Tag Archives: Rex Stewart

FOUR BY FOUR IN 4 / 4: “The Unaccounted Four,” Scheveningen, July 2015

I’ve written about the wondrous quartet, whimsically called THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR, as often as I could: here, herehereherehere. They make music that is both cerebral and welcoming.

The unusual proliferation of hyperlinks should indicate my enthusiasm, but a few words might help for those who would rather read than click.

Amsterdam, 11 januari 2015 – Gala van de verkiezing van de Amsterdammer van het Jaar in de Stadsschouwburg. Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four brengt een muzikale ode aan de genomineerden. Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four, Amsterdam.  Photograph by Mats van Soolingen.

The Unaccounted Four is a quartet of trumpet, clarinet / tenor, guitar, bass. Historically-minded readers will think of the Django-Rex Stewart session, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, and in our century, the EarRegulars.  And all of those connections would be valid, although the U 4 leans more to the pensive than the combative, with echoes of the Alec Wilder Octet.

The U 4 is swinging, melodic, deeply thoughtful and playful all at once.  And they have understood something about time as well — and I don’t mean simply a swinging flexible 4 / 4.  If modern physics — and modern art — have helped us understand that time is more a field than a series of beads on a string, the U 4 enacts that easy flexibility in the most charming ways.  In their playing, hot jazz and The Birth of the Cool sit at the same table; Charlie Parker and Charlie Holmes go to the same reed repairman, and Miles smiles warmly at Louis.

Did I say that they have a wonderful CD, called PLAYGROUND?  They do. One could hear some of it here.  And here.

PLAYGROUND

For visual as well as auditory proof of this band’s happy approach to music and to our hearts, here are four videos from a July 2015 performance.

Nothing UNDECIDED here — sparkling chamber jazz that makes this familiar song sound exactly like new:

Then, Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY:

James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES:

And Bix’s IN THE DARK:

Endearing lyricism is what I call it.

Now, I can’t make it out of the country for next Wednesday, but the U 4 will be playing a gig then.  More room for you!  Details here and here.

May your happiness increase!

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SWING FOR ROMANTICS (1931)

When the conversation turns to the great swinging bands before “the Swing Era,” the names that are mentioned are usually the Luis Russell Orchestra and Bennie Moten’s Kansas City aggregations, Henderson, Ellington, Goldkette, Calloway, and Kirk.  Each of these bands deserves recognition.  But who speaks of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers?  (Is it the name that so embarrasses us these days?)

mckinneyscottonpickers

The song and performance that so enthralls me is from their last record date in September 1931 — DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT? — composed by Ted Fio Rito and Gus Kahn. I am assuming that it was originally meant as a love ballad, given its title and world-view, but the band takes it at a romping tempo. (Was it played on one of their “coast to coast radio presentations”?  I hope so.) Several other marvelous features of this recording have not worn thin: the gorgeous melody statement by Doc Cheatham; the incredible hot chorus by Rex Stewart; the charming vocal by Quentin Jackson; the tenor saxophone solo by Prince Robinson, the arrangement by Benny Carter, and the wondrous sound of the band as a whole — swinging without a letup.

The personnel is listed as Benny Carter, clarinet, alto saxophone, arranger / leader: Rex Stewart, cornet; Buddy Lee, Doc Cheatham, trumpet;  Ed Cuffee, trombone; Quentin Jackson, trombone, vocal; Joe Moxley, Hilton Jefferson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Prince Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Todd Rhodes, piano, celeste; Dave Wilborn, guitar; Billy Taylor, brass bass; Cuba Austin, drums. Camden, New Jersey, September 8, 1931.  (The personnel offered by Tom Lord differs, but I think this one is more accurate.)

Here, thanks to our friend Atticus Jazz — real name available on request! — who creates one gratifying multi-media gift after another on YouTube — is one of the two takes of DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT?:

I love Doc Cheatham’s high, plaintive sound, somewhat in the style of his predecessor, Joe Smith — and how the first chorus builds architecturally: strong ensemble introduction, trumpet with rhythm only (let no one tell you that tuba / guitar doesn’t work as a pairing), then the Carter-led sax section — imagine a section with Carter, Hilton Jefferson, and Prince Robinson — merging with the brass.  By the end of the first chorus, you know this is A BAND. (I’m always amused by the ending of the chorus, which exactly mimics the end and tag of THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Nothing new under the sun.) And whose idea — Carter’s? — was it to so neatly use orchestra bells throughout this chart?  Lemon zest to the ear.

But then there’s Rex Stewart’s expert and hilarious solo — he wants to let you know he is here, immediately.  I always think of him as one of those bold trumpeters who, as the tempo speeded up, he played even more notes to the bar, rather than taking it easy and playing whole and half notes.  In this chorus, he seems like the most insistent fast-talker, who has so much to say and only thirty-two bars in which to say it.  Something else: at :56 there is a small exultant sound. It can’t be Rex taking a breath and congratulating himself (as he does in WILD MAN BLUES on THE SOUND OF JAZZ) so I believe it was one of his colleagues in the band saying without the words, “Yeah, man!”

Then a gloriously “old-fashioned” vocal from Quentin Jackson, but one that no one should deride.  He told Stanley Dance that he learned to sing before there were microphones, so that you had to open your mouth and sing — which he does so splendidly here.  He’s no Bing or Columbo, wooing the microphone: this is tenor singing in the grand tradition, projecting every word and note to the back of the room.

The final chorus balances brass shouts and the roiling, tumbling Prince Robinson, who cuts his own way amidst Hawkins and Cecil Scott and two dozen others: an ebullient, forceful style.  And by this chorus, I always find myself rocking along with the recording — yes, so “antiquated,” with tuba prominent, but what a gratifying ensemble.  Yes, I believe!

Here is what was to me the less familiar take one:

It is structurally the same, with the only substantial difference that Rex continues to play a rather forceful obbligato to Quentin’s vocal — almost competing for space, and I suspect that the recording director at Camden might have suggested (or insisted on) another take where the vocalist was not being interfered with.  How marvelous that two takes exist, and that they were recorded in Victor’s studios in Camden — a converted church with fine open acoustics.

There is a third version of this song, recorded in 1996 by Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton — sixty-five years later, but for me it is a descent from the heights.  You can find it on YouTube on your own.

Whether or not you believe in love at sight (that’s a philosophical / emotional / practical discussion too large for JAZZ LIVES) I encourage you to believe in the singular blending of hot and sweet, of solo and ensemble, that is McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  One has to believe in something.

May your happiness increase!

DIVINELY INSPIRED, PART TWO: JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 26, 2014)

Here is Part One.

This is the band I flew to Colorado to hear and video-record in July 2014 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival.  James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band.  And it was glorious.  The players?  James Dapogny, piano, arrangements, leader; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Christopher Smith, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone; Russ Whitman, tenor and baritone saxophones; Dean Ross, string bass; Rod McDonald, guitar; Pete Siers, drums.

One of the nicer aspects of the EJF was the different venues at which bands could perform — outside (alas, in the rain), in a ballroom, in a wooden lodge, and in the most delightful small church.

Here is the second half of a superb set by a superb band, all arrangements by the Professor (that’s James Dapogny).

Hoagy’s COME EASY, GO EASY LOVE — rollicking, with an extraordinary (yet typical) solo by Dapogny, then hot horn solos from everyone — Commodore-style in its own way:

MOBILE BAY — eloquent small-band Ellington (originally featuring Rex Stewart) with astonishing work from Jon-Erik:

And an unfettered STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

This band is so special: a wondrous mix of loose-limbed ecstatic soloing, tight ensemble playing, gorgeous arrangements full of surprises.  Why they aren’t asked to every festival is beyond me, but I also wonder why PBS hasn’t picked them up, why Marvel Comics is proving so recalcitrant. . . you get the idea. More to come.

And since, to quote Craig Ventresco, the past is yet to come, here are four more video offerings from JD and the CJB at the EJF.  ONE. TWO. THREE. FOUR.

Yeah, man.

May your happiness increase!

RICO and his RUG-CUTTERS! (WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, Nov. 8, 2014)

One of the many highlights of the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party was a “Duke’s Men” set led by trumpeter / vocalist Rico Tomasso — where he beautifully evoked the recordings made by small Ellington units in the Thirties.

We heard music from the Jazzopators (Barney Bigard), the Fifty-Second Street Stompers (Rex Stewart), the Rug-Cutters (Cootie Williams), as well as compositions associated with Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer, Juan Tizol.

One of the first things I did when I came back from Whitley Bay was to post Rico’s AIN’T THE GRAVY GOOD? — which has received some of the attention it deserves.  But a number of people, both musicians and fans, have asked, “Is there any more from Rico’s small-band Ellington set?” and I am happy to oblige here by presenting the entire set as it happened.

The band Rico assembled is David Boeddinghaus, piano; Malcolm Sked, bass; Henri Lemaire, guitar; Richard Pite, drums; Alistair Allan, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, Claus Jacobi, reeds.

KRUM ELBOW BLUES and DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

(For more about “Krum Elbow,” although the evidence is complex, click here.)

JEEP’S BLUES:

BIG HOUSE BLUES:

DRUMMER’S DELIGHT:

PRELUDE TO A KISS:

CARAVAN:

AIN’T THE GRAVY GOOD?:

FROLIC SAM:

The gravy is good!  I know there will be more delicious music this coming November 6-8 at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.  (The new name is an appropriate tribute to its beloved founder: the music and the guiding principles remain unchanged so, and that’s a good thing.)

May your happiness increase!

HOW ABOUT “MUSICIAN”?

Perhaps it’s a small thing to write about, to draw your attention to, but I find this just another indication of pervasive ignorance.  I was on eBay and saw an autograph of Rex Stewart for sale — which cheered me:

REX autograph

But the heading which the seller created did not: VINTAGE AUTOGRAPH OF BLACK ENTERTAINER & COMEDIAN REX STEWART!

The exclamation point is the seller’s, not mine.

I’ve seen Rex in HELLZAPOPPIN’ and listened to hundreds of his recordings, and always found him entertaining . . . and it’s true he plays a comic, somewhat demeaning role in the film, what audiences of the time might have called “a colored cook.”  But he was always a proud man, and I suspect he would have bristled at being characterized in this way.

Why not MUSICIAN?  Why not ARTIST?

And if you want to discuss  how cultural expectations have shifted over the past half-century, that is of course true — but, by the same token, the seller exists in 2015, not 1941.

I don’t know if it’s a subtle racial slur, or just evidence of someone who has not bothered to do three minutes of research, but it is irksome.  Rex, I apologize to you for people like this.

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!

MASTERING THE ART OF HOT CUISINE: ENRICO TOMASSO and HIS RUG-CUTTERS at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 8, 2014)

It’s difficult for me to comprehend that one week ago (the time difference notwithstanding) I was at the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, held in the Village Hotel Newcastle, recording this performance.  I and others were having the time of our lives.

PLS-00003755-001Why is there a picture of a gravy boat on JAZZ LIVES?  All will be revealed.

This singular performance took place late in a set, led by Rico Tomasso, devoted to “the Duke’s men,” specifically the small-band recordings (with one 1930 exception) done between 1936 and 1939 under the leadership of Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, and Cootie Williams.

Cootie is responsible for this most delicate of compositions, AIN’T THE GRAVY GOOD? — which doubles as a culinary disquisition with platefuls of double-entendre implications.  To me, it’s also a late-Thirties take on a Twenties vaudeville song.  I can imagine it onstage sung by a team, one sitting at a table full of food, the other one in an apron . . . but I leave the staging to you.

As I mentioned, the leader of the set was noble and gregarious Enrico Tomasso — friends are invited to call him Rico — a wonderful trumpeter, singer, entertainer (that’s a compliment) and improviser.

He begins this number with one of the best explanations of the subtleties of plunger-muted trumpet that I’ve ever heard, and then moves on to the main course.

Rico is joined by Alistair Allan, trombone; Claus Jacobi, alto saxophone; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet and saxophones; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Henri Lemaire, guitar; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Richard Pite, drums:

Had this been the sole performance I had witnessed at Whitley Bay, I would have been more than satisfied.  But it wasn’t, and I came home with more than three hundred video-recordings.  Will I share them?  You can count on it.  I couldn’t attest to the quality of the gravy — we have to take Rico’s word for it — but the music was beyond delicious.  And there will be a 2015 Party . . . so plan ahead.  Details to follow as I know them.

May your happiness increase!