediately, recognizing the presence of an old friend on the bandstand.
On a recent phone call, Wayne had difficulty conversing on the phone. We got through the conversation — barely — and I wondered if that would be the last time we talked. Unfortunately, it was. When I called again, he had fallen and was headed for the hospital. He died peacefully in the early hours of May 30 and I never had a chance to tell my mentor “good-bye.” But fortunately I was able to convey how much he meant to me during a performance a few years ago.
There are certain “Wayne licks” that have great appeal to drummers who studied his records and his live performances. (Drummers who have listened closely to Wayne, including John Gill, Chris Tyle, Steve Apple, and Kevin Dorn, will know what I mean). At a festival in the late ’90s, I was playing with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band when Wayne came into the room and took a seat a few rows back from the stage, but directly in view of the drums. He scrutinized my playing with the usual poker face. I thought about the description of Baby Dodds seeing George Wettling in the audience one time and “talking” to George with the drums. So I deliberately played in Wayne’s style. Tom Bartlett wheeled around and grinned through his mouthpiece. Kim Cusack eyed me and gave a quick nod, as did Mike Walbridge. But, best of all, out in the audience Wayne looked up, set his jaw and slowly nodded his acknowledgement. I would not trade that moment for anything.
Farewell, Wayne. Friend, teacher, inspiration. You will never be forgotten and you will always be loved.
May 31, 2013
A few words from JAZZ LIVES. I’m happy that we can see and hear Wayne swing the band. Here’s YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (I’LL TELL YOU MINE) by a 1996 edition of the Salty Dogs. Although Wayne doesn’t solo, his sweetly urging time is always supporting the band, and the just-right accents and timbres behind the ensemble and soloists are masterful. Catch the way Wayne ends off the tuba solo and rounds up the band for the final ensemble choruses. The other players are Kim Cusack, clarinet; Bob Neighbor, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; John Cooper, piano; Jack Kunci, banjo; Mike Walbridge, tuba:
And at the very end of 2010, nearly the same band (Cusack, Bartlett, Kunci, Walbridge, Jones) with two ringers: Andy Schumm, cornet; Paul Asaro, piano, performing SMILES. Again, masterful work: hear the end of the banjo chorus into Bartlett’s solo, and the way Wayne backs Schumm:
Thanks to Ailene Cusack for these videos (and there are more appearances by Wayne and the Dogs on YouTube).
After hearing the news of Wayne’s death, I kept thinking of the star system of jazz — which elevates many wonderful players, giving them opportunities to lead bands, have their own record sessions, and we hope make more money. But so many exceedingly gifted musicians are never offered these opportunities. I would take nothing from Gene Krupa, for instance, but for every Gene there were many beautiful musicians half in the shadows: think of Walter Johnson, Jimmie Crawford, O’Neill Spencer, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Nick Fatool, Harry Jaeger, Gus Johnson, Shadow Wilson, Denzil Best . . . and Wayne Jones.
Wayne didn’t lead any recording sessions; he might not have had his picture in DOWN BEAT advertising a particular drum set — but he lifted so many performances. Wayne leaves behind some forty years of recordings with Clancy Hayes, Marty Grosz, Frank Chace, Eddy Davis, Jim Kweskin, Terry Waldo, Edith Wilson, Frank Powers, Jim Snyder, Carol Leigh, Tom Pletcher, Bob Schulz, Jim Dapogny, Turk Murphy, John Gill, Don DeMicheal, Jerry Fuller, Sippie Wallace, Franz Jackson, Jim Cullum, Ernie Carson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Karoub, Ray Skjelbred, Peter Ecklund, Bobby Gordon, and three dozen other players in addition to the recordings he made with the Salty Dogs.
Thanks to Michael Pittsley (with trombone in hand, we know him as Mike) for alerting me to this and to vitajazz for posting this 1956 half-hour television program, STARS OF JAZZ, hosted by Bobby Troup (with the original Budweiser beer and Schweppes tonic water commercials intact, for the cultural historians).
The real joy is in being able to observe Matty Matlock’s Rampart Street Paraders on film for the first time. They are Matlock, clarinet; Eddie Miller, tenor sax; the swashbuckling Abe Lincoln, trombone; Clyde Hurley, trumpet; Stanley Wrightsman, piano; George Van Eps, guitar; Phil Stephens, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums. There’s even a cameo appearance by David Stone Martin . . . very hip indeed!
Two of those players are less well-known in this century — Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Hurley — but they are astonishing players.
Troup’s commentary on “Chicago style,” although dated, isn’t as bad as it might initially seem. The Paraders offer a slow BLUES / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (featuring Matlock over that lovely rhythm section — and a gorgeous Van Eps bridge) / LOVER (featuring Jack in pristine form — catch Matlock’s grin and listen to Fatool’s beautiful accents) / an interlude with Paul Whiteman where he and Jack comment on the recent death of Frank Trumbauer / BASIN STREET BLUES (again for Jack — but the Paraders back him so beautifully) / After Matlock’s brief commentary there’s a rollicking HINDUSTAN which begins and concludes with an explosive showcase for Abram “Abe” Lincoln — and a heroic solo in the middle / and a return to those BLUES.
In May 2012, I visited the National Underground on East Houston Street in New York City to hear John Gill’s National Saloon Band play a few glorious sets, with music ranging from Chicago jazz of the Twenties to Bing Crosby in the Thirties to Jimmie Rodgers . . . see the expansive range of John and the band here and here.
The management of the National Underground might not have had the most solid understanding of what John’s audience would have understood as appropriate background music — but they did the best they could for “older Americana”: a Dean Martin compilation CD.
I always thought Martin was vastly underrated as a swinging singer, and recall with pleasure the words of the late John S. Wilson, jazz critic for the New York Times (he had a seminal radio program on WQXR-FM, which began with Ellington’s ACROSS THE TRACK BLUES — evidence of Wilson’s deep good taste): he wrote that Martin deserved to record with the best jazz background then possible — a small band featuring Joe Thomas, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor. (I think that band could have made Raymond Massey swing, but no matter.) It never happened, and I didn’t have any sense that Dean Martin had actually recorded with a swinging background.
The compilation CD went through the familiar Martin recordings and then arrived at one new to me, a song that borrows elements from a half-dozen songs, not the least of them being I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER. This lyrical conceit is more vindictive than lonesome, addressed to a presumably unfaithful or duplicitous lover, I’M GOING TO PAPER MY WALLS WITH YOUR LOVE LETTERS. But listen closely to the band:
The opening ensemble reminds me of the Rampart Street Paraders — neatly “arranged Dixie,” in the manner of Matty Matlock or Billy May, with the string bass playing in two, a descending “Dixieland” figure scored for the horns, then a clarinet obbligto making its way in as the chorus continues — it could be Matlock or two dozen other players to my ears. After Martin finishes his first chorus, things get looser and more heated. Is that Dick Cathcart on trumpet? Clyde Hurley? And the trombonist, expertly maneuvering around in the middle and low section of the ensemble, could be Moe Schneider — lacking the violent swashbuckling of Abe Lincoln.
But wait! There’s more!
At 1:27,more or less, the veil of polite behavior lifted, the businessman’s-Dixie got put aside, and the Masters came out to play. To my ears, the drummer is Nick Fatool, the trombonist Lou McGarity (based on the shouting entrance into the solo). This deliverance lasts less than thirty seconds, but it’s a wonderful surprise. (And — so reminiscent of the 1928-31 “hot dance”records that had a peppy orchestral rendition of a danceable melody, then a winning but restrained vocal chorus — with a fiery eight or sixteen bars of jazz improvisation in the last chorus . . . if the prospective buyer had gotten that far, the sale was complete and Mother or Father were not going to scared off by some unbridled devil’s music.)
The closing chorus is slightly more emphatic than the first, but it’s fairly clear that the players have gone back to the manuscript paper: the whole recording, presumably from the middle Fifties, has a sweetly nostalgic air, harking back to Bing Crosby and the John Scott Trotter small groups.
I confess that what has appeared above has very little solid evidence to support it. I could find no hard evidence of personnel, recording date, and location: the only evidence I have is that the song was recorded by The Ravens and the Andrews Sisters . . . my guess is that this order is right. If anyone knows more than I have offered here, please chime in. Until then, I invite you to savor Martin, the band, and that brief hot interlude in the middle. Eckhart Tolle tells us that it is not our true work to name the beautiful bird or plant that we encounter in our travels, but to enjoy it . . . so if it turns out to be someone entirely unknown to me on drums, on trombone, I will be surprised but I will live through it.
And this post is for the fine trumpeter and subtle singer Andrew Storar, who told me two days ago that Dean Martin was his favorite.
Wordsworth was correct when he wrote that in “getting and spending” we “lay waste our powers.” I live not too far from a large shopping mall, and visit it only when other ways to buy something necessary are worse. But certain kinds of “getting” and “spending” aren’t so bad: when the purchases uplift the spirits and don’t cost much. Exhibits below. First, sheet music from a Vallejo, California antique shop.
I was motivated to buy this 1926 laff-riot because of the title and the line drawing — I sympathize with that fellow, even though I haven’t worn a three-piece suit in years. However, instead of being a comic ditty about table manners, it is more literal — X does all the work but Y, who doesn’t, gets all the credit. And it must have been a smash in vaudeville, for the inside front cover contains 24 knock-em-dead versions of the chorus. I will spare you. And if the name “Larry Shay” looks familiar, he was in part responsible for WHEN YOU’RE SMILING.
A much more seriously valuable song: I can hear Billie singing it or Ed Hall playing it. The most touching part of this sheet music is the inscription of ownership on top — I don’t know if it’s entirely visible, but this copy was the property of WOODY’S DANCE DEMONS. I looked them up on Google and didn’t find anything, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play well in 1929 or 1930.
This song is deeply unimaginative, but I thought that if the Benson Orchestra had played it and its composer had written OKLAHOMA INDIAN JAZZ, it might have some merit. We live in hope.
I wouldn’t call this a memorable Berlin tune (I suspect it was meant as a frisky dance number) but it does contain the lines, “Let me mingle with a peppy jingle / That the jazz bands love to play,” which is certainly hip for 1922.
I heard Rosy McHargue sing this on a Stomp Off recording (he must have been in his middle eighties) and thought it was hilarious. Also, isn’t that the most thoroughly anthropomorphized dog face you’ve ever seen? Now for several artifacts that are more fragile, heavier, and harder to pack — but no less irresistible.
Although I can’t imagine Eddie Condon with a novel in front of him, he admired John Steinbeck and was very proud that they were friends. Steinbeck loved the music that Eddie and the boys created, with only one caveat: he kept asking Eddie to take up the banjo again, an offer Eddie steadfastly pushed aside. This 12″ 78 cost more than fifty cents when it was new, and the band is flawless.
Also (not pictured, but you can imagine):
another Commodore 12″ of OH, KATHARINA and BASIN STREET BLUES; a Blue Note Jazzmen 12″ of WHO’S SORRY NOW (no question mark) and BALLIN’ THE JACK. Moving into the microgroove era, I proudly snapped up a Collectors’ Classics lp of the Red Allen Vocalions 1934-5 (with the exultant ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON), Ray Skjelbred’s first solo session for Berkeley Rhythm Records, from 1973-4 (signed by the artist), and the JUMP compilation of (Charles) LaVere’s Chicago Loopers, with Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Nick Fatool, and other stalwarts.
Both James Comer and David J. Weiner brought this to my attention — an amazing auction of jazz and popular music memorabilia that tops anything I’ve ever seen. Should you wish to explore for yourself, the website is http://www.profilesinhistory.com/items/hollywood-memorabilia-auction-40. But here are a few highlights I needed to show you, as if they were my treasures:
Better than Button Gwinnett, I’d say: Little T, Frank Signorelli, and George Wettling. I can’t identify the fourth name, if a name it is. I also wonder if this dates from the association that these players had with Paul Whiteman circa 1938?
Inscribed to Bob Harrington, at the end of the Forties: my hero, Henry Allen Junior.
I wonder if this was inscribed at one of Dick Gibson’s parties? It certainly seems a sacred artifact to me. From the bottom, I note reverently Ralph Sutton and Lou Stein, Yank Lawson, Joe Venuti, Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Nick Fatool, Billy Butterfield, Bud Freeman, Zoot Sims, and Buck Clayton. Oh my!
O fortunate Junior Payne!
VOOT! indeed: that’s Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, a fine pianist before he assumed the hipster’s mantle.
That’s only the second Baby Dodds autograph I’ve ever seen.
Delightfully odd — Count Basie, an unidentified young man, and Mezz Mezzrow. Sarah Vaughan was at Bop City as well on this night in 1948 and her signature is top left. Basie’s inscription of the photograph to Mezz as “my 20 year man” makes me wonder if Basie, too, took pleasure in Mezz’s arrangements? Leaving that aside, I love the neckties.
Famous names, no? And in an intriguing order, although this may just have been the way the paper was passed around from one member of the quartet to another.
No explanation needed!
The Ellington band, starting with Arthur Whetsol . . . !
February 19, 1944: with Wettling, deParis, Joe Marsala, Kansas Fields, James P. Johnson, Joe Grauso, Bob Casey, Miff Mole . . .
What is there to say except “Solid!”
And my favorite:
These pictures can only hint at the riches up for auction: for just one instance, the lot that includes the Harry “the Hipster” signature also publicity photograph of Leo Watson inscribed to “My man Mezz.” They could make me rethink the decor of my apartment, I tell you.
It’s that time again: our irregular compendium of the odd ways that 1) people find this blog, and 2) what they think they are looking for, often the answer to a question or an attempt to locate something vaguely defined. Here are seven, with some often flippant commentary attached.
fats waller vs billie holiday
I wish I knew what the searcher had in mind: was (s)he considering the repertoire Fats and Billie had in common, or their particular approaches to songs, or their respective popularity or the sales figures of their records? The image it calls to mind is of Jazz Wrestling or Jazz Boxing. Fats would have been able to stifle Billie by sheer bulk, but she’d have it over him on mobility, tenacity, and perhaps rage. And what color trunks would they wear?
what year did mildred bailey get fat
The mind reels. What is there to say? The nature of the question ends all inquiry, I think.
louis armstrong on cakes
I want to know where this bakery is. My birthday is in November, and I wouldn’t mind a Louis-cake at all. Or is “on cakes” rather like “on skates,” modifying the subject in a different way; thus, Louis caught in the act of eating some cake? Do tell.
song title they called her easy
An actual song, or a mis-hearing of something more familiar?
youtube carl montana trombone
You know, he worked with the WGJB for a short time — a mountainous player with a wonderful range!
what snare drum did nick fatool play
clyde hurley autograph
These two move me from satire to delight. To think that someone was asking the first question; to think that someone was sufficiently interested in the great and little-known trumpeter Hurley . . . these are a pleasure.
A postscript, with amusement. One day after I posted this, a new entry appeared, its subject the fine trombonist Dion Tucker, whom I’ve seen with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland on Wednesdays:
dion tucker does he have kids
“Who wants to know?” I say. Dion, if you read my blog, let me know so that I can put someone’s mind at ease . . .
Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge.
In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology. Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington. Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.
John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form. Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder. My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography.
Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz. I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others. A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.
But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories?
I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves. Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad. Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.
There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician. Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.
Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones. Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now. Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif. And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods. Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.
But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians.
Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band? Who interviewed Ivie Anderson? Allen Reuss? Jimmy Rowles? Dave McKenna? Al Cohn? Shad Collins? Barry Galbraith? Shorty Baker? Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s? Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences? George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough? (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)
Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention. So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington. But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.
Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.”
I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.
Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate. And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects. “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks. “Oh, it was a ball! We had a great time!” the musician answers. The interviewer waits for more. “Do you remember any specific incidents?” “Oh, no. It was a lot of fun. We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.” And so on. I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe. They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.
Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them. Too much explaining. Life is short; the next set is coming soon. This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet. Nice folks, but aliens. Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.” “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know.
And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times. A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort. When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals. Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?” Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot. And who could blame them?
When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details. What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living. And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs. And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play. Doing beats talking and theorizing.
Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever. And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia. Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.
Having said all that, I want to put it aside.
There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked.
But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories. Why weren’t they?
Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious. It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced. Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls. Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand. Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question? And what savage reply would result?
The subject of race can’t be pushed aside. If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it? Why take its players seriously? And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity. Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician? Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong? But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware. As would Rod Cless have been.
I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist. Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin. To say nothing of Sidney Catlett. And so it was for jazz. By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold.
The losses are irreparable. To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost.
What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?
Those pages remain irrevocably blank.
COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
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I have a special fondness for those musicians who never get their share of the limelight — not only Joe Thomas but also Frank Chace, Mike Burgevin, Cliff Leeman, Benny Morton, Shorty Baker, Rod Cless come to mind.
It would be impossible to say who is most underrated or under-recognized, but trombonist Abe Lincoln is certainly a contender for Jazz’s Forgotten Man. Although his astonishing playing enlivens many recordings — the late Thirties West Coast sessions that Bing Crosby and Hoagy Carmichael made with small jamming bands (often including Andy Secrest on cornet) and later sessions with the Rampart Street Paraders and Matty Matlock’s Paducah Patrol, he’s not well known. I first heard him out in the open on a wondrous Bobby Hackett Capitol session, COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST, where Abe and Jack Teagarden stood side by side. It wasn’t a cutting contest, but Abe’s joyous exuberance was more than a match for Big T.
There are exceptions — cornetist Bob Barnard is a heroic one — but many jazz brassmen start their solos low and quiet, and work up to their higher registers for drama. Abe Lincoln reminds me of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., leaping from a balcony, sword drawn. There’s no shilly-shallying; Abe starts his solos with a whoop in his highest register and STAYS THERE. He’s dazzling.
I’m currently writing the liner notes for a forthcoming CD on the JUMP label (Joe Boughton’s cherished enterprise) which will feature a “Rampart Street Paraders” group in performance. The venue was called “Storyville,” apparently located in San Francisco in the Sixties. The band? How about Billy Butterfield, Matty Matlock, Stan Wrightsman, Ray Leatherwood, Nick Fatool, and Abe Lincoln. Looking for information in my discographies, I found sketches of Lincoln’s associations: the California Ramblers, Ozzie Nelson, Paul Whiteman, Roger Wolfe Kahn, West Coast radio and film work, soundtrack work for Walter Lanz Woody Woodpecker cartoons, even!
Then I did what has become common practice for researchers: I Googled “Abe Lincoln” “jazz” “trombone” — to separate him from that other Abe who split rails and ended the Civil War.
And THIS came up — a whole website devoted to Abe: thorough, accurate, with photographs, articles, a discography, a video clip (!) and a biography: