Tag Archives: Pee Wee Russell

EDDIE and THE GANG GO TO FLORIDA; STUFF HEATS UP THE ONYX CLUB

Yes, I’ve been eBaying at the moon when I should have been grading student essays.  But one brings more pleasure than the other, I write ruefully.

Concert ephemera from the Condon ensemble — and what a band! — doing Florida gigs in, I think, 1955.  If you can find it, there is a recording on the Pumpkin label (the gift to us of the much-missed Bob Hilbert) of that same band in Palm Beach, 1955:

And I do know that Eddie hated the word DIXIELAND, but he didn’t write the ad copy.  Here’s some beautiful contemporaneous music from the “Bixieland” session supervised by George Avakian for Columbia, with a chance to hear Eddie, Walter Page, and George Wettling in glorious sound — to say nothing of Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, and Ed Hall:

and here’s an earlier piece of Americana that I’d never seen (nor imagined).  Why a football?  I don’t know.  But it’s great Stuff:

And the appropriate music, in two parts, mixing vaudeville, illicit substances, and Swing:

Aside from Stuff, that’s Jonah Jones, Clyde Hart, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, and Cozy Cole — a truly rocking band.  Listen to the great beat of that rhythm section behind the vocal jive:

Uh, uh!  Woof woof!

May your happiness increase!

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DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS, CONTINUED (July 8, 2017)

Our good fortune continues.  “Tell us a story, Dan?” we ask, and he kindly obliges.  And his stories have the virtue of being candid, genuine, and they are never to show himself off.  A rare fellow, that Mister Morgenstern is.

Here are a few more segments from my July 2017 interlude with Dan. In the first, he recalls the great clarinetist, improviser, and man Frank Chace, with glances at Bob Wright, Wayne Jones, Harriet Choice, Bill Priestley, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Russell, Nick’s, Louis Prima, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, and Zutty Singleton:

Here, Dan speaks of Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Charles Edward Smith — with stories about George Wein, Stan Getz, Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet:

and a little more, about “jazz critics,” including Larry Kart, Stanley Dance, Helen Oakley Dance, and a little loving comment about Bunny Berigan:

If the creeks don’t rise, Dan and I will meet again this month.  And this time I hope we will get to talk of Cecil Scott and other luminaries, memorable in their own ways.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN’S CHICAGO DAYS (July 8, 2017)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know the esteem that we who love this music hold Dan Morgenstern in, and I continue to be pleased and honored that he permits me to ask him questions in front of my camera.  We had another little session on July 8, 2017, and I asked Dan to tell us all about his days in Chicago.  Here are three interview segments, full of good stories.

First, stories about DOWN BEAT, Don DeMicheal, Robert Kaiser, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Harriet Choice, John Coltrane, Joe Segal, Dexter Gordon, Art Hodes, Gene Lees, and others:

and more, about Art Hodes, Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Norman Murphy, Marty Grosz, George Grosz, Wayne Jones, AACM, Muhal Richard Abrams, Jim McNeely, Harriet Choice, John Steiner, Edith Wilson, the Brecker Brothers:

and, finally, tales of Rush Street, Tiny Davis, the blues, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Harlem:

The warmth of Dan’s being comes through in every word.  And who else on the planet has had first-hand encounters with (let us say) both Edith Wilson and the AACM?  I have several more segments from this afternoon to share with you, and Dan and I have a return encounter planned for more.

And because a posting about Dan has to have some relevant music, here is the JUST JAZZ program he produced with Robert Kaiser, featuring Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Lou Forestieri, Frankyln Skeete, and Don DeMicheal:

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S “SWING CENTRAL” GETS IT: BIX FEST (August 3, 2017)

Even though it’s been in existence only a short time, SWING CENTRAL, the beloved brain-and-heart child of drummer and inspiration man Hal Smith, is one of my favorite bands. Here is what I wrote about it on the occasion of its debut CD, whose nifty cover is pictured below. 

I was not able to make it to hear / see / video SWING CENTRAL at the BixFest, but fortunately “jazzmanjoe” caught a set, with nice sound.

The members of this compact swinging ensemble are Jonathan Doyle, clarinet; Dan Walton, piano / vocals; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / leader.  In this set, they play WAY DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS; DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY; CHINA BOY; SWEET IS THE NIGHT; WHOLLY CATS; I WANT A LITTLE GIRL; BEAT ME, DADDY, EIGHT TO THE BAR; LESTER LEAPS IN.

A few words about the band and its delightful repertoire, or maybe more than a few.  From the top, borrowing Eddie Durham’s words about Ed Hall, “Hal Smith doesn’t know how to not swing,” which means to me that his beat is irrresistible. If you put on a CD (or “record”) in another room that started with eight bars of Hal’s hi-hat, I would a) know who it was before the passage was over; b) be smiling; c) put down whatever I was doing in the other room to come closer to the speaker to soak in the swing.  Hal also has a capacious imagination: he can most effectively put together a band devoted to Kid Ory, or the Watters-Scobey-Murphy world, but he really likes supercharged small groups that float and fly, and he’s got a long list of such groups with many wonderful recordings.  As he says on the video, he was moved to create SWING CENTRAL as a band that could play “Chicago style,” but was earnestly connected to the delicate heartfelt traceries of clarinetists Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, among others: which leads me to the bold statement that (aside from the one evocation of Charlie Christian on this set) NO OTHER BAND SOUNDS LIKE THIS.

Festival promoters, please take note.  SWING CENTRAL is the doctor-tested remedy for audiences shrinking because of dulling sameness.

A long pause for calm.

Pianist Dan Walton is a hidden gem.  Like the rest of this band, he never plays a formulaic or dull note or phrase.  He’s absorbed all the great styles and recordings, but — thank heavens — he isn’t on the planet to play them note-for-note unless requested.  His solo work is quiet but it rings in the mind; his ensemble playing is just the thing, and his boogie-woogie sounds real.  I’d like to hear a Dan Walton solo or duo CD, and hope that this idea can be realized soon.

Jamey Cummins.  In a landscape of guitarists who sound fraternally similar, young Mister J.C. stands out as a gifted inventor of long spinning lines, someone whose rhythm playing rocks.  He plays himself, and that’s a wonderful thing.

I got to meet the ebullient Steve Pikal on my recent Nashville trip, and he’s a wonderful creation: you can’t tell where he stops and where the music begins, or, put it this way, his unwavering good humor, expressed in a nearly perpetual smile, comes right through his string bass.  He loves Walter Page and Pops Foster and Milt Hinton and all the propulsive people in the great tradition, and you hear his love.

Jon Doyle is a great poet who might never have written a sonnet, but each chorus is a new effusion, whether tender or searing-hot.  He’s captured the whimsical souls of the musicians he admires, but what comes out of the end of that stick of grenadilla wood is entirely Doyle.  He’s not copying Lester, Pee Wee, or Frank; he is showing himself as someone who understands their beauties and has taken from them new ways to be himself.

You’ll notice that the tunes in this set (and when you buy the CD, the same applies) are often familiar — think of WAY DOWN YONDER and CHINA BOY (the latter more often mentioned than played) are in some hands “Dixieland classics,” but here they are springboards for elegant new improvisations.  But something remarkable: other bands can play Hot, and often at a higher volume, but SWING CENTRAL has its own special tenderness: not only Jon playing a ballad, but the subtle textures of the rhythm section, of Hal’s brushwork — of a band that knows that power isn’t volume, that the way to make an audience feel is not necessarily to whack it over the head in performance after performance. A quintet of swing poets, inspired by Milt Gabler and other lights in the darkness. May they prosper.

We’re so lucky that Hal had this idea, and that he and his friends made it happen.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL: “WINDY CITY SWING” (JON DOYLE, JAMEY CUMMINS, DAN WALTON, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH and JOSHUA HOAG)

Hal Smith is someone whose music I’ve admired long before I was able to meet him and hear the magic he works from a front-row seat.  Dogs bark; cats meow; Hal swings, and I’ve never known him to fail.  Better than CPR.

Put it another way: I’ve had a driver’s license for decades, and am thus less comfortable in the passenger seat.  When I hear a performance with Hal at the drums, I can relax — the same way I do when Jo or Sidney or Wettling or Tough is in control: I know everything’s going to be all right.

A new CD with Hal is always a pleasure; the debut recording of a new Hal Smith band is an event, one to be celebrated.  SWING CENTRAL lives up to its title, and there’s more at work here than a) a quintet playing a swing repertoire and b) that the musicians all live in the Central time zone.

Those musicians — exuberant and focused at the same time are, besides Hal — Jonathan Doyle on clarinet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass, and appearing on one track, Joshua Hoag, also on bass.

What makes this clarinet-plus rhythm group different and thus a treasure is vividly apparent from the first notes of the first track.  For one thing, SWING CENTRAL is aware that there is music not played by Benny Goodman.  Heresy to some, I know, and I treasure my Goodman records as much as anyone, but this band and this disc go another way. And that way is the endearingly individualistic way mapped out by Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, and Charlie Christian.  SWING CENTRAL is a hot band, but not an exhibitionistic one: on this CD or in performance, you won’t hear a ten-minute version of SEVEN COME ELEVEN that’s capped with a drum solo.  Hearing the disc again, I thought, “This band is playing for the music, not for the audience,” which is a beautiful and rare thing.  And the musicians know the records, but have absorbed them into their cell memory, so that they can play themselves, which is the only way to honor the innovators.  “Feelin’ the spirit,” as they used to say.

 

Now that you’ve gotten over the pleasant shock of the remarkable cover art by JP Ardee Navarro, hear and see the band in performance (Austin’s Central Market, 2016) for yourself:

LITTLE GIRL:

and Jon Doyle’s charming sweet original, HELLO, FISHIES:

Hal asked me if I would write something for this CD, and I was honored.  Here’s what I came up with: easy to tell the truth, and easy to express happiness in words.  (And in case what I’ve written seems to favor Jon Doyle and the leader, I will say only that I’d like to hear a CD led by Dan Walton, Jamey, or Steve.)

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS

A true story. Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk were in a taxi, discussing “the beat”. Monk favored surprising shifts but Dizzy disagreed. “What would you do if your heart beat irregular? The steady beat is the principle of life.” My cardiologist would agree: healthy, happy organisms swing from the inside out. Hal Smith’s Swing Central is not only a wondrous cohesive group, inspired by the music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace, and friends, but it affirms joyous principles. From Austin, Texas, comes healing jazz.

Leader Hal tells how this band came to be:

I’ve known Jon Doyle since 2009. The first time I heard him warming up on clarinet, quoting Pres’ solo from “I Want A Little Girl,” the seed was planted for this band. Steve Pikal and I worked together in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in 2010. Steve’s outgoing personality and propulsive bass playing is always a positive influence. Dan Walton introduced me to the Western Swing scene in Texas. We played together with Jason Roberts’ band and later with Dan’s own Jump Swing Imperials. He understands that “less is more” and it shows. Jamey Cummins has been in Austin for some time, and is finally receiving the attention he deserves. He plays wonderful Freddie Green-like time and inventive, highly rhythmic solos.

We decided not to pursue the familiar Goodman-based clarinet-and-rhythm repertoire but rather to explore the more introverted music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace. Jon Doyle took to the idea like a bat takes to the Congress Ave. Bridge. When we began, the musicians lived in the Central Time zone, so the band name suggested itself. (However, we are not going to add “Pacific” when a couple of our musicians have relocated to the West Coast!)

This was the easiest recording session I have ever done, and several other band members agreed. I think you’ll hear what a good time we had.

This quietly thrilling band reminds me not only of the three inspiring clarinet playing individualists, but of the possibilities of music that gently breaks down the barriers some listeners and journalists build, cubicles labeled “schools” and “styles.” Swing Central takes familiar songs and make them fresh and dewy; Jon’s compositions and reinventions are witty beyond their titles. And these players – happy rovers in the land of Medium Tempo, great ensemble players as well as inspiring soloists — go for themselves rather than copying.

About the repertoire. Listeners will hear the chord structures of SUGAR, MY GAL SAL, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and LADY BE GOOD reinvigorated. An answer key is available at the end of your workbook, but no peeking until you’ve handed in your finished pages.

BIG AL evokes Mr. Capone, who would have tipped Swing Central generously to keep playing his favorite song. Hal explains BATS ON A BRIDGE as “a real Austin phenomenon, and five of the six musicians here have deep roots in Texas’ weirdest city. http://www.batcon.org/index.php/our-work/regions/usa-canada/protect-mega-populations/cab-intro. HI, FISHIES comes from a sweet cross-species story. Ask Jon when you meet him on a gig. REPEATER PENCIL is for Lester, and for this band: artists who honor the innovators by being innovative themselves.

LONG-DISTANCE MAN owes its title to a Pres-and-Chace story recalled by Larry Kart: “[Chace] also told a very ‘Frank’ story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (‘I’m shy,’ he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as ‘long-distance man.’ Probably a meeting of kindred souls.”

SHEIK OF AIRBNB is named thus because Jamey stayed in an AirBnB directly below the studio where the session was recorded. I MUST HAVE THAT MAN is from the band’s live gig at Central Market in Austin on Aug. 28, 2016. Josh Hoag (now with Asleep at the Wheel) filled in for Steve. The band decided that they must share this track with us: a lovely gift. When you are enjoying SUNDAY, don’t be surprised when the track fades out. Do not adjust your set. Hal explains, “Alex Hall’s reliable recording equipment may have been affected by a sun spot, or maybe one of Doyle’s blue notes. But we liked the overall feel so much — particularly Jon’s playing — that we decided to keep as much as possible and fade before the sudden ending.”

Sir John Davies, a Renaissance poet, wrote ORCHESTRA, his conception of a cosmos vibrating in symphonic harmony. If we are very fortunate, the world might vibrate as does Hal Smith’s Swing Central – tender, relaxed, urgent. We have a long way to go, but it’s a noble aspiration.

Here is the link to hear samples, purchase an actual disc, or a download.  Hal and SWING CENTRAL will be appearing at the Bix Festival on the first weekend of August in Davenport, Iowa. . . so you can have the mutual pleasure of buying CDs from the band there, also.  And here is the place to find out about all things Smith — the swinging ones, of course.

May your happiness increase!

TWEETING BEFORE TWITTER: LIPS PAGE and FRIENDS, 1944, 1952

Mister Page signs in — first on paper, then audibly and memorably.

The response to my recent posting of Hot Lips Page playing and singing CHINATOWN (here) at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert was so strong that I thought it would be cruel to not offer more of the same immediately.

(Note: the cross-species inventiveness of this cover — that the birdies have cute human faces — is a whimsy of the sheet music artist’s, and it’s not part of the song, in case you were anxious about the possibilities of such genetic mingling.)

One of Lips’ favorite showpieces was the 1924 WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET, and here are two sterling versions.  The first is very brief but no less affecting.  The collective personnel is Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Lips, Bill Harris, Ernie Caceres, Clyde Hart, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso.  New York, June 10, 1944:

Eight years later, Lips was part of an extraordinary little band, nominally led by drummer George Wettling: with Joe Sullivan, Pee Wee Russell, and Lou McGarity — a peerless quintet captured at the Stuyvesant Casino during one of “Doctor Jazz”‘s broadcasts, this one from February 15, 1952:

More Lips to come.

May your happiness increase!

“THANK YOU . . . FOR THAT”: LIPS PAGE, CENTER STAGE (1944)

The advertisement shows that musicians were always trying to make an extra few dollars, and it also offers some unusual pictures of one of my heroes, Hot Lips Page, someone who couldn’t help swinging, no matter what the context.

Lips and Eddie Condon admired each other tremendously as people who could play Hot without any artifice, and the moments when Lips performed at Eddie’s concerts are magical.  (Dan Morgenstern had the wondrous experience of seeing Lips sit in at Eddie’s club on Tuesday nights, something I can only imagine.) These cosmic collaborations took place not only at the 1944 Town Hall and Ritz Theatre concerts but on the television series, “Eddie Condon’s Floor Show” of 1948-50.  Photographs show a trio performance by Lips, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton, which I wouldn’t mind hearing.  And before anyone writes in to inquire about the kinescopes of the Floor Show, I am afraid that they no longer exist, unless duplicate and triplicate sets were made.  I feel your pain: it’s been mine for decades.

But we do have uplifting evidence (a recording I’ve loved for forty years).

To call that a live performance would be a gross understatement.  It’s from a June 24, 1944 broadcast at Town Hall in New York City.  Supporting Lips are Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso.  I admire Haggart’s powerful support, but for me Lips is the whole show.  Yes, there is some admiration for Louis evident, but Lips is playing Lips, and you could ask any trumpet player what a heroic accomplishment his playing is, chorus upon chorus, each one building on the predecessor so when the performance ends, one has the sense of a completed creation rather than a series of phrase-length ideas offered to us.  Marc Caparone, who knows about such things from experience, calls Lips “Atlas,” and although that name might not have sold colas (“Royal Crown Cola . . . when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders,” perhaps?) it’s more than accurate.

One more piece of jazz minutiae.  The opening phrase of Lips’ CHINATOWN solo, the fanfare over Grauso’s drums, a syncopated bounce back and forth over two notes, sounds familiar because it’s the device Lester used to begin the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY.  I suspect it was in the air in Kansas City, and (not surprisingly) I think it probably appears on a Louis recording c. 1927.  You are free to disagree in the privacy of your own homes, but Louis seems to be the root of all good things.

But back to Mister Page Play CHINATOWN again.  It’s monumental.

May your happiness increase!