Tag Archives: NOLA

UNLOCKING THE DOORS TO FIND THE PERSON HIDDEN WITHIN: “SNOOZER QUINN: FINGERSTYLE JAZZ GUITAR PIONEER,” by KATY HOBGOOD RAY and DAN SUMNER (Out of the Past Music, 2021)

Imagine an improvising musician, a dazzling stylist, whose recorded works add up to perhaps forty minutes. Dead of tuberculosis at 42. Admired by Les Paul and Frank Trumbauer, Danny Barker, Peck Kelley, Paul Whiteman, and Leo Kottke. “Slightly deformed at birth,” blind in one eye. Kept the best NOLA company.

Plain:

and Fancy, both from 1931:

and here’s some aural evidence:

and two ballads, rich and pensive:

Edwin “Snoozer” Quinn recorded in his prime but none of his solo recordings were ever issued. (He is audible, here and there, but never out front.) Those solos and duets we possess, a dozen sides, were informally done by cornetist Johnny Wiggs, in Snoozer’s hospital room, some months before his death.

We have a brief film of Snoozer playing solo in 1932, his hands graceful and fluid, but it is silent (as a footnote, the film was made by photographer-guitarist Charles Peterson, who gave us so much of the jazz world in still photographs):

Snoozer Quinn might have remained one of the most shadowy figures in jazz, an art form that has its share. And until recently, although the dozen recordings he made in 1948 were available on lp and CD, knowledge of him was scant.

Both he and his music deserved careful, deep, serious documentation. They have it now, splendidly, in this large-format book, 104 pages without filler or bloat:

Here is a comprehensive overview of this book. And, if you’re like me, whose immediate instinct was “How can I buy a copy?” visit here: you can purchase a paperback ($22.00) or an e-book ($14.99).

This book is extraordinarily satisfying: I am a severe reader and I stumbled over no flaws. Many jazz books of late are dense with theory and theorizing (we watch the author’s speculations about matters only tangentially related to music or biography overwhelm the presumed subject). Many are recyclings of others’ speculations or reminiscences. Ground well-and-thoroughly covered, leftovers presented as dinner, pick your metaphor. Given that, first-hand narrative about a figure who has been mysterious is precious, as is new information.

Perhaps you never thought your bookshelf needed a book all about Snoozer Quinn, but this one is entrancing, not only as his detailed portrait, but as a model of humane scholarship. It is candid and plain-spoken, full of surprises and anecdotes, stories from people who were there.

Here’s a quick tour. Katy Hobgood Ray, musician and deep researcher, is Snoozer Quinn’s great-great niece, which means that she knew of him in different contexts than even the most devoted jazz researcher would have. It also means that she has access to wonderful photos of Snoozer from the beginning to the end of his life, as well as the bands he played with. Those photographs, even without substantive text, would be an unequalled story of a life.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, after an introduction by guitarist Steve Howell, is a biography of Snoozer, the writing clear and evocative, followed by those photographs. The second is eight Snoozer solos, transcribed for guitarists to work at — thankfully, they can hear the recordings as stars to shoot for. The last, to me the most valuable, is a collection of recollections by Snoozer’s friends and colleagues.

Snoozer’s life, from one angle, is tragedy: tuberculosis and alcoholism, missed chances and benevolences that turned out all wrong. Paul Whiteman’s misguided fascination with the guitarist is a sad, almost unbelievable story. Genius, almost undocumented. But from another angle, he remains a marvel on the basis of the scant evidence, and those who heard him were astonished and remained so. The tale of his life is told through sharply realized evidence: oral histories from people who knew him and played alongside him, from members of the Quinn family to jazz musicians famous and less well-known.

For guitarists, the center of this book will be the eight carefully-created transcriptions of Snoozer’s solos on the sides he did solo and with Johnny Wiggs. I’m not a guitarist, but Dan Sumner’s description of Snoozer’s tuning and the way the transcriptions were imagined, honed, and polished is very convincing.

The recollections and reminiscences that conclude the book are arresting in their intimacy. Musicians Godfrey Hirsch, Monk Hazel, Benjie white, Armand Hug, and of course Johnny Wiggs, speak with tenderness, awe, and humor of Snoozer and his place in the universe. A detailed discography (with biographical information and documentation) is the final flourish to a splendidly realized enterprise.

No stone is left unturned: on page 11 of this book you will learn, almost offhandedly, the source of “Snoozer” as a nickname. It was a compliment.

It’s a reviewer’s cliche-encomium to state that a book like this is so definitive that there never need be another on the subject. I agree. But I also hope that new discoveries will be made so that there will be a second edition. Snoozer, obscure, often admired but not treated kindly, deserves every celebration possible. As do Katy Hobgood Ray, Dan Sumner, and Steve Howell. Their collaboration is so very rewarding. This book is thrilling in so many ways.

On another note, a comic-linguistic postscript. I first encountered Snoozer around 1971 when I purchased the Fat Cat’s Jazz lp THE LEGENDARY SNOOZER QUINN, which contained a dozen tracks Wiggs (bless him forevermore) had recorded. I had never heard Snoozer or Johnny Wiggs, but was fascinated by the air of mystery that surrounded the music, enough to spend money on a mysterious offering.

Al Rose’s liner note to that record offers a memorable crumb of awkward prose that I have never forgotten. Noting that cornetist Wiggs had not played in some time, Rose wrote, Wiggs, for the occasion, took his lip out of a quarter-century of mothballs, more to put Snoozer at his ease than anything else, and blew on some of these cuts. Little rust had gathered in the superb cornet.

Yes, mothballs and rust. But I digress.

Don’t linger here: buy this book. And while you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, visit https://snoozerquinn.com/ — a fine preface to the book.

May your happiness increase!

“WE’VE SPRUNG A LEAK. GET HELP!”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, JAY RATTMAN, TAL RONEN (The Ear Out, June 6, 2021)

When NOLA funk comes to NYC Soho, it’s a wonderful connection of forces.

and

and

If you think I’m being melodramatic in my title, wait for the group vocal on THE BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT, from Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and post-Guinness glass mute; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. It’s a sad tale of a plumbing problem that could lead to life-threatening dehydration:

I believe that on or before October 31, the EarRegulars, seen above as Out, will go In — reverting to their more familiar Sunday-night performances inside The Ear Inn. Know that these uplifting jazz picnics will become nocturnal soirees as the temperature drops and the days shorten.

And take good care of your bucket. Check it regularly for leaks.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Two): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, JOHN OTTO, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

Photograph by Alex Matthews, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.

John Royen is a masterful musician, and it was an honor to encounter him at the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here‘s the first part of the story, with performances including Hal Smith, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, and Dan Levinson, as well as a dramatic medical tale.

But wait! There’s more.

At the very end of the festival, John assembled a delightful small band with Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Riley Baker, drums [you can’t see him, but you can certainly feel his reassuring pulse]; Marty Eggers, string bass — and, on JUST TELEPHONE ME, the delightful reedman John Otto joined in.  Here are the first performances from that set.  Not only does John play up a storm, but he is a wonderful bandleader — directing traffic and entertaining us without jokes.  If you follow JAZZ LIVES, you already admire Marty Eggers, but Riley’s drumming is better than wonderful, and it’s lovely to hear Joe out in the open like this (he’s one of the sparkplugs of Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band also).  How they all swing!

I always think I am weary of INDIANA, since so many bands play it too fast in a perfunctory manner, but John’s version is a refreshing antidote to formula:

Then, a highlight of the whole weekend — John Otto brought his alto saxophone and John Royen led the band into a song you never hear north of NOLA — (WHENEVER YOU’RE LONELY) JUST TELEPHONE ME, with a particularly charming vocal — charming because it’s completely heartfelt:

Alas, John Otto “had to go to work,” so he couldn’t stay — I would subsidize a CD of this band, by the way.

I have some of the same feelings about AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ that I do about INDIANA — many bands run through it too quickly (it is a love song, dear friends) and call it when they can’t agree on the next selection . . . but here John, Joe, Marty, and Riley restore its original character.  And don’t miss John’s surprising bridge:

People who don’t know better will assert that SHINE is a “racist” song — they and you should read the real story — SHINE, RECONSIDERED  — and this performance shines with happy energy:

Since it doesn’t do anyone good to unload the whole truckload of joys at once, I will only say here that five more performances from this set are just waiting for a decent interval.  Watch this space.  And bless these inspired players.

May your happiness increase!

“I ALWAYS BEGIN WITH THE EYES”: MAGDA BOREYSZA’S GLITTERING IMPROVISATIONS

I am neither an art connoisseur or collector, but recently, I have had the wonderful luck of being able to follow three artists, directly or tangentially connected to jazz, whom I also personally admire.  There’s John Scurry and Ivana Falconi Allen.  To that inspiring warm company I now add Magda Boreysza.

I first took note of Magda’s work this summer when I saw this poster, had an immediate fierce infatuation with it, bought two, and spoke with her in cyberspace.  This post is my idea, although many of the words are hers.

She is a three-dimensional jazz improviser, inventing worlds we hadn’t thought of before, populated with immaculately drawn and vividly imagined creatures.  Her scope is ever-expanding: she’s not primarily a “jazz artist,” but those two works — depicted here — were my entryway into her universes.

Here she is:

I think of my pictures as stories, and I always start with a character. As I draw, the character tells me what else is happening in the story/picture. I always begin with the eyes. They reveal who the character will be. All my imagery comes from the same world, where the boundaries between human and animal are blurry.

Cue theme music:

All my work is drawing-based, but I work in different mediums. I self-publish comics, I make painted ceramic masks, I’m a printmaker, and I also make regular drawings, which I sell as reproductions. I found I would rather draw my own ideas rather than working to someone else’s specifications. But from time to time, I will make an album cover or a poster for my musician friends.

Juju’s Jazz Band Ball is an event organized by my friend Ewan Bleach, of the Cable Street Rag Band. He asked me to create a poster, and we agreed that it should feature foxes and other feral animals found in the streets of London. I imagined their wild party, their jazz dance, and I tried to capture that energy as well as a typical alley in the Brick Lane area of London. The animal musicians are based on the band members.

I was born in Poland but mostly grew up in the south of Sweden, before moving to Scotland and eventually to New Orleans. I’m married to a jazz musician, Robin Rapuzzi, who plays washboard and drums in Tuba Skinny. Because of this, I’m immersed in the world of music, and I have myself started playing, mainly the bass drum and some auxiliary percussion.

At the Edinburgh College of Art, in Scotland, I specialized in traditional animation techniques, and I made a hand-drawn film for my Master’s — A Game of String, available to stream http://foxandcomet.com/post/113892897077/a-game-of-string-hand-drawn-animation-2010.

As for the Frog & Henry poster, I just wanted to make a silly image, and I was inspired by old cartoons, where objects are sentient.

These things and people inspire my work: Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. The works of David Lynch. Nature, animals, wilderness. Pagan folklore and ritual. Medieval western European religious art, such as the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and Hans Memling. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with John Tenniel’s original illustrations.

Here is Magda’s Facebook page. You can see more of her work here, and more importantly, you can buy it here.  Her imagination is spacious, sometimes dark and luminous at the same time, and she invites us in.

May your happiness increase!