Tag Archives: Ray Brown

HAMP AND DOC: LYNN “DOC” SKINNER and the LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL: A MEMOIR (by DR. LYNN J. “DOC” SKINNER as told to ALAN JAY SOLAN)

News flash: I started to review this seriously entertaining book a few months ago, lent it to a friend who promised to return it after a weekend, then didn’t . . . so this review is, with apologies, late.  But I offer this anecdote to show I am not the only person who found the book irresistible.

Some books, full of invaluable information, are austere and forbidding.  “Do you dare to approach, ignorant mortal?  Are you worthy of opening my pages?  Don’t even think of removing my dust jacket.”  Other books, equally worthy or perhaps more so, are casual and welcoming.  Reading them is like having a very relaxed old friend over to your house for a meal, and the friend — never boring — is a treasure chest of pleasing stories you’ve never heard before.

HAMP AND DOC is a marvelous example of the second kind of book.  I’ve said it often, but books that tell me new stories are enticing reading, as are books that are narrated by the participants.  And, I never thought of it as a criteria, but if a book has a great deal of affection in it — in this case, someone’s hugging or getting hugged every few pages — that, too, is a winner.

Lionel Hampton is deservedly well known, not only for his long career, his many talents, his ebullient musicianship, the hundreds of musicians whose lives he touched — so this book has a kind of anchor in its story of Hamp’s last years, from 1984 to 2002, years full of playing and energetic involvement in the lives of everyone he encountered.

Lynn “Doc” Skinner would not be well known, I think, outside of Idaho, but he also has touched many lives — as a musician, multi-instrumentalist and composer, a music educator, a festival organizer, an ingenious and kind man never at a loss for an idea, and ultimately as a friend to hundreds, perhaps thousands — some of them famous, others not known to us.  Born in 1940, he is still with us, and HAMP AND DOC is his engaging story as well.

Engaging stories are at the heart of this affectionate, vivid book, and the ones that I find memorable reveal character.  Many know that in 1997, a fire in Hamp’s New York apartment destroyed everything he had.  He was 88, had had two strokes, and was sitting outside his apartment on the sidewalk in a wheelchair, clad in pajamas and robe, having been helped outside by two attendants.  What you won’t know is this telling anecdote.  Watching the fire from the street, Hamp calls Doc, who knows nothing of what is going on, and asks him, “Doc, are you okay?” and getting an answer in the affirmative, then tells him about the fire.

Of course, not everyone in this book is a saint (although most of the cast of characters are eminently nice): Doc tells the story of Sarah Vaughan refusing to get in the student’s four-door sedan that is picking her up from the airport because her contract specifies a limousine, and, later, refusing to go on because she does not have her $10,000 fee (cash) in her hand.  Other sharp and tender vignettes have Stan Getz, Al Grey, Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Claudio Roditi, Clint Eastwood, Dizzy Gillespie, or Bill Charlap at the center.  But the affectionate relationship between Doc and Hamp is the book’s backbone, and the wonderful things that resulted — the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival (the first jazz festival aimed at students, the first one named for a musician, the first one named for an African-American) and later, the Lionel Hampton School of Music.

The book is free from ideological bias or theorizing — in that regard it is blissfully old-fashioned, but it is as if we are privileged to spend some delightful afternoons with Doc as he shares his crystal-clear recollections reaching back to his childhood and forward into the present.  Like Hamp, he comes across clearly, as a man with a purpose, devoid of artifice or meanness.  He is ambitious, but his ambition is for the music alone and what it can do to reach others.

It’s a welcoming collection of lovely stories, well-edited, with beautiful photographs, many in color, and a lively design overall.  Not incidentally, the book benefits hugely from the unseen talents of Alan Jay Solan, the man to whom Doc told his stories.  The book works wonderfully as a book — not simply as a collection of associated memories — because of Solan.

Any jazz fan who loves Lionel Hampton, who feels good after reading stories where kind people treat each other kindly, or who wants to see lovely candid photographs will love this book.

Here‘s a link to Inkwater Press, although I am sure that the book is available in many other places (there’s a Kindle edition also).

And in case you have done the unthinkable and taken Hamp for granted, here are two pieces of evidence to prove that a truly bad idea.

Hamp and a stellar cast of Ellingtonian friends (Carney, Hodges, Cootie) and Jess Stacy in 1937:

Fifty years later, on the David Letterman Show:

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM, PART TWO (July 19, 2017)

Because he is justifiably one of the most busy musicians I know, it was hard to find a time when saxophone master and master raconteur Michael Hashim and I could sit down and talk at leisure.  And because Michael is so busy gigging, it was hard to find a photograph of him without a horn attached to him, but I did.  (I love the dashing color palette here.)

Michael and I had a long afternoon’s conversation last July, the first two segments of which I posted here.

Now, throwing caution to the winds — or another apt cliche — I offer the four remaining segments of our talk.  And, as you’ll hear, Michael is one of those rare creatures who can speak beautifully, extemporaneously, without hesitation: lovely long sentences, full of information, feeling, and wit, come tumbling out.  A master of improvised prose as well as one of improvised music.

Three.  In which Michael speaks so well and affectionately of Jimmy Rowles — the pianist, the man, and the artist — with side-glances at Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, and The Fifth Dimension, Tommy Flanagan, Phyllis Diller, Benny Carter, Michael’s own recording with Rowles, Ray Brown, and some comments on race:

Four.  In which Michael tells anecdotes of encounters with heroes in New York, saxophonist Pony Poindexter, trombonist Benny Morton, as well as jazz clubs Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, with memories of Red Balaban, Jo Jones, Bobby Pratt, Tony Bennett, Joe Muranyi, Artie Baker, Roy Eldridge, Scott Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Freeloader, and others:

Five.  In which Michael remembers not only individual musicians but the feeling and understanding of their art that they embodied, including Cab Calloway, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, Eddie Barefield, Sammy Price, Jerry Potter, Earle Warren, Phil Schaap,Toots Mondello, Percy France, Doc Cheatham, Scott Robinson, Roy Eldridge, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie, Haywood Henry:

Six. In which Michael lovingly speaks of the importance of the drums and remembers memorable percussionists and the players surrounding them, including Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Locke, Ray Mosca, Oliver Jackson, with a special pause for the master Jo Jones, for Sonny Greer, Johnny Blowers, Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Bubber Miley, Elmer Snowden, Freddie Moore, Eddy Davis, Kenny Washington, Billy Higgins, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, George Butler, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Henderson:

What an afternoon it was, and what a person Michael Hashim is.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFULLY POLISHED BRASS

Here’s something good.

And another taste:

CHRIS HODGKINS CDI don’t ordinarily like surprises, because so many of them feel as if someone has crept up behind me and popped an inflated paper bag to watch me suddenly soar up to the ceiling — but the most lovely surprise is meeting someone new and finding out that (s)he has deep joyous talents you’d never known of before.

Such a person is trumpeter / composer Chris Hodgkins.  In fairness, I’d already heard Chris play (on recordings only, alas) and admired him as a thoughtful lyrical trumpeter — someone who admired Louis, Ruby, Brownie, Humphrey Lyttelton, without imitating a phrase.  And I hear the same kind of tenderness I always heard in Joe Wilder’s playing.  (In the interest of accuracy, I will note that I first heard and wrote about Chris a few years ago here.

The two YouTube videos above offer music from the new Hodgkins CD, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, which I celebrate here as an outpouring of sophisticated yet gentle Mainstream jazz.

I had the opportunity to write a few words for this disc, and they will serve as my enthusiastic endorsement:

Chris Hodgkins and friends do not have the international reputations they deserve, but they create endearing music that doesn’t reveal all its secrets at once.

Aside from two originals and the poignant BLACK BUTTERFLY, the repertoire suggests a formulaic Mainstream set that one might hear at a jazz party. But that narrow assumption vanishes once the music begins, for Chris, Dave, Erika, and Ashley offer serene yet searching chamber jazz, refreshing improvisations on familiar songs. (Although I suppose that SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is now arcane to all but a few listeners.)

I delight in the delicately streamlined instrumentation, reminiscent of sessions by Ruby Braff and Warren Vache. Hearing this music, I am breathing in the light-hearted interplay, without the conventions of four-bar trades or ensemble-solos-ensemble. The players have created an airy, open music, full of pleasant wanderings but solidly grounded in melody and beating-heart rhythms.

And this music gladdens on many levels: a musician could analyze and admire subtle rhythmic displacements, chord substitutions, shifting textures. A casual listener would say, “What is that? That sounds beautiful,” and both responses would be true.

Chris is a master of his instrument. He can modulate from what Agatha Beiderbecke heard in her son’s playing, a “sudden perky blare,” to what Ruby Braff recognized in Lawrence Brown’s “a wonderful little cry.” I hear echoes of a grand tradition – everyone from George Mitchell to Clifford Brown and beyond – but Chris is himself throughout.

Emotionally warm music comes out of the emotions of the players – not only their love of sounds and textures, but a love for the people who have gone before and who have created personal art. On this CD, one hears everyone’s affection and admiration for the great ancestors, but Chris cites two people in particular.

One, his older brother, played trumpet, so Chris heard Louis and Morton and more, but, as he says, “When I was about 14 or 15, my brother said, ‘You don’t want to hear it, you want to play it!’ so he got me a trumpet from a second-hand shop and I never looked back.”

Later, Chris played with guitarist Vic Parker. “He was born in Cardiff, played in London before and during the war. In 1940 he worked at the Embassy Club in Bond Street playing accordion and double bass with Don Marino Barreto. He can be seen in Barreto’s band during a nightclub sequence in the musical film Under Your Hat. He came back to Cardiff and I used to work with him in the Quebec every Monday and Wednesday. We had a little duo, just playing standards, and he would sing in a Cardiff accent. When you’re young, you forget so much. You can be handed the keys to the kingdom and you don’t notice. Working with Vic was like that: he was in his late 60s then, one of the nicest guys you could meet.”

Chris has also played alongside Pete Allen, Rod Mason, Kathy Stobart, Humphrey Lyttelton (whose passionate influence I hear), Buddy Tate, and Wild Bill Davison.

Chris is also a wise generous leader, someone who knows that Being Out Front Always is hard on one’s chops as well as on band morale, so each performance makes his colleagues equals rather than subordinates. One of the most moving performances here is A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, an etude for piano and two double-basses, both celebration and elegy for wartime Britain, with death, romance, and endurance intermingled.

And those colleagues! Bassist Erika Lyons appeared on a BBC master class with Ray Brown, and studied with Buster Williams, Rufus Reid, and Hal Galper. Now she plays jazz festivals all over the world. Pianist Dave Price is a deep student of jazz piano from the Thirties to tomorrow, and he has worked with Tubby Hayes, Tony Coe, Nat Adderley, and Peanuts Hucko among many others. Bassist Ashley John Long is known not only for his work with Hans Koller, Bobby Wellins, Keith Tippett and others, but for his compositions for film, television, and the concert hall.

Together, they make BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD what jazz recordings should be, no matter what genre: warm, wide-awake, deeply personal.

If you go to the channel that Chris has created on YouTube, you can hear two more beauties from BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD and more lovely music.

The CD offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUNDAY, ANGEL EYES, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, BLACK BUTTERFLY, JEEPERS CREEPERS, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, VP, JUST FRIENDS — and it’s beautifully recorded. Here you can find out more — including how to purchase the disc, which I do recommend.

May your happiness increase!

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN THE COMMON LANGUAGE IS SOPHISTICATED SWING: TED BROWN / BRAD LINDE: “TWO OF A KIND”

One of the nicest aspects of the jazz brother-and-sisterhood is that music eradicates many barriers less enlightened people mistakenly construct.  When Louis Armstrong arrived in a foreign country whose language he couldn’t speak, the band playing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE at the airport told him that everyone knew what to say and how to say it.

Jazz critics construct Schools and Sects, so that people under thirty are supposed to play one way, people over seventy another.  But the musicians don’t care about this, and jazz has always had a lovely cross-generational mentoring going on, where the Old Dudes (or the Elders of the Tribe or the Sages) took on the Youngbloods (or the Future Elders or the Kids) to make sure the music would go on in the right loving way.  In theory, the Jazz Parents look after the Young’uns, but the affectionate connection works both ways: sometimes younger players bring back the Elders (Eva Taylor, Sippie Wallace, Jabbo Smith) from their possibly comfortable retirement, find them gigs, make sure that the audience knows that the Elders aren’t dead and can still swing out.  When the partnership works — and it usually does — everyone feels good, especially the listeners.

One of the most rewarding examples of this has been the side-by-side swing partnership of tenor saxophonists Ted Brown (now 85) and Brad Linde (now 33), which I have followed and documented in a variety of live appearances in New York City, the most recent being a wonderful evening organized by Brad at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn in December 2012, to celebrate Ted’s birthday.

TED AND BRAD coverAnother celebration is the new CD by Ted and Brad — TWO OF A KIND (Bleebop Records # 1202).  It reminds me of the Satchel Paige line about age: it was all about mind over matter, and if you didn’t mind it didn’t matter.  Or words to that effect.  If you closed your eyes while listening to this delightful CD, you wouldn’t hear Elder and Younger, you wouldn’t hear Master and Student.  You would hear two jazz friends, colleagues, taking their own ways on sweetly swinging parallel paths to a common goal — beautiful arching melodies, interesting harmonic twists, and subtle rhythmic play.  And the material is both familiar and fresh — Ted’s original lines that twist and turn over known and time-tested chord structures: SMOG EYES, SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN, and his new tribute to Lester, PRESERVATION, and Lester’s blues line POUND CAKE.  Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz are happily in evidence here as well, with Warne’s BACKGROUND MUSIC, the theme from Tschaikovsky’s Opus 142 that Ted and Warne recorded together on a classic session, Konitz’s LENNIE’S, and the indestructible MY MELANCHOLY BABY and BODY AND SOUL.

It’s a delightful CD — on philosophical grounds of music transcending artificial definitions and barriers — beautifully recorded, full of feeling and sweet energy.  No abrupt shocks to the nervous system, no straining after novelty — just evocations of a world where melody, harmony, and swing rhythms have so much to offer us.  Thank you Brad, Ted, Tom, Michael, Don, and Tony.

Visit Ted’s website here; Brad’s here.

I was originally considering titling this post BEAUTIFULLY OLD-SCHOOL, but realized that not all of my readers would take that as a compliment.  I don’t mean that TWO OF A KIND consciously tries to make it sound as if life had come to a graceful halt in 1956, but if one heard this CD playing from another room, one might think it was a newly discovered classic Verve, Vanguard, or Contemporary Records issue — because of the great ease and fluency with which the players approach the material and intuitively understand their roles in an ensemble.  The young players — although not known to me — are just splendid, as individualists and as a cohesive rhythm section.  Michael Kramer, guitar; Dan Roberts, piano; Tom Baldwin, string bass; Tony Martucci, drums, work together as if to the late-swing / timeless-Mainstream manner born, and if I heard sweet subtle evocations of Mel Lewis, Ray Brown, Tal Farlow, and Jimmie Rowles, no one would blame me.

If you have never heard Ted and Brad together, here they are at The Drawing Room — playing BROADWAY with Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  Sweet swing, gentle urgencies, messages to send throughout the universe.

May your happiness increase.

THE BRAVE JOURNEYS OF JENNIFER LEITHAM: “I STAND CORRECTED”

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

I first encountered the virtuoso jazz string bassist Jennifer Jane Leitham at the Sacramento Music Festival a few years ago — and was impressed by her eloquent improvisations.  Not only did she have technique, but she was a powerfully focused musician. Although I had never encountered the jazz string bassist John Leitham in person, I had heard him on recordings with Mel Torme, George Shearing, and other jazz notables. I STAND CORRECTED is a marvelous film documentary that traces the transition from John to Jennifer.  It is a deeply felt collaboration between Jennifer and filmmaker Andrea Meyerson. You don’t have to be a jazz fan to admire the film or its subject. It chronicles  the life-long journeys of Jennifer Leitham, who courageously exists in two simultaneous realms.  One story — more familiar — is how a young person born in Pennsylvania (not New Orleans, New York, or Kansas City) becomes a jazz musician in a time and place not all that hospitable to jazz.  Or perhaps not to larger kinds of improvisation. But I STAND CORRECTED is about much more than “becoming a musician”: early inspirations, good teachers, learning one’s craft, breaking in, getting a nationwide reputation, working alongside famous players and singers — with heartbreaks that keep the story genuine, not an unbroken climb to the top. I STAND CORRECTED is about a young woman born into a boy’s body who, early on, knew she was in the wrong place, in a society that would not admit such things might be possible.  It is a record of how John became Jennifer while not letting her essence be destroyed in the process.  For  John Leitham was a wondrous musician before Jennifer emerged in the public eye, and one of the sweetest aspects of this saga is Jennifer’s awareness and acceptance of both selves: this isn’t a film about an enraged, wounded adult trying to obliterate her younger self, but an adult who wants to emerge as the person she knows herself to be. I STAND CORRECTED offers that human story and more in a most moving film. For one thing, Jennifer is an exceedingly likable guide, honest but not pompous nor didactic or narcissistic.  I STAND CORRECTED is not a sermon telling us that we should all be tolerant.  There are no scientific or academic talking heads, no instant revelations. The film is a casual but strongly felt journal of one woman’s struggle to be the person she was meant to be.  Jennifer is both candid and light-hearted without ever undercutting the seriousness of her quest.  The film touches on emotional crises (a divorce, family members unable to accept Jennifer when they knew only John) and medical catastrophes, without becoming bleak. Of course, it helps that an audience has seen Jennifer onstage, ebullient and serious at the same time, playing at the highest level of her art, testing herself while having the time of her life.  And the film is generously leavened with musical performances where Jennifer shows off her prodigious talents as improviser, composer, singer. But the real story is more than a music video. Along the way, John-in-the-process-of-becoming-Jennifer is forced to be a spy in enemy country.  But she finds allies, friends, and supporters.  Some of them are genuinely unaffected noble people: Doc Severinsen is someone you would always want in your corner — gentle yet unwavering, both parent and friend to someone who strongly needs both.  “I hired a bass player, not a man or a woman,” he tells her.  Bless him.  Ed Shaughnessy is not far behind.  (Jennifer’s younger brother is a prize, too.) I was reminded that Doc and Ed were born n an era of drinking fountains labeled COLORED and WHITE outside train stations in many states.  But they and other jazz musicians learned quickly that it didn’t matter what you looked like on the outside.  It didn’t matter who your life-partner was.  Black, white, gay, straight?  Could you play?  What was your heart like?  How well did you love? Meeting these gracious, generous people is one of the film’s pleasures.  But they are only reflecting back something shining out of the film’s heroine.  Jennifer Leitham is gently making her way, as we all must.  Her courage is admirable, for she made the transition at the height of her career, when “coming out as a woman” could have ended her life as a performing musician. I STAND CORRECTED introduces us to a person for whom making music was a way to save herself, to define herself . . . and her music is a great loving gift to all of us.  The salvation young John found while playing the electric bass left-handed (a conscious choice, perhaps an early sly way of saying “I am different”) radiates through this film — a gift Jennifer gives to us.  And as she trusts herself, we trust her. We are all trying to become the person we feel we are meant to be, and some get close to that goal.  Jennifer Leitham’s quest didn’t end when she came out of the hospital after surgery.  It continues every time she performs or tells her story — a story that will give some other young person courage to be him or herself. I STAND CORRECTED is beautifully yet unobtrusively presented: the film shifts back and forth from the early life of John Leitham to the music of Jennifer Leitham to her voyage of self-discovery, the situations she must face and the oppositions that result — as well as the emotional rewards. At the end of I STAND CORRECTED, we feel privileged to have met a happy, realized, creative human being: a woman with four birthdays. And as we are slowly — too slowly — leaving behind the world where skin color or sexual preference determines identity and worth, I STAND CORRECTED will be understood as a small milestone on the way to a world where the idea of MAN or WOMAN is put aside as irrelevant in favor of PERSON, of BEING. It is a rewarding film both musically and spiritually.  Make every effort to see it.  Its heroine’s courage and perseverance are inspiring.  In a world where many people make judgments based on someone’s external presence, we need to be reminded that the truths lie within. Here is the film’s website — where you can see trailers and find out where it is being shown. May your happiness increase.

“WELCOME TO NUTVILLE”: A BUDDY RICH DOCUMENTARY

The filmmaker Brian Morgan seems to me to be someone full of energy, creativity, and humor.  And he’s set out on a course of action that seems both logical and daring: to make an expansive documentary film that will do justice to the life and music of the remarkable jazz drummer Buddy Rich.  From every bit of evidence we have — the recordings, the interviews, the television and film appearances — Rich was not only a monumental musician but someone determined to go his own way in all things — thus a first-rate subject for a large study on both counts.  And since so many jazz legends have been documented many years after they are dead, timing is everything . . . while the people who knew and worked with Buddy are still on the planet.

Brian has one great advantage in that he has the enthusiastic commitment of Cathy Rich, Buddy’s daughter — someone blessed with some of her father’s determination.

Projects like this are no longer funded by major grants or huge Hollywood studios (we know that if one of the latter got hold of this idea, it wouldn’t resemble Buddy’s life or music at all when it was through) . . . so Brian and Cathy are asking for your help, your support, and your contribution.  Even if you can’t bankroll the project in some dramatic way, I urge you to watch the video here.  This site is accepting one-dollar donations, although I am sure they wouldn’t mind more sweeping largesse — and since just about everyone who ever sat down at a drum set since 1937 has in some way been conscious of Mr. Rich, I wish that all the drummers — professional, amateur, and people who tap on the table — would take this appeal seriously.

And as a reward for your patience and generosity, here is a seventeen-minute collection of excerpts from the 1950 film Norman Granz never saw to its completion, tentatively titled IMPROVISATION, which finds Buddy among Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Bill Harris, Harry Edison, Flip Phillips, and Ella Fitzgerald . . . not only showing off the fast company who worked with and admired Buddy, but how wonderfully he fit into this varied presentation by musicians with very different styles:

May your happiness increase.

FEEL THE WARMTH: TED BROWN AND FRIENDS AT SOFIA’S (Part Two: Jan. 13, 2011)

In reading about tenor saxophonist Ted Brown and his connections to Lennie Tristano and what is characterized as “the Tristano school,” I kept finding the words abstract, intellectual, cool. 

It intrigues me to see those terms used as faint praise, as if anyone who ever had contact with Tristano was suddenly transformed into a snow creature.  I didn’t hear that in Ted’s playing. 

And even though I come from the world of HOTTER THAN THAT and STEAMIN’ AND BEAMIN’ (you could look those up), I heard the music that Ted and friends played on that snowy night as lyrical, song-based, not a series of chilly mathematical puzzles.

The participants that night at Sofia’s (221 West 46th Street, New York City) for these performances were Ted on tenor; Lena Bloch, tenor; Bob Arthurs, trumpet; Michael Kanan and / or Sacha Perry, piano; Murray Wall or Stephanie Greig, bass; Taro Okamoto, Hyland Harris, or Mark Wadsworth, drums. 

Listen and observe for yourself!

Here’s SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE, an improvisation on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?  — with its eminent creator, Lee Konitz, sitting at the bar, sipping his beer, listening closely to what his friends (Ted, Bob, Michael, Murray, and Taro) were creating.  (Perhaps some of my more “tradition-minded” readers will find the opening chorus a little startling.  Have faith: this music won’t bite you!):

DIG IT!  — now there’s a title to conjure with.  Ted, Michael, Murray, and Taro ride the lovely up-and-down contours of this loping line with grace and wit:

Another apt title — THE THINGS I LOVE — is a sweet saunter through romance and romanticism worthy of late-period Lester Young and his friends Jimmy Rowles, Ray Bown, and  Jo Jones.  These players certainly have heartfelt stories to share with us.  And I thought again of Pete Malinverni’s assertion, “It’s melody, man!”  Yes, it is!:

For I REMEMBER YOU, some new friends came to play: Lena on tenor (two tenors doesn’t have to mean JATP); Stephanie on bass, and Hyland on drums.  Thanks for this memory!:

And the closing music honored Bird — in the same melodic, lazily intense way.  First, YARDBIRD SUITE, with Ted, Lena, Stephanie, Hyland (swinging that hi-hat and brushes in the noble manner), and Sacha:

And, to close off this rewarding evening, SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE, featuring Ted, Murray, Michael and Sacha, and Mark.  That personnel listing might seem a mistake, but watch closely.  Sacha is a wondrous pianist (as is Michael) and he had played on YARDBIRD — but you can see him politely hoping that another chance to play might happen before the evening came to an end.  In the most gracious way, the two pianists switch seats slightly more than halfway through the performance — true gentlemen as well as swinging improvisers!:

Abstract, intellectual, cool?  Hardly! 

And I hope to be watching Ted, Brad Linde, Joe Solomon, bass, and Taro create more of the same delicious music on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011 from 9:30 to 1 AM at Tomi Jazz in New York City: 239 East 53rd Street (lower level) between Second and Third Avenues.  Their phone is 646-497-1254; their website is http://www.tomijazz.com.

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

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“PUT A SWING IN YOUR STEP” WITH CHRIS DAWSON and FRIENDS

Chris Dawson hasn’t received the attention his playing deserves, but his latest CD (for Blue Swing Fine Recordings) will fix that.  It’s superb. 

Need proof?

People who admire these musicians as I do won’t need any more prompting.  They can buy copies (note the plural) of the disc at www.blueswing.com.,  www.CDBaby.com., or email Chris personally at chrismartindawson@yahoo.com to purchase personally inscribed copies.  

Here’s some of what I wrote when I first heard the disc:

When a European jazz researcher asked Eddie Durham what he thought of Edmond Hall, Durham said it all in one sentence, “Edmond Hall didn’t know how not to swing!” Those words popped into my head as soon as this disc began to play, because for Chris and his friends inspired jazz improvisation is second nature.

Mind you, I don’t pretend to have cool objectivity.  I first heard Chris as part of the ensemble on a handful of sessions about twenty years ago (with Rebecca Kilgore, Marty Grosz, and Hal Smith) and he leaped out from the speakers although he wasn’t playing any louder than anyone else.  It was the absolute rightness of what he played: time, feeling, harmonic subtlety – an art that didn’t call attention to itself and thus was instantly compelling. Although I heard echoes of Nat Cole, Hank Jones, and Mel Powell, Chris was complete in himself, and his playing was more than a collection of memorized gestures.

It might seem melodramatic for me to write that I spent the next two decades waiting for this CD, but it it’s the truth.  I was delighted to hear Chris’s solo Christmas CD in 2009, and thrilled to see clips from these sessions appearing on YouTube.  Now, the evidence is here to share and treasure!

I doubt that these five players immersed themselves in Golden Era science fiction, but it would explain a great deal, for they are time-travelers who don’t need gleaming machines.  Chris and his gang have reached the kind of musical flexibility and maturity where all swinging jazz is equal and equally worth cherishing: James P. Johnson and Bud Powell live in the same building and chat happily in the elevator.  Listen to PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, where Chris melds the earthy yet delicate swing I’d associate with a 1938 Vocalion with the harmonic inventiveness and sense of space that characterized “Mainstream” several decades later.  It isn’t artificial: I never feel that he is thinking, “Now I’ll throw in an Augmented Nineteenth chord in the right hand (from Hindemith) over my Official Stride Pattern (Don Lambert) in the left”; it’s genuine and internal, in the manner of such stylistic investigators as Ruby Braff and Dave McKenna.

And although music has the power to make us reflect deeply on the great sadnesses we all face, this session is resoundingly happy – it echoes the reassuring pace of the steady heartbeat.  Even the lovely ballads on this disc aren’t hopelessly gloomy: while their sounds chronicle shattered dreams (as on OH, YOU CRAZY MOON), we admire the beautiful sounds.

Chris’s gang has a cohesive energy that could rearrange the landscape.  Listen to the pulse of that rhythm section, the way the players work together to the common goal.  And there’s the pure sound of Hal’s Sid Catlett- inspired brushes and rimshots, of Denny’s impassioned strum (he loves Allan Reuss and Steve Jordan), of Christoph’s woody, speaking bass, reminiscent of Ray Brown. Each of the members of this rhythm section could propel a big band on their own (hear Denny’s introduction to SAILBOAT); together, they are a living display of joyous synergy.  And with Dan Barrett on the date, no other horns need apply. To me, he is a jazz Midas, casually making everything golden.  (Dan is responsible for the nifty little riff that the band uses to send Christoph on his merry way on SWEETIE.)

Chris said to me, “I felt really fortunate and lucky to have this band. Each guy was my number one pick, so this was my dream team.  I’ve been playing with Christoph for about twenty years.  We met at USC, while he was working on his Masters and I was doing my undergraduate work.  He’s a very serious, dedicated musician, an inspiring player to know and work with.  I’ve known Dan for almost that long while playing gigs together in the local Los Angeles jazz scene.  I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I respect his musicianship immensely!  I learn new things about music and what it means to be a professional player whenever we talk.  I met Hal while on an Evan Christopher gig around 1992.  I wouldn’t have done this project without him and I’m so happy I got him before he moved to San Antonio to work with Jim Cullum.  I was wondering which guitar player would suit us best, and Dan recommended Denny.  He was new to me, but I trust Dan 100% and it worked out great.  I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Although Chris doesn’t dramatically demand the spotlight, I find myself listening to a performance over and over, savoring at how Chris’s left hand knows what his right hand is doing, and vice versa.  And he’s my model of an ensemble pianist – how does he pick just the right notes?  Hear him support, cheer, and encourage everyone throughout this disc!

And the wonderful little charts – just right – are also from the noble hand of Mr. Dawson.  Chris told me, “One thing I hope that separates this project from others is those arrangements.  It isn’t a jam session, thrown together in the studio, but it’s a little more thought out.  For example, there’s the recurring introduction, interlude, and ending on THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME, as well as the unison intro and ending on ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU.  Also I like to use key changes for variety – ALL I DO modulates from F to C; WE’LL MEET AGAIN goes from Bb to C and ends up in Eb; RITZ bounces back and forth between C minor and G minor before ending in C minor.  I love the way the Benny Goodman Trio did this kind of thing.”

Chris is not only a satisfying small-group arranger but a splendidly masterful pianist.  Admire his unerring gently propulsive pulse; his steady time; the ringing sound he gets out of the instrument; his chord voicings.  And what delights he can create in a small space: his four-bar introductions are gems.  MY IDEAL is a graduate course (for those who can hear) in how to make melody come alive, how to convey tenderness while keeping the rhythm going.  And his HANDFUL OF KEYS honors Fats – in ways both accurate and jubilant – adding his own touches to this great display of playful athleticism.

For once, the title of this CD is accurate, musical truth in advertising: this music will uplift you on your daily rounds in a way that no costly set of orthotics could. And the glowing, generous sounds and textures here will resound in your ears long after the disc has concluded. Denny told me, “Quite honestly, playing time with Hal and Christoph was like breathing air – so natural and so effortless. A real pleasure indeed – they did the work and all I needed to do was open my ears.” 

Pleasures untold greet those who listen!

And a little coda:

Chris is an original, not a copyist.  He isn’t a museum piece but a creative improviser . . . !  And what he does is irreplaceable.

TUESDAYS WITH CHARLIE (CARANICAS)

Charlie Caranicas, trumpet / fluegelhorn player by night, lawyer by day, is an often under-acknowledged New York jazz hero.  He can lead a “Dixieland” ensemble with power and grace, then turn around and play Monk with subtlety and deep feeling.  Or he can create jazz that both enhances the melody but doesn’t scare away the uninitiated.  I first heard him perhaps five years ago with Kevin Dorn’s band at the Cajun, and have delighted in his playing ever since.

New Yorkers have new opportunities to hear Charlie in low-key, intimate surroundings at two restaurants. 

One of them, Pane e Vino, is in Brooklyn (www.panevinony.com).  It’s located at 174 Smith Street, thirty seconds away from the F train’s Bergen Street stop.  The music begins at 8:30 PM and goes until 11, more or less.  Charlie appears there with his own trio — a guitarist and bassist, the latter often the admirable Kelly Friesen.  The trio will be there on Tuesday, May 4th, and on May 18th. 

I visited Pane e Vino a few weeks ago and was impressed by its quiet atmosphere (the trio plays near a small collection of overstuffed chairs and sofas) and cozy darkness.  (The darkness defeated every camera that I had with me, but it lent the music a lovely intimacy.)  With Charlie that night were Kelly on bass and the very fine guitarist Mark McCarron.  The trio must have felt like honoring Benny Carter, because they began their first set with a walking WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW (Charlie played his solo into a red-and-white metal derby) that showed off McCarron’s subtle chording and Kelly’s fine flexible pulse.  After a version of DINAH that began medium-fast and then went into double-time, with Charlie bowing to Louis’s 1933 Copenhagen version, the trio returned to Carter with a yearning ONLY TRUST YOUR HEART, for which Charlie picked up his fluegelhorn, filling the room with his warm, cushiony sound.  A pulsing THESE FOOLISH THINGS made me think I had gone back in time to hear Harry Edison, George VanEps, and Ray Brown — names to conjure with!  Singer Lisa Hearns sat in for a trio of Basie-infused standards, APRIL IN PARIS, CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY. 

Wednesday morning beckoned with its chill finger, so I stayed for only the first set, but it was convincing jazz — relaxed but focused swing.  I was amused to see that Charlie’s derby doubled as a tip jar, and some of the listeners seemed to know what it was for. 

I haven’t been to Charlie’s New York City gig, but he’ll be at BOOM on Tuesday, May 11th.  It’s a restaurant / lounge in Soho, also with a trio, 8:30 until 11:30.  BOOM is at 152 Spring St., just east of West Broadway (www.boomsoho.com).  Charlie’s website is www.charliejazz.com, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you asked to be added to his email list.  He’s worth hearing!

SMILING JO JONES

As a high school student, I supplemented my intermittent jazz record purchases by listening to the records available at my local public library.  One of the librarians was hip.  Someone had good taste!  The collection included Ellington and George Lewis, Jimmy Rushing and Vic Dickenson, Benny Goodman and “The Sound of Jazz,” among others.  On those records — particularly the Vanguard sessions supervised in the early and middle Fifties by John Hammond — I first heard the sound of Jo Jones, his swishing hi-hat cymbals, his emphatic rimshots, his irresistible swing. 

I had already fallen in love with the propulsion and pure sounds of Catlett and Wettling, but Jo was a revelation: I can still hear the way he brought the band in on Vic’s RUNNIN’ WILD, or the three perfectly placed accents (all different) he used to propel Tommy Ladnier in a fast WEARY BLUES at the 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert.  And, a little later, when I bought my first Billie Holiday records, the Kansas City Fiva and Six, the Decca Basie band . . . I wanted to hear every record Jo Jones had ever been part of.   

Here is Jo — exuberant, explosive, grinning, soloing at the end of a fast blues, on a 1957 Nat King Cole television show devoted to Norman Granz and the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe.  This clip begins at the end of Roy Eldridge’s solo (in mid-scream) and at the end Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown are visible:

But that clip gives way to my own memories of Jo in person, onstage and off. 

This post is motivated by a recent conversation I had with the Beloved about the subject of retiring from one’s job, leaving a career behind.  I told her one of the stories below and she said, astonished, “You spoke to Jo Jones?  Smiling Jo Jones?” hence my title. 

Not only did I speak to Jo Jones: I took this photograph of him in 1981:

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

Jo Jones at the West End Cafe

True, the shot is amateurish: a head is in the way, my flash’s explosion is visible, the overall hue suggests Halloween . . . but Jo’s slow-motion mallet, on its ways down, pleases me greatly.  And the photo evidence that I was there, capturing this moment, which is no small thing.

Many other moments come back to me now. 

My friend Stu Zimny found out, sometime before 1972, that one could see Jo at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop.  We decided to go there, as if we were making a pilgrimage to some sacred place.  Was Jo holding court there, as befits an artist and aristocrat, or was he making a few dollars in a job unworthy of him, as I have read?  I don’t know.  I do remember buying a pair of 5B parade drumsticks from him — to practice with — and snippets of this conversation. 

In person, Jo was animated, inscrutable, vehement.  Something in his manner and approach defied easy explanation.  It felt as if we were speaking to a character in a play — and only Jo had the script.  There was also some element of unpredictability, even of danger, as if he might suddenly get furious at you in the middle of a conversation, as I saw happen with Ruby Braff.   

(Ruby, incidentally, told us a wonderful story about working with Jo at Storyville, almost twenty years earlier: Jo would never say, “Let’s play ROSETTA,” but start a rhythmic pattern and tempo on his hi-hat or snare and leave it up to the musician to guess which tune might best go with that tempo.  Ruby shook his head in disbelief when he recalled, somewhat in desperation, picking some song that he thought might be fine at that tempo, and Jo saying, “That’s it!  You got it!” as if Ruby had telepathically found the answer.  “I don’t play with him any more.  He’s nuts,” said Ruby.) 

Even when speaking to people he knew and liked, Jo had a particular tone of voice that in someone else might have been ironic verging on contemptuous.  But with him it was a form of emphasis.  You could hear capital letters, boldface, italics in his voice.  And he had a fierce energy in his speech: a conversation with him was like being strapped into a centrifuge, an untiring monologue, rising and falling. 

Spotting Jo at Ippolito’s, I imagine that we introduced ourselves as jazz listeners, fans, admirers.  And then one of us asked Jo where we could hear him play.  Was he gigging anywhere?   

He looked at us with weary resignation, two innocent Caucasian college boys who had asked a silly question.

“I’m re-ti-red,” he said, by way of explanation.  “I don’t play the drums anymore.  Leave all that to the kiddies,” he continued.  We couldn’t believe it, and asked him again.  He wasn’t playing any gigs, no festivals?  All he would say was that he was “re-ti-red.”  If we needed a drummer, he suggested that we call Buddy Rich.  Stu points out that Jo offered no contact information for Buddy.  

We went away from that encounter half grieving, half amazed.  We had gone to the mountaintop to meet one of the elders, to receive counsel and inspiration, and the elder had said he had packed it in.

The sequel to all this is that some months later we saw Jo’s name prominently advertised as one of the musicians who would appear in the Newport-New York Jazz Festival.  I think, now, that he had been putting us on.  But perhaps in his own head he had decided to retire.      

In the next decade, we had the opportunity to see him in a variety of situations: concert halls and jazz clubs.  He drove Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS at their 1972 concert appearance (a band that included Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Buddy Tate, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and an out-of-tune Bernard Addison) and took a long solo in the middle of SLEEP — a virtuosic exercise that stopped the song and the show.  Two years later, he appeared at the Newport “Hall of Fame,” as part of a quintet with Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Wilson, and Hinton, his playing was immaculate, sensitive, not showy — Hackett turned the last bridge in “Body and Soul” over to Jo, who filled the air with urging, whispering brush strokes and accents.  

Tom Piazza, then a student at Williams College, arranged a concert of the jazz elders — when such things were still possible: Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge, Benny Morton, Budd Johnson, Claude Hopkins, and Jo.  Stu and I went there, armed with a heavy tape recorder, and (in the face of numerous obstacles: an inebriated Budd, a student running the sound board who turned the record level up and down for no reason, an over-exuberant audience) we focused on the band.  Jo traded eights and fours with Milt on a leisurely STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and did his volcanic version of CARAVAN, with every grimace, every surprise firmly choreographed. 

He smiled incessantly when he played: he glowed.  But when we saw Jo in clubs, at close range, he often appeared to be brimful of some barely contained anger.  And though we had come to the gig hoping to hear something delicate, witty — that magical hi-hat sound, those quietly insistent brushes that had levitated so many recordings — he would beat out the time loudly, indefatigably, on a brassily resonant ride cymbal.  It was clear that there were two Jonathan David Samuel Joneses: one, the player we had heard on records, lifting the band with what Donne called “gold to airy thinness beat”; the other, furious at something, wanting to control it by pure sound and pure volume.  Stanley Dance told me about producing a 1961 session that paired Jo with some Ellington alumni — Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Ray Nance, Sir Charles Thompson — and Jo being infuriated about something, then playing as loudly as he could. 

I recall several instances of this irritation-translated-into-music.  When there was a ragtag band of “Basie alumni” assembled at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage: sic transit gloria mundi), Jo walloped the ride cymbal as if wanting to drown everyone out.  At a short-lived spinoff of the Half Note, “The Onliest Place,” a venture that lasted only a few weekends, Jo led a little band one night.  If I remember correctly, it included bassist Tommy Bryant, Ben Richardson on clarinet, Skeeter Best on guitar, and one or two other players.  They embarked on a nearly forgotten Thirties pop tune, CALL ME DARLING, which was not terribly familiar, and some members of the band got lost.  I can hear Jo shouting, “The middle!  The middle!” although I am not sure that this advice averted chaos.  Irritability and delighted in-jokes always characterized his appearances with “The Countsmen,” a group that included Doc Cheatham, Benny Morton, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate, Chuck Folds, Franklyn Skeete, and Jo.   

Jo could play magically in clubs, though.  I remember going to Gregory’s, a tiny room, to hear Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  That duo played splendid embroidered jazz for one set and then Jo walked in, unfurled his newspaper, took out a set of folding wire brushes, spread the paper on a chair, and played with elegance, amusement, and grace.   

At the West End Cafe, thanks to Phil Schaap, Jo had a fairly steady gig: “Jo Jones and Friends,” which was most often a quartet of Harold Ashby on tenor, a pianist (sometimes Don Coates), and bassist John Ore, who had played with Monk.  One rainy night in particular stands out.  It was time for the band to begin and Ore had not arrived.  Jo began his sets with a medium-tempo blues in G, and, muttering to himself, he set the tempo by tapping his snare drum with his fingers.  Ashby soloed; the pianist soloed, and when it came to the two or four choruses that would have been taken by Ore, Jo grimaced, muttered loudly and incomprehensibly to himself, and played choruses of accompaniment — as if Ore had been there — with the tenor and piano silent.  It was mildly eerie.  Ore came in soon after, apologized for being late (he lived in Brooklyn), but it took the rest of the night for Jo to become calmer.      

One summer on Long Island, I read that Buddy Tate would be bringing a band, including Jo, to play a free outdoor concert somewhere miles from Manhattan on the North Fork.  It may have been Southold.  We drove out there and saw Tate’s outfit play the first half of the concert, with some of their members, including Jo, missing.  Jo’s son may have subbed for his father on drums.  Eventually, much later, a fire engine drove up, with a few cars following.  Jo came out of one of them.  They had gotten lost and asked directions at a firehouse.  I would like to report that the Tate band, plus Jo, played magnificently, but that wasn’t the case.  The group reassembled itself, and Jo demanded his feature on CARAVAN.  It went on, no nuance or flourish omitted, for something like eleven minutes.  After that, there was only time for Tate to play a hasty LESTER LEAPS IN, and the concert ended.  Perhaps it was because of episodes like this that when we mentioned Jo’s name to musicians of a certain era, their expressions grew wary and guarded.  “He’s crazy, man,” was the response we got from more than one well-established player.

But he could be politely accessible to fans.  I recall approaching him at the West End, before the gig had started, with a new vinyl copy of a record, FOR BASIE.  I had bought it that afternoon and hoped that Jo would autograph it for me.  Recorded in 1957 for Prestige-Swingville, it brought together Shad Collins on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor, Nat Pierce on piano, Walter Page on bass (one of his last recordings), and Jo.  The cover picture showed Jo in a heavy flannel buffalo-plaid shirt with wide suspenders over it, and he grew animated and showed the other musicians at the table.  “See that?” he demanded of them.  “That is style!” he insisted, happily.  And he autographed the back side of the cover in a large ornate hand.  When he was through signing, he said to me that he had never heard the music.  I could take a hint, and offered him this copy (I had another at home).  I hope that it gave him pleasure. 

At another, later West End gig, I had with me a new record, OUR MAN, PAPA JO! — on the Denon label, which had a picture of Jo in full glower at his drum set, on the cover.  Thinking that one can never have too many Jo Jones signatures, I asked him to autograph this one also.  He stared at the cover, held it at arm’s length.

This will keep the burglars from your house!” he gleefully told me. 

In 1981 and early 1982, he was getting more frail and having more difficulty.  Jo played with great delicacy at a “Salute to Pres” concert, offering his familiar dancing trades with Milt Hinton — but he had to be helped up on the drum throne.  At the last West End gig I recall, playing was becoming more and more arduous for him.  When I heard about him next it was the news of his death in 1985.

Photographer Richard H. Merle was at Jo’s funeral, and he caught this poignant moment of Max Roach at Jo’s coffin — the flag draped over the back because Jo had served  — with great reluctance — in the Army in World War Two. 

 

Jo Jones Funeral

Jo Jones’s body has been gone for almost twenty-five years.  Yet his sound remains, and his smile — like the Cheshire Cat’s — has never been effaced.  

Copyright 1985 by Richard H. Merle.  All rights reserved.