Tag Archives: Philip Larkin

IT HAPPENS IN MONTEREY (March 7-9, 2014)

These two worthies found love at the Jazz Bash by the Bay:

I am not proposing that everyone who goes to this year’s festival (March 7-9) will come away with the Love of His / Her Life — maybe you are all already spoken for.

But the music will be wonderful. And I write this as someone who’s been there since 2010.

For me, the Jazz Bash by the Bay was a transformative experience.

I had not been to California since having been conceived there . . . . insert your own witticism here. And when I had the notion in March 2010 of going to see and hear the people I so admired in their video appearances, I expected to have a good time in a new jazz setting, perhaps make a few new friends.

It was a life-altering experience: I came back to New York and said to the Beloved, “I’ve never had such a good time in my life. Do you think we could spend the summer in California?”

Fast forward to 2014, where I am writing this from Novato, with serious plans to make the Golden State my retirement home.

So if the Jazz Bash by the Bay can make one couple find love; if it can make a native New Yorker say, “I’ll move to California,” I think its powers are . . . powerful.  But enough personal narratives.  What’s in store for you?

As always, a wide variety of well-played music.

You can visit the site to find out if Your Favorite Band is going to be there, but here are some kinds of music that will be played: blazing stride piano in solo and duo, boogie-woogie, sweet singing in so many forms, rocking small-band swing, New Orleans ensemble polyphony, trad, Dixieland, blues, zydeco, gypsy swing, classic songs from the Great American Songbook, Jazz Age hot dance music, ragtime piano, stomp, swing, music to dance to, San Francisco jazz, washboard rhythm, music to hold hands to.

And the stars?  Well . . . Ray Skjelbred, High Sierra, Carl Sonny Leyland, Bob Draga, Rebecca Kilgore Trio, Dan Barrett, Ivory and Gold, Ellis Island Boys, Marc Caparone, Le Jazz Hot, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Yve Evans, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, Clint Baker, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Frederick Hodges, Jim Buchmann, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, John Cocuzzi, Howard Miyata, Big Mama Sue, Ed Metz, the Au Brothers, Bob Schulz, Pieter Meijers, Brady McKay, Tom Rigney, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra . . . and more, and more.

Important links.

The BAND LINEUP.

The all-important too-Much-Of-A-Good-Thing-Is-Wonderful SCHEDULE, which calls for careful planning (“If I go to see X, then I have to miss part of Y, but it puts me in a good place to be right up front for Z.  Anyone have a Tylenol?”) — with four or five sessions going on at the same time.

And most important — with a Sidney Catlett drum roll or a Vic Berton tympani flourish — the GET TICKETS NOW page.

I try to hold down the didactic tendencies that four decades of standing in front of sleepy (good-natured) young men and women have solidified, but I hope readers will permit me this basic logic exercise.  Festivals where people buy tickets last forever.  Festivals where people don’t vanish.  And then there is a wailing and a gnashing of teeth — very hard on the neighbors and harder on the dental work.  I think of the California festivals that have moved into The Great Memory even in my short acquaintanceship with this state.

(Or, as William Carlos Williams — or was it Philip Larkin? — wrote: “Want it to stay?  Do not delay.”)

So I hope to see throngs of friends and even strangers at the Jazz Bash by the Bay.  Anything that makes live jazz in profusion go on is a good thing.

P.S.  Need more evidence?  Go to YouTube and type in “Dixieland Monterey,” or “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” or the name of your favorite artist.  I, Rae Ann Berry, and Tom Warner, among others, have created many videos — enough to while away the hours in the most energized ways.  Proof!

May your happiness increase!

GREATNESS SIGNS ITS NAMES

A few more remarkable pages from the recent eBay explosion — Joe’s autograph book, most of the signatures from 1936-40 with a few later additions.  Some of the appeal is deeply simple: Sidney Bechet touched this object and it has his power.  For me, these pages also summon up a time and place where people would throng around jazz players and singers and ask (or demand) their autographs — a time in our recent past when Jess Stacy and Edythe Wright (obviously left-handed) were stars rather than footnotes.  Whatever their appeal to others, these pages resonate.

Roy Eldridge and guitarist John Collins, presumably from their 1939 appearance at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York City.

More members of that same band: Truck Parham, the short-lived and legendary Clyde Hart, Joe Eldridge, Billy Bowen, Dave Young, Harold “Doc” West.

To some, Blanche Calloway is notable only because she was Cab’s sister — but she recorded with Louis and led good bands in the Thirties.

What would Philip Larkin say?  As a vocal stylist, Banks was more odd than memorable, but he had been the figurehead for some of the hottest records ever made — not simply in 1932-33, but for all time — the Rhythmakers — records that Larkin thought were one of the high points of Western art.

Noble Sissle’s band also gave Sidney Bechet a regular gig in the Thirties.

Andy Kirk’s men were exceptionally polite, adding sweet-natured wishes as well as their names — the outstanding signature on that page is that of saxophonist Dick Wilson, influential, handsome, and short-lived.

A few Goodmen and women: Peg LaCentra, Harry James, Lionel Hampton, Harry Goodman, Benny himself, Gordon “Chris” Griffin, both Gene Krupa and Dave Tough — this page, like others in the book, suggests that Joe asked musicians to sign in on relevant pages at different occasions.  I haven’t yet figured out whether he glued the photos onto the pages before asking for autographs or after . . .

More heroes: Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, and the other vocalist in Norvo’s band, Terry Allen.

Two other minute points of swing anthropology come to mind.  I wonder when the practice of musicians identifying themselves by their instrument was in fashion?  And — as my friend David Weiner has pointed out — the often hasty signatures are further proof of authenticity: a studio portrait of, say, Glenn Miller with “his” name signed in a flowing hand is more likely to be the creation of a secretary in his office: the Mildred and Red signatures above, for one example, are much more likely to be real — the product of someone standing up, leaning on a small book for support.

Ultimately, these pages are resilient evidence that once all our heroes and heroines were alive — they had fountain pens, you could ask them to sign your book, perhaps have a few sentences of conversation.

May your happiness increase.

HOTTER THAN THAT: HENRY “RED” ALLEN AND FRIENDS, 1932-33

Thanks to the indefatigable jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann, here are four hot records featuring Henry “Red” Allen and Pee Wee Russell, Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton, among others.  The band name was the RHYTHMAKERS and Philip Larkin was not alone in thinking this series of hot records the apex of Western civilization.  You can see a variety of 78 record labels and photographs and read the personnel in Franz’s videos, but the real substance is the joyous music, unbridled but expert. 

OH, PETER:

YES SUH!:

SOMEONE STOLE GABRIEL’S HORN:

And an amazing 1933 jam-session-on-record on SWEET SUE, under the nominal leadership of UK composer / string bassist Spike Hughes — the participants are Allen, Dicky Wells, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Benny Carter, Wayman Carver (flute), Nicholas Rodriguez, Lawrence Lucie, and Sidney Catlett —

May your happiness increase.

TOO HOT FOR WORDS: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT’S RHYTHMAKERS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye)

In 1932 and 1933, a small but determined group of New York jazz musicians took part in a series of recording sessions that might well still be the hottest jazz on record.  Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Krupa, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Lord, Happy Caldwell, Zutty Singleton, Pops Foster, Jack Bland, Eddie Condon . . .   The vocalists were Red himself, Fats, Chick Bullock, and the elusive Billy Banks — who, like Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, specialized in singing in an abnormally high register.

The sessions were recorded for the Banner and Melotone labels and were meant to be sold inexpensively in “dime-stores,” so I imagine that the recording directors didn’t notice or didn’t care just how unfettered the performances were.  And no one seemed to care that “colored” and “white” musicians were playing together, either — a good omen of things to come, albeit slowly.

Many recordings of this time begin sedately, wooing the prospective buyers with a calm exposition of the melody before launching into improvisation in the last third of the disk: not the Rhythmakers.  It’s often been stated that Philip Larkin saw these sessions as one of the high points of the twentieth century, perhaps of Western civilization.  I wouldn’t argue with this position, although Larkin, chronically morose, saw everything else that came after as somehow small, which is a pity.

The superb reedman (here on clarinet) Matthias Seuffert was asked to close off the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party with his own version of the Rhythmakers.  He had help, of course, in Bent Persson (trumpet); Rico Tomasso (using his many voices and having fun vocalizing); David Sager (trombone); Steve Andrews (tenor sax); Philippe Guignier and Keith Stephen (banjo and guitar); Martin Seck (piano); Henry Lemaire (bass); Richard Pite (drums).

BUGLE CALL RAG:

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

OH, PETER:

SPIDER CRAWL:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

MEAN OLD BEDBUG BLUES:

An ecstatic conclusion to the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, although JAZZ LIVES will have a postscript — courtesy of Flemming Thorbye, who also captured these sets — to come.

PHILIP LARKIN’S “LETTERS TO MONICA”

I admired Philip Larkin first as a poet, then as an obstinately reactionary jazz critic, then as a writer of letters. 

The first two roles have been examined many times, but I want to say something about his correspondence: thoughts provoked by a new collection of letters to Monica Jones, the woman he had a relationship with for over thirty years.  The phrase “had a relationship” is murky, but their encounters on the page and off defy easy classification.

Larkin could be exceedingly gracious in his correspondence if he chose to: the scholar William McBrien (an authority on both Stevie Smith and Cole Porter) told me that the poet was extremely courteous and modest in their exchanges. 

But more often Larkin is writing to people he has known for decades, and the letters are difficult to read (even when hilarious) because he comes through so completely as someone who knows how flawed he is while hugging his flaws to himself proudly.  He can’t help himself, but who can?  Selfish and complaining, irritable and ungenerous, he also can turn the harsh light on himself and writes of his horror at what he perceives.  At such times I forgave him his meanness of spirit.  But as soon as that moment passed, the next letter returned him to his familiar self, disappointed in almost everything around him.

So his letters are often appalling, often irresistible character studies.  It would have taken a great novelist to delineate him without caricature.   

Larkin experienced hot jazz as a religious revelation and never faltered in his devotion to the Truth as he saw it.  For him, the acme of Western civilization was the recording sessions of the Rhythmakers in 1933 — featuring Henry “Red” Allen and Pee Wee Russell. 

The pianist Larry Eanet once wrote that the first jazz records he heard, the Louis Armstrong – Earl Hines sessions of 1928, hit him “like Cupid’s arrow,” and this was Larkin’s experience also. 

The Rhythmakers records were the standard by which everything, live or on record, had to be judged . . . and as a result, almost everything Larkin ever heard after his first ecstasy, with the exception of Sidney Bechet, seemed flawed. 

Larkin’s letters to Monica are sometimes claustrophobic studies in bewilderment and barely-suppressed rage.  We observe Larkin being selfish on one page, sometimes apologizing for it two pages later.  That he and Monica kept up a running lovers’ narrative of themselves as two rabbits is surprisingly charming but, even with that as counterpoint I could read only a dozen pages at a time before I needed to put the book down, if not away.

I also understand more than ever the wisdom of some public figures who refuse to have their private papers made accessible to “scholars” after their deaths.  I think Larkin would have been enraged to know that readers were poking into his letters: in fact, he supervised the destruction of his diaries.

But this post is about Larkin’s devotion to jazz — and his letters are often lifted up from his annoyance, his sulks, his self-absorption, by his love for this transfiguring music. 

I offer a few passages here, the first two suggesting what it was to be a British record collector of American jazz.  (In these days of apparent plenty, with so much music made available, some forget what it was like to have so little at our fingertips.)

I am leaving out the passage where Larkin is furious because an acquaintance who has been to the States has brought him Volume Two of a Bechet Blue Note collection rather than Volume One — you’ll have to buy the book to read his small yet explosive reaction.

23 November 1950 (Belfast, p. 23)  . . . . I looked round the shops, buying a copy of Wild Bill Davison’s Tishomingo Blues that so insinuatingly wound itself into all last summer; but a sense of having been rebuffed remains with me, perhaps because the cow in the record shop wouldn’t let me — or didn’t want to let me — look through a pile of Jazz Collector & Tempo records she had just unpacked — cow of Hell!  I have never seen any before, & Belfast is the last place I expected to find them: I’m sure they will never sell them.  They are the Real McKoy, fantastic private dubbings of entirely irrevocable records: the Malone Reprint Society in terms of jazz . . . .

1 November 1951 (Belfast, 66-67) . . . . played my new records — six unsuspected sides by Muggsy Spanier, Pee Wee Russell et al. discovered by me in Tempo lists, 6/6 each.  I ordered them blind, & played them trembling, fearing lest they should be a fearful let down, but they weren’t: not a dud among them: six sides of aggressive attacking jazz, touching greatness here & there, but what John Hewitt would call ‘good bread’.  They date from Feb & March 1945: already ‘history’, really — wartime.  My great prayer is now to have scooped Kingsley [Amis] over them, wch I’m almost sure to have done.

Our heroes, seen through Larkin’s acerbic, disappointed eyes:

25 January 1957 (Hull, p. 213)  The Condon evening was too strange to describe fully — there were two ‘houses’, each an hour [Humphrey Lyttelton] an hour Condon — or supposedly.  The first was almost empty: the second almost full.  Condon was a little neurotic-lipped man, like a jockey retired by age & drink, with a drunkard’s careful movements.  W. Bill was a fat fiftyish Jack-Oakie College-Humor man, who chewed gum & clowned about.  I couldn’t adjust myself to the thought that these were friends of Bix, and that WB had been driving the car in 1932 when Teschmacher was killed.  They played fairly routine stuff, not as good as their records, though WB did some of his notorious tricks of tone.  I was in the front row: Condon sat playing his guitar about 6′ from my head.  The Lyttelton group was as usual, Johnny Picard blowing away manfully & very well.  But it was all very odd.  A lone shop girl sat beside me, who’d never heard a jazz concert before, & never heard of Condon.  I admired her resolution . . . .   

And two elegies in his own fashion:

7 May 1959 (Hull, p. 249)  I was saddened to hear of the death of Bechet tonight: of course, he hadn’t produced much lately — living among the French had brought out his Creole side musically — but he was a wonderful player in his day, as exemplified by the 2 choruses of Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Mornin’ they played on Radio Newsreel tonight.  At least one could understand his music: not like this modern stuff . . . cacophony (mumble mumble), deliberate atonalism (mumble mumble) etc etc.  Of course one wanted to take him back to New York and put him behind a good blues singer & in front of a good guitarist for a session or two, but I suppose we shall have to be content with what there is.  I’ve always wanted to hear a 12″ Summertime (c. 1940) on which the musicians ‘burst into spontaneous applause’ at the end of the record . . . .

19 February 1969 (Hull, p. 397)  My record player has broken & been taken away, & life is very narrow.  Did you see that Pee Wee Russell is dead?

Larkin understood so well that life without jazz was indeed very narrow. 

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY COLLECTED BELOW GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  OH, CLICK THAT LINK!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

FOR BIX: ANDY SCHUMM AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

To those who haven’t yet heard him, the delight I and others take in Andy Schumm’s playing might seem a bit excessive. 

“Who is this young whipper-snapper?  If he were any good — to paraphrase Larkin’s Law of Reissues — I’d have all his Orthophonic Victors in green sleeves by now.  There are no entries for ANDY SCHUMM AND HIS SHOOTING STARS in any of my discographies!”

Andy has us all waiting for his first — of many — compact disc as a leader.  But what he have in the meantime is evidence of his mastery.

He has a serene way of phrasing (although his notes can rush and tumble when the musical context is red hot), a clarion tone, a way of creating melodic lines that stick in the memory after the song is ended.  Like another young Midwestern cornet player, he balances energetic propulsion and cool musing consideration, memorably.  And although he knows the records by heart (he’s quite the scholar of the period he loves — see more on his new website, http://www.andyschumm.com — he’s no reverent antiquarian content with copying what he’s heard on those black-label OKehs.  (By the way, he also understands Joe Oliver and Ed Allen, among others, from the inside out.)

Andy got to lead two sets at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua (I’ve posted the first).  This one found him among players who understand his vision — swinging, emotionally lively, often witty:  Dan Barrett, Dan Block, John Sheridan, Marty Grosz, Vince Giordano, Pete Siers.

The program was called SPOTLIGHT ON BIX, but Andy didn’t choose the most famous of the Beiderbecke-associated repetoire.  Rather, he and the band peered into less-frequently investigated corners and came up with songs that rewarded us more than another go-round on ROYAL GARDEN or SINGIN’ THE BLUES.

TIA JUANA was his opener — reminding us both of the Wolverine Orchestra and of the 1939 records by Bud Freeman (on Decca) that Eddie Condon wanted to call SONS OF BIXES:

LAZY DADDY comes from the same period, and is rarely played:

Jumping forward to the end of Bix’s Whiteman period, Andy offered the sad yet hopeful Irving Berlin composition WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which I always hear in my imagination with a vocal by the youthful Bing Crosby:

When was the last time you heard a  band play FLOCK O’BLUES (with or without solos!):

Finally, Andy called for LOVE AFFAIRS — an undistinguished yet bouncy tune (I hear the vocal refrain on this one, too, although with more amusement than affection) that we wouldn’t think of if illustrious improvisers hadn’t played it.  I’m especially fond of the pairings of two horns here (the two Dans) balancing melody and improvised embellishment:

I’m going to see this young fellow in person on Sunday, October 24, and will report back: it may be premature elation, but I’m looking forward to it!

JOTTINGS OF A JAZZMAN

The best biographical or autobiographical writings make a person the reader has never encountered come to life on the page.  JOTTINGS OF A JAZZMAN: SELECTED WRITINGS OF LEN BARNARD, edited by his niece Loretta Barnard, has just that magic. 

When I was a few pages into it, I felt as if I had met and heard Len, which says much — not only about the power of Len’s personality and insights but also about Loretta’s loving presentation. 

Len Barnard was a major figure in Australian jazz, and the players and singers from Oz are, at their best, possessed of a fierce focus, a strength of purpose, an intensity.  Len was an excellent drummer and washboardist and first-rate pianist and composer. 

But he also thought about his music, the world around him, and the way people behaved — a philosopher without the heavy weight of an official philosophy.  His writings show him as curious, opinionated, amused, sharp-eyed, both unsparing and generous.  Here are a few samples:

Len was a reader.  Here he quotes from an obscure cookery book in a letter:

An excerpt from THE ACCOMPLISHT COOK (1712) with the correct verbs for dismembering of various meats and game: lift that swan, rear that goose, unbrace that mallard, allay that pheasant, unlace that coney, unjoynt that bittern, unlatch that curlew, break that egript, thigh that woodcock.  Try a few of those to the bridge of ‘Old Man Ribber.’

From his journal, 1969:

Played Clarence Williams at breakfast.  I’ve always felt that too little has been said of the charm of his music, of its atmosphere, its complete absence of vulgarity, stridency, over-accentuation, and all the other faults of lesser jazz – its easy humour and almost kindly glow, its integrity as art.  Every Clarence Williams record is a benediction.

After offering a tape of a superb live performance to a record producer:

My fears of philistinism were confirmed.  He liked it, but didn’t think that full spontanaiety plus on-stage noises were suitable for his needs.  Offered to buy “Mood Indigo” for $25.  I declined.  Told him he had the studio sickness which is induced by surgically produced recordings and the unimaginative parading of an oft-repeated routine before the microphone before perfection is attained.  A bloodless, sterile perfection . . .This attitude of businessmen is what they call ‘progress,’ bit it is merely satndardization as opposed to less pretentious individualism of the true musician.  It’s a minor form of industrialisation, which nowadays means bad food, pointless bustle and jittery nerves, whereas the other road means good digestion and serenity.

On playing the drums:

Drums have seemed to be bonny imposters at times, as regards the perfection of extension of arm and rhythmic slap on a chair arm.  An in-ness, a tactile link with music that has been hard to replace.  Came close (digression) when in 1982, played a large lobster pot with open palms and a pair of wooden salad servers.  These got shorter as they shattered brittley and there is that wonderful elan andimmediacy that is expedited by this and you extemporise and bring out dishes of ham that even you didn’t know were in your larger of tricks.  The other feeling is the knife in hand, but the heel of hand marking the rhythm on the tablecloth.

The voice is at times cranky, observant, poetic,ruminative — a combination of Larkin, Balliett, S. J. Perelman.  The book is wonderfully amplified by photographs and remebrances of Len by his family and admirers.  When I finished the book, I felt as if I’d been privileged to overhear a fascinating and complex man.  And although I never got any closer to Len than through the medium of a dozen CDs, this book made me miss him terribly. 

As I write this, I have not yet acquired the needed mercantile information — how to buy the book, its price, the best way to acquire it.  I hope to find these things out soon. 

But I would urge anyone who is interested in what an articulate artist sees and hears to read this book. 

Len Barnard was a jazzman but his perceptions were deeper than 4 / 4, larger than his drum kit.  And Loretta Barnard has given us a fine gift of her late uncle and his world.

A postscript: I was so enthralled by the book and by Len that I omitted something delightful and informative — the lengthy section at the end with quick, witty, crisply written biographical portraits of all the people who were part of the book — written by the jazz scholar Bill Haesler, who knows his Oz thoroughly.  Published by itself, this section would be an invaluable overview of Australian jazz and more.