Tag Archives: Rob Rothberg

“BOUNCING WITH BEAN,” OR HIGH ADVENTURES at LOW PRICES (June 12, 2017)

“And how was your morning, Michael?”

“Quite good.  Of course my students can’t multi-task, so class was disappointing, but after that, I headed a few minutes east from my college to UNIQUE — a for-profit thrift store.  Mondays at UNIQUE are “Customer Appreciation Day,” where we get a twenty-five percent discount, so that adds to the overall thrill. Today I was looking for a plant pot with drainage holes in the bottom and was checking out the display of Hawaiian shirts, but I bought neither.”

“Why?”

“Exhibit A.”

“The records at UNIQUE are near the entrance, so I thumbed through the usual assortment of dull long-playing ones: Christmas music, Hugo Winterhalter, disco 12″ — but saw three that intrigued me: two by the singer Mavis Rivers on Capitol, and one by the otherwise unknown Pat Kirby on Decca — with orchestra conducted by Ralph Burns, always an encouraging sign.  $1.49 each.”

[Postscript: Pat Kirby turns out to be one of the finest singers I have ever heard. More about her as I learn more: the facts are few.]

“Then I saw one lonely 78 rpm record in a later-period yellow paper sleeve, and picked it up — the Andrews Sisters’ BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN — which, as my good friend Rob Rothberg would tell you, is a Bobby Hackett sighting of the highest order, especially on the original Decca issue.  I weighed that record in my hand, decided I didn’t need it, although it was a good omen, even at $3.99.  Then I saw more.

Perhaps another fifty 78s, nicely sleeved, in various places.  Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Gray, Erskine Hawkins, Benny Goodman . . . and the jackpot.  My thing.  Cozy Cole with Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins on Continental.  Bill Harris and J.C. Heard on Keynote.  Coleman Hawkins (as shown above) on Bluebird, which I now understand was a follow-up date to BODY AND SOUL and a kind of Henderson reunion, leaving aside Danny Polo and Gene Rodgers.  Horace Henderson on Vocalion.  And two sacred Commodore records: one featuring Chu Berry, the other Hawkins, both with space for Sidney Catlett:

Record-hunting, for me, always mixes uncontrollable excitement and melancholy.  Who died?  Who’s in assisted living?  Who will never hear J.C. Higginbotham again?  A few of the records had sleeves noting that they had come from one Peter Dilg of Baldwin, purveyor of antique phonographs.  Peter, where are you now?  And a postscript — written after I’d published this blogpost: someone who’d owned at least one of these 78s was a hot-jazz collector after my own heart, because on the paper sleeve of one [a different record, of course] in neat handwriting, he’d noted that Chick Bullock was the singer, and the band was a very nice swinging group — listing each member by name and instrument and giving the recording date.  Sir, where are YOU now?

But such melancholy thoughts are always balanced by the child, silently hollering LOOK WHAT I GOT!

So I walked around the shelves, clutching my records to my shirt-front with the ardor of someone who doesn’t want to put his treasures down for a moment. Usually I am alone when I look at records, but today, twice, I spied Brothers of the Collecting Urge, both gentlemen of my general age bracket.  One, with baseball cap and ponytail, pretended he didn’t see me when we were looking at the lps.  ‘Someone liked singers,’ I said — as an opening gambit, to which the response was a powerful albeit silent Do Not Come Near, Do Not Speak To Me.  When I had finished, another fellow — no ponytail this time — was looking at 78s I had been through.  I tried again.  ‘Lots of good jazz to your left, although $3.99 seems surprisingly high.’  ‘You want ’em, you take ’em,” was his encouraging response, and no more was said.  So much for the Brotherhood.”

But now, in my June-warm apartment, I can grade student essays to the finest accompaniment.  And although it might be presumptuous to think this, I feel gratitude to the Goddess for letting me be in that space and find these sacred relics which — as we know — still sound good in 2017.  Twenty-none dollars and some cents, if you’re curious.

And when I die, I hope my friends are around to divide up the musical bounty. What they don’t want will — if I am lucky in the spirit-world — will end up at some thrift shop, giving the next generation a story with equal pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE (September 16, 1952)

Untitled-2Bobby Hackett admired Louis Armstrong — the man and his music — throughout his life, and Louis felt the same way about the younger man.  Louis and Bobby were friends, enjoyed each other’s company, and played alongside each other for nearly three decades.  Charles Peterson took photographs of them at the Walt Whitman School in 1942 (see that frankly astonishing offering here) and we have video footage of them at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1970.

The photograph above comes from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, lent to me by the very generous Duncan Schiedt.  The photographer was Bob Parent, but the photograph is otherwise not annotated.  But the “Childs” menu or drink list that Louis is resting his hand on tells me that this was taken during a Hackett gig at Childs Paramount; Louis’ informal attire suggests that he was visiting rather than playing, and that this happy meeting took place in warm weather.

My research team of Riccardi, Caparone, DeCarlis, and Rothberg, LLC, has noted that Hackett is playing a Besson trumpet with a Bach mouthpiece; The New Yorker has listed Hackett as playing at Childs in September 1952, and Louis was playing with Gordon Jenkins at the Paramount Theatre (immediately above the restaurant) in September, before he left for Europe.  Even better, the Hackett gig began on September 16, 1952, and it has been documented that Louis dropped in to visit and hear.  And smile.

I could show you a picture photograph of the restaurant — at 1501 Broadway (at 43rd Street) beneath the Paramount Theatre, or a 1947 menu that lists as its highest-priced supper item a plate of fried oysters, potatoes, and cole slaw — seventy-five cents. I could point out that Louis’ watch seems to say it is just past 11:30.

But the picture says more about what happiness is than any of that historical detritus, and Louis and Bobby are secure in their brotherly love and respect forever.

Here’s another lovely kind of evidence, music I have known since childhood:

and another version, from 1970:

(More evidence of Louis and Bobby’s deep love can be found here — coming soon!)

Incidentally, Louis was quoted as saying, “I’m the coffee, and Bobby’s the cream,” which I suppose one could take as a racial joke about their outer coverings — but I see it as something deeper, the way two elements combine in a sweet synergy to create something that neither of them would have been, separate.

May your happiness increase!

DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE DEAD

Many of us have made plans, whether vague and silent or specific and detailed, about what should happen to our STUFF (thank you, George Carlin) after we are no longer around to enjoy it.

But this post isn’t to urge people to make such plans. I would like readers to consider the idea of spontaneous philantropies while the giver and the recipient are both alive and sentient.  

Suppose you know that a jazz friend has never heard an unusual or rare record. You could make a bequest of that disc in your will . . . or you could give it to your friend NOW. If that’s too painfully a precursor of your own death, you could invite your friend over to hear it. You could send a copy now — before other responsibilities get in the way of this impulse.

If you know that your niece is playing saxophone in the school band, why not make sure she has AFTERNOON OF A BASIE-ITE, Ben Webster with Strings, and Buddy Tate records to enjoy? Again, NOW. A fledgling singer has never heard Mildred Bailey or Jimmy Rushing? You’re beginning to see a pattern.

These generosities make a number of happy results possible. Who doesn’t love getting a gift that, in its essence, says, “The person who gave this to me knows me so well and loves me”? So your gesture becomes an offering of affection and joy. In addition, acts like these are quiet ways of letting the music reverberate through the universe: jazz proselytizing, if you will.

A good deal of my musical happiness has been the direct result of the active generosity of many people, living and dead, friends and collectors who said, “You HAVE to hear this!”  Marc Caparone, Ricky Ricccardi, Manfred Selchow, Stu Zimny, David Weiner, Rob Rothberg, Bill Gallagher, David Goldin, Butch Smith, John L. Fell, Joe Boughton, Hal Smith, Wayne Jones, Bob Erdos, Bill Coverdale, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Derek Coller, and two dozen others. Without them, my musical range would have been much more narrow. I remember the giver as much as I do the gift.

Much of my work on this blog is my own attempt to give gifts of music old and new. “Wait, you have never heard HAVEN’T NAMED IT YET?” “You never heard Lips Page or Tricky Sam Nanton play the blues?”

It’s a paradox, but giving precious artifacts away to someone who will appreciate them does not diminish your ownership; it intensifies your pleasure.

I am skirting the practical details of sharing; I don’t mean to suggest that you simply burn CDs, because that deprives the original artists of royalties or income. But I do urge people to open their treasure troves and share the music.

So rather than thinking about the next record or CD you absolutely must possess, why not turn the impulse on its head and think, “Who in my life would be thrilled to listen to what I so enjoy? Who deserves a gift of music, and how might I make this possible?”

In return, you will hear their pleasure and gratitude and be warmed by it. Such acts are love embodied, and the energy behind them is never wasted.

P. S.  If you’re reading this and thinking, “All that is very nice, but I have no rare jazz records to share with other people,” there are always chances to make generosity take shape without spending money. Consider the Ethel Waters principle:

If you say to someone today, “I love you,” “Thanks for everything,” “I’m grateful to you,” “I’m so sorry,” “Can you forgive me?” “What can I do for you?” or “It’s been a long time since we spoke,” those words have the ringing beauty of a Bix solo or a Lester Young chorus.

May your happiness increase!

LEO AND FRIENDS: MORE FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Seven)

Here’s the subject of our inquiry himself — inscribing a portrait to . . . . Hadley?  Hadey (as in “Hayden”?).  No reasonable suggestion refused:

And here’s Conrad Thibault:

That man might be unfamiliar to most people (Rob Rothberg recognized him immediately) but he was exceedingly popular on radio from the Thirties onward — the classically trained baritone (1903-1987).

You can hear Thibault (from a fascinating site called “Grandpa’s iPod”) as he sounded in July 1943 on a radio program, THE AMERICAN MELODY HOUR:

http://www.grandpasipod.com/tag/conrad-thibault/

The best part of the photograph above, aside from the soft focus so characteristic of portraits of the time, and the sharp suit, is the inscription: even though Thiebault was hardly a jazz singer, he knew HOT when he heard it in Leo’s playing!

Don Voorhees (1903-89) is more well-known because of his dance / hot dance recordings of the Twenties, his radio work of the following decades, and his work with THE BELL TELEPHONE HOUR.  I presume that Leo could be heard on some of the Twenties recordings, and this photograph is especially interesting to me because it suggests that everyone in the music business who knew Leo knew that he yearned to leave it (perhaps when he’d made enough money to be comfortable) and start his own chicken farm.  Voorhees teases him about that rural dream on a portrait that is almost unnervingly intense:

Finally, there’s Harry Glantz — the memorable first-chair symphonic trumpeter who was chosen by Arturo Toscanini.  A delightful biographical sketch of Glantz (1896-1982) can be found here:

http://abel.hive.no/oj/musikk/trompet/glantz/

I didn’t know much about Mister Glantz before this, although I recognized the name — but have to conclude with this puckish anecdote, recalled by one of his students, Joe Alessi, Sr.:

Joe would come into his lessons and say politely, “Hello Mr. Glantz!”  Mr. Glantz would reply in a friendly tone, “Call me Harry!”  They would get down to business, and of course, out of respect, Joe was not going to call him Harry.  Next lesson… “Hello Mr. Glantz!”… “Call me Harry!”  This went on for some weeks. Joe finally got up the courage to enter the lesson and said “Hello Harry!”To which Harry shouted “Call me MISTER GLANTZ!!

And Chris Griffin remembered Harry in a 2005 ALL ABOUT JAZZ interview:  “Probably the greatest first trumpet player the New York Philharmonic ever had was a guy named Harry Glantz,” said Griffin with a smile.  “He was a friend of Benny’s.  He came in to hear the Benny Goodman band in the Paramount Theater.  He got Benny’s ear afterwards and he said, ‘What the hell do you feed those trumpet players?  Raw meat?'”

They all knew and respected Leo McConville, Sr.!

“ONE OF THE BEST”: LEO McCONVILLE

A postscript to my tribute to Leo McConville, provided by Rob Rothberg — its source is the Evans and Evans book on Bix:

To Leo:

One of the best personally and musically — thanks for saving my life on the Camel Hour numerous times — The Best

Bix Beiderbecke

What more would anyone ever want?

A JAZZ BOUQUET: DAN BARRETT and ANDY SCHUMM at THE EAR INN (Oct. 24, 2010)

Last Sunday, in the late afternoon, I began to fidget — perhaps two hours before The EarRegulars were scheduled to start playing at The Ear Inn.  The Beloved said to me, kindly, “What are you so anxious about?  We’ll be there in plenty of time,” which was of course true.  (She knows such things.) 

I replied, “You’re right, but I’ve been waiting two months for this evening,” which was no less true.

Why?  Let’s call the roll:

Andy Schumm, cornet (sitting in for a traveling Jon-Erik Kellso); Dan Barrett, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, bass sax.

And I didn’t even know that there were going to be august guests, that Vince Giordano would sit in on tenor guitar, that Dan Block and John Otto would bring their clarinets, that I would get to hear saxophonist Ned Goold, and that I would meet the thoroughly captivating singer Jerron Paxton. 

Had I known all this in advance, I might have camped out at the bar of The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) a day in advance. 

But we got there in time, I situated myself in proper video range (near pals Jim and Grace Balantic, Rob Rothberg, Bill and Sonya Dunham, and Lucy Weinman), and here’s what happened.  I’m thrilled by what I witnessed and recorded: a dozen beauties, a jazz bouquet.  (And I wasn’t the only one feeling blissful: look at the expressions on the faces of the musicians!)

The EarRegulars began with a bouncy CHINA BOY — recalling not just Bix and Whiteman, but also Bechet-Spanier and the Condon gang:

A rousing opener usually is followed by something in a medium-tempo, but not for these fellows: someone suggested the lovely, sad/hopeful Irving Berlin song WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which evokes Bing and Fats as well as Bix (or Secrest, you choose):

Dan Barrett called for MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (or, as Cutty Cutshall used to say, MAHONEY’S); he and Andy knew the verse and leaped in, and then Dan vocalized — splendidly and wittily:

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL could have been the title of this posting and an apt summation of the whole night:

A sweetly pensive SLEEPY TIME GAL (in a Red Nichols IDA mood) was next, with Scott singing out on his bass saxophone:

Clarinetist John Otto joined in, and Vince Giordano added his own special pulse to the rhythm section. Dan Barrett suggested one of his favorite jam tunes, the early-Thirties number, its title a wistful plaint, its tempo more optimistic, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

WEARY BLUES is always too joyous to live up to its name, and this version was a honey — with Scott picking up his flea-market trumpet, then (to my delight and astonishment) Dan putting his own mouthpiece on it and swinging out!

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME demands a chase chorus in honor of Bix and Tram– Dan Block had joined the EarRegulars and the three horns conversed diligently and sagely on this 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic:

Then something even more remarkable (and cinematic) happened.  A substantial young man, handsome and casually imposing — he would have been all these things even if he hadn’t been wearing down-home overalls — was asked by Matt Munisteri to sing.  (Thank you, Matt!) 

I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE” is thought of as a wounded dirge, although the Condonites tried to turn it into a romp on their BIXIELAND album.  People who know the original recording well start cringing well in advance of Wesley Vaughan’s sweetly effete “vocal.” 

When the young man started to sing, I nearly fell off my barstool.  Although his strong musical personality was evident from the first phrase, he put himself at the service of the song, with an unaffected but deeply moving style that comes from his shoes on up.  His name is Jerron Paxton; he later told me he was “half blind,” and his business card reads MUSICIANER.  Hear for yourself; he’s astounding!  (The serious bespectacled man sitting behind Jerron is photographer John Rogers, a jazz devotee of the finest kind):

Then saxophonist Ned Goold joined the band, to great effect — soloing in a deliciously individualistic way and placing himself perfectly in the band riffs.  Jerron sat out MARGIE, which swung delightfully: Bix and Tram and Lester and Jo would have been happy with this version.  Scott quoted HANDFUL OF KEYS; Dan Barrett became Tricky Dan Nanton; Andy and Matt duetted (!), and Scott picked up his trumpet once again:

I was hoping that Jerron would be asked to sing again (not being able to believe my ears) and Matt must have read my mind, for he invited Jerron for BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU — which melded swing and melancholy.  Dan Barrett’s muted sound is a joy, and Scott just sang on his bass saxophone:

Even in Soho, everyone has to go home sometime, and things ended with JAZZ ME BLUES: 

Driving home, I felt thoroughly jazzed, completely elated.  Although many times the recordings one makes at the gig (audio or video) seem diminished, pallid in the unforgiving light of day, these continue to amaze.

And the young man from Wisconsin?  He doesn’t need me to trumpet his glories: music speaks louder than words, most beautifully, in Andy’s case.

Jim Balantic, seated next to me, leaned over and whispered, “This is the greatest night of my life.”  I don’t know if that statement would stand up under hypnosis or truth serum, but I certainly know how he felt. 

In case you’re new here, singular versions of this musical magic take place every Sunday night from 8-11 at The Ear Inn.  This evening was extraordinary but not in the least atypical!

VIC DICKENSON by MACEO BRUCE SHEFFIELD

Sharp-eyed reader, long-time friend, and diligent collector Rob Rothberg noticed that the photograph of Lucille Hall and Vic Dickenson showsn in an earlier post was credited to the Sheffield studios.  with typical generosity, he offers his Sheffield portrait study of a handsome Vic. 

Rob wants to know if the “Maceo B. Sheffield” credited here is also the pioneering African-American actor, 1897-1959.

I also would like to know more about Maceo Bruce Sheffield (or Scheffield), who appeared as “Chief of Wazini” in the 1921 silent THE ADVENTURES OF TARZAN.  He also acted in and produced films between 1939 and 1947. 

Patt Morrison, writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1999, confirms that he was multi-talented: “movie serial stuntman, the West’s first Negro aviator, LAPD cop and opera impresario.”  I read elsewhere that Sheffield was a police officer before he became an actor. 

A man who knew something of photography, backgrounds, and poses might have opened his own portrait studio.  In the University of Massachusetts at Amherst W.E.B. DuBois archive, there’s a photograph of DuBois and others credited to Sheffield in 1951.  I found that Vera Jackson (a pioneering Black woman photojournalist) first worked in Sheffield’s studios.  But does anyone know more?

For now, I’ll just gaze happily at Vic.  Thanks, Rob!

 

THAT REEFER MAN

My long-time friend Rob Rothberg told me about this — by way of an AOL story that Barbra Streisand’s ex-lover — as far back as 1959 — was auctioning off her earliest private tapes.  I can see my readers politely stifling yawns, even when I point out that anyone wishing to bid on these admittedly rare items would be required to put $100,000 in escrow.

But Rob doesn’t give up easily, nor is he easily bored.  He followed the link to see what else the auctioneer had to offer — and it’s a rare batch of letters from Fredric Douglass, Sigmund Freud, Grover Cleveland, and a colored trumpet player and singer named Louis, making travel plans that involve his buddy Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow and some “arrangements.”  The handwritten letter runs sixteen pages:

Birmingham, England, September 18, 1932. “Well Papa ‘Mezz’, Here I am in Dear Ole Birmingham, but not Birmingham Alabama, Ha Ha. How’s everything Pal? I was awful sorry to hear of your being sick, I hope you are well by now. Alpha and I are well as usual. She + Mr. + Mrs. Collins sends best regards to you and the family. We’re playing here this week at the Empire Theatre. I shared the star honors last with the beautiful movie star Miss Esther Ralston. She has a lovely act. She also stayed at the same hotel with us in Liverpool. The name of the hotel was the Adelphi Hotel. My English boys are still swingin’ like nobody’s bizzness. Yeah, man. They’re all lovely chaps (BOYS). We have about four more weeks tour through the provinces (BIG TOWNS) of England and then we’ll disband the orchestra in England. Then we’ll go over to Paris which we’ll only stay about two weeks. Then back home to Death Ole America. Mr. Collins was telling me last night in my room that when we leave Paris to return home we’ll go the round about way which will take a little longer to get home but will give us a chance to see a great big part of the world. You see we’ll go by way of Japan, Honolulu and oh lots of places I’ve longed to see. Now won’t that be wonderful if he goes through with it? So Mezz, I’d like very much for you to co-operate with me on this proposition. Then we’ll take it over when I arrive. Understand? I’d like for you to start right in and pack me enough orchestrations to last me the whole trip. Will ya? Now you must look into this matter and give it your best attention, hear Gate? If you ever done anything at all for your Boy, do it now, then our troubles are over. You know what I’ve often told you about the future? Well Gate, the future is here. And Papa Collins is the Victor. And Boy, believe me success is just ahead now. That sounds good to your ears, eh? You know, Gate, I’ve often told you that my success is your success. Just wait, we’ll give the whole world something to think about. Here’s some more good news for ya …. The Victor Record Co., has just won the case from the Okeh Record Co. and wired Mr. Collins that all’s well and I can start on my new Victor contract which replaces the Rudy Vallee anytime. Gee, Gate, what a victory that is to win from our boy Rockwell. Looka heah, Looka heah. Now just watch those good royalties – dividends – shares – ‘n’ everything else. Ha. Ha. And the contract pop’s (MR. COLLINS) made with these people for me, why you’ve never heard of one like it before. And that includes the ole King of Jazz himself Paul Whiteman. Nice, eh? Oh boy, I have lots of good sparkling news for you. I think of them in spots. So all you have to do is pay strict attention to things that I tell you because I am your Boy and you must stick to me regardless of how the tides running, hear? And you must really see that I receive those orchestrations. And you’d start right now Gate and see to your Boy being well fixed because I wouldn’t want to run short because it might bring me down. No might isn’t…. It would. Ha. Ha. Now here’s the line on the trip. Papa Collins said that the trip would take about 12 weeks, which is three months. Now figure that out Gate. But be sure and figure right. Send it to the American Express Company, Paris, France. If you mail it now, it’ll about get there the same time as me. No doubt you’ve received the money I wired you, eh? There’ll be lots of nice things happening when I get back. The Paramount people are trying their best to get Papa Collins to take charge of all the bookings of all the Paramount Theatres. Now you can guess what that’ll mean to me if he decides. Oh, Gate, we have millions of opportunities. I just like to let you know what’s going on because I know you appreciates. How’s all the cats around the ole Berg? Have you seen Batie or Buck? Zuttie or any of the ole Bunch? I received a wonderful letter from Batie. Oh yes, by the way, Gate. I appreciate the write up you sent me. Mr. Collins asked me for it so I let him have it for some publicity or etc. He’ll return it and I’ll put it in my scrap book. I know Ole Alpha’s gonna enjoy herself on that round the world tour. Mezz, I sho wishes you was taking this trip with me, but it’s impossible…. first place it all happened too sudden to amount to anything;. So I figured since I am taking this trip, I’ll observe all the spots that’s of interest and maybe some day after I get my bank roll together we can take a trip like this on our own. Understand? We’re expecting to make another tour down south when we return (THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY LIES). I can’t say how Pop’s (MR. COLLINS) gonna do, but in case you should see fit to join me for a while you’ll be more than welcome. I’m sure you’ll enjoy a trip like that for a change (IT WILL DO YOU GOOD). Then I think after the trip down south we’ll step into the Big Apple. Oh, I’ll tell you more about that later. Lot’s of time yet. What we want to keep in mind now is the orchestrations (MUTA) in Paris. We’re expectin to pick up the same jigg band (COLORED ORCHESTRA) that played the London Palladium with me when we go to Paris. Gee won’t we be glad to see each other, yeah man. They’ve just written ‘n’ told me they’re waiting with Bells On. Tell Mrs. Mezz I received the wire – and don’t you forget your Abilene Water. Good night Gate. Don’t forget Paris, hear? From your Boy Louis Armstrong c/o American Express Co. Paris France – Savy?”

The auctioneer wants fifteen thousand dollars for that, and it is (to quote David Ostwald) worth every penny.  Not only because it’s Louis and Mezz, but because of the invaluable advice for travellers.  Savy? 

Visit http://momentsintime.com/autographs.htm to learn more and to bid!

TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS!

As a characteristically generous response to my post on the trumpeter Joe Thomas, my longtime friend Rob Rothberg sent me pictures of these two records from his collection.  It isn’t exaggeration to say that they made me catch my breath.

 GWet

That would be enough — that it happens to be a magnificent record is not at all incidental.  But here’s something much more remarkable:

BigSid

The whole notion of “getting an autograph” is reasonably strange but I’ve always found it irresistible.  Why should we stand in line or wait shyly, reverently for One of Our Heroes to write his or her name on something — be it an index card, a menu, a record label or jacket, even now a CD’s liner notes? 

Comes the day everything exists only in cyber-space without any tangible reality, what will we ask someone to sign?  “Oh, Mr. Jazzman!  Would you autograph my mp3 download, which neither of us can see?”  But I digress.

I waited for Joe Thomas, Louis, Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton,  Ruby Braff, Jo Jones, Zoot Sims, Bob Wilber, and a half-dozen others to sign their names for me, and I recall each instance.  From this distance, it seems as if I was asking the musician to acknowledge me and take notice of me, a worshipful hearer holding out a rare record, some treasured music.  That signing his name for a stranger was an odd ritual that did not mean a great deal to the musician didn’t matter at the moment. 

Acquiring an autograph has a great deal to do with the urge we all have to give our memories physical shape; an autograph gave me something I could pretend was unique to take home as well as the sounds captured in my memory and my cassette recorder.  Occasionally, my hero would say, “What’s your name?” and inscribe the record jacket to me — a small sweet polite moment which made me feel seen.

For the musicians, the act of signing autographs had long since become a task to be performed between sets when they would much rather have been left in peace to chat with their peers, a responsibility they had to take care of before going home.  Cultivating their audience, perhaps.    

But to have something that Sidney Catlett or George Wettling touched!  To me, these two record labels are miraculous relics of our own saints.

MORE ABOUT EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW

My posting of Stompy Jones’s memories of watching Eddie Condon’s Floor Show have resulted in some wonderful responses.  One reader of this blog, who didn’t want to be identified, offered the possibly-apocryphal story that has, he said, been circulating for years about the disappearance of the Floor Show kinescopes.  I hope that this lurid tale of criminal behavior  isn’t true and that someone like Mark Cantor stumbles upon a pile of film cans by surprise.  And then someone can find the discs of the Whiteman Old Gold radio programs.

Jim Lowe of the UK reminded me that I had left out Billie Holiday as a charter member of the Show’s cast, as indeed I had.  I also neglected to mention one of the high points — Louis Armstrong reading “The Three Bears,” a unique experience.

Rob Rothberg, whose collection of jazz-related still photographs is a marvel, sent these two along.  I assume (from the quality of their paper) that they come from newspapers of the time or perhaps Variety?condon-floor-show-1Whoever the singer is, and her identity eludes me, she surely isn’t Lee Wiley.  Was that woman even a singer, or was she a pretty secretary, added to the shot?  The people I do recognize are Roy Eldridge and a black-shirted Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Condon himself, perhaps Jack Lesberg on bass (in sunglasses to protect himself from the bright studio lights?) and Cutty Cutshall on trombone.  An audio-only “Rose Room” from 1948 pairs Eldridge and Hackett, so perhaps this shot comes from that year.

condon-floor-show-2

Apparently NBC thought that a photograph of Condon and Sidney Bechet, two of the “greatest names in pop music,” might attract Proctor and Gamble or Coca-Cola.  As I recall, the big companies weren’t terribly interested.  Or was it that Condon wanted to play music rather than selling detergent?

Other photographs taken on the set can be found in EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ — Hank O’Neal’s delicious trip through Condon’s photographs, letters, and memorabilia — with Eddie’s hilariously incisive comments.  There’s a tiny shot in that book of perhaps the world’s best jazz trio: Lips Page, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton, the three men all looking foreshortened by the camera angle, even though we know they were giants, like Condon himself.

JOHNNY WINDHURST, MUCH MISSED

Few people today know of the cornetist Johnny Windhurst, but those who do speak of him with awe and affection. 

I first heard him on a Folkways record called JAZZ OF THE FORTIES, which contained excerpts from a concert put on by Bob Maltz in 1946.  The other participants inckuded Sidney Bechet, Pops Foster, Vernon Brown, Mezz Mezzrow, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson.  Windhurst had a ballad feature on “She’s Funny That Way” that wasn’t very long — perhaps two choruses — but it was instantly memorable.  The idea of a brass player having a golden tone is and was an obvious cliche, but it applied to Johnny.  He had built his style on a synthesis of Bobby Hackett and Louis and moved on from there.  His playing had a simplicity and tenderness I haven’t heard anyone else approach.  At the time, the only Windhurst I could hear was on recordings he had made with the fine singer Barbara Lea. 

In mid-1972, when I began to go into New York City to hear live jazz (with Stu Zimny and Rob Rothberg) the Sunday afternoon sessions led by bassist Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache were a special treat.  Balaban was not a stirring leader, bassist, banjoist, or singer, but he had good taste in guest stars.  One of them was Windhurst, who came down from Poughkeepsie, where his mother lived, to lead the band — either Dick Rath or Herb Gardner on trombone, Herb Hall on piano, either Chuck Folds or Red Richards on piano, and Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin on drums.

Windhurst looked much as he had ever looked — boyish, small, bespectacled, with a natty bow tie.  He seemed a little distant, a little tired, but he played beautifully.

After that Sunday, I began to ask my collector-friends for the private tapes they had.  John L. Fell, generous and erudite, shared his treasures.  Joe Boughton, a true Windhurst friend and fancier, let me hear tapes of Windhurst playing in the early Fifties at college gigs; later, I found the two lps on which he had appeared (one, a quartet session under his own name; the other, a session led by the drummer Walt Gifford).  He had recorded with Condon for Decca.  Still later, the “Jazz Nocturne” programs of 1945, where a 19-year old Windhurst stood next to Sidney Bechet and didn’t give an inch, came out on the Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and the “Doctor Jazz” broadcasts from 1952 or so, also appeared on Storyville.  I even found a semi-private recording made in Poughkeepsie at “The Last Chance Saloon,” where Johnny and his friend, trombonist Eddie Hubble, played in front of a local session.  Later, I heard broadcasts from the Savoy Cafe in Boston, where in 1947, Windhurst had run in the quickest of company: Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson,Kenny Kersey, John Field, and Jimmy Crawford.   

In all these recordings, Windhurst took risks but never faltered, and his tone never grew acrid or shrill.  But, for whatever reasons, he stayed out of the limelight.  Because he never cared to learn to read music, he had turned down gigs with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, preferring informal jamming.  He died in Poughkeepsie at 54.  The reference books I have say that he died of a heart attack, but I recall that having been mugged had something to do with his early death. 

Had he lived . . . alas.  And the recordings that have come out in the last few years — one a 1947 jazz concert where Windhurst and Jack Teagarden play beautifully alongside one another — are beautifully stirring, saying much about the musician we lost. 

These thoughts are motivated by a cyber-find: I haven’t given up on my quest for the 1946 “March of Time” clip featuring Dave Tough at Eddie Condon’s.  My quest led me to www.dailymotion.com., where trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig has posted excerpts from a 1958 “Jazz Party,” a television show hosted by jazz disc jockey Art Ford.  Ford’s program was simultaneously broadcast on the radio, so some diligent collectors have tapes that are as close to stereo as we shall get.  The programs tended to be informal to the point of messiness, with players ranging from Lester Young to Willie the Lion Smith to Mary Osborne and Teddy Charles.  Here is the only film footage of Windhurst, accompanied by pianist Roland Hanna, Osborne, bassist Mark Goldberg, and drummer Morey Feld (the last a particular favorite of our own Kevin Dorn).   

On this 1958 clip, an earnest Windhurst considers “Pennies From Heaven” in yearning style, reminding us of the pretty song that Bing Crosby, Hackett, and Louis explored.  In it, we see a player not afraid to take his time, to make beautiful sounds, to gently explore the melody.  It’s a lovely performance, and it doesn’t give up all its secrets on one viewing. 

Did any readers of this blog hear Johnny or play alongside him?  I would love to hear your memories.  Without them, who will remember Johnny Windhurst?

BIX LUNCH !

hmv

Here’s a wonderful review of the two-CD set THE INFLUENCE OF BIX BEIDERBECKE, which collects rare American and European records — made while Bix was alive — that show how deeply he affected musicians worldwide.

I am reprinting this courtesy of its source, the magazine VINTAGE JAZZ MART (www.vjm.biz) and through the gracious permission of its jazz scholar / editor Mark Berresford.  Readers of this blog will find the VJM site and the magazine itself both highly rewarding.  I am also very pleased to be able to reprint this review by Rob Rothberg, who knows the music deeply.

2 CD SET: THE INFLUENCE OF BIX BEIDERBECKE. Jass Masters JMS1001. Available from Jass Masters, 71 Chalk Hill, Watford WD19 4DA, England. www.bixbeiderbecke.com. £15, E20 or $30 including p+p.

In the September 1932 issue of ‘Rhythm’ magazine, Hoagy Carmichael wrote that Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet solos were “food for plenty of thought” and “something the younger generation can study for ideas even in composition.” In the wake of Bix’s death in 1931, Hoagy lamented that the “almost total lack of recognition of one such as Bix is beyond my understanding.”

But Bix’s influence on other musicians began early on and spread widely – even to Europe, despite the fact that Bix himself never set foot there. In the two-CD set “The Influence of Bix Beiderbecke,” Nick Dellow and his associates set out to demonstrate Bix’s influence during his lifetime through 51 rare recordings principally from 1924 through 1931, a period that roughly encompasses Bix’s brief recording career.

Volume 1 concentrates on American recordings, starting with George Olsen’s 1924 recording of You’ll Never Get to Heaven With Those Eyes, on which Red Nichols interpolates Bix’s solo from the Wolverines’ recording of Jazz Me Blues, recorded four months earlier. This early replication of a recorded Bix solo on another musician’s recording was not an isolated event; the California Ramblers’ record of Tiger Rag is another example, re-enacting Bix’s solo from the Wolverines’ record.

More interesting is the way in which Bix’s contemporaries absorbed aspects of Bix’s style and created something of their own. Sterling Bose emulates the bell-like tone and driving lead of the Wolverines-era Bix (including a break taken from the master’s record of Davenport Blues) on the Arcadian Serenaders’ The Co-Ed, recorded after the Serenaders had begun playing opposite Trumbauer’s band with Bix at the Arcadia Ballroom in St. Louis. Jimmy McPartland gives us a rough-sounding, scrappy version of Bix on the Original Wolverines’ A Good Man is Hard to Find, McKenzie/Condon Chicagoans’ Liza, and the Hotsy Totsy Gang’s Out Where the Blues Begin (on which he stays too close to the melody for my taste). Andy Secrest’s ability to sound like his bandmate is well known, and he sounds so good on the Mason-Dixon Orchestra’s Alabammy Snow that Max Easterman wonders if Bix is present, as a soloist or otherwise. (I think Secrest is underrated, but I don’t hear the pride of Davenport soloing or in the ensemble.) The softer-toned Bob Mayhew blows up a Bixian storm on The Eyes of Texas by the Carolina Club Orchestra and on Broadway Rose by Dick McDonough (or is it Mickey Bloom?), the last from an unissued test pressing with great sound. Red Nichols evokes Bix beautifully and without copying on Crazy Rhythm with Miff Mole’s Molers. Dub Schoffner, who evidently was far away from the microphone for the Casa Loma Orchestra’s Little Did I Know, displays some Bixian phrasing in a Gene Gifford arrangement clearly influenced by Bill Challis.

Manny Klein, the Zelig of jazz trumpet, is heard on Lou Raderman’s Why Do I Love You (Bixian tone, but too many notes for Bix) and on Bill Challis’s arrangement of The Blue Room, written for the Goldkette band but not recorded until this 1933 version by the Dorsey Brothers, on which Klein evokes both Bix (in the opening phrases) and Bunny Berigan in a derby-muted solo. The technically-accomplished Klein is almost certainly the creative, confident player behind the derby on Roger Wolfe Kahn’s When a Woman Loves a Man as well.

In addition, Volume 1 gives us territory bands, including Perley Breed’s Shepard Colonial Orchestra (Where’s My Sweetie Hiding), Jimmy Joy’s St. Anthony Hotel Orchestra (Riverboat Shuffle), Hitch’s Happy Harmonists (Cataract Rag Blues), and Marion McKay’s Orchestra (Doo Wacka Doo). Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours display admirable drive on Papa’s Gone and No Trumps, and their trumpeter Tom Howell shows a Bixian lilt and a large, lovely sound (albeit with some technical insecurity). Andrew Aiona’s Novelty Four, whose identity is a discographical mystery, gives us Hula Girl, which will have you imagining Trumbauer’s band transplanted to the beach at Waikiki.

Along the way, we hear Bix’s influence on Jimmy Dorsey, on alto (the California Ramblers’ Davenport Blues) and clarinet (the Original Memphis Five’s Jazz Me Blues). Even players not known for sounding Bixian get into the act, such as Tommy Gott on the Jazz Pilots’ Wedding Bells, on which an unidentified scat singer channels the spirit of Harry Barris.

You’ll want to listen with Max Easterman’s splendid notes at your side. They offer a wealth of interesting detail not just about the recordings, but also the personalities and places involved. No matter how much you’ve read about the era, you will learn things that will enhance your appreciation of this music.

There are many rare photographs as well.

In Volume 2, we cross the pond to Europe, where Bix’s music exerted its influence directly, through recordings issued principally on Parlophone, Columbia and HMV, and indirectly, through emissaries such as Bix’s colleagues Adrian Rollini, Chelsea Quealey and Sylvester Ahola, who were ensconced in British bands. (Rollini even tried to recruit Bix in 1929 for Fred Elizalde’s band at the Savoy Hotel. Had he succeeded, one wonders if Bix would have lived longer.)

To my ears, Bix’s British disciples were his best. Norman Payne captured Bix’s chime-struck-with-a-padded-mallet tone and emotional reticence, particularly at slow and medium tempos.  Young Norman solos in an uncharacteristically assertive fashion in Jay Whidden’s A Dicky Bird Told Me So, then settles into a more lyrical mood for the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra’s Every Day Away from You, Jack Hart’s The Song of the Dawn and I’m Singing My Way Round the World, Spike Hughes’ Kalua, the New Mayfair Orchestra’s Follow A Star Selection, Harry Shalson’s With My Guitar and You (here with especially gorgeous tone), and the Night Club Kings’ Whispering. So effective is his evocation of Bix’s tone that he imbues the NMDO’s South Sea Rose with Bixian spirit merely by leading the ensemble (and also by ending the record with a break indebted to Bix’s introduction to Baltimore).

Jack Jackson tends to be underappreciated among jazz collectors, possibly because of his stint as the leader of a mostly sweet dance band in the mid-1930s. Here, however, we get Jackson the sideman, whose best work displays beautiful, pure tone, a Bix-like decisivene ss, and great technical mastery. On the  Crichton Lyricals’ 1927 record of Somebody Said, the teenage Jackson begins his solo by quoting Bix’s second break in Trumbauer’s recording of Riverboat Shuffle, then proceeds with a modernistic, multi-noted solo that bows mostly to Red Nichols.  (This acoustic recording has always struck me as a British counterpart to Bix’s acoustically recorded Broadway Bell-Hops date.) By the time of Jack Hylton’s Forget Me Not (note Poggy Pogson’s Bixian oboe solo!) and especially Oh! What A Night to Love, Jackson had rather less Nichols and more Bix, and was saying more with fewer notes. Night, on which the brass section crackles and Jackson alludes to Bix’s solo in Ostrich Walk, is a fine all-round performance that ought to be better known. We also hear Jackson on Spike Hughes’ record of A Ship Without A Sail, where Jackson and alto saxophonist Philip Buchel create an atmosphere that can make you wonder if you’re hearing a newly-discovered Trumbauer side.

Naturally, Sylvester Ahola is here as well. We know he was a great admirer of Bix, but he is, I think, mostly his own man, a great technician who showed a Bixian tone sometimes but Bixian ideas only rarely. Above all, Hooley is not, to use Paul Whiteman’s description of Bix, “a note miser.” He can remind you of someone running up and down a flight of stairs, as on the Rhythmic Eight’s There’s a Cradle in Caroline. When he restrains himself and slows down a bit, the results can be Bixian (e.g., Harry Hudson’s Some Hauntin’ Tune) or not. On the Night Club Kings’ In the Moonlight and particularly Spike Hughes’ A Miss is As Good as a Mile, his playing is very exciting and moving, but the aggressive, rangy style and strident tone aren’t Bixian.

But wait – there’s more. Max Goldberg does himself proud on Jay Whidden’s little-known record of Louisiana in a derby-muted solo modeled after Bix’s solo on the Whiteman record, although Bing Crosby need not worry about competition from Whidden’s stiff vocalist, Fred Douglas. (It would have been nice to have Max’s Bixian outing in Spike Hughes’ record of The Boop-Boop A Doopa  Doo Trot as well.)  Chelsea Quealey is heard with Fred Elizalde on Sugar (a Bill Challis arrangement also featuring Bobby Davis and Adrian Rollini, recorded a month before the better-known Whiteman version featuring Bix), an unissued take of Dance, Little Lady, and the Challis-influenced arrangement of I’m Glad, a lovely, hitherto-unknown performance from a recently-discovered test pressing that is issued here for the first time. We also get to hear England’s mysterious Frank Wilson (who left the music business to take up religion in the early 1930s and was not heard from again) on an unissued take of Nobody’s Fault But Your Own with Jack Payne; France’s Philippe Brun on Gregorology by Gregor et ses Gregoriens; Sweden’s Ragge Lath on Helge Lindberg’s record of Minns Du?; and Tiger Rag by the Original Capitol Orchestra, an American band in London with whom Bix had played aboard the steamboat S.S. Capitol. These are not records you see every day, at least in New York! Throughout, we are guided by Nick Dellow and Mark Berresford’s scholarly notes on the European tracks, with yet more rare photographs.

Care has been taken not to duplicate the tracks on Sunbeam’s Bix Restored, Volume 5. Nick Dellow’s careful digital restoration gives each recording vivid new life while respecting its 0riginal sound. As a result, even the tracks that a dedicated Bixophile might have heard before deserve another listen. (Full disclosure: I provided the source material for two of the European tracks here. Fuller disclosure: having listened to the records in question side by side with Nick’s transfers, I’m mpressed by what he has accomplished with them.) Apart from all of that, Bixophiles will be glad to have these recordings, packaged with perceptive commentary, in one convenient, affordable place, saving the significant cost of buying them one or two at a time on scattered CDs (not to mention the even more significant cost of buying the original records, if you can find them).

Profits from this set initially were contributed to a fund established to help meet the medical expenses of Richard M. Sudhalter, the Bix-inspired trumpeter and celebrated author of, among many other things, the books ‘Bix, Man and Legend’ (in 1974, with co-author Philip R. Evans) and ‘Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael’ (2003). (One of the CD set’s booklets includes a heartfelt tribute to Sudhalter from Bixography proprietor Albert Haim.) After Sudhalter’s death in September 2008, the profits were redirected to the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization that aids thousands of jazz musicians in crisis annually, and that helped Sudhalter during his illness. Thus is this musically worthy endeavor made even more worthy.

All in all, this set is a feast for Bixophiles. I’ll bet Hoagy would have loved it.

ROB ROTHBERG

I CONFESS! A JAZZ CRIMINAL TELLS ALL

If the phonograph record had never been invented, jazz might have remained a local art form heard only on a visit to New Orleans.  Charlie Parker might well be only a remote name, an unheard legend to listeners born after 1955. 

Phonograph records are objects that make music accessible and permanent, and I grew up surrounded by them.  My father, a motion picture projectionist, was also expected to be an unpaid disc jockey, someone who would fill the theatre with music between shows by spinning records from the projection booth.  I remember his story of the first explosion of rock ‘n’ roll.  During an intermission, he reached for a record whose title meant nothing to him, put it on with the volume turned off in the booth, and turned back to his book.  Then the theatre manger called him in a near-frenzy, “Take that God-damned record off!  The kids are dancing on the seats and ripping up the theatre!” 

It was the famous (or infamous) record here.   

As 78 rpm records gave way to microgroove, my father would occasionally bring an outmoded record home rather than see it thrown away.  He was intrigued by technology, and we had a Revere reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I learned how to use early on. 

Later, around 1968, he brought home something new, a portable cassette recorder and a few blank tapes. 

By this time, I had become converted to jazz, which I thought of as my music.  It as a secret pleasure: I thought of myself as a subversive, listening to Louis while everyone around me was deeply absorbed by rock.  In my suburban hermitage, I recorded jazz radio shows — John S. Wilson’s “World of Jazz,” Ed Beach’s “Just Jazz,” and made them my soundtrack.  Records were not easy to get and I couldn’t afford all that I wanted, so the idea of tape-recording a precious performance and listening to it over and over shaped my first experiences of the music.  I lived for the moment when everything seemed cosmically aligned: Beach would be playing two hours of rare Jo Jones records on WRVR-FM; I would be home at the right time with a reel of blank tape; I could listen to it while the show was being broadcast; I would tape it to hear it again.  It would become mine.  In my memory, I can see those tape boxes, each one holding a precious hour or two of Buck Clayton, of 1940 Ellington, or Lee Wiley.    

I grew up on Long Island, an environment defined by the distance from one shopping mall to the next, and I recognize its inherent provincialism.  But for someone like myself, entranced by jazz, being born there rather than in Cape Breton was great good fortune.  In The New Yorker, I could read the names of musicians I had heard on radio or records.  They were playing live in New York City, an hour away by train and subway or car.          

I do not remember the details of the first live jazz I heard in Manhattan.  Was it in Town Hall or the Half Note?  But I prepared for this precious experience by bringing my cassette recorder with me.  It seemed logical rather than perverse to be a jazz anthropologist, a swing explorer.  Vasco DaGama of Dixieland, if you will.  I could poke my nose beyond my comfortable suburban environment, venture into the uncharted City, capture a performance live and return home with the reward.  Not gold or pepper or notes on the marriage rituals in New Guinea, but a homemade recording, however flawed, of the music I had heard last night.  A prize — to revisit, to study, to treasure.

Of course the idea wasn’t new.  Jazz enthusiasts had been capturing the music in its native habitat since the Thirties, perhaps earlier.  I had read about airshots, “on location” acetates, and live recordings, essential parts of jazz’s mythology.  That these recordings had often been made secretly by amateurs happily breaking the rules was even better.  Their illicit behavior was evidence of deep devotion to the art.  They wanted to keep what they had heard once from vanishing forever.  Even though I didn’t think about the implications of what I wanted to do, I now think there was a touch of late-Sixties political rebellion implicit in it.  Why should the recording companies control the music, and why should I be deprived of doing so?  When I had seen Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars in 1967, I had been too naive to bring my Instamatic camera to take twelve snapshots.  Now Louis was dead, and I had only an autograph and my memory of what he had looked like, what he had played. 

I was not sufficiently prideful or self-deluded to think of myself as the Long Island reincarnation of Jerry Newman at Minton’s or Dean Benedetti in search of Bird.  But perhaps I could capture a memorable chorus or ensemble, even in low-fidelity.  Would it become valuable over time?  What did that matter?  It would be precious now.          

This may strike some readers as more peculiar than collecting stamps or baseball cards.  Some jazz-lovers may be satisfied to hear a beautiful performance once, never again.  But this art is so splendidly evanescent that the thought of it going away is nearly painful.  It cries out to be preserved.  In terms of jazz’s brief chronological history, I am a late-comer.  Many of the great players were dead by the late Sixties; many of their portraits greeted me when I turned to the obituary page of The New York Times: I saved those clippings until the sheaf got too depressing.  It felt as if all the creators were leaving town, and this may have goaded me into illicit tape-recording as a way of snaring what moments I could before it was too late. 

I would never see PeeWee Russell or Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins or Rex Stewart . . . but when Benny Morton or Jimmy Rushing played a gig, I would not let their sounds escape me.   

Thus my life of crime began.  Being a criminal is difficult, let me tell you.         

Many club-owners did not care about a couple of college kids with their cassette recorder, sitting as close to the bandstand as possible, as long as the kids bought beer or hamburgers at regular intervals, but some establishments were very serious about such infractions.  I nearly got thrown out of the Village Vanguard a few years ago when the waiter noticed something glittering in my lap – a minidisc recorder, its display a bright phosphorescent blue.  He said that I could stop recording right now or I would have to leave, in tones that suggested New York’s finest were pounding down Seventh Avenue South in hot pursuit of Another Jazz Miscreant.        

And it was even worse in larger places, with notices hanging everywhere that The Taking Of Photographs and The Use Of Recording Devices Is Prohibited By Law.  But I had seen that the ushers were not athletic enough to arrest everyone with a tiny Kodak (flashbulbs went off at many performances) so I thought that I might get away with my criminalities.  I became sly, sidling into a concert hall with a blue plastic shoulder bag, trying to look nonchalant, always a failed enterprise.  The bag held a newspaper or magazine – a thin subterfuge – covering my cassette recorder, a $60 Shure microphone, and extra batteries.  Illegal and delicious.  I evaded what I thought were the peering eyes of the usher, usually someone who wanted only to give me a program and seat me in the right place, then scuttle away.  In the semi-darkness, while people talked, rattled their programs, unwrapped their cough drops, I would connect the microphone to the recorder and drop the heavy wire down through the sleeve of my jacket so that the microphone could be hidden in my lap.  I knew that my applause –the sound of two hands clapping — would be deafening on the tape, so I learned to look enthusiastic while pretending to clap. 

Emboldened by success, I brought a tape recorder to nearly every jazz performance I could.  Sometimes those tapes, heard the next day, were mediocre: routine music, badly recorded, turns out to be not worth the effort.  Occasionally, there were what college radio stations call “technical difficulties” and I had recorded nothing.  In those cases, crime certainly did not pay.  But I captured hours and hours of jazz that gave me pleasure.  Even the roll call of the players delights me now: just to think of pianists, I come up with Earl Hines, Eubie Blake, Dick Wellstood, Art Hodes, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, Jimmy Andrews, Count Basie, Mark Shane, Teddy Wilson, Dick Hyman, Bill Evans, Jimmy Rowles, Ralph Sutton, Dill Jones, Hank Jones, Claude Hopkins, Chuck Folds, Don Friedman, Red Richards, Ellis Larkins, and two dozen others. 

Concert halls were usually terrible places for surreptitious recording because they were often terrible places to hear music.  The sound technicians at Carnegie Hall, for instance, where many of the Newport-New York concerts were held, apparently took perverse pleasure in making the piano sound as much unlike itself as possible.  The eye saw Teddy Wilson seated at a Steinway: the ear heard metal striking metal.  And you can imagine the acoustics at the top of Radio City Music Hall.  At the first of the 1972 jam sessions, Stu Zimny and I were seated in what seemed the upper reaches of the earth, next to a pair of Texas women who whooped happily when Gene Krupa hit his splash cymbal or when Roy Eldridge went for a high note.  Before the concert and during it, they most cordially offered us whiskey from bottles they had hidden in their pocketbooks; not to be outdone in gallantry, I offered them chocolate.  Both of us stuck to the stimulants we knew best.  But I cannot complain.  When I hear those tapes again, their exuberant hollering is part of the experience of the music, of having been there.      

Small clubs were easier to record in, and there was a better chance to be forgiven my wickedness, especially if I had spoken to the musicians beforehand and gotten their permission.  Since I looked at my jazz heroes with reverence, this approach often worked.  Kenny Davern, who had a powerful prejudice against playing into a microphone, showed me how to set mine so that it would record effectively.  Ruby Braff got so used to me and my friends that he dubbed us “Tapes,” as in, “Hey, Tapes!” when he saw us.  

One Sunday in 1972, Bobby Hackett, a gracious man, looked down at my brand-new Teac reel-to-reel recorder, perhaps forty pounds, that I had lugged into Your Father’s Mustache in hopes of recording him.  I was sweating already, and his noticing the machine made me even more moist, from anxiety.  What if he growled, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  But all he said was, mildly, “What brand is that?”  And when I told him, he smiled and said, “I have one like it at home,” and went about the business of getting ready for the gig.     

But my criminality wasn’t always well-received.  The trumpeter Joe Thomas fretted about our taping him at an outdoor concert in Battery Park.  He was insistent that that “the union man” would find us out and that he would get in trouble.  I don’t remember how we soothed his fears (did we hide the recorder in a flowerbed?) but it took a good deal of placating before he let us go ahead. 

Some musicians were unwilling to be taped, and, in retrospect, I can’t blame them.  Perhaps someone unscrupulous had taken advantage in the past.  The pianist Cyril Haynes refused to play a note until I put my recorder away.  

I can see in my mind’s eye the brilliantly eccentric trombonist Dicky Wells, at the back of the bandstand clogged with other musicians, shaking his head from side to side in vehement “No-no-no!” and waving his arm and outstretched index finger in energetic arcs.  I remember a session featuring cornetist Wild Bill Davison, where I set up my microphone right under the bell of his horn.  He asked, gruffly, “Are you planning to record me with that?”  “Yes, Mr. Davison,” I politely replied.  “Well, that will cost you one Scotch now and one for each set you record,” he said in what seems now to have been a well-rehearsed speech.  I considered my budget for a moment and put the recorder back in the bag.  Was he disappointed at the failure of his bargain?  I couldn’t tell. 

Many players looked horrified and refused, politely but vigorously, when I asked if they wanted me to mail them a copy of what they had just played.  Was it modesty?  Perhaps they had no particular desire to relive what they had done in what was supposed to be an informal situation.  I recall Ray Nance playing splendidly as part of a large ad-hoc ensemble at a Queens College concert (with Joe Newman, Garnett Brown, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, Al Foster, and others), and I recorded it from the audience.  Some months later, he appeared for a few nights at a tiny local club that had – for whatever reason – ventured into jazz.  Few people came to hear him, and on the second night, I brought a tape copy of that concert, approached him and offered it to him, thinking I was giving him a present.  He was pleasant enough, but I recall his looking at the box, now his, with mild puzzlement, as if I had given him a parakeet or a box of raisins.     

But taping made for delightfully weird interchanges with some players, made more aware of our presence by the machinery set in front of them.  Ruby Braff came over to Rob Rothberg and myself during a set-break one Tuesday night when he was guest star at the 54th Street Eddie Condon’s.  He peered at the small notebook in which I was writing down personnel and song titles for future reference.  “What is that?” he asked.  I showed him, and he said, “Want my autograph?”  “Sure,” I said, although we had met a dozen or more times already.  He took my pen and spent more time than I expected before handing the book to me, proudly chortling.  He had drawn a pistol, smoke curling out of its muzzle, with “Lucky Luciano” signed boldly beneath it.  A fellow law-breaker!     

After beginning my life of crime, in a few years I had piles of tapes, annotated and organized.  It may have made no sense to anyone not a member of the jazz world, but it meant that I could hear Vic Dickenson play Louis’s famous WEST END BLUES, the cadenza note-for-note, as he had in an outdoor concert at Port Jefferson, New York.  I could hear Marty Grosz sing ISN’T LOVE THE STRANGEST THING, as he did when Soprano Summit appeared at the Jazz Museum in midtown.  On a precious cassette, I still have perhaps ten minutes of what might have been the ultimate small group — Hackett, Vic, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones — strolling through JUST YOU, JUST ME, BODY AND SOUL, and a slow blues — from a Newport concert in 1974. 

Having these tapes did not prevent any of my heroes from dying, but bits and pieces of their music have been saved.

But “saved” is, alas, an overstatement.  The blank tapes I used were thin and inexpensive; even the best ones were inherently fragile.  The coating flaked off, or their sound got dimmer and dimmer.  So I no longer have many of my original tapes, surely an irony in itself.  In my mind’s ear, I hear Al Cohn, Joe Newman, and Zoot Sims surging through THE RED DOOR and MOTORING ALONG at a Town Hall concert sponsored by Dick Gibson (was it 1970?).  The tape has been gone for years, proving that all things fall or decay, that objects disintegrate or scurry away, beyond our reach.  I didn’t succeed in making permanent records, or at least the tapes I made proved to be impermanent.  But the idea of capturing — or nearly-capturing — jazz in full flight appealed to me then and continues to now.

And (as a postscript) such taping allowed me to make friends from Florida to Westoverledingen, Germany – friends who also loved the music and broke the rules.  I will write about such partners-in-crime in a future posting, among them the brilliant and generous John L. Fell. 

My crimes continue unabated, I state proudly.  The ancient cassette recorder gave way to a Sony minidisc recorder in 2005, thanks to my mentor Kevin Dorn, and I try to be an ethical, polite lawbreaker and ask the musicians’ permission to record whenever possible.  But if you see me in a club, vigorously enjoying the music, nodding my head, smiling broadly, but not applauding, you can be fairly sure that I am continuing my wicked (although fairly harmless) ways.  Come say hello – but not while the music is playing, if you don’t mind.      

I THOUGHT I HEARD RUBY BRAFF SAY

In 1971, when I read in The New Yorker that cornetist Ruby Braff was going to play a week at the Half Note in New York City, this was exciting news. I had first heard his playing on one of the famous Vanguard recordings, The Vic Dickenson Showcase. On “Everybody Loves My Baby” and “Old-Fashioned Love,” he had added remarkable deep indigo shadings to the ensembles, his solos mixing melodic embellishment, passionate surs and moans.

Soon after, the legendary jazz broadcaster Ed Beach devoted four hours to Ruby on WRVR-FM, and I began to search out his records. In the Fifties, Ruby had been in the studios with the best players: Lee Wiley, Coleman Hawkins, Dave McKenna, Lawrence Brown, PeeWee Russell, Benny Morton, Jo Jones, Walter Page . . . and he was featured as a member of George Wein’s Newport All-Stars.

What Wein has done for jazz in the last half-century and more with the Newport Jazz Festival and its incarnations is beyond dispute. But he is in the odd position of being simultaneously an impresario and a musician of limited gifts who saw it as his right to play in the bands he sponsored and hired. The pleasure he takes in playing is visible, but no one ever wished a Wein solo longer, no one ever delighted in the subtlety of his accompaniment. But he got gigs, he loved Ruby. Ruby derided him in interviews and no doubt in person but accepted the gigs.

Shortly before the Half Note gig, I had just bought Wein’s newest record — “George Wein and the Newport All-Stars” on Atlantic, featuring Ruby, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Larry Ridley, and Don Lamond. And Wein, of course. The players were superb soloists but there was little ensemble unity. One of the high points, I thought, was Ruby’s lovely solo on “My Melancholy Baby.”

Full of anticipation. I went to the Half Note with two friends, Stu Zimny and Rob Rothberg, both of whom were equally excited about seeing Ruby. Being bold, Stu had driven us from our suburban familiarities to the unknown reaches of West Greenwich Village (the Half Note was on the corner of Spring and Hudson Streets, no longer uncharted territory); Rob, an amateur trumpet player, had brought a rare record — Ruby with Ellis Larkins — for Ruby to autograph.

We came into the club, which was typically small and dark, with a raised stage at one end of the room, under it the bar. Ruby was standing nearby. He wore a blazer and tie. I had expected him to be diminutive, and he was, with a cigarette in one hand. We approached him.

I was meeting one of my idols, someone I had spent hours listening to. I had Braff solos by heart and could call them to memory. I was nervous and eager. Being a respectful nineteen-year old, I called Ruby “Mr. Braff,” told him that I loved his playing and had been collecting his records. He may have smiled. What I do remember most clearly is this exchange:

Me: “I especially like the solo you played on ‘My Melancholy Baby’ on the new Newport All-Stars record.”

Ruby: “That shit?”

Me: Embarrassed silence. When I replay this scene in my mind, I say something elegant, perhaps, “Well, I liked it,” but I don’t know if courage deserted me. The music Ruby played that night (and I illicitly recorded) is another story, but that was my first introduction to him in person.