Tag Archives: Pug Horton

SEVENTY YEARS AGO, EVERYONE WAS VERY YOUNG: BOB WILBER, DICK WELLSTOOD, WILDCATS AND FRIENDS

Let’s begin with some good sounds:

And some explanation, from New York City, 1947:

wilber-one

This post (like so many others) is the result of others’ kindness: in this case, the still-swinging clarinetist Bob Sparkman, who at 88, is “still playing and listening.” Some months ago, Bob sent me this note: Thought maybe you’d be interested in four old photos of Bob Wilber and Dick Wellstood recently sent to me by a local fan, taken, probably, in 1945 or 46, at a place called The Hanger, in either Springfield or Westfield, Mass.

I certainly was interested, but this post had to wait until I had a functioning scanner: what better way to inaugurate it than with rare jazz photographs I could share with you?

wilber-scan-one

Dick Wellstood for sure.

wilber-scan-two

More sounds, from February 1947:

and it’s only fitting to conclude the musical segment with a DREAM:

If you can identify any of the musicians in the photographs, I will be happy to add the information.  If your contribution to the post is twofold: one, to listen to the recordings and smile; two, to be thankful for Bob Wilber and all he has given us, those two things will more than suffice.  Bob and his beloved wife, Pug Horton, are still trucking along in their home in England, and we salute them.

A postscript, or THIS JUST IN.  Chris Tyle, indefatigable and many-talented, sent me cleared-up versions of the four photographs above — out of pure generosity.  Here they are.

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and

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and

4

May your happiness increase!

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THE MASTER’S TALES (Part Two): TALKING WITH BOB WILBER

If you missed it, here is the first part of my conversations with Bob Wilber during his New York City visit last month.

Bob Wilber and Pug Horton in performance

Bob Wilber and Pug Horton in performance

A brief re-introduction:

It was a great privilege — an honor — to be able to interview Bob Wilber at his hotel room in New York City on September 27, 2015. Bob is someone I’ve admired as long as I’ve been listening to this music: as a reed virtuoso of immense passion and expertise, a composer with 135 ASCAP compositions to his credit, an arranger, bandleader, jazz scholar, and Renaissance man of this music — a man who will turn 88 soon, devoted to his art. These interview videos are a great gift, not only to me, made possible by the enthusiastic kindness of Bob’s wife, singer Joanne “Pug” Horton, and Bob himself.

Here are the second two segments of four — delightfully free-form evocations, occasionally guided by questions from me. Since Bob has written an autobiography, a great book, MUSIC WAS NOT ENOUGH, I thought I didn’t want to lead him through that familiar — and glorious — chronicle. Rather, I thought that this was an opportunity to ask Bob about some of the musicians he’s known and played with. How many more chances will any of us have to sit down with someone who heard and experienced, let’s say, Kaiser Marshall?

Enjoy this second offering of wisdom, experience, wit, and joy.  I know I did.

and the fourth part:

May your happiness increase!

THE MASTER’S TALES (Part One): TALKING WITH BOB WILBER

Bob Wilber and Pug Horton in performance

Bob Wilber and Pug Horton in performance

It was a great privilege — an honor — to be able to interview Bob Wilber at his hotel room in New York City on September 27, 2015.  Bob is someone I’ve admired as long as I’ve been listening to this music: as a reed virtuoso of immense passion and expertise, a composer with 135 ASCAP compositions to his credit, an arranger, bandleader, jazz scholar, and Renaissance man of this music — a man who will turn 88 soon, devoted to his art.  These interview videos are a great gift, not only to me, made possible by the enthusiastic kindness of Bob’s wife, singer Joanne “Pug” Horton, and Bob himself.

Here are the first two segments of four — delightfully free-form evocations, occasionally guided by questions from me.  Since Bob has written an autobiography, a great book, MUSIC WAS NOT ENOUGH, I thought I didn’t want to lead him through that familiar — and glorious — chronicle.  Rather, I thought that this was an opportunity to ask Bob about some of the musicians he’s known and played with.  How many more chances will any of us have to sit down with someone who heard and experienced, let’s say, Kaiser Marshall?

Enjoy these tales.  I know I did and will continue to.

Part Two:

And here are Bob, Pug, and Ehud Asherie — on his eighty-fourth birthday — singing and playing beautifully:

May your happiness increase!

“LIVE FROM LONDON: BOB WILBER, DAVE McKENNA, PUG HORTON, RON RUBIN, DEREK HOGG”

WILBER cover larger

I want to write a few lines about someone — ferociously swinging and deeply lyrical — who, at 87, is still with us.  For decades, and without calling attention to himself, Bob Wilber has done the lovely creative work of making melodies sing and making the rhythm swing irresistibly.  Bob has slowed down a bit and is more relaxed these days (not the energetic globe-trotter of a few years back) but he and his wife, singer Pug Horton, a few years younger, are still making music and devoted to it.  (As an aside, how many musicians do you know whose recorded careers go from 1946 to 2011?  Amazing durability, I think.)

I was stirred to write this because of a gratifying 2-CD release called LIVE FROM LONDON — recorded over five nights of performance in April 1978.  The place was Pizza Express, and the band was Bob, reeds and compositions; Dave McKenna, piano; Pug, vocals; and UK stalwarts Ron Rubin, string bass; Derek Hogg, drums.  It comes from recordings made by the sound wizard Dave Bennett, and the results are issued on Irv Kratka’s resourceful Classic Jazz label, CJ 36.  It is a consistently gratifying two-and-a-half hours of soaring yet casual music.  For those of my generation, it is a wonderful window into those New York nights of the Seventies and beyond where a glorious little band would play a three-hour gig and keep delighting and surprising us.

The sound is excellent, the music superb.  Wilber has often been minimized as one of the great Followers — understandably, because he studied with Bechet — and smaller-minded listeners have been so enraptured by “his” Bechet, Hodges, Goodman, Bigard, and others, that they have forgotten the Wilber-energies that made those sounds come so alive.  I think of him as someone like Buck Clayton — completely individual — an artist who made his own identity complete and satisfying while letting the great energies of the Ancestors flow through him.  (Is it heresy to write that his Goodman evocation improves on the King?) His sounds are his own (and his compositions are very satisfying as well — whether nicely-shaped “blowing” vehicles like JONATHAN’S WAY or Thirties-evocations like EVERYWHERE YOU GO).  Wilber is in fine form here, eloquent and relaxed . . . a modern equal to the great reed masters.

Pug (born Joanne) Horton, Bob’s devoted wife, is also singing beautifully on these discs.  Although she harks back to the dark ferocity of Bessie and the lighter tenderness of Ivie, she is immediately identifiable and delightful: her sound a purr with British tendencies.  And she swings deliciously.

And Dave.  There has never been a pianist like him and few have come close in the years since his passing.  A whole orchestra, a rhythmic-melodic train barrelling down the tracks at us, but a melodic improviser of sweet gossamer subtleties.  Each disc has a solo feature or two, and they are magnificent: effusions I would play for any classical pianist who thought jazz players were somehow limited.

With the two expert yet gentle UK rhythm players, this was and is a dynamic, varied, shape-shifting quintet, and the CDs are a compact way to travel to a time and place most of us never got to, to enjoy evenings of brilliant heartfelt music. The songs are I’M NOBODY’S BABY / JONATHAN’S WAY / BLACK AND BLUE / MEAN TO ME / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / I FOUND A NEW BABY / THE  VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / EVERYWHERE YOU GO / LOTUS BLOSSOM / PUGGLES / FREEMAN’S WAY / 144 WEST 54th STREET // ROCKS IN MY BED / I GOT IT  BAD / ‘DEED I DO / MELANCHOLY / CLARION SONG / I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (which turns into a McKenna medley of songs with women’s names) / DID I REMEMBER? / ALL OF ME / WEQUASSET WAIL / ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE / DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE / INDIANA //  (Nice and modest liner notes by Bob and Pug, too.)

Here is the CDBaby link — where one can purchase the discs, download the music, or hear sound samples.  And the itunes link as well.

You’ll enjoy it.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW CHORUSES AGO

The Nice Jazz Festival, 1948.  Henry Goodwin, trumpet; Robert Sage Wilber, clarinet / soprano saxophone; Jimmy Archey, trombone; Pops Foster, string bass; Sammy Price, piano; Mezz Mezzrow, clarinet.  Not photographed: Baby Dodds, drums.

Mezzrow Band

Happily, Mr. Wilber — then the baby of the band — is still with us, playing, recording, and traveling. Music keeps you young. Thanks to Pug Horton for providing this glimpse of the past, only sixty-six years ago.

May your happiness increase!

A SECOND HELPING OF BIRTHDAY CAKE: BOB WILBER, EHUD ASHERIE, and PUG HORTON (Smalls, March 15, 2012)

Nothing more needs to be said, except that this is the second set of reedman / composer / bandleader / inspiration Bob Wilber’s eighty-fourth birthday celebration at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, New York) where he was accompanied by his own “favorite rhythm section,” pianist Ehud Asherie — with a guest spot for Bob’s wife, Joanne “Pug” Horton.  Bob played some wonderful jazz classics — as if summoning up all his heroes, mentors, and friends in an admiring ring around the bandstand.

For Bix, Bechet, and Bobby — a sprightly I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

For Fats and Louis (dig Ehud’s beautiful playing here!) — BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU:

Edgar Sampson’s BLUE LOU — with the second chorus given to Bob’s own line on the chords, which he calls LOU’S BLUES:

Bob then invited his wife Pug to the stand to sing “a little eight-bar blues,” that hymn to defiance, ‘T’AIN’T NOBODY’S BIZ-NESS IF I DO:

And — appropriate for a birthday — AS LONG AS I LIVE:

Bechet’s lovely SI TU VOIS MA MERE:

And the bunny jumped over the fence and got away — a briskly moving COTTON TAIL:

Many happy returns of the day to Mr. Wilber — with felicitations to Mr. Asherie and Mrs. Wilber, too!

May your happiness increase.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOB WILBER! (and THANK YOU, EHUD ASHERIE and PUG HORTON): Smalls, March 15, 2012

I know that in JULIUS CAESAR the Ides of March are a bad time to be out in public.  But Bob Wilber — that’s Robert Sage Wilber, clarinetist, soprano saxophonist, tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger, occasional singer, eminent bandleader — turned eighty-four on March 15, 2012, and played two substantial duet sets with pianist Ehud Asherie at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, New York).   So we have to conclude that the Ides are not ominous for everyone.

People who do not play instruments professionally forget or perhaps have never known just how difficult it is to do — consistently, on any level.  Breath and reflexes, mental memory and muscle memory, all are essential attributes.  And just as people slow down when they reach “the golden years,” we might expect a musician’s fingers and embouchure to weaken, to falter.

Bob is an astonishing example of someone at the top of his form.  And this isn’t sweet-natured hyperbole for a diminished elder player: listen to his firm attack, lustrous tone, gliding mobility.  He was remarkable as a Bechet protege in 1947; he is even more remarkable now.

Bob calls Ehud “my favorite rhythm section in New York,” and if you don’t know Ehud’s work already — intuitive, attentive, subtle, multi-hued, and swinging — you are in for yet another treat.  Not only is he a delicious soloist, he is a splendidly sensitized accompanist.

It was lovely to meet a few old friends and to make some new ones (Alistair and Jan from London; Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke, among others) — and the audience was delighted to be in the same room as Bob and his wife Pug, to share their happiness.

The first set began with a lyrical version of Ellington’s I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART — Bob’s evocation of Johnny Hodges:

Even though I don’t quite want to give Lil Hardin Armstrong as much credit for writing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE as does Bob, I have no quibbles with his floating version here:

More Ellingtonia.  And why not?  JUST SQUEEZE ME:

After Bob turned down Ehud’s suggestion of HIGH SOCIETY, they settled on the cheerful THREE LITTLE WORDS (with echoes of Benny, of course):

Not only is THANKS A MILLION the way we feel about Bob; it’s such a pretty Louis-associated song:

And the first set ended with Bob’s tribute to Billy Strayhorn with — what else? — TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:

How generous — and how typical — of Bob to use his time in the limelight, the celebration that he had for himself, to honor the Masters: Louis and Duke, Lil and Strays, Benny and Hodges!

Take a fifteen-minute break: we’ll be back for the second set!  (Bob and Ehud are working the room . . . talking to friends, too.)

May your happiness increase.