Tag Archives: “Prince of Wails”

PRINCES OF WAILS: The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn (March 25, 2012)

I considered two other titles for this posting.  One, from pop culture, was, “I’ll have what they’re having!”  The other, from Byron, was “Let joy be unconfined.”  You’ll soon see why.

For nearly five years, the collective ensemble — an expandable quartet — known as The EarRegulars has been holding forth at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday nights from 8-11 PM, with astounding results.  If you’ve never been there or seen these videos, you might raise an eyebrow at “astounding.”  Watch!  Then, if you think the adjective hyperbolic, you can write to Customer Service for a refund.

On March 25, 2012, The EarRegulars began as Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, taragota and tenor saxophone; Greg Cohen, string bass.  Four of the finest; friends and intuitive colleagues.

Here’s their direct tribute to Louis Armstrong and the rocking New Orleans tradition (also perhaps a warning against the dangers of opium smoking, if you know the lyrics), WILLIE THE WEEPER:

Then, a direct tribute to Irving Berlin and Ruby Braff in RUSSIAN LULLABY (also an indirect memory of Louis, who — as a youth — warmed to the “Russian lullabies” that Mrs. Karnofsky sang to her baby):

The quartet slowly started to expand — in the most joyous fashion — with the addition of trombonist Art Baron and drummer Chuck Redd, the latter keeping time with wire brushes on the paper tablecloth, for PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

And the climax, reminiscent of the Fifty-Second Street jam sessions that most of us have experienced only in photographs — a nearly seventeen-minute exploration of the Ellington blues, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE*.  Jon-Erik, Matt, Scott, Art, and Chuck were joined by Gordon Au, trumpet; Alex Hoffmann and Dan Block, saxes; Vinny Raniolo, acoustic guitar — for a wondrously sustained workout:

Oh, play those things!

The EarRegulars and Friends cast their bread upon the waters, and it comes back as buttered toast (to quote Sonny Greer).

 May your happiness increase.

*Note.  This blues was originally known under another name.  Oddly enough, the members of the Ellington band were all devoted to healthy diet long before it became fashionable.  Thus, when this blues emerged as a collective idea, they put a title to it: “All The Boys in the Band Eat Healthy,” and I am sure they did.

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

I, PODIUS

I didn’t want an iPod.

There, I’ve said it.  It must have been my perverse snobbery, my badly-concealed elitism.  I made fun of the millions of people who had little white earbud phones in their ears and (for the most part) dreamy vapid expressions.  I’d see them on the subway, where the clamor coming through those earbuds was audible over the roar of the C train.  Did I fear that if I bought an iPod my musical tastes would become like theirs?  I don’t know.

I kept doing this even when Kevin Dorn, my spiritual guide in many things, said, mildly, that he had the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session on his iPod and could thus listen to “Prince of Wails” whenever he liked.  Even that failed to move me.  Now I am not an unregenerate Luddite: I am addicted to email, and would rather hear 1929 Ellington on CD than on a V- Victor.  But still I resisted.

However, I can’t be separated from the music I love for any length of time.  I’ve brought compact discs to Ireland, to Germany, to Mexico, to Sicily.  Take me away from my jazz library and I start fidgeting because I can’t hear Teddy Bunn sing and play “Blues Without Words.”  So when the Beloved and I went away this summer, the physical manifestation of this urge was a heavy shopping bag of discs in the back of the car.  Did I play them all?  Of course not.  It was exceedingly comforting to know that they were there, but I knew that this was not a good solution to the anticipated deprivation.  (It was the aesthetic equivalent of having five dozen cans of black beans in the kitchen cabinets so that you will never run out.)

At some point, I began, reluctantly and grudgingly, to think about an iPod.  Even when the Beloved insisted on buying it for me as a premature-birthday present, I was still worried, even suspicious.  Part of the dread was, of course, provoked by the mythology that Apple and other firms have created, making a simple purchase seem unfathomable, mystical.  I stared at the online displays, feeling overwhelmed and ignorant.  Did I want a New Generation iPod, a Classic, a Nano?  Finally, I gave in and asked the people who know these things by heart — my sweet-natured students, for whom Technology is a first language.  To their credit, even if it seemed to them that Grandpa was asking about which skateboard to buy, they didn’t snicker but entered eagerly into the game of Teaching Their Professor.  Emboldened, I bought a black Classic and plunged headfirst into the world of iTunes, and syncing.

The result?  Had you seen me on the Long Island Rail Road last night, sleepy and disarranged, with a dreamy vapid look on my face, you might have noticed the white earbuds nearly falling out of my ears (they fit poorly).  But I was twenty feet underwater in my own version of bliss: Mildred Bailey singing “Little High Chairman,” a Buck Clayton Jam Session, Louis playing “Muggles.”  Is there a moral?  I doubt it.  But pick your own cliche: 1) You can teach an old dog new tricks, or 2) Better late than never, if late isn’t too late.