Tag Archives: Omer Simeon

“I THOUGHT I HEARD”: November 1945

No blues lyrics that I know begin with “The mail carrier came today, and (s)he brought me good news,” but it happens to be the case.  Evidence herewith:

Once again, prowling eBay about ten days ago, I saw ten issues of Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD — a short-lived and wonderful magazine on sale — and I took money out of the  grandchildren’s retirement fund and splurged.  The issues were the prized possession of someone whose name I can’t quite read, and their original owner not only read them avidly, but had a cigarette in his hand . . . typical of the times.

I will in future offer selections — a concert review, or a letter to the editor complaining about varying prices for King Oliver Gennetts — but this is what caught my eye immediately, and the neighbors called to complain that my whimpering was upsetting the dogs in this apartment building.  You will understand why.

On the inside front cover, there is a print column titled I Thought I Heard . . . Buddy Bolden wasn’t audible in 1945, but his heirs and friends were certainly active in New York City.

Stuyvesant Casino, 2nd Ave. at 9th St. — Bunk Johnson’s New Orleans Band

Nick’s, 7th Ave. and 10th St. — Miff Mole and orchestra with [Bujie] Centobie, [Muggsy] Spanier, [Gene] Schroeder, George Hartman, bass, Joe Grauso.

Down Beat, 52nd St. — Art Tatum.

Onyx, 52nd St. — Roy Eldridge.

Three Deuces, 52nd St. — Slam Stewart, Erroll Garner, Hal West. 

Ryan’s, 52nd St. — Sol Yaged, clarinet; Danny Alvin, drums; Hank Duncan, piano.

Cafe Society Downtown, Sheridan Sq. — Benny Morton band, Cliff Jackson, piano.

Cafe Society Uptown, 58th St. — Ed Hall and band.

Spotlight, 52nd St. — Ben Webster.

Yes, Sol Yaged is still with us — the only survivor of those glorious days.

To keep the mellow mood going, here is twenty-nine minutes of Art Hodes and friends from those years.  Spot the typo, win a prize:

May your happiness increase!

“HOPES, UNREALIZED”: WORDS AND MUSIC BY BOYCE BROWN

Thanks again to Scott Black, finder (and rescuer) of lost treasures.  I’d known that the remarkable Chicago alto saxophonist and deep thinker Boyce Brown wrote poetry, but the only example I’d ever read was his paean to the joys of marijuana — Royal-T — that was reproduced in EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ.

But here is a true poem — to be considered slowly and perhaps sadly:

boyce-brown-improvisations

Here are several samples of Boyce’s work — easy to underestimate, to take for granted.  But even at fast tempos, there is some of the same haunting melancholy in it.  This session is from January 1935 (organized by Helen Oakley, later Helen Oakley Dance) and features Paul Mares, Santo Pecora, Omer Simeon, Jess Stacy, Marvin Saxbe, Pat Pattison, George Wettling.

THE LAND OF DREAMS (an improvisation on BASIN STREET BLUES, in its own way):

and, from the same session, NAGASAKI:

MAPLE LEAF RAG:

and a slow blues, titled by Boyce, REINCARNATION:

And here is Boyce with Jimmy McPartland, Bud Jacobson, Floyd Bean, Dick McPartland, Jim Lannigan, Hank Isaacs, for CHINA BOY, recorded a few months after the poem:

Euterpe, first the Muse of music and then of lyric poetry, might have been particularly significant to Boyce since in all the representations I have seen she is blowing into a flute or other wind instrument.  Did she destroy this devotee?  I do not think so, but Boyce — eternally dissatisfied with his own work, at least as realized on records, might have disagreed.

Jim Denham, Hal Smith, and I have been fascinated by Boyce for years, and I’ve written several long essay-posts about him.  The links may be defunct, but the facts remain relevant.  You can find out more about Boyce here and here and in Hal Willard’s 1999 portrait here. I find his story engrossing and terribly sad — from his precarious entry into the world to his search for people who would understand him — both in the musical and religious worlds — and what I think of as his gentle despair at his not being welcomed for himself. The “harsh, commercial” world might not have ruined him, but the poetic spirit that was Boyce Brown was ill-fit for its haste and clamor.

May your happiness increase!

VISIONS OF NEW ORLEANS, MADE REAL (Part One): KRIS TOKARSKI, TIM LAUGHLIN, and HAL SMITH at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 31, 2016)

At the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival, I didn’t see the double rainbows that were so magnificent at the 2014 celebration — but they were musically evident whenever the Kris Tokarski Trio took the stage.

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

The extent of my devotion to this group was evident to anyone who saw me following them around, a happy man, breathing hard because of the altitude and the excitement in equal measure, with video camera and tripod.  They played eight sets; I caught seven.

The Trio is Kris Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Hal Smith, drums. It’s a trio that balances deep seriousness and lighter-than-air play.  Its music is tangible but translucent: you hear the whole but admire the individual voices twining together.  Think of Casals, Thibaud, Cortot.  Simeon, James P., and Pops Foster.  Benny, Teddy, and Dave Tough.  Singing lyricism, floating swing.

And they did the thing I prize most, which is to honor the tradition by being themselves.  Heaven knows each of these players knows the clearly-delineated tradition — on records, in performance with other musicians, studying the Masters in person — but they know (to quote Emerson) that imitation is suicide and (to quote Lester) you must go for yourself.

I was telling a friend about a favorite Roddy Doyle novel, THE VAN, about two Irish friends who open a mobile fish-and-chips business, and their proud slogan is “Today’s chips today,” which is what I think of when I hear these performances: nothing warmed up under heat lamps, nothing stale.  Music that’s truly alive in now.

Here is the first half of this Trios’s closing set of the Festival (I am working backwards), recorded in a church with wonderful acoustics.  Kris chose to make this set a New Orleanian one, with gracious hot results.

JAZZ ME BLUES (for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, then Bix, then the Bobcats and Condon and and and:

SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (no doubt a Morton tune, and I come from the school that places a comma in the middle; it makes better dramatic sense):

THAT DA DA STRAIN, from Mamie Smith onwards to us in 2016:

BOGALUSA STRUT, a nod to the Sam Morgan ensemble:

What wonderful music.  You can bet there will be more.

May your happiness increase!

HOT CLASSICISM: The TOKARSKI-SCHUMM-SMITH CHAMBER TRIO IN CONCERT, JANUARY 13, 2016

Kris Tokarski Trio

Here is video evidence of an extraordinary trio concert of the Kris Tokarski Trio — Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet / clarinet; Hal Smith, drums — performed at the Old US Mint, New Orleans, on January 13, 2016.  The stuff that dreams are made on:

Albert Wynn’s PARKWAY STOMP:

Tiny Parham’s CONGO LOVE SONG:

Doc Cooke’s HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Mister Morton’s ode to Joe Oliver, MISTER JOE:

FROG-I-MORE RAG (or FROGGIE MOORE, if you prefer):

In honor of Danny Altier, MY GAL SAL:

ANGRY:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Please note: these lovely performances, simultaneously delicate and intense, aren’t copies of the recordings, but evocations of cherished multi-layered creations.  Yes, you’ll hear echoes of Beiderbecke, Keppard, Dominique, Oliver, Noone, Simeon, Livingston, Hines, Morton, James P. Johnson, Alex Hill, Catlett, Benford, Singleton, Stafford, Pollack, Krupa, Dodds . . . but what you are really hearing is the Kris Tokarski Trio, graciously embracing present and past, leading us into the future of hot music.  And in its balance, the trio reminds me of the legendary chamber groups that embody precision and passion in balance, although Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorak created no trios for piano, cornet, and trap kit.  Alas.  They didn’t know what was possible.

I’m thrilled that these videos exist, and although I am fiendishly proud of my own efforts, these are much better than what I could have done.  Now, all I want is the Kris Tokarski World Tour, with a long stopover in New York.

Here is Kris’s Facebook page, and here is  his YouTube channel.  Want more? Make sure your favorite festival producer, clubowner, concert promoter, or friends with a good piano and a budget experiences these videos.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANT VERSATILITY: KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: THE GLASGOW SUITE / CLARINET GUMBO

Here’s what I wrote about Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra when I first heard their three CDs (one devoted to Louis, one to Jelly, one to a jazz panorama) in 2010.  Five years later, it’s just as true.

It’s possible that you haven’t heard of Ken Mathieson, the leader-percussionist-arranger of the Classic Jazz Orchestra, but this post is designed to remedy this omission right away. For Ken Mathieson is a truly ingenious man who has made the CJO an equally flexible, innovative orchestra.

The CJO has been working since 2004, and Ken is a veteran leader, arrangger, and drummer with impeccable credits.  For fifteen years, he was the resident drummer at the famous Black Bull Club near Glasgow — where he supported and learned from Bud Freeman, King Benny Carter, Wild Bill Davison, Sonny Stitt, Art Farmer, Bobby Hackett, Al Cohn, Johnny Griffin, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Teddy Wilson, Tal Farlow, and more.

And he’s offered his own solution to one of the problems of classic jazz performance.  Suppose the leader of a “classic” jazz ensemble wants to pay tribute to Ellington, Morton, Carter, or Armstrong.  Commendable enough.  One way is to transcribe every note and aural flutter on the great records.  Then, the imaginary leader can gather the musicians, rehearse them for long hours until they sound just like a twenty-first century rendition of this or that hallowed disc.

Admirable, but somewhat limited.  Emerson said that imitation is suicide, and although I would love to have my own private ensemble on call to reproduce the Morton Victors, what would be the point?  (In concert, hearing a band pretend to be the Red Hot Peppers can be thrilling in the same way watching acrobats — but on record, it seems less compelling.)

Getting free of this “repertory” experience, although liberating, has its disadvantages for some who take their new freedom too energetically.  Is POTATO HEAD BLUES still true to its essential self if played in 5/4. as a waltz, as a dirge, by a flute quintet?  Is it possible to lose the thread?

Faced with these binary extremes — wanting to praise the past while remembering that the innovations we so prize were, in fact, innovations, Mathieson has steered an imaginative middle course.  On two new CDs, he has managed to heed Ezra Pound’s MAKE IT NEW while keeping the original essences. Ken and the CJO have an open-ended and open-minded approach to jazz history and performance.  The original compositions stay recognizable but the stylistic approach to each one is modified.  Listening to the CJO, I heard not only powerful swinging reflections of the original recordings and period idioms, but also a flexibility that suggested that Mingus, Morton, Oliver Nelson, and Benny Carter were on an equal footing, respectfully swapping ideas.

The CJO has an unusual instrumentation which allows it to simulate a Swing Era big band or a hot trio: Billy Hunter plays trumpet; Phil O’Malley, trombone; Dick Lee, soprano and alto sax, clarinet; Konrad Wiszniewski, tenor; Martin Foster, tenor, baritone, and bass sax, clarinet and bass clarinet; Tom Finlay or Paul Harrison, piano; Roy Percy, bass; Ken, drums and arrangements.

Ken and his players seem to have made a silent pact with the music to treat it as if it were new: the solos exist in a broadly-defined area of modern Mainstream: thus, you are much more likely to think of Roy Williams or Scott Robinson than of Clarence Williams or Prince Robinson. I’ll leave the surprises on these three CDs to the buyers and listeners.  But in almost every case I found myself hearing the music with a delighted grim, thinking, “Wow!  That’s what they’re doing with that old chestnut?”

Now.  Here we are in 2015, with more good music on two new CDs.

The new CDs are KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: CLARINET GUMBO /WITH EVAN CHRISTOPHER (Lake LACD 133) and ALAN BARNES with KEN MATHIESON’S CLASSIC JAZZ ORCHESTRA: THE GLASGOW SUITE: THE MUSIC OF BENNY CARTER (Woodville WVCD 133).

CLARINET GUMBO, as you can guess, draws fervently and superbly on the New Orleans clarinet tradition, with delightful reed work from Evan, Dick, Konrad, and Martin — as well as several Jelly Roll Morton rarities which were part of the library of his abortive late big band, GANJAM, STOP AND GO, and JAZZ JUBILEE. evocations of Bechet, Bigard, Noone, Fazola, Simeon, and others — all voiced imaginatively and without cliche.  You can gather something about Ken and the CJO’s consistent ingenuity by noting this: the disc has five Morton pieces, including the venerable BLACK BOTTOM STOMP and the less well-known SUPERIOR RAG, but Ken has also reimagined Mingus’ JELLY ROLL as a musical scuffle between Messrs. Ferdinand and Chazz, each earnestly proposing that his way is the only right way.  Throughout the disc, even when the melodies are familiar (DARDANELLA, for instance, a tribute to Ed Hall) the scoring is fresh and lively without ever going against the essential nature of the song or its associations.  Beautifully recorded and nicely annotated, too.

Here’s FAZOLA from the clarinet CD: 

and the lovely, moody PELICAN DRAG: 

Tributes to Benny Carter are not as frequent as they might be, perhaps because his music is orchestral as well as featuring a saxophone soloist; it’s not easy to play well, and Carter himself created glowing examinations of his music while he was alive — which was only right, since his “old” charts still sounded wonderful. (I think of hearing his Swing Masters onstage at the first Newport in New York, in 1972.)

For this wonderfully varied tribute to Carter, the great Alan Barnes plays alto and clarinet — but as in the case of CLARINET GUMBO, he is one of many delights.  Those familiar with Carter’s recorded history will know A WALKIN’ THING, SYMPHONY IN RIFFS, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, MALIBU, DOOZY, and a few others, but it is Carter’s five-part GLASGOW SUITE, composed in 1987, that is the delight of this CD.  Mathieson had the opportunity to work with Carter, and the two became friends as well as colleagues, something that shines through this recording.  It is not at all the endeavor of musicians hired for the moment to play scores they don’t love deeply.  Again, beautiful sound and warmly personal notes.

From the Carter tribute, here’s the perfectly sprightly DOOZY: 

and EASY MONEY .

(As an aside, I have grave reservations about YouTube’s practice of offering CDs in this fashion — no doubt without asking permission of the artists or offering them a thousandth of a cent royalty per view.  But I also feel that people need to hear the music before deciding to buy the CD . . . so I hope that these glimpses propel some readers to purchase rather than to “get it for free,” which has unpleasant effects on artists everywhere.)

Details of the CJO’s history and current performing schedule can be found here, and he Lake Records site is here.

These two discs, as is the case with all the CJO’s efforts, show a bright path into the future that carries the past along with it in the most tender way — while understanding that the innovations of the past need to be treated in living ways.

May your happiness increase!

DAAMS-SMITH, INCORPORATED (WHITLEY BAY JAZZ PARTY 2014)

My title summons up memories of the October 1936 record date for Lester Young, Carl Smith, Count Basie, Walter Page, Jo Jones, and Jimmy Rushing — but the little band that appeared at the November 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party evoked music from an earlier generation: trumpeter Jabbo Smith’s Aces of Rhythm, a ferociously hot small band that was promoted by a rival record label as a virtuosic competitor for Louis Armstrong.

Trumpeter / scholar Peter Ecklund wrote of Jabbo, “[He] picked up on a style that Louis Armstrong was playing a couple of years back in the 20s — the hot stomp, two-beat style . . . Jabbo was playing brilliantly, but carelessly.  Very exciting — frequently right on the edge of being out of control.”

Menno Daams, the twenty-first century evocation of Jabbo seen here, isn’t “on the edge” in any way; he handles the acrobatic (even exhibitionistic) rapid-fire turns of phrase masterfully.  He is matched by Jean-Francois Bonnel (taking the Omer Simeon part) on clarinet and alto, Keith Nichols on piano and vocal; Martin Wheatley on banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass.

BAND BOX STOMP:

GOT BUTTER ON IT (vocal Keith):

LINA BLUES (vocal Keith):

LITTLE WILLIE BLUES (I know that the US character “Little Willie” and the UK description “Little willy” are two different things.  Do you?):

SAU SHA STOMP:

Isn’t this brave hot music?  Congratulations to the 2014 Aces of Rhythm, led so nobly by Menno Daams.

May your happiness increase!

IN WORDS, IN SOUND: FRANK CHACE (2003, 1957)

The Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace remains one of my heroes. In all things, he was an obstinate individualist.  I knew him first as a musician, then (in the last years of his life) as a correspondent, rarely by telephone and only slightly more frequently by mail.  Here is a Chace letter that recently turned up — unexpectedly.  The contents are not significant in themselves, but the letter is significant to me: I look at it and think, “At one time in my life, it was possible to get a letter from Frank Chace,” which still amazes me: CHACE LETTER

Lucid, sardonic, perceptive. He was the only correspondent I ever had or might ever have who could move easily from Noam Chomsky to Kansas Fields and Don Frye, Bobby Hackett and Dave McKenna, with hints of Bob and Ray at the end.  (The music references are to a private tape with some otherwise undocumented Eddie Condon-and-friends music from 1942 and 1944 that I had sent him.)

You can’t hear a letter, so here’s some audible Chace — a rarity, something I heard years ago on a cassette from the sweetly generous Bob Hilbert: four selections recorded in 1957 by a band led by cornetist Doc Evans. The concert, billed as a history of jazz, was issued in three 12″ lps on the Soma label, but Chace popped in for the “Chicagoan” portion, playing both clarinet and bass sax, the latter for one of only two times on record.

CHACE DOC EVANS

Because I have a fascination with ornate prose, I offer some paragraphs from this record’s liner notes (omitting the writer’s name) for your consideration:

There is almost as much of the white American Midwest as there is of the Negro South in classic jazz, which is only natural: like the chestnut tree of the poet Yeats, the “great rooted blossomer” of the Mississippi River and its tributaries (pushing across the New York-Hollywood “course of empire” of the entertainment industry) has been the nesting-place of jazz. Its songbirds have been of all colors, but the music they have made has been one integrated chorus . . . . Bix and Tesch could no more rid themselves completely of their common German ancestry than the Negro could completely rid himself of Africa; and thus a 19th-century European concept of melody and harmony, of “art” music, of the virtuoso instrumentalist, enters jazz with Bix and Tesch — enters, to be assimilated (if in such a short time as they accomplished that assimilation for themselves) by an act of will and talent, of sensibilities strained to the breaking point. . . . . But not all broke; followers of Bix and Tesch carry on . . . in our time the direct legitimate heir of Tesch, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, for whom time has stood still and who has made it stand still for others. One man, one horn, one ghost epitomize Chicago style: eccentric, wailing, uninhibited. It is like Chicago, where the men of Storyville came to plant their music amid the aspirations of another race.

To the music, played by Evans, cornet; Chace, clarinet / bass sax; Hal Runyon, trombone; Dick Pendleton, clarinet (when Chace is on bass sax in JAZZ BAND BALL) alto / tenor sax; Frank Gillis, piano; Bill Peer, banjo; George Tupper, string bass; Warren Thewis, drums — SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SUGAR / I FOUND A NEW BABY:

The first two performances follow the original 1927 OKehs fairly closely, with Chace on clarinet on SINGIN’ and on bass sax — doing a creditable Rollini on JAZZ BAND, thirty years after the fact. Readers who like such things can consider whether these concert performances are effective copies. For me, the real pleasure comes in Chace’s solo chorus on SUGAR, his solo and ensemble work on the latter two tunes — a free-thinking Chicagoan approach. Superficially, he resembles Pee Wee Russell, but a more attentive hearing will turn up Simeon, Teschemacher, Noone, Dodds, and other evocations, all blended strongly into a unique entity known as Frank Chace. . . . someone who went his own way even when the constraints of the situation seemed claustrophobic.

I remember now that my telephone conversations with Frank were often bleak: he was convinced that everyone was corrupt, that there was no reason for him to play or record again. At this date, I can’t know if he was realistic or deeply depressed or both; he defeated my sustaining optimism with ease. But I miss him.

May your happiness increase!