Tag Archives: Ozzie Nelson

8:45 PM, MORE OR LESS

What time is it?

8 45

One recipe for happiness (there are many) follows below.  Take a wonderful song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin — I know it first from the Jolson Decca — ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE.  Then, take one of my favorite singers, Banu Gibson, and match her with the swinging David Boeddinghaus at the piano in a 1990 duo-session:

Please listen closely — from the clock-chimes at the start to the delicious mixture of Banu’s warm but controlled voice (her lovely intonation and pitch and swing) and David’s rollicking piano.  The only thing wrong with this recording is that it is the length of a 78.  So I have to play it several times in a row.

ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE

I know there are many other recorded versions of this song — not only Jolson, but Dean Martin, Mavis Rivers, Susannah McCorkle, Bobby Darin, Chick Bullock, Wingy Manone, Ozzie Nelson, Combo De Luxe, Spats Langham / Keith Nichols, Sarah Spencer, John Sheridan, and others.

But the one that wins the prize for Decline of the West, 1962-style, is this classic by one Debby Woods, who flattens out the melody, rides right over the chord changes, and in general (although she may have been an adorable person) does unintended violence to what I think is a great song:

and the flip side of this 45 — what archaic terms those are now! — is a Woodsian rendering of this Thirties classic, JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, which I refuse to post here — even though it is more faithful to the original — out of respect to Bing and Hawk.

But now you know.  When someone wants to argue with you over the thorny question, “WHEN does life begin?” you can answer “At eight forty-five,” smile and slip away unnoticed.

May your happiness increase!

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HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

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?

May your happiness increase! 

MILDRED, TWICE

MILDRED autograph 2It seems an authentic signature because of the ornate little flourishes.  But the next one, from a book signed by various luminaries (Harry Richman, J. Fred Coots, and Huey Long among them) in 1933 — celebrating the start of Ozzie Nelson’s band — has its own sly message about the Rockin’ Chair:

MILDRED autograph

Words to live by.

May your happiness increase!

“TOM-TOM, THE ELEVATOR BOY”

I admit that it is hardly a promising title. 

But I just stumbled upon this clip — the only video I know of Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, and two other musicians who form the Spirits of Rhythm.  And Leo Watson scats!  The bad news is that the YouTube clip is moderately out of synch, so it takes an optimistic effort to get beyond the lapse between what Watson mouths and what we hear — or it could simply be that he is miming to a prerecorded track. 

The performance — a sublimely forgettable novelty number — comes from a forgotten 1941 Columbia Pictures college musical, SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS, starring Ruby Keeler in her final major screen appearance, alongside Harriet Hilliard and Ozzie Nelson.  The film was directed by Edward Dmytryk, whose reputation surely doesn’t rest on this.

But I thought I would never see film or television footage of Leo Watson.  Now if some film archivist will uncover more of James P. Johnson (besides THE EMPEROR JONES and ST. LOUIS BLUES, where he is heard but not seen) and some Lee Wiley and Mildred Bailey, I’ll be content.

And for the scholar-readers out there: the other tipple player seems to be genuinely playing, but I wonder about that bassist.  He doesn’t look like Wellman Braud to me!

ABE LINCOLN, SWASHBUCKLER

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.  Abe%20Lincoln%20Masthead%20Image

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:

http://www.abelincolntrombone.com/index.htm

It doesn’t make Abram Lincoln (not “Abraham,” by the way) a great deal more famous, but I applaud the site and bless the person who created it.  Check it out and enjoy Mister Lincoln.