Tag Archives: Putney Dandridge

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

“TENDER EYES THAT SHINE”: DAWN LAMBETH and her RASCALS at MONTEREY (Part Two): DAWN LAMBETH, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, IKE HARRIS, JERRY KRAHN, RILEY BAKER (March 2, 2019)

There’s a wonderful tradition that began on records in the late Twenties: sweet and hot singing — female or male — backed by a small improvising combination.  To some, it reached its apex with the series of recordings done by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson, but it continues on in this century, something I find reassuring.

Vocalion Records ceased production a long time ago, and the last time I was near a diner jukebox, it lacked Red McKenzie, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Putney Dandridge, Maxine Sullivan, Nan Wynn, Tempo King, Lee Wiley, Connee Boswell, or Dick Robertson, but our friend Dawn Lambeth embodies the tradition beautifully.  As do her Rascals, an ad hoc group of friends who swing.

Here’s the second half of a performance by a lovely little jam band of friends at the 2019 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Riley Baker, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Ike Harris, string bass; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Clint Baker, trumpet.  And  here‘s the first part.

The very antidote to melancholy . . . with the verse, no less:

Dawn’s venture into rare cosmology:

Those nocturnal visions swing sweetly:

Memorable yet understated music.

May your happiness increase!

TEDDY TAKES TO THE COUNTRY, 1939

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

For a quarter of a century, perhaps more, Teddy Wilson was unmatched as solo pianist, accompanist, and ensemble inspiration.  Consistently inventive, reliable without being stale, he seems now both traditional and forward-looking, swinging and harmonically inventive, his melodic lines clear and memorable.  And it is our good fortune that he worked and recorded with three of the great star-legends of the period, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey, in addition to recordings under his own name.  To me, his great period begins with his 1933 work with Louis Armstrong and Benny Carter and gradually tapers off by the end of the Verve recordings — although he could still play magnificently.

He had many opportunities to record, not simply because of his splendid improvisations. Because Wilson was personally responsible — a quiet, businesslike man — you could count on him showing up on time, being prepared, being sober — no small collection of virtues.  And he had a champion in John Hammond, who perhaps recognized not only the astonishing musician but a fellow patrician, a courtly intellectual.  Thus, between 1935 and 1942, Hammond helped to get Wilson recorded often as soloist and leader for the ARC labels (Columbia, Vocalion, Okeh, Brunswick) and he was of course recording with Goodman for Victor and on Decca with Putney Dandridge and Bob Howard.

Wilson’s most famous sides are frequently reissued — think of MISS BROWN TO YOU and BODY AND SOUL with Billie and Benny, respectively, but many glorious ones are overlooked.  Mosaic Records, the jazz benefactor, will be issuing a seven-CD set of Wilson’s recordings — leaving aside the ones made with Holiday — under his own name for the ARC family of labels between 1934 and 1942: details below.  “Under his own name” is important here, because a few sideman sessions had to be omitted, some because they appeared on other Mosaic sets (Mildred Bailey, Chu Berry) and others because they don’t fit the premise of the set.

Two are glorious and worth searching out: I know Chick Bullock is scorned by some, but his sessions with Wilson’s band backing him are priceless, as are the sides made with Eddy Howard as the star (consider this personnel: Wilson, Bill Coleman, Bud Freeman, Benny Morton, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian . . . . ).  The Bullock sides are on a Retrieval CD; the Howard ones on Neatwork or Classics.  I’ve also heard the “safety” disc from the Howard session, which has the singer having trouble with WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS.  It may have emerged on the Sony Charlie Christian box set.

But two sessions led by the elusive Redd Evans “and his Billy Boys” have never been reissued.  JAZZ LIVES to the rescue! — although the sonic quality is flawed.  (The Customer Service Department is out back; form a single line.)

Redd Evans (1912-72) was most famous as a lyricist, whose hits included “Rosie the Riveter,” “There! I’ve Said It Again.” “Let Me Off Uptown,” “No Moon at All,” “Don’t Go to Strangers,” “American Beauty Rose,” “The Frim Fram Sauce,” and “If Love Is Good to Me.”  He was also a singer and he may have been a better-than-competent ocarina player, possibly at one time a member of the Horace Heidt dance orchestra.  But for me, Evans is fascinating because of the rare 1939 recordings with Wilson, and, in one instance, Buster Bailey.

I know that Evans was born in Mississippi, but how deep his “hillbilly” roots went is hard to discern.  On IN THE BAGGAGE COACH AHEAD, where Mother’s coffin is part of the lyric, he sounds seriously influenced by Jerry Colonna. THEY CUT DOWN THE OLD PINE TREE is yet another example of morbidity in swing, a “country” song written by people whose idea of “the country” might well have been a day trip to Long Island, Edward Eliscu and either David or Milt Raskin.  “Brown” could have been a dozen people, so I leave that to you.

I am certain that John Hammond was involved in these recordings, and although their initial affect may seem strange, they are another reason to be grateful to Hammond for his limitless ambitions.  For one thing, even though Wilson’s name is not on the label, Evans calls out to him on one side, and he is unmistakable.  The sessions, also, were made when Wilson had left Goodman to lead his own band, which was an aesthetic success but not a financial one, so they may have been Hammond’s way of helping Wilson make money and re-establish an identity that had been subsumed with Goodman.

Too, Hammond was always looking for ways to merge his jazz stars with more popular artists — perhaps hoping for what we would now call a “crossover” hit that would give him even more freedom to record his improvisers.  Think of the Glenn Hardman date with Lester Young, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones — perhaps a sideways glance at the sides Milt Herth was making for Decca with Willie “the Lion” Smith, Teddy Bunn, and O’Neil Spencer.  Had Hammond known of the 1938 Pinky Tomlin Decca sides, which pair a “countrified” singer with a hot band — one of the issued sides being RED WING?  Pairing Wilson — and other African-American musicians — with Evans would not only be crossing genres but also gently eroding race barriers.  Perhaps the people who enjoyed Western Swing would find this side appealing, as well.

Evans made a few vocal sides with Charlie Barnet in 1945, but his 1939 sides are of most interest here, documented by Tom Lord:

Redd Evans (vcl) acc by tp, ts, g, Buster Bailey (cl) Teddy Wilson (p) unknown (b) J.C. Heard (d).  New York, April 17, 1939.
W24381 They cut down the old pine tree Voc 4836
W24382 Red wing –
W24383-B Carry me back to the lone prairie 4920
W24384-A Red River Valley –

Redd Evans And His Billy Boys : Willis Kelly (tp) Floyd Brady (tb) Reggie Merrill (as) Clark Galehouse (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Al Casey (g) Al Hall (b) Cozy Cole (d) Redd Evans, “Hot Sweet Potato” (vcl).  New York, August 11, 1939.
25189-1 Milenberg joys (re vcl) Voc 5173
25190-1 In the baggage coach ahead (re vcl) –
25191-1,2 Am I blue ? (re,hsp vcl) (unissued)
25192-1,2 When it’s springtime in the Rockies (hsp vcl) –

I find the personnel above intriguing, because it mixes players from Wilson’s band — the rhythm section and Floyd Brady — with “studio” players: Galehouse shows up on a Quintones session, Merrill on an Alec Wilder date.  Willis Kelly, anyone?

I’ve never seen a copy of MILENBERG / BAGGAGE, but I was delighted to find a worn copy of RED WING / OLD PINE TREE on eBay.  Again, I advise that my method of getting the sounds to you is at best odd, but it will have to do until the Real Thing Comes Along.

Wilson is immediately recognizable — admire his neat modulations out and in to Evans’ vocal key, the way he shines through the ensemble also.  Whoever the ocarina player is, I like his work immensely, and the unidentified trumpeter has certainly listened to Roy Eldridge.  The tune — with its memorably odd lyrics — bears some small melodic resemblance to WHEN YOU AND I WERE  YOUNG, MAGGIE.  Was it written tongue-in-cheek (rather like the story told about SONNY BOY) as a collection of down-home cliches?

RED WING is more familiar — an ancient campfire favorite, with connections to Robert Schumann and Kerry Mills, eventually to Woody Guthrie — and this recording is thirty seconds shorter, but it has the pleasure of a chorus split between Wilson and Buster Bailey, which is no small gift.  I’ll take it on faith that the drummer is J.C. Heard, who was part of Wilson’s orchestra, and the record pleases me, even though the subject is sad indeed, the Native American maiden weeping over her dead lover night after night:

And here are the two other sides from April 1939, in a format that may or may not work for you (if it doesn’t, I invite you to Google “Redd Evans and his Billy Boys” and find them on your own).

https://archive.org/details/78_red-river-valley_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans_gbia0003699a

https://archive.org/details/78_carry-me-back-to-the-lone-prairie_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-robison_gbia0003699b

A few words about the Mosaic set — seven discs, expected at the end of this year.  As always, the Mosaic boxes are often highlighted for the previously unknown and unheard music they contain, which leads some value-minded collectors to sniff, “Only seven unissued sides?  Why, that costs $ – – – a side!”  I can’t tell anyone how to apportion their money, but Mosaic issues, to me, always expose the larger picture: hearing familiar sides in a context not available previously; hearing the chronological development of an artist’s work, as far as it can be documented in visits to the recording studio.  I will say that the set begins with the May 22, 1934 piano solo SOMEBODY LOVES ME and ends with the July 31, 1942 B FLAT SWING, both in two takes.  In between, there are previously unheard band sides, and a 1942 trio date with Al Hall and J.C. Heard that was issued in part — but now we have the whole thing, more than two dozen performances, because Bill Savory was the recording engineer for Columbia.

I have been fascinated by Wilson since the late Sixties, and one of the thrills of my college-student life was getting his autograph at a suburban shopping center concert.  Of course I sought out the Billie and Mildred sets on Columbia, and then graduated into the deep territory that only Collectors know.  But I do not have all of the issued sides on this Mosaic set, and I have (or had) the Meritt Record Society lps, the three-disc French Columbia Wilson box set, the Masters of Jazz CDs . . . and so on.  So this will be a set to treasure.

And this is true: in today’s mail, I received a traffic ticket from a red-light camera (the county I live in loves such things) that will cost me more than the Wilson set.  And paying that fine will give much less pleasure than listening to Teddy in his prime.

Come to a full stop.  But not for Mosaic Records.

May your happiness increase!

OUT OF TOWN, FOR THE BEST REASONS (July 25-29, 2017)

Last week I left my comfortable suburban burrow to travel to what turned out to be a very rewarding city:

No, JAZZ LIVES has not gone country.  Rather, I came down for a record date featuring these fellows.

Marc Caparone, cornet; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano;  Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor (rear); myself (front); Derek Garten (recording engineer). Photograph by Amy Holland.

and, just because it exists, another photograph:

This session was to create a CD — their debut on disc — of the Holland-Coots Quintet, a group that had already appeared with great success at the Durango Ragtime Festival.  Here — with videos captured by Judy Muldawer — is my post about this glorious band.  I spent two happy days in the studio — a place of music, insights, deep feeling, and laughter, overseen by the masterful engineer / all-round whiz Derek Garten — as the band made magic happen, song after song.

The theme of the CD (which doesn’t yet have a title) was the music of Fats Waller, and the music associated with him.  Experienced listeners know that people have been paying tribute to Fats for more than eighty years now, which means they were doing it at the same time HE was doing it, if that logical turn isn’t too annoying.  (Think of Bob Howard and Putney Dandridge, and later Pat Flowers and Johnny Guarnieri.)

But many musicians and bands (1934 to the present!) have taken the easy way out, walking off with the most obvious superficial mannerisms: stride piano at a fast tempo, a half-dozen Waller phrases thrown in at random, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, YOUR FEETS TOO BIG, the illusion of eyebrows moving up and down in time, ad-libs that are no longer improvised, and so on.  The most studied tributes have a trumpet player who has studied Autrey, a reed player deep into Sedric, and if the budget allows, an acoustic guitarist who has done post-doctoral in Casey.

Add gestures, stir lightly, and you have a recognizable product that people who don’t know the musicians will pick up off the table, and, with luck, purchase. Microwave-Fats.

This CD is fresh, not frozen.  It captures Fats’ deep soul in all its aspects.

This quintet rejected shallow caricature in favor of music that is light-hearted but full of feeling, swinging without artifice.  For one thing, song choices that showed a deep understanding of Fats and his world.  A few volcanic explosions (MINOR DRAG, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU), a nod to a classic Waller-Razaf standard (KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW), one to James P. Johnson (IF I COULD BE WITH YOU),  some Fats songs that don’t get played (MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, LONESOME ME, LIVER LIP JONES), several from the early, dewy Rhythm sides (WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED), and a romantic ballad — Fats was a deep romantic — composed by Russ Columbo and two people I’d not heard of, and gorgeously sung by Evan, LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON, which is my new favorite recording.

The music is sincere but never self-consciously so; no one is “acting” a part, but in Roswell Rudd’s words, they are playing their personalities.  I will let you know more about the CD as it comes up to the surface, ready to be bought and loved.

I can’t share the music from the CD with you: that will come in due course.  (I will be writing about the new Holland-Coots duet CD, SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES, soon.)  But I have something to enthrall and delight.  I’d asked Brian if he and the band would consider, when the session was over, performing something for my camera, so that I could share it with the JAZZ LIVES audience as a token of generosity (the band’s) and a hint of things to come.  It’s ragtime via the DeParis Brothers’ band, RUSSIAN RAG, and it’s a wow:

Festival producers, take note!

(The sound of the video is captured by the RODE microphone on top of my camera; the CD’s sound is light-years better, but I wanted people to hear this joyous expert outburst now.)

Blessings and gratitude to Danny, Brian, Marc, Evan, Steve, Derek, Kimberly C, Bella C, Hannah C, Amy G, Amy H, Cheryl P, Rona from Waffle House, and Miss Rose from Kroger — not only for the music but for the encompassing warmth.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND COMMERCE: TAFT JORDAN AND THE MOB (February 21-22, 1935)

TAFT

A nice bio of trumpeter / vocalist Taft Jordan is available here, which is also the source for the photograph.

TAFT Night Wind Banner

In February 1935, “Taft Jordan And The Mob” — Taft, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Elmer “Tone” Williams [not “Skippy” Williams as listed in Tom Lord — thanks to Mark Cantor], tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Bobby Johnson, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Eddie Dougherty, drums — recorded four memorable sides that have never gotten the attention they deserve.  (Incidentally, the beautiful record labels are illustrations only: the music can be found in the videos below.)  

TAFT MOB label

The idea was John Hammond’s, and one that we are grateful for.  The usual story is that Hammond worked hard to get the music he loved on record, to make opportunities for racially mixed bands.  He succeeded beautifully: most readers know this part of the story as preface to the 1933-42 Billie Holiday sides.

But other parts of the story deserve attention.  There is, for one thing, the success of the coin-operated phonograph (later, the “jukebox”) that could offer people recorded music in restaurants, bars, and elsewhere for what seems to us like a bargain: a nickel would get you three minutes of new music.  But a 1935 nickel was much more than the ninety-nine cents per song that iTunes charges.  (A contemporary advertisement shows Easter dresses for $1.95, and a skilled worker for the W.P.A. might earn $79 a month.)

And, at the time, commercially produced records were — as it says on the label — “not licensed for radio broadcast.”  I think that coin-operated phonographs served the audience’s desire for novelty (“Let’s hear that new record of ______ by Erin Morris and her Ponies!”) — songs from new movies, new songs popularized by much loved bands and singers . . . and for five cents, one could have a side played for a gathering of listeners and/or dancers.  The record labels pictured above are now called “dime-store,” because one could  buy these records inexpensively at, say, Woolworth’s.

Radio and recordings created a need for new material, so many songs, not all memorable, were published, with a clear financial relationship between composers / lyricists, publishing companies, artists, recording supervisors, and record companies.  (A small example: IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN was written by Bernard Hanighen, Billie Holiday’s friend, also a recording director at Brunswick Records.  He would have been happy — aesthetically and financially — to have his song recorded.)

Taft’s four sides run parallel to other small groups led by Fats Waller, Henry Red Allen, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Stuff Smith, Adrian Rollini, Tempo King, Cleo Brown, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Frank Froeba, Bernard Addison, Louis “King”Garcia, Stew Pletcher, and others.  I’ve heard writers say these sessions were “cranked out for the jukebox trade,” but these records are lovely, imperishable.  That there were only four sides says more about an audience’s awareness of Taft as a star than about their quality.  Some listeners might have known him from the Savoy Ballroom and radio, but not many.  When the records were later reissued in the UK (the red-and-gold Vocalion issues) Teddy Wilson had become famous enough so that his name would sell discs.

The artists made little or nothing for these sessions: they were paid “scale,” although they were pleased to make the extra money.   The math is fascinating, a quiet recital of economic disparity, even at the remove of eight decades.  Let us say a band of eight musicians made four sides for $50 a musician.  The records were pressed, distributed, and ended up in the phonographs.  One could hear a side once — no limit on the number of hearers, theoretically — for a nickel. The machine could take in twenty nickels in an hour.  In 1935, the profit went to the record companies and the owners of the phonographs. Later (too late, perhaps) musicians and composers received royalties, but that is another story.

Yes, mechanical reproduction of art guarantees “exposure,” but one cannot eat exposure.  I am aware of this from both sides as an interloper with a video camera who can only recompense musicians in insubstantial ways.

I offer these notions, some of them quite sad or infuriating, as preface to wonderful music, and also to point out that an unstable, often exploitative relationship between the artists, “the marketplace,” technology, and lasting art is not a twenty-first century issue.

TAFT Vocalion Devil

What good songs these “disposable” pop tunes are — thanks to Rothberg, Coots, Alex Hill (yes!), and Hanighen.  And the players, professionals all, were used to sight-reading and creating instant arrangements — with split choruses, riffs, backgrounds.  To take one example, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, still recognizable, is a series of thirty-two and sixteen bar solos with rhythm (and what a rhythm section!) with a jammed ensemble ending.  How fine it sounds now.  One could spend an afternoon listening to the glowing epigrams Wilson dispenses, the variety of timbres the horns offer, solo and in ensemble.

In my collecting history, these four sides were part of a Columbia Chick Webb lp compilation — glorious gap-fillers, but also logical because of Taft’s role in the band.  Mince and Silloway were with Tommy Dorsey; Skippy Williams, Bobby Johnson, and John Kirby with Webb also; Eddie Dougherty a busy free-lancer. Wilson had not yet joined the Goodman orchestra as a member of the Trio and Quartet, but had recorded with BG in ad-hoc studio groups.

What we have here — each side is less than three minutes long — is both superior dance music and small-band swing of the highest order, pleasing to all audiences.

In my time-travel fantasy, I would like to be a silent onlooker at one of these sessions, but I doubt the musicians romanticized such work.  It was another way to pay the rent, perhaps (for the lucky sideman) to get some recognition for future leader’s gigs . . . or perhaps, after creating four quiet masterpieces, the guys went out for a drink or some ribs, a nap before the night’s work.  If I’d asked Taft about these sides in 1972 /3 and later — I didn’t see him at close range — I wonder what would he have said.

LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:

NIGHT WIND:

DEVIL IN THE MOON:

IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN:

All four of these songs were also recorded “with vocal chorus” by Taft, a charming Louis-influenced singer (consider his work with the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Webb) but none of the vocals was issued.  Mysterious.  I know there is an alternate take of NIGHT WIND issued on a Jerry Valburn collectors’ compilation, but it’s instrumental.

TAFT Vocalion Green

Does anyone know more about Eddie Dougherty than is published in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ?  I have learned that he recorded between 1933 and 1952 or a little later, that he lived in Brooklyn, and, according to Johnny Williams via Mike Burgevin, that he pronounced his last name as if spelled Dockerty.  But no more.

The music remains.  And I, for one, am truly grateful for that.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.

As a postscript, here are four contemporaneous versions of DEVIL IN THE MOON — in honor of the Blessed Alex Hill.  I think they are all beautiful, so this is not to make insidious comparisons.

Leo Reisman:

Mills Blue Rhythm Band (with an incendiary Buster Bailey interlude that the expert dancers must have loved):

Benny Goodman:

Art Tatum:

May your happiness increase!

AS CINEMA, IT HAS ITS LIMITS: AS A TIME MACHINE, IT’S FLAWLESS: “HARLEM IS HEAVEN” (1932)

The great connoisseur of popular culture, especially women singers, Alan Eichler, just shared with us his VHS copy of the 1932 film HARLEM IS HEAVEN.  It’s a great gift, as it may be the first “all-colored” feature sound film, with starring roles for Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Putney Dandridge, James Baskett, and with incidental music provided by Eubie Blake and his Orchestra, also with an appearance by Noble Sissle.

HARLEM HEAVEN poster

Now, I have reservations about the film itself.  Henri Wessell as “Chummy” and Anise Boyer as “Jean” are both beautiful young people, although their naturalistic acting is, to my taste, none too subtle.  And the plot (the film was written and directed by Irwin R. Franklyn) is thin to the point of transparency.

But what other film shows us so much of Bill Robinson as an actor, singer, and dancer — the stair dance sequence has been shown often but without credit, but the rest was new to me.  The dancers are presented to us as the world-famous Cotton Club entertainters, which is a look behind the scenes that we would otherwise not have had.

And this is serious business: is there any other film in the history of cinema that has Putney Dandridge as a deadly moral avenger who is never arrested or tried? I rest my case.

Even though I could not view the whole film in one sitting, I was captivated from the start by the little touches of 1932 Harlem reality: the marquee reading MILLS BROS. and the glimpse of the exterior of Connie’s Inn. Then, later on, there is a whole history of early-Thirties theatre and music and dance.  For fans of pre-Code splendor, “Jean” takes off her dress, revealing beautiful silk lingerie, while “Chummy” looks elsewhere, and later on there is a brief catfight between “Jean” and “Greta Rae.”  Worth viewing?  That’s up to you.

Here’s the film.

On its own terms, it is indeed Heavenly.  Thank you, Alan.  And here — reaching back even more — is Bill, in Technicolor (!) in the 1930 DIXIANA:

May your happiness increase.

THE MANY (BEAMING) FACES OF JEFF BARNHART

The more I hear Jeff Barnhart — pianist, singer, improviser — the more I admire him.  He has an ebullient spirit, whether he is striding or playing a rag, but there’s a soulful vein of sweet melancholy that underlies his work — a tenderness that never disappears in the humor and hot music.  See and hear for yourself.

HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (from the 2010 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — with Michel Bastide, Paul Munnery, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Jacob Ullberger, Josh Duffee, with leader Bent Persson standing off to the side, admiring) comes from a Red Allen tribute, and it is notable for those of us who revere Vic Dickenson as his first real appearance on record — as a singer — with a song that is a little unpredictable.  Thus, Jeff’s looking at the lyrics is the act of a wise man, not an unprepared one.  And you’ll hear, fore and aft, his glistening piano coming through the ensemble in a wonderful Hines manner:

Let’s move things up a little bit — a video created by Tom Warner — something I adore, for its dancing comedy and incredible swing.  Ladies and gentlemen, the duo of Messrs. Barnhart and Danny Coots, performing Uncle Fred Coots’ A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE — a small theatrical romp, whatever the tempo.

But first!  You need to hear the song as originally performed — with absolute mastery — by Jan Peerce in a 1935 radio airshot (wait for the final cymbal crash!) . . . to get the full flavor of the Barnhart-Coots spectacular.

Jan Peerce:

Jeff and Danny:

(I can’t comment on Jan Peerce’s showmanship — it’s all there in his passionate voice — but Jeff wins the prize for me for one gesture, the way he lifts his right hand while playing at a violent tempo to point to his heart.  That’s the best old-school stride piano Method acting you’ll ever see.)

And one more.  Why not?  It’s a favorite of mine, one of the half-dozen videos I would self-prescribe if I got up feeling gloomy.  A proven spiritual panacea — variations on the 1933 Crosby hit YOUNG AND HEALTHY, with a true Cast of Characters:  John Reynolds (guitar);  Ralf Reynolds (washboard);  Katie Cavera (bass);  Marc Caparone (cornet);  Dan Barrett (trombone); Bryan Shaw (trumpet).  I recorded this at Dixieland Monterey — the Jazz Bash by the Bay, nearly two years ago — March 5, 2011 — and it still delights me.  Jeff does honor to Fats and to Putney Dandridge while remaining himself.

Convinced?  I should think so.

But experiencing Jeff and his music in person is even better.  He travels the country with wife Anne, a classically trained flautist, in their own duo or trio IVORY AND GOLD (with Danny Coots), and he shows up everywhere, spreading joy and mirth and swing.

I am happily going to see him at least three times this year — at the March 1-2-3 Jazz Bash, at the April 20-21 Jeff and Joel’s House Party, and at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, turning the corner from October into November).

You can find out more about his peregrinations and recordings here.  And you can hear samples of his music as well — I’ve picked out a particular favorite, an excerpt from  a CD I love, called THUMP! FIRST WHACK Down in Honky Tonk Town.

The title of that recording should say something about its delightful individuality.  The performers are Jeff (piano, vocal, co-leader); SherriLynn Colby (vocal, co-leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, trombone, vocal); Matty Bottel (banjo, tenor guitar); Otis Mourning (clarinet, soprano, alto sax); Marty Eggers (string bass); Lauri Lyster (drums); Simon Stribling (cornet, trombone).  JAZZ LIVES readers will know how much I admire Clint, Marty, Simon, and now Jeff — but the other musicians are quite wonderful as well.

The scope of this recording comes through in its repertoire: GOT NO TIME / TANK TOWN BUMP / AM I BLUE? / LINA BLUES / KITCHEN MAN / I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU / A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON / DOWN WHERE THE SUN GOES DOWN / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / DADDY DO / CHATTANOOGA STOMP / DELTA BOUND / EXACTLY LIKE YOU.

Its character can best explained metaphorically.  THUMP sounds the way the food of our childhood tasted: succulent, multi-layered, perhaps a little drippy (the tomato eaten in the garden) or a bit greasy (real chicken on the barbecue), rather than the sanitized modern version — neat but flavorless.  After you listen to THUMP, you might have to wipe your hands on a napkin, but your ears will be full of savory large musical flavors.  Hot horn solos, beautiful interplay in the ensembles, a rocking rhythm section, and delightful vocals — this is my first introduction to SherriLynn Colby, whose sweet-tart approach to her material suggests that she is really a Thirties film star who Warner Brothers never had the sense to hire — and that is a very large compliment.

And Jeff has recorded many other CDs — while keeping a busy traveling schedule.  We are very lucky to have him, whichever of his many joyous visages he turns to the audience.

May your happiness increase.

IMPROVISATION FOR TWO, PLEASE, JAMES

This melancholy 1935 song is rarely performed, perhaps because it’s difficult to sing the lyrics with a straight face, but the melody has its own morose charm.  (I know that both Al Bowlly and Nat Cole did their best — as did Putney Dandridge and, in our time, Marty Grosz — but the song has some of the melodramatic flavor of a late-eighteenth-century novel.)

The singer — butler to a wealthy man for a half-century (the verse) and the aristocrat himself (the chorus) are people seemingly untouched by the Depression.  And the lyrics tell of “Master’s tragedy,” a marriage broken apart by a vile lie.  The verse, as always, tells the story:

James has been butler to Mister B. for fifty years,

Come August three.  

And he still remembers the night

Of his master’s tragedy.

Master’s best friend was a Mister J.,

James didn’t like him from the first day,

He knew his type

And the game they play.

That night James laid dinner as usual for two

And the air felt heavy as lead,

The master came down, there were tears in his eyes,

And he tried hard to smile as he said:

CHORUS:

Dinner for one, please James,

Madam will not be dining,

Yes, you may bring the wine in,

Love plays such funny games.

Dinner for one, please James,

Close madam’s room, we’ve parted,

Please don’t look so downhearted,

Love plays such funny games.

Seems mybest friend told her of another,

I had no chance to deny,

You know there has never been another,

Some day she’ll find out the lie.

Maybe she’s not to blame,

Leave me with silent hours,

No, don’t move her fav’rite flowers,

Dinner for one, please James.

Love plays such funny games, but great jazz improvisers create much more.  Here are trombonist Mike Pittsley and pianist John Sheridan, swing alchemists, making something timeless of Michael Carr’s melody:

What a beautiful performance! — subtle but never coy, honoring the melody but not entombed in it.  “Tonation and phrasing,” indeed — in the way that Sheridan keeps the rhythm moving while creating beautiful translucent harmonies, making a clear path for Pittsley to sing out the melody and his variations on the theme.

I had the opportunity to visit with John Sheridan at Chautauqua (a great pleasure) and I look forward to meeting Mike Pittsley for the first time at San Diego . . . they are, separately and together, masters of quietly affecting melodic embellishment.

May your happiness increase.

A PILGRIMAGE TO DECCA (August 2011)

There are some spiritual places on this planet.  Yours may be deep in the redwood forest, or on your yoga mat.  Mine is a wondrous record store in El Cerrito, California.  DOWN HOME MUSIC is at — or perhaps floats above —

10431 San Pablo Avenue.  The phone number is (510) 525-2129; the website is http://www.downhomemusic.com.  My good friend, trumpet player Tally Baker, took me there last week.  I spent seventy-five dollars and four cents, had the time of my record-collecting life, have no regrets, and want to go back again.  Here’s what I bought: some of it sentimental gap-filling (records to replace those lost in natural disasters), some of it “Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen a copy of that!,” some of it “Can you believe they have a copy of this record?”  And — to quote King Oliver — I MUST HAVE IT.  I found out that Down Home Music has live sessions, and is the beloved brainchild of Chris Strachwitz, who founded Arhoolie Records.  Long may he and the store and the music flourish.

The results of the pilgrimage, in no particular order.

MEL POWELL SEPTET (Vanguard): Powell, Buck Clayton, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, Jimmy Crawford.  Some of the music on this 10″ lp has been reissued on that hodgepodge series of Vanguard CDs — I fear they are now out of print — but they left out an extended I MUST HAVE THAT MAN that is as lovely and sad and groovy as anything I can think of.

WOLVERINE JAZZ (Decca): Bud Freeman, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Dave Bowman, Eddie Condon, Pete Peterson, Morey Feld.  This session doesn’t have Dave Tough, but it does have SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS).  And I started laughing when I remembered that Eddie advanced the idea that the album should be called SONS OF BIXES.

DON EWELL (Windin’ Ball): Ewell, solo.  Through this blog, I have met Birch Smith, who is responsible for this session.  Blessings on Ewell’s head and on Birch’s, too.  And on his DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, Don mutters (at the appropriate juncture), “Oh, crawl that thing!”  Indeed.

PETE KELLY AT HOME (RCA Victor): Dick Cathcart, Abe Lincoln, Matty Matlock, Jack Chaney, Ray Sherman, Jud DeNaut, George Van Eps, Nick Fatool.  Who knew?  This has (among other surprises) LA CUCARACHA, and it features Mister Lincoln, one of my heroes.

THE FABULOUS FINNS: SYLVESTER AHOLA (Qaulity): Ahola with the Rhythm Maniacs, Night Club Kings, Ambrose, The Rhythmic Eight, Plihip Lewis, Arcadians, Ray Starita, Georgians, Piccadilly Players.  Plus an interview done with Ahola at his home — in Finnish.  Could you resist?  I couldn’t.

BOB MIELKE’S BEARCATS (Arhoolie): Mielke, P.T. Stanton, Bill Napier, Dick Oxtot, Pete Allen, Don Merchant, Bill Erickson, Burt Bales.  Tally had played me some of this music.  It rocked then; it rocks now.

DICK OXTOT’S GOLDEN AGE JAZZ BAND (Arhoolie): Jim Goodwin, Meilke, Bob Helm, Ray Skjelbred, Bill Bardin, Napier.  Goodwin and Skjelbred.  Who could pass this up?

CHICAGO HIGH LIFE (Euphonic): Ray Skjelbred, Clarence Jackson.  Ditto.

ON THE WATERFRONT WITH BURT BALES (Cavalier): Bales, solo.  Yeah, man.

PUTNEY DANDRIDGE (Rarities): Volumes 1 and 2, with Roy, Chu, Teddy, Red, Buster, Ben, Bobby Stark, Cozy Cole, John Kirby, Slick Jones.  Mr. Dandridge is an acquired taste, but the bands swing gently and ferociously.

Blessings all around!

P.S.  Jazz 78s and 45s too, and a turntable to play them on — so that I could assure myself that the never-seen Peg LaCentra with Jerry Sears on Bluebird was, in fact, dull.  Invaluable experience — like the old days — to be able to check out a disc before plunging two or three dollars on it.

FEEL BETTER FAST, or “BEGONE, DULL CARE!”

“Telling other folks what to do is a bad bidnis,” said Flannery O’Connor. 

So I hope my readers will excuse my lapse into advice-giving.  Follow these simple steps to be happier. 

1.  Click on the link (or the video) below.

2.  Observe closely.  Notice any changes in your facial musculature.  It is possible that your limbs may wish to move rhythmically.  This is to be expected.  Do not be alarmed.  Do not seek medical assistance.  (This is a natural part of the process of JOY.)

3.  “If that don’t get it, then forget it for now,” sang Jack Teagarden.

I will let the music speak for itself — and it does!  Sweetly, hilariously, with plenty rhythm.

P.S.  My need to repost this video performance is because it always makes me happy, and I note that (as I write this) only sixty-one people in the whole YouTube universe have watched it so far — a number of those viewings being mine. 

If I had a natural joy-enhancer in my possession and I didn’t give it to any and everyone, what kind of spiritual miser would I be? 

So I urge you all to move the setting to “full screen,” and dig it.  If it doesn’t elate, illumine, and uplift, I’m sorry — I tried. 

But YOUNG AND HEALTHY is one of the best free, locally sourced, organic, no-side-effects cures for temporary relief of anhedonia known.

And for the record, this magic took place at the 2011 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California (blessings on Sue Kroninger!) and the transformative alchemists and wizards up there on the stage are John and Ralf Reynolds, Katie Cavera, Dan Barrett, Jeff Barnhart, Marc Caparone, and Bryan Shaw — summoning up Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, Putney Dandridge, Fats Waller, the Chocolate Dandies, and more.  I wish them all the joy they bring to us, tenfold.

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS and SOUNDS LIKE (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY): March 5, 2011

More from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (the Jazz Bash by the Bay)!

On paper, this was advertised as simply another session by the Reynolds Brothers, which was good enough for me: I had been following them around, a dazed and grinning hero-worshipper.  They’re John (National steel guitar, vocals, whistling), Ralf (washboard), Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), Marc Caparone (cornet).  More than enough for anyone!

But when I saw their friends — Jeff Barnhart (piano), Dan Barrett (trombone), Bryan Shaw (trumpet), I settled into my seat knowing that great things — a jazz colloquy on Olympus — would come.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

They began with I NEVER KNEW (homage to that wonderful recording by Benny Carter, Floyd O’Brien, Teddy Wilson, Chu Berry, Ernest Hill, Sidney Catlett, and Max Kaminsky, as “The Chocolate Dandies”).  Their reimagining has stunning brass playing and a delightfully weird harmonic interlude by Jeff — picked up by the horns — before they rock on out:

I adjusted my camera’s white balance so the scene looked less like a Vincent Price film in time for the second number, I WANT A LITTLE GIRL.  Originally recorded in 1930 by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (with a vocal by George Thomas, if I remember correctly), it was rediscovered in 1945-6 by Buck Clayton and Louis.

The spirits of Mr. Strong and Mr. Clayton — tender yet annunciatory — permeate this performance.  And look at the faces of the musicians!  Watch Dan listening to Marc and Bryan!  Catch the dreamy don’t-wake-me-now look on Katie’s face!  It’s thrilling to see musicians afloat on mutual love for beautiful sounds:

I don’t know who suggested the next tune — a wonderful one, almost forgotten, by Harry Warren from FORTY-SECOND STREET, recorded by Bing Crosby and (much later) by Ruby Braff — another jazz carpe diem for the ages.  The clever lyrics are by Al Dubin.  This version has the approving ghosts of Bing and Putney Dandridge hovering around it — with the brass section discoursing in the happiest way on the beauties of Thirties and Forties swing epigrams.  And Jeff’s performance (swinging, hilarious, sweet) suggests what Fats might have done with the song:

Because I had made dinner plans with the irrepressible Jack Rothstein, I had to leave at this point, but I turned to my dear friend Rae Ann Berry and begged her in an insistent whisper, “Please.  Please tape the rest of this?  I have to go but I can’t stand missing the rest.”  And Rae Ann, truly a good sport, took over.  So the remaining videos exist because of her generosity.

And they are generous!

Katie asks the lover’s question — DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?  Oh, we do, Katie.  Her sweetly unaffected vocal gives way to a brass fantasy (who needs clarinets?) in solos and riffs.  And in the middle, there is a perfectly astonishing piano solo — try this at home.  I dare you!  And catch Jeff watching John in delighted amazement while John scrolls through one of his amazing solos (Jeff is chording with his left hand).  Another Katie chorus, and then Brass Ecstasy — circa 1933 (I think), with everyone shouting for joy to the heavens:

Then something beautiful and rare — a Bryan Shaw ballad feature!  It’s I’M CONFESSIN’ (with the bridge of his first solo loving embodiment of Buck Clayton) — again embodying the tradition of singing trumpets born from Louis.  (I’ve heard that Bryan has completed a new Arbors CD with Dan Barrett and friends, coming soon!)  Then a weirdly sweet Jeff Barnhart piano interlude before Bryan offers his own mixture of drama and sweetness:

Back to Louis and Fats (what could be wrong?) for the 1935 GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — in the key of G, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz.  About a minute into this performance, you’ll hear that delicious sound of a band locking into swing — a swing that some bands reach only in the last chorus and some never reach at all!  John’s sweet, flying vocal is appropriate for this song and for a man so beautifully dressed:

I’ve already written encomia for Becky Kilgore’s guest appearance with this band on WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA — but I’m including this video because I think it cannot be seen too many times:

And to close — a simple Louis blues, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, absolutely exultant:

This music gave and gives so much pleasure that I had trouble finding a title for this posting.  I am content with mine — see the smiles on the faces of the musicians! — but have to share another story, with apologies for the dropping of names.  When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace (now more than a decade ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers.  Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Thank you, Jeff, Dan, Marc, Ralf, Bryan, Katie, John, and Rae Ann — for keeping Beautiful Music Alive!

BECKY CREATES JAZZ SATORI

“Knock-knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Becky Kilgore.”

“Oh, my goodness!  Come in!  May I make you some tea?”

Our Rebecca

Entirely fanciful, I know, but I am honored to welcome the most esteemed Ms. Kilgore to JAZZ LIVES in all her glory.

Becky (or Rebecca), citizen of the world, bringer of joy, much-loved swingstress — all I can say is that when she sings, I feel the same pleasure as when I hear Ben or Bobby or Vic.  Enough said!

Here is a video performance by Becky, the Reynolds Brothers (sublime hot men and no fooling: John on guitar, Ralf on washboard), cornetist Marc Caparone, trumpeter Bryan Shaw, trombonist and wit Dan Barrett, pianist Jeff Barnhart, and bassist Katie Cavera — onstage at Dixieland Monterey, March 5, 2011.

And we owe this video to my pal, saintly and salty and tireless Rae Ann Berry.

One of the things I love most about the great recordings of the Thirties is their sweet seamless ability to mix fun and swing: Fats.  Louis.  Mildred.  The Boswell Sisters.

Perhaps the closest I will ever get to Satori — at least Jazz Satori — is the state of laughing, nearly crying, and moving my body in time, helplessly surrendering myself to joy.  This performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, both impromptu and cohesive, makes me feel just like that.  But onwards.  See for yourself, brothers and sisters:

Readers who wish to watch the clip again (I can’t watch it only once) are allowed to skip what follows — the spectacle of a man deep in love with this music and so grateful for it, explicating it at length — and go back to the clip.  I have put my enthusiasm in italics for those who are enthusiasm-averse or for whom it is contraindicated.  Meet me at the end of the post!

Comedy and deep feeling and joy and swing all intertwine here.  My pleasure starts instantly with Jeff’s sweet, insinuating piano introduction — you know you’re in for a good time when the music starts that way (bless you, Jeff!) and Becky’s got the feeling right off — dig her playful, floppy hand gestures and the smile on John Reynolds’ face.  Katie Cavera hasn’t yet started to swing out, but she’s in the groove — listening to Ralf’s beat.

And Ms. Kilgore starts, in the easiest, most unaffected way, to tell the story of the verse (I’ve found love and my life has changed — let me tell you all about it!) as if she were telling us a life-story, rather than Singing A Song.  Feel the difference?  It’s a deep yet casual human narrative our Becky is unreeling for us.  When Becky gets to “done” and “Mmmmm,” I’m entranced . . . she has my rapt attention!  Notice the expressions on the musicians’ faces — the brass section alternates between puppyish joy (bouncing around in happiness) and deep contemplation.  And how does Ralf swing out so much on one cymbal?  I have to sign up for the correspondence course.

Then we turn the corner into the chorus . . . the audience recognizes the song (you can hear sighs of pleasurable relief-of-suspense) — they relax even more because of the way Becky is floating over that rhythm section.

(Make note: send thanks to Ralf, Jeff, Katie, and John for swinging so luxuriantly.)

Deep listening — being Present — enhances every experience, even if it’s drinking your breakfast coffee — and there is a perfect example of that here: Jeff hits a bass note three times to emphasize a Becky-phrase and the brass section — as one — silently says, “Hey, what a good idea!” and picks it up as a riff.  That phrase is a Louis-idea that the Basie boys picked up . . . all roads lead back to Louis.

And Becky is both deep inside the music and lying in a hammock, free to sing the melody straight while simultaneously embellishing it with bends and dips, changes in timbre, shadings.  A fellow named Bing comes to mind, also a gal named Connee — but it’s all Becky.  Singers, take note!  Players, take note!  What she does with sound, with the beat — a light shines out of her to us.

Dan Barrett.  Ain’t he something?  Hilarious and profound, bringing together Vic and Dicky Wells and Louis and a little bit of Jackie Gleason — showing us how to construct a solo by putting together different pieces, in thirty-two bars, less than a minute.

Bryan and Marc — children of Louis — begin their exalted conversation.  They shout for joy.  I have watched this clip many times since Rae Ann posted it and this is always the moment I find it hard not to cry.  As the late Sam Parkins used to say, “Gets me right in the gizzard!”  I still can’t locate my gizzard, but I know what he meant.

Becky returns for another exploration of the chorus — looser, more playful, gliding like an Olympic ice skater over the notes, over that brass section, over Jeff’s traceries, over that rocking rhythm section.  Her witty blues inflections while Jeff is playing at being Earl Hines!  And the last minute or so of this clip is so full of marvels that to tell all the tale would tax my five wits (memories of Sir Gawain and his Green Stompers) . . . it’s the performance of a lifetime.  Mister Barnhart offers a gallant arm to Miss Kilgore and they walk off the stage . . .

In some ways, the twenty-first century has proven to be grueling.  You can supply your own examples.  But isn’t it a blessing that we can hear and see WHEN I TAKE ME SUGAR TO TEA whenever we want?  It is an honor to live in the same world as the one Becky, Jeff, Dan, John, Ralf, Marc, Bryan, Katie, Rae Ann, and the Brooklyn Kid do.  Thank you.  I bow low before you and your generosities.

And that’s no stage joke.

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“MY HI-DE-HO MAN” (1936)

This bouncy performance from October 25, 1936, owes its existence to a few fortunate coincidences. 

That new invention, the jukebox, meant that record labels in the Thirties saw a market for pop music recorded inexpensively for listeners eager for danceable novelties. 

So Fats Waller and Henry “Red” Allen gave encouragement to Bob Howard, Tempo King, Putney Dandridge, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, and the overlooked Lil Armstrong, whose last name and ebullience were enough to make Decca Records interested in her.  (Also, a woman-pianist-singer-composer-personality was their idea of good value for one salary.) 

Then, the Fletcher Henderson band was playing a long residency at the Grand Terrace in Chicago: Fletcher’s star sidemen Buster Bailey (clarinet), Chu Berry (tenor sax), Huey Long (guitar), and Joe Thomas (trumpet) were available and eager to make some easy money on their own.  Teddy Cole took over the piano; John Frazier played bass.  Roy Eldridge might have wanted to lead his own date; Sidney Catlett was off having fun. 

And the idea of a “hi-de-ho” man leads back to the immense popularity of both Cab Calloway and his jive talk . . . all things combined to make this wonderful piece of music: meant to be ephemeral but still entertaining us more than seventy-five years later. 

Now, settle in and enjoy the strong pulse of that drumless rhythm section (with Huey Long’s solo passage late in the record), Teddy Cole’s glistening piano — shades of Hines and Wilson — on top.  Then, Joe Thomas — no one’s played like him yet!  Careful yet soulful, taking his time, outlining the melody but offering his own embellishments.  He loved upward arpeggios (shades of 1927 Louis) and repeated notes (all his own, as was that lovely tone).  Thomas’s playing always combines delicacy and earnestness: he has something he wants to tell us, but it’s not going to be bold or overemphatic. 

Then a key change to bring on the Star — jivey, enthusiastic, full of ginger and pep, singing lyrics that don’t make a lot of sense but we don’t care.  (“I’m going to bump that ball . . . ?”) while the band gets more lively in back of her.  Buster Bailey, who could sometimes sound mechanical, now bends a note or two in the hot fashion of Ed Hall —  and Lil comes back for more, with Joe generating a good deal of heat behind her singing.  (All this romping has been created in eighty seconds: the jazz masters of the Thirties certainly didn’t need a great deal of room to warm up the world.) 

And then a sweet chorded interlude from Huey Long  and John Frazier, coming through clearly even now, preparing us for the drama to follow, Chu Berry in flight, his phrases tumbling, his tone shifting and shading as he ascends and descends.  Then tout ensemble, rollicking: Lil riding the rhythm wave of the band, the horns — with space and time enough for a four-bar string bass break — before the end: what Joe plays in the final fifteen selections of this disc is priceless.   Yes, there’s some Eldridge-osmosis there (those phrases were the common tongue for trumpeters in 1936 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went back to Mr. Strong) but Joe is floating on top of the beat just as he seems to be urging the band on to a joyous finale.

And these recordings aren’t well known and haven’t had much existence on compact disc.  Yes, there’s a Classics compilation but it’s been out of print and costly for some time.  I wouldn’t take anything from Billie or Fats, but their colleagues, swinging happily for other labels in these years, deserve our attention, too.

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“A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE”: JEFF BARNHART / DANNY COOTS 2010

There was a time — let’s say 1936 — where the pop hits of the day were getting recorded regularly in small-band jazz versions. 

The songs were often paper-thin and sounded as if they’d been written in half an hour in the pastoral fields of the Brill Building, but it didn’t matter. 

Who recorded them?  Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Tempo King, Red Allen, Red McKenzie, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Bob Howard come to mind.  The records were made for the jukebox market and jazz collectors treasure them for their good-time atmosphere and the hot playing. 

I haven’t ever seen a jukebox stocked with new Vocalion and Decca 78s, and don’t expect to in this century.  But I did find this YouTube video of pianist-singer Jeff Barnhart and drummer Danny Coots performing A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE at the 2010 West Coast Ragtime Festival (it’s nicely recorded by my yet-unmet pal Tom Warner) and it absolutely made my day, suggesting Fats and Slick Jones and a whole era that I thought I’d only hear on records.  Good for stompin’, as Lips Page would say:

Did you get up this morning feeling gloomy?  Growly?  Overwhelmed by things to do?  Might I suggest a consult with Doctors Barnhart and Coots: this will cure many of those ills that affect modern men and women . . . or your co-pay will be refunded.  Cheerfully!

ENGLAND SWINGS!

“like a pendulum do,” is the Sixties refrain that comes to mind, but I have other evidence to present here. 

Our UK sojourn so far has offered many charity shops and second-hand bookshops, and a few jazz oases, potential and real.  The potential one was spotted in York: unfortunately, in the fashion of used CD shops, it didn’t open until later than we could stay, but these two photos point to its engaging possibilities:

Mildly interesting from a distance . . . better when close-up:

I will hasten to say that I don’t long for either of those records — but I admire and was amused by the sensibility that would put Bunk and Joe Pass center stage amidst the other musics.

I can’t say more about REBOUND because I never got inside.  But about the ALBION BEATNIK BOOKSTORE I can go on enthusiastically. 

We have found Oxford just delightful — varying areas of antiquity and modernity, a wide variety of people (and dogs and cats), gardens, a canal to walk along . . . .  Down the street from us, I saw both THE LAST BOOKSHOP (devoted to two-pound remaindered books — a fine thing) and across from it, at 34 Walton Street (01865 511345) the ALBION BEATNIK.  Frankly I was skeptical: could it be a UK bookstore devoted to Kerouac, Kesey, and Burroughs? 

I walked in with the Beloved, who spotted this beautifully painted door (the artist is Chris Vinz, and his design consciously harks back to the Forties) which is the first picture of this posting.  That was beautiful in itself.  But those doors swung open to reveal a thrilling collection of jazz compact discs in alphabetical order, new, fairly priced:

I’m afraid I began to pant and sweat at this display, and only Prudence (that restraining girl) held me back.  But I did buy three Chronological Classics discs that had otherwise eluded me: a Trummy Young, a Buck Clayton, and the last volume of the Putney Dandridge series, another Buck, a Bruce Turner — irresistible discs.  I saw a small shelf of jazz books, hemmed in by more popular tomes.  Then the very quiet man in charge, Dennis, pointed me to the rear of the store, where a bookshelf held what has to be the finest collection of jazz literature I’ve ever seen.  Not one book related to Louis, but nearly ten . . . and books I’d never heard of.  The two-volume set by Edward and Monroe Berger devoted to the life and music of Benny Carter, for another glowing example.  Only the thought of the weight of our luggage held me back, but I know that I could reach the shop in cyberspace at http://www.albionbeatnik@yahoo.co.uk whenever the need or the urge strikes.  Long may they prosper! 

You’ll have to see for yourself.

NEW FAVORITES!

Since I am old-fashioned and like my recorded music in tangible form (no liner notes on a mp3 download) I surround myself with compact discs in arrangements both vertical and horizontal.  However, this post is not about Jazz Decor, but to celebrate three new discs that readers should know about.  And, even better, they are performances by living musicians, people you could actually see and hear in person. 

chasing_shadowsThe first is CHASING SHADOWS, by “Spats and his Rhythm Boys.”  (WVR 1005) “Spats,” of course, is singer / plectrist Spats Langham, who’s appeared on this site in a video clip.  On this disc, he’s accompanied by trumpeter Mike Durham, trombonist Paul Munnery, reed wizard Norman Field, Keith Nichols on piano and accordion, John Carstairs Hallam, string bass, Frans Sjostrom, bass sax, Nick Ward, drums, and Mike Piggott, violin.  The sessions were recorded in November 2008, and a glance at the tune listing will tell all: Spats and friends are thoroughly steeped in the “hot jazz with vocal refrain” of the late Twenties, extended forward into the late Thirties (from Cliff Edwards and Bing Crosby to Jimmy Rushing and Putney Dandridge): CRAZY WORDS, CRAZY TUNE / CHASING SHADOWS / I’M IN THE SEVENTH HEAVEN / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS / HANG ON TO ME / ME AND THE MOON / ACCORDION JOE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / BROWN BOTTLE BLUES / WHAT DO I CARE WHAT SOMEBODY SAID? / HALFWAY TO HEAVEN / SMILIN’ SAM / OH, IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN / HIAWATHA’S LULLABY / YOU DO THE DARNEDEST THINGS, BABY / SWING BRIDGE STOMP.

Like Barbara Rosene and a very few other singers, Spats isn’t trying to offer CD-quality imitations of the original recordings.  Rather, he gets inside the idiom, so that you hear the sound of the period, the rhythmic energy, the delicate ornamentations — but it’s all new.  And hugely entertaining!  He has a light tenor voice, but he has listened thoroughly to Crosby and post-Crosby as well.  On this disc, his singing is thoroughly integrated into a hot improvising ensemble.  I would have wanted this CD because of Sjostrom, Field, Nichols, and Ward — but the best surprise is the playing of trumpeter Mike Durham.  Many trumpeters are in love with the sheer power of their instrument; they shout and carry on.  Mike can, of course, do this capably — leading an ensemble majestically.  But his more usual mode of expression is tender, inquiring, almost pleading.  You need to hear him if you haven’t already!  And his composition SMILIN’ SAM (dedicated to his happy grandson) is a wonderful mood piece with Norman Field on bass clarinet — instantly memorable. 

For information about ordering this CD, visit http://uk.geocities.com/mdurham@btinternet.com/wjrk/recordings.htm.  By email, contact mikedurham_jazz@hotmail.com., or (the old-fashioned way) write to WVR Records at 60 Highbury, Newcatle upon Tyne, NE2 2LN. 

Ray Skjelbred CDI’ve been listening to pianist Ray Skjelbred and drummer Hal Smith for some time in a variety of settings — Ray, playing Frank Melrose songs or cowboy ballads, Hal, rocking every band he’s ever been with.  Ray’s new CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO (Jazzology Records, recorded August 2008), is a real winner, featuring delectable hot jazz from Ray, Hal, clarinetist Kim Cusack, guitarist Katie Cavera, and Clint Baker on a variety of songs, familiar and rare, each one with deep associations: OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY “MAYBE”) / SUGAR / MY GALVESTON GAL / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / BULL FROG BLUES / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / IDOLIZING / I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS / FRIARS POINT SHUFFLE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN / SHANGHAI HONEYMOON / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / UP A LAZY RIVER / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / AM I BLUE? / LAUGHING AT YOU / RING DEM BELLS.  This group knows how, through long playing experience, to approach each song on its own terms — wistful or fiery — and the down-home vocals by each member of the quintet are charming.  I have a special fondness for the repertoire of the early Red Allen Vocalions, and my hunger has been satisfied by this band’s versions of MY GALVESTON GAL and I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS.  (But it sure sounds good to me!)  This one’s available through Jazzology and perhaps other places online: for information, visit   http://www.jazzology.com/index.php.

GILL 3Finally, a sentimental favorite.  When I encountered guitarist / singer / multi-instrumentalist John Gill in a club in 2007, he casually told me that he was planning to record a tribute to Bing Crosby, focusing on the dreamy (and often swinging) repertoire of 1931-35.  As politely as I could, I beseeched John to let me be part of this project: Crosby is one of my heroes, and that period of Crosbyana is a consistent delight.  John, most graciously, invited me to the sessions and I ended up writing the notes for the CD, which was immensely rewarding.  The performances on this disc are sweet evocations with a pulsing jazz heart — accompaniment and solos by Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet and trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Matt Munisteri (guitar and banjo), Orange Kellin, Dan Levinson, Marc Phaneuf (reeds), Conal Fowkes (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums), Brian Nalepka (bass and tuba), Andy Stein, Matt Szemela (violins).  The songs are beautiful and well-chosen: DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / HAPPY-GO-LUCKY YOU / A FADED SUMMER LOVE / STAR DUST / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY / IF I HAD YOU / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / STREET OF DREAMS / BABY – OH WHERE CAN YOU BE? / SWEET LEILANI – BLUE HAWAII / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / MUDDY WATER / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / PLEASE / WERE YOU SINCERE? / WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOW-DOWN / RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET / WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / LEARN TO CROON / OUT OF NOWHERE.

I managed to make two of the three sessions, and when I walked into the first one and the band was running through DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — well, I was transported.  John’s vocals are touching; the band is sensitive and danceable; the session is a priceless tribute.  The CD is available at a variety of online sources (Jazz By Mail, Worlds Records) but the nicest thing would be to buy a copy directly from John himself at a New York gig.  He’ll be happy to sign it, too.  (And he has enough material for another volume or two: I hope to hear him record RIDIN’ ROUND IN THE RAIN someday.)

P.S.  I know all about the economy, and if your restaurant has closed or you are looking for work, I apologize for suggesting that you buy things that are perhaps less essential than coffee or shoes.  But if you’re managing to limp along with some degree of optimism, if you’ve decided that your aging car can hold out another year or that you don’t really need a new suit to go with the others in the closet, then you might consider one or all of these new CDs.  For less than the cost of a prix-fixe dinner, they lift the spirits.

SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT

During the Swing Era, it seemed that swinging women singers (the trade magazines called them “chirps”) were everywhere: Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Maxine Sullivan, Helen Ward, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Connee Boswell, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Teddy Grace, and two dozen others.  Now, many years later, the ranks have thinned to a very precious few.  Many of the more famous “jazz singers” veer unattractively into melodrama of one kind or another.  I won’t sully this blog by listing their names, but they have little relation to the art as we know it. 

What might jazz singing consist of — leaving aside the more colorful extremes exemplified by genuises such as Leo Watson and Betty Carter?  How about a neat yet undefinable mix of these qualities: feeling (strong yet controlled), understanding of the lyrics and their emotional potential, innately swinging time, a sense of humor, clear delivery, an ability to improvise on the same level as the best instrumentalists . . .

Molly Ryan, whose new CD I am celebrating here, SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT, knows the jazz tradition but isn’t trapped inside it.  She has a lovely pure voice, with an especially crystalline upper register, but she isn’t imprisoned by that either.   

cd-songbirdinthemoonlight  When I first heard Molly sing a few years ago, I thought she had good qualities in abundance: she swung, she was enthusiastic without overacting, she had fine time and clear diction, and she sang as if she knew what the words meant.  Her second choruses didn’t simply repeat her first, and she sounded greatly like Helen Ward.  Now, I’m not always in favor of what Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like” as an artistic goal, but Helen Ward was someone special, her vocal beauties not always recognized.  She was passionately earnest without being histrionic, and she had a sweet little cry in her voice — hard to explain but instantly recognizable. 

Molly’s CD shows that she has completely understood the lessons Ward taught on every record date.  Even better, Molly sounds very much like herself.  And what, you might ask, does that sound like?  The flip answer would be, “Buy the CD and find out for yourself,” but my readers deserve better.  Molly’s voice is sweet without being sticky, with a certain winsomeness.  She isn’t venturing into the dark land of High Tragedy on this CD, except for her evocation of “All the Sad Young Men”.  She swings easily and conveys feeling with great style.  A gentle tenderness imbues every track.  I particularly appreciated her warm approach to “I Was Lucky” and “Around the World,” although she drives “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” in fine style.   

The Twenties tradition was that there usually was a gap between the soloist and the accompaniment, or the singer and the band — Bessie Smith sang majestically but her colleagues were sometimes leaden.  Or we waited for Putney Dandridge to finish so that Chu Berry could play.  Here, Molly exists easily and comfortably on the same high level as the fine jazz players around her: Dan Levinson on clarinet and tenor; Mark Shane on piano; Kevin Dorn on drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, on three of the eighteen tracks. 

In Levinson’s graceful clarinet playing I hear a good deal of Mr. Goodman, but he isn’t merely copying the King’s pet phrases.  He is mobile without being ornate, always to the point.  His tenor playing, smooth and persuasive, reminds me of Eddie Miller (someone whose name you don’t hear often, which is a pity).  And his homespun singing in “By Myself” is quietly charming.  Kevin Dorn knows all there is to know about irresistibly swinging brushwork that urges the band forward without drmanding the spotlight.  I’d like everyone to pay much closer attention to Mark Shane — his solos dance and glitter; his accompaniment lifts and enlivens.  Shane’s four-bar introductions are wonderful compositions in themselves.  And Jon-Erik is in splendid empathic form on “It’s Wonderful,” “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”

This is a wonderfully-realized CD, with beautifully intimate recorded sound courtesy of Peter Karl, a rewardingly diversified repertoire, insightful and gracious liner notes . . . . I couldn’t ask for anything more except for a sequel in the immediate future.  For more information about Molly, visit her website at www.mollyryan.com.  To purchase this CD, email loupgarous@aol.com., or visit www.loupgarous.com.  Of course, both Molly and Dan will have copies at their gigs, which will afford you the double pleasure of hearing them live and taking home a jazz souvenir.