Tag Archives: Ruth Brown

STILL SPARKLING: JOE BUSHKIN AT 100

joe-bushkin-on-piano

I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet.  My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion.  (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)

He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.

I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.

“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:

and this, Joe’s great melody:

A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .

Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:

He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny.  He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:

But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility.  He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.

A short, perhaps dark interlude.  Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?”  It’s a splendid question.  In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.

Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today.  The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make.  He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama.  But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz.  He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public.  So he never became mythic or a martyr.  Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now.  He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78.  Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.

But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that?  He can cover the keyboard.  And he swings.  His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”

One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY /  MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976.  “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:

Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:

For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY —  has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial.  Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017.  Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.

Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake.  Perculate on THIS:

louis-birthday-cake

Thank you, Joseephus.  We haven’t forgotten you.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“IT’S IN THE GROOVE,” or FORTY-FIVE SECONDS WITH EDDIE CONDON (1949)

If you were to take all the video footage of Eddie Condon and his bands before the early 1960s, it wouldn’t add up to an hour, and that is sad.  But this clip from a 1949 March of Time short just came up on YouTube thanks to “pappyredux,” and although I’ve seen it before, it is delightful. 

BILLBOARD’s reviewer disliked “IT’S IN THE GROOVE” and seemed bored by the shallow coverage of the history of records offered in its eighteen minutes, I don’t share that negative opinion at all: 

The actual date for this rehearsal is unknown, although a version of this assemblage — identified on the labels of the Atlantic 78 as “Eddie Condon and His N.B.C. Television Orchestra” recorded four sides for that company on May 25, 1949.  The reference to television is of course to the Eddie Condon Floor Show.  And it is tragic but true that no kinescopes of those shows have ever surfaced: we are lucky to have as much audio from those shows as we do (even though little of it ever made its way to CD — my collection exists on cassette tapes and five records issued on the Italian Queen-Disc label). 

On two of the Atlantic sides, recorded on May 29, 1949 in New York City, the band played rather undistinguished scored background (arranged by Dick Cary, I would guess) for the new singer Ruth Brown — those titles are IT’S RAINING and SO LONG.  The recording band was composed of Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Dick Cary, Eb alto horn; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon,guitar; Jack Lesberg, bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. 

The other two sides (a 78 I now have in my collection again, thanks to David Weiner and Amoeba Music) are SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES — identified in a subtitle as the theme for Arthur Godfrey’s television show — and a fast blues seated midway between Basie and late Goodman, called TIME CARRIES ON, a nod to the MARCH OF TIME.  Eddie and friends had recorded for Decca a slow blues theme — their version of DEEP HARLEM, retitled IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME, so I suspect Atlantic wanted a similar recording.  The Erteguns were deep into what we would call the best small-band swing, and I wish only that they had signed Eddie up for record session after record session.  Herb Abramson told Chip Deffaa a story that suggests that this whole session was the idea of Condon’s friend, the indefatigable publicist Ernie Anderson, and that the two vocal sides launched both Ruth Brown and Atlantic Records.  I wonder myself whether Condon was temporarily released from his contract with Decca Records (overseen by Milt Gabler) to make this session, or whether Decca hadn’t signed another contract with the musicians’ union after the 1948 recording ban.

But all this historical rumination matters less than what we see here.  For me, it took a few serious episodes of staring-at-the-screen to get past the newsreel touches (the overly serious voice of the narrator, the animated stack of discs growing larger, then the large-print display of one statistic (a repetitive tendency predating Power Point by sixty years).  Then, after a visual reminder of Atlantic Records — the disc on the turntable (yes, try this out at home), we are in a quite small room, microphones visible but pushed aside, two soda bottles on the piano — an oddity, perhaps. 

Everyone is arranged around the piano for a rehearsal of TIME CARRIES ON, a fast blues with arranged passages, riffs, and a four-bar drum break at the end.  However, Lesberg seems hidden to the right, and I would not swear that I hear either Cary or Caceres . . . were they added only for deeper background harmonies on SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES?

The music seems reasonably well synchronized with the film, suggesting that the players were not miming to a prerecorded soundtrack.  Great things happen: we can hear and see Eddie playing the guitar; his bowtie is especially beautiful.  (Hucko’s necktie is superb as well.) 

The players are so tidily attired in business attire that Hackett’s black or dark blue shirt comes as a small shock; we expect drummers to dress more casually, so Rich’s open-necked shirt is not surprising.  The music is hot but insufficient . . . but after the audible splice (or jump from one passage to another) we have a chorus that seems reasonably free-wheeling. 

Readers of JAZZ LIVES have long understood my deification of Sidney Catlett, and I am glad that he is on the record to play his own four-bar break, but I lament that he is not here.  It is possible that he was on the road with Louis Armstrong and that Rich made the film shoot, or (heresy according to my lights) that Rich was the drummer of choice and he couldn’t make the record date.  Buddy, by the way, plays splendidly on many of the Condon Floor Shows. 

It’s not a Town Hall Concert or a 1949 kinescope, but it is a wonderful glimpse into a world we would not other have seen had the March of Time people not wanted to array a variety of live musical groups to depict its own version of the history of recorded music.