Tag Archives: Pee Wee Russell

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!

FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: HOLIDAY MUSIC BY BERLIN, READE, and CONDON

Eddie Condon and his friends made hot music lyrical and the reverse, so what they played and sang always makes me glad.  And Eddie loved to improvise on the best popular songs of the time, not just a dozen “jazz classics.”

I think most people associate EASTER PARADE with the film starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but the song was from the 1933 show AS THOUSANDS CHEER — as the sheet music indicates.  Here is a very sweet contemporaneous version by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, with Joe very reserved. In addition to a nice orchestral sound, fine lively piano (Schutt?) and guitar (McDonough,Victor, or Kress?) — both unidentified in Lord and Rust — there is a gorgeous vocal by Dolores Reade, who gave up her singing career to marry Bob Hope.  Nothing against the comedian, but that was a real loss to everyone else. (I found a copy of this 78 in a California thrift store, so it might have enjoyed some popularity.)

Here are several “Americondon” improvisations for this holiday, taken from the 1944-45 broadcasts of segments of Eddie’s Town Hall Concerts.  Some of these videos end with the introduction to another song, but you can — I believe — find much more from these concerts on YouTube, almost always mysteriously labeled and presented.  (Performances featuring Hot Lips Page are presented on a channel apparently devoted to Willie “the Lion” Smith, for reasons beyond me — whether ignorance or deceit or both, I can’t say.  But if you know the name of a song performed at a Condon concert, you have a good change of uncovering it there.)

Those who listen attentively to these performances will find variations, both bold and subtle, in the four versions that follow — tempo, solo improvisations, ensemble sound.

Here’s that Berlin song again, featuring Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Jess Stacy, Sid Weiss, Gene Krupa:

and featuring Max Kaminsky, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Bob Casey, Eddie, Joe Grauso, at a slower tempo, with wonderful announcements at the end.

and featuring Max, Miff, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and happily, a much more audible Eddie — doing an audition for a Chesterfield (cigarette) radio program:

and from the very end of the broadcast series (the network wanted Eddie to bring in a comedian and he refused), here are Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee, Ernie, Gene Schroeder, Sid Weiss, and my hero, Sidney Catlett, whose accompaniment is a lesson in itself, and whose closing break is a marvel:

You’ll hear someone (maybe announcer Fred Robbins?) shout “WOW!” at the end of the first version: I agree.  Happy Easter in music to you all.

May your happiness increase!

TWO BY EDDIE: RAY SKJELBRED, DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Eddie Condon (pictured above in 1946) has a well-deserved reputation as a superb leader, a musical catalyst, a guitarist — but not as a composer of popular songs. He wrote only a few, but their melodies are memorable.

By way of illustration, a 1944 record label:

Although we associate Eddie more with the hard-charging small-band jazz he loved so well (think of Wild Bill, Pee Wee Russell, Lou McGarity, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, Cliff Leeman playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE) it’s clear he had a deeply romantic spirit, and WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE — not only De Vries’ lyrics — exemplifies this.

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, and Jeff Hamilton admire Eddie and his musicians, thus they happily gave shape to Marc’s tribute to Eddie as composer, which happened at the San Diego Jazz Fest last November 25, 2016.

Here is Dawn’s tender version of WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE:

and Eddie’s LIZA — written with George Rubens, not Gershwin — first performed on the 1927 McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans date:

For me, the test of a song is that it lodges in my ear and memory.  Those two Condon compositions do, helped immeasurably by the passion and swing of these musicians.

May your happiness increase!

“BEST SESSION IN TOWN”: OUR HEROES, GIGGING AROUND

Buck Clayton, Bob Wilber, Johnny Windhurst, 1951:

buck-at-storyville-flyer

Red Allen, 1956,

red-allen-central-plaza

Tony Parenti, 1949:

tony-parenti-at-ryans-1949

Pee Wee Russell, 1964:

pee-wee-and-johnny-armitage-october-1964

I am tempted to close this very unadorned exhibit of treasures with a sigh, “Ah, there were wonders in those days!”  That sigh would be a valid emotional reaction to the glories of the preceding century.  But — just a second — marvels are taking place all around us NOW, and those who lament at home will miss them.

May your happiness increase!

“LAUGH MY WEARY BLUES AWAY: ST. LOUIS JAZZ OF THE 20’S”: THE SIDNEY STREET SHAKERS

This one’s a keeper.

shakers

Before you ask, “Who are they and if they’re any good, why haven’t I heard of them?” please listen to their version of BLUE GRASS BLUES:

Now, that’s seriously interesting to me because it sounds genuine — it’s not 1925 heard through the perspective of 2017 (no one inserts a favorite Real Book lick in where it doesn’t belong).

St. Louis jazz is not the subject of too much historical analysis: the attentive among us know about Charlie Creath and Clark Terry, Joe Thomas, Dewey Jackson, Trumbauer’s orchestra with Bix and Pee Wee, even the upstart son of Doctor Davis the affluent dentist. I knew the Mound City Blue Blowers, Gene Rodemich, the Arcadian Serenaders, and the Missourians, but I’d never heard of the Searcy Trio, Powell’s Jazz Monarchs, or Harry’s Happy Four.

Here’s a “live one,” wordplay intentional:

The players on this 2016 CD are TJ Miller, trumpet, comb, vocal; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, C-melody saxophone; Kellie Everett, bass saxophone, tenor saxophone, kazoo; Jacob Alspach, trombone, tenor banjo, vocal; Kyle Butz, trombone; Joe Park, plectrum banjo, guitar; Mary Ann Schulte, piano; Ryan Koenig, washboard, percussion, vocal; Matt Meyer, drums; Joey Glynn, upright bass.  Our friend Mike Davis brings his cornet for A LITTLE BIT BAD.

Because the repertoire chosen by the SSS is often so obscure, it feels new.  So it’s almost like discovering a new hot band playing authentic music that hasn’t had the shine rubbed off of it through overexposure.  (JAZZ LIVES readers can compile their own — silent — list of famous although overplayed songs.)  OZARK MOUNTAIN BLUES / THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS / SOAP SUDS / BLUE GRASS BLUES / RED HOT! / MARKET STREET STOMP / GO WON TO TOWN / SWINGING THE SWING / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / A LITTLE BIT BAD / AH! AH! ARCHIE / EAST ST. LOUIS STOMP / YOU AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ I WANT / HOT STUFF / LAUGHING BLUES.  (I consider myself knowledgeable about this period, but only a third of the titles immediately came to mind with connections to a particular band or recording.)

And it should be obvious that there’s beautiful energized hot music on this disc, the product of deep loving study to create artistic authenticity.  This band has the Twenties in their bones, and no one — out of force of habit — brings a favorite Lee Morgan lick to a solo on a 1926 piece.  Their playing feels real: no Dorothy Provine here, and the hot numbers romp and frolic, but without any over-respectful museum dustiness.  I also note the total lack of condescension — some bands, when they go back before Basie or Bird, let a little hauteur be heard and felt in their work, as if saying, “Gee, these old guys were so primitive: no one would play with that vibrato today, but I will do it for this date” — not so the Shakers.

You should enjoy this one for yourself.  The band’s Facebook page is here; the site for Big Muddy Records is here; you can download the session here.

You can fly to St. Louis very easily, but you can’t always visit the Twenties on your own: the Shakers are excellent tour guides.

May your happiness increase!

“RARE WILD BILL”: WILD BILL DAVISON 1925-1960

rare-wild-bill

Initially, I was somewhat skeptical of this set, having heard the late cornetist — in person and on record — repeat himself note-for-note, the only questions being whether a) he was in good form and thus looser, and b) whether the surrounding musicians provided some extra energy and inspiration.  However, this 2-disc set, released in 2015, is fascinating and comprehensive . . . even if you were to find William a limited pleasure.  The Amazon link — which has a title listing — is here.

The set covers Bill’s work from 1925 to 1960, and I would bet a mint copy of THAT’S A PLENTY (Commodore 12″) that only the most fervent Davison collectors would have heard — much less owned — more than twenty percent of the 52 tracks here.  Thanks for the material are due Daniel Simms, who is undoubtedly the greatest WBD collector on this or any other planet.  (And some tracks that I’ve heard and known for years in dim cassette copies are sharp and clear here.)

A brief tour.  The set begins with three 1925 Gennett sides where Bill is a member of the Chubb-Steinberg Orchestra of Cincinnati.  He’s much more in the open on three 1928 Brunswick sides by the Benny Meroff Orchestra, SMILING SKIES being the most famous.  On the Meroff sides, although Bill was at one point billed as “The White Armstrong,” I hear him on his own path . . . at times sounding much more like Jack Purvis, exuberant and rough, rather than Louis.

We jump forward to 1941 — Bill sounding perfectly like himself — and the two rare “Collector’s Item Cats” sides featuring the deliciously elliptical Boyce Brown on alto, and eight acetates from Milwaukee — where Bill plays mellophone as well as cornet, offering a sweet melody statement on GOIN’ HOME before playing hot.  Two Western Swing sides for Decca, featuring “Denver Darling” on vocals and “Wild Bill Davison and his Range Riders,” from 1946, follow — here I see the fine sly hand of Milt Gabler at work, getting one of “the guys” another gig.

A live recording from Eddie Condon’s club — with Brad Gowans, Tony Parenti, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling — is a rare treat, and with the exception of the “American Music Festival” broadcast from 1948 on WNYC, much of the second disc finds Bill and Eddie together, with Pee Wee Russell, Lord Buckley, Walter Page, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Buzzy Drootin and other heroes, both from the fabled Condon Floor Show and even Steve Allen’s Tonight Show, covering 1948-1953, with a lovely ballad medley on the last set. One track, KISS ME, a hit for singer Claire Hogan, has her delivering the rather obvious lyrics, but with some quite suggestive yet wholly instrumental commentary from Bill which suggests that more than a chaste peck on the cheek is the subject.  Incidentally, Condon’s guitar is well-recorded and rich-sounding throughout these selections.

A basement session (St. Louis, 1955) provides wonderfully fanciful music: Bill, John Field, Walt Gifford, improvising over piano rolls by Zez Confrey, Fats, and James P. Johnson.  These four t racks — beautifully balanced — offer some gently melodic improvisations from Bill as well as nicely recorded bass and drums. Also from St. Louis, six performances by a “Pick-Up Band” with standard instrumentation, including Herb Ward, Joe Barufaldi, and Danny Alvin (the last in splendid form).  Four unissued tracks where Bill, George Van Eps, Stan Wrightsman, Morty Corb, and Nick Fatool (the West Coast equivalent of Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson) join Bill in backing the otherwise unknown singer Connie Parsons; and the set ends with three tracks from a 1960 session where Bill shares the front line with the astonishing Abe Lincoln (who takes a rare vocal on MAIN STREET) and Matty Matlock.

The level of this set is much higher than what most have come to expect from a collection of rarities — in performance and in audio quality.  It isn’t a typical “best of” collection, repeating the classic performances well-known to us; rather, it shows Bill off at his best in a variety of contexts.  Thus, it’s the kind of set one could happily play all the way through without finding it constricting or tedious. I recommend it highly.

May your happiness increase!