Tag Archives: Paul Smith

BAND ON THE STREET: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ PLAY IN NORTH BEACH (May 10, 2014)

Saturday, May 10, our friend Mal Sharpe took his band, Big Money in Jazz, to play in celebration of the grand re-opening of the North Beach Public Library at Columbus and Lombard in San Francisco. Not only was the library worth celebrating, but the renovation included a new rectangular asphalt playground with plantings around it, the Joe DiMaggio Playground.

The music was celebratory as well, with Mal on trombone and vocals; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass.

Mal loves North Beach, “You could be in Greece,” he said, gesturing at the long vista of bright sky and mountains off in the distance.  Here are three performances from that afternoon, with cinema verite of picture-taking spectators looking to see where the music was coming from.

During SONG OF THE WANDERER, both a sight-seeing bus and a cable car pass by, behind the band.  Jazz has that effect on the universe: everything coalesces all of a sudden.

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, perfectly apt:

MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

SONG OF THE WANDERER (an excerpted version, for the outchorus had to compete with local clamor):

Mal and friends have a variety of regular gigs in the city: once a month at the Savoy Tivoli, weekly at Fior d’Italia, Original Joes, and at Tupelo.  Email him at malsharpe@gmail.com, and ask to be added to his weekly email announcements — whimsical, just like their creator.

May your happiness increase!

“DINNER MUSIC” FROM MAL SHARPE and THE BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at FIOR D’ITALIA (March

Mos people know Mal Sharpe (with one of his current bands, the Big Money in Jazz) as someone who inspires audiences with exuberant music. But he and his musicians can create very subtle music as well, Jelly Roll Morton’s “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm.” It’s music to dine by. Of course, with Mal in charge, it will be colorful, lively, witty — quiet but never dull.

Mal’s smaller version of his classic band floats along without piano or drums, and with Mal’s playing and singing; Jim Gammon, cornet; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Bill DeKuiper, guitar; Paul Smith, string bass and wordless vocal. . . .evoking New Orleans grit and the Kansas City Six.

This band plays every Wednesday night from 6 to 9 at the well-known Italian restaurant, Fior d’Italia (2237 Mason Street) in North Beach, San Francisco, and we came by for a meal and a serenade on March 19, 2014. Here are some of the musical highlights. You’ll have to invent the culinary ones for yourself: here are the menus.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE (the band’s theme and Mal’s offhanded sermon on carpe diem and tempus fugit, too):

MEAN TO ME (a rhetorical statement only):

SHINE (that splendid, misinterpreted song):

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (appropriate to a restaurant with various grilled meats, no?):

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE (soulfully sung by Dwayne):

And for an effervescent dessert, on the last number of the second set, San Francisco’s irrepressible jazz singer Kellye Gray was compelled to join the band with a rare whistling solo on DINAH:

Fior d’Italia is a North Beach classic, known for a varied menu, a comfortable ambiance, a sweet-natured staff . . . and the best dinner music you can think of on Wednesday evenings.

May your happiness increase!

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING (February 24, 2013)

Yesterday, your grateful / intrepid videographer took his new knapsack, camera, tripod, and microphone to a live jazz event, set up, and recorded. . . . after a month’s hiatus in the schedule.

The event was the Sunday afternoon gig of Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band — that entertaining group no longer at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, but now taking up a serious weekend residence (Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 PM) at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, 1434 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, California.

Mal’s colleagues were Leon Oakley, cornet; Jeff Sanford, reeds; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; guest Waldo Carter, trumpet on JOE LOUIS STOMP.

I chose two selections from the afternoon’s performances not only because they felt so fulfilling, but also because I had not captured either song on video for JAZZ LIVES.  The first, a mixture of wistfulness and comedy (that’s the Mal Sharpe way!) is the song Billie Holiday and Lester Young made immortal in 1937 — FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

And the second, a walloping tribute to the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis (with a side-glance at Bill Coleman, having a good time in Paris) is JOE LOUIS STOMP:

I’m ready! — for the Jazz Bash by the Bay / Dixieland Monterey 2013 . . .  Hope to see you there.

May your happiness increase.

“SQUEEZE AND RELEASE,” or “THE MAL SHARPE SHOWCASE”: ANOTHER SUNDAY IN SAUSALITO with MAL SHARPE, DWAYNE RAMSEY, CLINT BAKER, SI PERKOFF, PAUL SMITH, and CARMEN CANSINO (Dec. 23. 2012)

I don’t quite remember how we found out about Mal Sharpe’s regular sessions (his Big Money in Jazz Band) at the No Name Bar in Sausalito (Sunday), the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach (Saturday), and Armando’s in Martinez (one Thursday a month), but these anything-can-happen festivities have been a continuing pleasure.

Mal is not only an engaging trombonist / singer; he also enjoys the possibilities of improvising in front of — and with — an audience.  So at the same time the Beloved and I have enjoyed the down-home sounds, we’ve also been delighted by the chances Mal takes . . . quizzing the audience, muttering philosophically just loud enough to be heard, having a good time.  And Mal surrounds himself with some of the best musicians, who drive the band and provide subtle moments for an attentive crowd.

My title — somewhat mysterious in itself, perhaps — can be untangled or interpreted for readers too impatient to watch all the videos at the start of SUNNY SIDE below.

Here are five slices-of-life from December 23, courtesy of Mal, Clint Baker, trumpet; Paul Smith, string bass; Dwayne Ramsey, reeds; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, piano.

Mal becomes more anatomical than we might expect on his vocal rendition of ROSETTA:

IF I HAD YOU (with the bridge given over to Carmen, our heroine):

Clint stomps off SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET at the 1938 Louis-Fats jam session tempo:

Need spiritual counseling?  The Reverend Dwayne lays it out for us with soul on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

And I know they heard this musical trilogy all the way over in Provincetown — I FOUND A NEW BABY / THE SONG IS ENDED / Closing Ceremonies:

Something different . . . unpredictable . . . hot jazz and hilarity intertwined.

May your happiness increase.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at the SAVOY TIVOLI (Aug. 25, 2012)

New York has so much to recommend it, but I miss Mal Sharpe’s jazz soirees in Sausalito, in Martinez, and at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, San Francisco.  Here are three pertinent pieces of evidence, recorded on August 25, 2012: Leon Oakley, cornet; Mal, trombone and spiritual guidance; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Paul Smith, string bass, Carmen Cansino, drums.  And seated right in front of us was jazz legend / art legend Charles Campbell, having a good time — a model for us all!

A nice yearning AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, its tempo true to the lyrics:

Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES:

Rarely do I post an incomplete performance — this one is cut short because of my miscalculation of battery strength — but Dwayne’s vocal on BLUE, TURNING GREY is so powerfully emotional that I couldn’t consign it to the unseen archives.  Prepare yourself for incompleteness but also for great feeling:

May your happiness increase.

SIX SURPRISES: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at the NO NAME BAR in SAUSALITO (August 19, 2012)

Since the school year will soon be upon us, here is a one-question jazz quiz on the recent content of JAZZ LIVES.  Please turn your phones off — the answer won’t be found there — and those of you who have been paying close attention have nothing to worry about.

1.  On a Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito (extra credit if you can accurately recall the street address and the hours that the band plays), when Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band take center stage, the results can best be described as:

a.     swinging

b.     hilarious

c.     unpredictable

d.     all of the above.

Make sure you’ve written your name at the top, and please hand them in.  The correct answer is D, although I will give partial credit for A, B, or C.  Extra credit?  757 Bridgeway, 3-6 PM.  I’ll see you all next week.

Mal and his Colleagues in Swing had a good time last Sunday and they shared the pleasure with us.  Mal offered some Dickensonian trombone asides, loose-limbed singing and comic commentaries; trumpeter John Dodgshon was mellow, on the horn and in his vocals; Tom Schmidt continues to delight and surprise on clarinet and Hodges-inspired alto (I think of Charlie Holmes, a real compliment) — he sang memorably,  too.  The rhythm section worked together splendidly, with Our Lady of the Trap Kit, sweetly pungent Carmen Cansino, tersely rocking Bill De Kuiper on guitar, and quietly eloquent Paul Smith (another videographer!) on string bass.

Here are six movements from the monumental Big Money in Jazz Suite, Opus 8.19.12.

Mal is the most generous of men, but this Sunday his resources might have been low, for he chose I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

August 21 is a national holiday, although you didn’t see the appropriate sales in mattress stores — it’s Count Basie’s birthday.  Here’s a version of LADY BE GOOD that starts with a Kansas City Six rhythm section chorus:

John Dodgshon seemed entirely trustworthy, reliable to the end, when I spoke with him at the start.  Thus I believed him utterly when he sang YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

For Louis and Benny and Bing, SHINE, with special cadenzas for Carmen near the end.  And if you still think of that song as having deplorably racist lyrics, please read this:

I have noticed how most requests from audience members make the players sigh behind their affable smiles, so I try to restrain myself.  But when asked (as I was here) I will often propose SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, perhaps because I’ve been so transformed by hearing Louis, Ruby Braff, and Doc Cheatham play it.  And Perry Como stayed quietly in the back room (the fans tend to mob him when he comes to the No Name Bar, so Nancy and Scarlet make him comfortable there):

There was a large and enthusiastic Texas contingent in the No Name Bar that Sunday, so perhaps this edged John Dodgshon away from the TIN ROOF BLUES to the 1918 DALLAS BLUES.  I didn’t know the verses that Tom Schmidt sang with such easy fervor. . . .thank you, Tom!  And pay special attention to Bill De Kuiper, the Troubadour of the Silver Subaru, as he takes an inspiring off-the-harmonies solo, immensely refreshing:

Now, don’t you wish you had been there?

May your happiness increase.

(ANOTHER) SUNDAY IN SAUSALITO WITH MAL (July 15, 2012)

It was a sunny afternoon in Sausalito, California, Sunday, June 15, but I and enlightened souls chose the semi-darkness of the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) from 3-6 PM for the good hot music and sweet ballads and occasional hijinks of trombonist / philosophical wanderer Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band.  It was fun, and often even more memorable than that.

Incidentally, yelp.com lists the No Name Bar as a “dive bar,” but as one of the patrons said, “I know dive bars, and this is no dive bar.”  The No Name is rather too clean and congenial to qualify . . . sorry!

Mal had with him Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, keyboard and vocals; Tom Schmidt, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Andrew Storar, trumpet and vocals: a very cohesive group, as you will shortly find out.

People who might only know Mal from his many public lives might be unaware of his work as a jazz trombonist and singer.  In the first of those roles, he is a fine ensemble player — simple, uncluttered, propulsive; as a soloist he emulates Vic Dickenson and Dicky Wells, happily!  Paul Smith is a subtle bassist whose time and taste are delightful; his solos are concise and tasty, and the band rests easily on his foundation.  Drummer Carmen Cansino was new to me, but she’s a wonderfully attentive drummer who catches every musical cue and never gets in the way: her solos have the snap of Wettling or Leeman — a series of well-placed epigrams.  Si Perkoff’s harmonies are supportive, his improvisations eager but never garrulous: he’s a witty, relaxed player with Monkish edges.

The clarinet, by its very nature, inspires some of the most experienced players into unedited exuberance.  Tom Schmidt’s phrases are neat constructions; his sweet / hot alto playing would make Charlie Holmes very happy.  I knew Andrew Storar as the lead trumpet in Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, but was unprepared for how fine a small-band soloist he is — with a graceful, stepping approach and a burnished tone reminiscent of Doc Cheatham.

Andrew, Sy, and Tom are also first-rate singers . . . with markedly different styles.  These six players blend marvelously as a unit — the band rocked through three sets without a letup.

Mal is a sharp-edged improvisatory comedian (he doesn’t tell jokes; he invents situations and then builds them into wonderfully unbalanced edifices) who plays with and off of the crowd.

Here are some of the highlights of another Sunday in the bar with Mal.

A strolling ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, with a vocal that emphasizes the importance of proper refuse recycling:

Mal had created an extended comedy about one Randy Mancini, and other unrelated Mancinis were in the house (that’s Virgina having her photo taken with the band) so MOON RIVER, with a sweet vocal from Andrew, was just the ticket:

Take you down to New Orleans!  BOURBON STREET PARADE:

And Si reminds us that most everyone Wants A Little Girl.  Or boy.  Or someone to share popcorn with:

Keeping the romantic mood, Mal offers SWEET LORRAINE in honor of Nat and Maria Cole:

More New Orleans cuisine — although not for the lactose-intolerant — ICE CREAM:

A hot version of DINAH:

Andrew Storar favors the singing of Dean Martin, and honors him without copying, on EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY:

Turning the No Name Bar into Rick’s wasn’t easy — the carpenters had to work feverishly — but Si delivers AS TIME GOES BY in a more jocular fashion than the last Dooley Wilson:

And to send everyone out into the sun with just a tinge of harmless malice (Lorna in the audience jumped when Mal said those dark words to her . . . ) here’s YOU RASCAL YOU, sung by Tom and Mal:

I know where the GPS will be pointing me next Sunday.  In fact, I think I already know how to get to 757 Bridgeway without the GPS, and given my directional skills, that is the highest tribute I can pay Mal and the Big Money in Jazz All-Star Orchestra.  And don’t forget to say GOOD NIGHT, PROVINCETOWN.  We are, after all, on the air.

May your happiness increase.

SUNDAY IN SAUSALITO WITH MAL (and “BIG MONEY IN JAZZ”)

The spirited improviser Mal Sharpe (trombone and philosophical inquirer) and friends were captured live at The No Name Bar in Sausalito, California, on July 1, 2012. The friends are Ev Farey, trumpet; Jerry Logas, clarinet and sax, Bill DeKuiper, rhythm guitar, Denny Geyer, guitar and vocals, Roy Blumenfeld, drums, Paul Smith, string bass.

“Big Money in Jazz” can be found at the No Name in Sausalito every Sunday from 3-6 (that’s 757 Bridgeway and the phone is 415 332-1392).  Nice people behind the bar and in front of it, and perhaps next time I will get to meet the two resident black cats, Marley and Harley?

Mal’s band — with a constantly changing personnel — also plays the fourth Thursday of the month from8-10 at Armando’s in Martinez (707 Marina Vista Avenue, 925 228 6985).  Another sweet-natured place, although I don’t think it has cats — except on the bandstand — twining around the brightly painted furniture.

Don’t miss “Big Money in Jazz” — a surprise in every box and pure chewing satisfaction, too.

Here they are rocking the bar with the T-BONE SHUFFLE, whose effect is certainly salutary:

May your happiness increase.

“BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS” by Hal Willard (1999)

BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS by Hal Willard

Originally published in The Mississippi Rag, February 1999

In the relatively short history of jazz, many strange and spectacular characters have made unique contributions to the music and its lore.  April 1999 marks the 43rd anniversary of the time one of the strangest, and in some ways most spectacular characters attracted attention with a comeback album.

His name was Boyce Brown, and he had been among the best saxophonists in jazz, rating high in the survey lists of Down Beat magazine, the bible of jazz.  But it wasn’t so much the comeback as it was where he came back from that attracted attention.

Brown had given up music to become a Brother in the Catholic Church and was in the midst of undergoing years of training to enter the strict Servite Order.  He was having a middle-age metamorphosis, and his effort to create a new life was causing considerable controversy within the Church, where many priests and Servites questioned his seriousness of purpose and wondered whether he really had abandoned his former life.

Boyce Brown was a man out of place — out of place in jazz, and, because he came from the jazz world, perhaps out of place in the world of Catholicism that he sought.

If ever a soul seemed lost in the raucous, raunchy, rigorous life of jazzmen, it was the gentle, contemplative, ascetic Boyce Brown, whose quiet, unobtrusive nature was made the more so by impaired vision, an odd appearance, and herky-jerky body movements caused by physical deformities.  Yes, for 20 years or more, he was listed among the top alto saxophonists in jazz.

His birth in Chicago, or April 16, 1910, had been difficult.  It was a breech delivery, and when Boyce finally emerged, he was seriously injured.  The doctor put Boyce aside and devoted his attention to saving the mother.  Boyce’s Aunt Harriet, who was in the delivery room, saw what was happening and moved to do what she could for the baby.  She picked up the misshapen and struggling newborn and literally shaped his head with her hands, saving his life.  But, among other injuries he suffered, one eye was gone and the other was damaged.

So, as an adult, Boyce Brown faced the world with a glass eye, limited vision in the other eye,an oddly-shaped head and a partially caved-in chest.  He walked sort of lop-sided, with a halting, loping gait, one shoulder drooping.  Sometimes he would hold his head at funny angles, stretching out his neck like a bird truing to find kernels of grain.  Some people even called him “Bird” in those days before fellow altoist Charlie Parker came along and became “Bird” for all time.

It wasn’t just his appearance that set Brown apart in the jazz world.  He liked to write poetry, and he liked to talk about it and discuss philosophy and other deep, unjazz-like subjects, to the confusion and consternation of his fellow musicians.  Besides, he lived with his mother.

Boyce started playing the saxophone at 14 and by the time he was 17 in 1927 got his first job.  It was with a trio in a joint called Amber Light, owned by Al Capone and managed by Bugs Moran.  Moran showed solicitude for the youngsters in the band by telling them to hide behind the piano if customers started shooting.

Brown’s playing attracted the attention of other musicians, and when Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey came to town with their new joint band, Tommy went to hear Boyce and then asked him to join them.  But when Boyce sat in with the Dorsey band, he got the volatile Tommy upset when he cocked his head at a strange angle and leaned over to squint at the music.  Tommy thought the audience would be distracted and put off by the contortions.  Boyce told Tommy he had to bend over only once per sheet of music because he could memorize it at a glance, despite his poor vision.  He had a photographic memory, and perfect pitch as well.

Nevertheless, Brown lacked self-confidence, and he also was afflicted by a sense of responsibility.  He felt he should stay with and support his mother because his father was an alcoholic and unreliable.

So, Brown stayed home.  Although he subsequently toured around the country with different bands, he chose to play most of the 20 prime years of his musical career at the Liberty Inn, a strip joint on Chicago’s rowdy North Clark Street.

Boyce Brown in the Liberty Inn was the definition of incongruity.  He drank, but not to excess, and, of course, he couldn’t see much of what was going on.  Sometimes he sat backstage between shows reading philosophy, his face literally buried in the book.  This disturbed some people because they didn’t understand it.

Despite his aloofness, Brown liked the girls.  They were kind to him and seemed to understand him — although they perhaps wondered why he never made passes at them and otherwise ignored their nakedness.  He told friends that the girls were nice and not bad as most people seemed to think.  At one point, Brown was briefly engaged to a girl outside the business, but he again decided he couldn’t leave his mother and Aunt Harriet, whom he also was helping.

Time and again he left the Liberty Inn to play with other bands, but he always returned.  Something there suited him.  Maybe it was a psychological refuge; there was much honesty and little pretense in the Liberty Inn.

As the years passed, Brown was bothered more and more by the contrast between his manner of making a living and his attitudes about life and people developed through his philosophical readings.  He got in the habit of going for long walks in the early morning hours after work, wondering about his life as a musician, the paradoxes and the fact that he wasn’t fully utilizing his abilities.  He became depressed and even thought about suicide.

One morning his walk took him past St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church on Granville Avenue, and he heard organ music.  He stopped to listen.  As children, he and his brother, Harvey, had been iterested enough in classical music to stage record concerts for their friends.

Brown returned to the church morning after morning to listen to the music, and he soon began going inside to hear better.  One morning a priest noticed him standing in the shadows at the back of the church and approached to welcome him.  From that contact, one thing led to another and on August 12, 1952, Boyce Brown, who had been raised an Episcopalian, became a Catholic.  He was 42 years old.

But just being a Catholic didn’t satisfy him.  He wanted deeper involvement.  One day at St. Gertrude’s, he met Father Ed Calkins, a missionary of the Servites, a religious order of friars started in the 13th century.  Brown asked about taking his religious feelings further.

Father Ed sent Brown to the Servites’ director of vocation, Father Hugh Calkins, his brother (two other Calkins brothers also were priests).  Father Hugh listened as Brown described his concern about being accepted for further work in the church.  He feared his background of playing jazz in “low” places for so many years would rule him out.  Father Hugh let Brown ramble on about his worries for a time, and then told him he would make a good Brother in the Servite Order.

As for jazz, Father Hugh said, it just so happened that he himself was fond of jazz.  In fact he was a pretty good amateur pianist, if he did say so himself, and felt he and Brown would enjoy playing together.

After a few more interviews, in the fall of 1953 Boyce Brown entered the monastery and began training to become a Brother.  When Father Hugh was questioned by a superior about Brown’s seriousness of purpose, he said Brown was one of the most deeply spiritual men he had ever met.

That was fine, the superior said, bring him in.  “He might say enough prayers to get the rest of us into Heaven.”

Two years later, Brown entered the Novitiate at Mount Saint Philip Monastery about 10 miles north of Milwaukee and on Feb. 26, 1956, took his vows as Brother Matthew.

Part of Boyce Brown’s training, and his vocation as a Brother, involved menial work in the monastery, kitchen, tailor shop, laundry, bakery, and boiler room, and he swept the halls.  Sometimes, when his work was done, he played the saxophone, but not often.  His first year of training, he played hardly at all, so everyone was surprised when, at the Christmas party, Brother Hugh sat down to play the piano — and called on Brown to get his saxophone.  When he and Brown got going, Father Hugh said, they “rocked the refectory,” and played together many times after that.

Father Hugh, outgoing and enthusiastic, had a talent for public relations — another incongruity — and when Brown took his vows, the priest sent out a press release.  A week later, Time Magazine and other publications carried items with the news.

About two weeks after that, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page story about the jazzman turned Brother.  This was followed by a picture story in the Trib‘s rotogravure section.

As the word spread, ABC-Paramount telephoned Father Hugh and asked if Brother Matthew could go to New York and make a record.  Father Hugh, bursting with excitement, got an okay from church superiors and then got in touch with jazz spokesman Eddie Condon, who knew Brown in his early days, and asked him to handle arrangements for a record date.

Father Hugh’s press release now had gathered maximum momentum.  Father Hugh had become official spokesman, escort, PR man and general factotum for Brother Matthew.  (Later, he collected considerable information and provided much of the material for this article.)  Father Hugh and his charge appeared and played on Garry Moore’s “I’ve Got A Secret” television program, with Moore himself on drums, the day before the record session.  They played “My Blue Heaven.”

Boyce Brown’s and Father Hugh’s “secret” was that they played jazz in a monastery.  The panel was game show host Bill Cullen, who was raised a Catholic, radio comedian Henry Morgan, supposedly an agnostic; and actress Faye Emerson, then married to bandleader and pianist Skitch Henderson.  Her religious beliefs were unknown, but she was the one who guessed the “secret,” but not until the time allotted to do so had expired.  She finally remembered seeing Brown’s picture in Time, and Henderson had told her about Brown’s past and background.

Father Hugh and Boyce spent that night in the Abbey Hotel, and the religious motif was played to the hilt.  The next day, a Life Magazine photographer showed up at the recording session, and a spread of pictures appeared in the April 23, 1956 issue.

Condon had rounded up a band of star jazzmen: on cornet, Wild Bill Davison, who had played with Brown in the old days; Gene Schroeder on piano; Pee Wee Russell on clarinet; Ernie Caceres on baritone sax; Cutty Cutshall on trombone; George Wettling on drums; Bob Casey on bass and on a few numbers, Paul Smith on guitar.  The session was a little more orderly, somber and sober than might have been the case in Brown’s former life, but Davison and a couple of others nevertheless broke out the booze, and Brown joined in without hesitation, showing he still was one of the boys.

Unfortunately, he still wasn’t one of them musically.  The tunes played included Brown’s “theme song,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” plus “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Blues for Boyce,” a tune improvised for the occasion.  While Brown still was holed up in the Liberty Inn tootling for the strippers, the others had been learning from each other and their colleagues and developing as musicians.  The upshot was that his horn figuratively became caked with rust.  However, the record was issued, entitled Brother Matthew, and although it wasn’t really that bad, it was not a success.  It did not create a demand for more music from the monastery.  This was a disappointment to Father Hugh, but probably not to Brown.

Father Hugh had hoped to use the record as a fund-raiser for the Servites and their missions in South Africa, but a hit record and satisfying demands for more might not have been Brother Matthew’s idea of serving God, his fellow man and himself in the quietude of a monastery.  Brown told Father Hugh he felt he had said all he had to say through his music.  After all, that was a life he voluntarily gave up.

So, sans success, Brother Matthew was allowed to go back to his chores and his meditations, but his serenity was gone.

In early 1957, Dave Garroway called and wanted to do a segment on Brother Matthew for NBC’s “Wide Wide World” program on Sunday afternoon.  The idea was to contrast Brother Matthew’s playing with a dixieland band with the Gregorian music sung by the Servite members.  This was done and went out over the network, live.  Father Hugh described the broadcast as a success, but perhaps the superiors were beginning to wonder about all the worldliness and all the talk from Father Hugh about good public relations.  Was this a religious order or was it Madison Avenue?

Whatever was actually said, or implied, brown began to worry about his future with the Servites.  Final vows to enter the Servite Order for life were coming up, and Brows was afraid he wouldn’t be accepted.  He told Father Hugh of his concern, and when the priest went before his superiors in the monastery at Hillside, a Chicago suburb, he discovered that Brown’s fears were well-founded.

They thought Boyce Brown was an alcoholic and not ready to devote his life to the Servite Order.  Sometimes the other members smelled alcohol on his breath.  A bottle of booze was found in his room.  One Sunday, he left the monastery to play  a few hours in a band led by drummer Danny Alvin and returned with the smell of liquor about him.  Once, his hands shook when he was helping a priest serve Mass.

Father Hugh pleaded the case.  He pointed out that members of the Order were allowed to drink in moderation and that’s all Brown was doing.  He said there was no evidence that he ever drank to excess.  His hands shook because of nervousness.  Father Hugh cited Brown’s value to the Order as a fund-raiser and as an entertainer of the other members (which may have been the wrong approach).  Father Hugh said he had never known anyone with a deeper spirituality, with a richer goodness of soul.

The superiors were unmoved.  They told Father Hugh he was prejudiced in favor of Brown because they were friends, they played jazz together and Father Hugh loved jazz.  There was every indication they would not accept Boyce Brown when he came up for consideration.  Father Hugh’s grand public relations gambit — a Brother who played jazz — had backfired.

But Brown never came up for consideration.  A few days before the day he was to face the superiors, he helped serve a meal at the monastery, then sat down to eat.  But instead of eating, he got back up and went to his room.  He took off his robe and folded it neatly.  Then he lay down on his bed.  A few minutes later, a painter working in the next room heard an unearthly, terrible moan.  He called a priest.

Boyce Brown was dead.  It was Jan. 30, 1959 — two months and 16 days before his 39th birthday and two years and 10 months after the Brother Matthew record was made.

“God spared him from possible being rejected,” Father Hugh said.

Father Hugh’s feelings about Boyce Brown were profound.  “He was without a doubt one of the most genuinely religious-minded persons I have ever met.  In the sense that he had an intuitive awareness of things that even many priests, many theologians, never grasp.  He said he saw music in colors — he heard chord changes, but he saw them, too.  Some sounds were a rich purple or a deep blue.  I checked with a psychologist and he said that some artists do that; their senses coordinate.  It’s an overlapping of senses.”

In the aftermath of Brown’s departure, Columbia Pictures called Father Hugh to talk about making a movie of Brown’s life, with Father Hugh as technical adviser.  He was, of course, enthusiastic and the idea went as far as a scriptwriter coming to interview Father Hugh in depth.  Then he told the monastery superiors about it.  The rejection was flat and unequivocal; the lives of the seminarians would be disrupted by movie people wandering around and climbing all over the monastery.  The project was called off.

By the way, Father Hugh had envisioned Anthony Perkins in the role.

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Note: I’m very grateful to Jim Denham of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST (http://www.shirazsocialist.wordpress.com.) for uncovering a copy of this truly detailed article.  Hal Willard died not long ago, so I can’t thank him in person, but his research into Boyce’s life and his conversations with Father Hugh Calkins were invaluable.  A long and beautiful overview of Boyce’s life and recordings can be found in Richard M. Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, with comments from Dave Dexter, Jimmy McPartland, George Avakian, and others — including excerpts from Boyce’s poetry and a letter he wrote to that “bible of jazz,” Down Beat . . . where he had won the 1940 poll for alto saxophone.

EDDIE CONDON: CHANGING THE WORLD ONE HOT CHORUS AT A TIME

Having taken the opportunity to celebrate the 105th birthday of one Eddie Condon, I remain convinced that he did much more than play rhythm guitar and talk to the customers at a variety of saloons in New York City. 

Although some I’ve spoken to seem to find the topic of racial integration no longer interesting, Condon has never gotten the credit he deserves as a pioneer. 

His achievement was more than shepherding Fats Waller to the Victor studios so that he could make two sides with a mixed band in 1929.  It was larger than quietly playing his banjo alongside Louis Armstrong and the Luis Russell band in that same year. 

It can’t be overemphasized that Eddie was one of the earliest figures to make sure that black and white musicians could stand on an equal footing, playing their music for posterity. 

It was one thing to have a mixed jam session at 4 AM in Harlem; it was quite another thing for records featuring mixed-race bands to be made, to be known as such, to be recognized as classics.  Much attention has been paid (rightly so) to the roles of Benny Goodman and John Hammond in encouraging mixed ensembles in public. 

But that was 1936: Condon’s efforts had been going on for seven or more years.  If you could get listeners accustomed to hearing mixed bands on record, then they would be more eager to see their favorite artists perform in public.  Condon had the first mixed band on Fifty-Second Street; his mixed troupe of jazz artists was closed out of a Washington, D.C., concert hall because of protests from the DAR.

He was genuinely color-blind when it came to music, and that equality of thought and feeling had an impact.  When white and black troops were serving in the legally sagregated armed forces, both sets of soldiers could hear color-blind music coming from V-Discs and AFRS transcriptions. 

I think of Charles L. Black, a young Southern lawyer who found himself shaken out of his racist assumptions by hearing Louis Armstrong in 1931: Black went on to write the legal brief for Linda Brown in Brown vs. the Board of Education, the decision that made such segregation illegal in the United States.  

I believe that soldiers who thought that “Negroes” were inferior had their beliefs changed, however subtly, by hearing Hot Lips Page and Pee Wee Russell play thousands of miles away at a Condon concert.  Consider someone with similar inbred views, ten years later, seeing Ralph Sutton, Walter Page, Edmond Hall, and George Wettling play at Eddie’s club, noting that these four men got along especially well, no one was superior or inferior to anyone else on the stand.

Eddie Condon made such things possible.  It’s a cliche of the theatre that you can make people think about larger issues if you make them laugh in the process or if you set the ideas to music: Eddie did both, in person and as part of many ensembles.   

He also improved every band he was a part of: Joe Bushkin insisted on acknowledging Condon’s phenomenal harmonic sense and knowledge of songs (and, in fact, Eddie helped Bushkin through his early shaky beginnings on Fifty-Second Street by calling out the chords to songs Bushkin only half-knew).  

Eddie also had a fine dramatic or structural sense — listen closely to any recorded performance, in the studio or in concert.  Riffs, backgrounds, knowing when to encourage one player to go on or to subtly say to another, “You’ve had your say,” all of this was second nature to Eddie — a great orchestrator who didn’t work from a printed score. 

How anyone ends up to be what they are as an adult may be mysterious, but Condon’s growth and development seem particularly remarkable.  His birthplace, Goodland, Indiana, was not exactly the cradle of jazz.  He came from a large family; his father was somewhere between a saloon-keeper and the man who greeted people in the saloon, sat down and chatted with them.  It would have been very easy for Eddie to become nothing more serious than a young man who played the banjo now and again while someone else sang pop hits of the day, or while someone else played the C-melody saxophone. 

But something hit the young man from Goodland with the force of religious revelation.  I don’t know quite how it appeared to him: was it a record by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, or one by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings?  Was it the proximity to Chicago?  Jazz music — and playing that music — must have seemed the most thrilling things possible.  However it grew, the transformation from Indiana boy to Chicago jazzman was quick, and it gave shape to Eddie’s life, and thus gave pleasure to so many. 

Eddie Condon’s club on West Third Street no longer exists: it is now part of the New York University conglomeration of buildings.  Nick’s on West Tenth Street is now a gourmet supermarket.  So the Condon landscape has shifted and been obliterated. 

But one shrine remains:  the New York apartment still inhabited by his daughter Maggie, her husband Peter, their son Michael.  I paid them a return visit (with my camera) and have some new delights to share — holy artifacts, as far as I’m concerned.

Although many of Eddie’s effects “went away” after hie death (Maggie thought that Phyllis Condon had simply given away many things to Eddie’s relatives), she still has “Slicker” Condon’s first banjo, circa 1924.  It no longer has its neck or strings, but what remains is delicate and precious (even if a few of these photographs unintentionally intensify its resemblance to a nicely browned souffle).  The stenciled lettering on the front reads _ _ _ _ _ JAZZ BAND, but the top line is somewhat difficult to decipher.

From the top!

An alternate take . . .

“Slicker” Condon!  I don’t know if that is Eddie’s Twenties handwriting or not . . .

Another view . . .

And one more.  That looks like May 1, 1924, but rry Kaylor is elusive, although I don’t have my copy of WE CALLED IT MUSIC nearby.

And one more series of photographic studies.  Consider this:Collage, anyone?

Not an exhibit at MOMA (not yet).

One of Eddie’s trademarks was his hand-tied bowties, and here’s a whole stash of them (with a birthday drawing done by brother-in-law Paul Smith as ornament).

More to come!  But for the moment, listen closely to one Eddie Condon recording and celebrate the man who made it possible.  And, in doing so, slowly changed the world.