Tag Archives: Ricky Riccardi

“ARE YOU READY? THEN JUMP STEADY!”

This seems not only an invitation to the dance but to a way of life.

Since staring at the label can only take us so far, here are the sounds:

That 1940 recording proves that Louis’ maligned Decca band had by this time was a first-rate swing band, as well as a swinging dance band.  Hear how Sidney Catlett understood Louis as few ever did, and Big Sid knew how to express his personality without insisting on being the whole show, a lesson many people can still learn.  If personnel listings are accurate, this band was, in addition to Louis, Bernard Flood, Shelton Hemphill, Henry “Red” Allen, Wilbur DeParis, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes, Joe Garland, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster, and Sidney Catlett — a powerful gliding group full of friends from the Luis Russell band of 1929-30.

That would be a post in itself — Louis and Jack Palmer writing a jovial novelty tune that also is a wonderful swing record, showing us why Harlem audiences so enjoyed the band as well as its leader.

Palmer, also, is crucial here: he, Cab Calloway, and Frank Froeba had created THE JUMPIN’ JIVE (whose refrain is “Hep hep hep”) in 1939 — first recorded by a Lionel Hampton small group, and it was a substantial hit.  Whether Palmer found Louis or the reverse, HEP CATS’ BALL (which was not a hit) seems a Louis-enhanced version of the same idea: you can have a wonderful time in Harlem if you know the way uptown.  Almost eighty years later, I wonder how many people spoke this way, and for how long, but it doesn’t perplex me.

But there’s more here than a fine Louis Armstrong performance that gets little to no attention.  How about two?  How about some comparative listening?

This great surprise came into my field of vision just a day ago — thanks to Javier Soria Laso, who found it and sent it to Ricky Riccardi on Facebook, which is where I encountered it:

Louis Armstrong at WABC

As the site-writer points out, Louis and the band recorded this on March 14, 1940, for Decca, and played it on the air three days later.  Mills Music (still run by Irving Mills?) used a service that recorded performances of Mills-owned compositions off the air . . . for their archives or for purposes I don’t, at this remove, understand.  But the result is a treasure.  The conventional wisdom is that live performances are longer than 78 rpm recordings, but the airshot is almost twenty seconds shorter.  The tempo is faster, and it is less restrained — hear Louis’ ad lib comments, including “I mean it!”, there is a splendid break by J.C. Higginbotham, still at the peak of his shouting powers, and we can hear the little variations within the arrangement, with a great deal of delicious Catlett embellishment, encouragement, and joy.

Airshots of Louis before World War Two are not plentiful, or at least that used to be the case before selections from the Fleischmann’s Yeast programs were issued on CD, and the late Gosta Hagglof’s collection of Cotton Club airshots on the Ambassador label — a disc I am proud to have written the notes for.  But who knew that HEP CATS’ BALL would emerge and be so rewarding?

Incidentally, Ricky Riccardi’s second volume on Louis, covering this period, called I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, will be published in 2020.  I’ve read an early version and it is characteristic Riccardi: warm, enthusiastic, and full of new information.

While I was shuttling back from one recording to another, I did as we all do — a little online research, and found some relevant trivia.  1697 Broadway, as Google Images tells me, is now home to the Ed Sullivan Theater, Angelo’s Pizza, and various unidentified offices.  Here’s what it looked like in mid-1936, when HELP YOURSELF ran at the Popular Price Theatre of the Federal Theatre Project.  I regret I can’t take you inside the building at that time to show you what Ace Recording looked like in 1940; you will have to imagine:

NEW YORK – JULY 1: Exterior of the Manhattan Theatre at 1697 Broadway at West 53rd Street, New York, NY. It later becomes The Ed Sullivan Theater. Image dated July 1, 1936. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

It’s a foxy hop.  Meet me there!  (“There” is problematic.  The original Cotton Club had been in Harlem, but it was segregated — providing Black entertainment for Whites only.  By the time Louis was broadcasting for CBS “from the Cotton Club,” it had moved downtown to Broadway and 48th Street and was no longer segregated, but it closed in 1940.  So go the glories of hepdom.)

May your happiness increase!

NEW OLD MUSIC FROM “LITTLE BOBBY HACKETT” and HIS FRIENDS: JACK GARDNER, EDDIE CONDON, LOU McGARITY, PEANUTS HUCKO, JOHNNY VARRO, JACK LESBERG, BUZZY DROOTIN (1945, 1964)

Our generous friend Sonny McGown, through his YouTube channel called    “Davey Tough,” has been at it again, spreading jazz goodness everywhere.  And this time he features the man Louis Armstrong called “Little Bobby Hackett.”  If you’ve missed Ricky Riccardi’s wonderful presentation — music and words — of the remarkable relationship of Bobby and Louis, here  it is.

And here are more Hackett-gifts.  The duet with Jack Gardner I’d heard through the collectors’ grapevine, but the 1964 Condon material is completely new.  And glorious. Sonny, as always, provides beautiful annotations, so I will simply step aside and let Robert Leo Hackett cast his celestial lights.

Here he is with the rollicking pianist “Jumbo Jack” Gardner — and they both are wonderfully inspired:

and a wonderful surprise: an Eddie Condon recording I’d never known of, with Condon exquisitely miked for once (let us hear no more comments about his not playing fine guitar; let us hear no more about “Nicksieland jazz”).  And let’s celebrate the still-thriving Johnny Varro, alongside Peanuts Hucko, Lou McGarity, Jack Lesberg, and Buzzy Drootin:

May your happiness increase!

“FESTINA LENTE”: RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER at BIRD and BECKETT (July 11, 2019)

σπεῦδε βραδέως.  “Make haste slowly.” 

Yes, this post begins with classical Greek and a photograph of Louis Armstrong singing to a horse — all relevant to the performances below, recorded just ten days ago at the remarkable cultural shrine of San Francisco, Bird and Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery Street).  Thanks, as always, to the faithful Rae Ann Berry for documenting this facet of Ray Skjelbred’s California tour.

As bands play familiar repertoire over the decades, tempos speed up.  Perhaps it’s to stimulate the audience; perhaps it’s a yearning to show off virtuosity . . . there are certainly other reasons, conscious as well as unexamined, that are part of this phenomenon.  But Medium Tempo remains a lush meadow for musicians to stroll in, and it’s always pleasing to me when they count off a familiar song at a groovy slower-than-expected tempo.  I present two particularly gratifying examples, created by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Clint Baker, trumpet; Riley Baker, drums.  Here, JEEPERS CREEPERS is taken at the Vic Dickenson Showcase tempo, or near to it, reminding us that it’s a love song, even if sung to a horse:

and a nice slow drag for AFTER YOU’VE GONE, in keeping with the lyrics:

I don’t know how many people have seen the film clip below from the 1938 Bing Crosby film GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong introduced the Harry Warren – Johnny Mercer song JEEPERS CREEPERS.  (There is a brief interruption in the video: the music will resume.)

For the full story of Louis, the horse (a mean one), and the movie, you’ll have to wait for Ricky Riccardi’s splendid book on Louis’s “middle years,” 1929-47, HEART FULL OF RHYTHM.  For now, who knows the uncredited rhythm section on this clip?. I imagine it to be Joe Sullivan and Bobby Sherwood, but that may be a fantasy, one I happily indulge myself in.

And what Eric Whittington makes happen at Bird and Beckett Books is no fantasy: he deserves our heartfelt thanks, whether in classical Greek or the San Francisco demotic of 2019.

May your happiness increase!

“A TRULY LOVING PERSON”: DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS LOUIS ARMSTRONG (May 24, 2019)

I’ve had many beautiful experiences in my life, but being able to hear Dan Morgenstern talk about Louis Armstrong — the man, seen at close range — is one of those I treasure now and will always treasure.  We spent an early afternoon a few days ago, sharing sweet thoughts of our greatest hero.  I invite you to join us for tender memories and some surprises.  I have intentionally presented the video segments here without annotation so that viewers can be delighted and surprised as I was and am.

These segments are emotionally important to me, so I saw no reason to wait until July 4, July 6, or even August 1 to share them with you.

And just a small matter of chronology: Dan will be ninety on October 24, 2019.  Let us start planning the parades, shall we?

a relevant musical interlude:

Part Two:

some life-changing music:

Part Three:

Dave and Iola Brubeck’s SUMMER SONG:

Part Four (and before one of the JAZZ LIVES Corrections Officers rushes to the rescue, I am sure that the funeral Dan refers to as the ideal was Ellington’s):

Part Five:

The blessed EV’NTIDE:

A very brief postscript, which I whimsically began by telling Dan I was going to throw him a curveball, which he nimbly hit out of the park:

SUN SHOWERS:

Dan and I owe much to the great friend of jazz and chronicler, Harriet Choice, who encouraged us to do this interview.

And a piece of mail, anything but ordinary:

 

Early in the conversation, Dan said that Louis “made everyone feel special.”  He does the same thing, and it comes right through the videos.  That we can share the same planet with Mister Morgenstern is a great gift.

May your happiness increase!

“A PACKAGE OF SUNSHINE AND FLOWERS”: MARC CAPARONE PLAYS LOUIS ARMSTRONG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, DAN WALTON, SAM ROCHA, JEFF HAMILTON (May 12, 2019)

My own periodic table of the essential chemical elements has a space for OP, or optimism, the substance that has carried me and others through darkness — the organism needs it in regular doses.  (Under my breath, I say, “Especially these days.”)

Next to it, of course, is the element LA, for Louis Armstrong, who conveyed more optimism than any other human being.

I grew up deeply in love with the music of Louis’ last quarter-century, with the most played jazz record in my tiny childhood collection the Decca sides with Gordon Jenkins; the second in line, TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, which I played until its grooves were a soft gray.  (My original copy disappeared in a period of marital acrimony, but I found another one for solace.)

 

Here is William P. Gottlieb’s famous photograph of that band, that place, and even hints of that fortunate 1947 audience:

But we are in 2019, where I can magically share a passionate new performance of a song very important to Louis — coming from the 1936 film in which he was billed alongside Bing Crosby, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — created by Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Dan Walton, keyboard (which he makes sound like a piano); Sam Rocha, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Uncredited dancers and irrelevant conversation free of charge.

All this goodness took place at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival (thanks to Mark and Val Jansen) in Eureka, California, a musical weekend that made me extremely happy and fulfilled.  More about those joys as I share videos of this and other bands.

On the original performance at Town Hall in 1947, Louis was accompanied by “little Bobby Hackett” on cornet, playing magnificently.  Marc hints at both Louis and Bobby while sounding like himself.  When the group makes their CD, we will bring back George Avakian to do his magical multi-tracking, so that Marc can play cornet filigree to his own vocal.

By the way, if you are one of those lopsided souls who believe that Louis had little to give the world after 1929, I encourage you to read this book, slowly and attentively:

And there are two pieces of good news.  One is that there is more from this Louis tribute; the second is that Ricky Riccardi has completed the second volume of what may become a Louis-trilogy, HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, covering the period 1929-1947.

Blessings on all the musicians, Mark and Val Jansen, Ricky, and all the optimists we have the good fortune to encounter.

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM A GENEROUS TRIO: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CONAL FOWKES (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 24, 2017)

Dawn Lambeth

She’s lyrical; she swings; she has deep feeling and a light heart.

Conal Fowkes

He’s versatile, a wonderful mix of elegance and roistering.

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters Louis

Marc’s a hero of mine: listen and be moved.

WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE scored for horn and continuo:

Mister Waller tips over due to love, thus I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby’s wonderful GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE:

An emotionally intense yet swinging SAY IT ISN’T SO:

PORTO RICO, a wonderful dance number first recorded by Bunk Johnson, Sandy Williams, Sidney Bechet, Cliff Jackson, Pops Foster, and Manzie Johnson on March 10, 1945.  But I wish audience members wouldn’t enter into dialogues with the musicians, even when they are correct:

Dawn will be appearing with swing / blues guitar master Larry Scala at the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea in Pismo, California (October 25-28); Marc will be there as well with High Sierra, the Creole Syncopaters, and who knows where Dawn, he, and Larry will turn up?

Conal, Dawn, and Marc will again appear as the Dawn Lambeth Trio at the San Diego Jazz Fest, which takes place over Thanksgiving weekend in that welcoming city, and Conal will be an integral part of the Yerba Buena Stompers there as well.

May your happiness increase!

“EVERY DAY’S A WORKING DAY FOR YOU”

How do you recognize wealthy people?  They go on vacation with more possessions than they can carry, and they hire someone to do the work for them.

“Red cap” or “redcap,” now archaic, dates back to when people traveled by train, when suitcases did not have wheels, so passengers would need help with their luggage, and would summon a railway porter.

Here is a 1983 news story, “The Top Redcap,” which explains it in greater depth.  I believe that the redcaps were hard-working men of color who may not have been treated well by affluent passengers.  One of the sadnesses of this life is that people who perform low-status jobs become servants and are thus invisible.

If you wonder at the photographs — figurines carrying suitcases and golf clubs, my intent is not to demean these diligent laborers, but these objects turned up online, described as “REDCAP W/ LUGGAGE, STANDARD GAUGE MODEL TRAIN PLATFORM FIGURE, NEW/REPRODUCTION” — produced for people who wanted the landscape of their model train layout to be realistic.  “Look.  Servants, too!”

The description reads: “This is a Standard Gauge figure of a redcap/train porter carrying luggage. It is a reproduction cast in tin from a Lionel antique original and is hand-painted by Leddy & Slack. Lionel’s six-piece set #550 of Standard Gauge figures was manufactured from 1932-1936. The redcap is 3″ tall and wears a dark gray uniform. The suitcase in his left hand is detachable. . . . Suitcases are also available separately to replace a lost piece of luggage on an old figure; please inquire.”  It’s significant that this piece of miniature art dates from 1932-36.

But JAZZ LIVES has not turned into a cultural studies explication of Lionel train figures.  It’s all a prelude to the music, which touches us through the decades.

In 1937, Louis Armstrong and Ken Hecht collaborated on a song, RED CAP.  Everyone, including me, thinks the Hecht referred to was BEN — he’s even credited in the Mosaic set — but it’s  KEN.  See below for Dan Morgenstern’s correction.

Louis had traveled coast-to-coast many times by 1937, so he had first-hand experience of the amiable fellows who helped you and your bags off the train.  Ricky Riccardi, my brother-in-Louis, told me something I hadn’t known, that Louis refused to put his name on songs he had no part in writing.  But there’s an even stronger story behind RED CAP.

Louis grew up in poverty, knew what it was like to hunt through garbage cans for food, was contemptuous of the “lazy,” and held hard work for a goal as the greatest good.  He also was generous, and I would bet that when Louis and his band came into town, he was a hero to the red caps and more.

A year before RED CAP, Louis had a great hit with SHOE SHINE BOY, by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin (Cahn wrote about Louis in his autobiography, and I posted this cameo in 2009).  If you don’t know the song, or know it only through the instrumental versions by Count Basie, Lester Young, and Jo Jones, listen to this touching December 1935 performance:

So: a song celebrating the working man (or child) invisible to the higher classes, directed at him (as in “you” rather than “he”) and predicting a hopeful future, upward economic mobility.  As you’ll hear, RED CAP has one extra touch that SHOE SHINE BOY doesn’t: it ends with the notion that the man working so hard hustlin’ and bustlin’ other people’s suitcases will someday be able to take a vacation and call for a red cap as well.  A dream worth dreaming!

It’s easy to imagine the dialogue between Louis and Hecht about writing a song in praise of the unseen but invaluable red caps, no matter who started the conversation. Louis usually worked with Horace Gerlach,  but you are free to let your imagination wander as to the genesis of RED CAP.

My imagination wanders to this wonderful 2003 performance now accessible on YouTube, from Scott Robinson’s eloquent spacious Louis tribute.  Here Scott plays C-melody saxophone alongside another hero, Mark Shane, irresistible both as pianist and singer:

and from five years ago (can it be that long?), our friend Daryl Sherman, vocal and piano; Scott, taragoto; Harvie S, string bass:

And the Master comes last:

I write these words a few days before Labor Day — thus “Perhaps some day you may be shouting, ‘Red Cap!’ too!” — has much hopeful significance to me: people’s dreams can still become realities.

And this, a gift from the Big Dipper, which says so much:

THIS JUST IN, from Dan Morgenstern, whom I trust!

Alas, I too thought how wonderful that Louis and Ben Hecht, of whom I was and still am a great fan, should have collaborated, and on a theme fitting with Hecht’s ideology . But I was not convinced that Ben and Louis had ever been connected. Sure enough, the Red Cap lyric is by KEN Hecht, writer of special material for many comedians and such entertainers as Belle Baker and Rose Marie. None of his other songs is near Red Cap. As for Ben, his most famous work is the play “The Front Page” a big 1928 Broadway hit twice filmed with success, first with the same title and later as “His Girl Friday” with which anyone at all into vintage films will know. Hecht’s partner was Charles Macarthur with whom he screenplayed “Scarface”, “Twentieth Century”, “Nothing Sacred” and, for Noel Coward’s first major film role, “The Coward”, all that plus making the twosome major league screenwriter. Hecht was one of the major advocates for the creation of Israel, among other causes. His 1926 novel “Count Bruga” is a sui generis satire that should be rediscovered. I don’t know if he was a Louis fan but glad this brought him up. His dates are 1894-1964.

AND a wonderful postscript, just in, from the wise Paige VanVorst:

One of my longtime idols, Natty Dominique, who’s on as many classic jazz records as Bix (As Wayne Jones used to say, “but they don’t buy them for Natty’s playing”), worked much of his life as a redcap at Chicago’s Midway Airport. People loved him, and he told stories of the early days of jazz to the people he served. He had a very nice retirement- he had a nice apartment with everything he needed, a wife who was an excellent creole cook, and he’d tell you it was all from his work as a redcap.

May your happiness increase!