Tag Archives: Red Nichols and his Five Pennies

WHEN LOVE GETS HOT, SPECIAL INSTRUMENTS ARE REQUIRED

ROSES OF PICARDY was a famous ballad of the First World War, composed by Frederic Weatherly (lyrics) and Haydn Wood (music), gracefully describing the lasting love of an Englishman and a Frenchwoman . . .

Verse: She is watching by the poplars, / Colinette with the sea-blue eyes, / She is watching and longing, and waiting / Where the long white roadway lies, / And a song stirs in the silence, / As the wind in the boughs above, / She listens and starts and trembles, / ‘Tis the first little song of love.

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

Verse: And the years fly on forever, / Till the shadows veil their skies, / But he loves to hold her little hands, / And look into her sea-blue eyes, / And she sees the road by the poplars, / Where they met in the bygone years, / For the first little song of the roses, / Is the last little song she hears:

Chorus: Roses are shining in Picardy, / In the hush of the silver dew, / Roses are flow’ring in Picardy, / But there’s never a rose like you! / And the roses will die with the summertime, / And our roads may be far apart, / But there’s one rose that dies not in Picardy, / ‘Tis the rose that I keep in my heart.

For the full effect, here is a glorious reading of the song by Ben Heppner:

But my subject is a recording of PICARDY by Red Nichols — full of surprises.  I first encountered the Nichols records of this period when I was young; I was especially intrigued by them because of my childhood affection for the film THE FIVE PENNIES.  My local suburban librarian was hip: the library’s holdings included Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Rushing, THE SOUND OF JAZZ, Ellington, and a Brunswick reissue of Nichols circa 1927-30, where I first heard IDA, AVALON, CHINA BOY, THE SHEIK, and others.

I hadn’t heard ROSES OF PICARDY until my recent purchase of the very gratifying sets of the Nichols Brunswicks (1926-32) on the Jazz Oracle label.  It became one of those essential recordings for me — one that I could play ten times in a row on the way to work.

I haven’t found a good explanation for Nichols’ fondness for what might be called “chestnuts” or “good old good ones” — solidly established classic pop hits of ten or more years earlier: IDA, MY GAL SAL, JAPANESE SANDMAN, WHISPERING, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, MARGIE, ALICE BLUE GOWN, INDIANA, SMILES, DINAH, WHO.  In this, he wasn’t so different from other jazz players, then and now, who knew that familiar favorites would both attract an audience and be part of the common knowledge.  (if the leader suggests SWEET SUE — in 1929 or 2013 — few musicians look puzzled or uncomfortable.)

But ROSES OF PICARDY had a sentimental identification, and I wonder if Nichols’ “jazzing” it struck some older listeners as heretical: “That’s not the way to play that pretty song!”  It might serve as a reminder that improvisation, no matter how established and safe it seems to our ears now, always sounds radical to some listeners.

This version was recorded on February 16, 1929, as the fifth performance of a date where the musicians had already completed two takes apiece of ALICE BLUE GOWN and ALLAH’S HOLIDAY.  I wonder if they had some time left at the conclusion and decided to create a head arrangement — somewhat less complex than the Glenn Miller charts for the preceding songs.  The personnel for the first four songs was Nichols, Mannie Klein, Miller, Dudley Fosdick, Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingston, Adrian Rollini, Arthur Schutt, Carl Kress, and an unidentified drummer.  I hear a smaller group on PICARDY and we know for sure that Miller was not present, but whether there was a second trumpet is not certain.

The band charges into the song, Nichols presenting the melody in a clear, assertive way — more like a wonderfully adept cornetist at a band concert than a hot jazz player leaving the melody behind.  One hears the dry slap of the drummer’s wire brushes, the sound of the bass saxophone (could it be anyone except Rollini?).  Apparently there is a high-pitched trombone playing staccato phrases and a thin but graceful clarinet line.  I take it on faith that there is a pianist (I do not hear a guitar) but the former is simply laying down the plain harmonies in support.

I also notice that the band — in subtle opposition to Nichols’ chosen tempo or perhaps simply finding a better groove — gently slows down as it proceeds through the two minutes and thirty-one seconds.  (The piano-drum duet in the first half of the final chorus is especially leisurely.)  I would not have noticed this so much had I not played the recording over and over and heard that the opening chorus was taken at a much brighter tempo than the closing.  The first chorus is very satisfying: one could use it is a compact example of simple melodic embellishment (in terms of ornamented melody) and neat ensemble playing.

Just as a listener might be settling into complacency, Rollini leaps in with a break, a marvel in itself.  One could point to its simplicity — arpeggios and repeated notes — but the combination of grace and ferocity is delightful.  It also suggests the small devices that Nichols and his contemporaries set up for variety, so that a recording was more than four or five choruses of ensemble – solo – ensemble.

The first half of the second chorus is given over to another embellished improvisation on the theme — by a brass player over a slightly ornate piano, bass saxophone, and drums.  On first hearing, one automatically assumes “trombone in the Miff Mole style, staccato yet elegant,” but the range is somewhat higher, the tone lighter.  The player’s approach is close to Nichols’ opening exposition, yet the second solo is slightly more fluid, punctuated by the pianist’s upward arpeggios.

In the second half of this chorus, we hear Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone over an even lighter background.  For some reason, there is no bass saxophone, so the texture is much lighter — and, listening closely, one has the delightful sensation of expectations being reversed.  Instead of textures becoming more rich, volume and density increasing, we are hearing the instruments of the orchestra — Papa Haydn in Hot — taking a break, leaving the stand.  The Incredible Shrinking Orchestra!

And then someone takes another break — with key change — to lead us into a world of even more playful marvels.  We’ve just heard the sonorities of Dorsey’s alto (the rich yet light sound that other players delighted in) — what is this squeaky thing that follows?

It might be a clarinet — Nichols often employed Pee Wee Russell and Fud Livingston, both of whom departed from orthodox clarinet sound in favor of explorations — but it sounds stranger than strange, even a bit elementary.  Did someone’s kid brother or sister bring a student model clarinet into the session to sit in for a chorus?

The ear is first mystified, then delighted.

And for a moment it seems as if all the other musicians have fled, leaving only the unusual reed player and the pianist, chiming behind perfectly, the drummer, hitting a cymbal (this has been worked out, one senses in retrospect) in front of the microphones.  Bass saxophone, alto, possibly other reeds, cornet and other brass — everyone’s in the alley next to the Brunswick studios taking a break, trading gossip or lighting up.

But no.  The third chorus is given over to a duet for two instruments that sound almost familiar — trombone and clarinet, we assume — for sixteen bars. For forty seconds — a short interlude in anyone’s lifespan but a substantial part of this 78 RPM recording — these two instruments cavort deliciously.  The “trombone” continues an ornamented exploration of PICARDY — in case listeners might have been led so far astray by the uncontrollable impulses of Reckless Jazz to forget where land is — as the “clarinet” dances overhead.  That “clarinet” has an oddly choked sound and a small range, so the player contents himself with deeply swinging emphases, rather like a speaker who has a small vocabulary but is vigorously concerned that the audience miss the point: here it is, and here it is again — getting somewhat more adventurous as the chorus continues, even venturing a series of upward plaintive phrases, the “trombone” sounded muffled but still agile beneath.

On my first hearing, driving to work as I was, I couldn’t check the personnel listings, but I played this exuberantly odd interlude over and over, thinking, “Is that Fud on clarinet and Miff on trombone?”  But I felt as if something otherworldly was taking place: had I been transported to an alternative realm, or was this soundtrack music for a pre-FANTASIA fantasia, where an animated lemur hopped around with a giraffe?

What has happened — bewitching and mystifying the ear for forty seconds — is so weirdly distant from what we might expect to hear (rather like the first appearance of Herschel Evans on clarinet on a Basie recording) that the piano half-chorus that follows seems theatrical, even stagy by comparison — with the drummer’s flourishes matching the pianist.  Again, we might wonder, “Where did everyone go?  Did these musicians have some urgent need to leave the studio at intervals?  Was there food poisoning from the previous night’s chili at Plunkett’s?”)

Before we have sufficient time to consider all these mysteries, the opening ensemble reasserts itself for a closing sixteen bars.  No tags, no flourishes, everything is as it was.  We awake from young Robin Molyneux’s dream — did those forty seconds happen?  Are we back in a Red Nichols session at the Brunswick studios?

Happily, the mystery I have encouraged here has tangible answers, and they take the shape of the ever-inventive Adrian Rollini and his “hot fountain pen,” the forgotten Dudley Fosdick and his mellophone.  Thanks to Albert Haim for the Melody Maker pages below — now it can be told!

HotFountainPen

and here is more gossip about the hot fountain pen:

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And even more here about the hot fountain pen from Sandy Brown’s website.

A fine explanation of the mellophone can be found here.  But the most engrossing reading on the subject can be found in the Nichols Jazz Oracle notes — a three-page essay by Phil Melick, witty and informed, on Dudley Fosdick (whose first recorded solo on the instrument is on the 1924 Ted Weems record of BIG BOY) and the mellophone itself.

Incidentally, the Incredible Shrinking Orchestra and the piano-drum duet make sense in retrospect as brief interludes enabling Rollini to leave his bass saxophone and approach the microphone alongside Fosdick.  And unlike the 1928 recording of BASIN STREET BLUES featuring Louis, Earl, and Zutty, no one stumbles audibly on the way.

This record of ROSES OF PICARDY is a joy.  Perhaps the musicians thought of it as an end-of-session romp: “We have a little time.  Let’s jam PICARDY, and do a whole chorus on your pen and your ‘phone.  OK?”  But that forty-second conversation between two unexpected jazz horns, played by two masters, resonates long after the performance is over.  Woe and alas that there wasn’t a Rollini-Fosdick Quintet under contract to Brunswick.  But I could live comfortably in the universe of those forty seconds.  ‘Tis the chorus that I keep in my heart.

(A digression: Fosdick recorded actively with Weems, Nichols, “the All Star Orchestra,” and Roger Wolfe Kahn for a ten-year period ending in December 1933, according to Tom Lord’s discography.  Then, he worked in Henry King’s orchestra and Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians, eventually migrating into studio work and teaching before his death in 1957.  It would be lovely if someone had interviewed him.)

And for my friend and mentor Reb Malcolm, a small offering — Frankie Laine with Buck Clayton, Ray Copeland, Lawrence Brown, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Hilton Jefferson, Budd Johnson, “Big Nick” Nicholas, Dave McRae, Al Lerner, Skeeter Best, Milt Hinton, Bobby Donaldson.  I see the inspired hand of George Avakian in this, although Laine had been working with jazz players for years, as Jess Stacy remembered:

Thanks also to Messrs. Riccardi and Sammut, whose posts provide the inspiration for this one.

May your happiness increase!

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AVALON, WITHIN REACH: THE MUSIC OF LORING “RED” NICHOLS and HIS FIVE PENNIES at WHITLEY BAY (October 27, 2012)

I hope sufficient time has passed for cornetist / bandleader / composer Loring “Red” Nichols to be assessed fairly, his music heard and appreciated for its merits.  Let us hear no more of Nichols as an uncreative Bix imitator, a musical martinet.  Since I first heard a selection of the Nichols Brunswicks forty years and more ago, I have wondered at the mean-spirited attacks on him.

Of course he committed the great sins in Romantic Jazzdom: he expected his musicians to read charts; he was successful; he wasn’t an alcoholic; he lived a reasonably long life.  More power to him.

His music is receiving the recognition it should have gotten decades ago as an engaging mixture of the ornate and the heated, the arranged and the free-wheeling.  Here at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (on October 27), a great band takes on some of the best Nichols music: Andy Schumm, cornet; Michael McQuaid, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Keith Nichols, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo / guitar; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Nick Ward, drums.  If you hear reverent evocations of Miff Mole, Jimmy Dorsey, Vic Berton, Pee Wee Russell, Chauncey Morehouse, and Eddie Lang, it’s not by accident.

And “watch the drummer,” please: heroic Nick Ward!

AVALON, that magical island celebrated in a 1920 song whose melody borrows substantially from Puccini:

THAT’S NO BARGAIN (Alistair sits this one out):

Fud Livingston’s marvelous IMAGINATION, well-named — in a performance that makes me wonder if Lester Young had heard this record in his youth:

A 1919 hit, ALICE BLUE GOWN:

With thanks to Frans Sjostrom, doing his best Rollini — IDA — dedicated by me to my Auntie.  And Michael McQuaid’s playing is beautiful and unusual both:

SLIPPIN’ AROUND, for Miff Mole, the underrated master:

A diversion: Alistair’s I’M GETTIN’ SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU, or JAZZ BY THE FOOT.  When faced with such brilliance, what can one say?:

Duke Heitger, Rico Tomasso, trumpets, came along for ECCENTRIC:

Now that you’ve had a chance to hear this contemporary evocation of 1927-30 “modern sounds,” aren’t they rewarding music, full of innovative harmonies and orchestral variety — how much is packed into THAT’S NO BARGAIN, for instance.

The whole subject of Nichols and his music and these performances is, to me, another lesson: listen to the sounds rather than the ad hominem portraits or the biased ideologies that sustain them.

This post is dedicated to one of my mentors, the eminent A. J. S. Figg, who is sustaining the musics all the time.

May your happiness increase.

RED NICHOLS MEETS THE CHICAGOANS, 1929

I stumbled on this Red Nichols Brunswick record from 1929 on YouTube while searching for Red McKenzie vocals — a rewarding quest, except I am oddly discomposed by the idea of McKenzie providing part of the soundtrack for something (a computer simulation / game?) called Bioshock.  Well, anything that lets people hear him sing THE TROUBLE WITH ME IS YOU shouldn’t be scoffed at.

Then I encountered this recording — charitably posted by “Atticus70” and when I looked closer, I saw it wasn’t the Gershwin WHO CARES? but a more self-pitying pop song by Yellen and Ager.

But look and listen to the personnel: all those “Chicagoan” ruffians who took their Nichols paychecks as long as he would put up with their (presumably) hard-drinking disdain for things like clean clothes and punctuality.

The band is Red Nichols, Mannie Klein, Tommy Thunen, trumpets;  Glenn Miller, cornet, trombone;  Jack Teagarden, ? Herb Taylor, trombones;  Pee Wee Russell, clarinet;  Bud Freeman, tenor sax;  Joe Sullivan, piano;  Tommy Felline, banjo;  Art Miller, bass;  Dave Tough, drums;  Red McKenzie, vocal.

New York, June 12, 1929: for all its melancholy, this is pre-Crash pop music.

And the sounds of Teagarden, Russell, Sullivan, and Tough are elixirs.  Condon isn’t there, but perhaps Nichols found him to be the primary ringleader; Tommy Felline (or is it Fellini?) was no doubt much more tractable.  And McKenzie croons so beautifully, making even the odd lyrics work reasonably well.

But here’s the music!

WE CARE!  CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO SHOW THE MUSICIANS THAT WE DO.

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MARTY GROSZ’S BASS MOTIVES at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

My flippant title is not completely irrelevant.

For starters, at jazz clubs and parties and festivals, there are performances ranging from humdrum to spectacular.  And — not very often — there are performances that viewers and listeners know they won’t ever forget. 

I take great pride in presenting one such episode: around four minutes long, quietly rocking rather than explosive, and performed before noon — an unseemly time of day for most jazz musicians.

The band was officially titled Marty Grosz and “The Mouldy Figs,” referring to those rather artificial wars between musical ideologies stirred up by jazz critics and fans in the Forties and Fifties.  A “Mouldy Fig” read Rudi Blesh rather than Barry Ulanov or Leonard Feather, revered Bunk Johnson rather than Fats Navarro.  Figs deplored “be-bop,” horn-rimmed glasses, and berets.

Since Marty Grosz has displayed a serious leaning towards band-names no one has thought of before (his Hot Puppies, his Orphan Newsboys, and so on) I have taken the liberty of renaming the band — for this performance only “Bass Motives.”  Why?  Well, there’s Arnie Kinsella on drums — someone who knows how to make a particular point with a ferocious hit to his bass drum; Andy Stein, usually playing violin but here picking up his baritone sax; Vince Giordano, bass saxophonist supreme; Scott Robinson, the Doc Savage of the instrument room, also playing bass saxophone. 

The tune they launch into is the pretty old Eddie Cantor tribute to his wife, Ida — IDA (SWEET AS APPLE CIDER).  But behind Eddie and Ida and their family is the far more serious presence of Red Nichols and his Five Pennies in the Brunswick studios in 1927 — the Pennies including Pee Wee Russell and Adrian Rollini, perhaps the finest bass saxophonist ever, ever.  And one of the songs they took on was a moving ballad-tempo version of IDA. 

Marty and his Bass Motives not only evoke that lovely recording but sing out in their own style.  When I wrote that some rare performances are unforgettable, I wasn’t over-praising this one:

Incidentally, for the chroniclers in the audience: Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke have received a good deal of well-earned praise for their imperishable recordings in early 1927 of two “jazz ballads,” that is, improvisation carried out at a medium-slow tempo: SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (with a sweet reading of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS not far behind).  The original Nichols recording — in August of that same year — seems deeply emotionally influenced by the pretty playing of Bix and Tram.

IMAGINE THIS!

This was one prize — of several — acquired yesterday at the Coxsackie Antique Center, a multi-dealer showplace near Albany, New York, with a hundred dealers.  Walking up and down the aisles, although the large store was clean and well-lit, which isn’t always the case, I began to be grateful that there were so many things I had no desire whatsoever to collect. 

But this piece of sheet music — new to me! — suggests that hipness didn’t restrict itself to major urban centers in 1927 or after — or perhaps someone brought this from New York City to play on the piano at the summer house?  My photographs of the score might be too small to play from, but perhaps my readers can solve this for themselves. 

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IMAGINATION is an unusually modern piece for 1927, harmonically sophisticated — but unless you can sight-read, you might not know what it sounds like. 

Voila!  The Bix Beiderbecke Discussion Group (http://www,bixbeiderbecke.com.) once again came to the rescue.  There I found a good deal of information about Fud Livingston — composer, arranger, reedman — as well as audio versions of IMAGINATION by bands including Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Vic Berton, and other Twenties hot stars.  (I hope that Professor Al Haim agrees that my petty larceny was done for a good purpose.)   

IMAGINATION by Miff Mole and his Molers, August 30, 1927

IMAGINATION by the Charleston Chasers, Sept. 8, 1927

IMAGINATION by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, June 1, 1928

Note: these files occasionally take some time to load; sometimes they stall; they require Real Player.  But they do reward the patient and diligent. 

To repay the Bixophiles for my borrowing these recordings from their site, here’s another piece of sheet music, also new to me, with distinct ties to Bix and Tram.  More to come! 

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