Less than a week ago, I published a post here, marveling at the riches made available in an eBay auction by “jgautographs” which have been all bought up now, including this glorious relic.
I don’t know how much Lester’s signature fetched at the end of the bidding, but Mr. Page’s (with the telltale apostrophe, another mark of authenticity) sold for $147.50, which says there is an enlightened and eager audience out there. That auction offered more than 200 items, and I would have thought the coffers were empty.
Now, the gracious folks as “jgautographs” have offered another seventy items for bid. I can say “gracious with certainty,” because I’ve had a conversation with the head benefactor.
Thisis the eBay link, for those who want to get in line early. The new listing has only one item held over from the past sale, and it is full of riches (including blues luminaries). I’ll mention only a portion: Ellington, Brubeck, Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Sippie Wallace, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Jay McShann, Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Woods, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Benny Carter, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Charlie Ventura, Teddy Wilson, Eubie Blake, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Erroll Garner, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins — you can explore these delights for yourself, and if you have disposable income and wall space, some treasure might be yours. Those whose aesthetic scope is larger than mine will also see signatures of Chick Corea, Archie Shepp, and Keith Jarrett among others . . .
For now, I will offer only five Ellingtonians. And as David Weiner pointed out to me years ago, a sloppy signature is more likely to be authentic, since musicians don’t have desks to sit at after gigs.
Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.
Swing is hard to define, but it’s the difference between ripe cherries and a cherry candy “with natural flavors” synthesized in a laboratory. I’m happy to report that the CD that pairs tenor saxophonist Enric Peidro and trombone legend Dan Barrett is satisfying swinging jazz throughout. In fact, it reaches new heights in the most refined yet impassioned ways.
Let’s start at the back of the bandstand, or the bottom of the band (no offense intended), the fine rhythm section. I didn’t know pianist Richard Busiakewicz, bassist Lluis Llario, or drummer Carlos “Sir Charles” Gonzalez before this recording, but I love them. Their swing is unforced and easy; they know how, what, when, why, and when not to . . .
But before I write more, here’s a sonic sample, celebrating both Vic Dickenson (the composer) and his horticultural endeavors:
The question of what is “authentic” is treacherous, because we defend our subjectivities with a lover’s defensive ardor, but that performance feels both expressive and controlled in the best ways. Forget for a moment the warm twenty-first century recording technology. If I heard that track, coming after a 1945 Don Byas-Buck Clayton Jamboree 78 and a Mel Powell Vanguard session, I would not think VIC’S SPOT an impostor. Swing is more than being able to play the notes or wear the hat; it’s a world-view, and this quintet has it completely.
Barrett remains a master — not only of the horn, but of what I’d call “orchestral thinking,” where he’s always inventing little touches (on the page or on the stand) to make any performance sound fuller, have greater rhythmic emphasis and harmonic depth. I’ve seen him do this on the spot for years, and his gentle urgency makes this quintet even more a convincing working band than it would have been if anyone took his place. And as a trombonist, he really has no peer: others go in different directions and woo us, but he is immediately and happily himself, totally recognizable, with a whole tradition at his fingertips as well as a deep originality.
But Dan would be the first one to say that he is not the whole show: this CD offers us a swinging little band. We’ve all heard recordings, some of them dire, where the visiting “star” is supported by the “locals,” who are not up to the star’s level: many recorded performances by Ben Webster immediately come to mind.
AND THE ANGELS SWING is the glorious countertruth to such unbalanced affairs, because Enric Peidro, who was new to me before I heard this CD, is a masterful player. He’s no one’s clone — I couldn’t predict what his next phrase would be or where his line of thought would go — and although he is not cautious, he never puts a foot wrong. You can hear his gliding presence on the track above, and for me he summons up two great and under-praised players, primarily Harold Ashby, but also a cosmopolitan Paul Gonsalves with no rough edges. He is a fine intuitive ensemble player, with an easy sophistication that charms the ear. I think of the way Ruby Braff appeared in the early Fifties: someone not afraid to play the melody, to improvise in heartfelt ways, to eschew the harder aspects of “modernism” without being affected in any reactionary ways.
Add to this a set of delightful song choices, with a great deal of variety but not so much that the ear is startled when track 4 becomes track 5, and you have a delightful session. The tunes are: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME into KANSAS CITY STRIDE / ‘DEED I DO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / AND THE ANGELS SWING / SERENADE TO SWEDEN / IF I DIDN’T CARE / MY BLUE HEAVEN / VIC’S SPOT / SULTRY SERENADE — you’ll hear echoes of 1939 Basie and Ellington, but there’s no attempt to “reproduce” — just to play with ease, warmth, and wisdom.
If you need any more verification, know that Scott Hamilton approves of Enric!
You can learn more about Enric and his love of swing here — where I just learned that he and Dan have a new CD coming out this October, called IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING . . . what fun!
And here’s another taste from AND THE ANGELS SWING:
Let us — metaphorically at least — carry this band around the room on our shoulders. Or we can strew flowers at their feet, whichever is easier.
Since jazz fans seem — note I say seem — to be overwhelmingly male, it’s lovely to find this collection of jazz autographs collected by the young jazz fan Audrey Arbuckle, between 1954-56 in Chicago. My guess is that “Buckles,” born July 19, 1931, is no longer collecting autographs and may no longer be with us, but I can’t prove it.
Here’s the seller’s description:
Here is a unique and amazing collection of famous jazz musician autographs on matchbooks, tickets and table cards put together during 1954-1956 by a young college student nicknamed “Buckles” who went to jazz clubs like the original Blue Note in Chicago and the Basin Street East.
Eventually Buckles had the autographs she collected laminated between a clear plastic sheet.
On one side, are the autographs of jazz legends Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Chet Baker, Carmen McRae, Sonny Stitt, Paul Quinichette (“Vice-Prez” to Lester’s “Prez”), Roy Eldridge, Jeri Southern and Paul Desmond. There is even the team of Kai Winding and J. J. Johnson whose combined autographs together, on the same page, from the same club date, is very hard to find.
On the other side of the laminated sheet is: Count Basie, the tragic, talented jazz singer Beverly Kenney, Bob Bates, drummer Candido, singer Chris Connor and the great Paul Gonslaves who signed his name on part of a Duke Ellington ticket. Gonsalves famously blew 27 insane bars during his sax solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” that sent the crowd at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival into a frenzy and put Duke Ellington’s band, which had been going through a popularity slump, back in its rightful place. Also a picture of “Buckles” who got the autographs.
The laminated page — which no doubt preserved those sixty-five year old scraps of paper, although oddly — is up for bid at $850 or “best offer,” and here is the link.
And the photographic evidence: some of these signatures (Beverly Kenney!) are incredibly rare — but to think of this young woman who saw and heard so much, it’s astonishing. The front side of the page, which takes some careful viewing:
and the reverse:
and some close-ups, the first, Dave Brubeck:
then, the two trombone team of Jay and Kai:
Paul Gonsalves, who played tenor saxophone:
then, Coleman Hawkins and Illinois Jacquet:
and Chet Baker:
Louis, Velma, Arvell, and Barrett Deems:
and what is the prize of the collection (second place goes to Beverly Kenney’s neat handwriting) a Lester Young autograph. Even though it looks as though it was written on a piece of Scotch tape, such deity-sightings are rare:
and, a little music, lest we forget the point of these exalted scribbles:
Wherever you are now, Buckles, whatever names you took later in life, know that we cherish you and your devotion. Did you graduate college, have a career, get married and have a family? The laminated page says to me that these signatures and experiences were precious. But what happened to you? I wish I knew.
This just in, thanks to Detective Richard Salvucci, formerly of the Philadelphia police force, and one of this blog’s dearest readers: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113718218 — which suggests that Audrey Ellen Arbuckle was born in 1934 and died in 2009, buried in an Erie, Pennsylvania cemetery. I wish she were here to read this, but I am sure her spirit still swings.
Update: I am reposting this because yesterday, April 15, 2020, Lee Konitz moved into spirit at the clock-age of 92, from pneumonia resulting from COVID-19. There are already many tributes, but I thought it wisest to remind people of Dan’s.
More affectionate sharply focused tales from my favorite Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern — recorded at his Upper West Side apartment last summer.
Here’s the first part of Dan’s recollections of Sonny Stitt, which include an ashtray and a bottle of vodka, not at the same time or place:
More about Sonny and the wonderful trumpeter / arranger Willie Cook:
In these interviews, I’ve concentrated primarily on the figures who have moved on to other neighborhoods, but Dan and I both wanted to shine a light on the remarkable Lee Konitz:
More to come, including Dan’s recollections of a trio of wondrous pianists, Martial Solal, Eddie Costa, and Willie “the Lion” Smith. And Dan and I had another very rewarding session three days ago . . . with more to come this spring.
I invite JAZZ LIVES’ readers and viewers to join Dan Morgenstern and myself for an afternoon conversation about Duke Ellington which took place a few months ago in early March 2018. I don’t ordinarily post ninety-five minutes of video in one heaping serving, but Dan’s narrative is so comfortably wide-ranging and expansive that I couldn’t cut it into sections.
Part One, where Dan begins by remembering himself as a young Danish record collector, comments on various Ellingtonians and admirers, and loops around to the 1938 Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing:
Here’s DUSK — for your spiritual edification, from a HMV 78, too:
Part Two is focused on Duke in the recording studio, with quick asides about Willie Cook, Norris Turney, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson, and Mercer Ellington:
Part Three begins with Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer, detours to ripe tomatoes, and returns to Billy Strayhorn, Bob Wilber, and Barney Bigard:
Part Four starts with one of my heroes, Ray Nance, then Cootie Williams, Toney Williams, and offers the famous story about disciplining a wayward Paul Gonsalves:
Part Five again recalls Duke in the recording studio, next to Basie, next to Louis. I wish there were some documentation of Louis sitting in with Duke’s octet!
Finally, Dan’s tale, very amusing, of three bandleaders in one night, which ends with Johnny Hodges on the AT THE BAL MASQUE Columbia lp:
and here is the very pretty ALICE BLUE GOWN:
Blessings and gratitude to the very generous Dan Morgenstern.
The Frank Roberscheuten Hiptett, led by Frank on alto and tenor, did the lovely magic of honoring an ancestor and a tradition without copying the records note-for-note. This magic took place at the Classic Jazz Concert Club in Sassenheim, in the Netherlands, on October 28, 2017, and it appeared — magically! — on YouTube this morning. I couldn’t resist, and I hope you can’t either.
The other creators are Aurelie Tropez, clarinet; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Chris Hopkins, piano (his accompaniments especially subversive and delicious), Mark Elton, string bass; Stan Laferrière, drums. And there’s a surprise vocal trio — always a treat.
The songs they chose are familiar, yet the light of individuality shines through these performances, even when the ghosts of Ellington, Procope, Cootie, Nance, Hodges, Gonsalves, are visiting.
No, JAZZ LIVES is not going away. Nor is there some crisis. Nor am I asking for money. However, I would like my viewers to devote themselves to what follows, which will take perhaps ten minutes.
That man is pianist Junior Mance, born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1928. Before he was twenty, he had begun recording with the stars we revere: Gene Ammons, Howard McGhee, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Clifford Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Israel Crosby, Chubby Jackson, Art Blakey, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, Sam Jones, Nat Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, Carmen McRae, Wilbur Ware, Bob Cranshaw, James Moody, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Crow, Art Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie (he’s on the duet with Louis of UMBRELLA MAN), Leo Wright, Harry Lookofsky, Lockjaw Davis, Johnny Coles, Ray Crawford, Paul Chambers, Bennie Green, George Coleman, Eddie Jefferson, Louis Jordan, Irene Kral, Joe Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Kenny Burrell, Mannie Klein, Shelley Manne, Etta Jones, Benny Carter, Jim Hall, Joe Newman, Milt Hinton, Richard Davis, Frank Wess, Wilbur Little, Jimmy Scott, Marion Williams, Les McCann, Dexter Gordon, George Duvivier, Carrie Smith, Ken Peplowski, Howard Alden, Milt Jackson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Grey, Houston Person, Joe Temperley, Benny Golson, Jay Leonhart, Jackie Williams, Andrew Hadro . . . and I know I’ve left two dozen people out.
Next, in the world of jazz, one would expect a tribute. Or an obituary. Or both.
But not a love story, which is what follows.
A few days ago, I was contacted by Sarit Work, co-producer of SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD, a not-yet-finished documentary about Junior and his wife, Gloria Clayborne Mance. They have created a Kickstarter to help them finish the documentary. The headline is “The love story of jazz legend Junior Mance and Gloria Clayborne Mance. As he loses his identity to dementia she reckons with her own.”
Being a man (although this may not be typical of my gender) I have less ability to cope with illness than women I know. It’s terribly irrational, but I cringe at visiting people in hospitals, visiting the ailing, the dying . . . and so on. There must be a name for this — call it “testosterone terror”? — which makes people like me hide under the couch, if possible. Or in the car. And dementia is especially frightening, because I am closer to being a senior citizen than ever before. But Sarit was very politely persuasive, so I watched the trailer.
And it hit me right in the heart.
Junior has a hard time remembering, and he knows this. But he knows he loves Gloria. And Gloria, for her part, is a lighthouse beacon of steady strong love. It is not a film about forgetting who you are so much as it is a film about the power of devotion.
So I urge you — and “urge” is not a word I use often — to watch the trailer, and if you are moved, to help the project along. It will be a powerful film, and I think that helping this project is very serious good karma. Maybe it will protect us a few percent?
Hereis the link. Yes, the filmmakers need a substantial amount of money. But anything is possible. And, yes, I’ve already contributed. And from this day (or night) the filmmakers have only EIGHT days to raise the sum they need. So please help — in the name of jazz, in the name of love, or both. In my dictionary, the two are synonyms.
The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):
“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.
He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.
He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .
He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.
He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s. Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation. Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.
We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”
Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love. Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES. But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful. I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago. Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones. You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.
Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.
And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:
That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift. But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player. With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.
If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.
If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.
But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies. His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.
I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”
There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.
A delicious new group has made an equally satisfying debut CD. See here!
DUCHESS — an ebullient female trio — is quirky, swinging, silly, and loose but exact. The three “girl singers,” justly known for their own solo work, are Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou — listed here in alphabetical order, no ranking implied — and they are backed by swinging modernists — Michael Cabe, piano; Paul Sikivie, string bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Jeff Lederer, saxophone (1, 5, 6, 9, 11); Jesse Lewis, guitar (1, 2, 7, 8). The surprising and fresh arrangements are by producer Oded Lev-Ari for their debut CD on the Anzic label. You can read more about DUCHESShere.
Many jazz groups have clear antecedents or they follow a pattern (you can provide your own examples here). But I don’t think there’s been any group like DUCHESS for decades. This isn’t to suggest that they are a conscious re-enactment of the past, although they do perform one spiffy homage to the Boswell Sisters on HEEBIE JEEBIES. They are inspired by Connie, Vet, and Martha, but in the most inventive way — their close harmony performances are startlingly alive and full of surprises, tempo changes, and sophisticated play.
Each track is a miniature symphony for voices, shifting their places in the great musical dance, and a lively improvising ensemble. For one instance — there is a famous second bridge to P.S., I LOVE YOU (which I know from Sinatra’s Capitol version): in this new version, each of the singers takes one line in the bridge, something so pleasingly startling that I had to play the track again to be sure I’d heard correctly.
The atmosphere isn’t a re-creation of the Boswell Sisters’ recordings or of their “approach” in some mechanistic way, but DUCHESS seems — to my ears, anyway, to play with the question, “What would the cheerful radicalism of the Sisters’ elastic improvisations be like with three different singers and a new band, all of us fully cognizant of what has come after 1936?” So one hears a rhythmic pulse that evokes the Basie band brought forward in to this century, and tenor saxophone playing that sounds like Paul Gonsalves, updated and made even more personal. The magnificently musical drumming of Matt Wilson drives it all along, with quiet brushwork when the mood requires it.
This is one of those CDs that doesn’t fully reveal all its pleasures or exhaust itself on one hearing. I was so delighted, listening to voices and instruments tumbling over each other in neatly acrobatic exuberance, that I haven’t yet figured everything out (who is that singing now; who’s leading the harmony?) after several listenings. I can only say that the three voices are singular in themselves, in range, timbre, and sound, but that they blend marvelously. And the blending is anything but formulaic. One can’t go to sleep while DUCHESS is romping. Their simple cheerfulness blasts through LOVE BEING HERE WITH YOU, LOLLIPOP, the aforementioned HEEBIE JEEBIES, and even in the medium-tempo swaggering performance I hear the whole group grinning. But for me the real triumphs are the more tender offerings: a melting QUE SERA, SERA, P.S., I LOVE YOU; a shape-shifting I’LL BE SEEING YOU, and BLAH, BLAH, BLAH — that most surprising comic love poem.
Speaking of BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, here’s the group’s live performance of that Gershwin opus at their home base, the 55 Bar:
This points up another facet of DUCHESS — their willingness to traverse the ground between silly and witty. They aren’t slapsticky in their comedy, but their light-hearted approach is elevating. And they are never blah.
Here are the songs on the CD:
1. “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee, Bill Schluger) / 2. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” (Fred Fisher) / 3. “Que Sera, Sera” (Jay Livingston, Ray Evans) / 4. “My Brooklyn Love Song” (Ramey Idriss, George Tibbles, featuring Hilary) / 5. “A Doodlin’ Song” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, featuring Amy) / 6. “A Little Jive Is Good for You” (Ralph Yaw) / 7. “P.S. I Love You” (Johnny Mercer, Gordon Jenkins) / 8. “Hummin’ to Myself” (Sammy Fain, Herb Magidson, Monty Siegel, featuring Melissa) / 9. “It’s a Man” (Cy Coben) / 10. “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain) / 11. “Lollipop” (Beverly Ross, Julius Dixon) / 12. “Blah, Blah, Blah” (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) / 13. “Heebie Jeebies” (Boyd Atkins)
You can bring some of this joy into your life with the CD, or, if you are in the tri-state area, you should know that DUCHESS, backed by the same band as on the album, will perform an album-release show at New York City’s Jazz Standard on March 3, 2015.
In most time zones, that’s tomorrow.
Shows are at 7:30 and 10 PM, and you can buy tickets and learn more about the group here.
Some time ago, an eBay seller offered an autograph book for sale.
That rather ordinary exterior gave no hint of the marvels it contained: not someone’s schoolmates but the greatest players and singers — of the Swing Era and of all time. Now individual pages are being offered for sale, and I thought that they would thrill JAZZ LIVES readers as they thrill me. The owner of the book was “Joe,” residing in New York City and occasionally catching a band at a summer resort. We know this because Joe was meticulous, dating his autograph “captures” at the bottom of the page. Understandably, he didn’t know much about the lifespan of paper and put Scotch tape over some of the signatures, which might mean that the whole enterprise won’t last another fifty years — although the signatures (in fountain pen, black and colored pencil) have held up well.
Through these pages, if even for a moment, we can imagine what it might have been to be someone asking the greatest musicians, “Mr. Evans?” “Miss Holiday?” “Would you sign my book, please?” And they did. Here’s the beautiful part.
Let’s start at the top, with Louis and Red:
This page is fascinating — not only because Louis was already using green ink, or that we have evidence of the band’s “sweet” male singer, Sonny Woods, but for the prominence of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen. Listening to the studio recordings Louis made while Red was a sideman, it would be easy to believe the story that Red was invisible, stifled, taking a position that allowed him no creative outlet. But the radio broadcasts that have come to light — from the Cotton Club and the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio program — prove that Red was given solo spots during the performance and that he was out front for the first set. Yes, Red had been creating a series of exceptional Vocalion recordings for two years, but I suspect Joe had much to hear on this Saturday night at the Arcadia Ballroom.
Something completely different: composer / arranger Ferde Grofe on the same page with Judy Ellington, who sang with Charlie Barnet’s band:
Time for some joy:
Oh, take another!
Joe really knew what was going on: how many people sought out pianist / arranger / composer Lennie Hayton for an autograph:
A good cross-section of the 1938 Benny Goodman Orchestra — star pianists Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy, saxophonists Vido Musso, Herman Shertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, as well as the trombonist Murray McEachern, guitarist Ben Heller, arranger Fred Norman, and mystery man Jesse Ralph:
Someone who gained a small portion of fame:
You’ll notice that Joe knew who the players were — or, if you like, he understood that the men and women who didn’t have their names on the marquee were the creators of the music he so enjoyed. So the special pleasure of this book is in the tangible reminders of those musicians whose instrumental voices we know so well . . . but whose signatures we might never have seen. An example — the heroes who played so well and devotedly in Chick Webb’s band: saxophonists Chauncey Houghton, “Louie” Jordan, Theodore McRae, Wayman Carver, bassist Beverley Peer, pianist Tommy Fulford, guitarist Bobby Johnson, trumpeters Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan, trombonists Nat Story, Sandy Williams . . . .Good Luck To You, indeed!
But one name is missing — the little King of the Savoy (subject of the wonderful new documentary, THE SAVOY KING — which is coming to the New York Film Festival at the end of September 2012 — more details to come):
Jimmie Lunceford and his men, among them drummer Jimmie Crawford, saxophonist Willie Smith, trumpeter Paul Webster:
saxophonists Joe Thomas and Austin Brown, Jas. Crawford (master of percussion), bassist Mose Allen, pianist Edwin Wilcox, and the little-known Much Luck and Best Wishes:
Blanche Calloway’s brother, the delightful Cab, and his bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton:
trumpeter irving Randolph and Doc Cheatham, drummer Leroy Maxey, pianist Bennie Payne, saxophonists Walter Thomas, Andrew Brown, “Bush,” or Garvin Bushell, and Chu Berry, and Cab himself:
Paul Whiteman’s lead trumpeter, Harry “Goldie” Goldfield, father of Don Goldie (a Teagarden colleague):
I can’t figure out all of the names, but this documents a band Wingy Manone had: vocalist Sally Sharon, pianist Joe Springer, Don Reid, Ray Benitez, R. F. Dominick, Chuck Johnson (?), saxophonist Ethan Rando (Doc?), Danny Viniello, guitarist Jack Le Maire, and one other:
Here are some names and a portrait that would not be hard to recognize. The Duke, Ivie Anderson, Cootie Williams, Juan Tizol, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy, Barney Bigard, Freddie Jenkins, Rex Stewart, and either “Larry Brown,” squeezed for space, bottom right (I think):
And Lawrence Brown, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Billy Taylor, and lead man Art Whetzel:
Calloway’s trombones, anyone? De Priest Wheeler, Claude Jones, “Keg” Johnson, and trumpeter Lammar Wright:
Our man Bunny:
Don Redman’s wonderful band, in sections. Edward Inge, Eugene Porter, Harvey Boone, Rupert Cole, saxophones:
The trumpets — Otis Johnson, Harold Baker, Reunald Jones, and bassist Bob Ysaguirre:
And the trombone section — Quentin Jackson, Gene Simon, Bennie Morton — plus the leader’s autograph and a signature that puzzles me right underneath. Sidney Catlett was the drummer in this orchestra for a time in 1937, but that’s not him, and it isn’t pianist Don Kirkpatrick. Research!:
The rhythm section of the Claude Hopkins band — Claude, Abe Bolar, Edward P. (“Pete”) Jacobs, drums:
And some wonderful players from that band: Joe Jones (guitar, nort drums), trumpeters Shirley Clay, Jabbo Smith, Lincoln Mills; the singer Beverly White (someone Teddy Wilson thought better than Billie), saxophonists Bobby Sands, John Smith, Arville Harris, Happy Mitchner (?); trombonists Floyd Brady and my hero Vic Dickenson, whose signature stayed the same for forty years and more:
I suspect that this triple autograph is later . . . still fun:
If the next three don’t make you sit up very straight in your chair, we have a real problem. Basie at Roseland, Oct. 12, 1937: Earle Warren, the Count himself, Billie, Buck Clayton, and Eddie Durham. The signature of Paul Gonsalves clearly comes from a different occasion, and I imagine the conversation between Joe and Paul, who would have been very pleased to have his name on this page:
Miss Holiday, Mister Shaw, before they ever worked together ANY OLD TIME. I’d call this JOYLAND, wouldn’t you?
And a truly swinging piece of paper, with the signatures of Walter Page, Lester Young, James Rushing, Bobby Moore, Herschel Evans, Ronald “Jack” Washington, Edward Lewis, Freddie Greene, Joe Jones, Bennie Morton . . . when giants walked the earth.
To view just one of these pages and find your way to the others, click here – I’ll content myself with simple gleeful staring. And since I began writing this post, the seller has put up another ten or more — Mary Lou Williams, Ina Ray Hutton, Clyde Hart, Roy Eldridge . . . astonishing!
Because they give themselves to what they are creating, jazz musicians make splendid photographic subjects.
Bob Willoughby, who died in 2009, wasn’t the first to capture their intensity, lack of self-consciousness, and energy on camera. But his beautiful volume of photographs and recollections, JAZZ: BODY AND SOUL, shows on every page that his work is superbly moving. (Evans Mitchell, 2012, 192 pages, hardbound.)
Since musicians — in the act of creation — aren’t standing still, some photographs begin to look like versions of poses we have already seen a thousand times before: the horn player, face distended, sweating, looking like a runner just before crossing the finish line; the intimate relationship between the singer and the vertical microphone; the drummer, moving so quickly that the sticks blur. Other photographs entrance us because they are the only visual evidence we have that an otherwise obscure musician was ever seen.
Willoughby’s work goes well beyond these formulas, although some of his images have been reproduced so widely that they are now the way that we mentally identify the subject. But even his most famous pictures have something to offer us, a half-century after they were created.
The book is divided into two sections: one of Wlloughby’s West Coast photographs from 1950 to — Billie Holiday, Wardell Gray, Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Ventura, Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Peggy Lee. Particularly absorbing is a series of dramatic photographs catching the emotional interplay between saxophonist Big Jay McNeely and a crowd in hysterical rapture. Willoughby photographed Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Buck Clayton, Martha Tilton and friends during the recording sessions for the soundtrack of THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY. An extended photo-essay on Frank Sinatra tells us more than any biography.
The second section of the book offers photographs Willoughby created in Germany in 1992 and 1994 — fascinating portraits of Lee Konitz, Marcus Roberts, Jon Faddis, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, John Lewis, Mulligan much transformed by the years, and many others.
Having purchased many volumes of photographs of jazz musicians, I tend to look at the book with fascination immediately after their purchase . . . but not often after. Willoughby’s book has proven itself an exception. In tne month that I have had a copy, I have come back to it over and over, drawn by what his eye captured — tantalizing wordless dramas that open deeper each time I stare into the pages.
And the appeal of the book is wider than the allure of the musicians portrayed there. Without being precious or coy, Willoughby created small paintings full of feeling, emotion coming through the lovely blacks, greys, and whites. He was a master of seeing, of shaping line and angle, shape and focus. I look at these portraits and I can feel Louis’ happiness, imagine the words passing between Bing and Frank on the set of CAN-CAN, hear Billie’s voice. In addition, Willoughby’s photos are idiosyncratic master classes for photographers: what to emphasize, what to leave out. . . all the more remarkable because he captured his subjects in the moment.
Marc Myers, of JAZZ WAX, knew and spoke with Willoughby, and the essays Marc has created about the man and his work are rewarding (with photographs that will astonish): read more here and here. The book’s website — with even more beautiful pictures — can be found here. Willoughby’s photographs reward the eye.
This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges. For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.
Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams. On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge. He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.
Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer. But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.
Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.
But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music. (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)
His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears. On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.
Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:
Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.
No, not my fifth-grade one where cute Suzanne DeVeaux signed her name and then wrote “Yours till bacon strips,” which was not the declaration of love it might have seemed to be, alas.
But THIS autograph book is something special — even given the twenty thousand dollar price tag on eBay. Its owner was a deep swing and jazz fan in the Thirties, and (s)he got everyone’s signature . . . at gigs, at the Arcadia Ballroom, and other places. It is the calligraphic companion to the late Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK, summoning up a magical and vanished time where you could wait patiently at the stage door and get “Art Shaw” to sign his name as well as his new singer, “Billie Holiday.”
Feast your eyes.
And, just as an aside, several people — musicians and collectors alike — who have seen this — keep muttering something about how their birthdays are coming soon. I don’t blame them. The eBay link is
Here are some sample pages. WOW is all one can say — and that’s even before one encounters the signatures of Eddie Durham, Maurice Purtill, a young Milt Hinton, and the others. And as my friend David Weiner has pointed out on other occasions, the pencil and sometimes odd handwriting prove that these are on-the-spot signatures, not neat calligraphy done in someone’s office by the hundreds.
I don’t know who Anthony is on the left, but there’s Billie and “Art” on the right.
Earle Warren (Every Good Wish, Count Basie, Billie, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham. And — I think from a later date! — Paul Gonsalves. “Roseland Shuffle,” I think. And this comes from the era when musicians, signing a fan’s autograph book, identified themselves by the instrument(s) they played. That suggests a sweet lack of ego: I’m not a star yet! (And Buck’s signature was very much the same about forty years later.)
Sincerely, Nat King Cole, Johnny Miller, and Oscar Moore — people who knew about sincerity.
Harry Goldfield (father of Don Goldie) on the left — and some other trumpeters named “Satch” and “Red,” as well as drummer Sammy Weiss.
Another trumpet player. He could get started — don’t let his theme song fool you. But why do these trumpet players all have nicknames? Wouldn’t “Bernard” have done just as well?
1936. The Blessed Thomas Waller.
Did someone say HI-DE-HO? And there’s youthful Milt — not yet the Judge.
The Duke is on the page — along with Ivie, Sonny, Rex, Juan Tizol, Cootie Williams, Fred Guy, and one or two others.
Noble Sissle and his Orchestra with Sidney Bechet, Wendell Culley, Don Pasquall, and Sara Turner . . .
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, Part One: Johnny Mince, Maurice Purtill, Carmen Mastren, Bud Freeman, Gene Traxler, Jack Leonard, Lee Castaldo (later Castle), Andy Ferretti, Freddie Stulce, and one or two others.
Part Two! Mince signs in again, the Sentimental Gentleman himself, Edythe Wright, and Pee Wee Erwin.
Hamp, before FLYIN’ HOME.
Isn’t this frankly astounding?
I knew you’d agree.
And what we have here is perhaps fifteen pages out of one hundred and twenty.
I no longer would speculate on the relationship between ignorance and bliss, but it fascinates me when sellers on eBay have only a tenuous relationship with the items they put up for sale. Sometimes it works greatly to the advantage of the knowing buyer: years ago, I bid on and bought a photograph of Bobby Hackett, taken in the early Seventies at a local jazz festival — he was smiling while being embraced by a non-musician, male, wearing a velour top . . . and Hackett had autographed the photo in an unusually angular scrawl, suggesting that he was not seated or comfortable at the time. But the seller didn’t recognize Hackett or his autograph, so the photo was undervalued — although not by me.
These photographs are intriguing studies of the tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, who spent much of his performance career in the Ellington sax section. The earliest one is autographed, which gave the seller a clear clue:
I would guess that is a high school graduation photograph.
Because the seller didn’t know that Gonsalves also played guitar quite well (he even soloed on a 1961 Stanley Dance session) this photograph went unidentified. But you’ll notice the saxophone on the floor near his right foot — a clue of sorts.
Looks like the same fellow to me, much more mature.
Could this also be our man? I have my doubts, but Gonsalves was obviously light-complected (he had “Portuguese” in his background, even though his Ellington colleagues facetiously called him “Mex”) and holding your saxophone in a Lestorian way was probably very common in the Forties. Fascinating and still elusive.
Dan Block is a peerless reed player, arranger, composer, bandleader. A new CD captures his many imaginations whole. The picture (by Dan’s daughter Emma) adorns the cover of his Ellington tribute, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE.
Tributes to Ellington, hoever well-intentioned, have often become self-limiting, even formulaic. Some musicians try to duplicate the sound of famous recordings; others rely upon Duke’s hit songs; others nod to an Ellington line for a chorus and then go off on their own. Dan Block’s way is his own. No SATIN DOLL, no transcriptions. Rather, the most familiar songs on this CD are OLD KING DOOJI and KISSING BUG. (Ask anyone who admires Ellingtonian to hum DOOJI and you’ll see what I mean.) The repertoire, although not consciously esoteric, encompasses both COTTON CLUB STOMP and SECOND LINE.
Dan didn’t try to find musicians who could simulate Cootie, Blanton, Greer. And while he can evoke Jimmy Hamilton, Webster, Gonsalves, Bigard, Hodges, he doesn’t ever shed his own identity. Every track has its own sound — respectfully inventive. So an Ellington composition from 1940 (MORNING GLORY) is treated as if it were timeless (which it is) material for melodic improvisation, but never imprisoned by its “period” and “genre.”
Duke’s compositions are deeply re-imagined: KISSING BUG, which leads off, has Dan wistfully playing the line — only after he has perched atop the rattling percussion of Renato Thoms, the drums of Brian Grice, the chiming vibes of Mark Sherman, alternating with 4 /4 sections where we hear James Chirillo’s guitar, Lee Hudson’s bass, Mike Kanan’s piano. The rhythm section work throughout — in shifting permutations — is energized without being restrictively “modern” or “traditional.” Although Dan is the only horn player on this CD, I never tired of his sounds or styles.
I also noticed and applauded the natural sound of the sessions, for which I thank not only Dan but fellow saxophonist Andy Farber, who did the recording and shared mixing duties with Andrew Williams. The players whose work I knew — James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, Lee Hudson — sound beautifully and thoroughly realized. The players who were new to me impress me thoroughly.
Each track has its own suprises — a brief but wholly musical drum solo on BUG; an unaccompanied tenor cadenza on a musing NEW YORK CITY BLUES. Dan understands that a slight shift of tempo (changing a ballad into a Fifties walk) makes a new composition although the notes seem the same.
Dan has a searching lyricism, but he also loves to rock, as I see whenever he performs. Not only does he vary his approach from performance to performance, but his horn (alto, tenor, a variety of clarinets, bass clarinet, and basset horn) without the result becoming gimmicky.
The disc is full of marvels — but three in particular stand out. One is THE BEAUTIFUL INDIANS (originally from 1947) that Dan makes into a shimmering impressionist painting through multi-tracking four reed voices (on as many instruments) — reed lines echo and intertwine, then hum and waft — all supported exquisitely by Hudson on bass and O’Leary on cello.
Another is the ambling ballad medley of ALL HEART and CHANGE MY WAYS, a track combining duets for clarinet and piano, then alto sax and piano. Mike Kanan is wondrously intuitive, his lines gliding from one beautiful voicing to the next.
But I marvel the most at the pensive A PORTRAIT OF BERT WILLIAMS reconsidered at a slightly faster tempo as a four-minute chamber piece for Dan, bass clarinet; Chirillo, guitar; O’Leary, cello; Hudson, bass. Imagine the Budapest Quartet playing Dvorak’s “American” Quartet / hybridized with the Basie rhythm section, with a touch of Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, and Skeeter Best . . . that would hint at this irresistible performance. (Chirillo’s acoustic playing is both funky and delicate.) This quartet returns for a sweetly lamenting ROCKS IN MY BED which reminds me of Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, and Danny Barker: you’ll understand when you hear it.
But this disc is full of pleasures, some instantly apparent, some appearing only on repeated hearings. The music honors Ellington but no one is subsumed into an already-established idea of “Ellingtonia.” And the title says a great deal: Dan and friends play approach Ellington’s music by finding revelations within it.
It’s possible that some readers have never heard of Cleveland-born saxophonist Ernie Krivda, now 65. I’d like to change that, for I have been impressed by his work in various contexts for some time. And musicians in the know (among them Quincy Jones and Joe Lovano) have always admired Ernie as a person and a player.
Thanks to Bob Rusch, I first heard Ernie on a magical tribute to Stan Getz, where Ernie had assembled a large ensemble, including forty strings. to play Eddie Sauter’s film music for FOCUS and then, taking Getz as his inspiration but not copying him, had soared over that background. The disc, “Ernie Krivda: Focus on Stan Getz: Live at Severance Hall,” (Cadence Jazz 1165) remains one of my favorites — tumultuous, tender, sweet, ferocious — and I am not exaggerating when I say that I bought a copy of Getz’s FOCUS and preferred Ernie’s version. (Heresy, I know, but true.) Here’s some first-hand (or first-heard evidence of what Ernie does so magnificently: his 1993 duo exploration of LOVE WALKED IN with pianist Bill Dobbins):
Although Ernie clearly has a whole range of saxophone influences in his mind, from early Hawkins and Young onwards to Rollins, he is an individualist with his own sound and approach. He’s not one of those musicians who has only two approaches: one, the respectful first chorus of a ballad; two, the abrupt deconstruction of the melody and harmony into abstract fragments. Krivda, as you can hear in LOVE WALKED IN, honors George Gershwin’s melody, but is also making the terrain his own, gently pulling and tugging at the music’s familiar contours, experimenting with timbre, harmony, rhythmic alterations. His playing is hard to categorize (for those who need categories), but I hear the sound of a man thinking, feeling, and exploring.
Since this blog is often devoted to musicians who are no longer with us, I am pleased to be able to write about one who is alive and inventive. Ernie had three new CDs: a solo saxophone effort, “November Man,”a second, “The Art of the Trio,” and a third (in process), “Ernie Krivda and The Detroit Connection,” featuring Dominick Farinacci and Sean Jones. Krivda has also received the nationally recognized Cleveland Arts Prize for career achievement and a major fellowship acknowledging him as a player and composer. His next album with The Detroit Connection is a tribute to the music of John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and Sonny Rollins. The Detroit Connection band includes 78-year-old pianist Claude Black, Marion Hayden on bass (the matriarch of the Detroit jazz world), and Paul Gonsalves’ son Renell Gonsalves on drums. It will be Ernie’s 30th album.
To learn more about Ernie, visit http://www.erniekrivda.com/index.php.. One of the categories I invented for this blog, early on, is “Pay Attention!” — profoundly relevant to the man and the music I’ve been describing here.
As a high school student, I supplemented my intermittent jazz record purchases by listening to the records available at my local public library. One of the librarians was hip. Someone had good taste! The collection included Ellington and George Lewis, Jimmy Rushing and Vic Dickenson, Benny Goodman and “The Sound of Jazz,” among others. On those records — particularly the Vanguard sessions supervised in the early and middle Fifties by John Hammond — I first heard the sound of Jo Jones, his swishing hi-hat cymbals, his emphatic rimshots, his irresistible swing.
I had already fallen in love with the propulsion and pure sounds of Catlett and Wettling, but Jo was a revelation: I can still hear the way he brought the band in on Vic’s RUNNIN’ WILD, or the three perfectly placed accents (all different) he used to propel Tommy Ladnier in a fast WEARY BLUES at the 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert. And, a little later, when I bought my first Billie Holiday records, the Kansas City Fiva and Six, the Decca Basie band . . . I wanted to hear every record Jo Jones had ever been part of.
Here is Jo — exuberant, explosive, grinning, soloing at the end of a fast blues, on a 1957 Nat King Cole television show devoted to Norman Granz and the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe. This clip begins at the end of Roy Eldridge’s solo (in mid-scream) and at the end Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown are visible:
But that clip gives way to my own memories of Jo in person, onstage and off.
This post is motivated by a recent conversation I had with the Beloved about the subject of retiring from one’s job, leaving a career behind. I told her one of the stories below and she said, astonished, “You spoke to Jo Jones? Smiling Jo Jones?” hence my title.
Not only did I speak to Jo Jones: I took this photograph of him in 1981:
Jo Jones at the West End Cafe
True, the shot is amateurish: a head is in the way, my flash’s explosion is visible, the overall hue suggests Halloween . . . but Jo’s slow-motion mallet, on its ways down, pleases me greatly. And the photo evidence that I was there, capturing this moment, which is no small thing.
Many other moments come back to me now.
My friend Stu Zimny found out, sometime before 1972, that one could see Jo at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop. We decided to go there, as if we were making a pilgrimage to some sacred place. Was Jo holding court there, as befits an artist and aristocrat, or was he making a few dollars in a job unworthy of him, as I have read? I don’t know. I do remember buying a pair of 5B parade drumsticks from him — to practice with — and snippets of this conversation.
In person, Jo was animated, inscrutable, vehement. Something in his manner and approach defied easy explanation. It felt as if we were speaking to a character in a play — and only Jo had the script. There was also some element of unpredictability, even of danger, as if he might suddenly get furious at you in the middle of a conversation, as I saw happen with Ruby Braff.
(Ruby, incidentally, told us a wonderful story about working with Jo at Storyville, almost twenty years earlier: Jo would never say, “Let’s play ROSETTA,” but start a rhythmic pattern and tempo on his hi-hat or snare and leave it up to the musician to guess which tune might best go with that tempo. Ruby shook his head in disbelief when he recalled, somewhat in desperation, picking some song that he thought might be fine at that tempo, and Jo saying, “That’s it! You got it!” as if Ruby had telepathically found the answer. “I don’t play with him any more. He’s nuts,” said Ruby.)
Even when speaking to people he knew and liked, Jo had a particular tone of voice that in someone else might have been ironic verging on contemptuous. But with him it was a form of emphasis. You could hear capital letters, boldface, italics in his voice. And he had a fierce energy in his speech: a conversation with him was like being strapped into a centrifuge, an untiring monologue, rising and falling.
Spotting Jo at Ippolito’s, I imagine that we introduced ourselves as jazz listeners, fans, admirers. And then one of us asked Jo where we could hear him play. Was he gigging anywhere?
He looked at us with weary resignation, two innocent Caucasian college boys who had asked a silly question.
“I’m re-ti-red,” he said, by way of explanation. “I don’t play the drums anymore. Leave all that to the kiddies,” he continued. We couldn’t believe it, and asked him again. He wasn’t playing any gigs, no festivals? All he would say was that he was “re-ti-red.” If we needed a drummer, he suggested that we call Buddy Rich. Stu points out that Jo offered no contact information for Buddy.
We went away from that encounter half grieving, half amazed. We had gone to the mountaintop to meet one of the elders, to receive counsel and inspiration, and the elder had said he had packed it in.
The sequel to all this is that some months later we saw Jo’s name prominently advertised as one of the musicians who would appear in the Newport-New York Jazz Festival. I think, now, that he had been putting us on. But perhaps in his own head he had decided to retire.
In the next decade, we had the opportunity to see him in a variety of situations: concert halls and jazz clubs. He drove Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS at their 1972 concert appearance (a band that included Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Buddy Tate, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and an out-of-tune Bernard Addison) and took a long solo in the middle of SLEEP — a virtuosic exercise that stopped the song and the show. Two years later, he appeared at the Newport “Hall of Fame,” as part of a quintet with Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Wilson, and Hinton, his playing was immaculate, sensitive, not showy — Hackett turned the last bridge in “Body and Soul” over to Jo, who filled the air with urging, whispering brush strokes and accents.
Tom Piazza, then a student at Williams College, arranged a concert of the jazz elders — when such things were still possible: Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge, Benny Morton, Budd Johnson, Claude Hopkins, and Jo. Stu and I went there, armed with a heavy tape recorder, and (in the face of numerous obstacles: an inebriated Budd, a student running the sound board who turned the record level up and down for no reason, an over-exuberant audience) we focused on the band. Jo traded eights and fours with Milt on a leisurely STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and did his volcanic version of CARAVAN, with every grimace, every surprise firmly choreographed.
He smiled incessantly when he played: he glowed. But when we saw Jo in clubs, at close range, he often appeared to be brimful of some barely contained anger. And though we had come to the gig hoping to hear something delicate, witty — that magical hi-hat sound, those quietly insistent brushes that had levitated so many recordings — he would beat out the time loudly, indefatigably, on a brassily resonant ride cymbal. It was clear that there were two Jonathan David Samuel Joneses: one, the player we had heard on records, lifting the band with what Donne called “gold to airy thinness beat”; the other, furious at something, wanting to control it by pure sound and pure volume. Stanley Dance told me about producing a 1961 session that paired Jo with some Ellington alumni — Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Ray Nance, Sir Charles Thompson — and Jo being infuriated about something, then playing as loudly as he could.
I recall several instances of this irritation-translated-into-music. When there was a ragtag band of “Basie alumni” assembled at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage: sic transit gloria mundi), Jo walloped the ride cymbal as if wanting to drown everyone out. At a short-lived spinoff of the Half Note, “The Onliest Place,” a venture that lasted only a few weekends, Jo led a little band one night. If I remember correctly, it included bassist Tommy Bryant, Ben Richardson on clarinet, Skeeter Best on guitar, and one or two other players. They embarked on a nearly forgotten Thirties pop tune, CALL ME DARLING, which was not terribly familiar, and some members of the band got lost. I can hear Jo shouting, “The middle! The middle!” although I am not sure that this advice averted chaos. Irritability and delighted in-jokes always characterized his appearances with “The Countsmen,” a group that included Doc Cheatham, Benny Morton, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate, Chuck Folds, Franklyn Skeete, and Jo.
Jo could play magically in clubs, though. I remember going to Gregory’s, a tiny room, to hear Ellis Larkins and Al Hall. That duo played splendid embroidered jazz for one set and then Jo walked in, unfurled his newspaper, took out a set of folding wire brushes, spread the paper on a chair, and played with elegance, amusement, and grace.
At the West End Cafe, thanks to Phil Schaap, Jo had a fairly steady gig: “Jo Jones and Friends,” which was most often a quartet of Harold Ashby on tenor, a pianist (sometimes Don Coates), and bassist John Ore, who had played with Monk. One rainy night in particular stands out. It was time for the band to begin and Ore had not arrived. Jo began his sets with a medium-tempo blues in G, and, muttering to himself, he set the tempo by tapping his snare drum with his fingers. Ashby soloed; the pianist soloed, and when it came to the two or four choruses that would have been taken by Ore, Jo grimaced, muttered loudly and incomprehensibly to himself, and played choruses of accompaniment — as if Ore had been there — with the tenor and piano silent. It was mildly eerie. Ore came in soon after, apologized for being late (he lived in Brooklyn), but it took the rest of the night for Jo to become calmer.
One summer on Long Island, I read that Buddy Tate would be bringing a band, including Jo, to play a free outdoor concert somewhere miles from Manhattan on the North Fork. It may have been Southold. We drove out there and saw Tate’s outfit play the first half of the concert, with some of their members, including Jo, missing. Jo’s son may have subbed for his father on drums. Eventually, much later, a fire engine drove up, with a few cars following. Jo came out of one of them. They had gotten lost and asked directions at a firehouse. I would like to report that the Tate band, plus Jo, played magnificently, but that wasn’t the case. The group reassembled itself, and Jo demanded his feature on CARAVAN. It went on, no nuance or flourish omitted, for something like eleven minutes. After that, there was only time for Tate to play a hasty LESTER LEAPS IN, and the concert ended. Perhaps it was because of episodes like this that when we mentioned Jo’s name to musicians of a certain era, their expressions grew wary and guarded. “He’s crazy, man,” was the response we got from more than one well-established player.
But he could be politely accessible to fans. I recall approaching him at the West End, before the gig had started, with a new vinyl copy of a record, FOR BASIE. I had bought it that afternoon and hoped that Jo would autograph it for me. Recorded in 1957 for Prestige-Swingville, it brought together Shad Collins on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor, Nat Pierce on piano, Walter Page on bass (one of his last recordings), and Jo. The cover picture showed Jo in a heavy flannel buffalo-plaid shirt with wide suspenders over it, and he grew animated and showed the other musicians at the table. “See that?” he demanded of them. “That is style!” he insisted, happily. And he autographed the back side of the cover in a large ornate hand. When he was through signing, he said to me that he had never heard the music. I could take a hint, and offered him this copy (I had another at home). I hope that it gave him pleasure.
At another, later West End gig, I had with me a new record, OUR MAN, PAPA JO! — on the Denon label, which had a picture of Jo in full glower at his drum set, on the cover. Thinking that one can never have too many Jo Jones signatures, I asked him to autograph this one also. He stared at the cover, held it at arm’s length.
“This will keep the burglars from your house!” he gleefully told me.
In 1981 and early 1982, he was getting more frail and having more difficulty. Jo played with great delicacy at a “Salute to Pres” concert, offering his familiar dancing trades with Milt Hinton — but he had to be helped up on the drum throne. At the last West End gig I recall, playing was becoming more and more arduous for him. When I heard about him next it was the news of his death in 1985.
Photographer Richard H. Merle was at Jo’s funeral, and he caught this poignant moment of Max Roach at Jo’s coffin — the flag draped over the back because Jo had served — with great reluctance — in the Army in World War Two.
Jo Jones’s body has been gone for almost twenty-five years. Yet his sound remains, and his smile — like the Cheshire Cat’s — has never been effaced.
Copyright 1985 by Richard H. Merle. All rights reserved.