Tag Archives: Red Allen

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

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

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

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

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

THEY’RE EASY TO DANCE TO! (Part One): HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND” at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Evergreen, Colorado, July 26, 2019)

Find your Capezios, please.  JAZZ LIVES will wait.

Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band” is delightfully subversive in its own way.

Its members are formally dressed in the way that jazz musicians used to be (Coleman Hawkins would never have gone to a gig or a recording session in a tight blue polo shirt with a band name on the left pectoral).  They are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory (which, to some, might paint them as an old-fashioned New Orleans jazz repertory ensemble).  Thus, they can seem scholarly rather than rambunctious (Hal, aside from being one of the half-dozen best jazz drummers, is a scholar of the music who can tell you what the band name means, to take just one example).

BUT.  Let us not be fooled by surfaces.

OTL, as I occasionally call them, is one of the best small swing units now playing.  They don’t copy old records; their music is uplifting dance music, and swing dancers have a wonderful time with it.  The band rocks; they are informal but expert; their solos soar and their ensembles groove.

Their secret, which no one whispers aloud, is that they are closer to a Buck Clayton Jam Session than to a Bill Russell American Music shellac disc.  And in this they are true to the source: Ory kept up with the times; he loved to swing, and he loved to create music for dancing.  But you need not take my word for it.

I captured three of the band’s sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and this one is particularly dear to my heart because it is music for swing dancers.  In 1959, more or less, the Kid and trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, old pals from New Orleans, made recordings and gave European concerts which drew on a swing repertoire somewhat looser than the stereotype.  Not “Dixieland” or “trad” in their essence, these records captured a particular musical ambiance where disparate personalities were free to roam.  The Verve records were particular pleasures of my adolescence, so to hear Hal and the OTL play those swinging songs was a joy, not only for me, but for the dancers.

I should point out here that the band at Evergeen was made up of Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; guest star Clint Baker, trombone, vocal; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader.  American Popular Songbook, too — two Gershwins, two Wallers!  (But — just between us — these are very familiar tunes which have been overdone in less subtle hands.  Hear how the OTL makes them soar, with what easy lilting motion.)

And here’s a nod to Bill Basie and the golden days, LADY BE GOOD:

The Fats classic, done at a nice tempo, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

Yes, I GOT RHYTHM, played au naturel, at a sweet Thirties bounce:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, again, made new by a splendid tempo:

This music transcends categories.  And as such, it is transcendent.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLIE PARKER in SWEDEN (1950): “$3000 or BEST OFFER (FREE SHIPPING)” / KID ORY and RED ALLEN in DENMARK (1959)

Bird went to Sweden, and here’s singular proof.  The eBay link is here and here are some impressive photographs of the holy relic:

and

and

and

and

and

and some aural evidence also:

Kid Ory and Henry “Red” Allen toured Europe in 1959: here, a Danish collector got the band’s autographs:

and this is the link.

The band did more than sign autographs!  Pay close attention to Henry Red in his late, musing phase:

May your happiness increase!

SPICY DELICIOUS MUSIC: THE DORO WAT JAZZ BAND

Doro Wat is the national Ethiopian dish, a spicy chicken stew.  I recall eating it in Oakland, California.  Exhibit A:

but there’s also Exhibit B, 49 minutes and 52 seconds of spicy music:

and the back cover:

You need read no more.  Listen!

The band is slightly more than a year old, and it’s a wonder: T Werk Thomson, string bass; John Rodli, guitar; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal.  The beautiful recording was done by John Dixon at the Spotted Cat; the singular typography is by SEEK1 and TOPMOB!.

And the repertoire — which tells an educated listener how wise and deep this hot band is: JUBILESTA / OH, PETER / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / JAMAICA SHOUT / POTATO HEAD BLUES / TIGHT LIKE THIS /  BUGLE CALL RAG / RUMBA NEGRO (Latin) / RUMBA NEGRO (Swing) / IF I WERE YOU / SAN / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES.  Just to point out the forbears, how about Ellington, Red Allen, the Rhythmakers, Bennie Moten, Teddy Wilson, James P., Mister Jelly Lord, Louis.  And there’s a delightful freedom in their homages: this music comes from the heart, not from someone’s imposed notion of what “trad” or “New Orleans jazz” is.  It’s free-flowing and glorious.

Here’s T Werk’s own narrative about the birth of a band, verbatim from Facebook:

February 23 at 10:51am ·
About one year ago I got a call from John Rodli asking me if I wanted to play a gig with him at Three Muses on Friday night. I said something along the lines of “Duh, Idiot. Totally down.” Being Rodli, he didn’t book anybody for the gig and asked me to just throw something together last minute. That first gig had Ben Polcer, James Evans, Rodli, and myself on it. After that gig we immediately realized that we had something totally killer going on here. Once we locked down a weekly gig at Three Muses is when this band really took shape. We were able to add two of the most bad ass musicians I know to fill out the band’s lineup. Charlie Halloran and David Boeddinghaus (🛥🏠). With that killer lineup already rolling we had to add Tom Fischer on reeds as well because we’re all totally insane. After playing for a few months we realized that it was time to make a CD. In November we booked off two days to make a record not realizing that we would only need the first 3 hours and 8 minutes of the first day to record the whole thing. As a musician, going into a studio and coming out three hours later with a killer product is one of the best feelings you can have. That being said, we now have our first record available for purchase! A huge shout out goes to John A Dixon for absolutely CRUSHING the art work. Seek 1 & Top MOB for slaying the lettering and Sophie Lee Lowry and the staff at Three Muses for letting us have Three Muses as our homebase week after week. Keep an eye out for a CD release party coming up really soon. Until then you can purchase digital downloads of the album from band camp or through the Louisiana Music Factory later on today. Of course we will also have this CD for sale tonight at Three Muses from 9-12.
I’ve never been so proud to have my name on a record as I am with this one. Polcer, James, Charlie, 🛥🏠, Fischer and Rodli are the best musicians to work with and we get to do it every week. LET’S DO SHOTS!!

I’d say it a little differently: this recording makes me bounce with happiness.  The rhythm section is a thing of joy, and the soloists know how to speak in their own voices and to join as a choir — the goal of having a deeply melodic satisfying good time.  I keep getting stuck on the first track, that growly piece of Thirties Ellingtonia, JUBILESTA.  But I keep on playing this disc.  And you’ll notice I’m not explicating the music: if I had to do that, I’d despair of my audience.  You’ll hear just how fine DORO WAT is very quickly.  It’s restorative music that I’d like everyone to hear.

And from another angle: I was on a wobbly barstool at The Ear Inn last week, talking with my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, and I said, “You know, THIS is a Golden Age right now.”  DORO WAT is very convincing proof.  Thank you, kind wild creators.

May your happiness increase!

“IT SURE SOUNDS GOOD TO ME”: WHEN IT’S SWINGTIME IN SAN DIEGO (PART TWO) with KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, HAL SMITH, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, and KATIE CAVERA (Nov. 25, 2017)

Yes, the very thing: Kris Tokarski, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass, with guest star Katie Cavera, guitar / vocals.  Recorded November 25, 2017.

No one is truly that shade of purple in real life (aside from children’s television) but they played beautifully, ignoring the vagaries of stage lighting.  For the first part of this set, including CRAZY RHYTHM, IDA, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, and I NEVER KNEW, please click here.

Now the second helping.

Here’s Katie to sing one of her (and our) favorites, I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS — a Twenties phrase brought back a decade later in this 1936 song by Charlie Tobias and Sam H. Stept, which I first learned through Henry “Red” Allen’s recording of it, where (as was the custom) he couldn’t change the gender of the lyrics.  They fit Katie better:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME, with a delicate reading of the verse by Kris, solo:

This is surely a swing (and swinging) band, but my goodness, how they can play a ballad.  Case in point, I SURRENDER, DEAR:

and the set concludes with the Twenties classic, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

What a great band!  I look forward to seeing them at other festivals, and I hear that PBS, NPR, and the BBC are all ears, too.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES CECIL SCOTT, DICK KATZ, AND NANCY HARROW (Sept. 29, 2017)

I won’t go on at length about my good fortune — having Dan Morgenstern patiently sit and tell wonderful stories to my camera so that you can all delight in his warmth, his first-hand experience, and his beautifully articulated love for the music and the musicians . . . but here are two interview segments from my most recent visit, September 29, 2017.

The first, a belated celebration of reedman and splendid figure CECIL SCOTT:

Here’s Cecil in a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM:

and one of my favorite recordings ever, Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON (with Cecil and J.C. Higginbotham):

Here are Dan’s affectionate memories of someone who was much loved and is not, I fear, well-known today, pianist / composer DICK KATZ and the very much with-us NANCY HARROW:

On a personal note or two: I am more involved in this video than I usually am, and I hope our conversation bothers no one.  On the subject of conversation . . . as soon as I’d shut the camera off, I said to Dan, awe-struck, “YOU KNOW Nancy Harrow?” and through the kindness of Daryl Sherman and Dan, Nancy and I have met and exchanged compliments and gratitudes — a great blessing.

But back to DICK KATZ.  Here is Dick playing THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

and THREE LITTLE WORDS:

and with Nancy Harrow on a very touching rendition of IF YOU WERE MINE (I need no excuse to recommend Nancy to you):

Dan Morgenstern says, “Dick was a dear man.”  Dan Morgenstern is a dear man.

May your happiness increase!

“NO CHARGE FOR TABLES”: MR. ARNOLD GOES DOWNTOWN, HEARS JAZZ

The Stuyvesant Casino, Second Avenue and Ninth Street, visually:

And audibly:

One of the nicest parts of having JAZZ LIVES is that generous like-minded people want to share.  I received an email from Mr. Madison Arnold some time back, with this photo-enclosure, a Bob Maltz postcard from 1950, autographed by James P. Johnson, Joe Sullivan, Gene Sedric, Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Archey.  To the left, Tony Spargo and Pops Foster.  Below, that Sidney Bechet fellow:

I was one of the steady jazz loving week-end customers at the Central Plaza and Stuyvesant Casino from around 1950 to 1952 and got these post cards weekly. This is the only one I kept. I started when I was still in Erasmus Hall H.S. (they didn’t card in those days). My favorites were Bechet & Wild Bill but I loved them all. Among my memories: I helped Pops Foster put his bass in a cab one night and we went to the Riviera on Sheridan Sq., Red Allen pulled me up on stage once and we sang “The Saints Go Marching In” together. I became friendly with Baby Dodds and invited him over for dinner one evening to our apartment in Brooklyn. I also visited his place in Harlem. I have a Xmas card he sent me, written, I think, by his lady friend as I don’t think he could write. My personal Louis Armstrong stories are even better! (at least to me). He was a wonderful guy.

You can imagine that I asked Mr. Arnold to tell all.  And he did:

First time I met him was Xmas time 1949. I had just bought a Louie 78 at Big Joe’s record store on W.46th St. I’m walking down B’way and I’m shocked to see Louie walking up B’way.  I remember shouting “Satchmo” and the 2 of us walked, with our arms around each other, uptown to the Capitol Theatre where he was playing. I was so excited, I almost broke my record showing it to him. He invited me to visit him in his dressing room someday. A few days later, with a friend of mine, we bought tickets for a matinee show at the Capitol (75 cents?). I remember that, besides Louie and his group, Jerry Lewis’s father performed some comic stuff. Anyway, after the show, we went to the stage door and I told the door man that Louie invited me to come up. He phoned up to his room, got the OK and up we went. Louie was resting in a cot and the first thing I noticed was the Star of David hanging from his neck and thought, can’t be, he can’t be Jewish! I have no idea what we said but, coming from school, I had my note book which had his picture pasted on the inside cover. He signed it (green ink) and it hangs on my wall today along with a second one he signed at another time.

The second time was my graduation night from H.S. We were having a marshmallow roast on the beach at Coney Island when I remember saying, “Satchmo’s playing at Bop City. Let’s go.” About 5 or 6 of us took the subway and ended up at Bop City on, I believe, 47th and B’way. I told Louie who we were and he made an announcement, the exact words I still remember: “There’s a buncha kids just graduated from Erasmus High School and I’d like to dedicate my next number to them.” He put his horn to his lips and blew Auld Lang Syne ending by skat singing,”old acquaintance, be forgot baba ba doo zip, yeah” all the time looking at me (us).  A great musician and a warm wonderful person.

Louis, as we know, remains a warm wonderful person.  But right next to him is Mr. Arnold, so generous to us all.

May your happiness increase!

ONCE RARE, NOW HERE: LOU McGARITY and FRIENDS, 1955

 LOU McGARITY ArgoTrombonist and very occasional violinist and singer Lou McGarity, who died in 1971, was both reliable and inspiring.  I think I first heard him on recordings with Eddie Condon, with Lawson-Haggart, and with a wild 1941 Goodman band that included Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and Sidney Catlett, who gave McGarity the most extravagant backing.  Lou was a delightful presence, someone who could electrify a performance with a shouting yet controlled eight bars.  I also gather from his discography that he was an expert section player and reader, for many of his sessions have him surrounded by other trombonists.  But Lou very rarely got to lead a session on his own aside from two late-Fifties ones.
He traveled in very fast company, though, as in this gathering at the Ertegun party, held at the Turkish Embassy in 1940.  (Photo by William P. Gottlieb):
LOU McGARITY Turkish Embassy 1940
Let us have a long pause to imagine what that band sounded like, and to lament that it wasn’t recorded.
But onwards to 1955.  I imagine that someone at M-G-M, not the most jazzy of labels, decided that it would be a good idea to have some “Dixieland” to compete with the product that other labels were making money on.  I don’t know who arranged this session (Leroy Holmes? Hal Mooney?) but McGarity was an unusual choice: a thorough professional with fifteen years’ experience, however with no name recognition as a leader.  Was he chosen as nominal leader because he wasn’t under contract to any other label or leader?  And, to make the session more interesting, the four titles are all “originals,” suggesting that M-G-M wanted to publish the compositions themselves or, at the very least, pay no royalties for (let us say) MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  I’d guess that the compositions and arrangements were by the very talented Bill Stegmeyer.
LOU McGARITY EP
Most of the personnel here is connected, on one hand, to Eddie Condon sessions of the Fifties, on the other to the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band. There’s Lou, Yank Lawson, both Peanuts Hucko and Bill Stegmeyer on reeds, Gene Schroeder, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  And here’s the music.  I say gently that it is more professional than explosive, but I delight in hearing it, and hope you will too.
MOBILE MAMA:

NEW ORLEANS NIGHTMARE:

BANDANNA:

BIRMINGHAM SHUFFLE (not SUFFLE as labeled here):

A mystery solved, with pleasing results.

May your happiness increase!

SARAH SPENCER’S TRANSATLANTIC BAND! (2015)

SARAH SPENCER

I first met Sarah Spencer (tenor and soprano saxophones and vocal) slightly more than a year ago and was immediately impressed by her deep immersion in the music — more specifically, New Orleans jazz (think of Cap’n John Handy) with digressions into Red Allen and J. C. Higginbotham, Al Bowlly, and others far and wide.  I wouldn’t get into a discussion of what “authentic” jazz is — too many potholes and roller skates left on the stairs — but Sarah played and sang in ways that seemed to come right from the heart, and she did her idols honor by evoking them while being herself.

Sarah had recorded several CDs but not much recently, so her new one — a selection of music recorded on location (Rochester, New York, October 18 / 19, 2015) is very much welcome.

SARAH CDand the other side:

SARAH CD 2I think the details are readable, but a few words about the music are apropos.

First off, it’s her TRANSATLANTIC BAND.  Sarah was born in the UK, and trombonist / vocalist Mike Owen made the trip especially for the session.  The other members of the ensemble live and work on the East Coast, from Connecticut to Massachusetts, and their names should be familiar to traditional jazz devotees in that “Northeast corridor.”

The band is a refreshing hybrid.  I think that someone deep into the recorded legacy will recognize some respectful nods to legendary performances, but this is not an hour-and-change of “playing old records live.”  It’s audible immediately that this is a band that values both individual expression and ensemble improvisation, and several performances absolutely get up and romp as they gain momentum.  (It’s the kind of band where cornet and trombone both have metal derby mutes set up in front of them, if you get the reference.)

You can hear an enthusiastically involved audience, but no one claps along, whether on the beat or near it.

Sarah is distinctive — her rolling, bubbling tenor and soprano work goes in and out of the band (she thinks of herself often as a member of the rhythm section as well as a front-line soloist) and for all the people who come up to her after a set and say, “You really should listen to ______ or _______,” people she admires, she follows the more obscure but also satisfying path of Manny Paul.  Her singing is truly gutty and rich, fervent and occasionally raw (when the material demands it) and she never stands at a distance from the song, but jumps right in.

Here are two samples from the sessions, with a slide show of the players.

One begins the CD (a bit of whimsy, perhaps?): GET OUT OF HERE AND GO HOME:

and here’s LOVE SONGS OF THE NILE (video first, sheet music cover below:

LOVE SONGS OF THE NILE cover

Other delightful vocal highlights on the disc come from Messrs. Mazzy and Owen, both deep into their own particular grooves.

The selections on the disc are wisely and sweetly arranged so that variety — not in some irritating way — is the principle.  Tempos, keys, and approaches vary from song to song, and there are several performances that are slower than medium tempo (always pleasing) with a stomping samba, sidelong glances at NOLA street parade conventions, and some deep blues.  The recording has some of the endearing imperfections that come with a live session (and I emphasize endearing) — all the things that I would rather have than the sometimes chilly perfection of a studio recording.

I’ve listened to the CD twice since its arrival yesterday, and I don’t see it as being shelved any time soon.  It’s honest, juicy music.  To get a copy for yourself, your friends, your extended family, email Sarah herself at sarahtsax@aol.com and let her know your thoughts.  The financial details are $20 for each disc (including postage and packing within the US); £15 (as above) in the UK.  Other countries will have their own special economic deals, and I am sure that Sarah would listen intently to a conversation about quantity pricing for double-digit orders.

May your happiness increase!

GETTING SOME FUN OUT OF LIFE: The DAWN LAMBETH TRIO at the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest (Part One)

DAWN headshot

Recently, I had an experience of warm intelligent swinging musical creativity that still brings a smile to my face: two sets by the Dawn Lambeth Trio at the San Diego Jazz Fest (November 27-29, 2015).  The trio is Dawn, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Ray Skjelbred, piano — and the music they create is both earthy and ethereal, down-home and in the clouds.  Intelligent expert frolic.

Hear and see for yourself.  Perhaps, like me, you will think of Eddie Condon’s dichotomy, dividing music that comes in the ear like broken glass or the rarer kind that comes in like honey:

GETTING SOME FUN OUT OF LIFE:

I MUST HAVE THAT MAN (truncated because someone stood in front of my camera for the first chorus — probably transfixed by the sounds):

Please notice that although those two songs are forever associated with Billie Holiday, Dawn is not in the imitation-business: she sings them because they are durable engaging songs, and she sounds like herself.

WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME (in honor of Red Allen):

More to come.  And I know that this Trio is planning a touring schedule, so I must check and see how many frequent flyer miles I have amassed.  Thanks to Paul Daspit and Hal Smith for making this possible.

May your happiness increase!

BOILERMAKERS, FRENCH FRIES, AND SORROW

Let us remember, mourn, and celebrate Richard McQueen Wellstood in three ways, for he was too expansively singular to be contained in one alone.

The first is a blessing — the man himself — on a 1981 BBC video, the program called Pebble Mill At One,” where Wellstood plays AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and RUSSIAN RAG, then we have the immense happiness of Dick, Kenny Davern, and Kenny Clare for A PORTER’S LOVE SONG and BLUE MONK:

The second is prose — what my briefly-known friend, the late Leroy “Sam” Parkins, reedman and thinker, called “random mutterings” wrote about Dick in 2002:

Dick Wellstood, pianist / catalyst, died in 1987.  Died of boilermakers, french fries, and sorrow.

In somewhat over 50 years of playing this music, there’s only been two accompanists that gave me the vitamins I need.  Roger Kellaway . . . and Dick. On 6 of the 9 records I’ve made – well – let’s take it from wherever the top is.  Oh yeah – the boilermakers. Tapered tall glass of Guinness Dark, and a 3 oz. glass of Wild Turkey.  Repeat ad libitum . . .

Some random mutterings about Dick.  The basics.  Law School; Editor, Columbia Law Review [that’s what he told me.  His biographer says NYU]. Folks, that’s big time.  Passed the bar exam, went right back to the Metropole to play with Red Allen.

Brilliant.  Funny.  Fast forward. Late in his life, with considerable saloon burn-out, he took up an offer from some customers from a Wall St. law firm to join them at work.  The first thing he learned was that lunch was billable time.  You don’t do lunch.   They put him to beginners’ shit work, but he was so brilliant that after about six weeks got the class stuff.  Hated it.  After eleven months he returned to Hanratty’s and his beloved piano.  Dick Sudhalter went to visit him real soon at the club.  Wellstood said, sitting down at the piano, “The law don’t take no fucking brains.  This [plays piano] takes brains.”

One weekend night that summer of ’86 I stayed to the end and closed the joint. Remember it’s six nights a week.  He got paid. $500.00.  For the week.  Got it? This is a superstar in Europe, the tippy top of his craft, raved about in newspapers in 5 languages. Making 1/10th – wrong – make it 1/20th – of what he would have been making by then in law . . . .

Third, Wellstood in an excerpt from a 1977 CBC documentary, THEY ALL PLAY RAGTIME, offering CAROLINA SHOUT and his own SNATCHES.  At several points in the second performance, his left hand is a blur:

I think we only intermittently understand ourselves, so our comprehension of what is going through another person’s mind and heart can be at best empathic guesswork.

So although I prize Sam Parkins’ recollections of Dick Wellstood, friend and hero, I hope Sam was wrong.

I hope that Wellstood, someone who created so much joy — a joy that continues now — was not sorrowful, that there was not a direct causal relationship between the low pay and insufficient recognition and his too-brief life.  But only he could tell us, and he might not even have known it fully for himself.  His ebullient quirky music and his singular personality remain, and they are too large and too beautiful to be quantified in any small way.  He gave generously of himself, and that lives on.

But there’s always more than just one truth.  Dan Morgenstern, who’s lived with the music in ways most of us — no, all of us — haven’t, wrote this to me [on April 6] about Dick.  It is worth a careful reading.

Since Dick was a dear friend–first met him in 1947!–I was a little unhappy about that screed from Sam (whom I didn’t know quite that long, but also well, back to when he was Leroy P.). Funny thing, they were both brilliant minds and fine writers with interests ranging far beyond music (about which they also went beyond jazz boundaries). But Sam, clearly still upset about Dick’s sudden death, as we all were, paints too gloomy a picture. Dick’s encounters with the law began when, having fathered a bunch of daughters and pretty certain that jazz would not provide a good road to support, he decided to get into the legal field, upon which he managed to get a BA and pass the bar within record time (it was NYU).

He then hung out his shingle (at the time he and his wife Flo lived on the East Side, off Lexington). The work he was offered was in the main divorces and minor matters not even nearly as interesting as what you can see on Judge Judy, He soon despaired and next time I visited, the shingle hung in the bathroom. It would be quite a while before he used his legal skills, this time after they’d moved to City Island, where Teddy Charles had resided for along time, running his boat. Teddy knew half the population and got the bright idea of creating some extra income for Dick by turning paper work (tax matters and such) his way, something that only requires minimal personal contact.

That ended when Dick and Flo split up–after a while of bachelor life in a cozy basement apartment on Second Avenue, where he introduced me to the classical piano magic of Josef Hoffman and other rarities, and his excellent Lentil Salad (think I still have the recipe somewhere), as well as the wonderful gospel of the Davis Sisters. (He was not a record collector, but everything he had was a gem).

Next phase was life in New Jersey, with that steady gig on the jazz Ferry Boat in Brielle, a new marriage, and the deep friendship with neighbor and fellow ferry man Kenny Davern. The final legal stage, the one Sam writes about, did not come from some Wall Streeter, but from a lawyer fan; by now, Dick and new wife Diane lived right near Hanratty’s, where Dick not only had gigs. but selected the piano and did most of the booking–not surprisingly, of a high order. This legal work did require the wearing of three-piece suits (soon too tight) and yes, social imbibing, which came too easily. And Sam is right that Dick really disliked it. But this marriage was a good one, and of course he didn’t put the music on the back burner.

Last time I visited, not long before that awful news, Dick had some of his usual salty things to say about life, but also seemed at peace with things, and cooked up a great stew. What did him in wasn’t depression or anger. A good doctor could have weaned him off too much booze and too much unhealthy eating, gotten his blood pressure under control, and this unique and wonderful man might still be with us…..Edward Meyer’s “Giant Strides” bio is a
good read.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES P. JOHNSON MEETS LES BROWN (January 9, 1939)

On one of my record-hunting trips of 2014 I found a Les Brown 78 that would otherwise not have caught my eye.  That is not meant to demean the Brown band, just to say that I was never drawn to them.  But when I saw a Bluebird 78 of two lesser-known James P. Johnson songs (from the musical POLICY KINGS) I had to buy it to see what they sounded like.  The compositions were a love song called YOU, YOU, YOU — which I knew only through a much later recording by Dick Wellstood and Bob Wilber (instrumental) and one of the many songs celebrating a dance which possibly had a very short vogue if it had one at all, HARLEM WOOGIE.  (About a more famous recording of that song, more below).

The Brown band that recorded these two sides was John Martel, Melvin Hurwitz, Les Kritz (tp) Bob Fishel (tb) Les Brown (cl,as,arr) Steve Madrick (cl,as) Herb Muse (as,vcl) Wolfe Tayne, Carl Rand (ts) Billy Rowland (p) Allan Reuss (g) Bassie Deters (b) Eddie Julian (d):

YOU, YOU, YOU:

HARLEM WOOGIE:

Now, these are quite successful dance-band records, to my ears — although my ears are more accustomed to 1938 Basie, 1940 Ellington, 1939 Goodman, and so on.  And Herb Muse sings the two selections in a style, quite pleasant, that I associate with Pha Terrell and others.  But the records, judged as jazz opuses, are somewhat undramatic.

Here’s the HARLEM WOOGIE I remember, having first heard it around 1967 — featuring James P., Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Sidney Catlett, and Anna Robinson: searing!

Even though Herb Muse sang the lyrics more clearly, Anna Robinson clearly had great force and presence; Red Allen’s echoing the rhythm of her closing vocal phrase is priceless, as are Sidney’s accents behind James P.  And behind Sedric. But listeners can absorb this on their own.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, this is not a post setting up Bland White Swing Era music against Hot Black Authentic Jazz.  If you want to draw such conclusions, you are on your own, but I don’t encourage them, because the Brown and Johnson records have different purposes and intentions.

What does fascinate me is the brief moment-in-the-sun of two of James P. Johnson’s less intoxicating compositions.  Did he, or his publisher, offer them to as many “middle-of-the-road” Swing orchestras as possible, hoping for a hit, hoping for radio play?  Or was it the reverse (which I suspect): James P. was out of fashion in the late Thirties, attempting to be taken seriously as a classical composer — but — anyone who had been paying attention during the preceding decades knew that he wrote hits.  One of them was a love song, IF I COULD BE WITH YOU; another was a dance, CHARLESTON.  So it would be an odd bandleader who would ignore the songs from a James P. Johnson show.  It’s a pity the songs weren’t more memorable . . . or the recordings.  But it is, to me, a small but fascinating example of “crossover” before the term ceased to have any meaning.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS, LOUIS, BUNNY, MILDRED, WINGY, and GEORGE

Rarities and delights and eBay.  Oh my!

Someone saved this ticket stub — but went to the dance to hear LOUIS ARMSTRONG, N.B.C. Orchestra (with Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Luis Russell, and Sidney Catlett).  I wonder who was admitted to a dance in Texas in 1940, but it doesn’t bear thinking about:

LOUIS November 15 1940Ten years later, up north in Chicago, at the Blue Note.  The All-Stars.  But who was Bunny West? I thought — perhaps ungenerously — that she might be a vixen with a stage name, but no leads online.

(This one was purchased for $113.50 in the last seconds it was available.)

LOUIS 1950And . . . for something marvelous and never-before-imagined.  Sometime during the Second World War: a young man, Larry Bennett, unknown to me, Mildred Bailey, Wingy Manone, and George Avakian (blessedly, still with us!).  The location?  A supper club or a USO canteen? Wingy is equipped, so he was one of the headliners; George is in uniform. And Mildred?:

MILDRED WINGY AVAKIANWonderful mysteries.

May your happiness increase!

GOT WALL SPACE FOR HEROES?

Clint Baker told me about this photograph — a reproduction for sale on eBay, inexpensively.  I am trying to figure out where it might go, but so far haven’t solved the decor problem.  The hero portrayed here is Sandy Williams — a wonderfully expansive trombonist who was one of the true stars of the Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson bands, recorded with Sidney Bechet, Buck Clayton, Bunk Johnson, Ethel Waters, Art Hodes, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, Stuff Smith, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Hot Lips Page, Red Allen, Ella Fitzgerald, Fletcher Henderson, Roy Eldridge, Rex Stewart, and many others.

Where he is, and why he is wearing a parade uniform — these mysteries are for others to solve.

Here is where you can find your own copy to adorn that bare wall.  Bedroom, living room, or foyer?  Your choice. Operators are standing by.

SANDY WILLIAMS

This photograph is one-of-a-kind, so it was offered for sale for three hundred dollars (I believe) and it is — no doubt, as Mister Morton would say — already in someone’s collection.  But it is a dream in itself: a photo portrait of Hot Lips Page, circa 1937, inscribed to Jimmy Rushing:

LIPS PAGE TO RUSH

And a close-up of the inscription:

LIPS TO RUSH closeup

Finally, something very touching — I lifted this from Facebook, and its source is Michelle Fey, granddaughter of Bobby Hackett.  Here is the earliest photograph of Robert Leo Hackett with his sister Dot — very touching (even if you ignore the tiny coveralls and the way he is holding her hand).  In that serious gaze I see the beloved person who, with cornet, mustache, and bow tie, gave us imperishable music for almost forty years:

Grandpa with Aunt Dotty

I could find wall space for Sandy Williams, Hot Lips Page, Bobby Hackett and his family.  Couldn’t you?

 May your happiness increase!

HOORAY FOR CAPTAIN SKJELBRED!

Today, November 2, is the birthday of one of our heroes — pianist / composer / singer / poet / imaginer / scholar Ray Skjelbred.  He is an original, even when he is letting the great traditions flow through him; he is both inscrutable and generously open; he continues to improve life in this century.

No formulaic cupcakes with candles for Captain Skjelbred!

I offer instead a small musical mosaic of his own subversive creations — the first three when no one was supposed to be paying attention (someone might call it “making friends with the piano”) that I captured on May 25, 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival.

Since I envision Captain Skjelbred as a quiet spy in the enemy country of mediocrity and repeater pencils, the fact that I caught him unaware might just be fair play.  He does the same for and to us: in the fourth video, MY GALVESTON GAL (performed with his Cubs — Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet) there is an odd and whimsical phrase Ray creates at 1:50 that makes me say, “What? What?” every time I hear it.

And he does it again, playing the piano, playing music, playing with our expectations — and always gratifying them in ways we didn’t know existed.

Thank you, Captain Skjelbred.  We are grateful you are here.

Music for Groucho — Kalmar and Ruby, 1930:

A little Monkishness, or is it Monkiania?:

Some blues, sun-warmed, locally grown, organic:

And a pop tune from 1933, MY GALVESTON GAL, featured by Henry Allen, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Morton — much-beloved silliness, with a particularly Skjelbredian interlude at 1:50:

And no one calls him schnorrer. (Julius can explain, or you could look it up.)

P.S.  Should anyone wonder, “Michael, now you’re posting clips that last less than a minute?  Have you run out of things to post?”  The answer is, in a hushed tone, “You have no idea of what remains to be seen.” The idea of a mosaic of orts and fragments appeals to me, and I hope also to the Captain.  Found poetry!

May your happiness increase!

BENT PERSSON HONORS LUIS RUSSELL at WHITLEY BAY (Nov. 3, 2013)

Some of the hottest music of the late Twenties was created by Luis Russell and his Orchestra.  That band could “romp,” to use Pops Foster’s perfectly accurate verb, in ways that blended New Orleans polyphony and the awareness of how musicians in a big band could play effectively as sections.  Russell wrote wonderful arrangements and the band showed off a galaxy of soloists — Red Allen, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, J. C. Higginbotham, Teddy Hill, Greely Walton, Will Johnson, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin (later editions of the band, captured on record, also included Dicky Wells, Rex Stewart, and a sweetly vocalizing Vic Dickenson).  The band also backed Louis Armstrong on memorable records — and it became the nucleus of Louis’ Decca band as well.

If someone asked me to define “swing,” it would be easy to do by playing the Russell PANAMA or JERSEY LIGHTNING — perpetual motion machines that amaze and delight.

Trumpeter / arranger / scholar Bent Persson has long loved the Russell band, not only for its soloists but for its ensemble beauty — and last year at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party he offered a full plate of joy, taking us in time and space to the Saratoga Club in 1929-1930.  He was aided in this journey by Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocal; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums; Jacob Ullberger, banjo and guitar; Andy Schumm, trumpet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Lars Frank, Stephane Gillot, reeds.

SARATOGA SHOUT:

DOCTOR BLUES:

NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (with its classic vocal: is it an invitation or a command?):

LOUISIANA SWING:

ON REVIVAL DAY (purification of the Spirit thanks to Reverends Jeff and Kris):

POOR LI’L ME, with an extraordinary vocal by Jeff:

SARATOGA DRAG:

HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (which was Vic Dickenson’s first recorded vocal):

Oh, what a band! — both in the original and in the energetic evocation here.

All of this wonderfully uplifting jazz was performed (in 2013) at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party where many of these musicians will be performing in the 2014 version in a few days.

May your happiness increase!

I WISH I WERE TWINS: AN OPEN LETTER TO PAUL DASPIT of the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26-30, 2014)

First, these musical introductions.

Coleman Hawkins, 1935, in Holland:

Henry “Red” Allen, Buster Bailey, Hilton Jefferson, 1934:

Art Tatum, 1937:

Dear Paul,

I know you as the witty, beautifully-dressed, generous organizer of that jazz banquet called the San Diego Jazz Fest. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend this Thanksgiving banquet of sounds every year since 2010, and I’ve found it more rewarding than any turkey dinner.  And I like turkey.

This year, as you well know, the Fest will start on Wednesday, November 26, and go rollicking straight on through Sunday afternoon / early evening, November 30.

I gather that you created the schedule — the reason you are receiving this letter.

On any day or night during that the 26th through the 30th, multiple opportunities for pleasure are bursting all around the listener or viewer.

I’m picking examples at random: at 4:00 on Friday, there’s a solo piano concert. At 3:30, three other bands are playing in separate rooms.  At 4:15, the same thing.

Now, a good number of “favorite bands and musicians” are performing at the SDJF.  I’ve been coming back to the schedule since it was created, always with a nearly-queasy feeling.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I must ask you in all seriousness, “Paul, are you trying to do us in through a surfeit of pleasure?”

I once read about an experiment conducted by researchers trying to analyze how people dealt with making choices. They assembled children around a table, empty cereal bowls in front of each.  The researchers offered the children two boxes of cereal from which they could choose.  They added another, different box of cereal.  And another.  And kept on increasing the number.  When there were a dozen boxes on the table, the children were sobbing.

I don’t need a tissue yet, but I understand this.

It’s not only the problem of choice-making.  (“If I go to see the Wildroot Sliders then I have to miss the Shearling Fleecers as well as not hearing Petite Priscilla and her Clawfoot Tub Band!”).

For me it’s also the added problem of trying to video-record everything I and others pine for so that I can share it on JAZZ LIVES.

True, I do now have two cameras and could bring two tripods, but where is the Second Assistant Cameraperson for this blog?  No fame, no health benefits, perhaps only a free breakfast. References and prior experience a must.

Paul, I thought we were friends.

What have you got to say for yourself?  Look closely here.  Is that fair?

Yours,

Michael

May your happiness increase!

HIS WESTERN SWING (Marty Grosz / Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars, August 15, 2014)

Marty Grosz, a citizen of the world who has spent much of his time in the eastern United States, visited California for nearly two weeks in August 2014.  I’ve documented some of his musical activities, especially a glorious afternoon at Cafe Divine with Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco here and here, but the Grosz Tour also touched down on Friday, August 15, at the nexus of Hot, Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, to play some with Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars: Clint, string bass / vocal; J Hansen, drums; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, soprano saxophone; Jim Klippert, trombone.

Here are three highlights of that session.

A 1936 song we associate with Louis, Red Allen, and Wingy Manone: ON TREASURE ISLAND:

A nineteenth-century favorite that I heard in childhood, both in a lewd parody and in the Louis / Mills Brothers disc, IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE:

And a classic song to send the dancers home in a romantic haze — here performed at a groovy dance tempo with a heartfelt sing-along that almost took off, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

Thank you, Marty, and the gentlemen of the ensemble.

May your happiness increase!

“A SINGABLE HAPPY FEELING”: CLINT BAKER’S CAFE BORRONE ALL STARS (May 16, 2014)

The Friday-night Hot Spot of Rhythm isn’t Boston’s Savoy Cafe on Mass. Avenue, nor is it the Savoy Ballroom uptown: it’s Cafe Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California, on Friday nights from 7:30 to 10 PM, when Clint Baker and the Cafe Borrone All Stars arrange themselves on plain wooden chairs and swing out.

On May 16, 2014, the All Stars were Clint, trombone and vocal; Robert Young, soprano and alto sax and vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Nirav Sanghani, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo and National guitar; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.

Jazz detectives will hear evocations of Dicky Wells, the Rhythmakers, Fred Astaire, Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, Ruby Braff, Wild Bill Davison, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Red Allen, Rex Stewart, the Apex Club Orchestra, and much more. But this music is — blessedly — taking place in 2014, created on the spot by musicians who revere the old records enough to refrain from copying them. The result is simply uplifting.

BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

I’M NOT ROUGH:

JELLY ROLL:

RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

SISTER KATE:

MONTMARTRE:

MARGIE:

SEE SEE RIDER:

SWEET SUE:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

I assure you that my videos can’t capture all the joy of hearing this band at close range, live, creating as they go. I waited a long time before making the southerly trek to Cafe Borrone. Don’t let this happen to you. . .

Thanks to Jeffrey Frey and his very pleasant people for making Cafe Borrone a nice place to visit, to hear music, to eat and drink and socialize.

May your happiness increase!

ONE SOUNDTRACK FOR MY IDEAL WORLD

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW was a very popular song in the late Twenties: in my memory, it is connected to Whiteman, Bix, and the Rhythm Boys; Helen Kane; Cliff Edwards, and I am sure two dozen others.

If you’ve never heard it, here is Miss Kane’s 1927 version (with the verse and at a sweet tempo):

Its bouncy melody and amorous conceit –“[S]he loves these [apparently difficult] acts, so I am compelled to perform them also — pity poor me who has to suffer billing and cooing [but not really]” — made both singers and audiences float along in amusement.

THAT-S-MY-WEAKNESS-NOW

But between 1929 and 1939 no one recorded it in a jazz context (according to Tom Lord’s discography) and it’s understandable: its bouncy two-beat melody line and rhythms didn’t lend themselves all that easily to a smoother Swing Era treatment, and it may have seemed to contemporary audiences a relic of their parents’ now-ancient flapper / sheik past.  (The song re-emerged in later decades — with recordings by George Lewis and Humphrey Lyttelton — as a sweet homage to the late Twenties, and that is how modern bands play it today.)

I don’t know who thought of the song for this July 1944 record date, but it’s a wonderful choice.  This was one of Harry Lim’s Keynote dates, so he might have been the inspiration — or leader Pete Brown might have liked the song as a perfect match for his own jaunty, accented, ebullient playing.

As a record producer, Harry Lim had a thousand virtues: good taste in musicians, a liking for medium tempos and melodic improvisation, and the courage to have players who weren’t household names lead sessions.  His 12″ 78 recordings are a body of work that remains its freshness.  (I am only sad that when I was a young record-buyer at one branch of the New York City Sam Goody’s, I didn’t recognize him, wring his hand embarrassingly and tell him how much his fine musical taste had enriched my life.)

Here is THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW, performed by Brown, alto saxophone; Joe Thomas, trumpet; Kenny Kersey, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums.

I think the beauties of this recording are self-evident to anyone willing to listen closely for just over four minutes — perhaps a seeming-lifetime in our restless century.

The disc starts with an unaccompanied introduction by the under-celebrated Kenny Kersey, who had absorbed Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines but also was very much aware of what the jazz critics like to call, retrospectively, “advanced harmonies,” but which musicians of the time might have called “funny chords.” Kersey had played with Andy Kirk as well as with Red Allen’s Cafe Society band, and (for me) his accompaniment nearly steals the show during the first chorus, where the melody is played in a neat, clipped way by the horns.  And as for bass and drums: they provide a swing heartbeat.

The horns offer very individual sounds.  I don’t think an experienced listener would mistake Brown for any other altoist: the way he pushes the beat, as if his notes and phrases were impetuous, his solos impatient to get out of the horn where they could be heard.  And his tone!  Lemony, bittersweet, tart?  One would need a truly subtle food writer to describe the sound of his alto.  Joe Thomas, ah, Joe Thomas — glowing and spare but deeply emotive without playing one more note than needed . . . a true lesson in storytelling, full of nuance but never over-elaborated.  In the melding of the horns, they are synchronous (you hear the professionalism of musicians used to working in sections, in big bands, where blending was essential) but their individual voices are audible, their sounds so personal.

Even on longer-playing discs, the idea of splitting a chorus (the horns play the first sixteen bars of a thirty-two bar chorus; another instrument takes the eight-bar “bridge,” then the horns return or let the other players have the second half) was nothing new, but Kersey’s piano, spare and elegant, is refreshing.  But while Kersey is exploring, so — in the most sympathetic way — is Milt, climbing higher on his instrument without ever seeming to solo.  Heard’s emphatic brushwork (out of Sidney Catlett) never falters, wavers, or becomes mechanical.  The following sixteen bars are equally calm — they are riffing this evening! — with an emphatic flare on the last notes of the chorus, where the horns seem especially determined to repeat the title in song.

Brown was either a  generous or wise leader — I think both — content to build a performance architecturally rather than saying THIS IS MY RECORD and playing all through it, so if we are waiting for the leader to solo, it doesn’t happen for some time.

So the next chorus is apparently a Kersey solo, and what an elegantly swinging pianist — great musical intelligence and no cliches — he was.  But just as Kersey stole the show behind the horns, the horns (with their simple little pushing riff) might easily distract us from his gleam.  Horn backgrounds to a piano solo used to be commonplace — in the departed ideal world — but one does not hear them in this century, with some exceptions.  The way the whole band — is it only a quintet? — sounds, with such sweet subtle variety — is gratifying.  Kersey has some of the same quiet energy of Johnny Guarneri (someone Lim also loved and featured) but he is his own man, steering his own course between Fats and Bud Powell.

With a push from Heard, Thomas is on.  And how beautiful his tone is — dark, clear, not “sweet” but not harsh, brassy.  All his trademarks are in place: the careful repeated notes, the breath-like phrasing, the upward arpeggios, the pace (no matter how fast the tempo gets, at his best, Thomas mastered the Louis trick of relaxing, of “playing whole notes,” of letting everyone else seem hurried while he takes his time, admires the scenery, adjusts the knot on his tie just so.  His bridge is especially luxurious.  If, perhaps, you think, “Oh, that’s just Louis-influenced Swing Era trumpet playing, and everyone was doing that,” may I respectfully suggest that a deep immersion in the period will prove revelatory. No one sounded like Joe.  Ask a trumpet player you know to listen to that solo, closely, and see if it’s easy to create such a sound, such an effect.

Behind Thomas, Brown has been nudging the band along (there are no dead spots on this record) as it shifts into a higher gear, with Heard and everyone else deciding — to use the Thirties expression — “to put the pots and pans on,” to get seriously playful.

And then comes our leader — Mister Brown to you.  What a remarkable sound!  At first, it makes me think of someone with laryngitis who insists on speaking although his voice croaks and cracks, but one quickly gets accustomed to the sound because Brown’s pulse is so warm and enthusiastic.  He doesn’t rush, but he intently gives each phrase its own shape and a rocking momentum.  And his solo is made up of small gems, a phrase turned round and round over the harmonies, without pressure or monotony.  (I am not usually fond of quotations — some musicians overindulge — but Brown’s reference to FUNKY BUTT at 3:12 is hilarious. I hope that there is no particular connection between that subject and what the imagined lover prefers, but more likely it was just a witty idea, floating by, that laid nicely over the chords.)

And that last chorus is a marvel of tidy architecture, of generosity, of variety: sixteen glorious bars for the Judge, Milt Hinton — no one ever talked through his solos! — with the band riffing around and through his sonorous notes, then a “modern” bridge featuring Kersey, four more bars for Milt (how many people understand what Milt understood about the string bass, parallel to Jimmy Blanton?) then four bars where the band says in a politely declamatory ensemble, “THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW!” and the record is over.

Yes, I have heard recordings like this in our century, and, better yet, bands actually doing these glorious acts of solo brilliance and communal swing on the bandstand, in person, but this 12″ 78 is imperishable.  There are a million ways for an improvising jazz group to sound, and I wouldn’t be such a bully to insist that this is the only one, or the best one, but it moves me every time I hear it.

May your happiness increase!

A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE: THE SWINGING SWEDES IN CONCERT (KUSTBANDET, NOVEMBER 22, 2013)

Thanks to Claes Jansson, we have these performances by the hot, expert Swedish band KUSTBANDET — a band with fifty years of experience! — recorded in concert on November 22, 2013.

The members are Goran Eriksson, Jon “Jonte” Högman, and Klas Toresson, reeds; Jens “Jesse” Lindgren, trombone / vocal; Bent Persson, Fredrik Olsson, trumpet; Peter Lind, trumpet / vocal; Claes Göran Högman, piano; Hans Gustavsson, guitar / banjo; Bo Juhlin, tuba, string bass; Christer “Cacka” Ekhé, drums / vocal.

Onstage with OVER IN THE GLORYLAND into BIRMINGHAM BREAKDOWN:

More early Ellington with THE MOOCHE:

TISHOMINGO BLUES:

For Luis Russell, Red Allen, and the New Orleans boys in New York, SUGAR HILL FUNCTION:

Then, some Louis-inspired hot music:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY (thanks, Peter!):

YOU RASCAL YOU (with mock-threats from Peter and Jesse, who mean no one any harm):

and swing for saxophones with LADY BE GOOD:

What a band!  (How do you say, “Romp it, boys!” in Swedish?  No matter.)

May your happiness increase!

BEING OLDER HAS BENEFITS

My chronological age is increasing, as I occasionally notice.

Tonight, the Beloved created a wonderful homemade Thai dinner, and when we’d finished, we worked our way through the dishes to music: an assortment of the 1937-41 sides that Billie Holiday and Lester Young created together, with friends.

And I thought, not for the first time, “How lucky I am to be the age I am. I saw Buck Clayton play — at the end of his trumpet career — and got his autograph. My friend Stu and I rode the subway uptown with Benny Morton, who sweetly and patiently answered our eager questions. I saw Teddy Wilson play at a shopping center, and got his autograph. Jo Jones spoke to me several times; two autographs, some recordings, some photographs. Dicky Wells waved an annoyed finger at me to get me to stop recording him with my cassette recorder. I saw Freddie Green and Count Basie, from a distance, at a concert in a Long Island park, Benny Goodman and friends in Carnegie Hall in the late Seventies.

Yes, Lester Young, Walter Page, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Ed Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Pee Wee Russell were already gone when I began actively searching out live jazz. But if I were younger today, I wouldn’t have had the precious experiences I did.

And listening to Billie and her friends — buoyant, wise, exultant, and so sweetly IN the music they were making — reminds me of how beauty never grows old. Let all the people who voyeuristically want only to make Billie into the Heroin Madonna, the Woman Abused by Louis McKay listen to this:

“Now they call it swing.” Exactly.

May your happiness increase!