eBay. Yes, eBay! The national museum, treasure chest, attic . . . with these signatures collected over the past year.
MEADE LUX LEWIS:
THE JAZZ GIANTS:
LOUIS ARMSTRONG to STEW PLETCHER:
COLEMAN HAWKINS and CHARLIE PARKER:
That should be enough for the moment. Without being didactic, I propose that the names here are a wide-ranging history of the music in themselves, and if any are new to you, a little online research will open doors, or rabbit-holes, of pleasure and knowledge.
Most of the items above are no longer being offered for bid, and eBay is caveat emptor at its finest. Odd inexplicable pricing, and forgeries — some of them quite unintelligent — are blandly offered as “rare.” (Al Jolson, dead in 1950, could not have signed his name on a record issued seven years later. An antique photograph of a young man with a cornet looks nothing like the dear boy from Davenport.) But the signatures above are, as far as I can tell, both genuine and precious.
I present this post as an aesthetic public service. The impetus is the photograph below, taken by Robert Parent and posted to Facebook by Jean-Marie Juif, one of the great conoisseurs of music and its documentation. The music was created at a record session overseen by John Hammond for Vanguard Records, issued as BUCK MEETS RUBY.
On this track, it’s Ruby Braff (left) and Buck Clayton (right) on trumpets; Jimmy Jones, piano; Steve Jordan, rhythm guitar; Aaron Bell, string bass; Bobby Donaldson, drums. (On the three other tracks from this session, Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone, and Bennie Morton, trombone, are added.)
Like many other swing “originals,” the harmonic basis is I GOT RHYTHM, and the melody line (thanks to Danny Tobias) is a close cousin to Tyree Glenn’s SULTRY SERENADE, also known as HOW COULD YOU DO A THING LIKE THAT TO ME?
But the result is — truly — a groove. And where other recordings and performances featuring two trumpets might be combative, this is a muted conversation between two people who deeply respect each other: a tapestry rather than a scuffle or a competition.
Why do I call this a public service? It pained me to think that there might be people who have lived their lives without hearing this music. And for those who, like me, have heard this music for decades, it stands up to another hearing.
Incidentally, in the photographed used as the identifier for the YouTube video, that’s Buck and his daughter Candy, who is so spiffy in her white gloves.
To the music:
Groovy beyond words. Thanks to the musicians, to John Hammond, to the wonderful Vanguard engineers.
Some years before I met the reedman Sammy Margolis in New York City (at the Half Note, 1971, sitting in with his friend Ruby Braff) I had heard and admired him on record: a floating player, thoughtful, incorporating Bud Freeman, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell into his own gentle conception. He was never loud or forceful, but a sonic watercolorist.
In the next few years, I had the good fortune to hear and record him in several gigs: at Brew’s, at the New School, on an afternoon gig in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at the Root Cellar in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, along with Vic Dickenson, Jack Fine, Marshall Brown, Doc Cheatham, Mike Burgevin, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, and others. I was a shy college student, reluctant to impose myself in conversation with my heroes, although from what I know of Sam, he would have made me welcome.
This was my first aural introduction to Sammy, serene in Ruby Braff’s energized wake, thoughtfully creating songs of his own:
and Sammy’s beautiful interlude in the company of George Wein:
About a year ago, I made friends (thanks to Facebook) with his multi-talented daughter Carla, who generously shared her memories of her father. I offer her extended loving portrait to you now, with thanks.
Sammy and Louis: photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum
My dad had a fraternal twin brother who was also musically talented. He played piano by ear and whenever they went to the movies as kids, his brother would come home and play themes the pianist played during the showings, having somehow retained all of that musical information in his head. My Uncle Carl (for who I am named) tragically died young (I think from glomular neuphritis) after having returned home from WWII.
His father was a housepainter who died from a burst appendix when my dad was eight. His 12 year old (?) brother Mortie had to go to work as did his mother. He had two sisters as well.
I’m not even sure how he and Ruby came to be friends. As my dad often loved to say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been friends with Ruby many times.” My mother actually dated Ruby first. I don’t know what happened there, but then my mother started dating my dad.
Sammy and Ruby Braff, photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum
The recordings that you sent me, around 1974, I was surprised that Ruby was on there. I heard so much about Ruby, but I never met him until I was a teenager. I was under the impression that they were on the outs, and I thought maybe it was because of the relationship with my mother, but I don’t know. They both were Boston people who came to New York, but they were really not the same people, my father and Ruby.
On records, he was the sideman for Ruby most of the time. But he was on a Martin Mull recording that Ruby wasn’t on. I didn’t know that he was on fifteen recordings! He talked about how much he hated doing studio work, that it made him very anxious. He didn’t like recording. And I didn’t find out until maybe two and a half years ago that he was on so many recordings.
Ruby and my dad loved Bud Freeman and Lester Young, but he had considered jumping the fence into be-bop. He strongly considered that, because that was what was coming, what was current. He claimed that Ruby had talked him out of it, so they both stayed on that side of the fence. I don’t know if he was happy about that decision or not, I don’t know how that went. He didn’t have a great opinion about bop — I went to Indiana University and I was a jazz studies major, and he was kind of unenthusiastic about it, but then he started listening to it more . . .
I do remember going to Brew’s and the Red Blazer with him. I remember going to Doylestown, Pennsylvania with him, the club that had the big murals at the back of the stage, Mike Burgevin’s THE ROOT CELLAR. He took me to the hotel once, and I remember telling him that I wouldn’t go to bed until he played SATIN DOLL. I was about nine.
Kenny Davern, Mike Burgevin, and Sammy at Brew’s, New York City: courtesy Chuck Slate
When I was in my teens, he had me sitting in a lot, singing, when he was playing at Jimmy Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky, who was the leader. Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son, was playing drums. The trombonist might have been Bobby Pratt. One night I sat in and Roy Eldridge was in the audience, my dad introduced me to him, and I was “Yeah, okay, I don’t know who that is.” I’m really glad I didn’t know who Roy was when I was singing! I remember going to Eddie Condon’s with him, and he played a lot in the basement of the Empire State Building, at a restaurant called the Riverboat.
Back row: Sammy, Ruby, Vic Dickenson, Jackie Williams, Al Hall; front: Wayne Wright, Jimmy Andrews. Brew’s, New York City. Photograph by Mike Burgevin, courtesy Chuck Slate.
A musical interlude, 1974, part one:
and part two:
He was really making a living doing these gigs. He wasn’t doing anything else. In the summers he would play in the Catskills, all summer. The Italian Catskills, not the Jewish Catskills. I went with him one time; I usually spent my summers with him because my mom and dad weren’t together. From the time I was about eight I spent summers with him in New York. My mother sang a little bit but I wouldn’t call her a singer although she liked to sing. She was an actor and dancer who sang. She came to New York for that, and my dad was impressed with her dancing but he never saw her act, which I find astonishing, because that’s what her big aspirations were, and that’s what she did, mostly. She was a dancer at the Copacabana, and I don’t know where else. And she studied at the Herbert Berghoff Studio. But she later became a lawyer. Because of them, I grew up with a lot of exposure to musical theater and to jazz.
My father was really sweet and affectionate. He read a lot of Krishnamurti. He was very much into health foods and supplements, always reading up on those things. He was into ayurvedic medicine. He ate other things, but he wanted me to be very healthy. He was, although culturally, ethnically and gastronomically Jewish, an atheist, but interested in Eastern philosophy. Despite his avid interest in health foods, supplements, etc., he did enjoy the occasional hamburger and jelly doughnut and Sanka with Sweet and Low. When I asked him about that he responded “Years of bad habits.”
He was also a really good athlete, very athletic, forever, up until right before he died. He played golf and tennis. I remember he and Ruby had done a date in Hawaii with Tony Bennett, and when they came back he and Tony played tennis often. Once when they were playing tennis, some guy from the club asked Tony if he would play with him after he got done playing with his instructor (meaning my dad)…my mom loved telling that story.
I remember we went to Tony’s apartment one time and had lunch. Tony had artwork there and I thought that was really cool, because my dad was also a really lovely artist as well. He did a lot of watercolors. I don’t know what happened to his art, whether he got rid of it when he moved to Florida in 1990 or 1991, but it disappeared and I wanted to have some of it.
Portrait of the singer Connie Greco by Sammy Margolis
In NYC, he lived in Hell’s Kitchen on 44th and 10th Avenue. At that time, one had to be rather paranoid to stay safe from crime. Of course he was diligent about locking his car and his apartment. Once he moved to Deerfield Beach, Florida, he refused to live in fear and refused to lock his apartment or his car. Whenever I visited him in Florida, he would not allow me to lock anything either, which I found hilarious. I lived in NYC at the time, and understood completely.
He had had rheumatic fever as a child, and later that caused a leaky heart valve, so some time in the late Eighties he had surgery to replace the heart valve – several surgeries, because there was an artificial heart valve that his body rejected, then there was a pig valve which worked, but he had to be very careful. I’m not sure if he knew that he had prostate cancer before he moved to Florida. He moved down there to relax, to be a “snowbird” with family who spent winters in Palm Springs. There were a lot of musician friends who had retired to Florida, so he did do some gigs there – but he was basically retired when he went down there. He was very worried that the heart problem was going to do him in, but it was the prostate cancer, and they couldn’t do surgery because of the heart problem.
When I took my son down to Florida as a baby (I think that was the last time my dad saw him), I had to go to the laundry room in his complex, leaving him alone with my son (who could stand up but wasn’t yet talking). He played clarinet for my son to keep him amused. I only caught the tail end of it when I returned. It was so cute, my son was enthralled.
He was very funny, very outgoing, and he had hilarious stories. He was a very good storyteller, and I loved that. There was a story about a tiger in Bermuda, but I don’t remember how it went. He spent some time on cruise ships going to Bermuda, and he used to bring back gifts for me and art. There’s one statue of a woman which I have in my house now that he always had on the mantel in his living room.
He loved taking me to museums, to art museums, oh my gosh. He would talk to me about composition, and he loved Matisse and vibrant colors. Did you know he studied at the Art Students’ League? I mean, he felt it was really kind of a curse to be really good at a lot of things, but not just art. He was an intellectual, and some things he didn’t really have to try to be good at. Cooking and art and more. He was a thinker, and that may have been hard for him later. He loved Nature, and we’d go to Central Park, and he’d set up some watercolors and we’d draw, but he didn’t interfere with what I was doing, he would just let me do my thing.
Whenever we were walking down the street in New York, and we did a lot of walking together, and he was always singing or humming. All the time! – when we were talking or even when we were. He was a man full of music. There was never ever a second when it wasn’t turned on. I should record THE MORE I SEE YOU for him, because he always wanted me to do that song. I don’t know why it was that particular one, but he did. And he used to sing ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET all the time.
He loved having me sing, whenever I was with him in a club. Once I started that, he loved it. And he would give me really, really helpful feedback. Truly helpful. He was not overly critical of my singing at all. No, he was lavishing praise, But when I wanted to be a music major in college – I started out as a French major –which was actually useless to me (what was I going to do with that?) when I was at Indiana University. But I had friends who were musicians, I interacted with them, and they were super-surprised that I was not a music major. “You should be a music major!” they told me. I was terrified that I would not get in to the program. I went and did an unofficial audition for David Baker first, and he sent me to this classical vocal teacher, then, with their blessing, I officially auditioned for the music school there. I got it, but I didn’t tell anybody at all that I had auditioned.
Then I called my dad to tell him I had gotten in, and he was tickled, he was beside himself with joy. He hung up the phone, and thirty seconds later he called me back. “Are you sure you don’t want to get a different major as a backup? Why don’t you stick with the French?” And I looked at the phone, and I was like, “French??? French is more useless than music. I don’t know what the hell I would do with French. Go somewhere and translate?” I had no vision how that would work into my life. It cracked me up that he was so overjoyed and then called me back and was “Wait, wait, wait . . . . “ It was the mentality he grew up with; my dad was born in 1923. I mean, when I moved back to New York as an adult, I saw him every week, at least once a week, we had our official dinner once a week. I had a day gig at a Japanese insurance company, because I could type. And he would tell me, “You know, my dream for you, my goal for you, my life-dream is for you to marry some businessman you meet around there.” “Wow. Really? Your dream for me?” It didn’t work out that way. Maybe he was right, I don’t know. He was worried that if I became a singer I would become an alcoholic. He was sure those two things went together. It did not happen, but he was very, very worried about that.
He also helped me be prepared when dealing with musicians, even on pick-up dates, sitting in, or being a leader. He really told me, “You know, musicians are going to hate you because you’re a singer. You really have to be super prepared so that they respect you.” I thought that was the best piece of advice anybody could give me. I was incredibly spoiled by all the musicians I met even when I was a little girl. But when I was little even though I played a little piano, I didn’t know what keys I sang in. I’d just start to sing, they would find the key, and it would be fine. I was spoiled by that. But things change.
I remember meeting Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham, Marshall Brown, Mike Burgevin, Kenny Davern, and of course Max Kaminsky. Oh, there’s a sad thing. I was supposed to meet Louis Armstrong, my dad really wanted to introduce me to him, but I was in Michigan and Louis died before I got back to New York, but later I did meet Lucille Armstrong. Dill Jones was the first pianist to play for me in public. My mom and dad were both really good friends with Jack Bradley. My sister said – I wasn’t old enough to understand this – that Jack facilitated it so that my mother bought Louis’ cream-colored Cadillac from Louis for five hundred dollars. I remember that car very well and I know there was some connection to Jack Bradley and Louis.
That same evening. Photograph by Mike Burgevin.
In the Seventies, when I was in New York with him, he would go off and do gigs at night, and I wasn’t going out at night so I would stay at the apartment watching TV, but I got hold of his fakebook, and I was going through it, listening to jazz recordings that he had, and jazz radio – he listened to WNEW – teaching myself songs from that fakebook. Even though I couldn’t really read music yet, I would listen to people singing the songs and I would follow along. I learned a lot of tunes that way. I wouldn’t have learned them with him around, or my mother around: that was solo contemplation.
And on those recordings you sent, you said there were people talking at the start, and I thought, “Oh, I hope I get to hear his voice!” and he wasn’t talking, but he was in the background warming up his saxophone, and that’s why he wasn’t talking, he was on the stand already.
There’s a story my dad liked to tell, and in my recollection I cannot do it justice because I cannot give you his facial expressions or inflections. He was at his friend’s apartment in upper Manhattan (I don’t remember whose apartment, possibly Lou Levy’s?). Dave Lambert was at the party. Jazz records were being played (of course). Someone knocked on the door and the host asked my dad to answer. He opened the door and Duke Ellington was standing there. My dad was so surprised to see one of his idols standing there. After he let him in, the host asked my dad to pick the next record for everyone to listen to. My dad was so nervous because he couldn’t believe he was picking music for Ellington to listen to. I wish I could remember what he chose. But evidently it was something Ellington liked.
Here is Ruby Braff’s elegy for his friend, Ruby’s liner note to the 1996 BEING WITH YOU (Arbors):
This album, this salute to Louis, is as much about Sam Margolis as it is about Pops!
So much of my musical thinking was formed and inspired by the musical dedication and artistic humility of Sam, my old friend and teacher. No one ever did or could pay more homage to the genius and influence that Louis had on every aspect of American music. In that sense, Sam was a great champ and winner.
On March 23, 1996 tragedy struck out group of friends and many others! Our Sammy lost his fight with cancer. To the end he went with great courage and gallantry! My thoughts were about him as we made this recording a scant few weeks later.
Every one who knew him will miss this enormously talented person of profound influence. Jack Bradley’s great picture of Sam and Pops is the way I think he’d like to be remembered.
May God grant him the eternal peace his great soul deserves.
We will never forget you, Sam . . .
I would add to those grieving words my own perception that Sammy Margolis, up close or at a distance, was a joyous individual, a remarkable man: gentle, funny, modest, multi-talented. I regret now that my shyness got in the way of a real conversation, because I feel that Sammy would have engaged my young self with kindness.
There will be more music to celebrate Sammy, and perhaps JAZZ LIVES’ readers have their own tales. He deserves to be well-remembered. And my deep thanks to Carla Margolis for her memories above.
I was born either too early or too late to truly appreciate Walt Disney films, but a few of the songs are very dear to me: WITH A SMILE AND A SONG, WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO, and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, which has been recorded and improvised on by many of my heroes.
Over the past few months, I have been making my way through my CD shelves, repackaging them in flexible plastic sleeves rather than the more cumbersome jewel-boxes, and yesterday I came across the CD recorded live in 1973 by Marian and Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Buddy Tate, Rusty Gilder, and Gus Johnson. Rather than his usual features (IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD or MANHATTAN) Vic chooses this song, and the result — an unadorned two-chorus melodic effort with the key change upwards for the last eight bars — touches me so that I wanted to share it with you. And that led me to a quick survey of a wonderful composition. I don’t know whether Alec Wilder would have singled out Leigh Harline’s music and Ned Washington’s lyrics for praise, but they are emotionally rich to me. And who among us doesn’t have dreams?
The source, an uncredited Cliff Edwards in 1940, beautifully at the top of his vocal range:
Vic Dickenson, Marian McPartland, Rusty Gilder, Gus Johnson at the Royal Box of the Americana Hotel, New York City, June 1973. Jimmy McPartland says, “Wasn’t that pretty?” Who would disagree?
Ruby Braff, Vic, Sam Margolis, Nat Pierce, Walter Page, Jo Jones 1955, one of the lesser-known Vanguard sessions:
And Louis 1968, monumental and tender both:
“If your heart is in your dream / No request is too extreme.”
“Some folks say that swing won’t stay, that it’s dying out / I can prove it’s in the groove and they don’t know what they’re talking about”: loosely paraphrased lyrics from the 1940 song WHAM. But completely relevant here.
Listen to Guillermo Perata, cornet; Ramiro Penovi, electric guitar; Farnando Montardit, acoustic guitar; Diego Rodriguez, string bass, as they saunter through their arrangement of Irving Berlin’s ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND — a clever arrangement with lovely solos, so reminiscent of the wonderful quartet that George Barnes and Ruby Braff had for a short time in the Seventies:
And visit Guillermo Perata‘s YouTube channel for more lovely music. It’s in the groove. And since such things matter, I have had the privilege of meeting Guillermo and Fernando on a New York City trip: dear people as well as swinging players. Follow them (as they say) on Facebook, too.
Festival producers often throw together dissimilar artists to see what happens, but sometimes the unusual gatherings of masters produce art completely unexpected and delightful. Here at the 1975 Nice Jazz Festival we have Benny Carter, alto saxophone — whose place in jazz is beyond discussion — joining a version of the magical quartet George Barnes, electric guitar, and Ruby Braff, cornet, had for too short a time, with the quartet’s usual rhythm section of Moore, string bass, and Corrao, rhythm guitar, augmented by drummer Ray Mosca.
A constellation of giants, lyrical ones for sure.
This hour-long set was broadcast on French radio, and we are surely grateful. And if I may privilege one artist over another, I urge listeners to pay most careful attention of the astonishing guitarist George Barnes, casually tossing magic everywhere. If you share my enthusiasm for him, be sure to visit the GEORGE BARNES LEGACY COLLECTION. You’ll be enthralled.
WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / JUST YOU, JUST ME / MEAN TO ME / TAKE THE “A” TRAIN / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Carter feature) / SUGAR (Carter out) / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:
But wait! There’s more!
WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:
JUST YOU, JUST ME, MEAN TO ME, and TAKE THE “A” TRAIN:
The music may not go ’round and ’round, but at the moment my collection certainly extends itself from room to room. Because I can envision myself moving house, as the Brits say, I have been slightly more energetic in my tidying, although Marie Kondo would have walked away in despair a long time ago (Marie: what happens if so many things “spark joy”? Hmmmm?)
A few days ago I noticed three cassette boxes that have been on a bedroom windowsill for some time. One was empty and unlabeled; another was Frank O’Connor reading “My Oedipus Complex,” a souvenir of a past life, and the third, mildly waterlogged and soiled, but with its tape safely inside, was this:
I recognized it as a gift from the late Joe Boughton, which, since Joe left us in 2010, already made it an artifact. Joe was a concert and jazz-party impresario (“Jazz at Chautauqua” among other delights), a record producer, but most often he was a collector and enthusiast who brought a tape recorder to many gigs and traded tapes of his favorites. Our tastes ran in the same directions, and when I had obtained something I knew he would like, I would send him a cassette of it, and he would send me one of his homemade anthologies. (We never called them “mixtapes,” but each of us had cars with cassette decks.)
I didn’t know if the tape would play, but it did, and I can share with you the most remarkable portions . . . saved from the recycling bag that holds disposable plastics.
First, four performances captured on home-recorded acetates, radio broadcasts of Ed Hall’s Sextet from the Savoy Cafe, Boston, WMEX, Nat Hentoff, m.c. May-June 1949: Hall, clarinet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Kenny Kersey, piano; John Field, string bass; Jimmy Crawford, drums. CHINA BOY / MORE THAN YOU KNOW (glorious Vic) / S’WONDERFUL into program closing / THE MAN I LOVE //
And a mysterious bonus, mysterious because Joe didn’t type in any data about it, BACK HOME IN INDIANA, by (audibly) Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; others not known. My friend Sonny McGown, a fine listener and collector himself, wrote in quickly, “The version of Indiana sounded familiar to me and I recognized the clarinetist as Ernie Caceres. The recording is from an Eddie Condon Associated transcription session of 24 October 1944. Others listed for this particular tune on the session date are Kaminsky, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Condon, Bob Haggart, and George Wettling. What a band!”
Then, Ralph Sutton at Sunnie’s Rendezvous in Aspen, Colorado, 1960s, playing Willard RobIson’s I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA.
Thank you, gorgeous improvisers, and thank you, Joe, for sharing the music with me . . . so that more than a dozen years later, I can share it with you.
Another trip down that memorable street: sedate and passionate all at once. Mel Powell, piano; Ruby Braff, cornet; Bobby Donaldson, drums. October 19, 1955, for Vanguard Records, supervised by John Hammond. In the tradition, beyond the tradition, looking at the tradition from a distance with affection, extending the tradition. It’s the first performance from a quintet session — with Skeeter Best and Oscar Pettiford on guitar and bass — and I wonder if they were late or if this was a warm-up for the engineers. Either way, it is a compact deft masterwork.
Although many bands did this as a near-stomp (I hear the Condon JAM SESSION COAST-TO-COAST version in my mind’s ear) this version is almost ruminative, a rhythm ballad with a subversive sly bounce from Donaldson paddling along in the distance. Both Mel and Ruby seem sweetly experimental, as if wondering how much sonic stretching the venerable contours will take: Ruby growling as if he were the Ellington brass section, Mel bridging two worlds: Wilson-stride with extended harmonies and unexpected phrase-shapes the rule. It’s a visit to a new world in less than four minutes, and it lingers in the brain.
This quiet celebration is for my man AJS, who made his way across the border to freedom just today.
Yes, almost fifty years ago. The admission price was $1.75, and you could buy drinks at the bar from 5 PM on. This Wednesday “pre-dinner” concert series ran from 5:30 to 6:30 or perhaps a few minutes over, and it was indeed a wonderful interlude. This concert was advertised as the George Barnes Quartet, with Dick Hyman, piano; George Duvivier, string bass; and Jo Jones, drums — more than enough bliss for anyone, and the two guest stars [Peter Dean, incidental singing and ukulele; Ruby Braff, cornet] made for even more fun.
A little history: in 1972, George had recorded for Harry Lim’s Famous Door label as the Second George Barnes Quartet (with Milt Hinton and Hank Jones in for part). Alexandra Barnes Leh, daughter of George and Evelyn and erudite creator of the George Barnes Legacy Collection, told me, hearing this tape, “They were booked for this concert before Dad and Ruby decided to put together their own quartet for Newport…and Dad asked Ruby to join these festivities because, by May 23, they’d made their decision, and had been rehearsing with Wayne Wright and John Giuffrida.” (She was at the concert also: a pity we didn’t get to say hello!)
What follows is what I recorded from the first row, and a blissful souvenir of energized music led by the playful genius of the electric guitar, George Barnes: MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (Barnes, Hyman, Duvivier, Jo) / FUNKY BLUES / THOU SWELL / HARLEM STRUT (Hyman, solo) / OOH, THAT KISS (Barnes, Ruby, Hyman, Duvivier, Jo) / I’M NUTS ABOUT SCREWY MUSIC (Peter Dean, ukulele and vocal, for Ruby) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? (Dean) / I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER (Dean) / DING DONG DADDY (Dean) / ALMOST-CLOSING BLUES (everyone) / JUST YOU, JUST ME (ditto) / WHERE’S FREDDIE? (ditto) //
Great joys, surprising, witty, and moving all at once. New York still offers musical delights with an open hand, but an assemblage of these heroes will not come again.
Because I followed Ruby Braff around circa 1971-82, I had many opportunities to see him in a variety of contexts. But I saw him in duet with Dick Hyman only twice, I think, and neither time was Dick playing the gorgeous pipe organ he has at his command here. Thank goodness for the BBC, which took the opportunity of recording Ruby and Dick in concert at a spot which had an actual Wurlitzer pipe organ.
I’d heard this forty-minute session on a cassette from a British collector, but only this year — through the kindness of a scholar-friend did I get to see the performance and have an opportunity to share it with you. The details:
Dick Hyman, Wurlitzer pipe organ; Ruby Braff, cornet, introduced by Russell Davies. SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / THEM THERE EYES / LOUISIANA / HIGH SOCIETY / WHEN I FALL IN LOVE / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Braff out) / BASIN STREET BLUES. Recorded for broadcast on the BBC at the Thursford Fairground Museum, Norfolk, UK. A few audio and video defects come with the package: the occasional pink hue, the slight static. I’m not complaining. Annotations thanks to Thomas P. Hustad’s definitive bio-discography of Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY (Scarecrow Press, 2012).
Music that impresses the angels and moves the heavens. And speaking of blessedness, let us honor the durably lovely Dick Hyman, still making celestial sounds.
There was sufficient enthusiasm among the attentive faithful for more from BREW’S (I posted a set of Kenny Davern, soprano saxophone; Dill Jones, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums, yesterday) so I offer some more, without too many words to explain the deep effects of this music.
First, a set taken from the July 4, 1974 tribute to Louis Armstrong (a night where Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Nancy Nelson, and others performed) with Jack Fine, trumpet; Sam Margolis, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jimmy Andrews, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums.
Even when it wasn’t a Louis tribute, it was clear where Jack’s allegiance lay — forceful and expressive — and next to him, Sam Margolis floats in his own wonderful Bud Freeman – Lester Young way. That little Louis-Condon (hence the ballad medley) evocation is followed by two trio performances from July 10:
Let me start with a few numbers: George Barnes was born one hundred years ago (as of July 17, 1921) and this session was performed and recorded a few days shy of forty-seven years ago. I first heard George on recordings with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band and with Louis Armstrong (the MUSICAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY set) and what caught my ear was a kind of daring playfulness.
He was identifiable from the first note, his sound and attack so very distinctive, and his phrases didn’t follow predictable logic, although he lived for strong statements of the melody ornamented with pistol-shot single notes. Yet his unerring rhythmic sense made it natural for him to move fluidly around the beat, on it, ahead, or behind, and his solos were fulfilling compositions on their own. In addition, he was a peerless ensemble player — making the most formulaic musical entree well-seasoned and spicy — clearly delighting in what he could and did add.
He sounded both like a wizard of drama and a puckish stand-up comic, an adventurous soul, startling and joyous. Or maybe he was Douglas Fairbanks Jr., afraid of nothing and always landing beautifully, swing sword drawn. In this, I think his peers are not simply guitarists (although guitarists speak of him with reverence) but the greatest players of his century, people like Lester Young, Sidney Catlett, and Count Basie.
When I was old enough to venture out of my room and to hear music in ways that didn’t require me to stare at the speaker grille, I was fortunate to hear George in New York City between 1973-75, as a guiding genius of the quartet also featuring Ruby Braff. I had worshipped at the Braff shrine for a few years before, but, listening to the tapes and recordings of the quartet, I am sorry that George’s name didn’t come first — as I have it here. Cornet trumps guitar in these recordings, but sometimes in volume, not in inventiveness. The group didn’t last long, but when they were all traveling the same road, their music was completely memorable, disciplined yet soaring.
Here is a fifty-minute concert by the quartet at the Nice Jazz Festival / the Grande Parade du Jazz — ten marvels all in a row. Lyricism, sharp turns, hilarity, and pleasure, and the only problem is that the average listener might aurally gobble down the whole program at a sitting — ingesting too quickly to be properly astonished. Heard at one’s leisure, these performances glisten, and following what George is doing is always a revelation.
George Barnes, electric guitar; Ruby Braff, cornet; Michael Moore, string bass; Wayne Wright, rhythm guitar. Grande Parade du Jazz, Nice, France, July 21, 1974. NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU / ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / THE MAN I LOVE / IT’S WONDERFUL / SOMEBODY LOVES ME / IT DON’T MEAN A THING (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) / SOLITUDE / I GOT RHYTHM / MEAN TO ME / OH, THAT KISS //
I never spoke to Mister Barnes when I saw the Quartet, even though I was sometimes very close to the band — I was timid, which I am sorry was the case, but now I wish him a most joyous centennial and thank him for the hours of inventiveness he gave us so freely. The good news is that his legacy is so beautifully maintained under the title of the George Barnes Legacy Collection: “recorded music (including repackaged releases of select albums and singles), compositions & arrangements, teaching methods, photographs, documents, and video & film footage, curated with care by his daughter Alexandra and his late wife Evelyn.” Visit the site here; be entranced and enlightened by the genius that is George Barnes.
I know Michel Bastide as the slender, bespectacled hot cornetist of the Hot Antic Jazz Band, a very earnest, gracious man and musician. Herehe is leading a small incendiary group at the 2010 Whitley Bay Jazz Party, “Doc’s Night Owls.” The “Doc,” incidentally, is because M. Bastide’s day gig is as an ophthalmologist. But before this week, I didn’t know that he was also an early member of my guild of jazz archivists, and my admiration for him has soared. I stumbled across his priceless half-hour memory tour on YouTube, was immediately thrilled, and I suggest you will feel as I do.
Monsieur and Madame Bastide went to the 1974 Grande Parade du Jazz. It was one year before any of the proceedings were broadcast on television, so although some recordings were made, the active life of the festival was not documented. Perhaps Doctor Bastide has a deep spiritual respect for the powers of the eye, of visual acuity and visual memory, or he simply could not bear going home without some tangible souvenirs that could be revisited and cherished once again. He brought a color 8mm film camera, which was the technology of the times, and his wife carried a small cassette recorder that got surprisingly clear audio fidelity.
Perhaps because of the inertia and tedium that are the gift to us of Covid-19, eleven months ago M. Bastide began the difficult, careful, and no doubt time-consuming work of attempting to synchronize music and image. The results are spectacular and touching: he is quite a cinematographer, catching glimpses of the musicians hard at work and having a wonderful time.
I’ll offer some a guided tour of this impromptu magic carpet / time machine, beginning at the Nice airport on July 14, 1974: glimpses of Claude Hopkins, Paul Barnes, Vic Dickenson, Beryl Bryden, Lucille Armstrong;
An ad hoc sidewalk session for Lucille with Michel Bastide, Moustache, Benny Waters, Tommy Sancton;
Dejan’s Brass Band in the opening parade, July 15;
Cozy Cole, Vic Dickenson (talking!) and Arvell Shaw;
Lucille Armstrong unveils a bust of Louis with Princess Grace of Monaco in attendance (how gorgeous she is!);
STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Wallace Davenport, Wild Bill Davison, Bill Coleman, Jimmy McPartland, Barney Bigard, Budd Johnson, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole;
Eubie Blake talks and plays;
Moustache All-Stars with George Wein;
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with Kid Thomas Valentine, Emmanuel Paul, Louis Nelson, Alonzo Stewart, Joseph Butler, Paul Barnes, Charlie Hamilton;
World’s Greatest Jazz Band, with Yank Lawson, Bob Haggart, Bennie Morton (in shirtsleeeves!), Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland;
a glimpse of Claude Hopkins, Buddy Tate, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis;
the Barney Bigard – Earl Hines quartet;
Buddy Tate signing an autograph;
Milt Buckner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Tiny Grimes, Jo Jones;
Cozy Cole, to the side, smoking a substantial joint, watching Jo;
George Barnes, Ruby Braff, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore;
Kid Thomas Valentine and Alonzo Stewart signing autographs; Tiny Grimes walking to the next set; Claude Hopkins; Arvell Shaw waving so sweetly at the camera;
Earl Hines solo;
World’s Greatest Jazz Band with Lawson, Haggart, Wilber, Morton, Ralph Sutton, Bud Freeman, Gus Johnson;
Vic Dickenson joining the WGJB for DOODLE DOO DOO;
Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing TIGER RAG with Barney Bigard off to the side, joining in.
Wonderful glimpses: to me, who looks happy in the band; who takes an extra chorus and surprises the next soloist; adjusting of tuning slides; spraying oil on one’s trombone. Grace Kelly’s beauty; Arvell Shaw’s sweet grin. Just magic, and the camera is almost always focused on something or someone gratifying:
Monsieur and Madame Bastide have given us a rare gift: a chance to be happy engaged participants in a scene that few of us could enjoy at the time. I was amazed by it and still am, although slightly dismayed that his YouTube channel had one solitary subscriber — me. I hope you’ll show him some love and support. Who knows what other little reels of film might be in the Bastide treasure-chest for us to marvel at?
(A note to readers: if any member of the Woke-Jazz-Patrol is offended by my use of the “D” word, please note it is historically accurate here — this band is announced as playing “Dixieland” by Nat Hentoff, a most energetic spokesman for all kinds of humane equality. So please fuss elsewhere. You’ll miss out on some good music while you’re fussing.)
The greatest artists are often most adaptable to circumstances, while remaining themselves. No working musician I know can afford much aesthetic snobbery, so if Monday you are playing with your working band, and Tuesday is a Balkan wedding, and Wednesday an outdoor cocktail party . . . the checks or cash still work the same.
Roy Haynes, born March 13, 1925 — thus 96 this year — began his recording career with Luis Russell’s big band in 1945 and played many sessions as the chosen drummer for Lester Young, Bud Powell, and Charlie Parker. I don’t think we expect to find him soloing on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. Yet he does.
What we have here is a half-hour broadcast from George Wein’s “Storyville” club in Boston, on February 22, 1952 — young Mister Haynes was not yet 26. The band is George Wein, piano; John Field, string bass; “an anonymous drummer’; George Brunis, the guest star; Ruby Braff, cornet; Al Drootin, clarinet.
Musically, this may take time to get used to: Brunis shows off, musically and comically, overshadowing the band at first. I don’t know if Roy was filling in for Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin — for the week or for the broadcast? Brunis fully identifies him at 16:52. Hentoff tells the story that just before the broadcast, Brunis told him, for reasons he explains on the air, “Turn the name around,” so he is announced as “Egroeg Sinurb,” not easy to do on the spot.
The repertoire is standard, but the band enters into it with vigor, as does Roy. TIN ROOF BLUES (intro, Hentoff, m.c.) / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (Haynes solo) / UGLY CHILD (Brunis, vocal) / HIGH SOCIETY / TIN ROOF BLUES //
Lively music, and no one cares what name it’s called. No doubt it was just a gig, but it sounds like a fun one. And how nice it is that both George Wein (born October 3, 1925) and Roy are still with us.
Thimo, Dan Barrett, Harry Kanters, Stefan Rey, Breda 2019. Photo by Barbara Kanters.
Before you look warily at the title and say to yourself, “WHO is Thimo Niesterok? I never heard of him,” as jazz fans often do when facing the unfamiliar, remember that music speaks louder than words, as Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson:
Isn’t that nice — like celestial tap-dancing by four masters? And just to show you there’s no studio trickery, here they are live:
Convinced? Thimo can display a quiet lyricism even at brisk tempos, but he also has wonderful energy and facility. Go back to the SHEIK and watch Dan Barrett — who’s played cornet for decades — look on like admiring, astonished, awe-struck Uncle Dan as Thimo negotiates the curves, never spilling a drop.
It’s clear that the young man [born in 1996, for goodness’ sake!] knows how to swing, and that he isn’t dependent on the other members of the ensemble to make him do so. Although they do. Of course you know Dan Barrett, you should know Harry Kanters, and even though Stefan Rey is new to me, he has a big tone, plays the right notes, bows beautifully, and swings in 2 or 4.
I know some readers will start the quest for who Thimo “Sounds Like,” to quote Barbara Lea. Perhaps it’s irresistible, especially given our collective nostalgia and yearning to hear more notes our Departed Heroes. But I wonder: if we say that X sounds just like Warm Jaws Sirloin, we no longer hear X because we are so busy listening for echoes of Warm. In some way, X has become Jonah in the Whale of the Past. Not useful to us, and wi-fi in the belly is poor.
I’m writing this, as you might have guessed, to tell you about Thimo’s second CD, TWO TALKIN’ HORNS, with Dan, Harry, and Stefan [beautifully recorded, by the way]. The songs are an engaging bunch: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / I’M GONNA CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / BREDA (by Thimo) / PLAY GYPSIES, DANCE GYPSIES / TWO TALKIN’ HORNS (Thimo) / COCKTAILS FOR TWO [Dan, vocal] / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / I’LL BE SEEING YOU / LULU’S BACK IN TOWN / HEART AND SOUL //
Every effort is made here — effortlessly — to keep things light and bright and sparkling, and varied. The horns switch off lead and improvised passages; there’s jammed polyphony, riffs, and backgrounds; sounds varied through mutes; the quartet subdivided into solos and duos; split choruses; if a song has a worthwhile verse, you’ll hear it. I thought of the quartet of a small orchestra, every architectural potential gently explored in the best Braff manner. Incidentally, the title track harks back to the Rex Stewart – Dickie Wells CHATTER JAZZ, but loquacity of that sort is exhibited only there.
And Thimo’s nicely compact liner notes show that he is articulate even when the horn is in its case:
The intimate sound of small bands without drums (nothing against drummers!) has haunted me for a long time. This instrumentation leaves space for a different kind of playing, for a special way of feeling time and creating melodies. When Dan and I met in 2018 and he suggested recording together I was thrilled — as you can imagine! This is a collection of songs made by Dan and me. I tried to pick songs that really touch me — both when listening and playing. But for Dan it seemed to be even more fun to think about the repertoire. He came up with songs that he had been wanting to play for years, almost forgotten, and it was such a pleasure to see him go through his mental library of hundreds of songs and pick some of the sweetest melodies I’ve heard! Together with the incredibly swinging Harry Kanters (p) and Stefan Rey (b) this album full of joy, swing, and humor will hopefully lighten a cloudy day or complete the mood of a cozy evening with a good drink! Whatever it might be — enjoy!
I did. You will. You can hear more and purchase copies here.
Here’s a group of musicians you would only see at a festival, playing “the music of Duke Ellington”: Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ruby Braff, cornet; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums. Take a moment to let those names sink in.
Sometimes these groups don’t coalesce: they are the musical equivalent of a soup made with the contents of the refrigerator, and even in this case the closing “Ellington composition” might seem like the lowest common denominator, but it works wonderfully — thanks to the experience of the soloists and the splendid rhythm section. And if you look closely, you will see Vic Dickenson mutely ask to be left alone while he’s soloing — he didn’t like horn backgrounds — but he’s eloquent even when annoyed. Any chance to see Jimmie Rowles at the piano is exquisite, and I feel the same way about watching Ruby and Vic together.
The two selections — the end of a longer set which, alas, I don’t have on video — are ALL TOO SOON (Jacquet and rhythm) / C JAM BLUES (ensemble). They were performed at the “Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 7, 1979, and broadcast on French television.
Few words. This song has been going through my head since November. It’s appropriate today.
Here’s an uplifting performance by Paolo Alderighi, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Phil Flanigan, string bass, recorded on March 8, 2014, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California:
And a 1958 recording by Ruby Braff, with Roy Eldridge, Hank Jones, Mundell Lowe, Leonard Gaskin, and Don Lamond — one of the shortest performances of the post-78 era, but completely satisfying:
Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952
Bobby Hackett remains one of my musical heroes, and I cherish his recordings, the few times I saw him in person, and the sound of his horn in my memory, a sound I can call up at will. In case you need a reminder of Bobby’s delicate mastery, here is his 1975 performance of SWEET LORRAINE at the Grande Parade du Jazz in July 1975.
Bobby’s son Ernie — swinging drummer and vivid individualist — has fascinated me since I encountered him on Facebook years ago. Outspoken, tender, kind, hilarious, a man of deep perceptions and deep emotions, he’s been a remarkable presence to me. Recently, thanks to our mutual friend Clyde Groves — who appearshereand here(Clyde is Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law) — Ernie and I had a delightful long phone conversation about the people we both love, a few noted in my title, which it is my honor to share with you here.
Now . . . here’s what Ernie told me, just before Christmas 2020 — a big present for all of us.
Simplicity was Dad’s art. He loved the melody, and he knew how to play around with the melody, but he never got out of control. He didn’t like the spotlight, the glamour, and he rarely took the first chorus. What always hit me in the family, blessed as I was, was his wonderful sense of humor, his dry, witty sense of humor. He was going through Customs once, and the agent looked at the cornet case and said, “Is that a musical instrument?” Dad’s one-word reply was, “Occasionally.” Little things like that: all my life I was familiar with those little things.
He was one of nine children, in Providence, and he dropped out of school at a very early age, because he started playing gigs, I believe on violin, then ukulele in the beginning. He didn’t play horn until he was in his teens. I didn’t know many of my aunts and uncles, except Aunt Dottie was very very close with Dad, and she had the same type of humor. She and her husband used to visit us, after the family relocated to Cape Cod, because they were coming in from Providence. There’s something about a dry sense of humor with musicians to begin with. I can’t say why, but I’m sure you’ve spotted it. Dad’s favorite phrase, if anybody asked him about politics, was “When the President tells me how to play the horn, then I’ll tell him how to run the country.” Plain and simple, to the point.
When he was home, he constantly practiced in the living room. In his boxer shorts. He never played a tune in his practicing, nothing but scales. Modulating scales, up and down, that’s all he ever practiced. And if people were coming over, he might put his robe on, or a t-shirt. That’s how Billy Butterfield was also. I knew Billy to some degree, because when Dad and Billy happened to be in New York at the same time, and Billy was passing through, he would always stay with us at our house in Jackson Heights. And I’ll always remember, Billy, first thing in the morning, coming down in his shorts – at least he had a t-shirt on – hair all messed up, saying good morning to everybody. He was like a shorter, stubbier Dad.
[I’d asked Ernie about Bobby’s generous nature, which sometimes led him to be taken advantage of, and his reaction.] I’d say he shrugged his shoulders, and always moved forward. The one thing that comes to mind would be the Jackie Gleason records. He never berated Jackie Gleason for that. My mother blamed Jack Philbin, his manager at the time, who I just recently learned was Regis Philbin’s father. It was Dad’s decision. He took the ten thousand dollars, because he wanted to buy a house for the family, for us, not knowing what was going to happen in the future. He wasn’t bitter about it. Nobody in the family ever begrudged him for making that decision. He did it for us.
He got along with just about everybody.
Mom was from Fall River, Mass., and Dad was from Providence. I don’t know exactly how they met, but I do know they married on Nantucket, and I think he was with the Casa Loma band at the time. Of course, this is way before my time, so it’s all hearsay and articles that I’m remembering. [Ernie asked his niece, Michelle, and she added this wonderful story: “Grandpa had a two week gig at a posh resort on Nantucket, with full accommodations. He asked Grandma to go with him, but she said she couldn’t travel with him as a single lady. So he suggested that they get married the first day they were there, then they had a two week (all paid) honeymoon on Nantucket.”]
They were wonderful friends. It was a rocky marriage at times: we’ve all been through that. I’m sure you know that Dad was an alcoholic. We’ve always been realistic about that. It was out in the open. Dad’s loving term to refer to Mom was “The Warden.” I’m not going to say he never drank at home: he slipped a couple of times. It became ugly when that happened. My sister and I used to spend nights crying at the top of the stairs with Mom and Dad going at it, arguing. A day or two, they’d get over it and Dad would straighten up again.
Incidentally, contrary to popular belief of “Ernie Caceres” – I was named after my Mom’s older brother named Ernest – who died at an early age in a freak bus accident.
Eddie Condon was my Godfather! I always figured that my parents thought if anything should ever happen to them that Eddie would be sure to teach me how to handle alcohol!
When I was about seventeen, I dropped out of high school. I was still playing drums. From what I understand, George Wettling showed me how to hold a pair of drumsticks when I was about five years old, though I don’t remember that. I’d spent a couple of years playing electric guitar in a high school rock and roll band, but I still had a set of drums.
If I hadn’t become a jazz drummer, I probably would have become a rock drummer. Actually my first choice of music was always rock! What sort of pushed me towards jazz was my association with all the guys that worked with Dad!
Dad had a detached garage that he converted into a sound studio, outside the house. I was in there one night and Dad knocked on the door, came in, and said, “How’d you like to come out on the road with me and learn how to play drums?” I was flabbergasted – I was seventeen — and the first thing that came to my mind was “You don’t dare say no to that.” What an experience. And that’s what proceeded to happen over the next couple of years.
The first thing I realized was that when Dad was on the road, he was off the wagon. My first professional gig with Dad was in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was about a two or three-week stint, and Dave McKenna was with us. And I learned how to drive because it was very rare that Dad and Dave were on the road and could drink together, because Dad had to drive back to the hotel every night. However, they learned quickly that if the kid drove them back home at night, they could have fun during the gig. And that’s how I got my license. It could be sad at times: Dad’s playing suffered quite a bit when he drank, and it was obvious. He was always apologetic to me the next day. He was embarrassed that I saw him like that. But we muddled through it.
I really learned on the job. It was a good education. One of my fortes as a drummer was keeping very good time, not dragging or rushing. And the reason I got that way was because in the beginning, if I started to drag the slightest shade, Dad would stomp his foot, on stage, to the right beat. And, boy, I probably turned beet red. That’s embarrassing! If I started rushing, he would slow me right down. He would correct me immediately. But it paid off. I talk a lot about going into parochial schooling and then into the army, and all the discipline I went through, but when you look back at it as an adult, you’re thankful for it. It taught you. Things were done the right way.
[I asked Ernie about Bobby’s dear friend and colleague (and my hero) Vic Dickenson.] Oh, boy. My uncle. He and Dad had a brotherly relationship. The thing that hit me the most is that after Dad passed, Mom and I relocated to New York City from Cape Cod. That’s when I started hanging around Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, and getting ready to make my move in that direction, and Vic just took me under his wing like you wouldn’t believe. I’ll talk about the risqué parts – the many, many breaks we spent in his Oldsmobile 98, “The Office,” for our smoke breaks.
His sense of humor was astonishing also. Subtle, so subtle. One night at Condon’s, we came out from being in his car on one of the breaks. I remember standing there – he always had the best stuff in the world – I remember getting up on the stage and saying, “How the heck am I going to get through this? My God.” Usually getting high didn’t affect my playing, at least I didn’t think so, anyway, because I was high. So, we started playing, and it was during the first chorus. Now Vic, at Eddie Condon’s, always sat right in front of the mounted tom-tom. And Connie Kay, God bless him, always left his drums for me. So we were playing, and Vic turned around to me with a big smile, and he tapped the tom-tom, and said, “Whaddaya think?” And I said, “Whoa!” and his reply was, “Wait another minute or two. Just wait.”
What a wonderful soul he was, a loving person. You could easily see the love affair between him and Dad. In fact, I was just watching the JUST JAZZ program, where they were doing JITTERBUG WALTZ. You could just see the love between the two of them. It was just amazing. It was a wonderful show. They had such mutual respect for one another – not only as musicians, but as people. It was really quite a friendship. Vic was family. There was no other way around it. We all loved Uncle Vic, and he was just a sweetheart to all of us. And he never acted drunk. He’d drink Cutty Sark all night long, a straight shot in a glass, and a back of water, but he never lost his cool, ever, no matter how much of it he drank. God bless him. He knew himself – very much so.
I have to tell you about Vic and his joints. When Vic rolled a joint, it was the most perfect joint, and the trick was you’d have to roll it quite loose, and leave some room at the end to tuck that end in with the blunt end of a wooden match. So that way the grass wouldn’t fall out of it. And it was perfectly shaped, like an English Oval cigarette. So I taught myself how to do it, so I could roll a joint just like Uncle Vic. So one night we were in his car, hanging out, and I said, “Here, Vic. Do my stick here,” and he said, “All right, OK,” and I lit it up and handed it to him, and he looked at me and said, “Did I give you this?” And I just had the biggest smile, and I said, “Nope. I made that.” He said, “Get outta here!” I said, “No, I taught myself how to roll like you!” and he just got the biggest kick out of that. What an honor!
Dad had a clique of musician friends who came to the house. I’m told that Louis would occasionally visit our house in Jackson Heights! But I was too young to even remember. There was Ruby Braff, and I think Sam Margolis a couple of times. He was another sweetheart. Sam subbed from time to time at Condon’s, but we also worked together with Max Kaminsky, after Max’s regular drummer, Freddie Moore, a funny gentleman, really nice guy, wanted to retire, and Max asked me if I wanted to be in the band.
I could go on about Max: we had a love-hate relationship. Max could be pretty nasty when he wanted to be. There was one gig he got for us in North Carolina, a wedding at a golf resort. It turned out to be a pain in the neck: Sam was on it with us. We had to fly down, and the gig happened, and then the next day we were supposed to play in the garden for the reception, and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get paid at the end of the gig, but at the month, like a club date, he would have our money. Well, I was living completely hand to mouth at that time, struggling to keep my studio apartment on Central Park West, and I got so mad at him, really mad. We were returning, and we were at the airport in North Carolina, at a long gateway, and I saw Max walking down from the opposite direction. I was just staring at him, because he knew I wanted my money. But sometimes you’d have to love Max, too. He took me off to the side, and he looked really nervous. He gave me a hundred-dollar bill, maybe half of what I was supposed to get, and he said, “I can’t give you the whole thing now, Ernie, but take this, I hope it helps you. Please don’t tell any of the other guys.” So I shook his hand and I kept his secret. We used to get mad at each other a lot, but we forgot about it the next day and hugged each other.
Tony Bennett wasn’t a frequent visitor to the house, but from time to time he’d pop in. Whenever Dad had these visits, everybody disappeared into the garage – are you familiar with the air freshener / deodorizer Ozium? They used to use that to cover up the marijuana.
On that subject: a few years later, before I was going in to the service, I was doing a four-week gig with Dad in New Orleans, my first opportunity to be in New Orleans, and we were at Al Hirt’s nightclub. At the time Dad had a pseudo-manager named Leo Kappos, a Greek gentleman, short little guy, likeable. Mom hated him, because she knew that he was Dad’s enabler. The funny thing was, that at that time, I’ll be honest with you, I was already a pothead. Dad used to try to smoke grass to stay away from alcohol, but it never really worked for him. So one night, I was going downstairs to the gig, in a tux, and I got in the elevator, and Leo was in there too, just Leo and me. And Leo started laughing, and he said, “Listen, I gotta get you and your Dad together, because the two of you are smoking pot all the time and not letting each other know about it. You gotta get to know each other!” I never forgot that.
Dad would try it from time to time, but his high of choice was beer. He had a very low tolerance, because he had a very slight frame, he always suffered with diabetes, which didn’t make drinking any easier. Half a Heineken and he’d almost be on the floor. It was difficult. He had quite a battle to stay away from that.
I’ll slide that around to another story that involves me introducing myself to Frank Sinatra. [Here you can enjoy Frank and Bobby.]
Dad and I were playing at the Riverboat in New York, in the basement of the Empire State Building, 1966 or 1967. It had to be around July 4. Dad was featured, and I guess a six or seven-piece band. And one night, I noticed Tony [Bennett] came in, and he was only there for ten or fifteen minutes. He and Dad kind of disappeared. And at the next break, Dad came over to me, and said, “Listen. Tony told me that Frank’s going to be at Jilly’s tonight. He’s having a party. We’re all welcome to stop in there and join him.” My sister idolized Frank Sinatra all her life, so Dad said to me, “Call Barbara, and have her and her boyfriend meet us at Jilly’s, around 12:30 or 1 AM,” which I did. Dad and I got in a cab – I wasn’t quite driving at that time – up to Jilly’s, on 55th Street, I think it was, and we went in.
The party was in a private room at the back, and people were throwing firecrackers around the bar. It was Frank’s crew, because it was the Fourth of July and he felt like throwing firecrackers around. We went in the back room, Dad and I, and Dad started to drink, had a Heineken. My sister and her boyfriend showed up, and that was it for the family, the four of us, we’re at a table. Off to my left was a long Last Supper-type of table with Mr. Sinatra in the middle of it, with his back against the wall, and he was entertaining the people at the table. So all of a sudden, Dad said, “Ernie, I want you to go over and introduce yourself to Mr. Sinatra.” My legs almost crumpled out from under me, I almost fainted. When Dad was drinking, you didn’t dare say no. So I had to toughen up for this.
I walked behind the back of the table, and I came up right behind – I don’t like calling him Frank, he was Mr. Sinatra to me. He was in the middle of a story, a joke, whatever, and the two goons on either side of him, with their hands in their laps, were staring at me, like, “What are you doing here?” Nothing was said, but they would not take their eyes off me. I was waiting for Mr. Sinatra to end the story so I could quickly tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hi, I’m Ernie Hackett. My Dad said I had to say hi to you,” which is what happened. When I went to tap him on the shoulder, the two goons went to stand up, so right away, I blurted out, “Mr. Sinatra, I’m Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son. He told me to come over, I should say hi.” And he was very gracious, stood up, shook my hand, gave me a big smile, said, “Thank you so much, Ernie. Very nice to meet you,” and that was that.
Now we fast-forward ten to fifteen years. Now I was playing at Eddie Condon’s. Dad had passed. Wild Bill Davison was in town, which is going to lead me into another story. I don’t know if you remember at Condon’s, the big table was the round one right in front of the bandstand, and that’s where the celebrities would sit. Sinatra came in with his wife Barbara, and a priest who always traveled with him – I think that was in case he needed the last rites – and three or four other people at the table, to enjoy Wild Bill. After the set ended, and remember, at Eddie Condon’s, the stage was about two or three feet off the ground, I got down from the drums onto the floor, and there was a table right there, and someone started chatting with me, I don’t know, about Dad or something, two or three minutes. All of a sudden I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn around, and it’s Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t believe it. He shook my hand, and all he said was, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your playing, Ernie. It was just fantastic.” I didn’t know what to say! I just thanked him. I often wonder, with my sense of humor, if I had pulled a Don Rickles on him and said, “Hey, Frank. I’m just talking to people here. Can you wait a minute? I’ll be right with you!” but thank God I didn’t do that. He might have shot me: I don’t know.
But I always liked Frank Sinatra as a person. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, very gracious. He donated – I don’t remember the amount of money – the New Jersey Jazz Society had a benefit for Mom, and I think he donated two or three thousand dollars, which at that time was like ten thousand dollars. And he was at Condon’s one night, waiting for the rest of his entourage to come up from the rest room, and he was under the portrait at the end of the bar, just standing there, staring off into the distance. He wasn’t a very tall gentleman, if you recall. I went up to him and said, “Frank, I’m Ernie Hackett. I don’t know if you remember me,” and he just nodded his head. “I just want to thank you so much for the donation you made for Dad’s benefit,” and all he did was nod his head in acceptance. He wouldn’t talk about anything nice that he did. That was very private to him.
But the punchline is this. And I always wondered, and I would almost guarantee that he came up and tapped me on the shoulder because he remembered that’s how I introduced myself to him. I’ll bet you anything, he said to himself, “I remember that kid. He’s Bobby Hackett’s son. He tapped me on the shoulder once.”
Here’s the side story about Wild Bill. You must know about him and his background. He wasn’t the quietest of souls. Cliff Leeman, of course, was his favorite drummer. And Wild Bill would come in to Condon’s, maybe two or three times a year, for a two-week stint. He always insisted on Cliff being there. This time around, Cliff was starting to fail, and he wasn’t feeling well any longer. So he told Ed Polcer and [Red] Balaban, who ran the place, that he couldn’t make it this time around. Well, Ed and Red decided to give me a shot at it, which I was very thankful for. I get to replace Cliff? Good enough that I’m replacing Connie Kay every night!
So, Monday came, and I’m coming in again with my snare and my stick bag, because Connie always left his drums there for me. I walked in to the club, and I saw that Wild Bill and his wife Anne were sitting all the way in the back, having coffee or something. We had never met. I walked in to the club, deposited my snare drum and bag on the stage, and came up, introduced myself. I said, “Hey, Wild Bill, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ernie Hackett and I’ll be playing drums with you for the next couple of weeks.” He stood up and shouted, “WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF?” Well, that’s a fine how-d’you-do! How do you get over that one? Well, the ending of it was a sweet story. After the first set, Wild Bill came up to me and said, “I like the way you play.” And then he insisted, going forward, that if Cliff couldn’t make it, I had to be his replacement. So I had another medal on my chest. My head got a little bit bigger at that time. But I’ll never forget WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF? That was typical Bill.
Another one was Papa Jo Jones. You know how cantankerous he could be. He took me under his wing, and I used to love hanging with him at the bar after the gig, with the two of us getting drunk, or high, whatever, and he would go on a real rant, a tirade about anything! And then he’d turn around with a sly little smile, and wink at me, like “What kind of reaction did I get from that one?” He was letting me in on his game. He was very much an actor. God, what a talent. He used to sit in at the drums sometimes, after the gig, and just go up there with the brushes and play the drums. And my jaw would be on the floor. Then, the honor of letting me sit next to him at the bar, in his court.
One time, Ruby Braff and I had a falling-out. I joined the club! I interrupted him, one night when he was telling a joke. Oh my God. He stopped talking to me. I tried calling him, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. Well, he’d pick up the phone (we didn’t have Caller ID back then) and hang up on me. We parted ways. We stayed away from each other a good amount of time, maybe six-seven-eight months. And then, all of a sudden, one night the Magic White Powder parade was marching downstairs and Ruby looked at me and said, “Come on. Come with us.” We both did that. And we came downstairs, we looked at each other, and started laughing, and he gave me a hug and said, “OK. The hatchet’s buried.” I said, “Thank you. It took you long enough,” and we were fine after that.
I loved Jimmy Andrews. Jimmy and I were the closest of friends. He was very quiet, but what a sense of humor, and a gentleman. I loved Mike Burgevin. Jimmy and Mike, they were like brothers. And Mike, a quiet guy but a real gentleman of a person.
My splash on the scene was after Dad passed, and I’m kind of happy it worked like that. It allowed me to be more of myself.
So when Dad passed, we were living up on Cape Cod there, and I was doing a lot of odd gigs there – Mom had the house. Mom wanted to sell the house and move back to New York, which is what we ended up doing, and I got married to my second wife at the time. We went back from Cape Cod to New York and got an apartment there. I thought, I have my drums here, I have a car, I’ve got to start getting into the scene. I’d drive into Manhattan and start hanging out at Condon’s and Ryan’s, three-four times a week, just to hang out, and eventually to sit in, which kind of broke the ice for me, because these guys got to hear what the Hackett kid could do.
And all the Black people had such respect for Dad and everyone took me under their wing. Do you know Jackie Williams? I understand he’s still going — another wonderful friend of the family, a funny, funny guy. I played with Roy Eldridge quite a bit, a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he enjoyed my style of playing as much as Condon’s did. But that didn’t get me. I don’t expect everyone in the world to love my style of drumming. But Roy was a wonderful guy. I loved him, and he always treated me with the utmost respect. I loved Jimmy McPartland too, a great character. And his wife! We weren’t that close as friends because he wasn’t as much a hanger-outer. I think he was curbing his drinking. Marian was very polite and demure, such a lady, and a fantastic musician. The two of them took me up to Salem, Massachusetts for a one-week gig with Frank Tate – he and I were great buddies, through Dad – and we had a great time.
The hangouts after the gig were the cream of the crop at Condon’s. The gigs were great, but I had to stay sober until the end of it, so I used to ration one Heineken at a break. But then, after the last set, I started mixing shots of Johnnie Black with it, and that’s when the party would begin. It was such an honor to be exposed to all that, to get to know all these guys.
There’s a thirty-minute video on YouTube of a night at Eddie Condon’s. That’s me on drums. I’ll never forget that night. It was, I believe, a Monday night, and I was subbing for Connie. I came in and was setting up my snare drum, and a couple of college-looking kids were setting up very professional video equipment, right in front of the bandstand. And I was always a rabble-rouser. I’m not proud of it all the time, but if there was trouble to be started it was started by me. I got done setting up the drums and rearranging the stands, and then I came down the stairs and the one guy who seemed to be more in charge – as it turned out, it was Red Balaban’s cousin – I politely asked him, “What are you going to be filming this for?” “Oh, it’s just a college project. It’s nothing more than that.” But there were two very professional-looking cameras. I said, “Oh, really. Is the club planning to pay the band scale for this, for the videotaping?” And he said, “No, we’re just a couple of college students.” I said, “Oh. I have to talk to Eddie Polcer about this,” and that’s how I left it. I think I told one of the college kids, “If the red light goes on, and we’re not getting paid scale, I’m not playing,” and evidently the kid went back to Eddie and told him.
So Eddie came in, and it was getting closer to hit time, maybe 8:30, and we were supposed to be going on in ten or fifteen minutes. I went outside to have a cigarette, and Polcer always bummed cigarettes off of me – that’s another story. Eddie came outside, and said, “So, you’re not going to play if the red light goes on?” I said, “Yeah, exactly. Eddie, you know how this works. You’re going to make a video, you’ve got to pay the musicians.” We were going back and forth. He didn’t want to give in. Finally, he said to me, “Do you know how much scale is?” “No,” I said, “but we can both find out in the morning with a call to Local 802.” This is what really got under his skin. He said, “If I pay you scale, will you play?” My reply was, “If you pay the whole band scale, yes,” and he just looked at me like he wanted to kill me, and he gave in at that point, “All right. You got it. They’ll all get scale.”
Years later, he was at the Atlanta Jazz Party, and my wife and I, when she was still here, God bless her, we used to go every year and visit with the guys from New York, and Eddie and I remained close friends. We’d hug each other and reminisce. And he told me, years later, “Red Balaban went to his death never knowing that you did that, that night. If I’d ever told him, he would have banned you from the club completely.” I said, “Thank you.” I was always on the ins and the outs with Eddie Condon’s. They finally stopped using me. If you go back and look at that video, Jimmy Andrews and I were the only two they didn’t interview – because we were the rough guys!
The good old days. Just an honor! And as Vic would say, “Ding ding!”
“Just an honor!” sums it up for me. Bless Ernie, and all our heroes above.
Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs. Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.” Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.
Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance. I am a Fan, you are The Star. The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription. In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them. (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books. And Whitney Balliett.)
But I no longer chase Stars. Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal. I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%. In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.
I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term. He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.
Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on. The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down. I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.
I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know. In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.
Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:
I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.
And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:
This autograph’s closer to home for me:
Again, completely authentic. But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently. I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?” Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.
Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:
Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson. Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:
It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.
Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:
Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged. The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely. For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off. (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)
I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on. I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.
But some people did. Thus . . .
I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones? I doubt it. And inside:
This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.” I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare. But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box. Hence:
At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.” I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.
Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano; Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:
I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH. It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other. Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue:
This musical interlude is an absolute triumph — not a cutting contest, but a jovial conversation among three brass legends (Braff, cornet; Sweets and Joe, trumpet) with a thoroughly congenial modern-swing rhythm section (the splendid virtuosi Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums).
Harry “Sweets” Edison
Ruby, Joe, and Sweets are vehement individualists with roots in the same earth that gave us Louis and Basie. You’ll hear florid declamatory phrases, side-of-the-mouth whispers and in-jokes, loud blasts and half-valve things a gentleman does not say in company. They live in 1975 yet are completely aware of the half-century of music that came before. And they live now, thirty-five years later.
The songs are ROSETTA, JUST FRIENDS, CAROLINA SHOUT (Guarnieri, solo), TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, all performed at the Nice Jazz Festival, July 26 and 27th, 1975. Heartfelt thanks to Tom Hustad, who made all this possible:
What gifts these magicians gave us. What gifts the music continues to give us.
I think that, as a species, we don’t do well with uncertainty. Is that shadow on the wall a shadow or is it The Wolf coming to get us? I suggest that music can help us turn on the light and see clearly that The Wolf is only a stuffed toy. To that end, I offer a soundtrack for this Wednesday, November 4. 2020. Yes, the lyrics are — if you take them at face value — a fairly predictable 1935 love song, but I encourage you to embellish them in your thoughts, making them as relevant as you can. The song? I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, by Pete Wendling, George Meyer, and Sam M. Lewis.
A rather plain version by Greta Keller, a starting point, verse and chorus:
Ralph Sutton, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Mousie Alexander:
An early recorded version, by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra with Bob Crosby:
Marty Grosz, Dick Meldonian, Greg Cohen, 1992:
Our very own EarRegulars in 2010 — Jon-Erik Kellso, Pete Martinez, Matt Munisteri, Greg Cohen:
Wingy Manone, Matty Matlock, Eddie Miller, Gil Bowers, Nappy Lamare, Harry Goodman, Ray Bauduc, 1935:
and the wellspring, the inspiration . . . Fats Waller, Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Charlie Turner, Harry Dial, 1935:
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.