Tag Archives: Pug Horton

“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.

GOOD OLD NEW YORK: BOB WILBER AT BIRDLAND (September 1, 2010)

One of the more reassuring aspects of the New York jazz scene is that a few steady gigs remain — the Sunday and Monday night hoedowns at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street; the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn on Sundays; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (now on Monday and Tuesday) downstairs in the Hotel Edison.  And this year David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or Gully Low Jazz Band) began its second decade of early-evening sessions at Birdland — Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:15.

Last Wednesday the Beloved and I took our accustomed table and I prepared to record the festivities.  And festive they were for sure, with David on tuba and patter; Marion Felder on drums; Ehud Asherie on piano; Harvey Tibbs on trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, and special guest Bob Wilber on two sopranos, straight and curved, and clarinet (in sequence, not at once).  And David even arranged for the two singers in the audience — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) to come up and do a Louis-themed duet.

In his own way, Wilber is the last of a great breed — whether you think of him as Bechet’s curly-haired boyish protege, half of Soprano Summit / Summit Reunion, or in his many other roles — someone who’s been playing his heart out for over six decades.  And the LACB was delighted to have him on the stand and inspired by his presence: Jon-Erik and Harvey played majestically and with slippery grace; Ehud was as nimble as ever; David provided his own special propulsion, and Marion once again taught us all how to swing on the often-ignored snare drum (no monotonous ride cymbal for Maestro Felder).  Here’s what the festivities sounded like:

The opening, seguing from WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH into INDIANA, was the start of Louis’s concert appearances with the All-Stars for a long time:

Then, a moody classic Louis recorded in 1931 (playing the Reverend in front of his Chicago band full of New Orleans homeboys), THE LONESOME ROAD:

And an experiment — a Hot Five song that the LACB hadn’t tried before, one of the lesser-known recordings, WHO’S IT (or I’ve also seen it typed as WHO’SIT) which the band not only handled beautifully but made swing out in a long, leisurely rock:

A lovely feature for Wilber, Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR (which summons up not only Louis but also Jack Teagarden, Bix Beiderbecke, and Mildred Bailey):

I don’t think I’M A DING DONG DADDY (by Phil Baxter) would have had its fame — spreading to the Benny Goodman small groups by way of Lionel Hampton, who appeared on Louis’s original recording — had it not been for Louis, even with the wonderful tongue-twisting lyrics:

And another romper — CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN (all hail Lips Page, too!):

Because the Birdland audience held not one but two singers — Daryl Sherman and Pug Horton (Mrs. Wilber) — David decided to call them both up (a first!) and they essayed a loose, friendly version of JEEPERS CREEPERS, which (as you know) Louis originally sang to a horse of the same name in the film GOIN’ PLACES:

And the session closed, as it always does, with a rousing SWING THAT MUSIC:

Thanks to all the musicians (and singers) in the house for the good sounds!

BRIGHT MOMENTS (The EarRegulars: June 6, 2010)

No, it’s not a Roland Kirk tribute.  But that title sprang into my head on the cab ride uptown last Sunday night from The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street in Soho, New York City).  And I offer two of  many episodes of musical brilliance. 

The narrow front room was transformed as a group of two dozen German tourists very happily enjoyed their dinners and the band.  (I’d like to see The Ear become a regular spot for people visiting New York, as long as I can still find a seat at the bar.) 

And there were esteemed guests in the house — Mat and Rachel Domber of Arbors Records; the wonderful singer Becky Kilgore; our hero Bob Wilber and his wife Pug; guitarists Chris Flory and Julian Lage, among others.   

The Ear Regulars were Matt Munisteri, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, and Jon Burr.  And they ended their first set with a very propulsive version of the Rodgers and Hart THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.  The hot solos and surging ensemble lines prove the title is incorrect: 

For the second set, Bob Wilber was ready with his curved soprano.  Although (at eighty-two!) his rhythmic drive has slowed, his power and lustrous tone have not diminished.

Here’s the EarRegulars plus Bob’s CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN, not too fast but full of ginger and pep:

They made that dark room luminous.