Tag Archives: Red Norvo

“ONE OF THE GREAT WAYS TO LEARN IS TO DO SOMETHING WRONG”: JERRY DODGION SPEAKS

This interview of the splendid and splendidly durable reed master Jerry Dodgion (born in 1932) created by Ed Joffe, is quite wonderful — not only in his stories of Gerald Wilson, Charlie Mariano, Shorty Rogers, Red Norvo, Frank Sinatra, Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Jerome Richardson, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Godwin Louis, the importance of the acoustic string bass, playing in a section, and more — but the insight Jerry offers us into the music.

What comes through here is a gentle portrait of a man thoroughly imbued with gratitude, humility, kindness.  That Jerry Dodgion is a saxophone master is beyond dispute: that he exudes the calm sweet intelligence of a fully-realized human being is also evident throughout.  “Life is a learning experience.”  “Get your pen out!”

Even if Jerry Dodgion is not familiar to you, you’ve heard his beautiful sound on many recordings, and the interview is wonderfully rewarding.  Don’t miss the final minutes of this video — his unaccompanied chorus of THAT’S ALL, which is memorable and more.

Here is the source — Joffe Woodwinds — to which we owe a debt of gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY: BIG BAND JAZZ ARRANGING IN THE SWING ERA,” by JOHN WRIGGLE (University of Illinois Press)

john-wriggle-cover

One way to answer the questions “Who was Chappie Willet, why haven’t I heard of him, and why does he deserve a book?” can be found here:

That was recorded in 1937 and is notable — to some — for solos by a young Dizzy Gillespie and others as members of Teddy Hill’s NBC Orchestra.  But if there were no solos to concentrate on, keen listeners would notice the depth and complexity of Willet’s composition and arrangement, full of surprises.

An extended BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY, performed by Gene Krupa:

We are trained by the “star system” in jazz to listen for soloists, to disregard the orchestral textures of a performance for the brief passages where Our Person improvises.  More erudite listeners will recognize the “charts” created by Mary Lou Williams, Bill Challis, Eddie Durham, Don Redman, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Ellington and/or Strayhorn — distinctive expressions of the writer, as recognizable as an individual soloist. John Wriggle’s superb book — a rewarding study of one brilliant arranger, his music, the world in which he operated, and the implications of Wriggle’s research — does a good deal to begin resetting the balance.

Francis “Chappie” Willet (1907-76) was a great arrangers and composer: we have heard his work for Hill, Krupa, Goodman, Armstrong, Lunceford, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and Norvo.  Yet he is almost unknown and the wonderful settings he created are taken for granted.  Consider his arrangement of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE for Louis Armstrong, heard here in a 1938 performance.  But here I ask the reader / listener to consider only the first fifteen seconds of this performance.  I know it’s nearly impossible to consider anything but Louis, but try:

In two pages (123-24), Wriggle provides a transcription of what is happening in that opening, and then analyzes it.  The reader need not be a musicologist to follow and enjoy this book because Wriggle writes so clearly.

The experience of reading this book — well-organized and exquisitely documented but with beautiful control (some writers, unlike Wriggle, think every dust mote is equally important and thus overwhelm a reader) — is concentric.

Were it simply a biography of Willet, it would be a thin, perhaps limited study. But Wriggle is fascinated by context — “the economic, political, and professional landscape of popular music arrangers working during the Swing Era,” so we learn about the intersection of race and visibility; how arrangers learned their trade and the various rates of pay; Willet’s “Broadway Music Clinic,” music for nightclubs, Broadway shows and theatrical revues; the various clubs and venues themselves. Wriggle examines — I oversimplify here — how Swing Era arranging worked, with close analysis of excerpts from various scores and recordings, and how each arranger had a particularly recognizable identity.  He looks closely at the fluid relationships between jazz and the Western classical canon.

The book’s scope is refreshingly broad; at one point, Wriggle analyzes Willet’s elaborately dramatic score for the Lunceford version of YESTERDAYS; a few pages later, we learning all there is to know about a new dance, THE HICKY RICKY — novelty numbers, ballads, and jazz exotica are all considered with particular enthusiasm and research.

Rare photographs add a great deal to the experience, and the collaboration of Wriggle and the University of Illinois Press is a happy one: the book is carefully presented and well-edited.  I found no misprints or errors, rare in this century. The paper edition (a manageable 320 pages) is $30.

Reading this book over the past few months, whether I proceeded chronologically or opened it at random, I was always enlightened, ever bored: a great tribute to Wriggle from an impatient and often irritable reader.  His background explains a good deal: he is a trombonist, composer, arranger, and scholar, who has transcribed period jazz repertoire for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, and served as music editor for Oscar-winning Hollywood film scores.

As a writer and scholar, he is thoughtful without being pedantic or theoretical, without a confining ideological bias.  To get a sense of his and the book’s virtues, I offer excerpts from his interview (from the publisher’s blog) about this work.

As an aspiring composer-arranger, I first took notice of Willet’s music in the mid-1990s, when I was co-hosting a pre-stereo themed jazz program on college radio station WKCR. I heard the 1937 Mills Blue Rhythm Band session he arranged, including a version of “Blue Rhythm Fantasy.” The combination of musical adventurousness and balanced logic in those arrangements is beautiful, and I was an immediate fan. In 1999, I composed and presented a series of “Variations on Blue Rhythm Fantasy” for a new music ensemble I was leading. But as I tried to find more about Willet through standard jazz history sources, it was always a dead end. When I applied to the Rutgers Jazz History and Research program in 2003, I decided I would see if I could make a thesis project of it. A telephone book cold call led me to a musician named Chico Hicks, who had performed with Willet during 1933-34, and the pieces finally began to fall into place.

The more I was able to discover in newspapers and archives, the more I realized what a fascinating figure Willet was. His career reflects so many aspects of the music industry during that period that it made perfect sense to build a book around him. He was really tied into the Swing Era stage entertainment scene, which is something that jazz historians have attempted to ignore for decades as too “commercial.” Willet was also involved in music publishing, home recording, talent booking, and a music school—all the stuff that professional musicians still to do today in order to eke out a living.

Similar to music performers working in recording studios during the 1920s and ‘30s, swing big band arrangers were able to cross lines of racial segregation simply because no one could see them. As long as they weren’t appearing in mixed company on the public stage, it didn’t bother the establishment so much for white bandleaders to hire black arrangers, or vice versa. Whether or not these shrouded work opportunities actually helped to break down inequality is an interesting question—and one that was debated in the African American press at the time. On the one hand, arrangers could be considered pioneers of integration; on the other hand, these less-publicized instances of black writers working for white bands could also be interpreted as another form of exploitation. Some black bandleaders even worried that black arrangers were providing unfair advantage to their white competitors, as concerns regarding music and jazz authenticity were often tied to race. The popular success that white bandleaders enjoyed while playing the music of black arrangers like Jimmy Mundy, Sy Oliver, or Chappie Willet certainly highlighted issues of racism and segregation that America was struggling with leading up to the civil rights era. Willet himself was embraced as a “race man” in the African American press: a role model for economic success in an entertainment industry that was just beginning to consider strategies for integration.

This book attempts to provide a window into the broader world of professional arranging in jazz and popular music: What were these musicians trying to do with their music? How were they trained? Where did they work? How much were they paid? And looking in more detail, I also hope to highlight the artistry involved. Audiences of arranged music are being provided more sonic information than just the song lyrics or featured solos. And a good arranger can transmit a lot of information very effectively.

BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY is a wonderfully enlightening experience.  It is readable but dense with information — an old-fashioned book not especially suited for reading on one’s phone — a splendidly-documented exploration of an artist and his musical world that will both answer and raise many questions.  I hope John Wriggle will write many more books equally wise and appealing.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY UNACKNOWLEDGED: THE ARTS OF RAY SIMS

zoot-the-swinger

Most people who have heard of Ray Sims (1921-2000), trombone and vocal, know him as Zoot’s brother, which is understandable.  On record, he was captured between 1945 and 1979, primarily as lead trombone or session player in the bands of Jerry Wald, Earle Spencer, Lyle Griffin, Bobby Sherwood, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Anita O’Day, Dave Pell, Billy Eckstine, The Four Freshmen, Ray Anthony, Peggy Lee, Bill Holman, Harry James, Jackie and Roy, Lena Horne, Georgia Carr, Red Norvo, John Towner Williams, Jerry Gray and Maxwell Davis [supermarket recordings in tribute to Glenn Miller and Harry James] Ernie Andrews, Frank Capp, Corky Corcoran.  He stayed the longest with with Brown and James.  He never made a recording under his own name except for four tracks in a Capitol session called THE LES BROWN ALL STARS — available on CD — where he is featured, with strings, as one of Brown’s sidemen, and THE SWINGER (about which more below).

But I think trombonists who know him hold him in high regard.

Here is the only piece of Ray on film I have found, although I am sure he was captured on television many times, for both the Brown and James bands were very visible.  It is a ballad medley from the James band’s tour of Japan in 1964, and Ray is the middle soloist, between Joe Riggs, alto saxophone, and Corky Corcoran, tenor:

It would be easy to see Ray’s solo as simply “playing the melody,” but we know how difficult it is to accomplish that, and we can hear his huge gorgeous tone and his respectful, patient caress of Richard Rodgers’ lines.  Although it’s clear that he has the technique to sail over the horn, he is devotedly in the service of the song, with a tone reminiscent of Benny Morton.  Indeed, although he came of age as a musician in the middle Forties, when bebop had changed trombonists’ approach to their instrument, I hear not only Bill Harris but Tyree Glenn in his work.

And because I can’t go on without presenting more evidence of Ray’s beautiful playing, here is ON THE ALAMO, from the properly titled Pablo Records recording, THE SWINGER — with Zoot, Ray, Jimmy Rowles in spectacular form, John Heard, Shelly Manne, and one track with Michael Moore and John Clay:

But Ray Sims also sang.  I don’t know if he ever took voice lessons, but his warm heartfelt lyricism is very touching.  (The reason for this blog is my re-purchasing THE SWINGER on compact disc — the original record vanished in one seismic disorder or another — but I have remembered Ray’s singing for thirty-five years.)

I’ve found half a dozen vocals by Ray (found, not necessarily heard) from 1949 to his last session forty years later, with Brown, Pell, James, brother Zoot.  He seems to have been the musician-in-the-band who could put over a ballad or a love song without breaking into scat, someone who would be multi-talented and thus useful for the band payroll.  There’s IT ISN’T FAIR (a current pop hit), THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL, RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET, LET’S FALL IN LOVE, as well as a few possible vocals with Harry James, one with Corky Corcoran in 1973, and the final track on THE SWINGER from 1979.

Here is Ray’s vocal feature with Corcoran, IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND. It’s not a polished performance, but it is warm naturalness is enchanting.  He means it, which is beautiful in itself:

Here is what I think of as a masterpiece of loose, feeling singing: Ray performing the Lunceford band’s hit DREAM OF YOU.  My guess is that Rowles suggested this: he had a deep affinity for that band — although there is extraordinary trombone playing on that Decca recording, which might have made a tremendous impression on young Ray:

And Ray Sims was obviously a wonderfully devoted parent.  Evidence here:

Here’s what Danielle herself had to say when posting this track in 2010:

Song written by Al Cohn by request of my dad (Ray Sims) and my uncle Zoot. it was recorded on Zoot Sims-The Swinger
Trombone Ray Sims (Zoot’s brother). Growing up I remember my dad playing this song to me and my mom would always say “he’s playing your song” it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that it really was “my song”. I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful family to love and so blessed to have such a wonderful man in my life to make such a beautiful video for me so I can share that love. Thank you.  Video made by JeeperG for Danielle

Jazz, like any other art, is full of people who create beauty without calling much attention to themselves.  Let us always remember their names, their creativity, and the results.

May your happiness increase!

A COLLECTOR’S TROVE, AT AUCTION NOW

A cyber-friend and reader of JAZZ LIVES sent me the link to the Yonkers, New York auction house COHASCO, INC. , that is running an auction of jazz memorabilia ending January 5, 2016.  Much of the paper ephemera was new to me, and my friend thought it would be of interest to JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  So I am offering the information and the beautiful pictures here.  Full disclosure: I’m doing this for the usual reasons — interest rather than reimbursement — in case you needed to know.

The items are being offered as a collection: individual treasures are not available for bid.  And there’s been a good deal of interest in it already.

Here are three pictures that should speak louder than words:

AUCTION 1

and

AUCTION 2

and

AUCTION 3

The consignor (who wishes to remain anonymous) has written these words, which should reverberate with many of us:

People collect all types of objects, from thimbles to stamps, to paintings and cars. I attribute my appreciation of swing and big band music to my parents. While other kids my age were enamored with the Beatles, I watched my dad carefully place a record player stylus down upon an old 78 rpm record and soon became captivated by the sounds of Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and other orchestras of the time. As I grew older, I realized that the melodies I enjoyed were truly the soundtrack to another era. As a record and memorabilia collector, the swing and big band music of the 1930’s and 40’s struck such a chord in the psyche, that collecting and preserving the ephemera of that era was a natural extension of my admiration for the music.  If I look at a ticket stub for a Benny Goodman concert, I suddenly hear Gene Krupa drumming the memorable beat of Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by Goodman’s sweet clarinet–like a sound wave time machine pulling me straight into the past. If I hold a Glenn Miller program I hear Miller’s theme song, Moonlight Serenade and in my mind’s eye, I see a newsreel projecting WWII soldiers coming home, marching back from victory and embracing wives and family. To me, collecting is about more than the ephemera itself, its a way to pay homage to not only the musicians, but to the “greatest generation.”

And here are some practical details about the collection.  It was “compiled over decades by an impassioned musicologist,” and its focus is on the Thirties and Forties, although the 235 vintage items are dated 1926-1966.

“Signed items (some in pencil) include Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Jess Stacy, and Teddy Wilson, on a Hotel Pennsylvania drink menu • Blue Barron on contract • Eddie Duchin and Shep Fields on Aragon Ballroom postcards • Ziggy Elman and Benny Goodman on 1938 recording contract • Glen Gray band member autographs on Palladium Ballroom Café menu, 1941 • 1943 letter of Milt Gabler (famous Decca Records producer and founder of Commodore Records) • Horace Heidt on hotel drink menu, with band signatures on verso • Dick Jurgens on postcard • Kay Kyser (signed with full name James K. Kyser) on letterhead, with original envelope, 1928 • Waldorf-Astoria Starlight Roof Supper Club menu signed inside by Guy Lombardo, printed cover art by Xavier Cugat • Hal McIntyre on contract • Art Mooney on contract • Buddy Morrow postcard • and numerous vintage signatures of artists and band members, including Harry James and “Tiny” Timbrell who later appeared on Elvis records and soundtracks.

From Basie to Ellington, Goodman to Miller, the collection offers a wide panorama of the cultural artifacts underpinning the era. The assemblage includes concert ticket stubs, show programs, handbills, record store posters, nightclub souvenirs, period autographs, lobby cards, movie stills, postcards, fan and record industry magazines, sheet music, an oversize RKO theatre owners’ advertising book for the 1942 sensation “Syncopation,” starring Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, et al, and curiosa such as novelty promotional pieces. Broad representation is present of both the bands and their individual artists, male and female, instrumental and vocal – a near who’s-who of jazz.

Capturing the golden era of Big Bands, some of the historic nights – and days – represented are 1937’s Benny Goodman vs. Chick Webb Battle of Swing, 1954’s landmark Festival of Modern American Jazz, Glenn Miller at CBS Radio Theatre, and many, many more. Additional venues represented include the Apollo (an early Louis Armstrong appearance), the Capital, Paramount, and Roxy Theatres, the Famous Door, Palomar Ballroom, Savoy Ballroom, Steel Pier, and others.

Much of the unsigned ephemera is very scarce – often magnitudes more so than signed material – and found only by chance. Duplicating such a collection would take many years and inordinate labor. The archive offers a wealth of materials, themes, and graphic choices for an all-encompassing display – or rotating exhibitions in a club, restaurant, performance space, academic music department, or favorite room of a home or office. Color montages on website and by e-mail. Request free detailed prospectus.

The pre-auction estimate is $5400 – $6500.  Bids are accepted up to January 5, 2016, 8:00 P.M. E.D.T. All items are fully described on their website, cohascodpc.com. A 136-page printed catalogue is available by mail, while supplies last.”

May your happiness increase!

“I GIVE UP, HONEY!” or WORDS TO THAT EFFECT (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

surrender lanin

Both Louis and  Bing recorded this wonderfully emotional song in 1931, as did the Boswell Sisters and Sam Wooding.  In the decade to come, Red Norvo, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Mundy, Artie Shaw, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, Bob Zurke and Joe Rushton, Harry James, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Trumbauer, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum.  And that’s only its first decade, and only those performances that were recorded.

surrender1

But we are also concerned with the more recent present — since I call this blog, with full intent, JAZZ LIVES.  On November 30, 2014, a stellar ad hoc small band under the leadership of pianist, vocalist, composer, and fantasist Ray Skjelbred took the stand at the San Diego Jazz Fest, and performed this song.

Before they begin (after the little whimsical 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert interlude)  — you can hear someone, perhaps  Marc, warping its title into I SEE RENDERED DEER, but this is America and freedom of speech is said to prevail.  The other nobilities on the stand are Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello:

The mood, for those who know their antecedents, is more Boyce Brown – Wild Bill Davison (“The Collector’s Item Cats”) than Bing.  But for those who haven’t had enough of this lovely song in its natural habitat, here is something rare and, even better, complete.  Bing starred in several Mack Sennett shorts early in his career, often appearing as himself and delighting in the slapstick and broad verbal comedy.  Here is I SURRENDER, DEAR:

May your happiness increase!

CATS, MEET MOUSE

TEN CATS

I don’t know which of the whimsical geniuses at Capitol Records thought of the TEN CATS AND A MOUSE record date, but it’s not only a brilliant comic idea but a fine musical one.  Musicians have always taken a certain pleasure in picking up an instrument that wasn’t the one they were known for — whether at home, on the gig, or after it — and seeing how far their native expertise took them.  (I’m leaving aside those wonder-players who dazzle us on any instrument they touch: the blessed Benny Carter, and modern masters Scott Robinson and Clint Baker.)

But I imagine that someone at Capitol suggested that all the musicians on a session show up for a record date where they would play instruments that weren’t their first ones.  The results were recorded in Los Angeles on October 13, 1947.  Guitarist Dave Barbour played trumpet; trumpeters Billy May and Bobby Sherwood made up the trombone section; pianist / arranger Paul Weston played clarinet; Eddie Miller shifted from tenor sax to alto; Benny Carter, who had recorded on tenor, did the reverse; Dave Cavanaugh, usually playing tenor, turned to the baritone sax.  Red Norvo, who had recorded on piano as “Ken Kenny,” did it again here; singer and occasional guitarist (to quote an online source) Hal Derwin stayed right there; arranger / composer Frank DeVol — who’d played violin early on with Horace Heidt — took over the string bass.  And the Mouse?  Miss Peggy Lee, alternating between brushes on the snare and four-to-the bar bass drum; she’d been in the Goodman band at the same time as Sid Catlett, but she eschewed the Master’s rimshots.

JA-DA:

And a Basie blues, THREE O’CLOCK JUMP:

Very convincing — these players had a Db medium blues so completely absorbed that they could play it while sleeping — and now, when someone asks me who I emulate on cornet, I can say, “Why, Dave Barbour on THREE O’CLOCK JUMP, of course!”

It’s one thing to have all that fun in the recording studio, another to boldly go into the land of instrument-swapping in front of an audience (even if some of the audience members are slowly navigating from right to left during the performance).  June 6, 2015, taking place in real time at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, with a totally engaging bilingual vocal performance by Yuko Eguchi Wright!

Yuko is accompanied by the Junkyard Band: Dave Majchrzak and Brian Holland, piano; David Reffkin, violin; Jeff Barnhart, trombone, traffic control; Paul Asaro, trumpet; Steve Standiford, tuba; Bill Edwards, string bass; Frank LiVolsi, clarinet; Jim Radloff, saxophone; Danny Coots, drums.

And Yuko’s no Mouse.  She’s one of the Cats.

As a great philosopher once said, “If it isn’t fun, why do it?”

May your happiness increase!

THE MUSIC SPEAKS FOR ITSELF: THE WEST TEXAS JAZZ PARTY (May 14-17, 2015)

I could write a long piece on the history of the West Texas Jazz Party — in Odessa, Texas — which in 2016 will celebrate its fiftieth year.  This, for those keeping count, makes it the longest-running jazz party in existence.  I could list the names of the luminaries who played, say, in 1980 — Red Norvo, John Best, Lou Stein, Carl Fontana, Kenny Davern, George Masso, Herb Ellis, Buddy Tate, Flip Phillips, Dave McKenna, Milt Hinton, Gus Johnson, PeeWee Erwin, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Rosengarden, John Bunch, Buddy Tate, and the still-vibrant Ed Polcer, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael Moore, Bob Wilber.

The West Texas Jazz Society site can be found here — quite informative.

But I think it is more important to offer the evidence: the music made at this party, which is superb Mainstream jazz.  Here are several videos from the 2013 WTJP — they will unfold in sequence if you allow them to — featuring Ken Peplowski, Ehud Asherie, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, Chuck Redd, Randy Sandke, and John Allred:

And the musicians themselves speak sweetly about the pleasure of attending the party and playing there (Ken, Chuck Redd, Dan Barrett, Bucky):

The superb videos — both music and interview — are the work of David Leonnig, who’s also helped inform me about the Party.

This year’s party will take place May 14-17, at the MCM Eleganté Hotel
in Odessa, Texas and the musicians are:

Piano: Johnny Varro, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello
Bass: Joel Forbes. Frank Tate, Nicki Parrott (vocals)
Drums: Chuck Redd (vibes), Tony Tedesco, Butch Miles
Trumpet: Ed Polcer, Warren Vache, Randy Sandke
Trombone: Dan Barrett, John Allred
Reeds: Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, Allan Vache
Guitar: Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub (vocals)
Vocals: Rebecca Kilgore

The West Texas Jazz Party is sponsored in part by:

• The Texas Commission for the Arts
• Odessa Council for the Arts and Humanities
• The Rea Charitable Trust

Patron Tickets: $200: Reserved Seating for all performances and Saturday Brunch.

General Admission: Each performance $50 • Brunch $50

For Hotel Reservations, call 432-368-5885 and ask tor the Jazz Rate of $129.00. For Jazz Party or Brunch Reservations, call 432-552-8962. The WTJP now is accepting credit cards or make a check payable to: West Texas Jazz Society • P.O. Box 10832 • Midland, Texas 79702.

It looks as if a good time will be had by all. For the forty-ninth consecutive year!

May your happiness increase!