Even as jazz as an art form prides itself on “moving forward,” it’s always been affectionately retrospective, cherishing the deep past and the recent past in performance and recordings. Think of Louis bringing his mentor’s DIPPER MOUTH BLUES to the Henderson band, even though Joe Oliver was probably continuing to play it; Bix and Tram recording the ODJB’s OSTRICH WALK; Bird playing Lester’s solo on SHOE SHINE BOY. (I am indebted to Matthew Rivera for reminding me of this idea through his radio broadcast on WKCR.)
One of the most rewarding institutions to come out of jazz’s desire to both honor the past as itself and to make it new was the New York Jazz Repertory Company. Not only did the NYJRC perform at the Newport in New York jazz festival, it brought its “shows” worldwide, most often under the leadership of the brilliant Dick Hyman. I saw Louis and Bix tributes in the early Seventies, and they were electrifying; even better, the NYJRC idea was a staple of the Nice Jazz Festival, and some of the concert performances were broadcast on French television. (I’ve posted a ninety-minute tribute to Benny Goodman recently here.
Trotting through YouTube last night — the cyber-equivalent of my getting on my bicycle when I was thirteen and riding to the public library — I found two half-hour NYJRC delights, posted by others in 2015, that I hadn’t seen before. I predict that you will enjoy them also. The first is a Basie tribute, from July 12, 1978; the second, Duke, July 17, 1977.
Those expecting note-for-note recreations of recordings will be, I think, pleasantly surprised by the openness of the arrangements and the leeway given the “contemporary” soloists to play their personalities. Everything is reasonably idiomatic but there are delightful shocks here and there.
The “Basie band” here is Sweets Edison, Cat Anderson, Jimmie Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Benny Powell, Dicky Wells, John Gordon, trombone; Paul Bascomb, Paul Moen, Bob Wilber, Pepper Adams, Earle Warren, reeds; Dick Hyman, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Chubby Jackson, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. I count at least six venerated Basie alumni.
JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE (Paul Bascomb, Harry Edison, Benny Powell, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman) / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP (Hyman, Paul Moen, Dicky Wells, Bascomb, Joe Newman, Hyman) / ROCK-A-BYE BASIE (Wilber, Moen, Sweets, Hyman and Chubby Jackson) / HARVARD BLUES (Bascomb, Newman, vocal) / BROADWAY (Wilber, Sweets, Hyman, Wilber, Bascomb, Pepper Adams, Powell, John Gordon, Earle Warren, Cat Anderson, Moen):
and “the Ellington band,” made up of many of the same champions, Hyman, Rosengarden, Wilber, Pepper Adams, Maxwell — with Jon Faddis, Pee Wee Erwin, Joe Newman, trumpets; Eddie Daniels, Zoot Sims, Billy Mitchell, reeds; George Duvivier, string bass, John Mosca, Billy Campbell, Earl McIntyre, trombone:
EAST ST. LOUIS-TOODLE OO (Wilber, Pepper, Daniels, Erwin) / DOUBLE CHECK STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Billy Campbell) / JUNGLE NIGHTS IN HARLEM (possibly John Mosca, Maxwell, Daniels) / DOCTOR E.K.E. (composition by Raymond Fol, piano; Mosca, Mitchell, Faddis, Sam Woodyard, drums) / HARLEM AIR-SHAFT (McIntyre, Faddis, Daniels, Joe Newman) / BLUE GOOSE (Wilber, Maxwell, Zoot, Mosca, Wilber) / JUMPIN’ PUNKINS (Duvivier, Pepper, Rosengarden, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHELSEA BRIDGE (Hyman, Zoot, Hyman, McIntyre):
Honoring the originals and their creators but giving plenty of space to honor the present — a lovely balance. And if you’d rather hear the Basie Deccas and Ellington Victors, they will still be there, undamaged and pristine.
The wonderful clarinetist Barney Bigard (think Duke, Louis, Joe Oliver, and Django for prominent associations) appeared often at the Nice Jazz Festival, happily, in many different contexts. He is in splendid form, as are Eddie Hubble and Johnny Guarnieri; in fact, the whole band rocks on an extended PERDIDO, a down-home CREOLE LOVE CALL, and a feature for Major Holley, MACK THE KNIFE.
Barney Bigard, Herb Hall, Bob Wilber, clarinet; Eddie Hubble, trombone; Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Major Holley, string bass; Tommy Benford, drums. Introduced by Dick Sudhalter. PERDIDO (nearly thirteen minutes) / CREOLE LOVE CALL (Bigard, Hall, WIlber, Sammy Price, Holley, Benford) / MACK THE KNIFE (featuring Major Holley) (“La grande parade du jazz,” performed July 26, 1975; broadcast August 5, 1976).
P.S. I’ve posted a good deal of Barney’s work at Nice and always found it rewarding. Oddly, some of my armchair critics are very severe about “poor Barney, past his prime,” which I find ungenerous in reference to someone born in 1906 playing in the hot July sun outdoors. No, he played differently in 1927, but how many of us run as quickly as we did at 14? Respect the Elders.
I have a real affection for the recordings and performances of the New York Jazz Repertory Company: a floating all-star ensemble I saw in person in 1974 and 1975, honoring Louis and Bix, among others.
At their best, they were expert, passionate, and evocative — the supporting players were the best studio players / jazz improvisers who could sight-read with elan and then solo eloquently. And they always had the best ancestral guest stars: in the concerts I saw, Ruby Braff, Ray Nance, Vic Dickenson, Taft Jordan, Chauncey Morehouse, Paul Mertz, and Joe Venuti. I can’t leave out the superb guidance and playing of Dick Hyman, whose idiosyncratic brilliance is always a transforming force.
Later in the Seventies, someone, probably George Wein, understood that the NYJRC was a compact, portable way of not only reproducing great performances but in taking jazz history, effectively presented, on the road, to France, the USSR, and elsewhere. Thus they made appearances at festivals and did extensive tours — bringing POTATO HEAD BLUES with Louis’ solo scored for three trumpets, frankly electrifying, as I can testify.
Here they are at the Nice Jazz Festival, making Bix come alive by (with some exceptions) not playing his recorded solos, gloriously. And the rhythm section swings more than on the 1928 OKehs, which would have pleased Bix, who didn’t want to be tied to what he’d played in 1923. Occasionally the “big band” tends to be a fraction of a second behind where one would like it, and Spiegle Willcox uncharacteristically gets lost in a solo . . . but the music shines, especially since this is the joyous evocation of Bix rather than the too-often heard elegies for his short life. My small delight is that someone — Pee Wee Erwin — quotes SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in the last sixteen bars of AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL. And Dick Sudhalter and Bob Wilber positively gleam throughout.
The collective personnel: Dick Hyman, piano, leader; Dick Sudhalter, cornet, flugelhorn; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet, reeds; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Pee Wee Erwin, Ernie Royal, Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Budd Johnson, Arnie Lawrence, Norris Turney, Haywood Henry, reeds; Britt Woodman, Eddie Bert, and one other, trombone.
RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / DAVENPORT BLUES (Sudhalter, flugelhorn – Hyman) / IN THE DARK (Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (Sudhalter, Turney) / IN A MIST (Hyman) / CLEMENTINE (Sudhalter, unid. tbn, Bucky, Hyman / JAZZ ME BLUES (Sudhalter, Spiegle, Wilber, Hyman — playing Bix’s solo) / SWEET SUE (Spiegle, Bucky, Wilber, Sudhalter playing the 1928 solo) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL //
This televised presentation was designed to show what the NYJRC could “do”: a varied selection of music across decades and styles. I will post another segment, by “The Unobstructed Orchestra,” soon.
Forty-five minutes of the past made completely alive.
May your happiness increase!
Postscript, which could be called ON THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM. A few minutes after I’d posted this, someone I don’t know wrote to comment on YouTube: I offer an edited version: “The great weakness of this re-creation is Z, I am sure he plays all the notes, but somehow it does not work at 100%. L was still a good mainstream player and the rythm section is very adequate, P consistently good.”
I find this irksome, perhaps out of proportion to the size of the offense, and, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But to make it public, in print, is upsetting to me — as if the commenter had been invited to my house for dinner and, upon being served, told me that my place settings were somehow not up to his standards. I do not like everything I hear, but I think “criticism” of this sort contributes nothing to the discussion, except, perhaps, a buffing of the ego of the commentator, who Knows What’s Good.
I am aware that this is hugely anachronistic, out of place in 2021, but I bridle when my heroes are insulted . . .
Leopold Stokowski said, “There is no exhausted repertoire. There are only exhausted musicians.”
It applies to the session you are about to indulge in, from the Manassas Jazz Festival, featuring Billy Butterfield and Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Larry Eanet, piano; Spencer Clark, bass saxophone; Butch Hall, guitar; Paul Langosch, string bass; Barrett Deems, drums. The songs are familiar: INDIANA / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / JADA / an excerpt from I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SALT PEANUTS jocularly leading into I FOUND A NEW BABY: twenty-six minutes of expert joy-making. None of the players would have said, “For goodness’ sake, I’ve played INDIANA too many times. Could we take out charts for an obscure Cole Porter tune, instead?” No, they enjoyed the freedom of familiar repertoire, which was in itself comforting and giving them freedom to take chances . . . while pleasing an audience that was both comforted and excited by the familiar. So everyone was happy, and I hope that happiness of forty years ago is vividly transferred to you all in 2021:
Of the brilliant incendiaries above, Billy Pee Wee, Larry, Spencer, Butch, and Barrett have moved to other neighborhoods. I am happy to report that bassist Paul Langosch (who’s also played with Tony Bennett) is very much alive and well, and giving a presentation on April 28: details here.
The fellow I do want to commemorate is trumpeter / archivist / all-around gentleman Joe Shepherd, who left us this month. I don’t know details, except that Joe was over ninety, and more generous than I could imagine. I encountered him some years ago because of the one-song magical videos he had offered on his YouTube channel, “Sflair,” videos that featured Vic Dickenson, Don Ewell, and others. I wrote to him and he made me parcel after parcel of DVD transfers, most of which you have seen on JAZZ LIVES. And until very recently, he was practicing the horn at home. A true hero, and not just because of the parcels: when I asked him what I could do in return, his answer was always that he was so happy people were enjoying the music. A resonant gentle kindness I won’t forget, nor will anyone who knew him.
It was one of those bands that actually lived up to its bold title, whether the front line was as it was here, or the variation that I saw in Morgan Park in Glen Cove, so many years ago — Joe Wilder and Phil Bodner (with Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, and I think Ronnie Zito).
Under Dick Hyman’s astonishing leadership, the Quintet chose to concentrate on jazz before the Second World War, but the result was timeless, full of improvisational brilliance and energy, even though there were many manuscripts on those music stands. One of the pleasures of the video that follows is seeing members of the quintet, professional in every detail, taking their music off the stands at the end of the set. But I have doubt that a Quintet performance concentrating on the music of Tadd Dameron, Charlie Parker, and early Miles Davis would have been compelling music also.
Here we have their first manifestation: Dick Hyman, piano; Pee Wee Erwin, cornet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones; Milt Hinton, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.
The video that follows captures a performance at the Grande Parade du Jazz, made for French television but apparently not broadcast and certainly not trimmed-down for time limitations.
Setting up [for the impatient, the “music begins at” 5:55] / CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE [at a lovely swaying tempo] / MY MAN’S GONE NOW (Wilber) / OLD MAN BLUES / SOPHISTICATED LADY (Hyman, Hinton, Rosengarden) / JUST BEFORE DAYBREAK (Erwin – Hyman) / DOOJI WOOJI / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / a few seconds of packing up //.
The late reedman Leroy “Sam” Parkins told me, more than once, that great art was in the balance between passionate abandon and expert restraint. The Quintet embodies that in every note.
A very happy P.S. I posted this video early on Friday, February 20, and mid-afternoon Mr. Dick Human himself (he will be 94 this March 8) commented on the video:
Jazz festivals and jazz parties with a proliferation of star soloists sometimes get everyone who’s available to take a few choruses on a standard composition, which can result in brilliant interludes or dull displays. The results are not the same as a working jazz ensemble, but they do often create splendid surprises.
Here is a seventeen-minute exploration of the Duke Ellington-Bubber Miley 1932 evergreen that took place at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 15, 1977, nominally under clarinetist Barney Bigard’s leadership, which really translates here as his being the first horn soloist. The others are John Lewis, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Clark Terry, Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpets; Vic Dickenson, Kai Winding, trombones; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone. (To my ears, Daniels seems a visitor from another world.) A “string of solos,” yes, but, oh! what solos:
In the summer of 1972, Red Balaban led one of his often-eloquent bands at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now an empty space for rent) with Bobby Hackett as the guest star — and I recall Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Chuck Folds, Marquis Foster. Barney Bigard was in the house, and Bobby invited him up (Muranyi graciously sat the set out except for a two-clarinet HONEYSUCKLE ROSE). The bell of Barney’s clarinet was perhaps three feet from my face, and his sound — on ROSE ROOM, MOOD INDIGO, and two or three others — was warm and luminous. Yes, he looked exactly like my tenth-grade English teacher, but Mr. Kavanagh had no such glissandos.
There will be more to come from the Nice Jazz Festival. And in case you missed my most recent extravagant offering — ninety-seven minutes of bliss — you can immerse yourself here. MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) used to say it had “more stars than there are in heaven,” and you will find them in that post: George Barnes, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Illinois Jacquet, Ruby Braff, Wingy Manone, Dick Sudhalter, Spiegle Willcox, Michael Moore, Pee Wee Erwin, Eddie Hubble . . . along with Barney, Vic, and others.
Many years ago — in the mid-Seventies — I could buy the few legitimate recordings of music (a series of RCA Victor lps, then Black and Blue issues) performed at the Grande Parade du Jazz, with astonishing assortments of artists.
As I got deeper into the collecting world, friends sent me private audio cassettes they and others had recorded.
Old-fashioned love, or audio cassettes of music from the Grande Parade du Jazz.
A few video performances began to surface on YouTube. In the last year, the Collecting Goddess may have felt I was worthy to share more with you, so a number of videos have come my way. And so I have posted . . . .
music from July 1977 with Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, Kai Winding, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, J.C. Heard, Ray Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis, and Teddy Wilson here;
a July 1978 interlude with Jimmy Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna at two grand pianos here;
a wondrous Basie tribute from July 1975 with Sweets Edison, Joe Newman, Clark Terry, Vic Dickenson, Zoot Sims, Buddy Tate, Illinois Jacquet, Lockjaw Davis, Earle Warren, Johnny Guarnieri, George Duvivier, Marty Grosz, Ray Mosca, Helen Humes here;
and a delicious session with Benny Carter, George Barnes, Ruby Braff, Vinnie Corrao, Michael Moore, Ray Mosca here.
If you missed any of these postings, I urge you to stop, look, and listen. One sure palliative for the emotional stress we are experiencing.
At this point in our history, Al Jolson is a cultural pariah, so I cannot quote him verbatim, but I will say that you haven’t seen anything yet. Here is a compendium from July 21, 24, and 25, 1975, several programs originally broadcast on French television, in total almost one hundred minutes.
Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Kenny Drew, Arvell Shaw, Bobby Rosengarden BLUES 7.24.75
Benny Carter, Ruby Braff, Gorge Barnes, Michael Moore, Vinnie Corrao, Ray Mosca WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / 7.25
LADY BE GOOD as BLUES
I CAN’T GET STARTED / LOVER COME BACK TO ME as WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS
INDIANA 7.21.75 Pee Wee Erwin, Herb Hall, Eddie Hubble, Art Hodes, Placide Adams, Marty Grosz, Panama Francis
SWEET LORRAINE Bobby Hackett, Hodes, Adams, Grosz, Francis
OH, BABY! as INDIANA plus Bobby Hackett
ROSE ROOM Dick Sudhalter, Barney Bigard, Vic Dickenson, Hodes, Grosz, Adams, Francis
WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS Bob Wilber, Hodes, Grosz, Adams, Francis
BLUE ROOM Wingy Manone, Sudhalter, Vic, Bigard, Wilber, same rhythm as above
BLUES Wingy, everyone plus Maxim Saury, Alain Bouchet, Erwin, Hackett, Hubble, Vic Spiegle Willcox, Bigard, Hall, Wilber, Hodes, Grosz, Adams, Francis
SWEET GEORGIA BROWN Moustache for Francis
“If that don’t get it, then forget it right now,” Jack Teagarden (paraphrased).
LANDSCAPE WITH BUSHES, Ivana Falconi Allen, 2020. In a private collection.
The little world we know as jazz has moved so quickly in its hundred-plus years that sometimes it seems precariously balanced between the beloved Living and the heroic Dead. I can go out in New York City to hear people I admire tremendously blow breath through horns and out of mouths, to make music right in front of me. But at times jazz seems like a well-tended graveyard, with death announcements hitting me between the eyes every morning, adding to the great graveyard where Buster, Bessie, Billie, Bean, Brownie, Blanton, Ben, Bix, Big Sid, and Bunny are buried.
Where the music I am about to present — thanks to our great friend “Davey Tough” — fits in this formulation is a large charming paradox. I do not think any of the players on this transcription disc, recorded before my birth, are alive in 2020. But their music is resoundingly alive, and their ability to make a shining personal statement in sixteen bars, a time span of under thirty seconds, is marvelous. Their names are announced, and you can read more on the label.
What’s the moral?
Emulate our great heroes, by doing something so well that when our bodies have said, “All right, that’s enough!” our selves live on.
And like “Davey Tough,” share your joys generously.
And a postscript: if you don’t know the artwork of the endearingly imaginative Ivana Falconi Allen, you are missing work as sharply realized and as delightful as any jazz solo you cherish. Here is her website, full of sweet shocks.
Here’s something for the intellectual puzzle-solvers in the JAZZ LIVES audience.
Kenny Davern, Yank Lawson, Connie Jones, Pee Wee Erwin, Doc Cheatham, Chuck Folds, George Masso, Don Goldie, Johnny Varro, Jon-Erik Kellso, Paul Keller, Ed Polcer, Eddie Higgins, Marty Grosz, Bill Allred, Bob Schulz, Bobby Rosengarden, Milt Hinton, Brian Torff, Johnny Frigo, Peter Ecklund, John Sheridan, Brian Holland, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Ken Peplowski, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the Fat Babies, and more.
Figured it out? The answers, although indirect, are below, and they relate to the Juvae Jazz Society and the Central Illinois Jazz Festival: the story of their inception is here.
I confess that Decatur, Illinois has really never loomed large in my vision of bucket-list places. But I have been terribly myopic about this for the past quarter-century. Consider the poster below, please:
The Juvae Jazz Society is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and rather than expecting people to bring them silver plates and candelabra, they are throwing a one-day jazz party, which you might have understood from the poster above. (The list of musicians is just some of the notables who have played and sung for them in the last quarter-century.)
Although I admire Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown immensely, I’ve never had a chance to hear Petra and the Recession Seven live. The Chicago Cellar Boys are one of my favorite bands and would even be so if Dave Bock wore a more sedate bow tie. Other surprises are possible as well.
“La grande parade du jazz” is what the people in charge of the Nice Jazz Festival called it in the last half of the 1970s. And that it was for sure. Here, through the good offices of the scholar Franz Hoffmann, is a nearly ten-minute SWEET GEORGIA BROWN with sixteen of the great players (Bob Wilber and Marty Grosz, still happily with us) participating.
Twelve horns in the front line might mean chaos, but there is expert, funny traffic direction here by experienced musicians who knew (this was the last performance of a set) that allowing everyone to play three choruses could extend the performance well past plausibility. And SWEET GEORGIA BROWN is so familiar that no one could mess up the chords on the bridge. And although the director / cinematographer on some of these Nice videos made them hard to watch by cutting from one angle to another every few seconds, here the editing is much more sedate and pleasing.
The performance is full of sweet little touches — the affectionate respect these musicians had for each other and the idiom. After an ensmble where — even amidst all the possibility for clamor — Bobby Hackett is audibly leading, with mutters from Vic Dickenson, which then turns into a very characteristic propulsive Art Hodes solo, all his traits and signatures beautifully intact. Watch Barney Bigard’s face as Maxim Saury plays a patented Bigard motive, how amused and pleased he is with the younger man’s tribute, and how he (Barney, that is) pays close attention afterwards. (For what it’s worth, Herb Hall and Barney sound so sweetly demure after Saury.) After some inaudible asides, Alain Bouchet (brave man!) trades phrases with a very impressive Hackett, then, before any kind of disorder can take over, Vic takes control over the trombone section, with Willcox and Hubble having fun playing at being Vic. A conversation between Dick Sudhalter and Pee Wee Erwin reveals two concise lyricists; Bob Wilber, so durable and so profound, soars through his choruses (notice Wingy trying to break in after the first). Wingy takes his turn in opposition to a beautifully-charged Hackett, with supporting riffs coming in for the second chorus (Hackett quotes WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU, so gorgeously) before the whole ensemble charges for the exit, Moustache commenting underneath, his four-bar break hinting at a deep study of Cliff Leeman:
Wingy Manone, Bobby Hackett, Alain Bouchet, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, cornet / trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble, Spiegel Willcox, trombone; Barney Bigard, Herb Hall, Maxim Saury, clarinet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Moustache Galepides, drums.
Almost ten minutes of bliss, with no collisions and no train wrecks. And if you care to, on the third or fourth viewing, watch the musicians themselves closely — the ones who aren’t playing, as they smile and silently urge their friends, colleagues, and heroes on. Their love is tangible as well as audible.
It’s a cliche to write that “Giants walked the earth,” but this summer performance proves the truism true. And one of the most dear of the giants — never in stature — the blessed Bobby Hackett — wouldn’t live another full year. Oh, what we lost.
For more from Franz Hoffmann, and he has marvels, visit his YouTube channel.
Those are two unassuming-looking sides of a Decca “sunburst” label 78 disc. Fine music with small mysteries attached, and no one around to tell the tale(s). This 78 is not easy to find these days but it seems to have been a popular issue: I have had two copies, the first a (now-vanished) sunburst, the second (near me as I write) a later Decca reissue. It was also issued on UK Decca.
This group, not a working band, recorded only these two sides in the New York Decca studios on January 17, 1936. The personnel was Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Frank Signorelli, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Stan King, drums. Erwin and Mastren would work with Tommy Dorsey in early 1937, but at the time Erwin was in New York with the young Benny Goodman band before it went to Chicago; the rest of this group might have been together on Fifty-Second Street with Manone or Louis Prima, or freelancing in other record or radio studios.
Marsala and Mastren had been in the Decca studios for another small-group date, apparently organized by Wingy Manone, in whose recording groups they were working consistently for Bluebird — “the Delta Four,” with Roy Eldridge and Sid Weiss making up a quartet, also completing only two sides, FAREWELL BLUES and SWINGIN’ ON THAT FAMOUS DOOR, on December 20, 1935. Signorelli and Mastren had done a date at Decca with Bunny Berigan as “Bob Terry’s Orchestra” on the 15th; Signorelli, King, and possibly Mastren were in the Decca studios on the 20th with Red McKenzie.
What or who brought these musicians together is one of the mysteries. It could have been that one of the six got a call from someone at Decca, perhaps Bob Stephens, saying, “We need a small band tomorrow in the studios at 11. No more than six, and for scale,” and whoever picked up the phone or got the message at Hurley’s (the bar-gathering place before Jim and Andy’s) talked to other musicians down the bar or made some phone calls.
One more small gush of data: the Six Blue Chips were a late-morning or afternoon assemblage: blues singer Georgia White (piano, vocal, with unknown bass) recorded three sides earlier in the day, and Mike Riley (of THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND fame or infamy) recorded four sides later. American Decca, still quite a new company, was busy recording music and selling discs at lower prices than, say, Victor, as shown by three disparate sessions in one day.
Note the absence of composer credits, something unusual on Decca recordings of current pop tunes, but seen often on their recordings of “hilbilly” music, where the company could pretend that there were no people owed royalties. It suggests even more that this was a hurry-up session, or perhaps someone’s idea to add to the Delta Four (whose labels do have composer credits).
Incidentally, the reason that all this prose is speculative is because no one connected with the session seemed to remember it or wrote about it. If King, Shapiro, and Signorelli were ever interviewed, I haven’t encountered it. I met Carmen Mastren once — on either Lloyd Rauch’s or Dave Weiner’s radio show — and at the time did not know of this recording. He was very kind . . . and I don’t know where the V-Disc he autographed for me went.
The most likely candidate for an informed recollection would have been Pee Wee Erwin, who told his life story to Warren Vache, Sr., over four hundred pages, in what would be published as THIS HORN FOR HIRE. But although Vache mentions this disc in an appendix, it seems as if that discography was assembled after Erwin’s death. Pee Wee mentions meeting Bob Stephens in the very early Thirties (when Stephens was a trumpet player) but nothing of substance is offered about the date or the other musicians. One of the sad surprises of that biography is that Pee Wee had a substantial alcohol problem, which might have erased his memory of casual record dates.
None of this would matter if the music wasn’t delightful. Here it is:
STEEL ROOF, of course, steals from TIN ROOF BLUES, but it took me decades to realize this. The side begins with a familiar — to some of us painfully familiar — piano introduction, with which Frank Froeba began all of the Dick Robertson sides, much loved because of the opportunity they offer to hear a young Bobby Hackett. I’m always struck by the ease with which everyone plays this medium-slow blues, and how readily identifiable their sounds are, including King’s idiosyncratic but telling accents. Erwin runs parallel to Bunny, but with his own sound; how lovely to hear Mastren out in the open, and Marsala always charms — even though this is “a slow blues,” he is charmingly optimistic. The solos and closing ensemble have deep roots in the past: Oliver, Noone, Lang or Lonnie Johnson, but it’s clearly 1936, not a decade earlier. And what a pleasant surprise to find that same piano passage used to wind down the performance — with the punchline being a King bass drum accent. Unpretentious and completely effective.
Then, the reverse, with its elusive title: was Cheech someone who cheated or were they describing the process of cheating him (or her)?
There really isn’t much to CHEECH — it sounds like two or three familiar cadences taped together to make a chorus, but the overall effect is jolly, with the wonderful emphasis that the great improvisers placed on individual sound. The record seems over before it’s through, but I hear Marsala’s luminescence and Mastren taking a trip into the land of what I first associated with McDonough, but Nick Rossi, who can play, suggests it is much more like Lang. (I know the game of “sounds like” is silly, but I wonder how much Carmen had absorbed of Teddy Bunn and Lonnie Johnson as well?)
How these sides came to be remains mysterious, but they are little slices of Swing Street life, captured forever. These discs, incidentally, come to us through the generosity of “Cliff,” whom I’ve been unable to identify further, but who has a wonderful YouTube channel, cdbpdx— full of now-rare 78 discs.
In the taxonomy of older jazz, we know where we stand, or at least where the classifiers tell us we should be standing. There are Hot Bands (usually African-American) and Sweet or Dance Bands (Caucasian). There are, of course, groups that snip the barbed wire to escape or to visit the other side — Claude Hopkins performing TREES in a very arboreal manner, then, several years later, Bunny Berigan setting the forest on fire with the same song. (The Louis – Gordon Jenkins version of that same song, fifteen years later, is beyond dispute, and I’ve started disputes when people looked askance at it.)
But it has been my experience that most jazz fans of a certain ideological bent prefer — mutely or vividly — their music Hot and either played by African-Americans or by Caucasians in the Hot style. Or in cases where a Sweet band offers a Hot solo, we can find the 78s that have that twenty-second interlude played to a fine powder, the rest of the record nearly pristine.
What do we do with this curious and wonderful artifact, however? It is at once a superb dance record; it swings easily and well; it is a wholly satisfying performance and presentation. I present it to JAZZ LIVES’ listeners in hopes that they can listen to this buff Bluebird 78 from 1933 with open and appreciative ears, enjoying the recording for what it is.
The group is the Joe Haymes Orchestra — Haymes had played piano and arranged for the Ted Weems band — but under the nominal leadership of Mike Doty, thus Roy Wager, Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Mike Doty, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Toots Mondello or Dan D’Andrea, Paul Ricci, Bud Freeman, reeds; Paul Mitchell, piano; probably Mac Cheikes, banjo; Gene Traxler, string bass; Charlie Bush, drums; Joe Haymes, leader / arranger. New York, November 9, 1933.
And the song is PUDDIN’ HEAD JONES — recorded also by a Ben Selvin group, Don Redman, Hal Kemp, and perhaps a half-dozen other bands in 1933.
Here’s the performance:
From the start, this is an assured, swinging band. The melody statement — muted trumpets, possibly a baritone saxophone line, Gene Traxler’s strong string bass and Charlie Bush’s rocking drums — is easy and non-threatening for the dancers who simply wanted a fast fox trot, but the band is splendidly rehearsed without being at all stiff. And a gorgeous modulation follows — leisurely, with clarinet (I guess Paul Ricci) on top, while Bush shifts to either a low-boy or a hi-hat cymbal. Without overstating my praise, the Haymes band — under Doty’s name — is grooving at the first minute in such a lilting easy way that other bands never reached. In the first seconds of Doty’s vocal, he sounds more declamatory than the song requires — but that’s a 1933 style of singing when there wasn’t a microphone, and the singer needed to be emphatically clear so that the witty bits of the lyrics were heard and understood. Beneath him, the band swings and Ricci ornaments it all. (I’ll get to the lyrics in a bit.) Even though the lyrics are hilarious and verging on the naughty, the band doesn’t emphasize the punchlines: no rimshots or bass-drum hits. The listener must pay attention. After the vocal, the band subtly says, “WE can swing like mad, too!” with delicious interludes for clarinet and I think Dick Clark on tenor saxophone (it’s not Bud), supported beautifully by the wonderfully focused slap of Bush’s wire brushes.
(A one-bar digression: what is known about Charlie Bush? HE COULD PLAY.)
When well-executed, “glee club” choruses for the band are just marvelous — if you needed a musical definition of logical architecture or building momentum, you have it in the way the band voices rock wordless riffs behind Doty. And although his voice isn’t up to the challenge of shouting over the band at the end, he certainly delivers the message.
Those lyrics. One encounters this song, depending on one’s level of empathy, with some doubts. Will this be a narrative about how stupid an elementary-school student was — the equivalent of the polite dozens for middle-class Caucasians? You know, the sort of humor that builds on “You’re so dumb . . . ” But — the clever turn of the bridge, where the fictional character we have been invited to laugh at turns out to be the Teacher’s Teacher (a folk take in swingtime) with a real punchline in the last words of the bridge — something has turned around, and in some ways we are a little embarrassed at underestimating Puddin’ Head, who is much smarter than we thought and probably much smarter than we are. Are we meant to assume that Teacher has already spent time in interdisciplinary studies with Puddin’s older brother? I leave that to you. But our young dunce turns into an expert wooer, and as an adult a diligent citizen, frugal and energetic — so much so that in this 1933 Depression-era saga, he is presumably the only man in the neighborhood who is well-loved, securely affluent, perhaps even wealthy. An American success story: from dunce to happy successful man in three minutes and change.
“Underestimate people at your own risk” might be the moral of this tale.
I knew I had to write a blogpost about this record when I needed to hear it four or five times in a row — with great joy — from YouTube. (And I also purchasesd or re-purchased the three Haymes reissues that exist, and await their arrival.)
Of course, there might be grumbling in the imaginary cyber-audience, “Great record. But how much better it would be with, say Jimmy Rushing singing, and Ben Webster on tenor.” Perhaps. But I love what we have, and cherish it as a perfectly accomplished piece of hilarious swinging art that needs no improvements.
I think that on Sunday, October 27, 1968, I might have been helping my father rake leaves in the backyard, or perhaps doing my homework for the next day. (I was in eleventh grade.)
I can say with regret that I wasn’t at the jazz event above. And I certainly didn’t have a video camera yet. The forces in the cosmos didn’t work together on my behalf that Sunday — but it’s very pleasing to know that these musicians had a gig. And that we can see the evidence now.
Before WCBS-AM radio in New York became an all-news station, Jack Sterling had a famous morning show, which is why he would have been a good host for this concert. Here’s more about Jack:
From the same eBay prowl, I offer another holy relic. True, that Oran Thaddeus Page felt that his nickname needed an apostrophe makes the English professor in me wince, but Hot Lips Page could do whatever he wanted.
And here’s why (with the noble assistance of Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett):
Before “genre-bending” or “crossover music,” there were recordings such as this, purchased for one dollar at a local yard / garage sale a few days ago — worth so much more:
This music was recorded in New York, July 1962, in what I can assume was an attempt to merge two audiences — those elders, who still liked “Dixieland jazz,” and didn’t think that term was something to shrink from, and their children, who were busy Twisting on the living room rug, thanks to Chubby Checker and a clearly defined loud rhythm pattern.
Both “Dixieland” and “the Twist” were recognizable — and thus saleable — genres that the average consumer of music could be expected to know about. (A few years earlier, there had been successful recordings called DIXIELAND GOES MODERN, SWING GOES DIXIE, DIXIELAND HITS COUNTRY AND WESTERN . . . a series of experiments that often produced good — if occasionally odd — musical results.) Perhaps some consumers saw this disc as a doubly interesting product, a musical two-for-one.
Somerset Records were also offering “popular long play albums” including SING ALONG WITH THE HONKY TONKS, SYMPHONY FOR GLENN, OLDIES FOR PIPE ORGAN, LA PACHANGA!!, POLKA EXTRAVAGANZA, and several records attempting to capture the market for original cast albums (two compressed shows with nearly anonymous singers). I think this label, like Bravo, Design, and Spinorama, was sold in racks near the cashier in your local supermarket.
In John Updike’s short story, “A&P,” coincidentally also published in 1962, the nineteen-year old narrator, Sammy, describes such products pitilessly as “records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on.”
The “liner notes” on the reverse are enthusiastic almost beyond endurance. I can’t reproduce the many fonts, but please imagine an exuberant art director who believed in visual stimulation:
THE DIXIE ALL-STARS
FOR YOUR LISTENING OR TWISTIN’ PLEASURE
BLOW UP A STORM OF
with a TWIST BEAT
SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE
GOLDEN SLIPPERS TWIST
LONESOME RAILROAD BLUES
MIDNITE IN MEMPHIS
RAMPART ST. STOMP
DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE
BOURBON STREET FISHFRY
PEANUTS HUCKO, “CUTTY” CUTSHALL, PEE WEE ERWIN – MY WHAT FINE DIXIE COMPANY. SHADES OF MOTHER COME ON HERE!!!! – ADD THE KING OF THE TWIST DRUMMERS, GARY CHESTER, AL CAIOLA ON GUITAR, BILL RAMAL HONKIN’ SAX, AND MOE WECHSLER ON PIANO (OOPS, WE NEARLY FORGOT “THE BEAVER) – ON BASS, JERRY “BEAVER” BRUNO AND FORGET IT; IT’S A DOWN HOME PARTY THAT SAYS “DIG WHAT YOU WANT – EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.” PARTY TIME!!
Directed by D. L. Miller Cover art – G.L. Phillips
This stereophonic 33 1/3 R.P.M. long playing record has been mastered employing the Westrex cutter head system driven by a Sculley lathe. We do not claim full fidelity when played on a monaural phonograph. This is a stereo recording manufactured to the highest stereophonic audio standards.
At this point, I know some of my readers want nothing more than to hear a sample — a wish I can easily gratify. Come with me back to 1962. And let your impulses take you where they may. It is indeed PARTY TIME!!
Should anyone think I focus on this disc in a spirit of mockery, that isn’t my intention. The “jazz soloists” play their parts with spirit, expertise, and conviction — soloing as they would in any context, given these songs to improvise on. I do not hear disdain or ironic distance; rather, I hear professionalism and enthusiasm. The rhythm was perhaps not what they were accustomed to, but a heavy underpinning was not all that different from a rhythm and blues date . . . and it was a paying gig playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE, which was better than many other options offered them. At the end of the sessions, I am sure everyone went home (or to the gig at Condon’s or Nick’s) reasonably satisfied that they had been given a chance to play — and if these records became hits, so much the better. “We called it music,” one of their guiding spirits had said, and what I hear is just that, Twist or not.
I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.
One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene. Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.
I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street. I and several friends made pilgrimages there. The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs. But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music. The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba. He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session. The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others. The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime. I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others. But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played. And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.
A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries. Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones. At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.
Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.
Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others. In a Waller-Razaf mood:
and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:
A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians. What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history. He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family. He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”
Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years. So we owe him a great deal. And he will be missed. Another view of Red can be found here.
Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.
Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford). They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked. Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.
Bob was respected by his peers. Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.” And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”
Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:
The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.
You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.
Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.
There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.
Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.
After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.
The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.
Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.
In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.
In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.
When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.
If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.
In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.
Bob and friends:
MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):
I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):
TIGER RAG (2011):
Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.
Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts. And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.
Drummer Cliff Leeman had a completely personal and identifiable sound, a seriously exuberant approach to the music. You can’t miss him, and it’s not because of volume.
He’s audible from the late Thirties on in the bands of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet, then most notably in Eddie Condon’s bands, later with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Bob Crosby reunions, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood, and Soprano Summit. Cliff died in 1986, but his slashing attack and nearly violent exuberance are in my ears as I write this . . . including his trademark, the tiny splash cymbal he used as an auditory exclamation point. He spoke briefly about his approach in thisinterview for MODERN DRUMMER magazine.
In case Cliff is someone new to you, here he is on a 1975 television program with Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland, and Major Holley, elevating CHINA BOY:
In spring 2008, Kevin Dorn and I paid a call on Irene (Renee) Leeman, his widow, then living comfortably in New Jersey. I have very fond memories of that afternoon, hearing stories and laughing. Until recently, I thought that those memories were all I had. But a recent stint of domestic archaeology uncovered the small notebook in which I had written down what Mrs. Leeman told us. Here are some of her comments and asides, shared with you with affection and reverence (and with her permission).
But first: Cliff on film in 1952 with Eddie Condon . . . the epitome of this driving music. Also heard and seen, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey:
Some words from Mrs. Leeman to go with all those good sounds:
I first met Clifford at Nick’s. I didn’t go there by myself, but because of a friend who had a crush on Pee Wee Erwin.
Roger Kellaway always asked for Clifford.
He wore Capezios on the job.
He had a colorful vocabulary and didn’t repeat himself. He thought Bing Crosby was the best, but Clifford was always very definite in his opinions.
He came from a Danish-Scandinavian family where the men didn’t hug one another.
Clifford once asked Joe Venuti, “How do you want me to play behind you?” and Venuti said, “Play as if I’m five brass.”
He worked on THE HIT PARADE with Raymond Scott, who timed everything with a stopwatch, “The hardest job I ever had.”
Clifford was the drummer on Bill Haley and the Comets’ Decca recording of ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, and when the session ended, he said, “I think I just killed my career.”
Sidney Catlett was Clifford’s idol. Jo Jones, Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and Clifford loved each other. They all hung out at Hurley’s Bar, Jim and Andy’s, and Charlie’s Tavern.
Clifford played piano — not jazz, but ROCK OF AGES and MOTHER MACHREE, as well as xylophone. And he could read music. He was always surprised that other musicians couldn’t, and would come home after a gig and say, “Do you know _____? He can’t read!”
Clifford was left-handed but he played with a drum kit set up for right-handed drummers.
He thought the drummer was supposed to keep the time and drive the band and pull everything together. Clifford listened. He was fascinated with rock drummers he saw on television, and would tell me how bad they were.
“Cliff is the best timekeeper,” Billy Butterfield said. Billy was so cute.
He loved his cymbals.
He was hard on himself, and on other people, but he loved working with Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart. They had a good time. They respected each other. They thought that music should be fun. Yank and Bob used to rehearse the band in Lou Stein’s basement in Bayside, New York.
Kenny Davern! Kenny was a challenge to the world and a thinker. He was an angry young man who became an angry old man. He and Clifford were a comedy team wherever they went.
Clifford didn’t embrace the world, and he could be abrasive if people bothered him.
Clifford played with Bob Crosby and Louis Armstrong on one of those Timex television jazz shows. He was so proud of working with Louis you couldn’t stand it.
I have always liked musicians as a group, and never had a 9 to 5 life. Because of Clifford, I got to meet Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa. In those days, rhythm sections stuck together, so I knew a lot of bass players and their wives: Milt Hinton, Major Holley, George Duvivier, Jack Lesberg. I was lucky to have known such things and such people. How fortunate I was!
We are all fortunate to have lived in Clifford Leeman’s century, and his music lives on. And I thank Mrs. Leeman for her enthusiastic loving candor.
First, a canvas board dating from early 1977 — whether from sessions at the Nice Festival or two American sojourns. Signers include Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Earl Hines, Wallace Davenport, Fred Kohlman, Dick Hyman, Pee Wee Erwin, Jimmy Maxwell, Clark Terry, Johnny Mince, Zoot Sims, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Trummy Young, Milt Hinton, Joe Williams, Orange Kellin, and Barney Bigard.
Those of us who have followed a number of these artists know that the signatures are genuine. But here are two documents advertised as being signed by Louis Armstrong. The first is not even a convincing forgery:
This one (context notwithstanding) is the real thing.
No one at eBay has asked me, but I would give the seller of the first item Swiss Kriss regularly. Perhaps that would increase his candor.
This full-page advertisement (a musical history in photographs) comes from the 1942 Conn instruments advertisement book / brochure. It’s a delightful piece of ancient musical history but also serves as a reason to celebrate George “Pee Wee” Erwin, one of the great yet underrated lyrically hot trumpeters for more than four decades. Early on (as the photographs show) he worked with Joe Haymes, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Ray Noble, Tommy Dorsey — in that latter situation, being asked in 1937 to follow Bunny Berigan, a nearly impossible task. I don’t know how long his 1942 fame lasted, but after the end of the Swing Era he led memorable small “Dixieland” bands at Nick’s and Lou Terassi’s . . . I saw him play in 1974 as part of Bob Greene’s THE WORLD OF JELLY ROLL MORTON — in a concert recorded and issued on RCA Victor (the other members of the band were Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford, Alan Cary, Herb Hall, and Ephie Resnick). Late in life Pee Wee was able to record several relaxed, unhackneyed sessions under his own name for the Qualtro label — one a duet with Bucky Pizzarelli, others just as sweetly expert.
I don’t understand how someone “Launches own Name IN THE BIG TIME,” but perhaps that’s why I was never an advertising copywriter.
As a lead trumpeter or a hot soloist, he is someone we miss!
No, not my fifth-grade one where cute Suzanne DeVeaux signed her name and then wrote “Yours till bacon strips,” which was not the declaration of love it might have seemed to be, alas.
But THIS autograph book is something special — even given the twenty thousand dollar price tag on eBay. Its owner was a deep swing and jazz fan in the Thirties, and (s)he got everyone’s signature . . . at gigs, at the Arcadia Ballroom, and other places. It is the calligraphic companion to the late Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK, summoning up a magical and vanished time where you could wait patiently at the stage door and get “Art Shaw” to sign his name as well as his new singer, “Billie Holiday.”
Feast your eyes.
And, just as an aside, several people — musicians and collectors alike — who have seen this — keep muttering something about how their birthdays are coming soon. I don’t blame them. The eBay link is
Here are some sample pages. WOW is all one can say — and that’s even before one encounters the signatures of Eddie Durham, Maurice Purtill, a young Milt Hinton, and the others. And as my friend David Weiner has pointed out on other occasions, the pencil and sometimes odd handwriting prove that these are on-the-spot signatures, not neat calligraphy done in someone’s office by the hundreds.
I don’t know who Anthony is on the left, but there’s Billie and “Art” on the right.
Earle Warren (Every Good Wish, Count Basie, Billie, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham. And — I think from a later date! — Paul Gonsalves. “Roseland Shuffle,” I think. And this comes from the era when musicians, signing a fan’s autograph book, identified themselves by the instrument(s) they played. That suggests a sweet lack of ego: I’m not a star yet! (And Buck’s signature was very much the same about forty years later.)
Sincerely, Nat King Cole, Johnny Miller, and Oscar Moore — people who knew about sincerity.
Harry Goldfield (father of Don Goldie) on the left — and some other trumpeters named “Satch” and “Red,” as well as drummer Sammy Weiss.
Another trumpet player. He could get started — don’t let his theme song fool you. But why do these trumpet players all have nicknames? Wouldn’t “Bernard” have done just as well?
1936. The Blessed Thomas Waller.
Did someone say HI-DE-HO? And there’s youthful Milt — not yet the Judge.
The Duke is on the page — along with Ivie, Sonny, Rex, Juan Tizol, Cootie Williams, Fred Guy, and one or two others.
Noble Sissle and his Orchestra with Sidney Bechet, Wendell Culley, Don Pasquall, and Sara Turner . . .
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, Part One: Johnny Mince, Maurice Purtill, Carmen Mastren, Bud Freeman, Gene Traxler, Jack Leonard, Lee Castaldo (later Castle), Andy Ferretti, Freddie Stulce, and one or two others.
Part Two! Mince signs in again, the Sentimental Gentleman himself, Edythe Wright, and Pee Wee Erwin.
Hamp, before FLYIN’ HOME.
Isn’t this frankly astounding?
I knew you’d agree.
And what we have here is perhaps fifteen pages out of one hundred and twenty.
When my learned and hot Australian friend Michael McQuaid (clarinet, alto sax, cornet, and leader of the Late Hour Boys) told me sometime last year about a tour he and his colleagues intended to do, I badly wanted to join them as an aging roadie, carrying the cases and music stands, finding places to recharge my video camera’s batteries, recording every second for posterity. I would have worn a cap and held the door open.
My idea was one whose time had not yet come. But thanks to fellow reed wizard Jason Downes, we now have eighteen video performances to thrill us. Michael and Jason on their own are — to quote the late Pee Wee Erwin, “hotter than a depot stove” (you could look it up) . . . and here they are joined by guitarist / banjoist John Scurry, bassist Leigh Barker, and two Americans whose names will be familiar to JAZZ LIVES: Andy Schumm on cornet and Josh Duffee on drums. The results are nearly incendiary, and would be so even if the surroundings didn’t suggest Hades reborn as a speakeasy in color and decor.
I think I am performing a public service by alerting my readers of these clips. See if you don’t agree. And I can’t wait for the double CD-DVD set. (Yes, one of the titles below is DON’T WAKE ME UP, LET ME DREAM, but any causal connection here is incidental, of course.)
Wow! As we say in the States.
This session was recorded on April 20, 2011, in Club Cursley, Near Cobargo, NSW, Australia. I was told that this lavish interior is inside a generous host’s country house . . . one with its own stage. Some people know how to live.
How about a searing WILD MAN BLUES, styled after Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers — and hear young Mister Schumm get into his 1927 Louis-regalia in the most convincing way:
Here is the aforementioned request (or command?), DON’T WAKE ME UP, LET ME DREAM (which has a chorus-ending tag that sounds like a thousand other tunes — I thought of WHY COULDN’T IT BE POOR LITTLE ME and GOOD LITTLE, BAD LITTLE YOU but might be mistaken in both counts). From the title, I would have expected a snoozy sweet composition, so this romper is a delightful surprise. The closing chorus is superheated:
And a slow-drag, almost melancholy BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? (in keeping with the yearning lyrics):
And a nearly ominous reading of BLACK SNAKE BLUES:
I have purposely left the remaining fourteen videos unposted: visit “jasondownes” on YouTube and enjoy yourselves. If you are measured in your enjoyment, that’s two weeks of joy at breakfast. I still wish with all my heart that I had been along on this tour — maybe next year if I buy a cap that has THE HOT JAZZ ALLIANCE embroidered on it in gold braid, the fellows will make room for me in the band bus?
Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective. I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City. Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh. But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died.
Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers — now dead — I did get to see.
Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.
Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.
Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.
Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.
Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.
Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.
Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.
Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.
Violin: Joe Venuti.
Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.
I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.
April 10 was Barbara Lea’s eighty-first birthday. I am quite late, but hope that no one minds my tardiness.
She is deeply respected by those who know, although by my reckoning there could be many more people aware of her special approach. Barbara has always worked wonderfully with jazz performers of a subtle kind — she is not someone shouting over a full-tilt ensemble . . . but like her idols Mildred Bailey and Lee Wiley, she is a singer comfortable with a few horns threading through her vocal and a supportive rhythm section.
In some ways, she is the musical equivalent to Ruby Braff, somewhat of a delicious anachronism, making her peaceful way amidst the noise of the last fifty years. The recordings I most treasure of Barbara’s find her alongside players who summon up great emotional force without ever raising their voices: Johnny Windhurst (her Bobby Hackett), Dick Sudhalter, and Vic Dickenson at the very end of his recording career.
Barbara’s recording career began with a two-song session for Graham Prince’s Cadillac label in 1954 (those days of transition where a new single was issued both on 45 and 78): a pop trifle called I’LL BET YOU A KISS backed with Barbara’s choice, ANYPLACE I HANG MY HAT IS HOME. The band? Amateurs . . . Pee Wee Erwin, Cutty Cutshall, Bill Pemberton, George Wettling, and Bill Austin. Here’s a photograph from that session:
Here’s Barbara with an unknown fan, some hanger-on:
At the Village Vanguard, 1956:
With the noted cellist Morey Amsterdam:
And in the present day, with her dear friend Jeanie Wilson, both in high style:
It’s sad to report that Barbara no longer sings, owing to Alzheimer’s disease. But she enjoys listening to music and is strong in body — and much loved. We have the music she made — a substantial legacy.