Tag Archives: Richard Salvucci

“THAT’S SO PRETTY!”

My thoughtful friend Richard Salvucci introduced me to the Fifties recordings of pianist / arranger Elliot Lawrence and his big band, and I am entranced by them.

My delight surprised me: I ordinarily lean towards small groups with vivid solo improvisations. Years ago, I would have scoffed at this music as “Easy Listening,” “bland pop,” “businessman’s bounce,” played by a “society orchestra.” But this innocent-looking Decca session of songs associated with college life and college dances, merits more than a reflex dismissal. The collective personnel for these 1950-51 sessions is (more or less): Joe Techner, John Dee, Gerry LaFuru, trumpets; Rob Swope, Earl Swope, Ollie Wilson, trombone; Bill Danzien, French horn; Mike Goldberg, Buddy Savitt, Al Steele, Merle Bredwell, reeds; Elliot Lawrence, piano; Mert Oliver, string bass; Howie Mann, drums; Rosalind Patton, vocal.

Possibly JAZZ LIVES’ readers know of Elliot Lawrence because of his more famous Fantasy sessions devoted to Gerry Mulligan arrangements, or his work on many different transcriptions, but his very appealing music stands on its own. I present some for your pleasure.

Those who live for the next solo might be disappointed, for this is an orchestra more than a showcase for soloists: the shifting textures and voicings are so attractive. This is a well-rehearsed, highly professional group playing compact, deft arrangements — in time, in tune, with fine intonation. The band is subtle: it doesn’t get loud or strain for effect. Rosalind Patton was never famous, but her charming voice is eloquent in its restraint. She does everything right. (Alas, she was a chain smoker who died at 63 in 1985.) Even the choral arrangements on a few tunes — not my favorite thing — do no harm.

Listen for yourself, and listen to this half-hour for its splendid understated musicianship:

Here’s another example:

And something perhaps out of the ordinary, a 1948 “cowboy song,” that I wanted to hear again:

I am aware that some of my readers may have left the room, in search of more brightly-colored sensations. But there is something larger than my new fondness for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra here.

“Jazz fans” and “jazz critics,” for the most part, privilege rhythmically-charged improvisation. “That‘s jazz,” they say. If a recording doesn’t have those qualities, it’s “sweet” or “popular,” and thus it is less worthy. But eager listeners have not always been ideologically-driven fans or critics. I would wager that dancers enjoying Henderson or Goldkette at Roseland, Oliver at the Lincoln or Royal Gardens, the parade of bands at Harlem ballrooms, enjoyed the music . . . if Goldkette played VALENCIA in 6/8 or Henderson played a waltz, those who could dance, danced to it. And records of well-played music caught the ear, and sold.

But divisiveness crept in — in the guise of “authenticity.” “Sweet” was for the older generation, the parents and grandparents who didn’t understand, were ancient, they couldn’t hear “the new music.” And for the self-defined jazz cognoscenti who truly “knew,” the real thing was of course “hot.” It was Louis on I MISS MY SWISS, Bubber on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, or Bix on SWEET SUE.

It was a commonplace that you could find one of those discs with the hot chorus worn grey through repeated playing and the rest of the record shiny, nearly pristine. But the received wisdom was that people who preferred the “sweet” orchestra as well as the “hot” chorus lacked discrimination. Probably they didn’t even know the difference between Jack Purvis and young Bunny Berigan. Unthinkable!

Thanks to Richard Vacca and his BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES, I just saw a wonderful handbill advertising Frank Newton’s band at the KEN club in Boston, 1943: here. What struck me was the guarantee of authenticity to entice an audience: “They [the band] never blew a schmaltzy note in their lives.”

And from this sometimes snobbish hierarchy of what was worthy and what was not, a fascinating and perhaps perverse value system solidified. It was sometimes organized along racial lines: Andy Kirk’s band playing a Mary Lou Williams arrangement was “real”; if a White band played the same chart well, it was an aberration. Or it was “commercial.” The divisiveness could be read along Marxist lines as well: White musicians were imitators; White bandleaders were capitalist oppressors; Black musicians were original; Black bandleaders suffered because of White popularizers. Bessie Smith was genuine; Mildred Bailey a good pop singer. Real musicians suffered and died young; if you lived a long life without trauma, how authentic were you?

The musicians themselves were not reading these books and articles, and they were hanging out with their friends at the Union or the Copper Rail. Maybe they were jealous of X for getting that good gig, but in general they knew that music, well-played, was beautiful, and that it took as much skill to read a complicated chart as it did to stand up and create a hot chorus.

These arbitrary distinctions affected an audience that had never read Panassie or Hammond, as public taste changed over years and decades. Some “new art” aims to shock the bourgeoisie. If your mother likes your new record, there must be something wrong with it. It can’t be “cutting-edge” or “innovative.” People might whisper that you spent New Year’s Eve watching Guy Lombardo with your family. How very uncool.

But when did “pretty” music lose its value? Was it at the height of the Swing Era, where a “killer-diller” was seen as superior to a pretty ballad? Did the rise of a more abstract jazz in later decades set up a value system where if you could hum it or dance to it, it wasn’t worth study and emulation? Was “pretty” for squares too limited to understand Miles? Should we blame Wynonie Harris, or Elvis? Or the hauteur of modern art in general — I think of Eliot and THE WASTE LAND or late Joyce — consciously closing the door on the “average” reader, proposing a much smaller, more arrogantly erudite audience?

All I know is that when Richard Salvucci sent me music by Elliott Lawrence, my first reaction was, “That’s so pretty!” And “pretty” was not in any way condescending.

Here’s another illustration of the same principle, in the singing of Nat King Cole. He was an astonishing and influential pianist, but I know some people who say “He should have stuck to the piano!” in the tones one uses for traitors.

Consider this — one of the most beautiful expressions of expert art and deep feeling I know of:

His voice; his acting; his idiosyncratic rubato phrasing — those hesitations and accelerations — beyond words. For once, I am not obsessing about the people who “disliked” the YouTube video. Let them find their own pleasures, far from me.

But I am sure some readers of JAZZ LIVES will say, “That’s very nice, but it’s just pretty,” denying its sublime mastery. Imagine a modern trumpeter playing what Nat sings, if it were possible: would we not be awestruck? But he was “such a success,” “a great popular singer,” appealing to the unsophisticated masses, so perhaps some undervalue that performance.

And here’s a final illustration, dear to me for years. There’s no hot solo; the orchestral background is reverent, not raucous, but it is one of the most convincing pieces of art I know:

Here’s my mission statement. There should be some place in art for work that does not leap out of the closet and scare the viewer, some place for beauty that seems so very simple. Here one can quote Thelonious Monk or Aubrey Beardsley: I would rather that readers listen again to Elliot Lawrence and Nat Cole and Louis, and re-examine their own internalized value systems, give them a good shake to see if there’s any validity there or just a set of unexamined, now limited, beliefs.

I won’t enter into the squabble over whether the music I’ve presented is or isn’t jazz. I don’t care about those air-tight compartments with their neat labels. But these performances are frankly beautiful, and I will brook no disagreement.

It could be that “pretty music,” even “schmaltz,” varieties of “decorative art,” that touch hearts, that pleases a large amount of people, has more merit than we ever afford it.

May your happiness increase!


IMAGINATIVE THEN, INVISIBLE NOW: THE ABSENCE OF FRAN KELLEY

Even now, when it seems that everything can be known, some people appear for a moment and then vanish.  One such is Fran Kelley, whose work as an imaginative record producer came to me some months ago, as I describe here.

Before I offer more information and speculation — all of the print data excavated by the diligent, generous Professor Brian Kane of Yale University — please hear one of the two sides that Fran made possible. Ethereal music:

A gentle caution: if you come to JAZZ LIVES only for videos, I’ll see you tomorrow or the next day.  I think this is a terribly important post, though: my attempt to make sense of a brilliant life from fragments of information.  And I can’t promise any melodrama: death from automobile accident or medical crisis: no, Fran Kelley seems to have turned from “the scene” to choose another life.

Here is not only a portrait (a disembodied one, alas) but the most thorough biographical sketch we have, even though it might be based on her answers to a questionnaire, when Fran was West Coast Editor of METRONOME (1953-57):

For the moment, a few additional facts.  1246 Orange Grove Avenue would have been near Spaulding Square, in what is now considered “West Hollywood,” once a residential area of single-family houses and small apartment buildings, but Google turns up no photographs, which leads me to think Fran’s residence was torn down sometime after 1957.  Whether the “Met” was the opera or the museum, I could find nothing relevant about her father.  Clyde Reasinger, famous for his work with Kenton and for being a section trumpeter on the television performance of MILES AHEAD, was long-lived, 1927-2018.  He has a Facebook page (whose administrator did not reply to my inquiry); his spouse has none.

Based on decades of reading, but jazz writing circa 1945-1957 (the years in which we have the most evidence) was primarily if not exclusively done by men, exceptions being Helen Oakley Dance and a few others, so even given the mildly patronizing tone of the sketch, it shows the regard in which Fran was held by her colleagues.  (In my previous post, I note the stories / reviews she’d written for Metronome.)  I am sure no one asked Bill Coss what he cooked, but that merits only a sigh.  By the way, if you think it condescending of me to call her “Fran,” I am writing this post out of fond admiration: “Kelley” seems icy.  Please don’t write in to lecture.

She accomplished great things, and I say here to readers, “Fran is now invisible in a landscape of Gene Norman, Norman Granz, George Wein and more, all of whom deserve their fame.  Her name is absent from studies of Dizzy, of Bird, of Benny Carter.  Had Fran been Francis, would she be so erased?”

She feels so much, at this distance, like Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s sister.”

Let us follow the paper trail.

DOWN BEAT, 15 November 1945: “Fran Kelly [sic] of Hollywood House of Music will launch her new international label with star jazz headliners.”

More about “the Hollywood House of Music,” from      https://peggyleediscography.com/p/LeeResearchCapitolEarly.php:

The Nebraskan son of an Union Pacific Railway accountant, Glenn Everett Wallichs had been interested in electronics since his childhood — focusing on the design of radio sets and the mechanics of train railroads. A North Hollywood transplant (at 16 years of age, in his family’s company), he started his adult workdays locally, as a radio station technician (at WFWB) and then as the owner of a car-radio repair shop (at Ivar Avenue). Wallichs’ small shop evolved into a radio and electronics store, and that one store brought enough profit to allow for its multiplication into a chain (a total of five stores, all of them in the Hollywood area). In 1938, Wallichs took his business ventures even further. Accompanied by his brother Clyde, he joined forces with former WFWB co-worker Al Jarvis (the pioneering disc jockey, who also happened to be an LA record shop owner) to create Hollywood House of Music, a compound that merged Jarvis’ record shop with the fifth, youngest of Wallichs’ electronics stores. The most noteworthy aspect of the merger was that the latter was no longer just a retail store: it was converted into a small specialty recording studio, whose specialty became custom recordings. Though “normal civilian” requests for recordings of events such as weddings or parties were certainly taken, the studio primarily catered to artists’ requests of airchecks from radio broadcasts. It also chiefly became the place from which Jarvis’ legendary creation, the Make Believe Ballroom show, was broadcast during the late 1930s. Known to have been recorded there in 1938 is a novelty tune that featured Wallichs himself along with Stan Kenton, Paul Weston, Jo Stafford and others (all of them playing instruments, Stafford included, and some of them under pseudonyms). The resulting instrumental number was chucklingly titled “The World’s Worst Record.”

METRONOME Yearbook, 1956, showing the astonishing roster of musicians who performed at the concert Fran organized on April 12, 1946:

My friend Nick Rossi — guitarist, jazz scholar, painter — magically turned up the program for the concert here.  Someone’s bought it, but what can be seen here is stunning.

One exception to the contemporary erasure of Fran Kelley is Douglas Daniels’ 2002 biography of Lester Young, LESTER LEAPS IN, where he writes of this concert:

In Los Angeles, [Norman] Granz, Billy Berg, and Fran Kelly [sic] typified a new type of jazz promoter dedicated to racial equality. Kelly, with the aid of Lester Young, Ray Bauduc, Kay Starr, Lucky Thompson, Red Callender, Charlie Parker, Nat Cole, Benny Carter, and other artists, sought to foster racial tolerance by booking UCLA’s Royce Hall for a performance to benefit the scholarship fund of the George Washington Carver Club, named after the famous Tuskegee scientist. A Metronome recap reported that Young and Parker offered ‘‘the best number of the program.’’ All the musicians either donated their services or received a nominal fee, with proceeds going to the scholarship fund. This marked a first for UCLA. . . .

Granz gets top billing; Kell[e]y is unidentified.

DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1946, a very small comment on the concert, compared to the coverage of Les Brown’s “ball team”:

CLEF, June 1946, a concert review which begins with a beautiful quote:

METRONOME, August 1946.  More about the concert.  Linger, please, over the names of the musicians, and when you are through with time-travel, also note that a new Lester Young record gets a “C+”:

Because online research is part pearl diving and part trash collection, my continued inquiries into the George Washington Carver Club led me to this site, which I avoided as if made of Kryptonite: Twin Towers 911 Video Clips Video De Sexo De Paris Hilton …8.aksuchess.ru › VkjWBA.  

We move on.

BAND LEADERS AND RECORD REVIEW, August 1946, notes “Kelly,” “gal platter impresario”:

DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1949, noting that the Fran-Tone masters were sold to Capitol (which Wallichs, Johnny Mercer, and Buddy De Sylva had founded) — my guess is that they did not sell and they were never issued on that label . . . plus a famous Lester interview:

DOWN BEAT, 14 December 1955, a nameless reviewer mocks Fran’s liner notes for a Chico Hamilton record:  “Only clinker are the notes on the individual numbers by Fran Kelley, written in her inimitable prose, a cross between science fiction and theosophy.”

DOWN BEAT, 4 April 1956, an approving review of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, where Fran is called “the only pretty jazz critic”:

And here are the notes for that album, with a tiny portrait of the author:

METRONOME, February 1957, Fran’s imaginative profile of Keely Smith:

DOWN BEAT, 3 April 1958: the last mention of Fran — “poetess,” working for Ellington:


There the trail stops, except for Ellington’s coda in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her
spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

I have not been able to find out anything about Fran Kelley’s life after 1958.  And that may have been the way she wanted it, to turn away from the secular world, “the music business,” to shuck off being called “pretty,” and live another life.  If you are born Fran Kelley and you enter a religious order and take the name of Sister Angela, even Google cannot find you.  (Consider Boyce Brown, “Brother Matthew.”)  And even a rudimentary glance at actuarial tables would suggest that she is no longer living.

But I hope she wasn’t driven away by misogyny.  Yes, regarding the past through the lenses of the present can distort, but someone so sensitized might want to abandon the world where music was for sale and one’s best efforts got ignored.  A world where Lester Young got a C+.

I feel her absence.  A great loss.  Her legacy is and should be more than a dozen or so clippings from jazz trade papers.

This post is in memory of Fran Kelley, once remarkable and now unknown, with no biography and no Wikipedia page. And it is also in honor of all the women who create imaginative ideas and art and don’t get heard at the meetings or find their ideas vacuumed up and presented by men, but still keep creating.

Thanks to Katherine Vasile, Brian Kane, and Richard Salvucci: without them, this post would never have happened.

May your happiness increase!

JIMMIE ROWLES, CARSON SMITH, SHELLY MANNE, CHET BAKER, CHARLIE PARKER (November 5, 1953)

Jimmie Rowles is one of my most exalted musical heroes — unpredictable, witty, full of feeling, unpredictable yet always right in ways that no one could expect.

This is a particularly rare Rowles-hearing, and one that people haveci,  sought after for some time (my fellow Rowlesians Michael Kanan, Jacob Zimmerman, and Richard Salvucci, this is for you).  Many jazz fans will be excited by this because it pairs Charlie Parker and Chet Baker for one of the few times they were captured together, but for me the attraction is Rowles.

The Stash record with this rare music; background by Tommy Bahama.

The occasion: a concert at the University of Oregon. These three songs or excepts from songs appeared on a Stash lp sometime before 1988: as far as I know this music, recorded on tape, has not appeared on compact disc.  Typically for that time, the unnamed recordist was thrifty: recording tape was costly, so (s)he concentrated on Bird.  Thus the recordings are excerpted — COOL BLUES less so — so we have to wait until eleven minutes in to hear Rowles out in the open, and he sounds so delightful.

Sonic caveats here: I decided a long time ago that I would rather present imperfect videos than spend time learning how to perfect the technology, so what follows is the original Stash lp, played through speakers, recorded by my camera.  Thus the sharp-eared may hear rustlings of cars outside, my refrigerator singing its own songs, and the pre-school brother-and-sister upstairs who live to chase one another.  I apologize for all this, but the music is the gift.

Bless Jimmie Rowles.

May your happiness increase!

“Have one to sell? Sell now #D366 VINTAGE 1950S 8X10″ JAZZ ORCHESTRA NEGATIVE PHOTO Benny Goodman Big Band”

When I looked up “Benny Goodman” and “1938” in preparation for this blogpost, Google quite naturally led me to the Carnegie Hall concert of January 16.  But there was wonderful music made later in the year, by a band elevated by Dave Tough, drums, and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone.  Here’s a sample:

The link between that performance and my odd title might not be clear, so here’s the answer key: the title is the convoluted language of eBay, that odd treasure house.  And thanks to David J. Weiner, scholar and friend (pal of my childhood days, to be precise) I have the treasure below to share with you.  It’s a remarkable photograph — the negative of one — of the 1938 band, dressed up in performance garb, but not on the stand, and not holding instruments.  And even better, the normally somber-looking Dave Tough has just heard something funny or said something of the same kind (I think that Lionel made Dave laugh): a visage rarely if ever captured on film.

The bad news is that I did not win this photograph for my very own.  The good news is that someone who wanted it even more fervently did . . . to the tune of $105 and some change.  I hope (s)he enjoys it tremendously and hangs it in a place of honor.  For us, the magic of “Save image” means that we can hitch a ride for free, and moral questions aside, that is a great thing.

Now, I will confess ignorance and say that I cannot identify everyone in the picture, and I solicit the assistance of the readers of JAZZ LIVES who know more than I do — when they are irksome, I silently call them The Corrections Officials, but today I invite informed responses.

Here’s what and whom I know.

Front row left, unknown; Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; unknown woman who doesn’t look like Martha Tilton or, for that matter, Gladys Hampton, at all; Lionel Hampton, vibraphone; Dave Tough, drums; unknown (is that Chris Griffin, trumpet?)

Back row left, Vernon Brown, trombone; unknown; unknown; Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; unknown; Harry James, trumpet.

Where’s Benny?  Where’s Jess Stacy?  I assume some of the heroes I couldn’t identify are a second trombone, perhaps Noni Bernardi and Dave Matthews, guitarist Benny Heller.  Does anyone recognize the room?  The fireplace suggests a hotel rather than a recording studio, but that is a guess, nothing more.

And while you’re scrambling to prove your Benny-knowledge is just the best, here’s a soundtrack to inspire you, the deliciously loose rendition of SUGAR by Benny, Lionel, Teddy Wilson, and Dave:

This post is in honor of David Weiner, Kevin Dorn, and Richard Salvucci.  Of course!

May your happiness increase!