Tag Archives: Reynolds Brothers

SPREADING JOY, MAKING THE EVANESCENT TANGIBLE, WITH COMPLEXITIES ON THE SIDE

It all goes back to my father, who loved music and was intrigued by the technology of his time.  We had a Revere reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was a child, and I, too, was fascinated.

I could put on a tape and hear his voice coming out of the speaker; I could record myself playing the accordion; I could tape-record a record a friend owned.  Recording music and voices ran parallel to my early interest (or blossoming obsession) with jazz.

I realized that when I saw Louis Armstrong on television (in 1967, he appeared with Herb Alpert and the Tia Juana Brass) I could connect the tape recorder and have an audio artifact — precious — to be revisited at my leisure.

I knew that my favorite books and records could be replayed; why not “real-time performances”?  At about the same time, my father brought home a new toy, a cassette player.  Now I could tape-record my favorite records and bring them on car trips; my sister and her husband could send us taped letters while on vacation in Mexico.

In 1969, I had the opportunity to venture into New York City for my first live jazz concert (after seeing Louis and the All Stars in 1967).  I think the concert was a Dick Gibson extravaganza with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band (Eddie Hubble and Vic Dickenson on trombones) and a small group of Zoot and Al, Joe Newman, a trombonist, and a rhythm section.  Gibson told the story of THE WHITE DEER in between sets.

I had a wonderful time.  But I also made my first foray into criminality.  In a bright blue airline bag I brought and hid that very same cassette recorder and taped the concert.  (I no longer have the tapes.  Alas.  Zoot and Al played MOTORING ALONG and THE RED DOOR; the WGJB rocked and hollered gorgrously.)

I brought the same recorder to a concert at Queens College, capturing Ray Nance, Newman, Garnett Brown, Herb Hall, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Al Foster . . . names to conjure with for sure.  And from that point on, when I went to hear jazz, I brought some machinery with me.  Occasionally I borrowed another recorder (my friend Stu had a Tandberg) or I brought my own heavy Teac reel-to-reel for special occasions.

Most of the musicians were either politely resigned to the spectacle of a nervous, worshipful college student who wanted nothing more than to make sure their beautiful music didn’t vanish.  Joe Thomas was concerned that the union man was going to come along.  Kenny Davern briefly yet politely explained that I hadn’t set the microphone up properly, then showed me what would work.

I can recall two players becoming vigorously exercised at the sight of a microphone and either miming (Dicky Wells) or saying (Cyril Haynes) NO . . . and Wild Bill Davison tried to strike a bargain: “You want to tape me?”  “Yes, Mister Davison.”  “Well, that’ll be one Scotch now and one for each set you want to tape.”  My budget wasn’t large, so I put the recorder away.

Proceedingly happily along this path, I made tape recordings of many musicians betwen 1969 and 1982, and traded tapes with other collectors.  And those tapes made what otherwise would have been lost in time permanent; we could revisit past joys in the present.

Early in this century, I began to notice that everyone around me seemed to have a video camera.  Grandparents were videoing the infants on the rug; lovers were capturing each other (in a nice way) on the subway platform.  I thought, “Why can’t I do this with the music?”  I started my own YouTube channel in 2006, eighteen months before JAZZ LIVES saw the light.

I had purchased first a Flip camera (easy, portable, with poor video) and then a mini-DVD Sony camera.  At the New York traditional-jazz hangout, the Cajun, and elsewhere, I video-recorded the people I admired.  They understood my love for the music and that I wasn’t making a profit: Barbara Rosene, Joel Forrester, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Craig Ventresco, and many others.

If my recording made musicians uncomfortable, they didn’t show it.  Fewer than five players or singers have flatly said NO — politely — to me.

Some of the good-humored acceptance I would like to say is the result of my great enthusiasm and joy in the music.  I have not attempted to make money for myself on what I have recorded; I have not made the best videos into a private DVD for profit.

More pragmatic people might say, “Look, Michael, you were reviewing X’s new CD in THE MISSISSIPPI RAG or CADENCE; you wrote liner notes for a major record label.  X knew it was good business to be nice to you.”  I am not so naive as to discount this explanation.  And some musicians, seeing the attention I paid to the Kinky Boys or the Cornettinas, might have wanted some of the same for themselves.  Even the sometimes irascible couple who ran the Cajun saw my appearances there with camera as good publicity and paid me in dubious cuisine.

The Flip videos were muzzy; the mini-DVDs impossible to transfer successfully to YouTube, so when I began JAZZ LIVES I knew I had to have a better camera, which I obtained.  It didn’t do terribly well in the darkness of The Ear Inn, but Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri and their friends put up with me and the little red light in the darkness.  Vince Giordano never said anything negative.

I began to expand my reach so much so that some people at a jazz party or concert would not recognize me without a camera in front of my face.

The video camera and the jazz blog go together well.  I used to “trade tapes” with other collectors, and if I came to see you, I brought some Private Stock as a gift.  Now, that paradigm has changed, because what I capture I put on the blog.  Everything good is here.  It saves me the time and expense of dubbing cassettes or CDs and putting them in mailers, and it’s also nearly instantaneous: if I didn’t care about sleep (and I do) I could probably send video from the Monday night gig around the world on Tuesday afternoon.  Notice also that I have written “around the world.”

The video camera has made it possible for me to show jazz lovers in Sweden what glorious things happen at The Ear Inn or at Jazz at Chautauqua; my dear friends whom I’ve never met in person in Illinois and Michigan now know about the Reynolds Brothers; Stompy Jones can hear Becky Kilgore sing without leaving his Toronto eyrie . . . and so on.

Doing this, I have found my life-purpose and have achieved a goal: spreading joy to people who might be less able to get their fair share.  Some of JAZZ LIVES’ most fervent followers have poorer health and less freedom than I do.  And these viewers and listeners are hugely, gratifyingly grateful.  I get hugged by people I’ve never seen before when I come to a new jazz party.

And I hug back.  Knowing that there are real people on the other end of the imaginary string is a deep pleasure indeed.

There are exceptions, of course: the anonymous people who write grudging comments on YouTube about crowd sounds; the viewers who nearly insist that I drop everything and come video the XYZ Wrigglers because they can’t make it; the Corrections Officers who point out errors in detail, fact, or what they see as lapses of taste; the people who say “I see the same people over and over on your blog.”  I don’t know.

Had I done nothing beyond making more people aware of the Reynolds Brothers or the EarRegulars, I would think I had not lived in vain.  And that’s no stage joke.

But the process of my attempting to spread joy through the musical efforts of my heroes is not without its complexities, perhaps sadness.

If, in my neighborhood, I help you carry your groceries down the street to your apartment because they’re heavy and I see you’re struggling, I do it for love, and I would turn away a dollar or two offered to me.  But when I work I expect to get paid unless other circumstances are in play.  And I know the musicians I love feel the same way.

The musicians who allow (and even encourage) me to video-record them, to post the results on JAZZ LIVES and YouTube know that I cannot write them a check at union rates for this.  I can and do put more money in the tip jar, and I have bought some of my friends the occasional organic burger on brioche. But there is no way I could pay the musicians a fraction of what their brilliant labors are worth — the thirty years of practice and diligence that it took to make that cornet sound so golden, to teach a singer to touch our hearts.

I would have to be immensely wealthy to pay back the musicians I record in any meaningful way.  And one can say, “They are getting free publicity,” which is in some superficial way undeniable.

But they are also donating their services for free — for the love of jazz — because the landscape has shifted so in the past decade.  They know it and I know it.  When I was illicitly tape-recording in Carngie Hall in 1974, I could guess that there were other “tapers” in the audience but they were wisely invisible.

At a jazz party, the air is often thick with video cameras or iPhones, and people no longer have any awareness of how strange that is to the musicians.  I have seen a young man lie nearly on his back (on the floor in front of the bandstand) and aim his lighted camera up at a musician who was playing until the player asked him to stop doing that.  The young man was startled.  In the audience, we looked at each other sadly and with astonishment.

I started writing this post because I thought, not for the first time, “How many musicians who allow me to video them for free would really rather that I did not do it?”  I can imagine the phrase “theft of services” floating in the air, unspoken.

Some musicians may let me do what I do because they need the publicity; they live in the hope that a promoter or club booker will see the most recent video on YouTube and offer them a gig.  But they’d really rather get paid (as would I) and be able to control the environment (as would I).  Imagine, if you will, that someone with a video camera follows you around at work, recording what you do, how you speak.  “Is that spinach between my teeth?  Do I say “you know” all the time, really?  Did you catch me at a loss for words?”

Musicians are of course performers, working in public for pay.  And they always have the option to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to be videoed.  Thank you!”  I have reached arrangements — friendly ones — with some splendid musicians — that they will get to see what I have recorded and approve of it before I post it.  If they dislike the performance, it never becomes public.  And that is perfectly valid.  I don’t feel hurt that the musicians “don’t trust [Michael’s] taste,” because Michael is an experienced listener and at best an amateur musician.

But I sometimes feel uncomfortable with the situation I have created.  Wanting to preserve the delicate moment — a solo on STARDUST that made me cry, a romping TIGER RAG that made me feel that Joy was surrounding me in the best possible way — I may have imposed myself on people, artists, who weren’t in a position, or so they felt, to ask me to put the camera away.  I wonder often if the proliferation of free videos has interfered with what Hot Lips Page called his “livelihood.”  I would be very very grieved to think I was cutting into the incomes of the players and singers who have done so much for me.

Were musicians were happier to see me when I was simply an anonymous, eager, nervous fan, asking, “Mr. Hackett, would you sign my record?”  Then, in 1974, there was no thought of commerce, no thought of “I loused up the second bar of the third chorus and now it’s going on YouTube and it will stay there forever!”

I can’t speak for the musicians.  Perhaps I have already presumed overmuch to do so.  I embarked on this endeavor because I thought it was heartbreaking that the music I love disappeared into memory when the set was over.

But I hope I am exploiting no one, hurting no one’s feelings, making no one feel trapped by a smiling man in an aloha shirt with an HD camera.

I don’t plan to put the camera down unless someone asks me to do so.  And, to the musicians reading this posting — if I have ever captured a performance of yours on YouTube and it makes you cringe, please let me know and I will make it disappear.  I promise.  I’ve done that several times, and although I was sorry to make the music vanish, I was relieved that any unhappiness I had caused could be healed, a wrong made right.  After all, the music brings such joy to me, to the viewers, and often to the musicians creating it, they surely should have their work made as joyous as possible.

I dream of a world where artists are valued for the remarkable things they give us.

And I think, “Perhaps after I am dead, the sound waves captured by these videos will reverberate through the wide cosmos, making it gently and sweetly vibrate in the best way.”  To think that I had made pieces of the music immortal merely by standing in the right place with my camera would make me very happy.

And to the players, I Revere you all.

May your happiness increase.

HEALING VIBRATIONS: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 27, 2012)

I’ve tried fish oil capsules and probiotics, saw palmetto and niacin, magnesium and multivitamins, goldenseal and Bach flower remedies.

But nothing gives me the lift of a Reynolds Brothers set — and one with Clint Baker (trombone, clarinet, occasional vocal) is even more potent.  Take as directed: like homeopathy, the smallest dosage is transformative.

The RB are, as always, Ralf (washboard); John (guitar, whistling); Marc Caparone (cornet); Katie Cavera (string bass) — all four have been known to break into song when the moment is ripe.  See for yourself in this delightful long set recorded at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival (at the Railroad Museum on May 27, 2012, for the record-keepers).

Alex Hill must have been especially willing to please when he wrote I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, and Claude Hopkins suggested that his whole band was equally cooperative:

Sung by Bing.  Who needs more?  LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

THREE LITTLE WORDS (but not with the variant Turk Murphy text):

For Bix and Tram, BORNEO:

Come to Camden, New Jersey — I hear the Bennie Moten band is cooking up something good on BLUE ROOM:

Sweet and sassy, Sister Katie invites us to join her in films, with YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES — and John whistles the theme so engagingly:

Mister Berlin must have liked a drop of schnapps once in a while, thus I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A — sung with spice and wit by Senorita Cavera:

From the Cotton Club Parade of 1935 (by Ted Koehler and Rube Bloom)  — I just found a copy of the original sheet music: now I’m ready to start TRUCKIN’:

A beautiful excursion into Louis Armstrong – Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin democrary in SHOE SHINE BOY.  That Caparone fellow didn’t study at the Waif’s Home, but he sure gets Louis:

If I could wire my refrigerator so that it played FAT AND GREASY when I opened the door, perhaps I would be back to my middle-school weight.  of course having Fats Waller sing and play it does lend a certain ironic twist.  Rockin’ in rhythm:

And the National Anthem of what Eddie Condon called “music,” Louis’ SWING THAT MUSIC:

Feeling better?  I know I am.  (And that’s not my medicine cabinet, in case you were wondering.)

May your happiness increase.

“IT’S GOOD FOR YOU”: HOT JAZZ IN THE HEALTHY OPEN AIR with THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 26, 2012)

My mother used to gently urge me — “urge” is the nicest way of putting it — to go outside occasionally.  “Are you going to stay in your room with a book all day?  It’s so nice outside!”

This post’s for you, Mom — I made it out-of-doors at a jazz festival — the Sacramento Music Festival — and soaked up the sun, the Vitamin D, the sweet California air.

Of course, I didn’t notice much of those cosmic gifts, because I was busy feeling the good seismic disturbances that the Reynolds Brothers and Clint Baker were creating — that’s John on guitar, vocal, and whistling; Ralf on washboard and vocal; Marc Caparone on cornet and vocal; Katie Cavera on string bass and vocal; Clint Baker on trombone, clarinet, and occasional vocal (he had some laryngitis that weekend).

They began with their public profession of loving willingness from Alex Hill and perhaps Claude Hopkins, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU.  John asserts it all so willingly; who would doubt him?

Marc sings about that naughty flirtatious COQUETTE, so tantalizing:

Ralf and John team up for their classic SADIE GREEN (The Vamp of New Orleans):

No one sings on MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (the lyrics would be about the fleshpots of Storyville) but the ghosts of Louis and Higgy certainly were enjoying the outdoors as well:

John, more plaintively this time, gives us the early Thirties version of the solitary lover, pale and wan, HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF:

The other side of the amorous spectrum — having one’s hands full of delights — is offered by the witty Miss Cavera in CHARLEY, MY BOY.  “Shivers of joy,” indeed:

My new quest.  Where or what or why is SAN?:

For Harold Arlen, Louis, and Jack, Marc lets us know he’s GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES:

I don’t know the source of STOMP STOMP! (is it Slim and Slam or the Cats and the Fiddle or a physical therapist’s command?) but it certainly made the cosmos move:

“Jack, you really come on!”  How true.  Even though no one in the band is named Jack.

“See, Mom, I went outside!  What?  Now you want me to clean my room . . . . ?”

May your happiness increase.

WHEN BEAUTY VISITS, YOU KNOW IT: “STARDUST” by MARC CAPARONE, JOHN REYNOLDS, CLINT BAKER, RALF RAYNOLDS, KATIE CAVERA (Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2012)

I had tears in my eyes when I witnessed this music being created in front of us for the first time, and its lovely power hasn’t diminished.

Thank you, Marc, John, Clint, Ralf, and Katie, for being yourselves and for allowing the great lyrical heroes we so revere to live through you.

May your happiness increase.

“IT’S A TÉCLA PEARL!”

At great cost and expense, a major mystery has been solved.

But first, the problem.

Here’s Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra, with George Elrick singing GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — music by Arthur Schwartz, words by Howard Dietz, from the 1935 revue AT HOME ABROAD, where the song was sung by Ethel Waters:

And here’s singing / tap-dancing Eleanor Powell’s version of the same song with the young Tommy Dorsey Orchestra:

After the bridge, the singer (male or female) sings of donning a “tiepin” or “stickpin,” that’s a genuine “Técla pearl.”  In these versions, “Técla” rhymes with  “Decca,” more or less — although the two most famous versions of this song — by Mister Strong and Mister Waller — pronounce the first syllable to rhyme with “week.”

Since Thirties men’s fashion is not a subject I have studied well, I thought the singers were referring to something particularly arcane: a “T-clasp pearl,” which suggested a jeweled tie clasp.  I only found out that what they were singing was “Técla pearl” when I bought the sheet music for the song at an antique store about a year ago.

Trying to find out what kind of pearl a Téecla pearl was . . . . I must not have had my websurfer’s hat (the one with the light on) fastened correctly.  So I despaired.  I thought it would be another unsolved mystery.  But then a friend recommended that I secure the services of Sir Damien Sitzfleisch, the world’s most successful tracer of the obscure.  We haggled over price, but one we had agreed, results were immediately forthcoming.  Hence and forthwith.

Serene and radiant.

And (circa 1923) there was only one Técla shop in America, so the wearer of such a pearl was someone of means who knew (and wore) the best.  I’m also fascinated with the lyric as an early example of product placement, or perhaps giving a company a free advertisement . . . and that something so well-known in 1935 has become completely obscure today.  With or without the accent over the first E (the sheet music lacks the accent, I believe).

In 1913, the Técla pearl was a standout in Germany:

It was especially ELEGANT in France in 1932:

And here — as a special treat — is the May 2012 version of this song (in G, no less) by John Reynolds, guitar and vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Clint Baker, trombone; Katie Cavera, string bass.  John knows about a Técla pearl, because I shared the results of my preliminary research with him . . . but he hasn’t seen the advertisements!

Not only is the mystery solved, but we get to hear John sing (twice), Marc and Clint, Ralf and Katie rock it for all time . . . !

And perhaps someone more gifted will share the Louis and Fats versions on YouTube if we all ask politely . . . ?  Perhaps some JAZZ LIVES readers are specialists in early twentieth-century jewelry and can tell us more.  But for me, anything that Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz created, that Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Eleanor Powell, Henry Hall, George Elrick, and the Reynolds Brothers s(w)ing out is important in itself.  (There’s also an instrumental version by Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman on a wondrous Chiaroscuro recording, FATS WALLER’S HEAVENLY JIVE . . . )

You won’t find me wearing a string of Técla pearls at the next jazz party, but that’s only because they make my complexion look sallow.

P.S.  398 Fifth Avenue, once the home of Técla pearls, now is the home of a rug company.  Nothing against rugs, mind you, but sic transit gloria mundi.

May your happiness increase.

FIVE BY FIVE (Part Two): THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 2012)

My heroes, and that’s no stage joke.

Ralf Reynolds, washboard, vocal; John Reynolds, guitar, vocal, whistling; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Katie Cavera, string bass, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal — live at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 25, 2012.

Irving Berlin’s I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A wasn’t a stab at capitalism, but a very witty response to Prohibition.  Katie Cavera, whom I nominate for Best Swing Actress in a Motion Picture, handles the deft lyrics nimbly:

You could deconstruct THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN as a lie in swingtime fed to the hungry and desolate unemployed (“Hey, fellas and gals, an empty stomach is what God meant you to have!” or as a sweet-natured rebuke to materialism, asking in 4 /4, “How much land does a man need?”  Either way, John sings it wonderfully:

If he struts like a king, HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH.  He’s their delight.  He’s so polite.  One of my favorite songs, letting Louis shine through Marc Caparone:

Pretty!  DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:

Our caravan is red-hot in HINDUSTAN:

I will bet you thirteen dollars of my money (as Lester Young used to say to his JATP colleagues) that the Reynolds Brothers would go over gangbusters at a swing dance . . . or in a club . . . at a European jazz party . . . at an East Coast venue.  At present they are delighting people right and left at Disney California Adventure (as “the Ellis Island Boys”) but I want other people to have this experience.  I’m willing to share them with the world, you know.

May your happiness increase.

FIVE BY FIVE (Part One): THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 25, 2012)

In an early set of jubilant performances at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival, John Reynolds (vocal, whistling, guitar); Marc Caparone (cornet, vocal); Ralf Reynolds (washboard, vocal); Katie Cavera (string bass, vocal), and Clint Baker (trombone, vocal) created enthusiastic elation in every song — the proven antidote for gloom or what passes for “news” of “current events.”

For Bix, Bing, and Red Allen, OL’ MAN RIVER:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

In my note to this Clarence Williams tune CANDY LIPS (the subtitle is I’M STUCK ON YOU) I wrote one word, “scorching”; see if you don’t agree:

One of those lucky Thirties songs recorded by both Billie and Fats, SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND:

Did you know the Boswell Sisters had a connection with the song BLACK-EYED SUSAN BROWN?  Here we have the Reynolds Brothers:

More to come.  Oh, my, yes!

May your happiness increase.