Tag Archives: OLD FASHIONED LOVE

OUR MAN FROM MISSOURI: NEW JESS STACY DISCOVERIES (November 28, December 5, 1939)

In the past year, a few holy relics of the beloved and subtle pianist Jess Stacy have come my way.  (Today would have been his 116th birthday, which counts as well.)  At a swing dance, I purchased one of his Chiaroscuro solo recordings — especially after I turned it over and saw that Jess had inscribed it, “Hi Jack, Well, I tried, Best, Jess.” which says so much about his character.  On eBay two months ago, a late photograph of Jess which he signed, again graciously, to the photographer.  And perhaps ten days ago, this disc crossed my path, and although it is not a Stacy solo, it’s priceless evidence of what he did so well and for so long.

But — for the delicate — these sides have not been well-cared for in their eighty-year life, and I think that aluminum acetates are less gentle to the ear than shellac.  So if you quail at surface noise, there is a substantial amount.

Pictorial evidence:

And the other side:

An explanation, or several.

Bob Crosby was Bing’s brother, handsome and presentable, who had a career because of his last name and a passable although quavery singing voice.  His band — featuring Ray Bauduc, Bob Haggart, Eddie Miller, Irving Fazola, Matty Matlock, Billy Butterfield, and many others — made its fame with a New Orleans-inspired rocking approach and a small band, the Bobcats.  Crosby usually had first-rate pianists, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, and, joining the band after five years with Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy.  Goodman had had great success with a radio program sponsored by Camel cigarettes, the “Camel Caravan,” but in 1939, Crosby took over the program.

One of the featured performers with Goodman was songwriter-singer Johnny Mercer, whose feature was “Newsy Bluesy” or I’ve seen it as “Newsy Bluesies.” Mercer had done something like it when he was with Paul Whiteman: a variation on the vaudeville device of straight man and comedian, with Mercer playing the latter with great skill and singing in his inimitable way (which I love) — the weekly theme drawn from odd stories in the newspapers.  The result is a hilarious scripted playlet, set over a quick-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE.  Mercer shines, especially with a very stiff Crosby as his foil.

But the real treasure here is the rollicking piano of Jess Stacy, lighting the skies alongside Bob Haggart, string bass, Nappy Lamare, guitar, and Ray Bauduc, drums.  You might have to pay close attention or even listen twice, but Jess, bubbling and swinging, is completely there.

November 28, 1939.

December 5, 1939:

Small mysteries remain.  Why did Mercer have a New York City recording studio preserve these sides for him?  (He was, one biography says, commuting between New York and Hollywood.)  How did they survive (although the labels have had a rough time of it)? And how did they wind up where a mere collector-mortal could purchase and share them in time for Mr. Stacy’s birthday?

Whatever ethereal forces are at work, you have my gratitude — as do Jess, Johnny, the Crosby band, ACE Recording, and WABC.

And happy birthday, Mr. Stacy.  You not only tried: you are irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?

MelissaCDCoverWeb

When you encounter beauty, when you experience art, you know it. When my San Francisco jazz friend Barb Hauser visited New York for Christmas of 2004-5, she brought me the disc you see above.  She had been at some of the recording sessions and thought I would like the music.  Barb was only slightly incorrect in this: I loved the music.  I was then writing reviews for The Mississippi Rag and I believe I asked Leslie Johnson if I could review this.

Hearing Melissa Collard sing was a seriously life-enhancing experience. Melissa has an easy rock to her rhythm, where nothing is forced.  She doesn’t copy the records; her singing isn’t a series of learned gestures strung together, plastic beads on a string.  She doesn’t imitate anyone; her warm voice embraces the song and the listener.  She makes it sound easy, and we know that can’t be true.

Here’s a sample:

Hear what I mean?  Clear diction, an easy glide, and her second chorus is not a clone of her first: she respects the song but she improvises . . . offering light and shade while swinging.  The instrumentalists on this disc don’t do anyone any harm, either: Dan Barrett, Ray Skjelbred, Steven Strauss, Eddie Erickson, Richard Hadlock, Fiddle Ray Landsberg, Bobby Black, Bob Wilson, Bob Mielke, Bill Bardin (a collective personnel).

Let’s have another right away (with Eddie on banjo and the trombone choir of Barrett, Bardin, and Mielke, with a cornet-banjo duet in the middle for Dan and Eddie):

And one more (why not?) — with banter for Eddie and Melissa:

Now, the good news.  These three tracks are taken from Melissa’s debut CD, which contains eleven more delights.  The bad news is that the CD is seriously out of print — you’ll have to hunt for it — but it is one of the great delights of my listening experience.

A few years ago I came to Sacramento, where Melissa lives, and found her to be a truly endearing person — always reassuring when the art and the creator line up in the same pleasing ways.  She did not ask me to write this post, but I thought that everyone should hear one of my favorite singers.

And in 2010, Melissa created another CD — this one’s available — for the Audiophile label, called IN A MELLOW TONE.  Her accompanists there were Chris Dawson, Hal Smith, Richard Simon, and Bryan Shaw.

Here’s her gorgeously poignant reading of LOVE LOCKED OUT with Chris Dawson:

Here is Melissa’s Facebook page for those so inclined.  (I am.)

Now, I think — in my ideal world — I could walk over to my shelf of Melissa Collard CDs (issued and distributed by a major record label), I could turn on her weekly radio program, come to her concerts . . . and then I take a long drink of ice water and remind myself of the actual time and place I live in.  That we have two CDs by Melissa is marvelous, and that she is alive and well (and teaching guitar) equally so.  But I don’t think it’s unbalanced of me to think, WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?

May your happiness increase!

MELISSA COLLARD RETURNS: File Under “WHAT GOOD NEWS!”

Here she is — singer and guitarist Melissa Collard, toting that beautiful Gibson L5, ready to share her lovely music with us. 

How?  Is she ready to sing to us over that most archaic object, the pay  phone?  I wish.  No, this post is to announce and celebrate something more tangible. 

 Melissa’s second CD — something I and other admirers from here to Tokyo have been waiting for . . . is out!  It’s on the Audiophile label, titled IN A MELLOW TONE (how apt) and on it Melissa is surrounded by musical friends: Hal Smith, drums; Chris Dawson, piano; Richard Simon, bass; Bryan Shaw, trumpet / fluegelhorn. 

On it, she sings and plays OUT OF NOWHERE, HOW AM I TO KNOW?. I’M CONFESSIN’, I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, IN A MELLOW TONE, JITTERBUG WALTZ, LOVE YOU MADLY, LULLABY OF THE LEAVES, INDIAN SUMMER,   AS LONG AS I LIVE, WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN, IF I HAD YOU, YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY (irresistibly swinging), AZURE, SAVE YOUR SORROW, LOVE LOCKED OUT (heartbreaking), O BARQUINHO.

If you’ve read all you need to read, you have my permission to skip to http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=ACD-327 and do what seems both right and gratifying!

If Melissa’s name is new to you, it was to me some five years ago — until my new friend Barb Hauser, the royal guide to San Francisco jazz, arrived with a copy of a compact disc called OLD-FASHIONED LOVE.  An attractive woman I’d never heard of was on the cover, and the band she’d assembled included some world-class talents: Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, and Ray Skjelbred among them.  I was entranced by Melissa’s warmth, understanding, and swing . . . and became one of the many people who not only played that disc over and over but wrote about it wherever I could and wanted her (listeners are greedy, aren’t they?) to make another one, and another.

Here’s what I wrote about the new disc.  

Great art balances paradoxes: precision and abandon, delicacy and intensity, casualness and technique. Melissa Collard’s singing exemplifies all this while sounding as artless as conversation. Melissa serves the song, displaying its contours in a restrained yet moving way, her approach changing from song to song. She loves the melody and never smudges the lyrics, but she is not imprisoned by the written music. Her improvisations are subtle yet lasting; she delicately underlines a note, pauses for a breath where we don’t expect it, bends a line up or down. Her pleasure in singing becomes ours. Hear her sing “Drifting, dreaming” on AZURE or “Honest I do,” on I’M CONFESSIN’. Because she never tries to impress listeners with her sincerity, it comes through in every bar. Her swinging momentum is a gift at any tempo, and it comes through in her guitar playing, whether she is adding fluidity to the rhythm section (I thought of Steve Jordan’s work on the Vanguard sessions) or spinning memorable lines.

She’s surrounded herself with world-class players. Richard Simon has lifted many sessions with his egoless but powerful ensemble playing, his eloquent, unfussy solos. Four bars from Chris Dawson are a master class in piano; his melodies are lovely compositions, his accompaniment a singer’s dream. Hal Smith understands everything about swinging the band: hear his wire brush and hi-hat cymbals. And Bryan Shaw’s trumpet and fluegelhorn work, glowing or dark, adds so much. These players embody the great jazz tradition while singing their own songs. On several tracks, Chris and Bryan trade phrases in charming dialogues. Jake Hanna said, “Start swinging from the beginning!” and they do just that: listen closely to YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY and I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE.

But I keep coming back to Melissa. By refusing to demand our attention through vocal pyrotechnics or drama, she focuses our attention on the quiet riches of her voice, her clear diction and pure intonation, her emotional understanding. Gently she compels us to hear – as if for the first time – what the lyricist and composer aimed for, sometimes, what they would have written had they known. She illuminates her songs, giving each performance its own logic, its own shape. Melissa imbues everything with tenderness, whether the mood is pensive (HOW AM I TO KNOW suggests players in a deserted bar at 3 AM) or exuberant (SAVE YOUR SORROW). There’s no posturing here, no self-dramatization, only warmth. Her feeling for the lyrics transforms even the well-worn IF I HAD YOU into something yearning and genuine. Yet her emotional range is complex: I hear ruefulness underneath the optimism, melancholy coloring cheerfulness. And the masterful LOVE LOCKED OUT (which Melissa calls her “protest song for our current world situation”) has a mournful sweep. Her reading of “A world without love” resonates. Yet she is not despairing but hopeful, and the intimacy she and Chris create is memorably reminiscent of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins. Melissa has a soft spot for Ellington material, and she says, “I’ve been known to list my religion as Ellingtonist.” I predict many dramatic conversions when this session is issued.

The lyrics to MELLOW TONE urge us to “make a pretty noise.” Melissa does this and so much more, sharing her great gifts with us whenever she sings.