Tag Archives: Ralph Sutton

A MUSICAL LANDSCAPE: MARCH 13, 1951

LANDSCAPE WITH BUSHES, Ivana Falconi Allen, 2020.  In a private collection.

The little world we know as jazz has moved so quickly in its hundred-plus years that sometimes it seems precariously balanced between the beloved Living and the heroic Dead.  I can go out in New York City to hear people I admire tremendously blow breath through horns and out of mouths, to make music right in front of me.  But at times jazz seems like a well-tended graveyard, with death announcements hitting me between the eyes every morning, adding to the great graveyard where Buster, Bessie, Billie, Bean, Brownie, Blanton, Ben, Bix, Big Sid, and Bunny are buried.

Where the music I am about to present — thanks to our great friend “Davey Tough” — fits in this formulation is a large charming paradox.  I do not think any of the players on this transcription disc, recorded before my birth, are alive in 2020.  But their music is resoundingly alive, and their ability to make a shining personal statement in sixteen bars, a time span of under thirty seconds, is marvelous.  Their names are announced, and you can read more on the label.

What’s the moral?

Emulate our great heroes, by doing something so well that when our bodies have said, “All right, that’s enough!” our selves live on.

And like “Davey Tough,” share your joys generously.

And a postscript: if you don’t know the artwork of the endearingly imaginative Ivana Falconi Allen, you are missing work as sharply realized and as delightful as any jazz solo you cherish.  Here is her website, full of sweet shocks.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHT SPARKS, DEEP SHADOWS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, TAL RONEN at MEZZROW (Sept. 16, 2019)

This sign is catnip to me and to other cats — so much so that we were standing in line (in a drizzle) outside of Mezzrow long before the Powers would open the door.  But our perseverance was well rewarded, that night of September 16, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass, got together for a vibrant imaginative session.  Here are a few highlights.

Rossano’s musical beverage, TEA FOR TWO:

Honoring Fathahood, MONDAY DATE:

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (featuring Tal):

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, echoing not only Fats but also Ruby and Ralph:

Rossano’s marriage of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and Fred Chopin, in SHOE SHINE BOY / Waltz, Opus 69, No. 1:

And Jon-Erik’s suggestion that we not leave, STICK AROUND:

Brilliant solo voices, rewarding thoughtful ensemble interplay.  Yes, it happened.

May your happiness increase!

A LEISURELY CONVERSATION OF KINDRED SOULS, or “BLUES FOR MANNIE”: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, HELGE LORENZ, ENGELBERT WROBEL, BERT BOEREN, MENNO DAAMS, ENRICO TOMASSO, BERNARD FLEGAR, NICO GASTREICH, NIELS UNBEHAGEN (April 10, 2016)

You wouldn’t imagine that the serious man (second from left in the photograph, holding a corner of the check) could inspire such joy, but it’s true.  That fellow is my friend and friend to many, Manfred “Mannie” Selchow, jazz concert promoter, jazz scholar, enthusiast, and so much more.  He even has his own Wikipedia page that gives his birthdate, his work history, and more — but it also says that he has organized more than thirty concert tours of Germany that have resulted in many joyous concerts and CDs from them (released on the Nagel-Heyer label) featuring Ralph Sutton, Marty Grosz, Harry Allen, Randy Sandke, Eddie Erickson, Menno Daams, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, Mark Shane, Rossano Sportiello, and hundreds more.

I first met Manfred through the mail: he had published a small but fascinating bio-discography of one of his great heroes, Edmond Hall (whom he heard in 1955 when Ed came to Germany with Louis).  Eager as always, I wrote him to let him know about some Hall I’d heard that he hadn’t.  We began corresponding and traded many tapes.  The slim monograph grew into a huge beautiful book, PROFOUNDLY BLUE, and Manfred then began working on an even more expansively detailed one about Vic Dickenson, DING! DING! which I am proud to have been a small part of.  In 2007, I visited him in his hometown for a weekend of music; I came over again in April 2016 for “Jazz im Rathaus,” which takes place in Imhove.  This 2016 concert weekend was in celebration not only of thirty years of wonderful music, but of Manfred’s eightieth birthday.

The concert weekend was marvelous, full of music from the people you see below and others, including Nicki Parrott, Stephanie Trick, and Paolo Alderighi. However, one of the most satisfying interludes of the weekend took place near the end — a JATP-themed set led by Matthias Seuffert.  And Matthias, who has excellent ideas, had this one: to play a blues for Mannie.  Now, often “Blues for [insert name here]” is elegiac, since the subject has died.  Happily, this isn’t the case.  What it is, is a medium-tempo, rocking, cliche-free evocation of the old days made new — honoring our friend Mannie.  The players are Bernard Flegar, drums; Niels Unbehagen, piano; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Nico Gastreich, string bass; Bert Boeren, trombone; Engelbert Wrobel, Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Menno Daams, Enrico Tomasso, trumpet.  What a groove!

I think the world — in its perilous state — needs blues like this (homeopathically) to drive away the real ones we face, and this nearly ten-minute example of singular individuals working together lovingly in swing for a common purpose is a good model for all of us.  Thanks to the always-inspiring Mannie for all he’s done and continues to do.

P.S.  This post was originally prepared for the faithful readers and listeners shortly after the music was performed, but technical difficulties of a rather tedious sort interfered . . . and now you can see what we all saw a few years back.  Thanks for holding, as they say in telephone conversations.  And if Manfred is still somewhat computer-averse, I hope someone will share this post with him.

May your happiness increase!

MR. WILBER, THE SAGE

Days gone by: December 1946, Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Glasel, Charlie Trager, Eddie Phyfe. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Robert Sage Wilber, born in 1928, who never played an ugly or graceless note in his life, has left us.  I first heard him on recordings more than fifty years ago, and saw him in person first in 1970 with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  He was a magnificently consistent player — his time, his intonation, his creativity, his vital force, his melodic lyricism — and one of the world’s most versatile.  He didn’t care to be “innovative” in the best modern way, but kept refining his art, the art of Louis and Bechet and Teddy Wilson, every time he played.

People who didn’t quite understand his masteries (the plural is intentional) thought of him as derivative, whatever that means, but even when he was playing SONG OF SONGS in the Bechet manner or WARM VALLEY for the Rabbit, he was recognizably himself: passionate and exact at the same time, a model of how to do it.  And if you appreciate the jazz lineage, a man who performed with Baby Dodds, Tommy Benford, Kaiser Marshall, Joe Thomas, Sidney Catlett, Billy Strayhorn, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Leeman . . . so deeply connected to the past while remaining fiercely active, has moved to another neighborhood.  I send my condolences to his wife, the singer Pug Horton, and his family.

I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Bob — not only as an admiring spectator of Soprano Summit, where he and Kenny Davern were equally matched — but as an admiring jazz journalist and videographer.  He was not worried about what I captured: he was confident in himself and he trusted that the music would carry him.  Here are some glimpses of the Sage in action, in music and in speech.

Rare photographs and music from 1947 here.

A session with David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band (2010) and Daryl Sherman here.

Two parts of an intimate session at Smalls in 2012 with Ehud Asherie and Pug Horton as well here and here.

And a particular prize: a two-part 2015 interview session (thanks to Pug!) here and here.

More than a decade ago, when I began this blog, I worked hard to keep away from the temptations of necrology — my joke is that I didn’t want it to be JAZZ DIES — but if I didn’t write and post something about Robert Sage Wilber, I’d never forgive myself.  We will keep on admiring and missing him as long as there is music.

May your happiness increase!  

THE WORLD’S GREATEST JAZZ BAND: YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, GUS JOHNSON, DICK WELLSTOOD, BOB WILBER, BUD FREEMAN, SONNY RUSSO, BENNIE MORTON, MAXINE SULLIVAN // AL KLINK, PEANUTS HUCKO, GEORGE MASSO, RALPH SUTTON, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (1975)

I wouldn’t have known of these programs (now shared with us on the Musikladen YouTube channel) except for my good friend, the fine drummer Bernard Flegar.  They are rich and delicious.

The WGJB lasted from the late Sixties (when they were a development of the Nine / Ten Greats of Jazz, sponsored by Dick Gibson) to 1978.  In some ways, they were both a touring assemblage of gifted veteran players — I believe Robert Sage Wilber, known to his friends worldwide as Bob, is the sole survivor — and a versatile band that echoed the best of the Bob Crosby units, big and small.  The WGJB came in for a good deal of sneering because of their hyperbolic title, which was Gibson’s idea, not the musicians’, but from the perspective of 2019, they were great, no questions asked.  And they weren’t just a collection of soloists, each taking a turn playing jazz chestnuts (although JAZZ ME BLUES was often on the program); Haggart’s arrangements were splendid evocations of a Swing Era big band with plenty of room, and the WGJB brought its own down-home / Fifty-Second Street energy to current pop tunes (I remember their UP, UP, AND AWAY with delight).  And they played the blues.

I remember them with substantial fondness, because the second jazz concert I went to (the first was Louis in 1967, which is starting at the apex) was held in Town Hall, with Gibson as host, probably in 1970, and it featured the WGJB — Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble on trombones — and a small group with Al and Zoot, possibly Joe Newman, where they performed THE RED DOOR and MOTORING ALONG, titles no one would forget, and Gibson told his anecdote of the white deer.

These two programs seem to have been sophisticated television offerings: multi-camera perspectives with a great deal of editing from one camera to the other, and beginnings and endings that suggest that these were not finished products.  The absence of an audience — or their audible presence — on the first program seems odd, but I don’t mind the quiet.  The WGJB could certainly add its own charging exuberance — hear the final ensemble of CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME — that few bands have matched.

The first program features co-leaders Yank Lawson, trumpet; Bob Haggart, string bass, arrangements; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Bennie Morton, trombone; Sonny Russo, trombone; Dick Wellstood, piano; Gus Johnson, drums; Maxine Sullivan, guest vocalist, and the songs performed are BLUES / MERCY, MERCY, MERCY / DOODLE DOO DOO / THE EEL (featuring its composer, Bud Freeman) / THAT’S A PLENTY (featuring Bob Wilber and Dick Wellstood) / A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY (featuring Maxine Sullivan) / THE LADY IS A TRAMP (Maxine) / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE/ MY INSPIRATION (closing theme) //:

And here’s another forty-five minute program, presumably aired October 17 of the same year, with certain personnel changes — this time there’s an audience but the band is also dressed with great casualness: Ralph Sutton, piano; Al Klink, tenor saxophone; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; George Masso and Sonny Russo, trombones; Lawson, Haggart, Butterfield, and Maxine, performing AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / BASIN STREET BLUES (featuring Masso) / CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME (featuring Sutton) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (featuring Lawson and Butterfield) / LIMEHOUSE BLUES (featuring Russo and Masso) / HARLEM BUTTERFLY / EV’RY TIME (featuring Maxine Sullivan) / ST. LOUIS BLUES / STAR DUST (featuring Klink) / RUNNIN’ WILD (featuring Hucko) / BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (featuring Haggart and Rosengarden) / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE / MY INSPIRATION //:

The repertoire for the longer program is more familiar, with few surprises, but that band could roar as well as play pretty ballads and its own version of Thirties funk.  What unexpected treasures these programs are.

May your happiness increase!

STATE OF THE ART: DALTON RIDENHOUR and EVAN ARNTZEN (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri: June 2, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Duet playing in any genre is difficult — making two into one while keeping the individuals’ individualities afloat.  Improvised duet playing, as you can imagine, might be the most wonderful soaring dance of all but it is fraught with the possibility of disaster.  Can we agree on a tempo?  Is one of us rushing or dragging?  Do we agree on the changes?  Do we play the tag at the end of every chorus?  Do we change key for the final chorus?  Or, as Vic Dickenson said, “How do you want to distribute the bounces?”

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

But I am sure that some of my most enthralling moments have been as an open-mouthed spectator at some duets: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines or Buck Washington, Al Cohn and Jimmie Rowles; Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins; Ruby and Dick Hyman; Vic and Ralph Sutton; Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson; Zoot Sims and Bucky Pizzarelli, Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow, Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred . . . . and and and.  Now I add to that list the two fellows photographed above . . . on the basis of two songs in concert.

Here are two lovely examples of how improvised duet playing — by two people, expert and intuitive — can touch our hearts while we marvel at the risks taken and the immense rewards.  Pianist Dalton Ridenhour was playing a solo set at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, and gave us a surprise by inviting his colleague and neighbor, clarinetist Evan Arntzen, to the stage for a dozen memorable minutes.

The tender and evocative THAT OLD FEELING:

The song I call CHANGES MADE (and then someone insists that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE is the properly pious title . . . . what-ever):

I dream of a venue and an occasion where Dalton and Evan could play as long as they wanted . . .

May your happiness increase!

OF COURSE, THEY WEREN’T “TRAINED SINGERS”!

Anna Moffo, one of my mother’s favorite sopranos: my definition of a “trained singer.”

Everyone of us has pet theories: there’s a secret way to fold fitted sheets; day-old bagels, toasted, are better than fresh, and so on.  You, no doubt, have yours.

One of mine that is relevant to JAZZ LIVES is that often, singers who never sing because they are busy playing are the best singers of all.  I don’t mean those who are clearly identified as singers — Louis, Jelly, Teagarden, Cleo Brown — but those instrumentalists who have recorded once or twice only.  So I assembled a host of my favorites, leaving out scat choruses.  Some recordings were inaccessible: Sid Catlett’s OUT OF MY WAY, Basie’s HARVARD BLUES (where he, not Jimmy, takes the vocal) Ed Hall’s ALL I GOT WAS SYMPATHY — but this is, I hope, a pleasing, perhaps odd offering.  I present them in no particular order, except for Lester being the last, because that recording so touches me.

James P. Johnson, 1944 (with Frank Newton, Al Casey, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty).  The story is that Alan Lomax thought that James P. was a blues pianist when he interviewed him for the Library of Congress — and compelled him to sing this.  I don’t know: James P. is having a good time:

Coleman Hawkins, 1936, highly impassioned (when was he not?):

Vic Dickenson, crooning in 1931 with the Luis Russell Orchestra:

Vic — nearly fifty years later — singing his own composition with Ralph Sutton:

Benny Carter, aiming for Bing and having a dear good time in the process, 1933.  (This has been one of my favorite records since 1974.  Catch Benny’s trumpet solo and clarinet solo.  And Sid Catlett pleases.)  Those clever lyrics aren’t easy to sing at that tempo: ask Dan Barrett:

And another helping of Benny-does-Bing, gliding upwards into those notes.  Another favorite:

Yes, Art Tatum could sing the blues.  Uptown, 1941:

I save this for last, because it leaves me in tears.  Lester Young, 1941, and since this is the only copy of a much-played acetate, there’s a lot of surface noise.  Be patient and listen deeply:

Little is known about that recording, but I remember learning that one side of it was a dub of SHOE SHINE BOY by Jones-Smith, Inc., and this — a current pop tune with glee-club embroideries — was the other.  It’s been surmised that this was a demo disc for Lester’s new small band that he hoped to make flourish after leaving Basie.  Some of the sadness, to me, is that the attempt worked poorly, and although Lester loved to sing, there is only one other recording (the 1953 IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO) that exists.

These singers go right to my heart.

May your happiness increase!