Tag Archives: Richard M. Sudhalter

EXPERIENCING BIG BAND JAZZ, by JEFF SULTANOF (Rowman and Littlefield)

Richard M. Sudhalter told Jeff Sultanof that he should write books.  Five pages into Sultanof’s multi-faceted examination of big band jazz, I felt the same way.

EXPERIENCING BIG BAND JAZZ is a brand-new and admirable book by a composer, arranger, historian, archivist of all kinds of American music, vernacular and formally composed.  I’ve never met Jeff, but I have had several years to admire his expertise: I’ve read his postings to an online jazz research group with pleasure.  Sultanof isn’t interested in self-absorbed preening or  proving ideological points for ideology’s sake; he’s interested in tangible evidence and following its implications.  And when he doesn’t know, he says so, which is honest and rare.  This diligence and rigor is at the heart of the book.

Incidentally, a low bow to whomever conceived the cover — a loose Ellington assemblage that, unlike the expected choice, fellows in dinner jackets or tuxedos behind floor music stands, did not say NOSTALGIA and thus distance prospective readers.  And the old-timers in the imagined bookstore (people of my ilk and generation) warm to pictures of Ray Nance, Sonny Greer, Rex Stewart.

Now, if this book had been proposed in the Sixties, no publisher would have taken it — no reflection on the author — because big band jazz was a charmingly ubiquitous part of everyone’s culture and needed little explication.  Fifty years ago, I could see in person Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Herman, Calloway, Barnet, James, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Benny Carter’s Swing Masters, Hampton, Jacquet, Rich, Nat Pierce-Frank Capp, Lombardo, Lester Lanin, Peter Duchin, Dorsey and Miller ghost bands, and three dozen others.  Every television  variety program had a big band, from Doc Severinsen to Mort Lindsey to Ray Bloch and Sammy Spear.  A Sinatra or Peggy Lee concert . . . you’re beginning to sense the connection.  FM radio played modern big bands; college radio stations allowed scholars who were and are friends to have “Swing Years” programs.

Parallel to this late flowering in music, there were books on the phenomenon.  Affectionate dictionaries of big bands by Albert McCarthy and George Simon, “Remember When” volumes of nostalgic reminiscences by listeners and musicians alike, with the subtext “This is the music that helped your parents and grandparents get born, and wasn’t it wonderful?”and analytical books by Chilton, Walter C. Allen, Schuller, and others.

Perhaps we didn’t need Sultanof’s book then.  We surely do now.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone under forty who Glenn Miller was, or Bennie Moten.  I have a sour fantasy of standing on a street in Manhattan with a sign saying, “WHO WAS BENNIE MOTEN?  ANSWER CORRECTLY AND WIN A PRIZE.”  How many people would look up from their iPhones?  (Incidentally, HBO turned down my pilot for an alternate-universe series where Berigan and Blanton live on.)  Go to a Jazz Studies program and ask the students sitting in plastic chairs whether they prefer the Henderson band pre-Louis, post-Louis, or in Chicago 1936?  Or “Name me three big-band drummers who aren’t Buddy Rich.  Three alto saxophonists playing before Charlie Parker.”

In the void that exists when a large piece of communal culture has been made disposable, Sultanof is not only a historian but a rescuer.  And he doesn’t gush but this is not a dry academic book: his writing is not only clear and factual but quietly affectionate.  Somehow knowing that he probably did not lose his virginity to the strains of IN THE MOOD makes his work even more meaningful.

EXPERIENCING BIG BAND JAZZ is presented for an audience that is unaware of the traditions, and that is in the main correct, because so few know when the four-person rhythm section became three; why the big band jazz scene changed in the Forties, and so on.  But it’s not a book in primer type, and it’s not sentimental: we don’t learn about Louis and his trout sandwich, or the deaths of David Goodman, Sonny Berman, or Dave Tough.  There are no maps of famous ballrooms and dance halls, no stories of Buddy Rich ranting, no stories of life on the band bus.  Sultanof’s focus is plainly on the music.  And he’s done a heroic job of making a huge musical landscape visible.

But the book is so plain-looking (I don’t mean the nice cover) that it might take readers time to stop underestimating it.

Here’s a very brief overview.  The center of the book — more than a hundred and fifty pages — is a chronological survey of selected recordings from MEMPHIS BLUES (1919, Handy) to THE PRESIDENTIAL SUITE: EIGHT VARIATIONS ON FREEDOM (2014, Ted Nash). Each entry offers a cogent thumbnail sketch of the bandleader / orchestra / performance — with some quirky facts inserted, like crushed red pepper.  And there is no hidden ideological leaning: the US gets the main portion, but the Europeans come in nicely; 4/4 is the meter of choice but not always.

Here’s a sample of names from the middle of the book (pages 61-72) — admittedly, my turf: Glenn Miller – Bill Finegan; Jay McShann – Charlie Parker; Harlan Leonard – Tadd Dameron; Cab Calloway – Dizzy Gillespie; Benny Carter; Miller – Eddie Durham – “Chummy” MacGregor; Artie Shaw – Sam Donahue; Charlie Barnet – Billy Moore; Billy Eckstine – Budd Johnson; Stan Kenton – Buddy Baker.  Those who know will recognize that not only is Sultanof speaking of the leader, the composer, the soloists, but also the arranger . . . and a particular version’s connections (echoes and liftings as well) to other recordings and performances.  Devotees might say, “Why did he pick that version, that song?  Why do the Canapes have only two performances?” but that’s what connoisseurs do, muttering in the background.

Back to the experience of reading this section.  First, one is not compelled to follow in chronological order.  I would hope that even a novice would know a few names and start with the recognized heroes.

With a pleasing awareness of the century we live in, Sultanof has picked performances currently available on YouTube — rather than saying “Decca 374,” which for all but a handful, is inaccessible and thus frustrating data.  I can’t overemphasize the sly brilliance of this scheme.  First, no young student has to buy one of those things the old folks dote on, compact discs.  (He’s promised to update links as they become defunct on YouTube.)  It is possible to imagine a whole group of reader-listeners accessing this book on their phones — one of the few instances I would be happy to see someone with earbuds, rocking and smiling.

Also, I am sure he understands the wandering ways of YouTube and its endless supply of rabbit-holes. Remember the last time you went on YouTube to find some artist or performance and found the right-hand column of thumbnails beckoning?  Looking for one particular Charlie Parker performance?  Pack a lunch, because you’ll find it hard to get away in ten or even ninety minutes.  The cry, “Honey, I’ll do that thing you wanted me to do right after I watch just one more thing!” is so common, not limited to big band jazz-obsessions.

He’s also created a Facebook group for the book, where he promises to “supply additional tracks to supplement the book, answer questions, and promote discussion about the materials covered. There is a teacher guide for the book as well, and support information for interested parties who would use the book as a text for a class.”  That is using current media with great intelligence.

On a personal note: I come from a different century, which doesn’t upset me, because there were many more opportunities for friendly community than most have now.  When I was in my late teens, I had a small circle of friends who loved the same music, and we would go to each other’s houses (sometimes the visit would turn into dinner cooked by the friend’s mother) and listen closely to the newest or oldest record that was giving intense pleasure, commenting chorally and individually to what we heard.  “Can you play that again?  Listen to what Page does in that phrase.  Listen to how Ben charges in on his solo.  Listen to what Hackett does at the end of the chorus,” and so on.  We were already worshipers, and we helped each other know and notice more.

Having Sultanoff’s concise, friendly summaries is like going through the potentially cold museum of only-slightly-understood art with a very wise but never obtrusive guide at your arm, murmuring about what one might see if one looked closely.  The listening experience is instantly made richer.

It’s a valuable book for many different audiences; it’s very well done, and it fills a void that many may not have recognized existed.  Thank you, Jeff Sultanof!

Here is the publisher’s official link to purchase the book (hardcover or e-book) but please note the sale / discount prices above.  I don’t know when this offer expires, so get to it in a nice swinging 4 /4.

I want to hear Jazz Studies students humming Benny Carter reed-section variations or becoming Don Redman’s trombone section on the street as soon as the book is bought and adopted widely . . . and the weather improves.

May your happiness increase!

PAGES FROM THE DIARY OF DILLON OBER

I cannot find out much information about the drummer-xylophonist Dillon Ober.  John Chilton wrote no thumbnail biography of him; he does not appear in Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS.  I have no photograph to share with you (although Don Ingle says that Ober looked like Robert Benchley, later went to work in the Hollywood studios, and was a superb drummer).

All I can ascertain is that he recorded with a Ted Weems small band in 1922, with Irving Mills, Ben Bernie, and Jack Pettis in the latter half of the Twenties.  After that . . . ?

But a jazz scholar who wishes to remain anonymous has been able to read a diary that Ober kept in that period.  Aside from the intriguing period data (gigs played, personnel of bands, wages, names of friends, telephone numbers and addresses) there are a number of strongly worded philosophical statements: Ober was obviously someone who observed the scene closely and expressed himself wittily.

Here are two gems:

I like jazz music and my girlfriends to be SOFT and HOT.  That FAST and LOUD that other people go for does nothing for me.

and

Those people who say they “like the music” are fine, I guess.  We need them.  But they want to talk to me before I’m playing, after I’m playing, sometimes even when I have the sticks in my hands.  Do I come up to a doctor or a lawyer while he’s in the operating room or the courtroom to tell him how he should have done that operation or won that case?  I can’t stand them.

More to come.

May your happiness increase.

FRESH AND JUICY: THE BERRY PICKERS PLAY BIX, TRAM, ROLLINI, and FRIENDS

Often, bands striving for “authenticity” when playing Twenties jazz take their OKehs and Gennetts too seriously, the result a certain dogged heaviness.  Cornetist / arranger Jérôme Etcheberry knows better, and his bands float rather than slog.  The newest pleasing evidence is his small group, the BERRY PICKERS, and the five videos that appeared without fanfare on YouTube.

Their repertoire is drawn from the late-Twenties efforts of Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Adrian Rollini, Eddie Lang, and their friends.  But there is no imitation of solos, and the overall lightness has a sweet jauntiness that I associate with the unbuttoned efforts of Richard M. Sudhalter, John R.T. Davies, and Nevil Skrimshire.

Hear for yourself!

Jérôme Etcheberry’s BERRY PICKERS are Nicolas Dary (alto sax) Jérôme Etcheberry (cornet) Fred Couderc (bass sax) Hugo Lippi (guitar) Stephane Seva (drums).

The DeSylva-Brown-Henderson hymn to caffeine, YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE:

Coffee leads to dancing, so Milton Ager’s HAPPY FEET:

And, yes, let’s do THE BALTIMORE (Dan Healy, Irving Kahal, Jimmy McHugh):

Where does Chauncey Morehouse’s THREE BLIND MICE fit in?  Under the heading of “futuristic rhythm,” no doubt:

And, to close, Fats Waller’s I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED:

My feelings exactly.

May your happiness increase.

WHAT COLOR IS THE MUSIC? WHAT ETHNICITY IS JAZZ?

This open letter from the young singer Julia Keefe is, I think, a very gracious way to discuss an uncomfortable subject.  Since Miss Keefe is not in any way polemical, I might take the opportunity for a few lines.  In the history of giving honors and recognition to jazz musicians and singers, there has been a fairly clear hierarchy.  African-American men got first preference (and under that rubric were included all players whose ethnicity looked in the least similar), then followed by Caucasian men.  A long pause ensued, then African-American woman, followed by a few women of other ethnicities.  This isn’t an attack on Jazz at Lincoln Center, Mr. Marsalis, or any of the other august players and critics connected with JALC . . . but a quick perusal of the evidence will, I think, prove my general contention here correct.

When I was on the hiring committee at my college, we were instructed and encouraged — in the name of fairness, diversity, and equity — to ask ourselves “Who’s missing?” when we considered our prospective candidates.  In this context, I believe that the answer to that question can properly begin with the name MILDRED BAILEY at the head of the list.  I know that the late Richard M. Sudhalter and Hoagy Carmichael would agree with me.

Here’s Miss Keefe’s letter:

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE NESHUI ERTEGUN JAZZ HALL OF FAME

March 19, 2012

Mr. Wynton Marsalis

c/o Selection Committee

Jazz Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center

33 West 60th Street, 11th Floor

New York, N.Y. 10023

Dear Mr. Marsalis and fellow Selection Committee Members:

My name is Julia Keefe, and I am a student at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, studying vocal jazz performance. I am also a member of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe. Shortly after I first became interested in jazz over ten years ago, I began researching the life of Bing Crosby, who also attended my high school, Gonzaga Prep, in Spokane, WA. I was surprised and happy to learn that Bing Crosby gave credit for his early success to a Native American woman from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe named Mildred Rinker Bailey who had, like me, lived her formative childhood years on her Idaho tribal reservation before moving to Spokane and discovering jazz. I am writing to urge that Mildred Bailey be considered for induction into the Neshui Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in recognition of her groundbreaking role in jazz history.

To say that Mildred Bailey inspired me in my chosen vocation as a jazz singer would be a great understatement. But I am not alone. Bing Crosby once said, “I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life. I learned a lot from her. She made records which are still vocal classics, and she taught me much about singing and interpreting popular songs.” And a sideman from her husband Red Norvo’s band, trumpeter Lyle “Rusty” Dedrick once wrote, “She had a magic. So many people down the line, so many singers, benefited from her, owe debts to her – and they don’t even know it. Mildred Bailey probably never made a bad record; she made many that were excellent, and quite a few considerably better, even, than that.”

As the very first female big band singer in America, Mildred was a role model and inspiration for contemporaries including Billie Holiday, Helen Ward and Ella Fitzgerald. She opened the door of opportunity for every female lead singer who followed the trail she blazed. Her singing style and phrasing caught the ear of aspiring young singers of that era including Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney, and still, much later, Linda Ronstadt. She was respected and admired by performers including Frank Sinatra, the Dorsey brothers, Coleman Hawkins and Artie Shaw. A 1944 Time Magazine review of her show at the Café Society in New York called Mildred, “just about the greatest songbird in the U.S.”

Recognition of Mildred Bailey in the Jazz Hall of Fame would, I believe, open a door to a largely neglected and ignored chapter in the history of this All-American art form known as jazz: the involvement of First Americans. When I was living on my own reservation in Kamiah, ID, I came across old photographs of tribal members in small ensembles and quartets, playing jazz. One group, the Lollipop Six, was made up of young Nez Perce men who had learned to play their instruments while attending Indian boarding schools in the early 20th century. I can still recall how proud Lionel Hampton was when he visited our reservation to be honored while attending the international jazz festival at the University of Idaho that still bears his name.

On too many reservations in modern America there are not enough inspirational stories of successful native women who rose above the challenges they faced and helped to change history. But Mildred Rinker Bailey, did just that. Though widely thought to have been a white singer, Mildred was, in fact, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Mildred once called traditional Indian singing, “a remarkable training and background” for a singer. “It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that make it squeak; it removes the bass boom from the contralto’s voice,” she said. “This Indian singing does this because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover a lot of range.” Every Native American who has ever attended a tribal ceremony, whether a feast, a memorial, or a modern pow-wow, knows exactly what Mildred Bailey was talking about here. I believe that Mildred Bailey’s success as a jazz vocalist is grounded in her early vocal training and development from singing traditional tribal songs as a young girl on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation.

I would deeply appreciate the chance to provide you and the other selection committee members, and your entire international voting panel, with a complete packet of information that I have collected while researching the remarkable career of the first female vocalist in America to sing with a big band. Recognizing Mildred Bailey’s pioneering, ground breaking accomplishment, would do honor to the Neshui Ertegun Hall of Fame, and provide Indian tribes from across this country a symbol of their own contribution to the rich cultural heritage of a uniquely American art form that I have come to love, thanks in large part to Mildred Bailey.

Respectfully,

Julia Keefe

Nez Perce Tribal member #4152

Frost School of Music, Class of 2012

www.whereismildred.com

www.juliakeefe.com

May your happiness increase.

EIGHT NEW BARS OF TESCH ON TENOR? I HOPE SO.

“Atticus70” (that’s the generous and careful Emrah Erken) proposes that the personnel of this hot dance record is: Sam Lanin dir: Jimmy McPartland, ? Al Harris, c / Tommy Dorsey, tb / Benny Goodman, cl, as / as / Frank Teschemacher, ts / p / bj / bb / d / Scrappy Lambert, v. New York, October 25, 1928.  They are or were THE IPANA TROUBADOURS and the song is DO YOU?

Is it Tesch?  Sure sounds like him:

Or isn’t he?  I recognize “phrase-shapes,” to use the late Dick Sudhalter’s wise words, that Tesch played on clarinet.  And if it isn’t Tesch, the unknown tenor player has an energetic spark that I enjoy listening to — to say nothing of frisky young Mr. Goodman.  Enjoy it — more fun than debating!

I had a momentary ferocious crush on the Twenties girl with glasses . . . an added bittersweet pleasure!

May your happiness increase.

“BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS” by Hal Willard (1999)

BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS by Hal Willard

Originally published in The Mississippi Rag, February 1999

In the relatively short history of jazz, many strange and spectacular characters have made unique contributions to the music and its lore.  April 1999 marks the 43rd anniversary of the time one of the strangest, and in some ways most spectacular characters attracted attention with a comeback album.

His name was Boyce Brown, and he had been among the best saxophonists in jazz, rating high in the survey lists of Down Beat magazine, the bible of jazz.  But it wasn’t so much the comeback as it was where he came back from that attracted attention.

Brown had given up music to become a Brother in the Catholic Church and was in the midst of undergoing years of training to enter the strict Servite Order.  He was having a middle-age metamorphosis, and his effort to create a new life was causing considerable controversy within the Church, where many priests and Servites questioned his seriousness of purpose and wondered whether he really had abandoned his former life.

Boyce Brown was a man out of place — out of place in jazz, and, because he came from the jazz world, perhaps out of place in the world of Catholicism that he sought.

If ever a soul seemed lost in the raucous, raunchy, rigorous life of jazzmen, it was the gentle, contemplative, ascetic Boyce Brown, whose quiet, unobtrusive nature was made the more so by impaired vision, an odd appearance, and herky-jerky body movements caused by physical deformities.  Yes, for 20 years or more, he was listed among the top alto saxophonists in jazz.

His birth in Chicago, or April 16, 1910, had been difficult.  It was a breech delivery, and when Boyce finally emerged, he was seriously injured.  The doctor put Boyce aside and devoted his attention to saving the mother.  Boyce’s Aunt Harriet, who was in the delivery room, saw what was happening and moved to do what she could for the baby.  She picked up the misshapen and struggling newborn and literally shaped his head with her hands, saving his life.  But, among other injuries he suffered, one eye was gone and the other was damaged.

So, as an adult, Boyce Brown faced the world with a glass eye, limited vision in the other eye,an oddly-shaped head and a partially caved-in chest.  He walked sort of lop-sided, with a halting, loping gait, one shoulder drooping.  Sometimes he would hold his head at funny angles, stretching out his neck like a bird truing to find kernels of grain.  Some people even called him “Bird” in those days before fellow altoist Charlie Parker came along and became “Bird” for all time.

It wasn’t just his appearance that set Brown apart in the jazz world.  He liked to write poetry, and he liked to talk about it and discuss philosophy and other deep, unjazz-like subjects, to the confusion and consternation of his fellow musicians.  Besides, he lived with his mother.

Boyce started playing the saxophone at 14 and by the time he was 17 in 1927 got his first job.  It was with a trio in a joint called Amber Light, owned by Al Capone and managed by Bugs Moran.  Moran showed solicitude for the youngsters in the band by telling them to hide behind the piano if customers started shooting.

Brown’s playing attracted the attention of other musicians, and when Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey came to town with their new joint band, Tommy went to hear Boyce and then asked him to join them.  But when Boyce sat in with the Dorsey band, he got the volatile Tommy upset when he cocked his head at a strange angle and leaned over to squint at the music.  Tommy thought the audience would be distracted and put off by the contortions.  Boyce told Tommy he had to bend over only once per sheet of music because he could memorize it at a glance, despite his poor vision.  He had a photographic memory, and perfect pitch as well.

Nevertheless, Brown lacked self-confidence, and he also was afflicted by a sense of responsibility.  He felt he should stay with and support his mother because his father was an alcoholic and unreliable.

So, Brown stayed home.  Although he subsequently toured around the country with different bands, he chose to play most of the 20 prime years of his musical career at the Liberty Inn, a strip joint on Chicago’s rowdy North Clark Street.

Boyce Brown in the Liberty Inn was the definition of incongruity.  He drank, but not to excess, and, of course, he couldn’t see much of what was going on.  Sometimes he sat backstage between shows reading philosophy, his face literally buried in the book.  This disturbed some people because they didn’t understand it.

Despite his aloofness, Brown liked the girls.  They were kind to him and seemed to understand him — although they perhaps wondered why he never made passes at them and otherwise ignored their nakedness.  He told friends that the girls were nice and not bad as most people seemed to think.  At one point, Brown was briefly engaged to a girl outside the business, but he again decided he couldn’t leave his mother and Aunt Harriet, whom he also was helping.

Time and again he left the Liberty Inn to play with other bands, but he always returned.  Something there suited him.  Maybe it was a psychological refuge; there was much honesty and little pretense in the Liberty Inn.

As the years passed, Brown was bothered more and more by the contrast between his manner of making a living and his attitudes about life and people developed through his philosophical readings.  He got in the habit of going for long walks in the early morning hours after work, wondering about his life as a musician, the paradoxes and the fact that he wasn’t fully utilizing his abilities.  He became depressed and even thought about suicide.

One morning his walk took him past St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church on Granville Avenue, and he heard organ music.  He stopped to listen.  As children, he and his brother, Harvey, had been iterested enough in classical music to stage record concerts for their friends.

Brown returned to the church morning after morning to listen to the music, and he soon began going inside to hear better.  One morning a priest noticed him standing in the shadows at the back of the church and approached to welcome him.  From that contact, one thing led to another and on August 12, 1952, Boyce Brown, who had been raised an Episcopalian, became a Catholic.  He was 42 years old.

But just being a Catholic didn’t satisfy him.  He wanted deeper involvement.  One day at St. Gertrude’s, he met Father Ed Calkins, a missionary of the Servites, a religious order of friars started in the 13th century.  Brown asked about taking his religious feelings further.

Father Ed sent Brown to the Servites’ director of vocation, Father Hugh Calkins, his brother (two other Calkins brothers also were priests).  Father Hugh listened as Brown described his concern about being accepted for further work in the church.  He feared his background of playing jazz in “low” places for so many years would rule him out.  Father Hugh let Brown ramble on about his worries for a time, and then told him he would make a good Brother in the Servite Order.

As for jazz, Father Hugh said, it just so happened that he himself was fond of jazz.  In fact he was a pretty good amateur pianist, if he did say so himself, and felt he and Brown would enjoy playing together.

After a few more interviews, in the fall of 1953 Boyce Brown entered the monastery and began training to become a Brother.  When Father Hugh was questioned by a superior about Brown’s seriousness of purpose, he said Brown was one of the most deeply spiritual men he had ever met.

That was fine, the superior said, bring him in.  “He might say enough prayers to get the rest of us into Heaven.”

Two years later, Brown entered the Novitiate at Mount Saint Philip Monastery about 10 miles north of Milwaukee and on Feb. 26, 1956, took his vows as Brother Matthew.

Part of Boyce Brown’s training, and his vocation as a Brother, involved menial work in the monastery, kitchen, tailor shop, laundry, bakery, and boiler room, and he swept the halls.  Sometimes, when his work was done, he played the saxophone, but not often.  His first year of training, he played hardly at all, so everyone was surprised when, at the Christmas party, Brother Hugh sat down to play the piano — and called on Brown to get his saxophone.  When he and Brown got going, Father Hugh said, they “rocked the refectory,” and played together many times after that.

Father Hugh, outgoing and enthusiastic, had a talent for public relations — another incongruity — and when Brown took his vows, the priest sent out a press release.  A week later, Time Magazine and other publications carried items with the news.

About two weeks after that, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page story about the jazzman turned Brother.  This was followed by a picture story in the Trib‘s rotogravure section.

As the word spread, ABC-Paramount telephoned Father Hugh and asked if Brother Matthew could go to New York and make a record.  Father Hugh, bursting with excitement, got an okay from church superiors and then got in touch with jazz spokesman Eddie Condon, who knew Brown in his early days, and asked him to handle arrangements for a record date.

Father Hugh’s press release now had gathered maximum momentum.  Father Hugh had become official spokesman, escort, PR man and general factotum for Brother Matthew.  (Later, he collected considerable information and provided much of the material for this article.)  Father Hugh and his charge appeared and played on Garry Moore’s “I’ve Got A Secret” television program, with Moore himself on drums, the day before the record session.  They played “My Blue Heaven.”

Boyce Brown’s and Father Hugh’s “secret” was that they played jazz in a monastery.  The panel was game show host Bill Cullen, who was raised a Catholic, radio comedian Henry Morgan, supposedly an agnostic; and actress Faye Emerson, then married to bandleader and pianist Skitch Henderson.  Her religious beliefs were unknown, but she was the one who guessed the “secret,” but not until the time allotted to do so had expired.  She finally remembered seeing Brown’s picture in Time, and Henderson had told her about Brown’s past and background.

Father Hugh and Boyce spent that night in the Abbey Hotel, and the religious motif was played to the hilt.  The next day, a Life Magazine photographer showed up at the recording session, and a spread of pictures appeared in the April 23, 1956 issue.

Condon had rounded up a band of star jazzmen: on cornet, Wild Bill Davison, who had played with Brown in the old days; Gene Schroeder on piano; Pee Wee Russell on clarinet; Ernie Caceres on baritone sax; Cutty Cutshall on trombone; George Wettling on drums; Bob Casey on bass and on a few numbers, Paul Smith on guitar.  The session was a little more orderly, somber and sober than might have been the case in Brown’s former life, but Davison and a couple of others nevertheless broke out the booze, and Brown joined in without hesitation, showing he still was one of the boys.

Unfortunately, he still wasn’t one of them musically.  The tunes played included Brown’s “theme song,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” plus “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Blues for Boyce,” a tune improvised for the occasion.  While Brown still was holed up in the Liberty Inn tootling for the strippers, the others had been learning from each other and their colleagues and developing as musicians.  The upshot was that his horn figuratively became caked with rust.  However, the record was issued, entitled Brother Matthew, and although it wasn’t really that bad, it was not a success.  It did not create a demand for more music from the monastery.  This was a disappointment to Father Hugh, but probably not to Brown.

Father Hugh had hoped to use the record as a fund-raiser for the Servites and their missions in South Africa, but a hit record and satisfying demands for more might not have been Brother Matthew’s idea of serving God, his fellow man and himself in the quietude of a monastery.  Brown told Father Hugh he felt he had said all he had to say through his music.  After all, that was a life he voluntarily gave up.

So, sans success, Brother Matthew was allowed to go back to his chores and his meditations, but his serenity was gone.

In early 1957, Dave Garroway called and wanted to do a segment on Brother Matthew for NBC’s “Wide Wide World” program on Sunday afternoon.  The idea was to contrast Brother Matthew’s playing with a dixieland band with the Gregorian music sung by the Servite members.  This was done and went out over the network, live.  Father Hugh described the broadcast as a success, but perhaps the superiors were beginning to wonder about all the worldliness and all the talk from Father Hugh about good public relations.  Was this a religious order or was it Madison Avenue?

Whatever was actually said, or implied, brown began to worry about his future with the Servites.  Final vows to enter the Servite Order for life were coming up, and Brows was afraid he wouldn’t be accepted.  He told Father Hugh of his concern, and when the priest went before his superiors in the monastery at Hillside, a Chicago suburb, he discovered that Brown’s fears were well-founded.

They thought Boyce Brown was an alcoholic and not ready to devote his life to the Servite Order.  Sometimes the other members smelled alcohol on his breath.  A bottle of booze was found in his room.  One Sunday, he left the monastery to play  a few hours in a band led by drummer Danny Alvin and returned with the smell of liquor about him.  Once, his hands shook when he was helping a priest serve Mass.

Father Hugh pleaded the case.  He pointed out that members of the Order were allowed to drink in moderation and that’s all Brown was doing.  He said there was no evidence that he ever drank to excess.  His hands shook because of nervousness.  Father Hugh cited Brown’s value to the Order as a fund-raiser and as an entertainer of the other members (which may have been the wrong approach).  Father Hugh said he had never known anyone with a deeper spirituality, with a richer goodness of soul.

The superiors were unmoved.  They told Father Hugh he was prejudiced in favor of Brown because they were friends, they played jazz together and Father Hugh loved jazz.  There was every indication they would not accept Boyce Brown when he came up for consideration.  Father Hugh’s grand public relations gambit — a Brother who played jazz — had backfired.

But Brown never came up for consideration.  A few days before the day he was to face the superiors, he helped serve a meal at the monastery, then sat down to eat.  But instead of eating, he got back up and went to his room.  He took off his robe and folded it neatly.  Then he lay down on his bed.  A few minutes later, a painter working in the next room heard an unearthly, terrible moan.  He called a priest.

Boyce Brown was dead.  It was Jan. 30, 1959 — two months and 16 days before his 39th birthday and two years and 10 months after the Brother Matthew record was made.

“God spared him from possible being rejected,” Father Hugh said.

Father Hugh’s feelings about Boyce Brown were profound.  “He was without a doubt one of the most genuinely religious-minded persons I have ever met.  In the sense that he had an intuitive awareness of things that even many priests, many theologians, never grasp.  He said he saw music in colors — he heard chord changes, but he saw them, too.  Some sounds were a rich purple or a deep blue.  I checked with a psychologist and he said that some artists do that; their senses coordinate.  It’s an overlapping of senses.”

In the aftermath of Brown’s departure, Columbia Pictures called Father Hugh to talk about making a movie of Brown’s life, with Father Hugh as technical adviser.  He was, of course, enthusiastic and the idea went as far as a scriptwriter coming to interview Father Hugh in depth.  Then he told the monastery superiors about it.  The rejection was flat and unequivocal; the lives of the seminarians would be disrupted by movie people wandering around and climbing all over the monastery.  The project was called off.

By the way, Father Hugh had envisioned Anthony Perkins in the role.

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Note: I’m very grateful to Jim Denham of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST (http://www.shirazsocialist.wordpress.com.) for uncovering a copy of this truly detailed article.  Hal Willard died not long ago, so I can’t thank him in person, but his research into Boyce’s life and his conversations with Father Hugh Calkins were invaluable.  A long and beautiful overview of Boyce’s life and recordings can be found in Richard M. Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, with comments from Dave Dexter, Jimmy McPartland, George Avakian, and others — including excerpts from Boyce’s poetry and a letter he wrote to that “bible of jazz,” Down Beat . . . where he had won the 1940 poll for alto saxophone.

TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, RICHARD SIMON, DICK SHANAHAN at SWEET AND HOT 2011

I was eager to hear this band at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival in Los Angeles.  I always admire the playing of  Clint Baker (here on trombone), and pianist Chris Dawson is one of my heroes. 

The leader, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, I knew as an articulate student of Pete Fountain, and Connie Jones had impressed me for his partnership with the late Richard Sudhalter (they made a superb Stomp Off recording that eventually appeared on CD as CONNIE JONES AND DICK SUDHALTER: GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, CHR 70054).  In addition, Connie was chosen by Jack Teagarden, which says a great deal about his talent.  The Sweet and Hot ensemble was filled out with a variety of bassists and drummers; in this case Richard Simon (b) and Dick Shanahan (d).

But I wasn’t prepared for what I heard.  Laughlin reminded me of the much-missed Irving Fazola — that’s a great compliment — with his deep singing tone, his ability to turn corners without strain, his lovely phrasing (never a note too many), and his fine cheerful leadership, which translates to pretty, not-often-played songs at just-right tempos.

Connie was simply amazing: constructing Bobby Hackett-cloud castles with harmonies that were deep (beyond the formulaic) without calling attention to themselves, his tone glowing but with the occasional rough edge when appropriate; his approach to the instrument a seamless blending of singer, brass tubing, and song. 

Like Bob Barnard, Connie plays in a manner both casual and architectural: his solos combine solidity and airiness.  Although his tone has a sweetly human fragility, Connie always seems to know where he’s going, but nothing is ever mannered or predictable; his twists and turns surprise the musicians who stand alongside him.  I thought I heard echoes of Doc Cheatham’s lighter-than-air flights, but Connie obviously has all of this on his own — with a solid foundation of Louis.

Chris Dawson can make you think of Hines, of Wilson, of Waller or James P., but he never sounds derivative; his playing is so organic, his approach so easy, that he makes a four-bar introduction seem like a complete work of art.  What Chris does is hard work, but a Dawson solo is a piece of sleight-of-hand: it sounds easy, nonchalant.  And he makes subtle magic carpets out of his accompaniments without ever stealing the limelight from the soloist.  Like Jess Stacy in the Goodman band, you can’t help but listen to what he’s creating.

These three players constructed shimmering solos and neat ensemble parts — but a true New Orleans band needs some spice, some grit and funk — provided admirably by Clint on trombone, his tone huge, his phrases and exuberant attack suggesting a meeting at the bar of Higginbotham, Sandy Williams, and Dicky Wells.

Of Simon and Shanahan, I will reach back to the Sage, Albert Edwin Condon, and say that they did no one any harm.

Here are some shining moments from the first set I captured — on September 2, 2011.

I MAY BE WRONG is a 1934 classic (no one believed me when — at some point during the festival — I explained that the “speaker” in the song is blind . . . as I recall, which makes the lyrics understandable.  Research?) that usually leads to an easy glide, as it did here:

I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY (who says that men don’t apologize?) was a favorite of Jack Teagarden and remains one of Jon-Erik Kellso’s:

IT’S WONDERFUL, by Stuff Smith and Mitchell Parish, was first recorded by Louis and by Maxine Sullivan — but the version that most listeners know by heart comes from the Teagarden-Hackett COAST CONCERT (or COAST TO COAST) on Capitol, a treasure:

After such beauty, how about a little street music: if BEALE STREET could talk, it would sound like this:

Tim chose that old barbershop quartet favorite DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM as his feature, and played it beautifully:

Clint looked surprised when the magic pointer came to him, and (after apologizing, needlessly) swashbuckled his way — playing and singing — through the eternal quesion, WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? — his version owing more to Bubber Miley than to the Ritz-Carlton:

Another “wonderful tune,” the Gershwins’ S’WONDERFUL:

And the band reassembled for an unusual choice to close the set (rather than a stomp or a drum feature), WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

This band is happily distant from formulaic “Dixieland,” “New Orleans,” or “trad.”  They create beautiful melodies, they swing, and they listen to one another; the result is moving music.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

P.S.  Last year, Tim’s band, with Connie and pianist John Sheridan, made a rewarding CD, just out.  Visit http://www.timlaughlin.com/music.htm for information (there’s also a documentary DVD about the making of the music): I recommend both!