Tag Archives: Rosy McHargue

CONTRITION OR VENGEANCE? RICKY ALEXANDER, DAN BLOCK, ADAM MOEZINIA, DANIEL DUKE, CHRIS GELB at CAFE BOHEMIA (Nov. 22, 2019)

I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough.  Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed.  It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis.  Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)

Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know.  I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)

Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it.  Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:

That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here.  And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)

May your happiness increase!

HOT MUSIC, GOOD STORIES, LASTING FRIENDSHIP, KINDNESSES: HANK O’NEAL RECALLS SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT (Nov. 2, 2018)

Here is one perspective on Hank O’Neal — writer, archivist, record producer, photographer, friend of Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbott . . . and many jazz musicians from Willie “the Lion” Smith to Borah Bergman.  Hank is also an incredible resource and storyteller, someone I am thrilled to call a friend: reasons that Hank visits JAZZ LIVES, as he speaks with great fondness of Squirrel Ashcraft.  If you say, “Wow, Squirrel!” then you have come to the right place.  If you say, “Who IS that?” you’re also in for pleasure and enlightenment.

Hank O’Neal by Annie Tritt for the Boston Globe, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And since Hank is a masterful photographer, here is another character study, one I like even more — shot by Sherry Sereboff (2017, near Fort Worth, Texas) even better.  When I meet Hank next, I will ask what was on his plate:

I had asked Hank to speak about Squirrel for JAZZ LIVES, and the conversation began very informally, as he was paging through Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft’s scrapbook.  I just started videoing . . . with happy results — little anecdotes about sacred objects connected to Bix, Tesch, and Dick Voynow.  But for future researchers, any time someone you respect says the words, “Letters from Brad Gowans,” you know something important is being revealed:

“Who was Squirrel Ashcraft and how did I meet him?”:

Paging through Squirrel’s 1928-9 notebook, “JAZZ MUSIC,” with entries devoted to the Wolverines, Hoagy Carmichael, Benny Goodman, the Georgians, Jack Pettis, Leon Roppolo, Henderson’s adaptation of RHAPSODY IN BLUE, and more:

I first learned about Squirrel through EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ (a book Eddie did with Hank) and then through Squirrel’s home recordings, later issued on rare lps by . . . Hank.  Here’s the story of Squirrel’s career — about fifteen years — as an archivist of home recordings, often aluminum, including performances by Johnny Mercer, Joe Rushton, Jimmy McParland, George Barnes, Boyce Brown, Bob Zurke, Spencer Clark, Rosy McHargue, also Joe Rushton, his motorcycle, and Pee Wee Russell, and Squirrel’s later playing career in Washington, D.C., and sidelights on Jean Bach, Jimmy Dorsey, and jazz reunions at Princeton University from 1975-79:

Finally . . . Hank brings us up to date (Squirrel died in 1981, but his relics are going to a good place.  And don’t miss the story about the Bob Crosby band: Squirrel and friends obviously knew how to live:

The best part of this story, just over an hour with Hank, is his obvious affection and indebtedness to Squirrel, and Squirrel’s sweet feelings for the music and musicians.  Thank you, Hank, for making the reclusive Squirrel appear to us in this century.

And . . . because Hank is a wonderful writer, here’s his “little piece” on Squirrel from his book on pianists. Some of the stories you will have heard from the videos above, but they don’t wilt with a second telling:

SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT
September 20, 1905 – January 18, 1981

Edwin Maurice Ashcraft III, better known as “Squirrel”, is the least known pianist in this book, but he was by far the most important to me. It all started because of two courses I’d taken at Syracuse University; one in Russian Studies and another in African Studies. The Russian Studies course ultimately led me to be employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The African Studies course, particularly one taught by Eduardo Mondlane, who was later to lead and win the revolution in Mozambique, led me to the CIA’s Office of Operations, where Squirrel Ashcraft was the Director.

Though forgotten today, Squirrel was a legendary figure in the world of jazz, at least into the mid-1970s, but much can be lost and forgotten in a quarter of a century. He was, for example, the only person I knew who had heard Louis Armstrong and King Oliver at the Lincoln Gardens, and had known and associated with a host of other legendary players from the 1920s, who were just names in a book or music in the grooves of old records to me. He was the kind of man who could make a simple telephone call and John Hammond, Neshui or Ahmet Ertegun would welcome me warmly. The same was true of any number of musicians of a certain age, i.e. the Austin High Gang, and their musical associates or disciples.

He was the first jazz artist I ever heard perform in an informal setting, that is away from a concert hall or club, where I was a paying spectator. By that time, he was in his 60s, hadn’t played regularly for years, never had been a first rank player anyway, and now had an affliction in one of his hands that affected his dexterity. But for someone of my age, and limited experience, it was more thrilling to be standing two feet from a legendary figure in his living room than hearing a great pianist from the top balcony in Carnegie Hall.

He was also the man who first introduced me to an active jazz musician, in this case, Jimmy McPartland. Later, he would introduce me to many others, and simply because he made the introduction, I was accepted by these men and women without question.

A little background is in order. Squirrel was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1905. His family was socially prominent and well situated. In the early 1920s he discovered jazz and became as deeply involved with it as possible. He was active in Chicago in the same way John Hammond was in New York, and he met many of the up and coming young jazz musicians in that city long before they had come up, befriended them, helped them whenever possible, and continued to for years and years.

Squirrel came east in the late 1920’s and attended Princeton. He played both piano and accordion, was part of Princeton’s Triangle Club, wrote songs, recorded with the Triangle Jazz Band, was known to and played informally with such legendary figures as Bix Beiderbecke, and even corralled the elusive cornet player one night, convincing him to record with the Princeton band. It almost came off, but not quite; Bix was there when everyone fell asleep but had vanished when they woke up. He continued at Princeton, but eventually returned to Chicago in the early 1930s, and took up his post in the family law firm.

He opened his home to every jazz musician who could find their way to Evanston, and hundreds did, usually on Monday nights. The sessions at Squirrel’s featured a who’s who of whoever was in Chicago at the time. He began to record these proceedings in about 1933 and, until he left for World War II, hundreds of private discs were made, sometimes with the help of his friend John Steiner. Steiner eventually issued some of the goings-on on Paramount 78 rpm discs and later on 10” LPs.

World War II closed down the Monday night sessions; Squirrel was inducted in the U.S Navy, and assigned to naval intelligence. After the war, he returned to Chicago, his law practice, and the music and recording began again, this time on a crude tape recorder that used paper tape. The music didn’t last long, however, because in the late 1940s Squirrel was selected by the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency to run its Chicago field office, and the music slowed down once again. He was so good at the CIA game, he was urged to become the Director of all domestic operations in the early 1950’s.

Squirrel accepted the challenge, closed down the house in Evanston, moved to Washington, and vanished into another world, his whereabouts unknown, except to the musicians and friends with whom he kept in touch. There were no sessions at Squirrel’s massive apartment in Washington. When I arrived on the scene in 1964, his piano sounded a bit like one from a Charles Addams’ haunted house. But that was soon to change.

Suddenly there was someone around who knew his past, and even had one of those old John Steiner-issued Paramount records to prove it. I was the junior guy in the Office of Operations, but I had immediate access to the Director because of the music. This is when I learned that love of jazz of a certain sort could cross any cultural divide, regardless of age, race, or anything else.

It didn’t take long before the piano was tuned and regulated, and informal musical gatherings began. The first was with Jimmy and Marian McPartland, and two wonderful local Washington musicians, clarinetist Tommy Gwaltney (who founded and owned Blues Alley) and guitarist Steve Jordan. Squirrel got his hands back in shape, so he could spell Marian when she wanted to relax and, just like in the old days, everything was recorded. The first “new” informal session was eventually issued as a record that was given away to anyone who wanted one. I cut my recording teeth on Squirrel’s Ampex F-44 and two Electrovoice microphones.

Listening back to the old acetate and aluminum recordings from the 1930s, Squirrel reminds me of a pianist like Frank Melrose. A great deal more passion than technique, but good enough to get the job done. He was a better than average amateur in those days, and could easily hold his own with his peers, and provide good accompaniment to A-list artists when it was required. I remember him telling me that one night the entire Bob Crosby band came out to his house for a Monday night session. The thing that pleased him most was that the first complaint was from a neighbor whose house was three blocks away. And he got to play with the band when Bob Zurke was doing something else.

Squirrel’s influence in the jazz world was not as a pianist. He was always behind the scenes and, eventually, way behind the scenes. If Eddie Condon couldn’t get a liquor license to open Condon’s; Squirrel could make the call to the right person so it could be worked out, despite the checkered past of some of the club’s owners. If a certain player were down on his luck, there would be a check in the mail. There were any number of people he supported for life. He was a safety net for many, many of the first generation of jazz musicians, and probably some of the second and third. My guess is he was a safety net for a lot of people I didn’t know about, musicians, old friends down on their luck, or even a struggling bullfighter.

After he officially retired in the late 1960’s, Squirrel spent less and less time in Washington and more time at his home in Spain. Sometimes a year would pass and I wouldn’t see him, except perhaps to see him off on either the ocean liners Michaelangelo or Rafaello, his favorite modes of transportation between New York and Spain. When in Spain, he had little time for music, but towards the end of a letter from there, dated November 12, 1969, he says, “We are listening, which we do seldom at all, to Miles’ Sketches, and I wish so very, very much that Bix could have heard it…. We think about you often. Please write the whole story.” I’m not sure I ever did, but in the 1970s, and early 1980s, he had a burst of musical energy, at least every June, for half a dozen years.

In 1975, Jack Howe liberated a funny little band, affectionately called The Sons of Bix, from cornetist Tom Pletcher. Jack was an amateur tenor saxophone player, who’d been part of the in the Princeton Triangle Jazz band with Squirrel in the 1920s. He augmented the SOBs with Princeton alumni musicians, aided by the likes of Spencer Clarke, Bob Haggart, Max Kaminsky, Maxine Sullivan and others. The band only had one certain engagement each year, to play a class reunion at Princeton. It turned out, however, the band played the reunion of the Class of 1929 or the Class of 1930, every year until at least 1982. Squirrel actually played a little piano on all the dates until 1981. I recorded the performances, which, as often as not, were presented in tents. Squirrel and Jack then chose their favorite tunes, and I arranged for a few LPs to be pressed up and distributed to the dwindling faithful. The records are often spirited, but not landmark recordings. A friendly souvenir, but little more. Much to my surprise, some of them have been listed in Tom Lord’s landmark The Jazz Discography.

In those years, if I had to be in Washington, for whatever reason, Squirrel’s Watson Place apartment was always open, whether Squirrel and his wife, Patter, were in residence or not. I haven’t stayed in a hotel in Washington since 1960; but to confess, I only went back a few times after Squirrel died in 1981. The last time I was there was at the urging of his wife. She telephoned in the mid-1980s and said she was cleaning out files and had found some correspondence from me in a box of music-related junk in the back of a closet. Would I please come down and save all these found items from the trash collector? I was also urged to pick up the crank-up Victrola with the bamboo needle cutter that was now stored in the basement. I’d first seen it at an old filling station somewhere in Virginia in the mid-1960s, offered the owner $10, which he was happy to have, and had passed it on to Squirrel, so he could play his old Hot Five 78s as he played them in the 1920s, when they were fresh and new. I was happy to have it back, and it still works just fine.

I drove down, had a nice visit with Patter, and loaded all the papers, the boxes of stuff she’d found in the closet, and the old Victrola in the back of my car. I had a last look around, and never went back, but stayed in touch with Patter until she became ill and her Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where she didn’t know who I was.

When I got home after that last trip, I had a good time looking at the correspondence, the old clippings from the 1930’s and 1940s. At the bottom of the box I saved from the trash man, I found the bell of a battered cornet, with a note from Jimmy McPartland. This was all that was left of the cornet Bix had bought him, when Jimmy replaced Bix in the Wolverines. This was the kind of thing that turned up at Sqiurrel’s house. And I’ll bet things like that don’t turn up too many other places.

Squirrel Ashcraft was a kind and generous man who touched the lives of many men and women in a positive way. When he found time to touch a piano, it was equally positive. I never heard him play the blues.

May your happiness increase!

“IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL HOW JOY CAN OPEN THE THROAT”: THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF RENA JEAN MIDDOUGH, a/k/a “RINK LESLIE” (November 28, 2015)

I should have known something important was about to happen when Dan Levinson approached me on Saturday, November 28, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest and asked if I would video-record his next set.  Dan believes (if I may coarsely paraphrase him) that the beautiful evanescent creations of jazz musicians should remain so; that they can be made subject to eternal scrutiny is not something he prefers.  (I take it as a mark of great respect and friendship that he has humored me and my little camera for years now.)

But once Dan was a quarter of the way through his explanation, I said, “That’s great.  I’ll be there,” and I was.

POSIES TWO

But before this narrative gets too convoluted, too much about myself and the philosophy of video-recording, let me introduce you to Rena Jean Middough. First, through a photograph taken in 1952.  The man on her right is multi-instrumentalist / singer / bandleader / inspiring teacher Rosy McHargue:

Rink-Leslie-and-Rosy-McHargue-in-1952-688x1024

Then, in her own words, a reminiscence she has titled THE JOY OF PLANETARY ASPECTS:

Astrologers think aspects to the planet Uranus trigger unexpected human events.  Some events may be good, some may be not so good, but all will be unexpected.  Three years ago, something moved my son to order a CD of Rosy McHargue’s Ragtimers.  Rosy McHargue was a Dixieland musician who dedicated himself to preserving American music from the early 1900’s.

I had met Rosy because my husband was the director of a TV show in which Rosy appeared, “Dixie Showboat,” and Rosy invited us to his home. Somehow, he asked me to sing two songs while he recorded them on acetate.

In 1952, Rosy made a recording of all the songs the Ragtimers played, and he asked me to record a vocal.  When I got to the recording studio in Hollywood, all Rosy said was, “Hello, sing two choruses.”  The musicians began to play.  I sang two choruses and sat down.  Rosy asked why I was still there.  I replied, “I’m waiting to rehearse.”  “No, no,” he said.  “It was fine.  Go home.”  And that was my great recording career.  Only my kids remembered.

POSIES ONE

Sixty-two years later, Uranus unexpectedly made New York musician Dan Levinson very happy.  Young Dan Levinson was taught to play clarinet and saxophone and to be a full-time musician by Rosy McHargue.  The two were best friends, and when Rosy died, he left all his music and arrangements to Dan.  Dan, who has mde his career playing music from the first half of the twentieth century just as Rosy did, took the old recordings and made them into a modern CD.  He wrote loving biography notes on all Rosy’s musicians, but someone was missing. Who was the girl who sang “Posies”?  When my son ordered the CD, Dan sat down in the subway, opened his laptop, and mailed the good news to everyone he knew.  He had found the girl who had sung two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies.”  He had searched for her for ten years.  My son, when he placed the order for the CD, had written that his mom had sung “Posies” and his dad was the barking dog on “You Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Around.”

Once my son had solved the mystery of the girl singer, Dan and his wife Molly quickly arranged an afternoon for us in New York.  We met at Penn Station under the arrival sign for New Jersey trains.  Dan, at six foot five, had to bend down to be kissed as I thanked him for calling me a National Treasure.  It was a wonderful feeling to be treasured.  During that afternoon in New York, I felt acceptable to the universe.

This summer, Uranus and that silly song merged again.  Once a year, Dan and Molly play the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, and all their Southern California friends swarm to see them.  I persuaded a lady who can drive at night to drive me to Altadena to enjoy the wonderful jazz.  I grabbed the best seat in the house. The show began.  Dan played clarinet and sax, and Molly sang the vocals.  They were backed by a fine bass player and a superb jazz guitarist.  After a while, Dan began to invite fellow musicians he knew in the audience to come up on the stage and sit in with them.  One by one, the friends borrowed saxophones and trombones and performed. After the fourth guest musician, Dan informed the audience that Rosy McHargue’s favorite vocalist was in the audience, and would she like to come up and sing?  Would I?  I rose like the sunrise, shoved out of my seat by my hubris.  Uranus, the unexpected, took my hand and helped me up on that stage.  I surveyed the packed house and announced I was working on my ninetieth year.  Then I, who can no longer sing much higher than Middle C, plucked a good note out of the air, and with the musicians behind me, loudly and enthusiastically rendered verse and two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies, When It’s Shoesies That I Need.”  Breath control, which has forsaken me for a decade, reappeared, and I held the last note strongly for a count of four.  It is truly wonderful how joy can open the throat.

It must have sounded all right.  Uranus and I stepped down to enthusiastic applause.  One lady with a tin ear asked me where else I was singing.  People bought Rosy’s Ragtimers CD to take home.  The bass player demanded that I stay and take a picture with him.  Somebody in the audience had taken my picture and sent it to Facebook as I was singing.  (My niece Laura saw me on Facebook before dawn the next day.)  Dan wrote his review of the evening and posted it on Facebook at 2 a.m.  The bass played posted our picture at 4 a.m. Within 24 hours all my nieces and their myriad cousins had seen me on stage.

A week later, I wrote Dan and Molly a thank you letter.  I said that when we met in New York they had made me feel acceptable to the universe.  Now that they had placed me center stage, I was infamous on Facebook.

Bless  Uranus.  I can’t wait for next year.  Maybe they will unexpectedly let me sing again.

POSIES THREE

So here is “Rink Leslie” (a pseudonym made up because “Rena Jean Middough” would have been too long for a record label: “Rink” came from a classmate’s nickname for Rena; “Leslie” was Rena’s father’s name) appearing with Dan Levinson, reeds; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, and guests from the Titanic Jazz Band, Keith Elliott, trombone; Dan Comins, trumpet — at the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest — to recreate the Middough – McHargue recording of DON’T BRING ME POSIES (WHEN IT’S SHOESIES THAT I NEED):

That’s splendid fun.  And it would be splendid fun even if the singing ingenue were not 89.  When Rena Jean came off the bandstand, I rose to congratulate her, and she sweetly told me what she’s written above, “When Dan discovered me, he made me feel as if I was acceptable to the universe, someone wonderful.” And I — speaking from my heart or shooting from the hip — said, “My dear Ms. Leslie (for at the time I don’t think I had taken in her lovely elaborate name), you have been acceptable to the universe your whole life, and more!” and she grinned at me but with old-fashioned very becoming modesty.

I, too, look forward to a return appearance of Rena Jean Middough and / or Rink Leslie at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I will, in future, post the lovely music that preceded her . . . but for the moment I would like you to admire her poise, her joy, her ebullience. (Incidentally, when she and I spoke on the telephone some weeks after this event, she told me that she had been an excellent dancer and a good singer in college — but that her inspiration for the delighted energy she offered in the original recording and at the end of November 2015, right here, was Danny Kaye in the 1941 film LET’S FACE IT. Another reason to thank Mr. Kaminski, don’t you think?)

And let us not forget the indefatigably devoted Dan Levinson, solver of mysteries, tracer of lost persons, someone who makes wonderful musical entanglements happen even when he is not playing or singing.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW NOTES FOR TOMMY THUNEN

At the most recent (November 2013) San Diego Jazz Fest, a friend introduced a smiling woman to me with these words, “Michael, this is Vonne.  Her father was Tommy Thunen.”  I was very excited, and told Vonne so, for I knew her father’s name for years: as the second or third trumpet player on many Red Nichols recordings.  She was happy that I was so excited, and she promised to send more about her father.
The children of jazz heroes — a rare breed — fascinate me. Many of the musicians I admire were childless, or their relations with their children were less than ideal — so my occasional attempts to speak with these survivors have not always been successful.  Nephews and nieces, grandchildren and cousins have surfaced but little substantial has come of these brief contacts.  (A notable exception has been the interchanges I’ve had, documented in JAZZ LIVES, with the very generous son of Leo McConville, a trumpeter who probably sat alongside Thunen many times in the late Twenties and middle Thirties.)
But Vonne clearly remembers her father with affection:
My dad, Tommy Thunen, played with Red Nichols, Paul Whiteman, and later Russ Morgan. As you probably know, Russ Morgan played at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley for a number of years. My dad played with Abe Lyman’s Orchestra in the 30’s I believe. He also played on two radio programs in New York. One was called “Waltz Time” on Friday nights and the other was “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” on Sundays. I believe it was one of the major radio stations in New York. 
In later years he was living in San Fernando Valley and played with a band led by Rosy McHargue at a place called The Cobblestone, and he also played with Rosy in Las Vegas. Musicians have told me that he had a “sweet” sound. He also played cornet and alto sax. One of his first “gigs” was at age 13 when he played at an Armistice parade at the end of the first World War.
My own investigation into Tommy’s recorded work as documented in the “jazz” records to be found in Tom Lord’s discography shows him to be a New York regular who traveled in fast company: not only with Nichols, but the Irving Mills recording groups that used men out of the Ben Pollack Orchestra, starting in 1929.
Tommy played alongside Gene Krupa, Jimmy McPartland, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Larry Binyon, Ray Bauduc, Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, Mannie Klein, Dave Tough, Red McKenzie, Pee Wee Russell, Fud Livingston, Glenn Miller, Irving Brodsky, Joe Tarto, Mickey Bloom, Rube Bloom, Babe Russin, Adrian Rollini, Tommy Dorsey, Tony Parenti, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Miller, and other New York Reliables — all of this in 1929-30. He surfaces again on some hot recordings by the Abe Lyman band in 1933, and then not again until working with Rosy McHargue in 1957, and — fittingly — he is the sole trumpet, out in the open, on his final recordings with Jack Teagarden in Jack’s Sextet that same year: the soundtrack from a television program, a July appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, and a promotional record of the Marlboro cigarette jingle in September — alongside Jerry Fuller, Don Ewell, Stan Puls, and Monte Mountjoy.
I can’t offer JAZZ LIVES readers tangible evidence of Tommy’s sweet sound, but here are two records where he is said to be playing.  Is that him on the bridge of I’VE GOTTA HAVE YOU?  (The pleasure of hearing Red McKenzie — and tenor saxophone soloing by Pee Wee Russell — makes up for all uncertainties.)
Other recordings on YouTube might have Tommy in the personnel: a search will turn up some lovely music from Annette Hanshaw, among others.
But now for the photographs!
Here’s bandleader Abe Lyman, inscribed to Vonne:
Abe Lyman
“Jean Wakefield and her Mischief Makers”:
Jean Wakefield & Her Mischief Makers
All I know about mischievous Jean is she and the Makers are listed in the radio section of the Berkeley, California, Daily Gazette for Saturday, November 7, 1931, broadcasting over KLX at 7 PM. (Airchecks, anyone?)  To me, the most important part of that photograph is the inscription on the left.
Here’s a band appearing at a nightspot with its own kind of transient fame, Fatty Arbuckle’s Cobblestone Cafe:
Cobblestone Cafe (Fatty Arbuckle's) (1)
and some needed identification:
Cobblestone Cafe Name List
I haven’t found any reference to the Cobblestone Cafe, although I don’t have a biography of Arbuckle at hand.  He was dead in mid-1933 and this photograph is from some decades later.  Aside from Tommy, the most famous musician, pianist Arthur Schutt, who lived until 1965, is hidden from view.  Clarinetist Gene Bolen, however, recorded from the late Fifties onwards, so I await informed speculations about a more precise dating.
Rosy McHargue (1)
Rosy McHargue and his Dixieland Band, dated 1953:
Rosy McHargue Name List (1)
I hope we will find out more about the life and music of Tommy Thunen, not only from his daughter.
I think of him as a professional musician who is now characterized, if at all, as a “jazz musician,” then a “studio musician,” perhaps a “Dixieland jazz player.”
But the music we hold dear is not simply a matter of famous soloists and stars, the people about whom biographies are written, but of reliable professionals whose names aren’t famous, indispensable craftspeople nevertheless. These quiet men and women might appear predictably bourgeois, not exciting.  But any communal art form — be it jazz, the symphony, or the theatre — needs people one can count on to be on time, well-prepared, clean, sober, expert.  After the fact, people tell tales of the brilliant musician who is also unpredictable — but such artists are at best hard on everyone’s nervous system. But we are more intrigued by Jack Purvis or Charlie Parker than Mannie Klein or Hilton Jefferson.
How many beautiful players were there who did their work superbly but never got interviewed, whose names were known only to fellow musicians and discographers . . . who made the whole enterprise of music go on as it did?
I’d like to see books called THE JAZZ PROFESSIONALS — consider among thousands Harold Baker, Buster Bailey, Murray McEachern, Helen Humes and Nick Fatool — people who didn’t lead bands or win Metronome polls, but who were the very foundation of what we take for granted.
And Tommy Thunen, about whom we now know a little more, thanks to his daughter.
May your happiness increase!

PIECES OF OUR PAST (August 2011)

Wordsworth was correct when he wrote that in “getting and spending” we “lay waste our powers.”  I live not too far from a large shopping mall, and visit it only when other ways to buy something necessary are worse.  But certain kinds of “getting” and “spending” aren’t so bad: when the purchases uplift the spirits and don’t cost much.  Exhibits below.  First, sheet music from a Vallejo, California antique shop.

I was motivated to buy this 1926 laff-riot because of the title and the line drawing — I sympathize with that fellow, even though I haven’t worn a three-piece suit in years.  However, instead of being a comic ditty about table manners, it is more literal — X does all the work but Y, who doesn’t, gets all the credit.  And it must have been a smash in vaudeville, for the inside front cover contains 24 knock-em-dead versions of the chorus.  I will spare you.  And if the name “Larry Shay” looks familiar, he was in part responsible for WHEN YOU’RE SMILING.

A much more seriously valuable song: I can hear Billie singing it or Ed Hall playing it.  The most touching part of this sheet music is the inscription of ownership on top — I don’t know if it’s entirely visible, but this copy was the property of WOODY’S DANCE DEMONS.  I looked them up on Google and didn’t find anything, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play well in 1929 or 1930.

This song is deeply unimaginative, but I thought that if the Benson Orchestra had played it and its composer had written OKLAHOMA INDIAN JAZZ, it might have some merit.  We live in hope.

I wouldn’t call this a memorable Berlin tune (I suspect it was meant as a frisky dance number) but it does contain the lines, “Let me mingle with a peppy jingle / That the jazz bands love to play,” which is certainly hip for 1922.

I heard Rosy McHargue sing this on a Stomp Off recording (he must have been in his middle eighties) and thought it was hilarious.  Also, isn’t that the most thoroughly anthropomorphized dog face you’ve ever seen?  Now for several artifacts that are more fragile, heavier, and harder to pack — but no less irresistible.

Although I can’t imagine Eddie Condon with a novel in front of him, he admired John Steinbeck and was very proud that they were friends.  Steinbeck loved the music that Eddie and the boys created, with only one caveat: he kept asking Eddie to take up the banjo again, an offer Eddie steadfastly pushed aside.  This 12″ 78 cost more than fifty cents when it was new, and the band is flawless.

Also (not pictured, but you can imagine):

another Commodore 12″ of OH, KATHARINA and BASIN STREET BLUES; a Blue Note Jazzmen 12″ of WHO’S SORRY NOW (no question mark) and BALLIN’ THE JACK.  Moving into the microgroove era, I proudly snapped up a Collectors’ Classics lp of the Red Allen Vocalions 1934-5 (with the exultant ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON), Ray Skjelbred’s first solo session for Berkeley Rhythm Records, from 1973-4 (signed by the artist), and the JUMP compilation of (Charles) LaVere’s Chicago Loopers, with Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Nick Fatool, and other stalwarts.