Tag Archives: Rod Cless

BROTHERS, ARE YOU DROOLING WHILE YOU SEEM TO BE LISTENING?

Certain essays I write have been simmering in my consciousness for years, and when the moment comes, they demand to be written.  This post comes from my years of experience as a member of the jazz audience.  It is about an uncomfortable subject.

Cornelis Dusart (1660-1704), “Caricature Head of a Leering Man, A Recorder Tucked into his Hat.”

My motivation for this piece comes from a private conversation I had yesterday morning with a male jazz fan of my generation who had enthusiastically posted on Facebook that a lovely young woman instrumentalist had “a movie-star profile.”  Although his comment was meant as praise, it jarred me, and I privately asked him to consider why he had written it.  To his immense credit, he replied graciously, was self-aware, and removed the comment: acts that I admire.  But I felt a need to explore this phenomenon.

What follows is an expanded and edited version of my comment to him, names redacted.  I ask only that those who respond to this post pause before leaping in.  Comments including the words “Not all men” will be deleted.

This post is the result of a long conversation, one I’ve had with male and female musicians I respect. I am 66, and although I am in a wonderful relationship, I am also sensitive to female beauty.  We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, sexualized creatures, and that is not a bad thing.  But how we express our erotic impulses is worth considering.

In my experience of the past fifteen years, much of the jazz audience is made up of men of my generation.  Amiable, enthusiastic people.  But many apparently don’t seem to be getting a great deal of sexual fulfillment.  And without thinking about it, they publicly drool over and objectify any attractive young woman performer.  It seems some can’t decide if they want to caress her or take her out for an ice cream soda or both.  They crowd around.  They ogle.  They stare at her body as if she were a particularly appealing entree.  They follow her when she makes it clear she has to leave.

This leering response extends into their writing.  Look at the “admiring” comments on, say, a woman performer’s Facebook page.  “Wow, she’s so Hot!” is one example.  When an alluring woman musician is ooooohed over in print, it’s often evident that the man praising her is in part hearing her music but is more powerfully in the grip of his own sexual attraction.

In person, this kind of sexualizing is sometimes cloaked in fake-benevolent paternalism: “Oh, A is so cute.  I love the way she dances around the stand.”  Did anyone say of Rod Cless, “He’s so cute?”  If they did, it hasn’t been recorded.  More likely, they said, “What a beautiful tone he gets on the clarinet,” which is a critical expression with no murky subtext.

Once, at a table near me, a male jazz fan made lecherous yearning remarks about the woman musician on the stand, that he’d “like to get her away for a weekend,” while his wife sat next to him, looking elsewhere, drinking her beer.  Another man pointed out to him that the object of his affection had a partner, but he grinned and said that this did not matter.  This wasn’t an aberration; it happens often.

I am on a crusade to get people to listen to the music and assess it deeply.  To me, this is better than fetishizing the body of the artist.  That prurient response is not art criticism; it is not appropriate humane behavior.  And listening to music is done with the ears, not the eyes.

I know that this reproach goes against decades of having men tell men, “It’s OK to be like that: that’s what a man does.” We were trained to think of women as gorgeous objects, collections of delightful parts, and implicitly told that we had the right to assess them solely on their physical attributes.  “I voted for Miss December.”  Our popular culture continues, with exceptions, to tell men that lasciviousness is a commendable mark of manhood.  I don’t think we are wicked when we are sexual: this is a delightful part of being alive.  Saying to our partner, “You look so sexy in those jeans!” is not a criminal act.  Behaving lecherously to strangers who have not signed on for it is another matter.

Thus I strongly suggest that we make distinctions between the music a woman makes and her physical appeal.  We may, of course, admire both, but they are not the same thing, and our admiration requires a certain self-scrutiny, at least if we do it in public.  We all vibrate to certain powerful attractions, but to act on them in ways that cause others discomfort is not right.

This mixture of badly-concealed lust, casual expressions of power, implied ownership, and plain bad manners takes other forms.  A demure young woman musician I know says that male fans always try to touch her when they speak to her, how she must back away from them.

I do not set myself up as a model here.  I have not always behaved well, but at least I think about what I do.  But I am distressed when these attitudes and actions I have described here debase the music I love and the people who spend their lives perfecting their art.

To all the JAZZ LIVES audience: thank you for reading my long meditation on this delicate subject. I hope you always have beautiful music to hear, music that makes you feel it is a great thing to be alive.  And I hope we all can treat our fellow denizens of this planet with kindness and awareness.

May your happiness increase!

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THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE: A NEW BOOK BY DEREK COLLER and BERT WHYATT

Before you read another word: if you know the remarkable work of Derek Coller and the late Bert Whyatt, you can skip to the bottom for details on how to buy it: you won’t need me to convince you of its worth.

Full disclosure, for those who like FD: I corresponded with Bert and exchanged information and tapes for the Bobby Hackett book he and George Hulme did, and I am mentioned in this new book as a source pertaining to Frank Chace.

Now for larger matters: when I pick up a book purporting to be on jazz, I value clear presentation of information, at best first-hand narrative or close informed analysis, any ideological basis (if there must be one) aboveboard.  I should come away from any reading feeling that I know many new things or have been given new ways of perceiving what I know.

Here’s what repels me (details omitted to avoid legal action):

During the twentieth century, jazz was at the center of multiple debates about social life and American experience. Jazz music and its performers were framed in both positive and negative manners. The autobiographies of _____ musicians _____ and ______ provide insight into the general frames they used to frame jazz experience and agency sometimes at odds with dominant discourses. Through Michel Foucault’s notion of ethical substance, I analyze the way in which jazz is constructed in their autobiographies. Several themes are used by both autobiographers to frame their actions, which are constructed in a complex and ambivalent manner revealing both the ethics of jazz and its covert culture.

A long pause.  Happily, I can leave Foucault to his own devices, and enthusiastically recommend CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE, the opposite of the miasma in italics.  And, for the curious, the picture above is of Sig Meyer and his Druids, c. 1924 — including Volly De Faut, Arnold Loyacano, Marvin Saxbe, and Muggsy Spanier.  In itself, that photograph says everything you might need to know about the depth of research in this book.

Coller and Whyatt come from the old school of scholars — note I don’t write “critics” — who believe that the stories musicians tell about themselves and others are more worthy than what listeners believe they hear.  This is a collection of articles — essays, portraits, studies — by both authors, published in Storyville, The Mississippi Rag, the IAJRC Journal, Jazz Journal, and as liner notes — between 1983 and 2016.

For once, I will quote the publisher’s copy, because it is so apt:

When Derek Coller decided to pay tribute to his late friend – the author, biographer, discographer and researcher, Bert Whyatt – he looked for a common theme under which to group some of the articles they had written together over the years. He found it in Chicago where their research activities had gravitated towards the style of music created by the young white musicians from that city and its environs – particularly those who rallied around the figurehead of Eddie Condon – as they listened to and learned from the pioneer black stylists, many of them the greatest jazz players to emigrate from New Orleans, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny and Baby Dodds and Jimmy Noone. Two trips to the USA, made by the authors in 1979 and 1992, led to meetings and correspondence with some of the musicians in this compilation, and to learning about many others. There are connections between most of these articles, interviews and notes, with an over-lapping of jobs, leaders and clubs. Some of the stories are about pioneers: Elmer Schoebel, Jack Pettis and Frank Snyder, for example, were in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923. Trombonist George Brunis, chronicled here, was also a member of that band, though his long career – during which he played with Muggsy Spanier, as did Rod Cless and George Zack, in the Spanier Ragtime Band of ‘Great Sixteen’ fame – has been more widely documented. Floyd Bean and Tut Soper, here too, were also Spanier alumni. The articles originally appeared variously under a dual by-line, or by either Whyatt or Coller, but always with consultation and discussion prior to publication. Here they become a lively mix of the voices of the authors as well as the musicians and their families, building a story through biography, reviews and discography. The book is illustrated with evocative black and white photographs and images, and there is an Index of names and places to help the reader keep track of the musicians, composers, producers, promoters and writers who created this part of the history of jazz.

“A lively mix” is an understatement. First off, the book is full of wonderful anecdotage, primarily by the musicians themselves.  And it helps to explicate Chicago — which is often legendary but certainly under-documented — as its own world of jazz, where one could encounter Jimmy Yancey, Brownie McGhee, Bud Jacobson, Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes — see the 1949 photo facing the table of contents.

For me, the complete and absorbing charm of the book and the research under it is in the focus on those musicians whom I’ve known as names on record labels or in discographies.  Yes, there is coverage of Muggsy Spanier and George Brunis (the first already the subject of a fine biography by — no surprise — Bert), but the other portraits are welcome because the musicians depicted never got the attention during or after their lifetimes.  I will simply list them: Jack Pettis, Frank Snyder, Elmer Schoebel, Rod Cless, George Snurpus, Maurice Bercov, Floyd O’Brien, Oro “Tut” Soper, Floyd Town, Johnny Lane, George Zack, Jack Gardner, Chet Roble, Floyd Bean, Bill Reinhardt and his club Jazz Ltd., Dan Lipscomb, Frank Chace, Jimmy Ille, Art Jenkins, Doc Cenardo, Freddy Greenleaf, and Paul Jordan.

And that is surely not all.  Photographs new to me, of course.  And when I open the book at random, gems leap out: on page 202, pianist Tut Soper describes Chicago as “the center of gravity as far as jazz is concerned.”  On page 63, we are in trombonist Floyd O’Brien’s datebook for 1928, describing gigs and who was in the band.  On page 227, jazz writer Larry Kart recalls hearing (and recording) clarinetist Frank Chace and pianist Bob Wright playing Coltrane’s LAZY BIRD and Tadd Dameron’s IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW.

I mentioned anecdotage earlier in this post, and will add a few excerpts from string bassist Harlow Atwood (201-2), talking of clarinetist / clubowner Bill Reinhardt and early rehearsals (Fall 1932) for Charlie Barnet’s first big band:

(. . . Charlie then was a 17 years-old pothead fugitive from Moses Brown Prep in Providence, R.I.) which boasted the legendary Jack Purvis on trumpet and Scoops Thompson (he sold drugs by the scoopful!) on guitar.  The two wildest dudes I ever met in the business.  That band, by the way, opened the brand-new Paramount Hotel, owned by Charlie’s family, on New Year’s Eve of ’32-’33 and lasted exactly one set.  Barnet’s mother, shocked to her socks by Purvis’ romping charts, fired Charlie herself.  I was sitting at Charlie’s table and heard the conversation.  

And, later, Atwood’s memories of valve-trombonist Frank Orchard (memorable for appearances on Commodore Records — I also saw him at Jimmy Ryan’s in the Seventies) who also acted as M.C., played piano, guitar, and sang — and who installed “a 2 1/2 times life-sized photo of himself at the club’s street entrance”:

The sets were pure Mack Sennett.  Frank would tinkle a piano intro, then switch to rhythm guitar for the opening chorus, grab his guitar and up to the mike to sing / play a chorus, then do the sock chorus on trombone lead and finally sprint back to the piano for the ending.  Plus, of course, introductory blather.

That’s purest jazz catnip to me, and I hope to you also.

If you’d told me a few years ago that I would hold a book with a detailed portrait of the pianist Jack Gardner in it, or a reference to tenorist Joe Masek, I would have thought that impossible.  And I have taken so long to review this book because of its irresistible nature.  When I received it in the mail, I left it visible in my apartment, and when I passed by it, I would stop to read a few pages: its distracting force was just that powerful.  I apologize to Derek and to the shade of Bert for being so tardy, but if you are in the least curious about Chicago jazz — from the teens to the Seventies — you will find CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE fascinating, quotable, and invaluable. I wish there were a bookshelf of volumes of equal merit.

Buy a copy here or here .  Alas, the book doesn’t come with a I BRAKE FOR SIG MEYERS AND HIS DRUIDS bumper sticker or a multi-volume CD set of previously unheard live sessions recorded by John Steiner, but we will make do with this lovely collection.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW PAGES FROM ROBERT BIERMAN, formerly of IRVINGTON, NEW YORK

Another eBay prowl (taking a long respite from grading student essays) with glorious results.

The seller is offering an amazing collection of autographs, some dating back to 1938.  Since a few items were inscribed to “Bob” or “Robert” Bierman, it was easy to trace these precious artifacts back to the man of the same name, a Krupa aficionado, now deceased (I believe his dates are 1922-2009) who lived for some time on Staten Island.

The jazz percussion scholar Bruce Klauber tells me: Bob passed several years ago. He had things you wouldn’t believe and was kind enough to share several audios with me. Anything he was connected with was rare and authentic.

My friend David Weiner recalls Bierman as quiet, reticent, with wonderful photographs and autographs.

I never met Mr. Bierman in my brief collectors’ period, but in 1938 he must have been a very energetic sixteen-year old who went to hear hot jazz and big bands, asking the drummers and sidemen for their autographs.  The collection is notable for the signatures of people not otherwise documented — as you will see.

Incidentally, the seller has listed the items as “Buy It Now,” which means that indeed the race is to the swift.

cless-brunis-alvin

Three heroes from what I presume is Art Hodes’ Forties band that recorded for his own JAZZ RECORD label: Rod Cless, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, Danny Alvin.

bunny-postcard

Bunny and his Orchestra.

walter-page-buck-jo-tab-green-rushing

Basieites, circa 1940: Walter Page, Joe Jones, Buck Clayton, Tab Smith, Freddie Greene, and James Rushing.  The story is that John Hammond convinced Jo and Freddie to change the spelling of their names . . . perhaps to be more distinctive and memorable to the public?  I don’t know if this is verifiable.

gene-postcard

Gene!  But where and when?

wettling-1939-front

Wettling, promoting Ludwig drums — when he was with Paul Whiteman.

wettling-1939-back

And some advice to the young drummer.

teddy-1938

Teddy Wilson.  It’s so reassuring to see that there was actually letterhead for the School for Pianists.

bierman-bob-crosby-front

Some wonderful players from the Bob Crosby band: Jess Stacy, Eddie Miller, Bob Haggart, Matty Matlock, Hank D’Amico, Nappy Lamare.

bierman-bob-crosby-rear

Liz Tilton, Ray Bauduc.

bierman-gil-rodin

Gil Rodin from Ben Pollack and Crosby.

bierman-earle-warren

Earle Warren of Basie fame.

bierman-bunny-al-donahue

Al Donahue, and another Bunny signature.

bierman-hank-wayland-george-rose

To me, a page with the signatures of Hank Wayland, and George Rose — plus a caricature — is worth many thousand letters with a secretary’s “Bing” or “Benny” at the bottom.

bierman-ellington-venuti

You want famous?  Here’s famous: Duke Ellington, Joe Venuti.

bierman-mary-lou-williams

and Mary Lou Williams.

bierman-peggy-lee

Peggy Lee.

bierman-henderson-1939

Some fairly obscure Benny Goodman sidemen — Buff Estes, Toots Mondello, Arnold “Covey” — and the leader-turned-sideman Fletcher Henderson.

bierman-fats-waller-sidemen

Gentlemen from the reed section of Fats Waller’s big band: Jackie Fields and Bob Carroll.

bierman-gene-sedric

Fats’ “Honeybear,” Gene Sedric.

bierman-hodes-1947

A letter from Art Hodes!  (“Bob, there’s a letter for you!”)

bierman-hawkins-1943

Finally, the Hawk. 1943.

It makes me think, “What will happen to our precious stuff [see George Carlin] when we are dead?  eBay certainly is better than the dumpster, although these pages remind me that everything is in flux, and we are not our possessions. Beautiful to see, though, and to know that such things exist.  You, too, can have a piece of paper that Rod Cless touched — no small thing.

May your happiness increase!

MY HONEY, THAT THING, A SWEETIE, NEVER THE SAME, A JUMP: RAY SKJELBRED, JONATHAN DOYLE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 29, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred

Ray Skjelbred

I keep coming back to the videos I’ve shot at several yearly incarnations of the San Diego Jazz Fest — and finding treasures and marvels I’d overlooked.  (I also keep coming back to the actual Fest, but that should startle no one.)

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Here are some highlights from a long quartet set performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jonathan Doyle, the swing star from Austin, Texas; Beau Sample, string bass and leader of the Fat Babies; Hal Smith, who’s played with and swung everyone who deserves it.

Beau Sample

Beau Sample

My titles are an expression of whimsical shorthand, but there’s nothing left out in these performances.  First, a swing trio (Chicago pays San Diego a visit) then quartet improvisations that are delightful inducements to the dance, even if you are sitting in a chair.

Hal Smith

Hal Smith

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (scored for trio):

A song I associate with Bessie Smith, I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING (decide for yourself what THAT THING is, but no need to write in, because no prizes will be awarded for the best answer).  I’m wild about this performance, I feel compelled to say:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (in a medium tempo sitting nicely between Noone and Condon):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (evoking Venuti and Lang, Billie and Lester, or both):

Finally, THE 313 JUMP, whose title has a new pop culture / numerological significance — just Ducky:

See you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest — Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-27.  Of course.

A postscript.  The jazz-scholar part of my being says that I could have written a thousand words on Influences and Echoes, with a long list of names, including Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, Lester Young, Eddie Miller, Wellman Braud, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Milt Hinton . . . but I will let you do the research for yourself — in whatever way offers the most satisfying results.  I’d rather revel in the actual sounds made by Smith, Sample, Doyle, and Skjelbred on a late November day in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

CLESS IS ALWAYS MORE

Clarinetist Rod Cless, one of my heroes, died far too young.  To most people, his is an unfamiliar name, encountered — if at all — in liner notes or on the label of a few 78s.  But he had a beautiful bright tone and was a delightfully satisfying ensemble player.  As a soloist, he had some of the surprise of Pee Wee Russell but his energies were more often quietly subversive: a Cless chorus sounded sometimes like an easy melodic paraphrase, broken here and there by logical chord explorations — but when it was through, it stuck in the mind as a compact invention of its own.

I’ve written about Cless here (this posting has four audio samples) and here is a reminiscence by clarinetist Paul Nossiter, who actually took lessons from Cless. And my friend Jim Denham has offered his own touching assessment, the very beautiful elegy by James McGraw, and four other audio samples here.

It’s easy to feel isolated in this world, so one of the nicest parts of having this blog is that people reach out to me.  I’m in touch with a young woman whose grandfather dated Billie Holiday, and I hope to have more of that story for you in the future.  And another benevolent reader — Nick, from the UK — found me and offered his own comprehensive audio collection — downloadable files — of everything Rod Cless recorded.  These links, he mentions, may be taken down soon if not used — so let that be an encouragement to you to immerse yourself in Cless, and to have another spirit-friend in music lift up your days and nights.  (If you encounter problems with the links, he bravely suggests that he can be reached at nddoctorjazz@googlemail.com.)

Here is what Nick sent to me.  I think it’s a generous gift.

“Many years ago I gave a record recital to my local society on Joe Marsala. At that time I thought that I should do the same for another clarinet player, Rod Cless, but was surprised to find how little of his music was in my collection apart from the Muggsy Spanier Ragtime Band sessions. I wrote to my old band leader, an excellent amateur clarinettist, for help and he also had very few recordings by him! Many of the original records had not been reissued in Europe. I abandoned the idea and kept my eyes open for likely discs on second-hand record lists. By last August I had enough to give the recital.

I then decided to collect his entire oeuvre together using Tom Lord’s Discography as my source. The music has never been published in this way before. On a couple of the early sessions, he does not solo and may not be present but all is included. I had to use the internet for a few tracks to fill gaps. For instance, I have a Doctor Jazz LP (Signature 78s material) with the Yank Lawson Band but it omitsWhen I grow Too Old To Dream for no obvious reason as It is a good track. I found this on a blog, Jazz Rhythm, <http://jazzhotbigstep.com/24264.html > from a radio program on James P Johnson with guest commentator Mark Borowsky. Other material has poorish sound. Even some commercial CD reproduction is substandard, i.e.: Art Hodes Columbia Quintet. I don’t think that the originals could be improved!

Having got this material together, it seemed a shame not to share it. Apologies for the variable sound and file formats.

It has all been uploaded to Zippyshare which is a no frills site, which restricts file size to 200 MB:

Rod Cless – 1 ~ Early Years & Discography.rar (Size: 98.73 MB)

http://www17.zippyshare.com/v/sgGS4s3f/file.html

Hodes-1940 Groups.rar (Size: 190.05 MB)

http://www17.zippyshare.com/v/mZ2Jth9r/file.html

Hodes-1942 Groups.rar (Size: 71.1 MB)

http://www8.zippyshare.com/v/BBKxGbKi/file.html

Hodes Chicagoans-1944.rar (Size: 164.21 MB)

http://www1.zippyshare.com/v/2JPVJGQW/file.html

Rod Cless – Small Groups (1943-1944).rar (Size: 149.38 MB)

http://www35.zippyshare.com/v/A3rvXrQH/file.html

KAMINSKY-1944.rar (184.8 MB)

http://www35.zippyshare.com/v/PbMmXfd3/file.html

The Spanier sessions are not included as I expect most people have them with alternate takes.”

May your happiness increase!

PAPER EPHEMERA FROM THE CONDON EMPIRE: 1947 / 1960; December 5, 1942

This I know.  It’s an inscribed first edition of Eddie Condon’s 1947 autobiography, WE CALLED IT MUSIC. But beyond that.  “It’s warm here now,” Condon writes to Lou in 1947.  Then, thirteen years later, Lou inscribes the book to Woody or Woodie.  I don’t think this is Woody Herman, although the Lou could be Robert Louis McGarity:

$_57
Then, another (facing?) page from the same book:

$_57Some famous names: ME TOO, Bobby Hackett; Bob Wilber; pianist Graham Forbes.  Who was Thomas Golden? Bob Pancrost?

Any detectives out there, ready to leap on these clues?  (What was the weather like in New York City — a plausible guess — on October 20, 1947?)

The pages that follow aren’t at all mysterious: an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert program from December 5, 1942.  But in me they awake such longing. Why can’t I hear this band or these bands?

CONDON CONCERT 12 5 42

I want to be there. (Urban historians will note Thomas – Morton – Hall – Johnny Williams, a combination working under Teddy Wilson’s leadership at Cafe Society. In fact, some private recordings exist with Mel Powell taking Wilson’s place at around this time — not from this concert, though.)

May your happiness increase!

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!