Tag Archives: ROSE ROOM

“IN SUNNY ROSELAND,” or THE ARTS OF MELODIC EMBELLISHMENT: BARNEY BIGARD, VIC DICKENSON, DICK SUDHALTER, ART HODES, MARTY GROSZ, PLACIDE ADAMS, PANAMA FRANCIS (Nice Jazz Festival, July 22, 1977)

The jazz I grew up listening could be pure harmonic improvisation — Coleman Hawkins was a powerful example — but many of the musicians I idolized then and still do: Louis, Jack, Teddy, Ed Hall, Buck, Bobby, and two hundred others, had such love for the melody, which they had grown up with, that they ornamented and embellished it. They put earrings or a scarf on it, a bold bow tie or a cloak, but you always knew it was there. Hearing one of these embellishers play a solo, you could hum the melody alongside (or underneath) and the two lines would gently trot down the same road — not hand-in-hand, but in the same direction and arriving at the same good place.

Some performances dazzle and amaze me; others warm and embrace me. Here’s a gently leisurely example of the latter kind.

It’s a group trotting happily through ROSE ROOM at the Grande Parade du Jazz: Barney Bigard, clarinet, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dick Sudhalter, cornet; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Panama Francis, drums.

Some small ruminations, first. ROSE ROOM — in its original 1920 form, a love song — was one of Bigard’s features for years, but it’s pleasing to hear he doesn’t revert to his set solo. Listening to his late work is always a joy for me because age had slowed him down just a touch, so his phrases were more varied, and you listened for his tone. (YouTube commenters, vinegary in their recliners, have been mean-spirited about Barney; I wonder how many of them run at the same speed they did thirty-seven years ago.)

Vic Dickenson fit in anywhere as long as the tempo wasn’t punishingly fast, or the band too loud. He didn’t like backgrounds, one of which appears in his second chorus, but he is playing something so delightful that even Bigard and Sudhalter don’t unsettle him. Somewhere I read that Barney and Buster Bailey were two of Vic’s favorite clarinetists; I wish I could remember the third, but it was a mild surprise. Unlike Barney, Vic retained much of his phrase-making fluidity to the end of his life, but his tones, and I emphasize the plural, were marvels in themselves.

Dick Sudhalter was the new boy in the group, but he plays with wonderful style and variety — not reverting to the Bix-phrases some demanded of him, but being comfortable in a kind of easy Mainstream. I’ve highlighted his photograph because — aside from Placide Adams — I think he in this group is most in danger of being forgotten, and he plays so nobly here.

The rhythm section has the diversity (or oddity?) one finds at festivals, where producers delight in assembling people who don’t play together “to see what happens”: Placide Adams, from New Orleans, might have seemed out of his element in this late-Swing context, but he had played and recorded often with Paul Barbarin, so he knew about time; Panama Francis, unlike many of the famous drummers at Nice, also knew time: his steadiness is so comforting. Marty Grosz — a wonderfully fluid rhythmic cushion, filling in all the spaces the other three might have left. Art Hodes, the patriarch, could be unsettlingly spare and percussive, but he is happy in this context in ways that suggest Basie more than anyone else, perhaps resting comfortably on Marty’s eloquent swing support. He takes his time. They all do. There is a tiny train-wreck at the start — confusion that is more on the scale of a model train set — but it repairs itself quickly, and they are off: masters of melody, in solo and ensemble. I, too, find the fidgety multi-camera approach very distracting, but it is part of the particular package — perhaps an emblem of that time and style.

I find it a very sweet performance.

And it says certain things to me about the comfort of a common language, the wisdom and joy that comes from decades of experience in a congenial community. Masters of Melody, so endearing, so durable, who know that ROSE ROOM is more than a set of chord changes:

I wish this band had recorded hours of music, and I think of the times I saw some of its members (bless Marty Grosz for hanging out with us still!) — those sounds are translucent gold in my memory and ears.

May your happiness increase!

IN PURSUIT OF THAT ELUSIVE QUANTITY, VERIFIABLE INFORMATION, or “CAN THE DEAD BE PROTECTED FROM STUPIDITY?”

I’m aware that there are far larger things to get annoyed about, and I am sure that my ire is both pointless and the result of forty years in college classrooms, where accuracy was not always evident in my students’ work.  But I attempt to be accurate when it is possible.  When someone offers a factual correction to something I’ve written, I might hiss through my teeth, but I change my text.  So the biographical sketch of Charlie Christian that follows is irritating in many ways.

Charlie Christian
December 1, 2006 Edward Southerland

It is not too far a stretch to say that everybody who plays the electric guitar owes something to Charlie Christian.

He was born in Bonham in 1916, but when his father, a waiter, suddenly became blind in 1918, the family moved to Oklahoma City. Christian began his musical career on the cornet, but soon gave it up for his father’s favorite instrument, the guitar.

The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles where he met one of the country’s most influential jazz critics and writers, John Hamilton. Bowled over by Christian’s uncompromising talent, Hamilton took the young man to the Victor Hugo restaurant in L.A. to meet Benny Goodman on August 16, 1939. Without telling the band leader, Hamilton set Christian on the bandstand. Goodman had the band play “Roseland,” a number he thought the guitar man would not be able to follow, but follow he did. After one pass, Christian took a solo, and then another and after 18 breaks, each different from the others, he had a job with the King of Swing.

Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25. When he died, Christian was brought home to Bonham to be buried. A few years ago, a Japanese jazz lover traveled half way around the world to find the grave of this all but forgotten musician, and Charlie Christian was forgotten no more. There is an exhibit about Christian in the Fannin County Historical Museum, each year Oklahoma City hosts a jazz festival in his honor, and once again, the young man with guitar is celebrated by music lovers everywhere.

Over the years, the Red River Valley has contributed more than most know to the music of the land, particularly in jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll and Western swing. Everyone knows Reba McIntire, the Oklahoma girl with the big voice, and Sherman remembers native son Buck Owens with his own section of U.S. Highway 82. Decades before these stars became icons others blazed trails of their own. Texoma has had its fair share of contributors to the world of music. These are just a few.

This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Texoma Living!.

Reading it, I wondered if the author had asked a friend for some facts and had heard them incorrectly through a bad phone connection.  I amuse myself by writing here that “John Hamilton” played trumpet with Fats Waller, and that “Roseland” was a dance hall of note in New York City.

If I could draw, I would create a cartoon of Charlie’s magical transportation: “The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles . . . ”  I do not know what to say about this assertion: “Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25.”

At least this writer didn’t “get the impression” that Charlie was a heroin addict, and he doesn’t say that he was discovered at a late-night jam session . . . both examples taken from the recent prose of a Jazz Authority, nameless here.

You might ask, “Don’t you have anything better to do, Michael, than take pot shots at someone writing in a ‘regional’ magazine about a subject they can’t be expected to be an expert on?  I would tell you, “Yes, I have much better things to do: you should see my kitchen counter.  I have laundry that’s piling up, and I should be walking more, blogging less.”

But we know that the internet grants permanence to assertions, and assertions become granite: so a small inaccuracy, repeated and blurred through repetition, becomes a major falsehood — and in that way, it feels like an insult to the dead, who can no longer stand up (not that mild-mannered Charlie would have) and say, “Quit making up that crap about me.  It isn’t true!”

In a world where so much source material is available for people who no longer need to leave their chairs, I’d hope that more care would be taken by writers who want to be taken seriously.  Had Mr. Southerland been a student in a freshman writing class of mine, had he handed this essay in, I would have written “no” and perhaps even “No!” in the margins and returned the essay with “Please see me” on the bottom and asked him to revise it — sprinkling in some facts, rather like oregano and crushed red pepper on pizza — if he wanted a passing grade.

I won’t go so far as to hypothesize that slovenly “research” indicates a laziness of perception, which is a failure of analysis resulting in a civilization’s slide into darkness.  But I won’t stop you if you want to pursue that notion.

The good news is that Charlie Christian’s “legacy” is not “faded.”  Consider this precious 1941 artifact, where he’s gloriously present next to Dave Tough, Johnny Guarnieri, Artie Bernstein, Cootie Williams, and George Auld:

I will paraphrase Lord Byron to say, “Southerland and his ilk will be read when Christian and Goodman are forgotten.  But not until then.”

May your happiness increase!

“TO BE SWEETLY RECLINING”

Urged on by a historical impulse I don’t quite understand, I put on the proper clothing and ventured deep into the archives of YouTube to see one or two of my earliest videos of fine jazz I had created.

A place where one could sweetly recline, alone or in duo.

A place where one could sweetly recline, alone or in duo.

I came up with this: recorded at Banjo Jim’s (defunct) with a lesser camera (defunct) on November 10, 2008.  The band is Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective, whose musicians are not at all defunct: Kevin Dorn, drums; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone and vocal; Michael Hashim, reeds; Charlie Caranicas, cornet; Jesse Gelber, piano. And led by Walter, they remind us that ROSE ROOM was once a swoony lullaby rather than a Forties romp:

Now I have a better camera and a wide-angle lens.  No doubt the gentleman sitting right in the middle of my viewfinder will come around on my next video gig, but you get used to him.  And Kevin and friends continue to enrich our lives. The video has its cinematic limitations, but its soul is huge.  Blessings on all the fellows herein.  And Art Hickman too.

May your happiness increase!