Tag Archives: PeeWee Russell

REMEMBERING DAVE TOUGH

I read in the December 2008 issue of Jersey Jazz that Dave Tough died sixty years ago on December 6, tough-by-gottlieb2 1948. Because so many of my musical and spiritual heroes are dead, my devotion to jazz always threatens to turn into sad necrology, but Tough deserves a few words and a few pictures.

I won’t dwell on his near-scholarly intellectualism (rare among jazz musicians in those days) and his deeply self-destructive alcoholism, his frustrations.   William P. Gottlieb’s famous photograph of Tough, working away at his practice pad in the basement of Eddie Condon’s, is on the right.

dave-toughRather, I think of a brief list of brilliant recorded moments.  There’s Tough’s luminous, shape-changing drumming all through the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session (most notably available on the Mosaic Classic Condon Mob Sessions), where he shifts from splashing cymbal work to brilliant use of the hi-hat and bass drum, propelling soloists.

It would be difficult to delineate, let alone reproduce, what Tough does so naturally through “Forty-Seventh and State” or “Prince of Wails,” his sound captured with extraordinary clarity in Liederkrantz Hall.  But as marvelous as the horn soloists are, and the under-acknowledged pianist Dave Bowman, I find myself listening to what Dave is playing (and, by implication, choosing not to play) throughout those records.

Two years earlier, although he was reputedly in bad physical shape, he levitated another Bud Freeman date, this one for Commodore, where his wandering, unpredictable work on the jam blues”Tappin’ the Commodore Till” has yet to be equalled.  On that record, Tough comes through as a blindfolded genius, ready to tap on or against anything in the studio, testing the pure sounds he might get out of the equipment around him.  Again, the soloists — Freeman, Bobby Hackett, PeeWee Russell, Dave Matthews, Jess Stacy — are wondrous, but I am distracted in the best way by Tough’s gloriously weird, urging counterpoint.

I was lucky enough to find a Commodore 78 of that — in the days when such artifacts were more easily available — and it ornaments my office wall, a talisman of artistic individuality.

I think also of Tough’s solo –he was repelled by the idea of soloing and did it only under duress — on “Just You, Just Me,” which closes off a Charlie Ventura concert in 1947 — music once available on a Norgran lp and most recently on a Verve set collecting Jazz at the Philharmonic music from the Forties.  Again, Tough explores pure sound as well as rhythm: the solo is even more unusual because it sounds so much like Sidney Catlett, who also played that night.  I suspect that Dave sat down at Sidney’s drums: two kings trading courtesies.

Tough also shines all through a little-known and rarely-reissued 1946 Brad Gowans session for RCA Victor, where Gowans leads his “New York Nine,” featuring his own arrangements loosened up by solos by Billy Butterfield, among others.

Dave was usually happiest in small jamming groups — although concert bills show that he appeared at Eddie Condon’s Forties concerts, he does not appear on any of the famous half-hour broadcasts.  With all respect to George Wettling and Joe Grauso, that’s a real pity.  But the one film clip of Tough has him, all too briefly, amid a 1946 Condon group recorded at the club.  Wild Bill Davison, Tony Parenti, Gowans, Gene Schroeder, and Jack Lesberg are visible, roaring through the end of “Farewell Blues,” in a “March of Time” newsreel called “Nightclub Boom.”

The clip used to be available on YouTube, but it seems to have vanished.  Can any readers help me find a copy to post here?

Here, however, is a Gjon Mili photograph — new to me — taken from LIFE in 1945, showing Condon, Schroeder, Davison, Freeman, Bob Casey on bass, and Tough at the downtown Eddie Condon’s.

toughschroedercasey-mili-1945

An assiduous listener can find many more glowing surprises in Tough’s work with the big bands of Tommy Dorsey (as well as his sometimes hilarious work with the Clambake Seven), with Bunny Berigan, with Goodman (as well as sessions with the Trio, Quartet, and Sextet), with Artie Shaw (there is a priceless, driving airshot of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” where Tough pushes the band and soloist Hot Lips Page as hard as a drummer could push); finally, there is Tough’s work with Woody Herman’s First Herd, where he is again well-recorded by the Columbia engineers.

He made only one four-tune session under his own name, and (perhaps typically) it doesn’t show him off all that well.  And there has never, to my knowledge, been a record or compact disc simply devoted to him.  What a shame!

I am sure he would have splendidly fit into the “Mainstream” jazz that prevailed a decade after his death, once “Bop” and “Dixieland” had stopped baring their fangs at each other.

Was Tough someone who said all that he had to say in his brief span of time?  Can we mourn him without thinking gratefully of what he did leave for us?  But like Lips Page, Catlett, Frankie Newton, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Blanton and a dozen others, he left too soon.  I miss them all.

P.S.  In Tom Pletcher’s liner notes to an exquisite Jazz Oracle CD devoted to the music and life of his father, Stew Pletcher, he points out that his father — who knew and played alongside Tough — said that Tough hated being called “Davey.”  Even when Edythe Wright did it at the beginning of “At the Codfish Ball,” no doubt.

davetough-cymbals

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TIDINGS FROM ORONO, MAINE

Fats Waller used to say, “Fine! Wonderful! Perfect!” when you asked him his opinion about something he liked.  Orono, a gently sleepy small town north of Bangor, made me think of those words often. 

They came into my head more than once while eating at THAI ORCHID (28 Mill Street).  This isn’t a food blog, but the savory, spicy, delicate home cooking there made me stick my head into the small kitchen and applaud the chef.  They have a take-out menu: call 207.866.4200, although I’m not sure that they’d drive more than five hundred miles to bring us number 97, Country Style Noodle. 

Around the corner, we saw DR. RECORDS (20 Main Street), clean, organized, with jazz records and old-time prices.  At the helm is Don, who studied trombone at the university and plays in the town band: we had a refreshing conversation about Wycliffe Gordon and John Allred, two of his favorites.  And I picked up three records, each a delightful surprise.  One I knew of but had never seen: BUD FREEMAN AND HIS SUMMA CUM LAUDE TRIO on Dot (Bob Hammer, Mousie Alexander).  One was utterly new to me: BANJO-RAMA by Carmen Mastren on Mercury (with “John” Pizzarelli on guitar — that’s Bucky — and Bucky’s uncles, and “the Fabulous Riccardo” on piano.  I’ll bet that’s Mr. Hyman).  And the third record was one I had once had and was sorry to lose: PEE WEE RUSSELL and OLIVER NELSON, THE SPIRIT OF ’67 (Impulse).  Frank Chace told me a story about those sessions — PeeWee was nervous playing with that orchestra, so the pianist Nat Pierce, a close friend, sat at PeeWee’s feet in the recording studio and kept his glass of ale properly filled.  Ballantine’s to the rescue! 

I won’t be able to hear this music for three weeks, but life is good when you can find well-cooked meals, knowledgeable conversation, people who smile at you on the street, and rare jazz records!

JAZZ LOST, JAZZ FOUND: DAVE McKENNA, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC PIERCE, J.C. HEARD, “DIXIE LAND”

It may be apocrypha, or a bit of crypto-knowledge passed around in adolescence, but I remember reading that the Zen masters taught the art of indirection.  If you truly want to get a bull’s eye in archery or other endeavors, close your eyes.  Stop aiming so earnestly.  It might work very poorly with real arrows, but it is a strong piece of metaphysics.  One way to have something you want badly come to you is to assume the attitude that Castiglione, in The Book of the Courtier, called sprezzatura — nonchalance — and the desired object will, in its own time, show up, although it may take years.  

Those ruminations are supported by my recent experiences at a yard sale in Portland, Maine (the town I am now writing from), flea markets in Woodstock, New York, and Lambertsville, New Jersey. 

I’ve spent a long time as an anthropologist-without-credentials in New York suburbs, where such informal commerce proliferates.  Hence the following generalities.  Yard sales seem feminized: they put forth outgrown baby clothing, coffee mugs and bread machines, mystery novels, self-help books, videocassettes and other amiable domestic debris.  Garage sales often seem male: shovels and power drills, six-packs of automobile engine additive, rock salt for clearing snowy sidewalks.  Both of them, true to their names, are held outdoors, goods sprawling across lawns and driveways.  Tag and “estate” sales, cutting across gender lines, pretend to be far more serious affairs, run by officious professionals who place price tags on clothing, jewelry, or furniture.  But all four varieties of sale might have a box of phonograph records, sometimes hidden under a table, objects of limited importance. 

Two days ago, at a Portland yard sale, I was drawn to a carton of long-playing records.  Usually they’re low-level knockoffs (“The Hollyridge Strings Play the Beatles”), Christmas collections by Andy Williams, 1970s Carly Simon, motion picture soundtracks, heavy metal, disco hits.  Jazz is understandably rare.  So I was astounded to see a Dave McKenna solo record, LULLABIES IN JAZZ, on the Realm label, recorded in 1963.  Before he was recognized as a phenomenonal solo pianist, McKenna had recorded only twice on his own — one Fifties session for ABC-Paramount; and this one for Realm.  I had never before seen this record and had only heard selections from it — all the songs have to do with sleep, the kind of gimmickry that record producers thought would sell records — on Ed Beach’s WRVR-FM jazz program, circa 1972.  Incidentally, the original lp has this quote from Oscar Peterson: “Dave McKenna’s left hand is a full rhythm section.”  How true!     

For perhaps twenty years, McKenna and Bobby Hackett were friends and musical associates.  Hackett, who had played with everyone, thought McKenna unquestionably the finest pianist he had ever worked with.  So it was fitting that, a few records deeper into the same box, I should find a Columbia stereo record, NIGHT LOVE, featuring Hackett playing classical and semi-classical themes over a lush background arranged by Glenn Osser.  What could be better than to hear Hackett muse over Puccini’s “Un bel di” from Madame Butterfly?  For whatever reason, this record is still sealed — no one has played it since purchasing it in 1962.  A musical time-capsule, perhaps?  Each record cost me twenty-five cents: a small price for such music and such associations.  And, in the fashion of the time, the covers of both records sport attractively dreamy women, their larger-than-life faces turned toward the camera, sending some message or other.   

In true secular-Zen fashion, while loafing around cyberspace, preparing for this posting, I found that there is a McKenna website — which I urge you to visit, especially because it has more than a half-dozen beautifully-recorded and authorized solo CDs for sale.  The proceeds go directly to Dave, who is no longer performing.  It’s http://www.aahome.com/dave.

A few weekends back, the Beloved and I went to Woodstock, New York, to experience this fabled town.  We spent a pleasant few hours at the official flea market, whose range was astonishing.  I sniffed out several boxes of records, most of them dull or odd, at least to me.  But one man had a few 78s in a binder.  Usually 78s are Forties and Fifties pop (Arthur Godfrey, Xavier Cugat, Eddie Fisher), polkas, or symphonies.  In this context, a Goodman record is a find, and the mint Keynote 78 of a small band led by drummer J.C. Heard a revelation: ALL MY LIFE and GROOVIN’ WITH J.C., featuring Buck Clayton, Flip Phillips, Johnny Guarneri, Milt Hinton, and Heard.  What was even more resonant was that the paper sleeve someone had kept this 78 in had once housed Charlie Parker’s Dial record, “Dewey Square,” certainly a powerful association.  Someone, who may now be dead, had very good taste,  Thank you, whoever and wherever you are.   

Another box offered up the lp, “ON THE ROAD with The Vic Pierce Orchestra,” clearly a home-grown production on a local label.  Born Vito Pesce in Woodmere (another suburb), Pierce was a bassist, so the cover of this record was clever — a line drawing of an automobile-sized string bass on wheels, driving on to the gig.  That in itself wouldn’t have convinced me to buy it, but the liner notes said that several songs featured trumpeter Billy Butterfield.  Online research uncovered little about Pierce except that he died not long ago: I would have liked to ask him about this record date.  Cost: three dollars for the pair.

Thumbing with tepid interest through a box of audiocassettes — almost all professionally made — I stopped cold when I saw the handwritten words PEE WEE RUSSELL / EDMOND HALL on the side of a box.  Someone in the early Seventies had used this then new medium to make a portable listening experience, ninety minutes long, of favorite selections by these two clarinet masters, with Dave Tough, George Wettling, Wild Bill Davison, and others.  The cassette’s owner was male (judging by his handwriting) and meticulous: each song had its personnel listed, its origin.  Someone had treasured this music and loved this cassette: the dollar I paid for it was a fraction of its emotional worth and warmth.     

Finally, DIXIE LAND, its title reproduced accurately, which I found at a flea market in Lambertsville, New Jersey, the sole trophy of an unpromising visit.  (Neither the Beloved nor I had realized that devoted buyers and sellers start their pirouettes at 6 AM on a Sunday, so we showed up quite late by community standards, and it was parchingly hot.)  An obviously serious record collector had his inventory arranged, without prices, by genre.  I looked through the assorted jazz and found nothing essential except a fairly tattered low-cost issue featuring Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, Bud Freeman, Pee Wee Russell, Lou Carter, “Arnell” Shaw, and Jo Jones.  What made this record desirable wasn’t the splendid music, which I had already heard, but the cover picture — Pee Wee dressed in a plaid shirt, Jo Jones bending over to say something to one of his colleagues, Bud Freeman sharp in suit and tie, Buck Clayton laughing at something Lou Carter had just said.  I had never seen the photograph, still lively in nearly garish shades.  Considering it as a possible purchase, I slid the record out of its sleeve and saw it was worn, saying politely to the dealer, “This one looks somewhat chewed.  What do you want for it?”  He took umbrage at these sentiments and snapped at me, “I’ll tell you what the condition is,” and continued abruptly, “Two dollars.  And don’t try to get the price any lower.”  I would have paid four, so I handed him two singles, thanked him, and said no more.  Even though I am far from a phonograph, these acquisitions will enliven me in September.   

What’s the moral?  Perhaps this: with luck, nothing is really ever lost.  Unless they are smashed or burnt, the venerated artifacts of someone else’s past come around, as they should, to new owners who appreciate them anew.  Yes, so much has disappeared, but so much remains to be cherished.   

And, going back to the apocryphal Zen masters: if the only way to assure yourself of a desired result is to give up hoping for it, let me declare right now that I renounce all the Bluebird 78s by Frankie Newton.  I have no thoughts of any Nat Pierce records with Ruby Braff, Phil Woods, and Doug Mettome.  I eschew and abjure all jazz acetates or test pressings.  Is that clear?  Meanwhile, I am going to treasure the things that I have found: worth so much more than I paid for them, rare and special.

SUMMIT SESSION WITH THE SIDNEY BECHET SOCIETY

Last Wednesday, the Sidney Bechet Society, created by Eric Offner, held two concerts at Symphony Space, paying tribute to Kenny Davern, who died in 2006, and Bob Wilber, happily still with us. Here’s what took place at the 9 PM show, with Wilber himself, Dan Levinson, and Nik Payton on a vast assortment of reeds, Dick Hyman on piano, Vince Giordano on vocals, string bass, bass sax, and tuba, Matt Munisteri on guitar, and Kevin Dorn on drums.

After a very brief introduction by Donald Gardner, who, with Phil Stern, will be running the shows in future (Eric will continue to savor them from the audience), Dan and Nik launched into a Soprano Summit original, “Please Clarify,” in the spirit of a 1941 Eddie Sauter composition for Benny Goodman — ornate, needing superb technique.

I noticed, happily, that Hyman’s piano had a lovely acoustic sound rather than the over-miking one so often must endure. Dan commented, as a segue, that Kenny Davern was the reason he had wanted to become a jazz musician — a good thing for us all!

A looser “Love Me Or Leave Me” followed, with earnest playing by Nik and Matt, and sterling work from Kevin on his hi-hat; “Elsa’s Dream,” a Davern line on the chords of “I Found A New Baby,” let us hear the two reedmen trade fours, then twos — very exciting! Nik then had the stage to himself for a too-brief, heartfelt exploration of Bechet’s own “Premier Bal,” where he showed off his rich, woody clarinet tone. “Hindustan,” from the 1918 hit parade, had the horns — in true Summit fashion — swapping the lead and harmony roles. Matt was especially lively, as was Hyman, on this romp. Nik then played his tribute to Wilber (his mentor) whose middle name, he explained, is “Sage,” thus, “The Sage,” an attractive minor theme that suggested both a Goodman Sextet theme with echoes of “Dark Eyes.”

Dan took center stage himself to work out on a Davern variant of Ellington’s “Jubilee Stomp,” aptly dubbed “Fast As A Bastard.” It certainly was, offering Hyman a chance to show his amazing stride, and Vince to slap his aluminum string bass, resonant and focused as ever. Dan’s arrangement of PeeWee Russell’s “PeeWee’s Blues” brought Nik back, but the spotlight belonged to Matt, who bent notes as if Symphony Space had become the Delta for a few choruses. The first half of the concert ended with a deeply felt version of “Trav’lin All Alone.”

The second half began with The Man Himself, Bob Wilber, looking bouncy and boyish, announcing “Eighty is the new fifty!” (I still haven’t figured out how old that makes me: it’s a puzzlement.) Over the rocking rhythm section, with Kevin becoming Jo Jones, Bob and Nik played Kern’s “I Won’t Dance,” delighting in its singular bridge. Bob handed things over to Nik for a ballad, “You Are Too Beautiful,” that initially was a duet with Vince’s bass, reminding me of the Lucky Thompson – Oscar Pettiford – Skeeter Best recordings of the Fifties. A Condon-inspired “California, Here I Come” changed the mood in a flash, with Hyman boiling away behind the horns. Hyman announced his solo feature as a song with three titles: “Moritat,” “The Theme from The Threepenny Opera,” and “Mack the Knife,” and went from a brooding introduction to a minimalist exploration of the simple theme (echoes of Dave McKenna), to his patented uptempo stride, clipped and reminiscent of Forties Johnny Guarneri. It was truly a virtuoso exhibition with every note in place.

Much of the music that had preceded was cheerful, extroverted, which is as a tribute to Davern and Wilber should be. But for me the highlight of the evening was Wilber’s tribute to Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn, “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” where Wilber showed that his tone and power, his singing melodic conception, were all intact. (The brilliant young pianist Ehud Asherie was in the audience; at Smalls, the next night, he created a sorrowing version of Strayhorn’s song, clearly with Wilber’s notes in his head.)

The mood changed for a rollicking Vince vocal on “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” No tribute to Soprano Summit could conclude without “The Mooche,” and the evening concluded with a romp on “Bye Bye Blues,” with a guest spot for Wilber’s newest prodigy, Alex Mendham, on alto, as the youngest member of the lineage that began with Wilber as Bechet’s student in 1946. It was a generous concert — over two hours — in honor of reed players who gave their all to their audiences. Future concerts will feature Evan Christopher (September 15) and Vince’s “Mini-Hawks” (October 20). The smaller room at Symphony Space, by the way, has clear sight lines, good acoustics, and it’s a splendid place to hear jazz like this.

LANCELOT ET SES CHEVALIERS

Some weeks ago, I wrote about discovering the Parisian stride wizard Olivier Lancelot. Today, I found an enticing flat package in my mailbox: a CD by Oliver with the clarinetist / altoist Didier Desbois and the washboardist / singer* Stephan Seva, recorded at a concert in 1999.

The trio plays Grandpa’s Spells / Liza / Love Me / Harlem Joys / I Believe In Miracles / Original Dixieland One-Step / Breeze* / Lulu’s Back in Town / Buddy’s Habits / Le Lac des Cygnes [Swan Lake] / High Society / Honeysuckle Rose.

The word “washboard” makes some listeners justifiably anxious, for many players of that instrument are loud, intrusive, unsteady. But Seva is a delicate player, not given to clangorous banging, and his time is just right. In fact, his solo work reminds me of late-period Zutty Singleton. Seva’s tappings and rattlings have a thoughtful sound, as if he was experimenting with his paraphernalia to see what would come out of it.

Desbois is an unusual clarinet player, and his singularity is to be praised. Most clarinetists aim for a full, rounded woody tone — the better to rip off Benny Goodman phrases! — or they growl and sputter, hoping to emulate PeeWee Russell. Desbois has a focused, penetrating, reedy tone, reminiscent of black pre-Goodman clarinetists (Cecil Scott, Benny Carter, Prince Robinson). His approach may take you by surprise when you first hear it, but it is a truly pleasant surprise. He sounds like Pan, if Pan swung this hard, which I doubt. He is also an extraordinary Hodges (and Charlie Holmes) alto virtuoso: his tone on “I Believe In Miracles” is rich but never syrupy, as he glides from note to note.

And then there’s the noble Lancelot himself, someone I have already celebrated as a solo player. But many solo players, in and out of stride, can’t merge their rhythms with other players. Not so Olivier, who proves himself a fine accompanist — in the groove — as Thirties players used to say. And you might, at first, admire his instrumental facility, his sheer mastery of stride conventions, fluidly played and creatively reimagined. But soon you stop saying, “There’s a James P. passage,” or “Hear how Olivier executes that familiar Fats run,” and you admire the serious joy he brings to his own version of the style.

As a group, the trio has its own witty fun — the startling key changes in “Original Dixieland One-Step,” Seva’s heartfelt vocalizing on “Breeze,” and the mournful ending to “Le Lac de Cygnes” — these and other touches give this trio an identity: it’s no one’s repertory band.

Visit Olivier’s website (www.lancelotmusic.com) for information on how to get the CD — and the generous bonus of unissued tracks from this concert. Here they are, in a Parisian club, “Le Petit Opportun,” in 2000.


I THOUGHT I HEARD RUBY BRAFF SAY

In 1971, when I read in The New Yorker that cornetist Ruby Braff was going to play a week at the Half Note in New York City, this was exciting news. I had first heard his playing on one of the famous Vanguard recordings, The Vic Dickenson Showcase. On “Everybody Loves My Baby” and “Old-Fashioned Love,” he had added remarkable deep indigo shadings to the ensembles, his solos mixing melodic embellishment, passionate surs and moans.

Soon after, the legendary jazz broadcaster Ed Beach devoted four hours to Ruby on WRVR-FM, and I began to search out his records. In the Fifties, Ruby had been in the studios with the best players: Lee Wiley, Coleman Hawkins, Dave McKenna, Lawrence Brown, PeeWee Russell, Benny Morton, Jo Jones, Walter Page . . . and he was featured as a member of George Wein’s Newport All-Stars.

What Wein has done for jazz in the last half-century and more with the Newport Jazz Festival and its incarnations is beyond dispute. But he is in the odd position of being simultaneously an impresario and a musician of limited gifts who saw it as his right to play in the bands he sponsored and hired. The pleasure he takes in playing is visible, but no one ever wished a Wein solo longer, no one ever delighted in the subtlety of his accompaniment. But he got gigs, he loved Ruby. Ruby derided him in interviews and no doubt in person but accepted the gigs.

Shortly before the Half Note gig, I had just bought Wein’s newest record — “George Wein and the Newport All-Stars” on Atlantic, featuring Ruby, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Larry Ridley, and Don Lamond. And Wein, of course. The players were superb soloists but there was little ensemble unity. One of the high points, I thought, was Ruby’s lovely solo on “My Melancholy Baby.”

Full of anticipation. I went to the Half Note with two friends, Stu Zimny and Rob Rothberg, both of whom were equally excited about seeing Ruby. Being bold, Stu had driven us from our suburban familiarities to the unknown reaches of West Greenwich Village (the Half Note was on the corner of Spring and Hudson Streets, no longer uncharted territory); Rob, an amateur trumpet player, had brought a rare record — Ruby with Ellis Larkins — for Ruby to autograph.

We came into the club, which was typically small and dark, with a raised stage at one end of the room, under it the bar. Ruby was standing nearby. He wore a blazer and tie. I had expected him to be diminutive, and he was, with a cigarette in one hand. We approached him.

I was meeting one of my idols, someone I had spent hours listening to. I had Braff solos by heart and could call them to memory. I was nervous and eager. Being a respectful nineteen-year old, I called Ruby “Mr. Braff,” told him that I loved his playing and had been collecting his records. He may have smiled. What I do remember most clearly is this exchange:

Me: “I especially like the solo you played on ‘My Melancholy Baby’ on the new Newport All-Stars record.”

Ruby: “That shit?”

Me: Embarrassed silence. When I replay this scene in my mind, I say something elegant, perhaps, “Well, I liked it,” but I don’t know if courage deserted me. The music Ruby played that night (and I illicitly recorded) is another story, but that was my first introduction to him in person.

CELEBRATING LOUIS

Louis

Many jazz bands pay tribute to the man Eddie Condon called, in whimsical admiration, “Mr. Strong,” but few have done it with such tenacity and success as David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band — also known as the Louis Armstrong Centennial Jazz Band. Every Wednesday night for the past eight years, they have turned Birdland into a friendly New York shrine to his beloved memory.

Last night, the Beloved and I came on the scene a few minutes late, so we missed the opening “Sleepy Time Down South” which turns into a rousing “Indiana,” in the manner of the All-Stars, but once we settled down, the band was romping through the Hot Five classic “Once In A While,” with gusto and deep feeling for the idiom.

The band consisted of David Ostwald, tuba and bon mots; Howard Alden, banjo; Rob Garcia, drums; Joe Muranyi (who played alongside Louis in the last edition of the All-Stars), clarinet, vocals, and anecdotes; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. And we had the good fortune to join British friends old and new: John Whiteborn, the renowned jazz essayist and historian Peter Vacher, and Clive Smith — in town on the way to New Orleans.

Because George Avakian was seated at the bar (having just celebrated his eighty-ninth birthday at Birdland) David opted for “Melancholy Blues,” which had been first issued on microgroove in the Fifties on an Avakian project, The Louis Armstrong Story, as well as “No One Else But You.” A cheerful “Them There Eyes” featured a Kellso solo full of downward cascades and some exuberant Gardner trombone. Left to his own devices, Joe Muranyi told a story about Louis and Red Allen, New Orleans friends, and then sauntered through an easy “Rosetta” that echoed PeeWee Russell to great effect. The second set offered a nearly-riotous “Everybody Loves My Baby,” harking back to the glory days of 1925. Kellso (now a happily married man) was in fine form, and Gardner was especially vibrant, yet never abandoning the ensemble for virtuosic displays. And the rhythm section swung as it does every Wednesday.

But everything changed when David asked Vince Giordano, enjoying the sounds, to sit in. Vince usually brings at least one hefty instrument, but he was unencumbered by tuba, aluminum string bass, bass sax, banjo, or tenor guitar. However, he sat down at the piano, stage left, and prepared to join in. Perhaps stimulated by this happy oddity, David called “Maybe You’ll Be There,” a song only devotees connect with Louis, as it appears just on a few 1949 radio broadcasts as a Jack Teagarden feature. Written by the pianist Charles LaVere, it combines mournfulness and hopefulness: I search for you, and you don’t appear, but maybe . . . . Vince played his ensemble parts very simply, reading the chords off the music in front of them, but offering ringing Hines octaves and Jess Stacy tremolos, affecting everyone on and off the stand. Gardner showed just how original his interpretation of Teagarden could be, and the Kellso cadenza that ended it all was a gracious piece of sorrowing Baroque. David offered Gardner the spotlight for “Mississippi Basin,” one of those songs requiring the singer to extol the virtues of manual labor on the docks. Gardner played it plunger-muted, but without irony, and sang the banal lyrics as if they were emotionally valid, two great accomplishments.

And, in a handful of minutes, all of Louis’s great virtues — the irresistible swing balanced with his passionate seriousness — had come to life, without a note of “What A Wonderful World” to be heard. It was alchemy indeed.