Tag Archives: race

MILT GABLER APPROVES: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 4, 2014)

Few readers of JAZZ LIVES were actually enjoying the music on Fifty-Second Street, or at a Jimmy Ryan’s jam session, or were in the audience after-hours in Harlem, Chicago, or Kansas City.  What we have now are reminiscences, photographs, and the very rare live recording.  We have to rely on issued recordings for evocations of those times and places, and — infrequently — live performances in this century.  Every so often, I am sitting in front of a band whose musical energy is so wise, so deep, and so intense, that I say to myself, “That’s what it might have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens,” or “uptown in 1941,” or “at the Reno Club.”

This performance — recorded on November 4, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — made me think, “This is an unissued Commodore session . . . rejected because it ran too long.”  I don’t have higher praise than that, and since I think the dead know, I believe that Milt Gabler is feeling the good spirits too.

Milt Gabler

Milt Gabler

 

The musicians (or wizards of feeling?) are Ray Skjelbred, piano and inspiration; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jim Buchmann, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

The song chosen is really a layer-cake of three.  First, DIGA DIGA DOO (by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields) — a song made for romping, even though its people-of-color-are-so-hedonistic lyrics are now hard to sing.  It’s overlaid by KRAZY KAPERS, a riff created at the 1933 “Chocolate Dandies” session overseen by John Hammond (the awful band title aside, it was a hot mixed group), and then the song that Ray murmurs about — the one that went too long at Carnegie Hall — Louis Prima’s SING SING SING, with or without commas, which gives Ray a chance to evoke Jess Stacy, always welcome.

When I was busily setting up the video on YouTube — writing a title, description, and creating tags, one of the suggested tabs that the YT machinery came up with was

Wow

My feelings exactly.

It’s in moments like this — nearly seven minutes of moments — that I feel I’m doing the important work of my life (with no offense meant to the students I teach) . . . attempting to make the evanescent permanent, attempting to make the local heroes world-famous.  It makes the knapsack with cameras and tripod feel feathery, not burdensome.

Commodore label

And — quite relevant to this music — I just read that Mosaic Records has completed an eight-CD set of the complete Commodore and Decca recordings of Eddie Condon and Bud Freeman, which will be available in mid-April.  Need I say more?

May your happiness increase!

 

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FRIENDS OF FATS (Part Two): SUE, CHRIS, and EDDIE (March 7, 2014)

FATS TO SEDRIC

One of the pleasures of regularly attending the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay (the first weekend of March) is the delicious musical program put on for Road Scholars by Sue Kroninger, Chris Calabrese, and Eddie Erickson (vocal and lively edification; piano and ditto; vocal and banjo, respectively).

This year, on March 7, it was the life and times of Fats Waller, which I’ve titled FRIENDS OF FATS for the alliterative bounce it offers. Here’s the first half: erudite without being stuffy — witty, joyous, and tender — much like its subject.

And the second:

I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:

A solo by Chris, ALLIGATOR CRAWL:

THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART:

Another solo, VIPER’S DRAG:

KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW:

LULU’S BACK IN TOWN:

TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE:

SWEET AND SLOW:

Another solo, and a good thing, THE JITTERBUG WALTZ:

THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’:

Some impatient viewers will want “to get to the music.” However, Sue has done intriguing research and she ties the threads together with great skill.  Even though I have read biographies of Fats, Sue had new stories for me, and the presentation was delightfully unlike an academic lecture. (I wish there were programs like this all across the country, and for audiences who had never heard of Harlem stride piano or Bluebird Records.)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know that I cherish great jazz pianists playing today as well as the great Begetters of the Past.  I won’t dare embark on a list for fear of leaving someone out and creating a mortal wound. But how many people have listened seriously to the man in the brightly colored shirt at the piano bench — one Chris Calabrese. Beautiful playing here! I don’t just mean his obvious gleaming technical mastery, but the small subtleties: the surprising passing chords, the wonderful harmonic shifts and nuances, and the lovely elastic swing — what seems like an effortless glide but anyone who’s ever come near a piano is true artistry.  Chris is A Master — and more people need to know about him.

A word about the other two people onstage.  Susan Kroninger is more often referred to as “Big Mama Sue,” but I don’t care for that overly familiar monicker.  To me, she is a swinging percussionist (catch those wire whisks!) and a deep, warm singer — capable of jolliness and great affectionate seriousness. The fellow with the banjo, Eddie Erickson, has a million ways to make us laugh — but he is a wonderfully sincere singer and a real string virtuoso.  This team has a delightful chemistry: they are clearly enjoying themselves, and they don’t plan to leave us out.

This band — Sue, Chris, and Eddie, with one crucial addition — Clint Baker on tuba and perhaps other instruments (!) — will be performing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 25, 26, 27, 2014.  Details here.  They swing; they enlighten; they spread joy.

May your happiness increase! 

FRIENDS OF FATS (Part One): SUE, CHRIS, and EDDIE (March 7, 2014)

Any friend of Fats is a friend of mine.

FATS TO SEDRIC

One of the pleasures of regularly attending the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay (the first weekend of March) is the delicious musical program put on for Road Scholars by Sue Kroninger, Chris Calabrese, and Eddie Erickson (vocal and lively edification; piano and ditto; vocal and banjo, respectively).

This year, on March 7, it was the life and times of Fats Waller, which I’ve titled FRIENDS OF FATS for the alliterative bounce it offers. Here’s the first half: erudite without being stuffy, witty and tender — much like its subject.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

SQUEEZE ME:

I AIN’T GOT NOBODY:

STRIDE PIANO and HANDFUL OF KEYS:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

BLACK AND BLUE:

Some impatient viewers will want “to get to the music.” However, Sue has done intriguing research, and even though I have read biographies of Fats, I was reminded of details I had forgotten, and she ties the threads together with great skill — this is no academic lecture, for sure. (I wish there were programs like this all across the country, and for audiences who had never heard of Harlem stride piano or Bluebird Records.)

Two, readers of JAZZ LIVES know that I cherish great jazz pianists playing today as well as the great Begetters of the Past.  I won’t dare embark on a list for fear of leaving someone out and creating a mortal wound. But how many people have listened seriously to the man in the brightly colored shirt at the piano bench — one Chris Calabrese. Beautiful playing here! I don’t just mean his obvious gleaming technical mastery, but the small subtleties: the surprising passing chords, the wonderful harmonic shifts and nuances, and the lovely elastic swing — what seems like an effortless glide but anyone who’s ever come near a piano is true artistry.  Chris is A Master — and more people need to know about him.

A word about the other two people onstage.  Susan Kroninger is more often referred to as “Big Mama Sue,” but I don’t care for that useful appellation.  To me, she is a swinging percussionist (catch those wire whisks!) and a deep, warm singer — capable of jolliness and great affectionate seriousness. The fellow with the banjo, Eddie Erickson, has a million ways to make us laugh — but he is a wonderfully sincere singer and a real string virtuoso.  This team has a delightful chemistry: they are clearly enjoying themselves, and they don’t plan to leave us out.

Three, this band — Sue, Chris, and Eddie, with one crucial addition — Clint Baker on tuba and perhaps other instruments (!) — will be performing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 25, 26, 27, 2014.  Details here.  They swing; they enlighten; they spread joy.

And there’s a second part of the Fats program . . . to come.

May your happiness increase! 

THINKING ABOUT LOUIS, THINKING ABOUT RACE

Marc Caparone, Ricky Riccardi, and Michael Cogswell, considering important matters

If you travel in the same musical circles as I do, the name “Ricky Riccardi” won’t be new to you.  He is the creator of an extraordinary blog, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/ — which offers generous helpings of insight, music, and affection on a regular basis; he is Project Archivist for the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College; he is the author of a splendid book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (http://www.amazon.com/What-Wonderful-World-Magic-Armstrongs/dp/0307378446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295474262&sr=8-1) which will be published in May 2011.  (And he’s an improvising jazz pianist, so a diminished chord is no mystery to him.) 

Ricky is a great jazz scholar and diligent excavator of facts, but he is more than a pale library drone: his love of his subject (that’s Mr. Armstrong) is an intense, enlivening thing — so that Louis, never dead, is even more alive when Ricky talks about him, something Ricky is not reluctant to do. 

But uncritical love can get boring to an outsider: what Ricky offers us on his chosen subject is a deep understanding.  He has carefully and thoroughly undermined many of the shallow but ferociously-held critical statements about Louis: that Louis peaked somewhere in 1927, or 1934, or another date; that Louis relied on memorized routines and had lost all creativity in his last quarter-century; that Louis had abandoned “jazz” for “entertainment.”  His research rests firmly on a constant, day-to-day involvement with first-hand materials, and it is thus evidence-based rather than speculative. 

All of this is prelude to the announcement that Ricky will be speaking on the rich and complex topic of “Louis Armstrong and Race,” in celebration of Black History Month 2011 — not once, but four times — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  His talk will cover a multitude of fascinating topics — from Louis’s birth and childhood in New Orleans to his mid-Fifties public explosions on behalf of civil rights.  I hope he’ll tell the joke that begins with another musician sticking his head into Louis’s dressing room and asking, “Hey, Pops!  What’s new?” but I don’t know if he’ll be taking requests. 

For those readers who stay in after dark, these presentations will take place in the serene afternoon: 1 and 3 PM on Saturday, February 12, and February 26.  The house is located at 34-56 107th Street, and admission to the museum (which includes the presentation) is $8 for adults and $6 for children.  Space is limited, so please call 718-478-8274 or email reservations@louisarmstronghouse.com. to reserve your seat.  I’ll be there, although I don’t yet know which day. 

Visit http://www.louisarmstronghouse.com. for details.

WHO ERASED MILDRED BAILEY?

I have been listening to Mildred Bailey’s singing since the early Seventies, when I found the three-record Columbia set devoted to her recordings from 1929-47.  And she never fails to move me — with her tenderness, her technique, her wit.  But Mildred has very few champions these days.  Even the late Whitney Balliett, whose taste and judgment were unparalleled, wrote that Mildred succeeded neither as a pop singer or a jazz one.  And if you were to ask the most well-informed listener who the greatest women jazz singers are, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald would head the list (if not two dozen others ranging from Diana Krall to Shirley Horn to Ella Logan to Marion Harris) . . . but Mildred is forgotten, or all but forgotten.

Why?

It can’t be because of her race.  We finally have come to accept that White folks can swing, can’t we?

Some of her invisibility has to do with her elusiveness.  Billie and Ella have established, defined “personalities,” which ironically might have little relationship to what they sang.  “Billie Holiday” as an iconic figure equals self-destructive heroin addict, short-lived victim, a tortured figure, someone for whom MY MAN or DON’T EXPLAIN was painful autobiography.  Subject of a bad melodramatic movie; a ghost-written “autobiography” and several biographies as well as documentary films.  And the most accessible visual image of Billie is from the 1957 THE SOUND OF JAZZ — careworn, rueful, lovely.  There is the engaging rasp of her voice in te Thirties, the moody cry and croak of her later recordings.

“Ella Fitzgerald” is sunny exuberance, scat-singing, someone making a jazzy version of the American songbook accessible to anyone in the Fifties who owned a record player.  A cheerful endurance, whether alongside Chick Webb, Louis, Basie, or Ellington.  Everyman and woman’s identifiable Jazz Singer, easy to understand. 

Today marketers call this “branding,” boiling down the unique self into a few immediately recognizable qualities — as if people were products to be put in the shopping cart in a hurry.   

Then there is the issue of size. 

In Charles Peterson’s 1939 photographs of Billie that I have posted recently, we see a seriously chubby young woman.  Ella was always a large woman, but no one said anything about it.  Some astute listeners did not worry about a woman singer’s weight.  Think of Wagnerian sopranos.  Think of Kate Smith.  Did anyone care that Connee Boswell could not get off the piano bench?  And men are forgiven a great deal.   

But in pop music, listeners tend to be much more fickle, visually oriented, even shallow.  It is difficult to escape Mildred Bailey’s appearance.  She was fat, and not “fat” in a jolly way — not the way that some Twenties blues singers could use to their advantage: Helen Humes or Edith Wilson singing about their weight as a sexual asset (Miss Wilson’s lyric: “Why should men approach with caution / For this extry-special portion?”).  Aside from laughing at herself during the January 1944 Metropolitan Opera House jam session — while singing “Pick me up / On your knee” in SQUEEZE ME, she and the band are chuckling at the difficulty of such a task — Mildred did not joke about her size, nor did she make it part of “an act.” 

Many listeners want their popular icons to be erotically desirable.  Sex sells; sex appeals.  Eventually, as they age,  singers pass an invisible boundary and become Venerable.  Think of all the cover pictures of singers, male and female, posed as if on magazine covers — Lee Wiley reclining on a couch on one of the Fifties RCA Victors; Julie London smoldering, her long red-blonde hair flowing.  Misses Krall and Tierney Sutton, today.  (I receive many new CDs by young women who consider themselves singers.  They look like models.  They credit a hair stylist, a wardrobe consultant, a make-up artist.  I think, “Can you sing?”)

Consider Mildred’s contemporaries: pretty, svelte, apparently youthful forever: Peggy Lee, Edythe Wright, Helen Ward, even Doris Day.  But Mildred’s photographs make her look matronly, and she is making no effort to woo the viewer. 

Let us even give audiences of the Thirties and Forties the benefit of the doubt.  If you did not live in a big American city, how many opportunities would you have to see Mildred Bailey and to judge her on the basis of her size rather than her art?  Possibly you saw her on the cover of a piece of sheet music or stared at the label of one of her Vocalion 78s, heard her on the radio.  No film footage exists of her.   

There is the nature of Mildred’s art.  Many artists have one approach, whether they are singing EMPTY BED BLUES of SILENT NIGHT.  If she was singing DOWNHEARTED BLUES, she was lowdown and melancholy (while swinging); LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN and GIVE ME TIME brought out different kinds of tenderness.  On CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU and ARTHUR MURRAY TAUGHT ME DANCING IN A HURRY, she was hilarious.  IT’S SO PEACEFUL IN THE COUNTRY was calm and pastoral, THANKS FOR THE MEMORY rueful, knowing.  And IN LOVE IN VAIN is, althought masterfully understated, a heartbreaking performance.  Versatility is bad for branding; it confuses the consumer.   

As a band singer — the first woman to be hired in that role — with Paul Whiteman and her husband Red Norvo, she recorded a good many songs that were forgettable: THREE LITTLE FISHIES, for one.  Perhaps the girlish quality of Mildred’s upper register may have disconcerted some listeners, who would prefer their jazz singers to be plaintive and husky.  But arguing over the definitions of a jazz singer and a pop singer seems a silly business.  Do you like what you hear?  

Although we can feel both fascinated and sympathetic while considering Billie’s difficult life, Ella’s poor childhood, Mildred would have had a hard time making diabetes and obesity intriguing to us. 

I also suspect that those who ignore her Mildred do so not because her voice displeases them, but because she subliminally represents OLD.  I don’t mean OLD in the sense of the past, but in the sense of elderly, of senior citizen.  What bad luck made Mildred identify herself “The Rockin’ Chair Lady?”  Of course, her performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR was superb; she took it as her theme song.  But — when we want our stars to be aerobically bouncy — for Mildred to portray herself as immobilized, unable to get out of her chair, was not a good way to market herself.  (And artists were products even in the Thirties.)     

Alas, poor Mildred.  Were she to apply for a job and be turned down because of her appearance, she could sue, win, and collect a substantial settlement.  But dead artists can’t sue an ignorant public for discrimination. 

Listen to her sing

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JAZZ AND RACE, CONTINUED

I just visited a blog called AfroChat — which features a particularly energized discussion on the question, “Why Don’t Black Folks Listen to Jazz?”  The question is worth asking, certainly.  And I admire the vehemence of the responders, although I cannot share some of their racial assumptions.  I should point out that I am technically Caucasian.  And perhaps the whole question is elusive — why should I, as a teenager in 1965, have found Louis Armstrong more “my music” than the Beatles, even though the latter were what the media and my peers said I was supposed to be listening to?

What if art — unlike the people who discourse on it — IS genuinely color-blind, and the race or ethnicity of an artist has nothing to do with the race or ethnicity of his or her audience? 

And a post titled “Why Don’t Black Folks Listen to Bessie Smith?” would be wrongly restrictive: these days, it should be “Why Don’t People Listen to Bessie Smith?”  Although I am sure someone will write in to say proudly that (s)he hears Bessie just fine, thank you.  And I wonder how many people actually listened to Bessie Smith when she was alive and at the height of her popularity.  I am now of the opinion that even with the big bands of the Swing Era, jazz was never truly the dominant popular music of this country.  In 1940, to pick a year at random, a listener had a far better chance of going to see jazz live, hearing it on the radio, easily finding jazz records as well as people who were aware of it . . . but for every Billie Holiday record there were a dozen records without a dash or a pinch of jazz.  Alas, but it’s easy to prove.  And Louis Armstrong himself admired the music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, I should point out.     

The posting — and the discussion — are well worth reading.  Check them out at  http://www.afrochat.net/forums/music/21186-why-dont-black-folks-listen-jazz.html