Sometimes life turns around — gracefully — to permit a rewarding full circle. Robert Sage Wilber studied and lived with Sidney Bechet in the middle Forties, and nearly forty years later, around 1981, assembled a fine small band to pay homage to The Master, a band he called the Bechet Legacy. It wasn’t a band devoted to reproducing the splendid recordings Bechet created for slightly more than a quarter-century; it used Bechet’s compositions as springboards for inspired improvisations. And, redrawing another kind of cross-generational circle, Bob surrounded himself with younger players, becoming Bechet to a shifting assemblage of young Wilbers. . . while allowing each of them to follow their own impulses.
Here they are at the Bern Jazz Festival in 1984. Bob, soprano saxophone and clarinet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Mark Shane, piano; Mike Peters, guitar / banjo; Len Skeat, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums; Bob’s wife and life-partner Joanne “Pug” Horton, vocal*. Introduction by Clark Terry. LADY BE GOOD / DANS LA RUE D’ANTIBES / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / PREMIER BAL / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE* / A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT* / PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE* / PETITE FLEUR (closing theme):
Sidney would have been very pleased with this music that resonated then and continues to resonate now . . . an eminently democratic band with everyone being given space to speak (and sing) their piece.
Ken Salvo, the stalwart banjoist and guitarist of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and many other groups — in Chicago, New York, and Florida — left us this year. I didn’t get to speak with him, but his joy in playing and his steady rhythmic pulse were evident whenever I saw the Nighthawks. And musicians I’ve spoken about Ken to recall his kindnesses off the bandstand: he went out of his way to help them, to rescue them whenever he could.
He was well-liked and well-admired, so I’ve asked people who knew him to recall him for you. I’ve always thought that the measure of a life well-lived is the way people miss someone when they’re gone: Ken lived beautifully.
Clarinetist JOE LICARI:
I was shocked to hear of Ken’s passing as well as that of his wife Sandy just two weeks prior. Over many years I have played hundreds of gigs together. He was a great musician and entertainer and would always greet you with a smile. He was a sweet kind man and gentleman. I feel blessed to have known him on the bandstand and on recordings. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Trumpeter MICHAEL PONELLA:
A few years back there was the intense wind and snow storm late in October. The Nighthawks were performing a Halloween party near Hartford, Connecticut for that evening. Ken met me at my house in New York and drove from there. On the way we encountered stop and go traffic, high winds, blinding snow, accident slowdowns, and crazy drivers that Ken was yelling to in the car. We made it to the gig amazingly, but a few minutes late. The party was a success, but Ken was exhausted from all the travel, and excitement. Luckily that night a local hotel was provided, and Ken had me drive his car the rest of the way while he rested. Even after a hard/tiring time traveling Ken would still perform his 100% on stage. One more: Every time the Nighthawks would perform at Town Hall in NYC, Ken would always rise to the occasion. He enjoyed playing there as well. I will probably remember him most from those concerts, smiling, and playing faster than he ever played before.
Banjoist / vocalist CYNTHIA SAYER:
Ken knew how much I admired his plectrum Epiphone guitar because we had a running joke from me teasing him about it for years. And I knew how much he loved it too, so when he called me from Florida to offer to actually sell it to me, I was alarmed – though I was aware of health issues going on, I also knew he could keep playing, so why did he think he wouldn’t use it anymore? He talked about his local gigs and essentially said that he has faced that he’s now finished with the guitar, and it was time to pass it on to me. And well aware of the difficulties for all musicians during the pandemic, he also offered me generous terms. I accepted his offer with both deep appreciation and a heavy heart.
He knew I’d be coming to Florida soon (last June, during that small time window when we thought things were starting to return to normal, finally visiting our elderly moms there for the first time since pre-pandemic – Ken and Sandy lived close by) so he wanted to take advantage of the visit for me to possibly get the guitar. So while in Florida, we visited, jammed some (I posted a video or two of our jamming on Facebook), and I ended up taking the guitar back with me to NYC. I’m sooooo very grateful that I happened to have this last visit with him!!
I don’t remember when or where we first met, but I figure we’d known each other for most of my adulthood. A nice person and a fine player.
Bassist / tubaist / vocalist BRIAN NALEPKA:
Ken Salvo was a good friend and musical buddy for many years. He was not flashy and didn’t play “busy” solos. He kept good solid time and had that rare talent of making any band he was in better. He laid a solid rhythmic foundation that would let the front line do their work, and fit like a glove with the rest of the rhythm section. I know he is missed by everyone he played with.
Trombonist / euphonist / vocalist JIM FRYER:
As to Ken Salvo, so many stories start coming into my mind that it’s hard to know where to start and how to organize them. He was a proud father and a devoted husband. He took pride in his “day gig” and I’m sure he was good at it. He was a terrific leader on a gig and a valuable sideman. Playing in the Nighthawks was a stretch for him, reading was not his forte, but he made it work, and his banjo and basic musicianship skills were so good that Vince had him in the band for many years. He also had a kind of old fashioned ethos that younger musicians don’t have today, simply due to changing circumstances. He was a saloon player from the golden olden days, who strove to make everyone in the room happy, in rooms that were full of regular working class folks, not young self-identified hipsters.
I had moved to Brooklyn in 1979, Ken got my number, and we got a gig. He was the leader, he was on banjo, and I had my tuba and string bass . . . and it worked out great, we had a fun time. He played solid banjo, sang nicely, took swinging solos. He was a great banjoist. I like working with banjo, and he was very musical on it at all times. He was very professional, so we worked a bunch over the years. He would call me over the years.
Little by little, I found out more about Ken. I knew he was from the Chicago area and his family were big traditional jazz lovers. When the Dukes of Dixieland would came into Chicago to play, they would come to his house, because Ken was a great Italian cook. There was a great friendship there, and Ken’s dad had all their records, so he became friends with the Assuntos, and that was another inspiration for him to be in traditional jazz music.
How did Ken join the Nighthawks? Different people had come in and out of the band over the years; people move away or decide they want to play vintage jazz, so I gave him a call, “Would you like to try it?” “I love the band, but you might not be happy with my reading,” but he read the charts down perfectly. And he would take the charts home and work on the Eddie Lang pieces. We had a lot of fun on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and playing private parties and working with Garrison Keillor. When we did Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap we would all drive down to Kenny’s house in New Jersey and the bus company — this giant touring bus that would take us and the equipment to Wolf Trap — would pick us up. Kenny and his wife Sandy would have big vats of Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts for the trip.
Ken was really conscientious sideman — anything he could do to help he did. And he said nice things about working with the band. When we did the RHAPSODY IN BLUE concert with Maurice Peress, he did the solo on LINGER AWHILE and he brought down the house. He was scared about doing it, but I said, “Come on, Kenny, you’re a virtuoso,” and he really did it — even snuck in a RHAPSODY IN BLUE lick. The audience laughed and it broke up Maurice. He would do tasteful things on the banjo, and he was great.
One day, he showed up and told the band that he and Sandy were moving to Florida — a long commute! too long for Monday nights — so he was leaving. We kept in touch for a few years, phone calls and emails. I saw him about a month before he passed — his son got remarried in Maryland and he hired a small contingent of the Nighthawks. I brought a banjo and he played a few numbers and brought the house down. His wife had health problems and passed a few weeks after the party. Between being ill and without his wife, they were married about fifty years . . . that was it.
So we all were sad, and the dance community he would hang with when we played, they all put up nice tributes and pictures. He was a warm friendly guy with a great laugh who liked to talk with people. We all miss him.
Trumpeter, cornetist, composer RANDY SANDKE:
This has been a cruel season for jazz fans. First we lost Phil Schaap, and then George Wein, two giants who did so much to spread the joyous and profound message of the music to all corners of the globe. But someone else passed who, though unnoticed by the jazz media, had a long and vital career as a musician. I’m speaking of Ken Salvo, a banjo and guitar player, who led his own groups but was most identified for his decade-long stint with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.
Ken was a solid rhythm player, but also an exciting soloist who could hold his own in any musical situation. He was heard regularly on Monday and Tuesday nights at Vince’s home base in NYC, Club Cachet and later Iguana. With the Nighthawks, Ken appeared on several film soundtracks, as well as the band’s Grammy award-winning album of selections from the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.
Ken began his career as a teen-ager, when his father would drive him to Rush St. in Chicago to work at the Red Garter. Ken developed his vast knowledge of tunes and prodigious technique there, working until all hours of the night. This period of the mid-to-late ‘60s was a golden age for banjo and guitar players in Chicago, since Eddy Davis, Marty Grosz, and Ken were all in town at the same time.
Ken moved to New Jersey in the late ‘70s and, in order to support a growing family, became a home inspector. He took to that job so well he became president of the trade organization. He also worked for a time at Allied Van Lines, and was responsible for moving Branford Marsalis and the new Tonight Show Band (including ex-Nighthawk trombonist Matt Finders) from the New York area to L.A. All during this time, Ken continued to play, book jobs, and make himself known in the NY freelance music scene.
In 2017, Ken moved with his wife of nearly fifty years, Sandy, to Venice, Florida. He had managed his finances well and looked forward to many years of playing golf and performing gigs in the area. Before I moved to Venice a couple of years later, Ken called me to offer me a steady job at a club in Cape Coral. He’d drive me down to the gig, about an hour each way, and we’d trade stories about growing up in Chicago, and so much else. We became very close, and he was a total joy on and off the bandstand. He helped smooth the way for me in Florida, and I will be eternally grateful.
All was working out well for him until last fall. He found out that his wife had inoperable brain cancer and her outlook was not good. They tried various treatments with all the attendant hopes and setbacks. In the midst of dealing with Sandy, Ken discovered he had lung cancer, probably from years of smoking in his younger years, plus working in smoky clubs before cigarettes were banned. Somehow he contracted Covid as well.
The end came fast. Sandy died when Ken was in the hospital and he was crushed. They’d known each other since their teenage years and I think Ken couldn’t conceive of living without her. When offered a ventilator he turned it down and passed away a few days later.
I truly loved Ken and grieve his passing. I’m sure that all who knew him, or heard him play, feel the same way. He was everybody’s friend and he will be sorely missed. R.I.P., my dear friend.
Pianist / composer PETER YARIN:
We played for years in the rhythm section of Vince’s Nighthawks together – the Sofia’s and Iguana days. This was countless hours spent sitting inches away, aligning our chords and quarter notes, doing what we all try to do, maintaining our individual parts while fusing with the music and the band. Ken’s playing was exciting, joyful, full of energy, buoyant. He approached the bandstand with determination, grit, and a smile. Always clear was his commitment to and his faith in the music and the way it was to be played.
Solicitous of others’ welfare in tough times, he would respond with warmth and compassion. We joked together a lot. I will miss him. May his spirit resonate on.
P.S. from Michael: thanks to the musicians above who took the time to write lovely memoirs of a good friend and bandstand companion. I will be pleased to post other remembrances of Ken in the comments or perhaps in a future post.
I learned about this video of the Friday-night concert of the 2021 West Texas Jazz Party from my friend, the great drummer Ricky Malichi — and I settled back into fifty-eight minutes of pleasure . . . not the least of it being that the video was professionally shot and edited (beautifully) and I could be a delighted spectator for once. To explicate the twenty names above, although few of them need identification . . . Warren Vache, cornet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Dan Barrett, John Allred, Russ Phillips, trombone; Harry Allen, Peter Anderson, Will Anderson, reeds; Nate Najar, guitar; Daniele Soledad, vocal; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Nicki Parrott, vocal and string bass; Frank Tate, Richard Simon, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, Johnny Varro, Brian Piper, piano; Chuck Redd, drums and vibes; Ricky Malichi, Eddie Metz, drums.
These selections from Friday night at the Ector Theatre are so beautifully polished, testifying to the immense professionalism of the musicians at the Party: without any commercial interruptions, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the 2022 and future WTJP!
You’ll see it’s not just a casual blowing session — there are some clever charts (who did them?) but the swinging cohesion is both typical and admirable.
Here’s the menu:
LIMEHOUSE BLUES: Sandke, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Redd
IN A MELLOTONE: Barrett, Allred, Phillips, Piper, Simon, Malichi
A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK and LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STAR: Kilgore, Parrott, Allen, Sportiello, Metz, Redd
THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and IT’S YOU OR NO ONE: Vache, Allred, Peter Anderson, Piper, Simon, Malichi
DOUBLE RAINBOW: Najar, Soledade
JUST FRIENDS and AFTERGLOW: Sandke, Barrett, Allen, Will Anderson, Varro, Tate, Metz
A delightful offering, and so well-produced. And thanks again to Ricky Malichi, who swings even when away from his kit.
If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.
But if he’s only a name to you . . .
Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.
With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.
But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.
Let that sink in.
And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.
Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:
and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:
France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:
I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.
Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.
To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.
Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.
The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.
Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.
A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.
I was there, among admired friends. And the music was spectacular.
In German, it’s JAZZ IM RATHAUS — Jazz at the Town (City) Hall — but given that Louis’ 1947 Town Hall Concert shaped my life, I realign the words as tribute. The Dramatis Personae is on the green cover.
April 9, 2016. Photograph by Elke Grunwald
This was the thirtieth annual concert, a series featuring, among others, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, Marty Grosz, Ralph Sutton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Bob Haggart, Mark Shane, Danny Moss, Chris Hopkins, Jake Hanna, Rossano Sportiello, Antti Sarpila, Butch Miles, Ken Peplowski . . . . All of this happened because of Manfred Selchow, known to his friends as Mannie, a deep jazz-lover, author of beautifully comprehensive studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson. He’s the serious man below with both hands on the check, but don’t let that somber visage fool you: he is a warm and easy fellow.
But music is what we’re here for — two rousing selections from the final concert of the April 8-10 jazz weekend at the Rathaus. The first, LADY BE GOOD, is full of gratifying solos, ensemble telepathy, uplifting surprises. That’s Matthias Seuffert, Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophones; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Bert Boeren, trombone; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Bernard Flegar, later, Moritz Gastreich, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass; Niels Unbehagen, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, piano — doing crowd-pleasing handoffs. AND 1936 Lester! (Wait for it, as they say.)
The encore, PERDIDO, evokes JATP, with Matthias, Engelbert, Helge, Nicki Parrott on string bass; Bernard, Niels, Stephanie, Paolo, Rico, Menno, and Bert:
Someday, sweethearts, we shall meet again. And thanks for the lovely sounds.
In the years that I was able to see and hear him live (1972-2006), Kenny Davern had unmistakable and well-earned star power, and on the sessions that I witnessed, his colleagues on the bandstand would have it also: Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, Cliff Leeman, Dan Barrett, Jake Hanna, Bob Barnard, Randy Sandke, Buzzy Drootin, Bucky Pizzarelli. You can add your own names to that list, but these are some of my memorable sightings.
Here, in 2020, I confess to admiring some musicians more than others, and feeling that some that I know are going to give great performances . . . and they do. Musicians I’ve not met before might bring a moment of trepidation, but then there is the joy of discovering someone new — a stranger, now a hero. I write this as prelude to a video record of a performance Kenny gave (I think it was a patrons’ brunch) at the Manassas Jazz Festival on November 25, 1988.
This band, half of them new to Kenny (Jernigan and Proctor) produces wonderful inspiring results, and if you think of Kenny as acerbic, this performance is a wonderful corrective: how happy he is in this relaxed Mainstream atmosphere. And he was often such an intensely energized player that occasionally his bandmates felt it was their job to rise to his emotional heights. When this worked (think of Soprano Summit, Dick Wellstood and Cliff Leeman) it was extraordinary, but sometimes it resulted in firecrackers, not Kenny’s, being tossed around the bandstand.
All three players here are models of easy swing, of taking their time: notice how much breathing space there is in the performance, with no need to fill up every second with sound. I’d only known Dick Proctor from a few Manassas videos, but he is so content to keep time, to support, to be at ease. Dick left the scene in 2003, but his rhythm is very much alive here. I’d met and heard Larry Eanet at the 2004 Jazz at Chautauqua, and was impressed both with his delicacy and his willingness to follow whimsical impulses: they never disrupted the beautiful compositional flow of a solo or accompaniment, but they gave me small delighted shocks.
But the happy discovery for me, because of this video, is string bassist David Jernigan — the remaining member of this ad hoc quartet (younger than me by a few years! hooray!) — someone with a great subtle momentum, playing good notes in his backing and concise solos, and offering impressive arco passages with right-on-target intonation. You can also find David here.
That Kenny would invite the receptive audience to make requests is indication of his comfort, as are the words he says after SUMMERTIME:
I accept the applause for Dick and Dave and Larry, because I feel as you do. It’s not every day you can walk up on the bandstand . . . and really, literally, shake hands with two out of three guys that you’ve not played with before, and make music. And I think these guys really are splendid, splendid musicians.
Hear and see for yourselves.
‘DEED I DO / LAZY RIVER / “Shall I speak?”/ THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU / Johnson McRee and Kenny talk / SUMMERTIME / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS //
Indeed, it’s not every day we hear music of this caliber. How fortunate we are.
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.
I first became aware of Bob Byler — writer, photographer, videographer — when we both wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, but with the demise of that wonderful journalistic effusion (we still miss Leslie Johnson, I assure you) I had not kept track of him. But he hasn’t gone away, and he is now providing jazz viewers with hours of pleasure.
“Spill, Brother Michael!” shouts a hoarse voice from the back of the room.
As you can see in the photograph above, Bob has always loved capturing the music — and, in this case, in still photographs. But in 1984, he bought a video camera. In fact, he bought several in varying media: eight-millimeter tape, VHS, and even mini-DVDs, and he took them to jazz concerts wherever he could. Now, when he shares the videos, edits them, revisits them, he says, “I’m so visual-oriented, it’s like being at a jazz festival again without the crowd. It’s a lot of fun.” Bob told me that he shot over two thousand hours of video and now has uploaded about four hundred hours to YouTube.
Hereis his flickr.com site, full of memorable closeups of players and singers. AND the site begins with a neatly organized list of videos . . .
Bob and his late wife Ruth had gone to jazz festivals all over the world — and a few cruises — and he had taken a video camera with him long before I ever had the notion. AND he has put some four hundred hours of jazz video on YouTube on the aptly named Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videoschannel. His filming perspective was sometimes far back from the stage (appropriate for large groups) so a video that’s thirty years old might take a moment to get used to. But Bob has provided us with one time capsule after another. And unlike the ladies and gents of 2016, who record one-minute videos on their smartphones, Bob captured whole sets, entire concerts. Most of his videos are nearly two hours long, and there are more than seventy of them now up — for our dining and dancing pleasure. Many of the players are recognizable, but I haven’t yet sat down and gone through forty or a hundred hours of video, so that is part of the fun — recognizing old friends and heroes. Because (and I say this sadly) many of the musicians on Bob’s videos have made the transition, which makes this video archive, generously offered, so precious.
Here is Bob’s own introduction to the collection, which tells more than I could:
Here are the “West Coast Stars,” performing at the Elkhart Jazz Party, July 1990:
an Art Hodes quartet, also from Elkhart, from 1988:
What might have been one of Zoot Sims’ last performances, in Toledo, in 1985:
a compilation of performances featuring Spiegle Willcox (with five different bands) from 1991-1997, a tribute Bob is particularly proud of:
from the 1988 Elkhart, a video combining a Count Basie tribute (I recognize Bucky Pizzarelli, Milt Hinton, Joe Ascione, and Doc Cheatham!) and a set by the West End Jazz Band:
a Des Moines performance by Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band featuring Judi K, Connie Jones, and Spiegle:
and a particular favorite, two sets also from Elkhart, July 1988, a Condon memorial tribute featuring (collectively) Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Dave McKenna, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones, John Bany, Wayne Jones, in two sets:
Here are some other musicians you’ll see and hear: Bent Persson, Bob Barnard, Bob Havens, the Mighty Aphrodite group, the Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band, the Mills Brothers, Pete Fountain, Dick Hyman, Peter Appleyard, Don Goldie, Tomas Ornberg, Jim Cullum, Jim Galloway, Chuck Hedges, Dave McKenna, Max Collie, the Salty Dogs, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Butch Thompson, Hal Smith, the Climax Jazz Band, Ernie Carson, Dan Barrett, Banu Gibson, Tommy Saunders, Jean Kittrell, Danny Barker, Duke Heitger, John Gill, Chris Tyle, Bob Wilber, Gene Mayl, Ed Polcer, Jacques Gauthe, Brooks Tegler, Rex Allen, Bill Dunham and the Grove Street Stompers, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the Harlem Jazz Camels, and so much more, more than I can type.
Many musicians look out into the audience and see people (like myself) with video cameras and sigh: their work is being recorded without reimbursement or without their ability to control what becomes public forever. I understand this and it has made me a more polite videographer. However, when such treasures like this collection surface, I am glad that people as devoted as Bob and Ruth Byler were there. These videos — and more to come — testify to the music and to the love and generosity of two of its ardent supporters.
Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser
Monk Rowe is a jazz musician — saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger — and he has a day gig at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, as the Joe Williams Director of the Filius Jazz Archive there. The Archive will be twenty-one in 2016, and it is indeed remarkably adult.
So far, Monk has conducted video interviews with more than 325 musicians, ranging from the great forbears (Doc Cheatham, Eddie Bert, Kenny Davern, Jerry Jerome, Ray Conniff, Joe Williams, Milt Hinton) to the living legends of the present and future (Nicki Parrott, Kidd Jordan, Sherrie Maricle, Bill Charlap, Holly Hofmann, Maria Schneider). And excerpts from those interviews, thematically and intelligently arranged, now form a compact yet impressive book (with a brief foreword by jazz eminence Dan Morgenstern) whose title is above.
A friend at Hamilton sent me a copy of the book some weeks back, and I have been slow to write about it — for two reasons. One, the semester got in the way, unforgivably, and two, I was often making notes and laughing so hard that I couldn’t read much at a sitting. But my instant recommendation is BUY IT. So those of you who want to skip the evidence can zoom to the bottom of this post. Others can linger.
A brief prelude. I am immensely in favor of oral history although it cannot replace the best analysis or aesthetic criticism. I wouldn’t give up Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins, Anthony Barnett, Frank Buchmann-Moller, Manfred Selchow, or John Chilton . . . the list goes on and I know I am leaving two dozen worthy writers out. But what wouldn’t we give for a ten-minute interview with Tony Fruscella, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Harrison, Herschel Evans, Eddie Lang, Jimmy Blanton, or Buster Bailey? True, some musicians were and are shy or not always able to articulate much about the music, but others — as we know — are born raconteurs, sharp observers, comedians, anthropologists. Their stories, no matter how brief, are precious. Two pages by Clark Terry where he speaks of being beaten by Caucasians because he was a “Nigerian” while in Mississippi — and then being rescued by another group of Caucasians — say more about race relations in the United States than twenty hours of PBS footage could ever do.
The material is organized thematically, enabling the reader to hear, for instance, stories of life on the road from Kenny Davern, Lanny Morgan, and Phil Woods. Then there are sharp observations — one can almost hear the rimshot that follows. Dave Pell calls Stan Getz “the greatest dressing room player that ever lived.” Stan Kenton stops his band from swinging too much and says, “This is not Basie. This is Stan Kenton.” Bobby Rosengarden talks about Toscanini, Joe Wilder about punctuality, Dick Hyman and Bucky Pizzarelli about life in the recording studio. Keter Betts, as a high-school student, is bought lunch by Milt Hinton; Jean Bach explains the Ellington habit of “seagulling”; Sherrie Maricle recalls her metal clarinet. Dan Barrett gives advice to young musicians. Randy Sandke talks about the perils of thinking. Karl Berger talks about his conducting; Kidd Jordan deconstructs a song’s title. And there’s a historical perspective covering nearly a century: we hear Doc Cheatham talk about Ma Rainey, then Jerry Jerome describe the first Glenn Miller band — all the way up to the present.
It’s an enthralling book. And since Monk Rowe is a professional musician, his interludes and commentary are more than useful; his questions are on the mark. Other writers put themselves into the dialogue merely to say, “Well, Dizzy always used to say to me,” but Monk is a gracious interpreter rather than a narcissist.
To find out the story of the elephant beer and the priceless answer, visit Monk’s JAZZ BACKSTORY blog here and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Then you can read the rest of Phil Woods’ words and — by the way — find out exactly what Dizzy Gillespie said when presented with the key to the city of Syracuse, New York.
JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS is available here through Amazon. And the proceeds from the book support the Archives.
NEWS FLASH: Monk is going to be teaching a free online course on jazz, starting February 2, 2016: details here.
I could write a long piece on the history of the West Texas Jazz Party — in Odessa, Texas — which in 2016 will celebrate its fiftieth year. This, for those keeping count, makes it the longest-running jazz party in existence. I could list the names of the luminaries who played, say, in 1980 — Red Norvo, John Best, Lou Stein, Carl Fontana, Kenny Davern, George Masso, Herb Ellis, Buddy Tate, Flip Phillips, Dave McKenna, Milt Hinton, Gus Johnson, PeeWee Erwin, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Rosengarden, John Bunch, Buddy Tate, and the still-vibrant Ed Polcer, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael Moore, Bob Wilber.
But I think it is more important to offer the evidence: the music made at this party, which is superb Mainstream jazz. Here are several videos from the 2013 WTJP — they will unfold in sequence if you allow them to — featuring Ken Peplowski, Ehud Asherie, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, Chuck Redd, Randy Sandke, and John Allred:
And the musicians themselves speak sweetly about the pleasure of attending the party and playing there (Ken, Chuck Redd, Dan Barrett, Bucky):
The superb videos — both music and interview — are the work of David Leonnig, who’s also helped inform me about the Party.
This year’s party will take place May 14-17, at the MCM Eleganté Hotel
in Odessa, Texas and the musicians are:
Piano: Johnny Varro, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello
Bass: Joel Forbes. Frank Tate, Nicki Parrott (vocals)
Drums: Chuck Redd (vibes), Tony Tedesco, Butch Miles
Trumpet: Ed Polcer, Warren Vache, Randy Sandke
Trombone: Dan Barrett, John Allred
Reeds: Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, Allan Vache
Guitar: Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub (vocals)
Vocals: Rebecca Kilgore
The West Texas Jazz Party is sponsored in part by:
• The Texas Commission for the Arts
• Odessa Council for the Arts and Humanities
• The Rea Charitable Trust
Patron Tickets: $200: Reserved Seating for all performances and Saturday Brunch.
General Admission: Each performance $50 • Brunch $50
For Hotel Reservations, call 432-368-5885 and ask tor the Jazz Rate of $129.00. For Jazz Party or Brunch Reservations, call 432-552-8962. The WTJP now is accepting credit cards or make a check payable to: West Texas Jazz Society • P.O. Box 10832 • Midland, Texas 79702.
It looks as if a good time will be had by all. For the forty-ninth consecutive year!
Cornetist George FInola (1945-2000) didn’t live long enough, but was loved and respected by many. (Hoagy Carmichael was a fan.) He spent his life in Chicago and New Orleans, playing gigs and advancing jazz scholarship — helping to establish the Jazz Institute of Chicago.
I had only known of George because of his 1965 debut recording — where he is paired with notable friends Paul Crawford, Raymond Burke, Armand Hug, Danny and Blue Lu Barker:
and, just because they exist, here’s a Finola autograph:
and a matchbook ad for a New Orleans gig:
My friend Harriet Choice, the esteemed jazz writer, had spoken to me of George — “a very dear person” — but I had never met anyone who had known him, not until September 2014.
Jim Branson and I later found out we had been at many of the same California jazz events (Jim and his wife live in Berkeley) but until Jim said something about George from the audience of the Allegheny Jazz Party, I had no idea of their close and long-term connection. On my most recent visit to California, Jim very graciously told me stories of a precocious and singular friend. And it seemed only appropriate to have George’s record playing in the background:
Later, Jim remembered this: When George taught himself to play cornet he learned the incorrect fingering, holding down the third valve instead of the first and second for certain notes and correcting by altering his lip pressure slightly. This is the same mistake that Bix reputedly made when he taught himself to play. Did George do it by mistake, or did he do it on purpose because he knew that Bix had done the same thing?
Randy Sandke had crossed paths with George as well: George and I went to different high schools in Chicago but both grew up on the South Side, him in South Shore and me in Hyde Park. I met him at Bob Koester and Joe Siegel’s record shop, Seymour’s. I put on a record and he came over and said “is Bix on that?” After that we became friends and discovered we both played cornet. We met and jammed together and also exchanged reel-to-reel tapes of 78s we had that at that time had not been reissued. I saw him in New Orleans a few times after that. I always enjoyed his playing and he has a lot of friends from NO that I still see, so his name comes up in conversation. I was very sad to hear of his premature death. More people should have heard him play and known who he was.
Other people who have stories of George are New Orleanians Banu Gibson, David Boeddinghaus, and Connie and Elaine Jones . . . perhaps there will be more tales of this beautiful player and intriguing man — and I am sure that some JAZZ LIVES readers knew him too.
Few jazz musicians stir up as much longing and yearning as Bix Beiderbecke. This isn’t an aesthetic judgment on his achievement as measured against anyone else’s, but I sense that he is so powerfully missed by so many people. Although his recorded legacy is not by any means the most brief, those who love his music both revel in its beauties and wish with all their hearts that there would be more. Nearly seventy-five years after his final appearance in a recording studio, it seems unlikely that more will surface — although more unusual events have happened.
So those who revere him and his music have turned to Alternate Universes — tributes that do more than offer beautifully recorded or more leisurely versions of Okeh, Victor, Gennett, Harmony, Columbia sessions — but attempts to recreate something unheard. (The parallel experiment, and a beautiful one, has always been Bent Persson’s ongoing Studies in Louis, spread over many records and CDs, and always rewarding.)
Nearly fifteen years ago, the very imaginative trumpeter Randy Sandke and friends recorded a CD for the Nagel-Heyer label of music associated with Louis and Bix: here is Doug Ramsey’s 2000 review of that disc. A few years later, Dick Hyman took a small group in to the studio for Arbors Records (with Tom Pletcher inventing new beauties) to consider what would have happened if Bix played Gershwin. (A wonderful Stomp Off session paired Bent and Tom for, among other imaginative fancies, a Bix-meets-Louis romp on MAD.)
Now, a decade later, Julio Schwarz Andrade came up with this new imaginative venture and recruited the musicians, and Paul Adams of Lake Records is eager to record the results, so a CD will become reality with some support from you. It’s a continuation of Paul’s work over a number of years called Vintage Recording Projects — where he assembles wonderful idiomatic musicians, records them with a minimum of fuss (no baffles or headphones, just people playing in a suitable room) with delightful results. Here is what the most recent session looked and sounded like — heroically gratifying!
I’ll let Julio explain:
The premise is, of course, that there are many tunes that we know Bix played andwas fond of, but never had the chance to record. So this is our humble attempt to right that historical / circumstantial wrong, and to recreate what could have been. The musicians are: Andy Schumm, cornet; Mauro Porro, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Josh Duffee, percussion. The list of tunes hasn’t been finalized yet, but the following are being considered (in no particular order): STARDUST / SKYLARK / WOLVERINE BLUES / WASHBOARD BLUES / SWANEE / I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN / LAZY RIVER / IT MUST BE TRUE / PANAMA / ANGRY / HIAWATHA’S LULLABY / NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ALLABOUT among others.
Now, projects like this don’t take shape without support, so we are asking people to help out. Here is the link to contribute some . . . money. A £30 donation gets your name in the booklet. Anything more than that gets you a place in heaven and eternal salvation as well. And all contributions will win gratitude from the organizers, the band, and future listeners.
The session will take place right after this year’s Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, and I look forward to the results.
The masters of melodic improvisation here are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums — at the twenty-fifth Atlanta Jazz Party in April 2014.
Becky and Bucky, romantics, quieting the room with their duet on TRES PALABRAS (and what courage it takes to begin a set with such a tender ballad):
Southern pastoral in swing (recalling Lester Young and Anita O’Day), JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA, with delicious playfulness all the way through:
Becky so sweetly and tenderly honors Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Roger Edens, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (and Dan Barrett has Vic on his mind, too):
She and the band give us an ebullient finish, with JEEPERS CREEPERS:
This set was so very satisfying, lyricism and swing, feeling and expertise intermingled throughout: I wouldn’t change a single note. And I’ve listened to the twenty minutes of music here, over and over, delighted, moved, and amazed.
Rebecca has two new CD releases: JUST IMAGINE(with Dan Barrett and Paolo Alderighi) and I LIKE MEN(with Harry Allen, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Kevin Kanner) for those of us who find our appetites for tenderness, joy, and subtlety stimulated (not satiated) by these four videos.
And if you’re in New York City on Monday, May 19, 2014, in the early evening, you should seriously consider visiting Becky and friends at Symphony Space for the Sidney Bechet Society’s tribute to Mat Domber . . . particularly apt here because Mat and Rachel Domber recorded so many sessions for their Arbors Records label that are as beautiful as this live performance. “All-Star Tribute to Mat Domber & Arbors Records“: Anat Cohen, Wycliffe Gordon, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, John Allred, Rossano Sportiello, and Rajiv Jayaweera.
I revere the jazz Past: the recordings, the actual men and women, their stories, their holy artifacts.
But I would not want this art form to become a museum, where we can only hear the Great Dead People.
So I encourage my friends to seek out occasions where we can live in the present moment: hearing living men and women play and sing their own versions of this lovely music right in front of us. It’s an experience different and deeper than listening to the Electrobeam Gennett you just got on eBay, although I am not making fun of that pleasure, not at all.
Enjoying the present makes me think of fish and chips, which I will explain below. Trust me, it’s relevant.
The two concerts I am reminding you all about are put on by the Sidney Bechet Society in New York City. Were I there, I would be there. They take place on Monday, at 7:15 (a nice serene early hour) at Symphony Space at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street.
Monday, April 21, is the second “Jam Session of the Millenium,” led by our own Dan Levinson:
If you’re one of those Jazz Lovers who wonders, “Who are these kids and are they any good?” you and your skepticism are in luck — because someone (thank you, Anonymous Person) recorded the first Jam Session of the Millennium in its entirety. Consider this!
Monday, May 19, is a tribute concert in honor of Mat Domber, who made so much good music possible for all of us (along with his wonderful wife Rachel, still with us) on Arbors Records from the late Eighties onwards. The audience of jazz listeners thanks him as do the musicians — and some of them gather onstage to say it with music: Randy Sandke, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Warren Vache, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Rossano Sportiello, Harry Allen, John Allred, Rajiv Jayaweera, and Bob Wilber!
Tickets are $35 (students $10) ahttp://youtu.be/TfKz2nIok-Qnd the Symphony Space contact information is 212.864.5400 / www.symphonyspace.org.
“Fish and chips, Michael?”
Yes. In one of my favorite Irish novels of the last few decades, THE VAN, by Roddy Doyle, two fellows open a mobile fish and chips “cooker” out of an old van — a very funny and touching novel. But one of their selling points is a sign that says TODAY’S CHIPS TODAY. Get this music while it’s HOT.
Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow. I have something for you.”
These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:
Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.
And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.
T.S. Eliot had it wrong. Just another average jazz-month in New York.
P.S. This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .
Cynthia Sayer, ebullient banjoist, singer, composer, has a new CD out — called JOYRIDE. In my childhood parlance, a joyride was when you stole someone’s car, drove it like mad, and left it somewhere else. But I think Cynthia’s criminal record is clean, so listeners need not fear.
JOYRIDE is another stop on the journey Cynthia has been on for years — bringing her beloved instrument into the musical mainstream and rescuing it from jokes about its limitations.
For the CD, she offers ancient pop tunes, show music, Thirties swing classics, Hank Williams, Walt Disney, tangos, and a few originals. (Warning, though: two of the songs here — one an original and one a Malneck-Mercer classic — are aimed at people who have just had a relationship explode. Starry-eyed romantics may find them a little vinegary.)
Cynthia is aided and abetted by Charlie Giordano, accordion; Mauro Battisti, string bass; Larry Eagle, percussion; Sara Caswell, violin; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Jon Herington, electric guitar; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone / taragoto [hear him light up the sky on HONEY, playing Joe Muranyi’s beloved horn]; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Mike Weatherly, string bass / backup vocals. JOYRIDE is part of Cynthia’s efforts to introduce to a wider audience the 4-string jazz banjo and the music associated with it. Her CD will be issued on January 22, and the celebration of its release will take place at Joe’s Pub in New York City a week later (425 Lafayette Street NY, NY 10003: phone (212) 539-8778) at 7:30. Tickets can be purchased here. Her show will focus on “hot swing,” but also original compositions, tangos, and other surprises. Hear I LOVE PARIS — a track from the new CD here. And to learn more about Cynthia and her continuing musical adventures, click here.
WHY JAZZ HAPPENED (University of California Press), the new book by Marc Myers, whom many know for his blog JAZZ WAX, his liner notes, his articles in The Wall Street Journal, is a great accomplishment.
I have written here before how disappointing I find much that is written about jazz — a tepid stew of theorizing, of ideological scraps, an inedible pottage of what everyone else has said. Readers like myself long for some bracing first-hand research, new points of view that illuminate rather than divide.
WHY JAZZ HAPPENED does all the right things. For one, it moves away from the star system: Louis begat Bird who begat Miles who begat Trane. It leaves behind the understandable (but sometimes worn-out) historical cliches; it takes jazz beyond the sound of the recordings: too many “jazz books” sound greatly as if the writer had decided to create “reaction” papers to every track X played in chronological sequence . . . an audio diary of one’s iPod.
I knew Marc was capable of arresting writing from reading JAZZ WAX, and I also was eager to read the book-in-the-making he was creating from his candid, searching interviews with jazz players otherwise ignored. But he has done much more than assemble a pastiche of voices telling their sweet or odd stories. He has written a social history of jazz, measuring the effects of non-musical forces on the music.
He has chosen to examine the period 1942-72 (which he feels is the music’s “golden era of improvisation, individualism and recording freedom”) through an analytical lens that is both microscopic and panoramic. His premise is “approaching jazz history from the outside in,” which means a clear-eyed historical reading of the factors outside the studio and the clubs that shaped the music we adore, the way we hear it, the way it developed.
Thus: the long-playing record; suburbanization in California and the G.I. Bill; the role of concert promoters and disc jockeys; ASCAP and BMI, the role of the “British Invasion”; the connections between late Sixties jazz and racial tension. If any of this sounds like a cultural anthropologist’s work, I assure you it is far from academic (although the book’s research is beautifully documented.)
The book is consistently lively because Marc, like the best investigator, is deeply curious and not easily satisfied with the pat answers previous works have (sometimes) offered. And his curiosity has taken him to contemporary reporting . . . but most often it has taken him to the primary sources, for which relief much thanks.
Rather than assuming what the battle over 78, 33, and 45 rpm record technologies was like, he has spoken at length to George Avakian. Other figures who pop up to add their irreplaceable, salty or affectionate stories to this study are Dave Pell, Creed Taylor, Sonny Rollins, Rudy Van Gelder, Burt Bachrach, Lou Donaldson, Chico Hamilton, and three dozen more.
Faithful readers of Marc’s JAZZ WAX have delighted in these interviews, but one of the pleasures of this book is the beautifully organic way the material is handled: it never feels like pastiche, and the balance between fact, interpretation, and a quick-moving narrative is delightful.
My only regret is that this book begins — because of Marc’s perspective, which I would not deny him — in 1942. I can only imagine the much larger-scale book he might have written which would have spoken of Prohibition, of the Great Northern Migration, bobbed hair, of the role of Thirties radio . . . and on.
But to his credit, WHY JAZZ HAPPENED has a true feeling for jazz as a seamless whole, so that Louis Armstrong appears alongside Joseph Jarman in the pages of the index, and the book begins and ends with a truly moving episode devoted to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. My hope is that other writers genuinely devoted to an accurate analysis of how and why this music happened — for the world of an art’s development is much larger than a survey of the individual musicians’ idiosyncracies and a list of record dates — will use WHY JAZZ HAPPENED as a flexible, energetic model and write their own books that look back to Marc’s. Because he is neither didactic nor over-emphatic, I can even envision books based on his model that say, “No, these are MY ten events or forces that made jazz what it is.”
For its ingenuity, subtlety, surprises, and depth, WHY JAZZ HAPPENED deserves to be ranked along the best recent studies of jazz — Randy Sandke’s WHERE THE DARK AND THE LIGHT FOLKS MEET and Ricky Riccardi’s THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG.
Visithere to see Marc speaking about WHY JAZZ HAPPENED in a multi-part video interview. It won’t satiate your desire for the book. I suggest you go here for the next logical step . . . your own copy.
You can’t afford to miss this dream, to quote Louis.
Ray Mosca, Marty Napoleon, Bill Crow
Pianist Marty Napoleon is now 91. Yes, 91. And he is still exuberantly playing, singing, composing, telling stories. He’s played with everyone of note including Louis, Gene Krupa, Billie Holiday, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Henry Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Barnet, Harry Carney, Serge Chaloff, Kai Winding, Allen Eager, Shelley Manne, Charlie Ventura, Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Rex Stewart, Jimmy Rushing, Bud Freeman, Earle Warren, Emmett Berry, Vic Dickenson, Buster Bailey, George Wettling, Max Kaminsky, Urbie Green, Clark Terry, Randy Sandke, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harry Allen, Billy Butterfield, Doc Cheatham, Peanuts Hucko, and more.
That history should count for something — recording and playing from the middle Forties until today. Lest you think of Marty purely as an ancient figure, here is some very lively evidence, recorded less than six months ago: Marty, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harry Allen, Joe Temperley — exploring SATIN DOLL:
If you’re like me, you might say at this point, “Where is this musical dynamo playing? He sounds very fine for a man twenty years younger.”
The news is good, especially for Long Island, New York residents who despair the lack of swinging jazz here. The gig is at a reasonably early hour. And it’s free.
Details below. I hope to see you there, and hope you give Marty, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Ray Mosca the enthusiastic welcome they deserve.
In a world that sometimes seems populated by amiable sleepwalkers, Scott Robinson is vividly alive, his imagination a million-color Crayola box. His music is fully illuminated; it pulsates with energies.
I’ve delighted in his playing — in person and on record — for more than a decade now. He has a warm sensibility but is not at all afraid to go out to the edge and make friends with the New, the Sounds Never Heard Before. What he writes and plays is assertive, surprising — but not angry, not pummeling the listener.
His new project is just extraordinary, and even an Old School Fellow like me finds it compelling.
BRONZE NEMESIS is a suite of original compositions devoted to and depicting the immense presence of Doc Savage, hero of pulp novels of the Thirties. (Ruby Braff was a devoted fan, too.) In case all of this is making the more traditionally-minded readers a little nervous, I would point out the players: Randy Sandke, Ted Rosenthal, Pat O’Leary, Dennis Mackrel, and (on one track only) the much-missed Dennis Irwin. The titles of the twelve compositions may suggest to some that Dorothy Gale and Toto are certainly no longer in Kansas — MAN OF BRONZE / THE SECRET IN THE SKY / HE COULD STOP THE WORLD / FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE / MAD EYES / THE METAL MASTER / THE GOLDEN MAN / LAND OF ALWAYS-NIGHT / THE LIVING FIRE / THE MAN WHO SHOOK THE EARTH / WEIRD VALLEY / THE MENTAL WIZARD. The music, ah, the music — I hear echoes of beautifully energized weird film soundtrack scoring on the highest level, a touch of Ellington here, a dash of Gil Evans, a sprinkle of Mingus — but these references are paltry, because Scott’s musical world is his own, where wondrously surprising Latin melodies share space with the theremin and the wind machine . . . the overall effect songful as well as avant-garde, always spacious and searching. I initially felt, “Wow, this is strange . . . isn’t it wonderful?” The CD shows off compositions and inventions from the musicians and the composer that are unusual but not cold; the suite is filled with a warm energy that takes the listener places he didn’t expect to go . . . without scaring him to death.
Scott’s whimsical legal notice (printed in a tiny rectangle — much the same way we are told to keep these plastic bags away from children) reads:
CAUTION: Contains perilous and daring musical adventures. Do not attempt.
I’m very glad Scott Robinson exists and has the courage to attempt these adventures . . . so that we can come along on the journey.
Here’s a recent email from Scott: if his words (and the video) don’t woo, entice, and entrance, then something’s wrong.
Hello, fans of adventurous music!
Today, Oct. 12, is the birthday of Lester Dent, creator of the 1930s pulp adventure hero Doc Savage. Therefore this is the day that Doc-Tone Records officially unleashes BRONZE NEMESIS, the new CD of original music inspired by the amazing worlds of Doc Savage, upon the world. Performed by the Scott Robinson Doctette, these 12 compositions evoke the mystery and drama of twelve of the original Doc Savage stories, such as The Secret in the Sky, The Man Who Shook the Earth, and Mad Eyes. Heard in this music are such amazing sounds as a 1954 Moog theremin, slide sax, wind machine, and the mammoth contrabass saxophone. The CD is packaged in a lavish fold-out wallet with extensive notes, startling photographs and original artwork by Dan Fillipone, all protected by a resealable polybag. It is endorsed by original Doc Savage paperback cover artist James Bama, whose striking portrait of Doc graces the front cover.
To celebrate the release, and Lester Dent’s birthday, whoever orders the CD TODAY, OCT. 12, from our website, will also receive a small gift. Please visit: www.sciensonic.net/doc-tone
Then, on Wed. Oct. 24, the Doctette will appear live at the Jazz Standard, one of the major jazz venues in New York City. We are mounting a full-out performance, with all the amazing instruments on hand. Not to be missed! Shows at 7:30 & 9:30 PM. The Jazz Standard, 116 E 27 St., NYC, www.jazzstandard.com
“This is definitely one of the best recordings of the year regardless of category… must listening.” -Mark S. Tucker, Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
“An abstractly hard-swinging funhouse-ride… with roots firmly planted in outer and inner space.” -Mark Keresman, Jazz Inside
“Without exaggeration… one of the best jazz concerts I have ever attended.” -Loren Schoenberg, Jazz UK
“An out-of-the-box triumph of imagination and musicality… inspired.” -Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen
“Thoroughly unique music from one of jazz’ most questingly eclectic and wide-ranging talents.” -George Kanzler, New York City Jazz Record
“Loved your music… great jazz. I was most flattered to have a musician of Scott Robinson’s stature compose wonderful jazz for my Doc Savage covers.” -James Bama, original cover artist for Doc Savage paperback editions.
Doc Savage is copyright and TM Conde Nast. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Sadly, I won’t be able to be at the October 24 performance — which pains me — because I will be at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party. So . . . mark it down, make plans, get yourself there. I have been fascinated and moved by the CD and am sure that the effects of the music / presentation in person will be even more deliciously powerful.
And there’s a resealable polybag too! All our needs satisfied.
I just received word that Mat Domber, who founded Arbors Records in 1989, died peacefully this morning — with his beloved wife Rachel at his side. Mat had been ill for some time, but you hardly knew it: when I last saw him, at a Harry Allen Monday night function at Feinstein’s last June, he was cheerful, amused, and gracious as ever.
When the history of any art form is written, it invariably concentrates on the artists who are seen as the prime movers — and logically so. But artists need patrons and friends and people who help them communicate their vision. Mat Domber was a stellar example. Other jazz fans delight in the music; some throw parties for their friends, or concerts.
Mat and Rachel decided that the music they loved wasn’t getting recorded . . . and thus he put his business acumen and his musical taste into play — at first, relying on Rick Fay and Dan Barrett for musical guidance, but eventually building up a roster of players and singers he knew were first-rate. If you go to your CD shelves at this moment, chances are some of the most gratifying discs there are on the Arbors label.
I list some of the players who might otherwise have had fewer chances to express themselves: Rebecca Kilgore, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Dick Hyman, Kenny Davern, John Sheridan, Scott Robinson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, George Masso, Bob Wilber, Ehud Asherie, Johnny Varro, Dan Block, Marty Grosz, Eddie Erickson, Jackie Coon, Warren Vache, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Peter Ecklund, Bucky Pizzarelli, Aaron Weinstein, Harry Allen, Bob Haggart, John Bunch, Derek Smith, Keith Ingham, Ellis Larkins, Bobby Gordon, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Randy Reinhart, Joel Helleny, Howard Alden, Joe Wilder, Jerry Jerome, Flip Phillips . . . you can add other names as well.
Mat was a delight to be with — someone who enjoyed the company of the musicians after the session almost as much as he enjoyed the sessions. And he made Arbors parties and festivals and happenings for all of us to enjoy.
There will be other things to say about Mat, but I will end this by saying that Ruby Braff and Kenny Davern, two of the most exacting men in the world of jazz, relied on him. He will be missed. JAZZ LIVES sends its deepest sympathy to Rachel and the people who loved Mat Domber.
People who listen to jazz, read about it, write about it, seem to be entranced by drama. So many of them are drawn to artists whose careers and lives are boldly delineated: the arc of early promise and a life cut short through self-destructive behavior or illness; the narrative of great achievement that tails off into stark decline. Early Fame, Great Decline. Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Jimmie Blanton, Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young . . . the list is long.
But what of those musicians who had long careers, functioned at a high level of creativity, were undramatic in their professionalism? They get less media attention in life and in death; their sheer reliability makes them almost shadowy figures. (Of course, if they happen to live long lives — Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Eubie Blake, Hank Jones, Lionel Ferbos — then they may get a story in the paper. But that’s another subject.)
One of the greatest trumpet players — also a wonderful composer and arranger — doesn’t get the attention he should: Buck Clayton from Parsons, Kansas, whose recordings over a thirty-year span are exceptional but not always celebrated as they should be. Anyone familiar with the best music of that period can call to mind a dozen sessions that Buck not only plays on, but elevates: consider the dates with Basie, the Kansas City Five and Six and Seven, Billie, Mildred, Teddy and Ben, Hawkins on Keynote, Ike Quebec on Blue Note, his own dates for HRS, the Jam Sessions for Columbia and the later ones for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label, his recordings with Mel Powell at Carnegie Hall, the Vanguard sessions, a Verve date with Harry Edison, his own small band (circa 1961), recordings with Jimmy Rushing and Ada Moore and Mae Barnes, with Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Don Byas, Flip Phillips, Horace Henderson, Sir Charles Thompson, Charlie Parker, Ed Hall, Alex Combelle, Joe Turner, Big Joe Turner, “Jazz From A Swinging Era,” Humphrey Lyttelton, Eddie Condon, J. J. Johnson, Benny Goodman . . . and I am sure I am leaving out many sessions.
Even though Buck was playing jazz in Shanghai in 1934, before he came home and stopped off in Kansas City, he seems to have been a rather undramatic man for all his exploits. He showed up on time for the gig; he could talk to the audience; he wrote excellent charts and swinging originals; he was beautifully dressed; he transcended late-in-life health problems to launch a new career as a bandleader when the trumpet no longer responded to his urgings. How unfortunate to be so bourgeois.
I only encountered him in person once: in 1971, there was a New York Jazz Museum Christmas party (if I have this right) where he was among a large number of musicians advertised as performing. Buck was there, not playing, but splendidly dressed and very polite to a young fan who asked for his autograph. (A side story: the musicians who actually did play, beautifully, were Chuck Folds, Gene Ramey, and Jackie Williams. Someone requested MISTY and Ramey, upon hearing the song title, said, quietly, “I don’t play that shit,” and leaned his bass against the wall for the next three minutes, returning when the music was more to his liking.)
I also saw Buck — perhaps in 1980 — at a Newport in New York concert possibly paying tribute to Billie, with musicians including Zoot Sims and Harry Edison — attempting to return to playing. His beautiful tone was intact on a fairly fast SUGAR, but he was having trouble hitting the notes one could sense he was aiming for . . . heroic but painful.)
Let’s listen to Buck again.
Here are the two takes of WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS from the 1938 Kansas City Six session for Commodore — with Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones. It’s hard not to focus on Lester — but it can be done. Hear Buck, golden, easeful, and lithe . . . the only trumpet player I know who approaches his sly mobility is Bill Coleman of the same period. Like Louis, he constructs his solos logically, one phrase building on its predecessors and looking forward to the next, each one acting as a small melodic building block in a larger arching structure — melodic embellishment with a larger purpose:
Any improvising musician would say that Buck’s solo choruses are not the work of an immature musician and not easy to do; his graceful ensemble playing is the work of a master. But it sounds so easy, as if he were singing through his horn. And that tone!
Here he is in a 1954 session that few know of — a Mel Powell-led jam session at Carnegie Hall, with Ruby Braff, Jay Brower (trumpet), Vernon Brown, Urbie Green (trombone), Tony Scott (clarinet), Lem Davis (alto sax), Buddy Tate, Eddie Shu (tenor sax), Romeo Penque (baritone sax), Mel Powell (piano), Steve Jordan (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), Jo Jones, Gene Krupa (drums):
Buck appears near the end –just before Gene and Jo trade phrases. And, yes, you read that correctly. A marvel!
Here’s Buck with Ben Webster, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, George Duvivier, and Jo Jones in C JAM BLUES (1959):
And after his playing days had ended, as leader / composer / arranger of his own Swing Band, captured in France (1991) on RAMPAGE IN G MINOR:
The other swingers on that stage are Gerry Dodgion, alto; James Chirillo, guitar; Joe Temperley, baritone sax; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Matt Finders, trombone; Doug Lawrence and Arthur “Babe” Clarke, tenor saxophones; Phillipe Combell, drums.; Dick Katz, piano; Dennis Irwin, bass; Bobby Pring, trombone; John Eckert, Greg Gisbert; trumpet.
Someone who hasn’t forgotten Buck Clayton is the UK bassist / writer / radio host Alyn Shipton, who has performed often with Buck’s compositions and arrangements as the Buck Clayton Legacy Band. Here they are in this century performing Buck’s tribute to his friend and fellow brassman Humph, SIR HUMPHREY:
That band is full of people who understand Buck and his music (some of them heroes of mine): Menno Daams, Ian Smith, Adrian Fry, Alan Barnes, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Martin Wheatley, Alyn Shipton and Norman Emberson.
I would encourage anyone reading this post to go to his or her shelves and take down a recording by Buck and revel in its glories. Milt Hinton used to have a memo pad with this heading (because of his nickname “The Judge”):”You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music.” If you were to explore and re-explore Buck Clayton’s jazz world, you would have more than a month of pleasure.
He never provoked controversy; I doubt he will ever have his own online forum with vigorous acrimonious discussion of the minutiae of his life . . . but he created beauty whenever he raised his trumpet, composed a melody, or led a band.
If you read JAZZ LIVES and the name Dan Morgenstern doesn’t ring an entirely lyrical bell, then something in the cosmos is surely out of synch.
I can only speak for myself — as someone who, since the early Seventies, read his liner notes so closely as to unintentionally memorize them, someone who looked for his articles and reviews in books and jazz magazines, someone who tuned in to WBGO on Sunday nights to hear his presentations on “Jazz From the Archives” as a special treat.
And everyone I know in the field — musicians and writers — shares my enthusiastic gratitude to Dan during his illustrious work (since 1976) as the director of Rutgers-Newark’s Institute of Jazz Studies in Dana Library. And the larger world has noticed, too — Dan has won eight Grammy awards.
It’s always especially rewarding to be able to celebrate someone while that person is around to hear the tributes in person . . .
On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, from 4-8 PM, at the Newark Club, One Newark Center, 22nd Floor, Newark, New Jersey 07102, there will be a celebration of Dan Morgenstern’s Life in Jazz — with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, music, and entertainment. The Institute of Jazz Studies at Dana Library at Rutgers University – Newark will commemorate Dan’s contributions to jazz and the university with a retirement event in his honor.
Dan’s musical friends — Randy Sandke, Daryl Sherman, Anat Cohen, Joe Peterson, and Dan Faulk — will be performing through the evening, and there will be three special musical tributes. The price of a single ticket is $75.00, and you can RSVP by contacting Elsa Alves at 973.353.3798 or emailing Merve Fejzula at email@example.com. If you can make it, please let Elsa or Merve know as soon as possible — and you might also want to make a contribution to support the Dan Morgenstern Endowment Fund (completely tax-deductible). Checks should be made out to Rutgers University, and sent to
Elsa Alves, Institute of Jazz Studies; John Cotton Dana Library; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; 185 University Avenue; Newark, New Jersey 07102-1814.