Tag Archives: Paul Whiteman

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Four) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

It’s Sunday again — and that means it’s time to go to The Ear Inn.  This will explain it all.

I know, perhaps better than you’d think, the difference between a live performance and a video, but I’d ask you to not scoff at the latter, because it is our century’s version of a phonograph record . . . and since I would guess that few people alive in 2020 heard Charlie Christian, we’ve contented ourselves with his “recorded legacy.”

Here’s my humble contribution to keeping The Ear Inn and The EarRegulars fresh and lively in our ears and hearts.

Thanks to the magic of technology, we can go there (or back or sideways) to hear music from November 8, 2009, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, unaffected Ministers of Magic.

Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER:

With nods to Whiteman and Horace Henderson, HAPPY FEET:

and Louis’s swinging anthem of reproach, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

Blessings on the place, its inhabitants musical and non-musical.  Let us gather there soon in peace and safety, our hearts purged of fear.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE ONE, TAKE TWO (Chicago, January 24, 1929)

I don’t remember in which antique store I found a shiny copy of the record above, except that my boredom (prowling through aisles of overpriced odd fragments of human history) stopped instantly.  It’s a famous recording, because more than twenty years ago, an unidentified trumpet solo that sounded rather Bixian was seized upon as being a true Bix improvisation.  I assure you that the dramatic discussions that went on — read here if you like — are not my subject.

Before I delve into why, here’s some data: the personnel as stated by Tom Lord: Ray Miller And His Orchestra : Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Connett, Lloyd Wallen (tp) Jules Fasthoff (tb) Jim Cannon (cl,as) Maurice Morse (as) Lyle Smith (ts) Paul Lyman (vln) Art Gronwall (p,arr) Leon Kaplan (bj,g) Jules Cassard (tu,b) Bill Paley (d) Bob Nolan, Mary Williams (vcl) Ray Miller (dir).

Why should I post the two takes of CRADLE OF LOVE?  For one thing, I have been putting my 78s in order and I saw the record, decided to play it, liked it, played it several times over.  And I continue to do so: it has become something I love.

The song itself — by the team that had a hit with RAMONA — is delightful in its limited scope.  You might know the story that Ray Henderson, Bud De Sylva, and Lew Brown — responsible for many hits — decided to write the worst song they could, with every tear-jerking cliche, and the result was SONNY BOY, which — with Al Jolson’s fervent performance (and his adding his name to the credits) was a million-seller.

I don’t know if the SONNY BOY story is true, but there’s something about CRADLE OF LOVE that hints at its composers asking themselves what they could do to assure themselves a hit.

First, pick a very optimistic premise: the young couple, so in love, in their tiny rural paradise which will be paid off in a year; they have chickens; their neighbors love them; they will have a baby soon.  Fecundity, domesticity, domestic bliss, prosperity — pleasing dreams, especially in January 1929 with no hint of the Crash to come. Home, young love, sex, and chickens!  And yes, the song is very close to MY BLUE HEAVEN, which made a great deal of money not too long before.

Second, invent a melody with an irresistible hook that sounds much like MAKIN’ WHOOPEE (a song with a clearly divergent view of domestic bliss, curdled) and put the two together.  The one touch of realism in this dream-world is that the neighbors “smile / most of the while” (my emphasis).  Why there are these noticeable lapses in grinning is never explained, especially since “all” would have worked just as well in the line.  Perhaps Wayne and Gilbert had some scruples.

CRADLE OF LOVE should have been memorable, but didn’t become so.  However, there’s so much that pleases me in these recordings (there are rumors of a third non-vocal version, made for the German market, but I don’t know anyone who has heard it).  The Miller band just sounds good, and they balance their instrumental work and the “hot” solos so beautifully.  (Yes, the question has been asked, “Why two trumpet / cornet improvisations on the same — white — dance band record?” to which I have no answer.)  It means a great deal to me that the statement of the verse is a wonderful early Muggsy Spanier episode, as well.  I don’t feel the need to mock Bob Nolan, either.  And Eddy Davis was telling me, a few weeks ago, about working with pianist Art Gronwall — to which I could only say, “Wow!”  The rhythm section has a nice bounce, and the trombone interlude reminds me cheerfully of Miff Mole.

So I invite you to listen, to put aside preconceptions, and simply enjoy.

Take One:

Take Two:

and, just because YouTube makes it possible for me to share it with you, here is the Paul Whiteman version recorded fourteen days earlier, an entirely different orchestral rendition, with a lovely Trumbauer bridge near the end:

Slightly more than ten months after the Miller recording, the stock market crash changed everyone’s lives.  I hope the young couple had paid off every stick and stone before then, and could make a living selling eggs.  How the toad plays into this I can’t imagine, but I hope (s)he and others prospered.  Otherwise it’s too dire to contemplate.

Note: readers who feel a pressing need to extend the Bix-or-not-Bix discussion will not find their comments printed here.  Enough idolatry, thanks.  I don’t think it’s Bix — but it’s my blog and I have some privileges therein.

May your happiness increase!

GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN? THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 24, 2018)

The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on.  Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast.  People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more.  They give great value!

I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.

I’ve posted other videos of them herehere, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.

The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018.  They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:

and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:

Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:

Bless Don Redman is what I say:

LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries).  I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently.  Here is the link to the film.  Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):

Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):

Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:

There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend.  So watch this space for more good news.

May your happiness increase!

BY ENLIGHTENED POPULAR DEMAND! MORE FROM HOT CLASSICISM — KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, ANDY SCHUMM (Snug Harbor, Sept. 25, 2017)

I love this little band.  There!  I’ve said it.  Kris Tokarski, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Andy Schumm, cornet and clarinet.  Snug Harbor, New Orleans, September 25, 2016.

HOT CLASSICISM is on the move!  And this posting is in honor of Brother Hal, for many reasons, obvious and otherwise.

FORGET-ME-NOT (with ties to Bix and Whiteman):

SUNDAY (from 1927 on, a reliable mood-improver):

STOMP OFF, LET’S GO! (thanks to Erskine Tate and that chubby young man from Back O’Town):

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE (a dance we all love — more about it here):

ANGRY (not really, just excited, courtesy of the NORK):

More to come.  Yes, still more!

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFULLY PLAYED, WITH NOT A HOT SOLO IN SIGHT (1931)

A portrait of Eddie Lang, inscribed to Leo McConville. Courtesy of the McConville Archives.

I come from the generation of listeners who waited for the hot solo in the midst of what we were taught (by the communal listeners’ culture) was dull by comparison.  And some of those solos were frankly electrifying. Here is a memorable example:

The caricature of such listeners is the people who wore out the Bix solo on the Whiteman SWEET SUE but left the rest of the record’s surface black and gleaming.

But I have come to see how limiting that was.  Consider this 1931 recording of a sweet pop song.  It’s a Ben Selvin group, with a vocal by the demurely named Paul Small.  This record (and the other side, WHAT IS IT?) finds no mention in a jazz discography, yet it is very satisfying music.  For one thing, it is beautifully played — great dance music, wonderful strains to be holding one’s love, whether any apologies have been tendered or received in the recent past.

The other reason is the deliciously subtle but pervasive guitar of Salvatore Massaro, “Eddie Lang” to the rest of us — who begins the side with an instantly recognizable introduction, and is audible behind the vocal and uplifting throughout.

And they say men don’t know how to apologize.  What wonderful music, what danceable tenderness.

May your happiness increase!

ARTHUR and ADRIAN

I’ve just finished reading the charming autobiography of saxophonist Arthur Rollini (1912- 93), THIRTY YEARS WITH THE BIG BANDS, and it gave me the opportunity to learn about his first recordings — music graciously provided by the estimable AtticusJazz on YouTube.  Here are his first two recorded sides (April 12, 1929, in London) — the first a head arrangement of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, the second the full Fred Elizalde orchestra performing SINGAPORE SORROWS in an arrangement by Fud Livingston.  Arthur was seventeen (as was the brilliant trumpeter Norman Payne, heard briefly on the second side); his legendary brother Adrian was then not yet twenty-six.

Of the first side, Arthur writes, “Bobby Davis took the first half of a chorus and I picked him up for the second half.  Adrian played brilliantly.”  Recalling SINGAPORE SORROWS, he praises Norman Payne, “This little solo in Bix’s tradition still stands up today.”  Especially in SWEETHEART, I hear the influence of the contemporaneous Nichols recordings, and beautiful playing throughout.

The small band is Fred Elizalde, arranger / leader; Chelsea Quealey, trumpet; Bobby Davis, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone; Max Farley, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Billy Mason, piano;  Tiny Stock, brass bass; string bass; Ronnie Gubertini, drums; Al Bowlly, guitar.

The large band is Fred Elizalde; Chelsea Quealey, Norman Payne, Nobby Knight, trumpet; Frank Coughlan, trombone; Bobby Davis, Max Farley, Phil Cardew, Fud Livingston, Arthur Rollini, Adrian Rollini, reeds; George Hurley, Ben Frankel, Len Lees, violin; Billy Mason, Jack Hull, banjo; Al Bowlly, Tiny Stock, Ronnie Gubertini.

Before I was deep into this book, I already valued it because it explained the early death of Adrian. Arthur tells us just how seriously Adrian was accident-prone: “He inadvertently smashed cars, stepped into holes and, although he was not a clumsy person, frequently tripped.  It was so bad that insurance companies refused him coverage.  Eventually, even his death was the result of an accident. It happened in Florida when he fell down a flight of stairs into a pit of coral rock” (17).

Then, as I read on in this low-keyed, modest book, I encountered compelling anecdotes of Benny Goodman’s oblivious cruelty, Richard Himber’s aberrational behavior (intentionally aimed flatulence as his idea of comedy?!), brief portraits of Bunny Berigan, Dave Tough, Hank D’Amico . . . Paul Whiteman uttering Turk Murphy’s “three little words” to a society matron who had pushed him too far, the eccentric Raymond Scott, and more.

As the Swing Era ends, Arthur and others find comfortable jobs in network radio for a decade or more, but the book slowly records the end of an era in popular music.  He doesn’t moan or rant, but “thirty years with the big  bands” as a sideman have left him without a place to go.  Oh, there are gigs in Long Island clubs, but he doesn’t have the name recognition of, say, Buddy Tate, or the chameleon-like abilities of Al Klink. He and his wife try non-musical businesses, and they have a hard time, with all underscored by her eventually fatal illness.  So I felt much sorrow in the final pages of the book, and I was undecided if I would keep my copy or pass it on.

Then I saw this picture (which I have poorly reproduced with my phone) and said, “I’m keeping this!”: the 1938 Benny Goodman softball team with Dave Tough in the front row with a mitt (what kind would it be?) that seems too big for him.  The other players, in the back row, are Bud Freeman, Chris Griffin, Harry Goodman, Arthur, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Vernon Brown, Noni Bernardi; in the front, Benny Heller, Pee Wee Monte, Dave, Red Ballard.  (And for the Lesterphiles in the audience, Arthur tells of the inside-the-park home run the Pres hit in one game.)  You can find a much better copy of this photograph here.

And here, courtesy of THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY, a superb blog — temporarily on vacation,

the Rollini brothers send their best — from 1937, but the sounds are eternal.

With thanks to A.J. Sammut, as always.

May your happiness increase!

“SAMMY THE DRUMMER”: SOME THOUGHTS ON SAMMY WEISS

Sammy Weiss and Frank Sinatra

Drummer Sam (or “Sammy”) Weiss played in New York with many of the most prominent jazz musicians of the ’30s and early ’40s, including Louis Armstrong, Adrian Rollini, Wingy Manone, Miff Mole, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. He also worked with Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Louis Prima, and Erskine Hawkins, among others. After moving to California in 1945, Weiss led his own successful orchestra and worked freelance. He led bands throughout the ’60s, and also worked in television; his TV work included appearances on The Jack Benny Program in 1961 and 1964. He died in 1977.

Here are Jack, Sammy, Wayne Songer, and others doing a “hilbilly” sketch:

And going back a few decades, a Weiss appearance with Gene Kardos in 1934:

Here I pause the official biography for a moment, to say that one of the most pleasant aspects of JAZZ LIVES (which I began nine years ago this year . . . no presents, please) is that people find me.  Some months back, I got a cheerful message from Jayne Weiss, Sammy’s daughter, who had noticed that I had mentioned her father in a blogpost.  In our conversation, I mentioned that her father was remarkable in making the transition from sideman to bandleader to personality, “Sammy The Drummer.”  And she said, “That was exactly who he was.  He was a personality.”

Sammy was one of the cast of characters on the Jack Benny television show: this episode is based on New Year’s Eve, 1961:

Here are some of Jayne’s thoughts.

Since my dad’s death, people are always finding things and sending them to us, so I got a hold of my cousin Brian, who does web design, and we are going to create a website for my dad, with discographies, clippings, photographs, videos. In 1971, my mother started to write a book about my father, because he had a very interesting story.  She had written to Ralph Edwards of THIS IS YOUR LIFE, but the show was being cancelled.  But I found the letter and the story she had written about him.  I have a letter from Artie Shaw and telegrams from Jack Benny.  He was with Jack Benny for twenty-five years, radio and television.

Sammy Weiss and Mickey Katz

He was from the Lower East Side, a very poor family, because his father, who was a bootlegger, had died when he was very young and he had to help support the family. He was self-taught at thirteen; he took rungs of a chair and made drumsticks, then took parts of the chair and tin plates and made a set of drums.  And he would sit at the front of the building and entertain the neighborhood.  One day a neighbor came by and asked Sammy if he would get a few friends together and play their daughter’s wedding. He was maybe fourteen, a big, tall guy.  Having no drums, he would rent a set, and he got a band together .  They paid the band three dollars, and my father decided that this was for him.  At fifteen, he started his career.  Then he started playing in the Catskills, fall and winter, dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs.  In 1933, he was playing at the Stevensville Lake Hotel, where he met my mother.  (They were married for thirty-seven years and had five children.)  

Now, my mother, who looked like Jean Harlow, was already engaged to Henny Youngman’s brother-in-law.  But when Sammy met my mother, he walked her all around the hotel, introducing her to everyone as his future wife. When she went to break up with the brother-in-law, he locked himself up in a room with a gun and threatened to kill himself.  Unlike Sammy, my mother came from money: her father was in the pants business and one of his customers was Bugsy Siegel.  Her parents were opposed to the marriage because Sammy didn’t seem as if he could support a family. Then she was in the hospital, seriously ill with peritonitis, with her father at her bedside, praying for her to get well.  She looked at him and said, “I’ll only live if I can marry Sammy.”  And she got well.

You know, he was the first drummer for Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw.  He was with Goodman at Billy Rose’s Music Hall in June of 1934. But when they went on the road, he didn’t go, because he wanted to stay home and raise a family.  

That’s why Gene Krupa showed up, and Buddy Rich, because Sammy stayed in New York.  In fact, when I was young, I went with my dad to the musicians’ union on Hollywood and Vine, I was crossing the street and Buddy Rich was crossing the street the other way, coming towards us, and the two of them stopped in the middle of the street, hugging each other, and I was standing there, going “What the heck?”

He moved to the West Coast in 1945 because my older brother got very sick, and the doctors told him that my brother couldn’t survive another winter.  Luckily, the Jack Benny Show was moving west. When he and my mother first moved out to California, their house had a room separate from the house where the musicians would jam, also because my brothers were musical.  There were always people coming and going, and they used to say that my mother cooked in army pots because there were so many.  Maurice played trumpet, drums, and piano.  My brother Allan sang and played drums.  And Jack played clarinet, saxophone, drums, and piano. And they all had bands.

I was twelve years younger, so I remember hearing about all of this, but I was little. I played piano, violin, and guitar.  My father always used to say I had perfect pitch, because he would call across the room, “Hit A,” and I would hit it.  One day they got a notice in the mail, “Come to _____ School.  Your daughter is playing first-chair violin in the orchestra.”  They didn’t even know.  I had found a violin in the garage, took it to school, and learned how to play it.

On radio, he worked on WNEW and then went on staff with WNBC. He had his own radio show called JAMMIN’ WITH SAMMY, and worked with Paul Whiteman, Kate Smith, Walter Damrosch, “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” with Abe Lyman — also with Mark Warnow, Freddie Rich, Ray Bloch, Raymond Scott, Paul Lavalle. He could read, play piano, and all the percussion instruments.  He was on the Carnation Show, Meet Millie, Edgar Bergen, the Colgate Hour, Russ Morgan, Jack Carson, Lucky Strike, Al Jolson, Steve Allen, Burns and Allen, Victor Young, Dinah Shore.  My mother took Dinah Shore to pick out an outfit for her first audition in New York. My father accompanied Tony Martin at the Cocoanut Grove.  In 1953, he did a movie with Frank Sinatra, THE JOKER IS WILD.  He recorded with Johnny Guarneri and Slam Stewart for Savoy Records.

On the Benny Show, he was a character.  He was bald.  They actually wrote a show about me, in May 1951, “When Sammy’s Wife Has a Baby.”  The joke was that everyone went to see the baby in the hospital, and someone says, “How did you know which one was Jayne?”  “She was bald!”  Jack and Mary Benny bought me my layette when I was born.

He had his own band for private parties and conventions, dances. In November 1957 he had a month’s engagement at the Hollywood Palladium, “playing the kind of music the public has always loved.”

He was wonderful.  Definitely Mister Personality.  A wonderful father who loved his kids.  I had the best parents ever.  He was so involved.  We would have lots of people for the holidays, for Thanksgiving.  Wherever we went, if we would walk into a restaurant, “Oh, my God! Sam!”  And he was such a sport. My mother would yell at him because he would always pick up the tab. “Bring me his check.”  People knew him at the market, on the golf course.  He could golf during the day and work at night.

There’s a famous steakhouse, Monty’s in the San Fernando Valley. On my twenty-first birthday, we went there for dinner.  Over the years, I heard “Me Tarzan.  You Jane.” jokes constantly.  That night, sitting at the bar, was Johnny Weissmuller, drunk.  My father didn’t realize just how drunk Johnny was, but he said, “Look, it’s my daughter’s birthday, and her name is Jayne.  It would be such a hoot if you came over and did your shtick.”  There was an outdoor patio, and Johnny opened the doors and did the Tarzan call, then came over to the table and said, “You Jane.  Me Tarzan.”  I wanted to die, to crawl under the table.

Sammy was on every Mickey Katz album.  My mother actually sings on one. Mickey and Grace Katz were very dear friends of our family. In fact, I  have a picture of Joel Grey before his nose job, dancing with my mother at one of the bar mitzvahs!  Mickey did my father’s eulogy.  I knew Mannie Klein (his wife was nicknamed “Dopey”) and he gave me a nickname when I was about three.  They would sit me on the piano, and call me “Quackwee.”

He passed away in 1977 from pancreatic cancer.  He was only 67. My older brother also contracted that cancer and died at 75.

Many thanks to Jayne Weiss and her brother Allan for their memories and memorabilia: they’ve made their father come wholly alive once again.

May your happiness increase!

LANGHAM’S LIZARDS, MASTERS OF THE ART: SPATS LANGHAM, RICO TOMASSO, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, JOEP LUMEIJ, NICK WARD (Nov. 19, 2016, Sassenheim)

Sassenheim Hoofdstraat 197 01

Thanks to the Classic Jazz Concert Club of Sassenheim, we can immerse ourselves in wonderful music created by Thomas “Spats” Langham and Friends. I do not think of Mister Langham as a Lizard, although if he chose the alliterative title, I will bow low respectfully. Rather, I think of Mister Langham (vocal, banjo, guitar, repartee) as a Master of the Art — that wonderful art of surprising and reassuring us simultaneously, making us remember that joy is possible and Things aren’t So Bad.  Here he is joined by string bassist Joep Lumeij (whom I know — through video and recordings), trumpeter  and vocalist Enrico Tomasso, clarinetist / saxophonist Matthias Seuffert, and percussionist Nick Ward — all of them legendary regal figures, and I do not exaggerate.  That we live in a time where such things are possible is uplifting.

TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE (with thoughts of Ethel Waters, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, and Billie Holiday):

SMOOTH SAILING (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen):

THE GYPSY (Spats and his Masters in full Thirties ballad mode — think Bill Kenny and Al Bowlly — with all deference to Louis and Bird.  Pay special attention to the gorgeous Langham / Tomasso duet later in the performance):

SWANEE RIVER (which begins with a trumpet fanfare that I last heard in BACH GOES TO TOWN):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (Mister Berlin, with echoes of Bing and the Whiteman Orchestra):

and finally, a bit of theatre — Spats’ divine reading of NIGHT OWL (beloved of Cliff Edwards) in the dark, with an explication of bass-drum heads:

I do not know if these performances happened in this order, so I hope I will be forgiven by archivists of all kinds.  However, I thank the CJCC for putting on this concert and offering us videos, with rather pleasing multi-camera work and fine sound as well.

May your happiness increase!

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

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I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

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About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW PAGES FROM ROBERT BIERMAN, formerly of IRVINGTON, NEW YORK

Another eBay prowl (taking a long respite from grading student essays) with glorious results.

The seller is offering an amazing collection of autographs, some dating back to 1938.  Since a few items were inscribed to “Bob” or “Robert” Bierman, it was easy to trace these precious artifacts back to the man of the same name, a Krupa aficionado, now deceased (I believe his dates are 1922-2009) who lived for some time on Staten Island.

The jazz percussion scholar Bruce Klauber tells me: Bob passed several years ago. He had things you wouldn’t believe and was kind enough to share several audios with me. Anything he was connected with was rare and authentic.

My friend David Weiner recalls Bierman as quiet, reticent, with wonderful photographs and autographs.

I never met Mr. Bierman in my brief collectors’ period, but in 1938 he must have been a very energetic sixteen-year old who went to hear hot jazz and big bands, asking the drummers and sidemen for their autographs.  The collection is notable for the signatures of people not otherwise documented — as you will see.

Incidentally, the seller has listed the items as “Buy It Now,” which means that indeed the race is to the swift.

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Three heroes from what I presume is Art Hodes’ Forties band that recorded for his own JAZZ RECORD label: Rod Cless, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, Danny Alvin.

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Bunny and his Orchestra.

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Basieites, circa 1940: Walter Page, Joe Jones, Buck Clayton, Tab Smith, Freddie Greene, and James Rushing.  The story is that John Hammond convinced Jo and Freddie to change the spelling of their names . . . perhaps to be more distinctive and memorable to the public?  I don’t know if this is verifiable.

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Gene!  But where and when?

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Wettling, promoting Ludwig drums — when he was with Paul Whiteman.

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And some advice to the young drummer.

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Teddy Wilson.  It’s so reassuring to see that there was actually letterhead for the School for Pianists.

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Some wonderful players from the Bob Crosby band: Jess Stacy, Eddie Miller, Bob Haggart, Matty Matlock, Hank D’Amico, Nappy Lamare.

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Liz Tilton, Ray Bauduc.

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Gil Rodin from Ben Pollack and Crosby.

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Earle Warren of Basie fame.

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Al Donahue, and another Bunny signature.

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To me, a page with the signatures of Hank Wayland, and George Rose — plus a caricature — is worth many thousand letters with a secretary’s “Bing” or “Benny” at the bottom.

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You want famous?  Here’s famous: Duke Ellington, Joe Venuti.

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and Mary Lou Williams.

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Peggy Lee.

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Some fairly obscure Benny Goodman sidemen — Buff Estes, Toots Mondello, Arnold “Covey” — and the leader-turned-sideman Fletcher Henderson.

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Gentlemen from the reed section of Fats Waller’s big band: Jackie Fields and Bob Carroll.

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Fats’ “Honeybear,” Gene Sedric.

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A letter from Art Hodes!  (“Bob, there’s a letter for you!”)

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Finally, the Hawk. 1943.

It makes me think, “What will happen to our precious stuff [see George Carlin] when we are dead?  eBay certainly is better than the dumpster, although these pages remind me that everything is in flux, and we are not our possessions. Beautiful to see, though, and to know that such things exist.  You, too, can have a piece of paper that Rod Cless touched — no small thing.

May your happiness increase!

“FEETS, DO YOUR STUFF!”: JAMES EVANS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, TOM SAUNDERS, HAL SMITH at the PALM COURT JAZZ CAFE (New Orleans, September 23, 2016)

You don’t have to be a specialist in Morton’s neuroma to appreciate this excursion into happiness: a delicious romp on the 1930 Yellen and Ager paean to dancing, written for THE KING OF JAZZ.

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That is an image — the famous Paul Whiteman recording.  Here’s something that is even more multi-dimensional.  The performance took place on September 23, 2016, at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, as part of the Steamboat Stomp (thanks again and again to Duke Heitger for making his and our dreams come true).  The noble participants here are James Evans, clarinet; Andy Schumm, cornet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Saunders, bass saxophone; Hal Smith, drums.  And do they rock!

I find it hilariously fitting that because of the intermittent lighting in the room (everyone knows that jazz clubs, to be atmospheric, must be dark) that the most brightly lit area of this video — leaving aside James’ brilliantly white shirt — is one or both of Andy’s shoes.  HAPPY FEET, no doubt.

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There’s more to come from the Stomp and other joyous events . . . so keep following JAZZ LIVES.  Good value for your money, if I may be so bold.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT’S ‘COOPS,’ DEAR CHAP.”

The late clarinetist Alan Cooper deserves to be better-remembered.  Here he is in 1991 (courtesy of John Jamie Evans, who is not only the pianist in the photograph but also maintains the site devoted to Cooper and contemporaries, Alan Cooper Remembered.

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To begin, here is Cooper’s obituary in The Guardian, by the fine jazz writer and scholar Peter Vacher:

The early 1960s was the era of the curious and brief British “trad jazz” boom. In those years the Temperance Seven, who played a version of 1920s white American dance music, achieved such success that in 1961 they had a British No 1 hit, You’re Driving Me Crazy, produced by George Martin in his pre-Beatles days. The follow-up, Pasadena. made No 4, and there were two other top 30 hits.

The clarinettist Alan Cooper, who has died of cancer aged 76, was a founder member of the group in 1957. Usually a nine-piece, and invariably billed as “one over the eight”, the Temps wore Edwardian clothes, played bizarre instruments, and projected vocals through a megaphone. Most of the band could play a variety of instruments, and Cooper – who arranged Pasadena – doubled on clarinet, bass-clarinet, soprano saxophone and the obscure phonofiddle. The band appeared on television shows such as ITV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars and a special featuring Peter Sellers – with whom they recorded. Cooper’s quirky playing style and wheezy sound were exactly right for the band. Even so, he left in 1962 after “internal dissensions”.

Born in Leeds, he fell in with traditional jazz at the city’s college of art, where aspiring guitarist Diz Disley was a fellow student. They played together in the college jazz band, the Vernon Street Ramblers, and were founder members of the Yorkshire Jazz Band, with which Cooper turned professional, recording in London in 1949.

After national service as a flying officer, Cooper moved to London in the mid-1950s. Initially a Royal College of Art student, he became a part-time lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art and at Chelsea Art School. He also performed in a quartet with bassist Bernie Cash and drummer Lennie Hastings, and recorded in 1958 with trombonist Graham Stewart’s Seven.

After the Temperance Seven, Cooper freelanced as a musician and lecturer, deputising in the Alex Welsh and Freddy Randall bands, and also appeared regularly with the Anglo-American Alliance alongside his old Temps bandmate John RT Davies (obituary, May 29 2004) and sundry Americans then resident in London, notably cornettist/journalist Dick Sudhalter. This informal outfit were the ideal backing band for the veteran blues singer Eva Taylor and former Paul Whiteman trombonist Bill Rank when they performed and recorded in London in the 1960s.

It was during this time that Cooper created his monument to Edwardian design and style with his three-storey house in Wandsworth. Formerly owned by the water-closet pioneer Thomas Crapper, it was taken over by Cooper on the understanding that it would be left untouched by modernity. He filled it with period artefacts and statues, vintage equipment including gramophones, and old instruments. He also kept open house for musician friends but moved, after a series of burglaries, to a tower in Hay on Wye, Herefordshire, which he restored, and where he recreated the Edwardian ambiance of his former home.

Cooper joined the revived New Temperance Seven in 1969 and recorded with them before working regularly with pianist Keith Nichols and touring overseas with drummer Dave Mills. He was also an occasional guest with Bob Kerr and His Whoopee Band, and led his own small groups.

He is survived by his second wife Jenefer and sons Boris and Rollo.

· Alan Swainston Cooper, musician, born February 15 1931; died August 22 2007.

An interlude for music and for a few words of my own.  I first heard Cooper on several recordings featuring Dick Sudhalter and his father, with John R. T. Davies, Henry Francis, and others — issued as “Sudhalter and Son” on the “77” label and (perhaps without a band title) on Davies’ own “Ristic” label.  [The Sudhalter and Sons records disappeared in one or another seismic life-change and I miss them.]

Cooper was impossible to ignore, difficult to describe, more eccentric than Pee Wee or Chace, often sounding as if he had sunk his clarinet into a bowl of soup and was playing the liquefied version.  Gurglings, mutterings, and other sounds made perfect sense, and I remember feeling admiration and hilarity and befuddlement all at once.  Bent Persson, who knows and feels the music deeply, has told me of his appreciation of Cooper’s true originalities.

Here, thanks again to Mr. Evans, is a sample of Coops at work on the closing choruses of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

Mr. Evans has posted seven such rare and delicious effusions here on his YouTube channel, well worth subscribing to.

Effervescent tributes, the first by Ray Smith, from Just Jazz Magazine in November 2007:

Alan always answered the ‘phone, in a rather dignified voice, by stating simply: “Cooper”. He always signed his letters “Coops”. I once made the mistake of introducing him as “My old friend, Alan Cooper”; “I’m not old” came the reply. Indeed, he wasn’t ever old. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up,” was one of his observations during a discussion about young children. We were playing, as a duo, at a school in the Middle East. I don’t quite remember why we were without the other members of the British All-Stars, but we had to play for a half hour to 5-10 year-olds. At the end of the informal concert, the children’s appreciation was loud and long. I glanced at Alan, and I believe I saw tears glistening in his eyes. Warm-hearted wouldn’t begin to describe him, as any one of his many friends will confirm.

Spending time with Coops was always good value, and we had plenty of time on the various Middle-East tours that Dave Mills put together. There are dozens of stories…. Bruce Turner was guesting on one trip. It was like working with Jimmie Noone and Johnny Hodges in the front line. Alan’s feature number was Strangler on the Floor (with apologies to Mr. Acker Bilk). Resplendent in his white dinner jacket, black bow tie, etc., his attire was completed – for said solo outing – by a battered bowler-hat which perched on the top of his head, looking slightly embarrassed by being there.

The routine went something like this: The first chorus – in the key of Eb – was played most beautifully in tribute to the original version. In the second chorus, Alan changed to the key of E Major. However… the rhythm section section stood its ground, and continued on its way – in Eb. The effect of the resulting non-euphonious sounds registered disbelief on the faces of the audience. On completing the second chorus, the clarinet was building-up for the big finish, when Dave Mills – secreted in the audience with a bird call about his person – started twittering on that very instrument. Alan – head cocked to one side – twittered back. This went on for some time; most of the audience had realized by this time that it was a spoof. Cooper remained dignified, as always, even after the big-finish – or rather “the business” to quote a Cooperism.

Unfortunately, on one occasion, a member of the audience was a native of Pensford – Acker’s home town – and set about Alan verbally, accusing him of insincerity, amongst other things. He just wouldn’t listen to Alan’s reasoning – or ‘piff-paff’, as he would have described it. Bruce Turner was jumping up and down saying, “Hit him, Dad, hit him” to no-one in particular. I had affected a burnt-cork mustache for that particular evening. Alan pointed at said affectation. “Would you say that was displaying insincerity?” “Well no, I suppose not.” “I rest my case,” and so saying, Alan strode off in the direction of the bar.  The following year, we toured in the summer time, which was stiflingly hot. Alan and I shared hotel room for four or five days in Abu Dhabi. Two single beds, one on either side of the room. The air-conditioning could be adjusted easily enough – there was a small light over the box on the wall – but knowing whether it should be left on… halfway… or turned off completely was a subject for experiment. On the first night, I adjusted the air-conditioning, and on the second night, Alan adjusted it. By the third night – my turn again – I forgot about until in bed with the lights out. I said something profane, and, without turning on the light, made my way noisily to the air-conditioning controls. Not being able to remember what the setting had been the previous night, I said, “Coops… did we have it off last night?” There was a brief silence whilst we both thought about the question. Suddenly, a sort of gurgling noise issued from the direction of Cooper.. and then gales of laughter from us both. We didn’t actually stop laughing for an hour… Well, about twenty-five years really.

The following story illustrates the regard in which Alan was held by his fellow musicians… We visited the Pizza Express one evening to listen to Kenny Davern. Having found a seat not too near the orchestra, Kenny Davern saw Coops, and whilst announcing the next number, said “Ladies and Gentlemen, there is only one clarinetist in England who scares the hell out of me, and he’s here tonight. Sitting over there – Alan Cooper.” Alan raised his hand, and sort of wiggled his fingers in acknowledgement.

The voice at the end of the telephone is no more. Thankfully, Alan’s clarinet playing can be heard on a host of recordings. It’s safe to say that we will always remember him.
God Bless, Coops.

And from Johannesburg.. (by David Mills)

On the 15 February, 1931, Gordon Alan Cooper, Alan Swainston Cooper, The Professor, and Coops – all one person – entered this world on the same day and year as Claire Bloom. Coops, as I remember him, brought with him a wealth of talent – as a painter, sculptor, teacher and musician, became one of the most original Classic jazz clarinetists in the UK and Europe – if not the World! I have very many fond memories of Coops and I list but a few. We formed the British All Stars Band in 1979, primarily to tour the Gulf States, the first time any British entertainers, let alone jazzers, had done this. Prior to that, Coops and I dreamed up the idea of taking The Temperance Seven on to Concorde, to be the first musicians to play at the speed of sound. In fact, Coops composed the Mach 2 March to celebrate this. After two years of planning and negotiating with BA, on the 31 March, 1976, we all boarded the BA Concorde flight to Bahrain and, an hour into the flight, the Chief Steward asked if the two of us would like to look at the flight deck. When Coops and I went to the flight deck, the Captain and Coops greeted each other: “Inky!” “Stinky!” Both had been pilots in the RAF at the same time, so Stinky asked Inky, “Would you like to fly us to Bahrain?” Coops took over, from Cyprus, and did! The following 25 years work in the Middle East was the result of that trip.

I’ll never forget in Muscat, Oman, on one occasion, when he rushed around all the band members’ rooms at the Ruwi Hotel saying, “Quick, quick, you must come. The Ruler is about to open the country’s first traffic light!”

Coops was a multi-talented, eccentric, loveable character whom no-one will forget, and whose presence made my, and many other lives much richer.
Coops, we loved you and will continue to do so.

More music — the performance that sticks in my psyche as well as my ears and is the inspiration for this long tribute.  It was recorded at the 100 Club in London on June 10, 1984, by Dave Bennett.  The band, in addition to Coops, is Ken Colyer, trumpet; Graham Stewart, trombone and vocal; Johnny Parker, piano; Jim Bray, string bass; Dave Evans, drums; guests Wally Fawkes, clarinet; Diz Disley, guitar — and they embark on a leisurely GEORGIA GRIND.  Not only do you hear Coops’ singular weird majesty on clarinet, entering through the window at :41, and he continues to enhance the solos and ensemble for the remaining eight minutes, masterfully:

In the past year, I’ve seen Coops’ house in Hay-on-Wye and had tea with his widow, the charming Jenny (thanks to Martin Litton and Janice Day) who showed me some intriguing Cooper-objects and told stories.  I’ve learned even more from my dear friend Sarah Spencer, who knew Coops well, and I present these fragments.

Coops added “-iness” to words (hungriness instead of hunger and the like) and he used to say “Hem Hem,” which came from a book of tales of schoolboy mischief, when talking about anything of a slightly risque nature.  He used to ingest Fisherman’s Friends lozenges by the handful constantly and so seemed, when his temperature reached that zone, to sweat or exude that scent from his pores.  For those of us fond of Coops, the smell of Fisherman’s Friends may make us slightly nostalgic.  For others, they may smell somewhat vile.  I remember, with my parents being from Yorkshire (as was Coops), we took a trip ‘oop north’ to Sheffield and came back with some local candy.  I brought him some. When he popped them into his mouth, the look on his face was one of utter nostalgia. “I doubted I would ever taste this again!”  He played a Clinton system clarinet, a Boosey and Hawkes variant of the Albert system and practically unheard-of outside of the U.K.  I have found it almost impossible to find photographs of them online.

Sarah told me, before I’d ever heard GEORGIA GRIND, that Cooper’s term of affection and esteem for men was “Dear Chap,” or sometimes “Dear Boy.”

Dear Coops, I am sorry that I never got to admire you at close range, in person. This blogpost will have to do as one tribute to someone who went his own way always and always spread joy.

May your happiness increase!

THE GLORIES OF THE RECENT PAST: THREE BY TIM AND CONNIE FROM THE 2014 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST

TIM AND CONNIEThe Tim Laughlin – Connie Jones All Stars, a band I was fortunate enough to hear for a few years at the San Diego Jazz Fest, remains in my mind as a transcendent listening experience: a completely melodic group with great sensitivity and a wonderful quiet drive.

Here’s another sample of their magic, from the 2014 Fest — with a romper, a groove, and a pretty ballad — each gloriously realized.  The players are Tim, clarinet; Connie, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

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THAT DA DA STRAIN has nothing to do with baby talk or with Marcel Duchamp; like many other songs of the times, it describes a dance that would bring dancers bliss.  Mamie Smith, early on, then Eva Taylor, then the NORK, and on.  Everyone solos here except Marty (who will on the next performance) but I’d call special attention to Hal, who rocks the church:

Here’s another Twenties song (popularized by Paul Whiteman) with an equally onomatopoetic title, THE WANG WANG BLUES.  We’ve looked for deep meaning in that title, but I recall reading somewhere that one of the three people listed on the cover thought that WANG made a good sound once, and twice was even better — so it added a little spice to the conventional she-went-away-and-I’m-so-sad.  As far as I can tell, there was no other intention, not Asiatic or anything else.

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Now to move forward to 1947, to a song immediately taken up by Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Billie Holiday — connected to the film NEW ORLEANS.  This performance has a surprise in it: Tim talk-sings the lyrics, and it is a heartfelt effusion of feeling for him, because he has a deep connection to his city, immediately evident in his playing and now in his song:

What a band.  How generously they offer splendid subtle music to us.  And I count myself fortunate that I will see Tim (and Kris Tokarski) at the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of this month, and then at the Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans in September.

May your happiness increase! 

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

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Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

I_Surrender_Dear_(1931_film)_advert

Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

A MEDITATION ON THE INACCESSIBLE: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2015)

Ray Skjelbred is a sculptor of sound and rhythm, transforming popular song and the blues in ways that surprise and delight. Here, he’s at the keyboard at the San Diego Jazz Fest, offering us magic that is both whimsical and deep.  The original text for his rumination is a bouncy Walter Donaldson song from 1929, REACHING FOR SOMEONE (AND NOT FINDING ANYONE THERE), a situation we’ve all encountered.  The song was a hit in 1929, and many will know the quicker-paced Whiteman and Trumbauer versions.

REACHING FOR SOMEONE

Thanks to the inventive singer-guitarist Meredith Axelrod, a friend of JAZZ LIVES, Ray was inspired to play this song at a much more melancholy tempo, appropriate to the situation the lyrics describe, and the result is lovely and haunting:

I hope that all that you desire is accessible, if not now, then someday soon.

May your happiness increase!

A COLLECTOR’S TROVE, AT AUCTION NOW

A cyber-friend and reader of JAZZ LIVES sent me the link to the Yonkers, New York auction house COHASCO, INC. , that is running an auction of jazz memorabilia ending January 5, 2016.  Much of the paper ephemera was new to me, and my friend thought it would be of interest to JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  So I am offering the information and the beautiful pictures here.  Full disclosure: I’m doing this for the usual reasons — interest rather than reimbursement — in case you needed to know.

The items are being offered as a collection: individual treasures are not available for bid.  And there’s been a good deal of interest in it already.

Here are three pictures that should speak louder than words:

AUCTION 1

and

AUCTION 2

and

AUCTION 3

The consignor (who wishes to remain anonymous) has written these words, which should reverberate with many of us:

People collect all types of objects, from thimbles to stamps, to paintings and cars. I attribute my appreciation of swing and big band music to my parents. While other kids my age were enamored with the Beatles, I watched my dad carefully place a record player stylus down upon an old 78 rpm record and soon became captivated by the sounds of Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and other orchestras of the time. As I grew older, I realized that the melodies I enjoyed were truly the soundtrack to another era. As a record and memorabilia collector, the swing and big band music of the 1930’s and 40’s struck such a chord in the psyche, that collecting and preserving the ephemera of that era was a natural extension of my admiration for the music.  If I look at a ticket stub for a Benny Goodman concert, I suddenly hear Gene Krupa drumming the memorable beat of Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by Goodman’s sweet clarinet–like a sound wave time machine pulling me straight into the past. If I hold a Glenn Miller program I hear Miller’s theme song, Moonlight Serenade and in my mind’s eye, I see a newsreel projecting WWII soldiers coming home, marching back from victory and embracing wives and family. To me, collecting is about more than the ephemera itself, its a way to pay homage to not only the musicians, but to the “greatest generation.”

And here are some practical details about the collection.  It was “compiled over decades by an impassioned musicologist,” and its focus is on the Thirties and Forties, although the 235 vintage items are dated 1926-1966.

“Signed items (some in pencil) include Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Jess Stacy, and Teddy Wilson, on a Hotel Pennsylvania drink menu • Blue Barron on contract • Eddie Duchin and Shep Fields on Aragon Ballroom postcards • Ziggy Elman and Benny Goodman on 1938 recording contract • Glen Gray band member autographs on Palladium Ballroom Café menu, 1941 • 1943 letter of Milt Gabler (famous Decca Records producer and founder of Commodore Records) • Horace Heidt on hotel drink menu, with band signatures on verso • Dick Jurgens on postcard • Kay Kyser (signed with full name James K. Kyser) on letterhead, with original envelope, 1928 • Waldorf-Astoria Starlight Roof Supper Club menu signed inside by Guy Lombardo, printed cover art by Xavier Cugat • Hal McIntyre on contract • Art Mooney on contract • Buddy Morrow postcard • and numerous vintage signatures of artists and band members, including Harry James and “Tiny” Timbrell who later appeared on Elvis records and soundtracks.

From Basie to Ellington, Goodman to Miller, the collection offers a wide panorama of the cultural artifacts underpinning the era. The assemblage includes concert ticket stubs, show programs, handbills, record store posters, nightclub souvenirs, period autographs, lobby cards, movie stills, postcards, fan and record industry magazines, sheet music, an oversize RKO theatre owners’ advertising book for the 1942 sensation “Syncopation,” starring Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, et al, and curiosa such as novelty promotional pieces. Broad representation is present of both the bands and their individual artists, male and female, instrumental and vocal – a near who’s-who of jazz.

Capturing the golden era of Big Bands, some of the historic nights – and days – represented are 1937’s Benny Goodman vs. Chick Webb Battle of Swing, 1954’s landmark Festival of Modern American Jazz, Glenn Miller at CBS Radio Theatre, and many, many more. Additional venues represented include the Apollo (an early Louis Armstrong appearance), the Capital, Paramount, and Roxy Theatres, the Famous Door, Palomar Ballroom, Savoy Ballroom, Steel Pier, and others.

Much of the unsigned ephemera is very scarce – often magnitudes more so than signed material – and found only by chance. Duplicating such a collection would take many years and inordinate labor. The archive offers a wealth of materials, themes, and graphic choices for an all-encompassing display – or rotating exhibitions in a club, restaurant, performance space, academic music department, or favorite room of a home or office. Color montages on website and by e-mail. Request free detailed prospectus.

The pre-auction estimate is $5400 – $6500.  Bids are accepted up to January 5, 2016, 8:00 P.M. E.D.T. All items are fully described on their website, cohascodpc.com. A 136-page printed catalogue is available by mail, while supplies last.”

May your happiness increase!

THE FROLICS AT FRAUNCES (Part One): ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO (July 25, 2015)

Fraunces Tavern

To some, Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan is most famous as the spot where George Washington held a farewell dinner for his troops in 1789.  Others like it because of their wonderfully extensive beer list and straightforward food — nice servers always, too.  Also, it’s a fine place to bring the family if you’re coming or going to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.

For me, it’s a little-known hot spot of rhythm on Saturday afternoons from 1-4. I came there a few months ago to enjoy the hot music of Emily Asher’s Garden Party Trio [plus guest] — which you can enjoy here — fine rocking music.

But let us live in the moment!  Here are four performances by Rob Adkins, string bass; Craig Ventresco, guitar (the legend from San Francisco and a friend for a decade); Mike Davis, cornet AND trombone.

“Trombone?” you might be saying.  Mike is very new to the trombone — a number of months — and he was playing an instrument not his own.  So he was a little sensitive about my making these performances public (those dangerous eyebrows went up and threatened to stay there) but I assured him that his playing was admirable, even if he was severe on himself.  His cornet work is a complete delight.  The music Rob, Craig, and Mike make is delicate and forceful, incendiary and serene.  You’ll see and hear for yourself on these four performances.  Rob swings out with or without the bow, by the way.

LILA, which I associate with a Frank Trumbauer / Bix Beiderbecke OKeh — a song I’ve never heard anyone play live, so thank you!

WHISPERING, which was once one of the most-played songs in this country and is now terribly obscure:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, with memories of Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Andy Secrest, Bix Beiderbecke, and Irving Berlin:

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, another Berlin classic, this performance evoking Red Nichols and Miff Mole:

And although it gets me in trouble with some people every time I write it, these three musicians are not necrophiliac impersonators.  They know the old records — those cherished performances — intimately and lovingly, and the records might act as scaffolding, but they are not restricted to copying them. (Ironically, this session reminds me more than a little of the lovely impromptu recordings made by Johnny Wiggs and Snoozer Quinn, although those two musicians didn’t have the benefit of a wonderful string bassist of Rob’s caliber in the hospital.)

There will be more to come from this Saturday’s glorious hot chamber music performance.  And this coming Saturday (August 1) Rob Adkins has asked trombonist Matt Musselman and guitarist Kris Kaiser to start the good works.  I know they will.

May your happiness increase!

“WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD”: CONAL FOWKES / DAN BLOCK at CHEZ JOSEPHINE (May 30, 2015)

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD music

I think Irving Berlin’s 1929 song, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, is one of his most beautiful.  And no, I don’t worry whether the solo on the Whiteman record is Bix or Secrest.

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD

What moves me so about this song is nothing new: there were many songs before or after it that chronicled the weary traveler returning home.  But think of the universal desire to find peace and contentment at a familiar place where your loved ones dwell.  Think of the idea of being able to put your weariness aside, your burden down.  As is usual with Berlin, there isn’t an intricate rhyme in the verse or chorus; no Hart or Porter cleverness.  No words that would puzzle an elementary-school student, although the movement from thorns to roses is something a lesser songwriter would not have thought of.  But it’s the common tongue and thus the emotions come right through.  And the melody!

The lyrics, verse and chorus:

Weary of roaming on, yearning to see the dawn
Counting the hours till I can lay down my load
Weary but I don’t mind, knowing that soon I’ll find
Peace and contentment at the end of the road.

The way is long, the night is dark
But I don’t mind ’cause a happy lark will be singing
At the end of the road.

I can’t go wrong, I must go right
I’ll find my way ’cause a guiding light will be shining
At the end of the road.

There may be thorns in my path
But I’ll wear a smile
‘Cause in a little while
My path will be roses.

The rain may fall from up above
But I won’t stop ’cause the ones I love will be waiting
At the end of the road.

On a related subject — with no paragraph transition, hence points deducted. One of the most rewarding aspects of being “back in New York” is slowly finding places where fine music is played — places I’d never ventured to before.  I offer for your delectation a French restaurant at 414 West 42nd Street (west of Ninth Avenue on the south side of the street) called Chez Josephine, which has jazz duos on Saturday night.  I know that heroes Terry Waldo and Tamar Korn appear there regularly, but I was around this last Saturday, May 30, to record some impromptu classics.  (Good urban food and drink, too; nice service.)

I felt as if I had the privilege of absorbing the music made by a trio — Conal Fowkes, piano; Dan Block, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano — making their way through this beautiful song, balancing sentimentality and swing at a fine old-fashioned medium tempo:

(Conal and Dan will be creating musical transformations at Chez Josephine today, June 7, as well.  And I will have more music to share from this evening.)

I hope everyone has — or will have, someday — a place to go to of the kind Berlin imagined for us, a home, a respite, a welcoming spot.

May your happiness increase!

“I KEEP CHEERFUL ON AN EARFUL / OF MUSIC SWEET”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 28, 2014)

Better than anything you could buy in a chain drugstore or any prescription pharmaceutical, this will keep the gloomies at bay.  Unlike those little pink or blue pills, it lasts longer than four hours and there are no cases recorded of drastic side effects.

One of the highlights of 2014, of this century, of my adult life — let’s not let understatement get in the way of the truth! — was a quartet set at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest featuring Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  I’ve been sharing it one or two performances at a time on JAZZ LIVES in the same way you never want a delicious experience to end.

Here is the quartet’s very groovy, very hot HAPPY FEET (Jack Yellen – Milton Ager, originally from THE KING OF JAZZ):

And since this song “has history,” I offer a few more variations on this terpsichorean theme.

Leo Reisman with Bubber Miley, 1930, at a truly groovy tempo:

Noble Sissle, also in 1930, with the only film I know of Tommy Ladnier:

Frank Trumbauer and Smith Ballew:

and the irresistible 1933 version by the Fletcher Henderson’s band, with specialists Dr. Horace Henderson, Dr. Henry Allen, Dr. Dicky Wells, and Dr. Coleman Hawkins called in:

There’s also a life-altering live performance with Hot Lips Page and Sidney Catlett from the Eddie Condon Floor Show, but you’ll have to imagine it for now.

I hope you’re feeling better, and that your feet and all points north are happier.

May your happiness increase!

MILDRED BAILEY: SHE ROCKS.

You don’t have to be deeply philosophical to feel that the universe is stranger than any surrealism our minds can invent; you have only to be browsing eBay with slightly heightened attentiveness.  Witness this combination of objects.

One is the sheet music for Mildred Bailey’s theme song — a cover I’d never seen before:

ROCKIN' CHAIR MildredThat would have been sufficient pleasure for one evening.  But, right below it, was this object, also for sale — another Mildred cover I’d never seen, more than a decade later:

ROCKIN' 2 MildredI find Mildred an entrancing singer, and am always saddened that she didn’t live longer.  Here’s her first recording of ROCKIN’ CHAIR — with a small group under Paul Whiteman’s name, on which Red Norvo is happily audible:

And the more famous 1937 recording, bittersweet and understated, with an introduction by Stew Pletcher and an Eddie Sauter arrangement:

A slower 1941 version with the Delta Rhythm Boys:

A duet with Teddy Wilson from November 1943 for V-Disc:

Her concert performance — from the Esquire All-American Jazz concert of January 1944, with accompaniment by Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, Jack Teagarden:

Finally, a 1948 broadcast, new to me — even more stately:

I would gently urge those listeners and musicians who have taken little notice of Mildred to listen carefully to her subtle, often melancholy variations on a theme she must have sung a thousand times.

She has much to tell us about quietly and honestly expressing deep feeling.

May your happiness increase! 

 

CONSIDERING THE MYSTERY: “THE BOSWELL LEGACY,” by KYLA TITUS and CHICA BOSWELL MINNERLY

I prize books that offer new information, solidly documented, instead of conjecture and syntheses of well-known data.  Books about departed jazz musicians often have trouble presenting new information or new interpretations of already-established information, because many musicians received little press coverage in their lifetime, did not leave behind correspondence.  So the subjects take their mysteries with them, leaving us to speculate.

After much investigation, we can be reasonably certain why Lester Young quit the Count Basie band in 1940.  We know much more about the last days of Bix Beiderbecke, Billie Holiday, Jimmie Blanton; we’ve learned much about the private life of Louis and Lucille Armstrong.

The Sisters when young.

The Sisters when young.

But one mystery has only been nibbled at — why the glorious Boswell Sisters separated after national and international success. A new, invaluable book, THE BOSWELL LEGACY, written by Kyla Titus, granddaughter of Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, from research and information gathered by Chica Boswell Minnerly (mother of Kyla, daughter of Vet) is a prize.

BOSWELL LEGACY cover

The mysteries that surround the Boswells is not what we expect of other revered artistic figures.  During their very short heyday, they were more in the public eye than, let us say, almost any brilliant African-American musician.  (Who interviewed Herschel Evans, for example?)

But for all the newspaper coverage and media attention, the Sisters had been raised early to follow “the Foore Code,” “Foore” being a family name.  The Code had many positive aspects: self-reliance; kindness; decorum . . . but it also emphasized privacy and strongly-stated boundaries.  “Never expose private family business to anyone outside the family.”

Even though Connie lived until 1976 and Vet to 1988, they kept the Code in place, gently turning aside the question, “Why did the Sisters break up?” as if indiscreet.  So Boswell admirers like myself could chart the trio’s ascent from 1925 to 1936 through their recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances, and paper ephemera, but we had no insight into the transformation.  Some may have surmised that Connie’s career was so successful that she and her manager / husband intended that she be a solo attraction.  In addition, the Sisters married in the last years of their stardom.  But the separation continued to puzzle and irk us, especially because we want to know more about the lives of the people we admire.

THE BOSWELL LEGACY does the best job possible of making the mysterious accessible.  And it does so from the inside, rather than assembling rumors and constructing hypotheses. It has the depth and intelligence of a scholarly biography with no academic dryness.  Rather than start as so many biographies do, with the birth of the subjects’ ancestors, this book starts at a place few will be familiar with — Jimmy Fazio’s Supper Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 29, 1955 — with the Sisters assembling on stage for an impromptu reunion during Connie’s engagement (singing HEEBIE JEEBIES as if they had never stopped performing).

(I thought at this point — and I cannot have been alone — of all the stars of the Twenties and Thirties who continued to appear on television in the Sixties and Seventies, and wished for an alternate universe where we could have seen the Sisters on THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE or THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW.)

The book then shifts back to the past, exploring the family as far back as the start of the nineteenth century . . . then to their eventual move to New Orleans and their involvement in music there.  The book takes on its true strength as the pages turn, and that strength is in well-utilized first-hand evidence, particularly correspondence.  We do not get long letters, which might stall the narrative, but we get dated excerpts in proper contexts.  Thus we hear, as well as we can, the vivid voices of the participants.

I commend Kyla Titus’ honesty throughout.  One of the inescapable facts of Connie Boswell’s life was that, although able, she could not walk.  No single clear explanation of this exists, and Titus handles the two hypotheses — a childhood accident or polio — gracefully and candidly.  When we finish reading her presentation of the evidence, we may feel that the answer remains elusive, but we never feel that the author is ill-informed or keeping anything from us.

The book begins to move rapidly through the Sisters’ musical education, Martha’s deep love for the short-lived cornetist Emmett Hardy (dead at 22), and the gestation of the Sisters as a trio.  Success mounts steadily — at their first New York City record date, the musicians stand up and applaud when their first successful take is concluded.  They appear on radio, in film, and on a 1931 experimental broadcast of that new invention, television.  But even at that point, a reader can see tension as the Sisters’ manager, Harry Leedy, is also Connie’s manager, with conflicting allegiances. The Sisters cross paths (and sometimes work with) luminaries Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, Russ Columbo, the then-unknown comedian Bob Hope, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong; they tour England and Holland, triumphantly.

But by 1936, the Sisters — as if by erosion rather than by a definite blow — have become three separate married women.  And although they speak happily of this in public, it appears that Martha and Vet wait for a reunion, which becomes less likely . . . returning the book to the one song in Milwaukee in 1955.

At the end of the saga, it is not entirely clear what happened.  Was it Connie’s steely ambition, her desire to be a star on her own, that cracked close harmony into three pieces?  Was it the divided loyalty of Harry Leedy?  Once again, I admire Titus’ refusal to force the conflicting evidence into one answer, and I think her fairness admirable, her unwillingness to assign the actors in this play roles as Victims and Villains.

Although the breakup of the group is perhaps the single greatest mystery for us, the book is not obsessed throughout with the collapse of Sisters as a trio; that occupies us for the last segment.  It is ultimately a loving look at three innovative, independent women who made their own way, both as individuals and as musicians, at a time when women were not thought to influence the men in their field to any great extent.

The book is wisely titled THE BOSWELL LEGACY, and Titus balances her and our sadness at the end of the Sisters’ career with our awareness that the “three little girls from New Orleans” left us so much — not only in recordings, airshots, and film appearances, but a living tradition for swinging, inventive close harmony groups.  To some, they live on in the energetic, witty, sweet voices of new generations.  I found the book’s ending melancholy, but I am looking forward to the film documentary about the  Sisters, CLOSE HARMONY (here you can view the trailer) as an emotional corrective.

THE BOSWELL LEGACY is a large-format paperback, nearly two hundred pages, clearly written, generously illustrated with rare photographs and documents.  Anyone who has gotten a thrill from “Shout, Sister, Shout” will find this book essential. I don’t think a better or more informative book on the Boswells can be written.

Here you can read the introduction to the book by Boswell scholar David McCain, and the preface by Kyla Titus, and here you can buy a copy of the book ($21.95 USD including shipping.)

Enough words.  Here are the Sisters in their first film appearance, CLOSE FARMONY:

No one’s replaced them; no one ever will.

May your happiness increase!