Tag Archives: Sam Parkins

“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM”: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART TWO: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

I never know what might surface in this aging-boy’s den of things that I call my apartment, but often it is pleasing and surprising. Some weeks back, I posted the first segment of an evening of jazz, hot and sweet, performed at The Cajun, long gone, by the Red Onion Jazz Band in its summer incarnation, which means that many of the “regular” members were absent, although the “subs” were superb. You can see it and read about it all here.  (And you can admire the still photograph of the ROJB just below.)

Overseen by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, The Cajun was a novel in itself: ask anyone who went there or made music there.  But that’s another, unwritten blog.

I reprint Dick Dreiwitz’s essay on that night, because it is so good and so apt:

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

The band, for that night, was John Bucher, cornet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Hank Ross, piano; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Alan Cary, banjo; Ronnie Washam (“The Chelsea Nightingale”), vocal. In this segment, they performed BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / ON THE ALAMO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / JUNE NIGHT (vocal Ronnie Washam) / ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ronnie) incomplete //.

Here, the songs are CHINATOWN (vocal Sam Parkins) / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Ronnie Washam) / FOUR OR FIVE TIMES (with ensemble commentary).  And in the name of accuracy, that’s someone else ordering “another glass of champagne.”  Drinking champagne and videoing do not mix.

I’ve edited these segments a bit, so here’s one anecdote that got cut.  At the end of this set, while the band is packing up, one of the patrons mechanically asks the band for “one more,” to which one of the musicians quietly says, “Three and a half hours is enough.” I agree with the tired, underpaid artists, but I wish I had another twenty hours of this band on video.  I treasure what did get captured.

May your happiness increase!

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: THE RED ONION JAZZ BAND, SUMMER EDITION, at THE CAJUN (June 24, 2006) PART ONE: DICK DREIWITZ, JOHN BUCHER, LEROY “SAM” PARKINS, HANK ROSS, ALAN CARY, BARBARA DREIWITZ, RONNIE WASHAM

Dali, THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

How long ago is eleven years?  From one perspective, it’s a huge distance: we can’t go back to the seconds that just elapsed no matter how we try.  But through technology, we travel backwards and make ourselves comfortable there: consider photographs and recordings. In the New York City of the recent past, wonderful things happened as a matter of course, and perhaps we took them for granted. The Cajun, a New Orleans restaurant and jazz club on Eighth Avenue between 17th and 18th Street in Manhattan, offered music seven nights a week and on Sunday afternoons. Supervised by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin, it was more down-home than posh, but the regulars (and tourists who wandered in) got more than their chicken or pasta.


What they got was wonderful congenial jazz.  Here is almost seventy-five minutes of it, still delicious.  The musicians are Ronnie Washam, vocal; Alan Cary, banjo; Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba; Hank Ross, piano; Sam Parkins, Albert clarinet; Dick Dreiwitz, trombone and MC; John Bucher, cornet.

I asked Dick Dreiwitz if he would write a few words about what you are going to see — an informal record of that rainy, warm Saturday night.

SUMMERTIME

A Band of Substitutes

Summers for the traditional, classic jazz bands (some called their style Dixieland), those bands fortunate enough to have steady work (even if it was only one night a week), summers came and delivered even more problems than the usual problems during the rest of the year. Vacations, tours, and travel caused individual, regular band members to be absent, so qualified substitutes had to be found and hired.  Such was the case with the Red Onion Jazz Band’s (ROJB) regular Saturday night gig at the Cajun Restaurant in New York City on 8th Avenue at 16th Street one night during the summer of 2006.

Leader and drummer Bob Thompson had gone to his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard and clarinetist Joe Licari was lured away for a more lucrative single engagement that no player in his right mind would turn down.  The other regular band members away that night were: Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Larry Weiss, piano; Rich Lieberson, banjo/guitar, and Bob Sacchi, tuba.  As I remember, the only regulars were Veronica Washam, our singer, and myself on trombone. Truly, it was what John Gill would have called “An Emergency Band.”

Curiously, as luck would have it, two substitutes on the night of the taping were John Bucher, cornet, and Hank Ross, piano, both regular members of the ROJB from the late 1950’s through the 1970’s when the band and its musical style were at a zenith of its popularity.  This activity included travel to play at jazz festivals, intervals of steady work in the New York metropolitan area at such places as Child’s Paramount in Times Square and Park 100, and a solo, sold out concert at Town Hall. Alan Cary, banjo, and Barbara Dreiwitz, tuba, both long time friends and substitutes with the band, filled out the personnel except for clarinetist Sam Parkins, on this occasion playing his new Albert System instrument in public for the first time.

Since that summer, over eleven years ago, the Cajun Restaurant has closed its doors, Bob Thompson, Hank Ross, and Sam Parkins have passed on and the Red Onion Jazz Band is little more than a memory, a few old LP records, a couple of CD’s, and some photos.

And these videos, which I shot with my less-sophisticated camera that night, and have resurrected from the stack of mini-DVDs in a bookcase.  The sound is clear and the sight lines, although restricted, are fine.  I apologize to the sweet singer Ronnie Washam, “The Chelsea Nightingale,” for rendering her invisible, but my memory is that she blanched at the idea of having a video camera aimed at her.

What you’ll notice immediately about this band of “substitutes” is its easy medium-tempo embrace of the music’s inherent lyricism, a swinging sweetness that is not always the case in bands wedded to this repertoire, who often aim for higher volume and quicker tempos. This version of the ROJB feels like people very fond of one another, taking a walk in late summer, aware that they can reach their happy destination without rushing.

Here’s the first segment, with AVALON (vocal RW) / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SEE SEE RIDER [C.C. RIDER]:

and more — THE LOVE NEST (vocal RW) / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / ‘DEED I DO (RW) / JAZZ ME BLUES / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (RW):

and a third helping — THE JAPANESE SANDMAN / Introducing the band / MY BUDDY (vocal RW) / BYE BYE BLUES (RW) / HAPPY BIRTHDAY (RW) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (RW):

I’ll say it again: this is a lyrical, gliding band, full of individualists devoted to the communal glories of this music.  I miss The Cajun and am honored to present these vivid musical recollections both to people who were there and those not able to make that scene.  And there are more sounds from this band to come.

May your happiness increase!

PRETTY BUBBLES IN THE AIR

Sometimes a piece of music, beautifully performed, catches you right in the heart.  The late Sam Parkins would say, “Gets you right in the gizzard,” and he was so right.  Here’s something PRETTY — not hot at all, but swinging in 3 / 4 time.  It’s the waltz I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES, performed by Les Rois du Fox-trot, and in the ideal world I would listen to this performance at least once a day:

Because their notes are so much better than what I might write, I include them here, with thanks:

This is a small tribute to the late Pierre Atlan, Pierre Merlin and Martine Morel, who played this famous waltz so many times with the High Society Jazz Band of Paris.

“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” was composed in1919 by Jaan Kenbrovin and J.W.Kellette. Jaan Kenbrovin was a collective pen name for James Kendis, James Brockman and Nat Vincent. In January of 1920, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made a fine recording of this waltz in London.

Today “Bubbles” has become the anthem of the West Ham United football club. The times they are a-changin’ !…

On this video, musicians are Shona Taylor (vocal and cornet), Laurence Bridard (drums), François Fournet (banjo), Gérard Gervois (tuba), Bernard Thévin (piano), Patrick Bacqueville (trombone and slide-whistle), Jean-Pierre Morel (cornet), Stéphane Gillot and Marc Bresdin (alto-sax) and Michel Bescont (tenor-sax).

The video was posted on YouTube in the “jpmfm54” channel, where you may enjoy many more performances by Les Rois (why limit them just to Fox-trot?). 

Another version of this pretty tune that sticks with me is the duet between Ralph Sutton and Vic Dickenson — at a cheerful medium tempo.  Irreplaceable!  (If you have the original Chaz Jazz lp, you know what I mean.) 

In my imagination I hear the Goldkette band doing it in 3 /4 time and then shifting into 4 / 4 so that Bix can solo for a few choruses . . . especially because today, March 10, is his eternal birthday.

I hope that Fortune is kind to you, whoever you are, reading this post.

BECKY CREATES JAZZ SATORI

“Knock-knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Becky Kilgore.”

“Oh, my goodness!  Come in!  May I make you some tea?”

Our Rebecca

Entirely fanciful, I know, but I am honored to welcome the most esteemed Ms. Kilgore to JAZZ LIVES in all her glory.

Becky (or Rebecca), citizen of the world, bringer of joy, much-loved swingstress — all I can say is that when she sings, I feel the same pleasure as when I hear Ben or Bobby or Vic.  Enough said!

Here is a video performance by Becky, the Reynolds Brothers (sublime hot men and no fooling: John on guitar, Ralf on washboard), cornetist Marc Caparone, trumpeter Bryan Shaw, trombonist and wit Dan Barrett, pianist Jeff Barnhart, and bassist Katie Cavera — onstage at Dixieland Monterey, March 5, 2011.

And we owe this video to my pal, saintly and salty and tireless Rae Ann Berry.

One of the things I love most about the great recordings of the Thirties is their sweet seamless ability to mix fun and swing: Fats.  Louis.  Mildred.  The Boswell Sisters.

Perhaps the closest I will ever get to Satori — at least Jazz Satori — is the state of laughing, nearly crying, and moving my body in time, helplessly surrendering myself to joy.  This performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, both impromptu and cohesive, makes me feel just like that.  But onwards.  See for yourself, brothers and sisters:

Readers who wish to watch the clip again (I can’t watch it only once) are allowed to skip what follows — the spectacle of a man deep in love with this music and so grateful for it, explicating it at length — and go back to the clip.  I have put my enthusiasm in italics for those who are enthusiasm-averse or for whom it is contraindicated.  Meet me at the end of the post!

Comedy and deep feeling and joy and swing all intertwine here.  My pleasure starts instantly with Jeff’s sweet, insinuating piano introduction — you know you’re in for a good time when the music starts that way (bless you, Jeff!) and Becky’s got the feeling right off — dig her playful, floppy hand gestures and the smile on John Reynolds’ face.  Katie Cavera hasn’t yet started to swing out, but she’s in the groove — listening to Ralf’s beat.

And Ms. Kilgore starts, in the easiest, most unaffected way, to tell the story of the verse (I’ve found love and my life has changed — let me tell you all about it!) as if she were telling us a life-story, rather than Singing A Song.  Feel the difference?  It’s a deep yet casual human narrative our Becky is unreeling for us.  When Becky gets to “done” and “Mmmmm,” I’m entranced . . . she has my rapt attention!  Notice the expressions on the musicians’ faces — the brass section alternates between puppyish joy (bouncing around in happiness) and deep contemplation.  And how does Ralf swing out so much on one cymbal?  I have to sign up for the correspondence course.

Then we turn the corner into the chorus . . . the audience recognizes the song (you can hear sighs of pleasurable relief-of-suspense) — they relax even more because of the way Becky is floating over that rhythm section.

(Make note: send thanks to Ralf, Jeff, Katie, and John for swinging so luxuriantly.)

Deep listening — being Present — enhances every experience, even if it’s drinking your breakfast coffee — and there is a perfect example of that here: Jeff hits a bass note three times to emphasize a Becky-phrase and the brass section — as one — silently says, “Hey, what a good idea!” and picks it up as a riff.  That phrase is a Louis-idea that the Basie boys picked up . . . all roads lead back to Louis.

And Becky is both deep inside the music and lying in a hammock, free to sing the melody straight while simultaneously embellishing it with bends and dips, changes in timbre, shadings.  A fellow named Bing comes to mind, also a gal named Connee — but it’s all Becky.  Singers, take note!  Players, take note!  What she does with sound, with the beat — a light shines out of her to us.

Dan Barrett.  Ain’t he something?  Hilarious and profound, bringing together Vic and Dicky Wells and Louis and a little bit of Jackie Gleason — showing us how to construct a solo by putting together different pieces, in thirty-two bars, less than a minute.

Bryan and Marc — children of Louis — begin their exalted conversation.  They shout for joy.  I have watched this clip many times since Rae Ann posted it and this is always the moment I find it hard not to cry.  As the late Sam Parkins used to say, “Gets me right in the gizzard!”  I still can’t locate my gizzard, but I know what he meant.

Becky returns for another exploration of the chorus — looser, more playful, gliding like an Olympic ice skater over the notes, over that brass section, over Jeff’s traceries, over that rocking rhythm section.  Her witty blues inflections while Jeff is playing at being Earl Hines!  And the last minute or so of this clip is so full of marvels that to tell all the tale would tax my five wits (memories of Sir Gawain and his Green Stompers) . . . it’s the performance of a lifetime.  Mister Barnhart offers a gallant arm to Miss Kilgore and they walk off the stage . . .

In some ways, the twenty-first century has proven to be grueling.  You can supply your own examples.  But isn’t it a blessing that we can hear and see WHEN I TAKE ME SUGAR TO TEA whenever we want?  It is an honor to live in the same world as the one Becky, Jeff, Dan, John, Ralf, Marc, Bryan, Katie, Rae Ann, and the Brooklyn Kid do.  Thank you.  I bow low before you and your generosities.

And that’s no stage joke.

SATORI DESERVES GENEROSITY: LOVE THE LIVING MUSICIANS.  CLICK HERE!  ALL MONEY GOES TO THEM:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

Part One: THE CARDS OUTDO THEMSELVES (Feb. 27, 2010)

It was an immense thrill to hear and see the Cangelosi Cards on Saturday, February 27, 2010, at the Shambhala Meditation Center in New York City on 22nd Street.  That’s not an idle statement.

Before this, I had seen the Cards primarily at Banjo Jim’s, where the atmosphere was exuberant and loud.  And for all their own exuberance, they are truly a subtle band, so I had to strain to hear them.  But the Shambhala provided a large, quiet wood-floored space.  True, an overhead fan clicks at the beginning of this performance, but that sound is swallowed up by the rhythm section.  And (perhaps a small point?) the dancers were in back of me and the room was well-lit, so I was able to capture the Cards as they should be captured.  Those dancers, by the way, included Eve Polich of “Avalon” and Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn.  The whole delightful event was the idea of Paul Wegener, a fan of the Cards from way back, who had the inspired idea of bringing them to this wonderfully open, serene, receptive space.

This edition of the Cards included the regular brilliant musicians: Jake Sanders on banjo, Marcus Milius on harmonica, Dennis Lichtman on clarinet and mandolin, Tamar Korn on vocals.  And there were Debbie Kennedy on bass and Gordon Au on trumpet. 

Here is the third performance of the night (after two jaunty warm-up songs): I SURRENDER, DEAR.

It’s a masterpiece of sorrowing intensity, supported throughout by the bring bring bring of Jake’s banjo and the melodic pulse of Debbie’s bass.  Marcus and Dennis seem transported; Gordon takes his time, creating one sad, thoughtful phrase after another. 

And Tamar.  I told her during the set break that I thought she was growing as a dramatic actress, and her delicate face registers every nuance of the song.  Not only in the first chorus, where she outlines the text, but in her return — becoming a muted trumpet for sixteen bars and then returning to the lyrics.  She told me that she sings this song as an expression of penitence, which is undeniable, but I also hear barely controlled rage in the way she bites off the words “a spice to the wooing.”

I dedicate this lovely, deep exploration of music and lyrics to Bing Crosby, to Harry Barris, to Louis Armstrong, to the Mills Brothers, and to Sam Parkins, who told Tamar that her singing “got him right in the gizzard.”  Truer words were never spoken, and they apply equally to the Cards as a whole.

Did I say it was a thrill to hear the Cards?  No, an honor.  A privilege.

A MEMORIAL FOR SAM PARKINS

An update from James Lincoln Collier:  
The memorial for Sam this week is meant for musicians only, especially those who played with Sam.  The venue is far too small to accomodate a lot of people. There will be a large memorial for Sam in February to which others will be invited.

A jazz memorial to honor and remember the reedman and raconteur Leroy “Sam” Parkins will be held on Tuesday, January 5, 2010 — starting 5:00 PM at the Greenwich Village Bistro (13 Carmine Street in Lower Manhattan) where he and singer Ronnie Washam had a regular gig.  Among the musicians who will be there to play the jazz Sam loved will be trumpeter Peter Ecklund, trombonist James Lincoln Collier, painist / singer Peter Sokolow, and bassist David Winograd.  The Bistro is a small place, so you might want to be there early to get a seat.  Sam, unabashedly pleased when he was the center of a whirl, would be delighted to see the place full of people listening, talking, and enjoying themselves.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SUNSET: LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Leroy “Sam” Parkins, clarinetist, raconteur, and enthusiastic friend of this blog, died in Israel on November 18, 2009: he was 83. 

Sam loved beautiful photographs, so I offer this sunset, taken from a window on the Upper West Side, in his memory.

I am an unabashed jazz matchmaker: I tried to get Whitney Balliett to hear Kevin Dorn, but Whitney died before it could happen.  But I succeeded in getting Sam to jam with the Cangelosi Cards — only once, alas — but I captured a set with my Flip video camera. 

That was February 2, 2009, at Banjo Jim’s — and Sam had a wonderful time amidst Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Dennis Lichtman, Karl Meyer, Marcus Milius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden. 

Thank you, Sam, and farewell —

DICK TWARDZIK’S RECORDED LIVES

twardzik-coverBecause of Sam Parkins’ recollection, posted earlier on this blog, of his short-lived Boston friend, pianist Richard Twardzik (1931-1955), I obtained a copy of BOUNCIN’ WITH BARTOK: THE INCOMPLETE WORKS OF RICHARD TWARDZIK (Mercury Press, 2008) by Jack Chambers.  I have been reading it with fascination for the last few weeks.  It is a phenomenal book.

But first, some comments on the Art of Biography.  Perhaps from the start, biographies were glowing public records of the lives of Famous Men Who Had Done Something.  The accomplishments were heroic, the biographer admiring, even adoring.  If the subject had been a bad husband, an ungenerous employer, unpleasant in private, it was not the biographer’s task to record these moments.

When this began to change I cannot pinpoint, but slowly — perhaps with the rise of journalistic muckraking and a public eager for backstairs gossip — the biography began to tell all, lingering over the subject’s revealed flaws.  The biographer pretended to look abashed, then told tales.  Joyce Carol Oates dubbed this “pathobiography,” books savagely dissecting their subjects in the name of objectivity and completeness.  In some of these works, rancor prevails; the biographer seems to hate the subject.

Jazz, that young art, is particularly prone to such sea-changes in its reportage.  Consider the shifts in less than a century in the chronicles of Louis, Duke, and Benny — ending with recent books that state that Louis ran out of creative energy somewhere around 1929, that Ellington stole his most famous compositions from his sidemen, and that the King of Swing picked his nose.  And Charlie Parker?  The books on Bird are worth a book in themselves.

My model for a jazz biographer is the inestimable John Chilton, who loves his heroic figures but has no trouble saying plainly when they are off form in their music or their personal relations.  Right behind him is the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett, whose book LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER is remarkable.  And parallel to them is Mark Miller, whose book on Valaida Snow was also published by The Mercury Press.  (Miller has a great deal of energy and is finishing a biography of pianist Herbie Nichols, a book I look forward to.)

Much of this philosophical strife I refer to above comes from our puzzlement with the Great Artist who seems to be A Bad Man or at least seriously flawed.  Twardzik doesn’t entirely fit, but he seems to have been immature, half-formed, self-absorbed in everything but his music.  Dick’s music astonished those who heard it, and the evidence in his short discography suggests that he was clearly original, clearly going someplace new.  Happily, the small discography is slowly growing larger with new concert recordings made with Chet Baker in the last months of Twardzik’s life, practice tapes, live radio broadcasts from Boston.

Perhaps it will seem odd that I am less interested in Twardzik’s music than in his life, more interested in his biography than either.  It brings up what is, to me, one of the great questions: what can we know about anyone, particularly when that person has died?  What are the tensions between any gathering of evidence and the person it might attempt to portray?  In this spirit, I was thrilled by Barnett’s book on Crowder, although I did not find Crowder an enthralling subject.

Biographer Jack Chambers has to his credit an academic career in linguistics and a well-regarded Miles Davis biography; although he never met Twardzik, he was intrigued by the pianist’s recordings when he was a high school student in 1956.  So this book is the result of a half-century of fascination, and it is admirably thorough, with color plates of Dick’s father’s paintings, reproductions of Twardzik’s handwriting, his one remaining manuscript, his self-caricature, envelopes, photographs, and more.  It is, by definition, an “authorized biography,” drawing its strength from the four cartons of personal effects Dick’s family had saved.  Those cartons are an irreplaceable treasure, but they must also have been somewhat of a burden, carrying with them the family’s wish that their doomed young man be treated fairly, generously.  And Chambers, while recording everything, is more than fair.  Twardzik must have been, at times, an irritating young man — even before he became addicted to heroin — and Chambers occasionally seems in part a fine, careful journalist, offering all the facts, in part resembling an indulgent uncle, sure that his beloved nephew had good reasons to act that way.  Watching Chambers negotiate such delicate issues, one hairpin turn after another, is one of the delights of the book.  At times, the thoroughness is just this side of wearying — but Chambers is compelled to include what is relevant alongside what might be relevant, knowing that there will probably never be another biography of Twardzik.

And he has done his job so well that perhaps there never needs to be another one.  From the personal narrative that begins the book — his own involvement with Twardzik’s music — to his study of the family, Dick’s parents seen close up, Dick’s childhood, early musical involvements, intersections with people as diverse as Herb Pomeroy, Serge Chaloff, and Lionel Hampton (the latter particularly fascinating), with Charlie Parker, Rudy Van Gelder, Bob Zieff, and Chet Baker — this book is meticulous in its techniques and results.  Interviews give way to newspaper clippings which give way to personal letters and pay stubs — all the way up to the hotel room where the 24-year old Twardzik is found dead with a needle in his arm.  Ironically, the last thirty-six days of Twardzik’s life are examined most closely because so much detail exists, and Chambers does not stop there, offering sad, grueling examinations of what happened after, including a reproduction of the form listing the dead man’s effects.

Chambers is also a capable writer, and occasionally he gets it in a sentence.  My favorite is his description of the place where Twardzik played a summer gig in 1951:

The atmosphere of the West Yarmouth hall is captured in a set of grainy black and white snapshots that were found among Twardzik’s effects.  The high ceiling gives some idea of the size of the room.  The bandstand appears to be pushed up against a booth, and similar vinyl-covered booths may have ringed the room.  The tables had Formica tops, like common kitchen tables of the day.  The main feature of the decor appears to be indestructibility.

I would give a great deal to have written that last sentence.

The book is carefully done, with what must be the best discography of Twardzik to date, although it would not surprise me if its appearance caused some new discoveries to appear, suddenly.  I hope that the broadcast with tenorist Sam Margolis is issued someday: Margolis, Ruby Braff’s Boston pal, was a fine player in the Lester-Bud Freeman school, someone I was fortunate enough to see and talk with in the early Seventies.

Even if you don’t know Twardzik’s music, this book is essential reading.  We should all be so lovingly and carefully remembered.

RONNIE WASHAM SINGS BILLIE HOLIDAY

An eloquent dispatch from the front lines of Greenwich Village jazz, sent in by Marianne Mangan, one of our blog’s faithful unpaid local correspondents:

Singer Ronnie Washam and her friends Peter Sokolow (piano), Sam Parkins (clarinet) and Dave Winograd (bass) visited with Billie Holiday at the Greenwich Village Bistro last Thursday evening. That illustrious songbook was handled admirably, an echo of Billie’s timbre here, a sliver of her phrasing there, a large helping of Ronnie’s valuable interpretative skill and flexible technique throughout.

The instrumentalists supported her ably, soloing to their own advantage as called for. And so the buoyancy of “Them There Eyes” turned to poignant regret in “I Wished On the Moon” hardening to the wry resolve of “God Bless the Child.” Fine entertainment, all, plus one superb bonus track: “I Cried For You.” A wistful first chorus, a scornful second, slowly built to a revengeful release, the guys swinging out, and all vocal indicators pointing towards a well-forged iron having entered Ronnie’s soul. The tone was sweet and true as always, but the attitude was pure woman done wrong. Blasphemous as it may sound, by the end of “I Cried For You,” Billie was forgotten for a few minutes. This one was all Ronnie & Her Friends.

They’ll be getting together again next Tuesday evening, March 10th, 9 to 11.

INSPIRATION’S SOURCES

sicilia-2008-ms-and-yucatan-portraits-093

People who live for jazz recordings and performances are often surprised to find that jazz musicians need a more balanced diet — what Ruby Braff called “aesthetic vitamins.”  Coleman Hawkins listened to the “modern classical music” of his day, as did Bix, and Louis drew energy and solace from John McCormack records.  The anecdotes below are testimony from most illustrious sources.  And, since the universe seems occasionally to operate harmoniously, they came to me — independently — in the last two days.

First, from Dan Morgenstern about his hero and mine, Vic Dickenson:

When I interviewed Vic Dickenson years ago and asked him what trombone playing he had listened to in his formative years (making the point, as you will see, wrongly, that trombone playing back then (Vic b. 1906) was of the tailgate variety) he didn’t say anything but went to his small collection of records, pulled out an old 12-inch 78, and put it on. It was a beautiful version of Celeste Aida by Arthur Pryor, Sousa’s trombone soloist and assistant conductor before going out on his own, and most certainly known to Tommy Dorsey. These are the kind of things you won’t learn from most jazz history sources.

And here is a generous website featuring “recordings from the nineteenth century,” where you can hear THERE’LL COME A TIME, made in 1897, featuring Pryor, whose playing is astonishingly mobile.  Although the link probably does not work within this post, visit http://home.clara.net/rfwilmut/19thcent/19th.html.

Then, taking it one step beyond (from appreciation and immersion to actual performance), Sam Parkins testifies:

No one thinks about jazz people’s interest in classical music. Bird listening to Bartok, that awesome tale of Dave McKenna playing the Ravel Piano Concerto chilling out after a record date. “But Dave – you can’t read music -” “Yeah I know. I learned it off a record”. And a friend staying in a hotel in Chicago where Earl Hines was playing. He comes down for breakfast late; after he goes to the lobby and the door to the nightclub is ajar. Hears piano. By the bare single ‘off duty’ light Hines is working on Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 111 — the really hard one. Oh – & AL Haig only practiced Chopin.

More to come on this subject.

I took the photograph above about ten months ago.  It is my version of “where inspiration comes from.”  Anyone care to guess the country and region?

JOURNEY TO BOHEMIA: DICK TWARDZIK, SERGE CHALOFF, CHARLIE PARKER, and DYLAN THOMAS: THANKS TO SAM PARKINS

dick-t-photo-with-chetRichard Twardzik, Boston jazz pianist, was dead at 24.  And I don’t believe he ever saw any of his recordings issued.  His name has emerged once again in the jazz press (a fine appreciation by Ted Gioia at www.jazz.com) and there is a new biography out (BOUNCIN’ WITH BARTOK, by Jack Chambers, Mercury Press).  The photograph above shows him with trumpeter Chet Baker.

But The Real Thing is closer to home.  Sam Parkins, who never ceases to amaze, sent me this long essay — fascinating and heartbreaking in its immediacy — an excerpt from his book JOURNEY TO BOHEMIA, whose title refers both to the land beyond the familiar and to Cafe Bohemia.  Even if you’ve never heard Dick’s recordings, Sam’s essay-meditation is enthralling.

DICK TWARDZIK 1931-’55

Greetings gentle readers (that’s a 19th century locution. May not hold in today’s world): There’s a way over due bio published (back-ordered at Amazon) which may cause me to modify this and that – ‘though I bet I know stuff he doesn’t. As is true with all of these writings, this goes out to a dozen or so persons. Alta Ann is my first wife, member of my family and a good pal.

DICK TWARDZIK, d.’55; heroin overdose in Paris, with Chet Baker, age 24, is known to any even slightly modern jazz pianist because there’s a small recorded legacy. He’s the only junkie I knew – and I knew and loved this guy and could still weep for him – that wasn’t depressed. He had the joy of youth, always excited about what might come next. I wrote my first piano sonata for him, but death intervened…

$ [Alta Ann – you were in on the end – the night before he went off with Chet Baker. We had invited him to dinner; with desert I played him some of the Billy Banks sides with Fats Waller. He sat down at that great Bechstein grand in the living room and got very upset because he – a marvelous technician – couldn’t lay a glove on some of those triplet filigrees that Waller tosses off like cake frosting. It was you who asked – our friend now really clean after six months in the Bridgewater detox unit – “Dicky – why are you doing this – going off with all those junkies?” “To prove that I can do it”. You all know of course that he got dead in Paris instead. 1955]. Fine.

* * *

Dicky’s parents had restored the old house in Danvers (north of Boston) to its late seventeenth century state. Sure – it was central heated, had storm windows, sheep weren’t allowed to wander in and out of the kitchen. But they got it right, furniture and all – except for the big Steinway in the living room.

The kitchen was the showpiece. Discretely, at the far end of the big room, was a modern electric stove, refrigerator, butcher block island for chopping vegetables and having breakfast, but what you saw when you walked in the door, revealed by removing layers of sheetrock, plaster and wallpaper, was the ancient fireplace and chimney, with the hooks, rods and movable grills used to boil, broil, fry etc.; the oven to the right where bread was made, and the warming oven above it.

And on the left? A little door in the wall about a foot off the floor. Dick said that when they uncovered it and checked it out they left everything exactly the way it was:

He opened the door – and there was a little stairway – maybe a dozen steps, child-sized, that went nowhere. And, each exactly in the middle of its stair, climbing one at a time, were seven genuine, hand made, 17th century left shoes.

It’s late fall 1945. I’m on a long furlough, in the uniform of the buck-assed private I was. I get on a Cambridge bound trolley to Bobby Thayer’s house; he’ll drive us to the session.

But a note about Thayer, whom we won’t meet again. He had been in the trumpet section of the ‘kid band’ I played in through high school and early college, and had the distinction of being the first trumpet player in greater Boston – only a couple of months after those first mind-blowing Diz/Bird records – to master the complexities of Dizzy Gillespie’s style, which required blinding technique. He did make one little adjustment. He played all those licks at half-speed.

I meet his pretty wife, who spoke with a fashionable lisp. Go out to his ratty old Pontiac. Remember we’re all about 19. Head for downtown Boston to a jam session with (for me) mostly strangers – turns out to be the super stars of the region – Joe Gordon, Sam Rivers, Floogie Williams. Bobby, an otherwise lousy trumpet player, is accepted because of his curious quasi-mastery of Dizzy’s stuff. Turns out I can play with these guys because be-bop, which I never mastered, wasn’t the coin of the realm yet.

On the way, Bobby lights the first joint (marihuana) I had ever seen, let alone tried. Passed it over to me. Lovely.

The First Whorehouse. That was the working title in my early notes about Dick Twardzik. Most of the truly valid jazz joints I played in from 1944 on had a core ‘sin’ that defined them. The Golfers club, Ithaca, gambling. The Melody Lounge, Lynn MA, heroin. Harold’s House of Dixie, W. Orange NJ, money laundering and clubhouse for the North Jersey mafia. Barbara Kelly’s Glass Hat, Manhattan, blatant high-end prostitution. The Bowdoin Bar and Grill (where we’re going now) – really low-end prostitution. A sailor who had been all over the world said he never found a joint as rotten as this one in Calcutta. (To obfuscate matters – they weren’t all real ‘joints’. The Golfers Club was an old theater – take out the seats, add a bar and you have a dance hall. Gambling hidden in the back. Ditto Harold’s House of Dixie. College kids hangout. Bowling alley, cafeteria, two bars – and a big dance hall upstairs. Half a dozen hoods meet in an alcove under the stairs maybe twice a month. Black suits, navy shirts, silver ties, grey fedoras).

We’re driving but you could take the scenic route: Get off the trolley at Boylston St.; walk northeast (you’re on Tremont St.) the full length of the Boston Common past the Park St. Church. Tremont curves around to the left and becomes Cambridge St., headed for the river. If you’re walking in the 21st century you’ll come to a desolate moonscape called Government Center.

But if your journey is in 1945 you’ll find Scollay Square, the “Armpit of Boston”, a bustling market place with porn shops – dildos, vibrators, 8 m.m. ‘blue’ movies. Strip joints [being Boston, they didn’t quite take it all off – except for a flash when facing away from the audience – and toward the band], and the venerable Old Howard Theater, home of Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee. As you keep going toward the river the sleaze quotient becomes more pronounced and you come to Bowdoin Square – the back-side of Beacon Hill, with its Christopher Wren houses and some of the oldest money in America. Hang a left on Grove St. and there’s The Bowdoin Bar and Grill.

As you tour around this neighborhood keep in mind that WW II is just over and the Boston Navy Yard has hordes of sailors and marines in need of entertainment.

Ambience? Wasn’t any. No amenities. Maybe forty feet square. Row of tables on the left as you enter; kitchen on the right – a square chunk subtracted from the room. Past the kitchen in the resulting indent, three booths, followed by the men’s room – and the bandstand stretching across the back of the room. No sit-down bar; kitchen acted as a service bar. ‘Bar & Grill’? Massachusetts law requires that any establishment serving liquor must serve food, so the ‘Grill’ part was covered by remarkably good hamburgers when needed. The rest was dance floor.

Personnel: The kitchen – and the staff (patience my dears) were utterly dominated by Mary, the chef/bartender/boss. What in those politically incorrect days was called a bull dyke. At least 280 pounds, and I’m afraid it was all muscle. And two waitresses named Dusty and Dry Run. (For non-military readers, a ‘dry run’ is when the troops hold their rifles up, aim them at something, the sergeant says “Fire!”, pull the triggers – and nothing happens. No bullets). Well into their thirties, good-looking in a rough and ready way.

This was a non-resident brothel. The ladies had an apartment nearby, and one or the other would disappear for a half-hour periodically. When asked they would dance with the sailors; when not asked they danced with each other, with running commentary. Sample: “Hey Dusty, you stupid cunt. Your fucking slip is showing”.

Bobby and I climb on the (crowded) bandstand. Band as good as it gets; launch into some variant of the blues. Never was introduced to anybody. The stage is about 2 1/2 feet high; I’m perched at the edge, blowing leaning back a bit, eyes closed – and feel an unaccustomed draft around my crotch. Look down. My fly is open. “Oh – Dusty always does that to the new boy”. She had danced by, and…

One last tableau of The Bowdoin Bar and Grill: It’s a long set, strenuous, serious blowing. The joint is mobbed – it’s Friday night. Payday, and the sailors have money to burn. A crowd at the middle booth on the left gets my attention – three guys on the far side, four jammed in the near side and another half-dozen leaning on the table or the booth, laughing like hell. The guy in the middle of the far side is slumped down, head back, eyes closed in an expression of ecstasy — I peer under the table at his outstretched legs and there’s Dry Run on her knees, administering – well – in the Clinton era it was called oral sex…

Funky club, great session, great players – but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to meet the piano player. The closet that was the men’s room stuck out into the dance floor right by the bandstand; the piano was tucked in behind it, the piano player faced away from us. All I noticed was a little guy, playing music I’d never heard before (but he had. Bud Powell) hunched over the piano with an inch thick pile of hand-written music on the bench beside him.

At eleven the trumpet player looked at his watch and said, “Hey Dicky – you gotta get outa here!”. We declared a break, the piano player turned around, slightly dazed – and I saw a kid.
Dicky said “Oh migod”, grabbed his music and fled. The trumpet player explained: “He’s only fourteen. His mother wants him home by midnight and the last train out of North Station is at 11:30”. I asked the obvious question, “Who is he?”

“That’s Dick Twardzik. He wrote out every tune we might play, but hasn’t memorized them yet – that’s what the pile of music is about…”

I didn’t see Dick again until I came back to Boston in 1950. He had been with Serge Chaloff’s band for about a year and that’s where the trouble started.  (If you don’t know who Chaloff is, you could start with the Wikipedia entry online: brilliance, heroin, cancer. )

There’s a back-story about Chaloff’s cancer that came from Dick Wetmore, the great cornetist/violinist I played with around Boston for years. It happened that Dick and Serge Chaloff developed testicular (NOT spinal – that’s later) cancer at about the same time. The treatment was to lose the infected ball, (leaves one ball and leaves you sterile so Dick, with no condom, could blithely screw his heart out – which he did). And to go for twenty weekly radiation treatments. Dick Wetmore did it and is living in Florida as we speak.

Serge went for two weeks, “Oh the hell with it”, stopped going for treatment, went back to music and junk (heroin) – and that particular cancer’s first migration is to the nearest bones, in this case, the spine…

Woody’s Second Herd? Formed in 1947 after the huge success of the First Herd (see ‘Woody ‘n Igor’, module 4). Propelled Stan Getz to stardom with his ethereal solo on “Early Autumn”. Getz, Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn made up the most famous “Four Brothers” sax section mentioned above (other players not so illustrious came and went). All addicts. In fact half the Second Herd were junkies. The stated reason for the break-up of the band in 1949 was financial – the dancers didn’t understand heavily be-bop tinged music. David Young, who knew Woody and most of the musicians, told it a little differently:

“Woody had to break up the band because guys were throwing up all over the bandstand”.

Gene Lees, Woody’s biographer, says “Hiring him must be accounted one of Woody’s worst errors: Serge was a serious heroin addict and, like so many of his kind, a dedicated proselytizer for the drug”.

Band breaks up in ’49, Chaloff returns to Boston with enough of a reputation as a star to be able to start a band of very young men (age 19 or so) and keep them working. And still proselytizing. It is here that Dick Twardzik and his band mates became heroin addicts.

The yin and the yang of the Chaloff family: Serge’s mother, Margaret Chaloff, was considered one of the finest piano teachers in Boston, with a studio over Symphony Hall. Dick studied with her for years. Gene Lees has high praise for her in his bio of Woody Herman.

I came back to Boston June, 1950, and into a steady Saturday night ballroom job for the summer – Nuttings on the Charles (river) – near the end of the ballroom era. Sparsely attended, only one night a week. After a six-year absence I knew almost no one. Circulated, went to sessions, slowly got back on the scene – and started four years of graduate school in composition at the New England Conservatory in the fall (playing constantly to pay for it). In getting back on the scene I encountered Dick Twardzik all over the place. Sessions, the occasional gig – not much of that though. I veered away from bop into New Orleans while Dick forged ahead as one of the few major ‘modern’+ piano players – remember 1950 is early days in be-bop, est. 1945. (+ let’s dispose of that right here. There was a lot of silliness about terminology. Be-bop, modern jazz, with a slightly different twist, but inaudible to the un-hip ear, progressive jazz. George Russell in desperation called his version ‘the New Thing’. Composers in the early 14th century faced the same problem. Came up with the ‘Ars Nova’).

But I particularly I encountered him at The New England Conservatory of Music (likewise encountered the legendary avant-garde pianist, Cecil Taylor, who gets a long look later). Dick was studying composition, and – and this is one of the real artistic drags about his death: He was studying harp with Louise Pappoutsakis, the Boston Symphony harpist, and would have evolved into – not the first, but the only be-bop harpist.

There is a warren of practice rooms on the second floor of the conservatory; each with a pretty good grand piano (and a dungeon in the basement with maybe fifty cubicles with not so good uprights). I’d see Dick at one of those grands, join him and he would show me what he was pursuing at the moment. For instance, what he called his ‘speed bass’. True stride piano in the manner of Fats Waller requires the left hand to drop at least two octaves (a leap of about a foot and a half) for a bass note on beats 1 and 3, leaving the chord indicating the harmony back up in the middle on beats 2 and 4. Playing a lot of Chopin helps. Dick kept his left hand in the middle position and hit the nearest ‘correct’ note (bass equivalent) to the south with as little hand motion as possible. (Any readers who know Dave McKenna’s music will hear this technique in frequent use).

I went to hear him with Serge, and particularly with Bird when he came to town – unlike classical performers, jazz players on tour then and now almost always go out alone and are at the mercy of local rhythm sections.+ It’s the Hi-Hat club, described elsewhere (the second burned-for-insurance fire closed it permanently). Of course I went. But missed the first tune of the first night. [+one of those half-truths that are taken for gospel at the time. Two Charlie Parker CDs, both taken from broadcasts in Boston clubs, have Charles Mingus, bass, Roy Haynes, drums – and Dick Twardzik, piano. For the non-jazz reader – Mingus and Haynes, New Yorkers, were about to become international stars].

Music lesson: Pop music back into the mists of history has been pretty simple. During the Golden Age of American Song – Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter et al – the harmony would change typically every two measures; once in a while, as in ‘The Song is You’, every measure, and on the lazy side, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, every four measures, with four beats to each measure. Until be-bop came along. The improvisers took to modifying the songs in the direction of complexity, putting in as many as one chord change per beat.

So Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker comes to the Hi-Hat and Dick Twardzik is tapped for the piano chair. “Ohmigod – I’m going to play with the Great Master”. Dick sat down at the piano and worked out complex re-harmonizations of every tune he could think of that might be in play and went to the gig*.

First song up is the above mentioned ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. ‘F7′ for four measures, ‘B-flat 7′ for four measures and so forth. Dicky is ready. He has a different chord for each beat, totaling sixteen chord changes for every four measures where there had only been one. At the end of the song, Bird – having never bothered to shake hands with his piano player before the gig – comes around behind the piano and says in Dicky’s ear, “Kid – just play ‘F7′. I’ll do all the diddley shit”.

[* typical sad Charlie Parker story. He was hired to play seven nights – Monday thru Sunday – at the Hi-Hat. He actually showed up for only five. One absent night was a mystery, during the other he was found out cold in a gutter. And he was so revered that he was invited back anyway. His legendary absences were part of the mystique. I’ll say right here, noting as I read about the Hip-Hop world that nothing has changed except the be-bopping junkies of my youth didn’t shoot each other**, that the general irresponsible lifestyle of our heroes made great newspaper copy and influenced a lot of kids]. [**But once in a while someone else did. Lee Morgan was shot on the bandstand by an outraged wife; Wardell Gray was shot by the outraged husband of his girlfriend – or so said the tale that circulated at the time (1955). The current internet bio has a mafia/drug-tinged story instead. The joys of history].

Dylan Thomas made four trips to America, beginning in February, 1950. America didn’t interest him; he came mostly for the money. The job that got him here the first time was a reading at New York’s YMHA, which paid $500 plus airfare. Factor in inflation – in 2006 dollars that’s closer to five grand. Once he got here he took his show on the road, making substantial money, much of which he drank…He died in New York during the fourth tour, of acute alcohol poisoning, November ’53.

Of all the scenes described in these writings – some hazy memories, some Hi-Definition Technicolor – the most vivid is this:

Dick’s mother was an artist. Her day job was as an illustrator at MIT for books and scientific papers produced by the faculty. Dylan Thomas came to America for the third time in April of 1953 and his first stop was MIT, Cambridge, for a lecture/reading. 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, end of the school week.

Mother picked us up at school (New England Conservatory) at 2:30 on a beautiful spring afternoon; Dick had those bright red spots on his cheeks that showed he was really flying. Mother says indulgently, “Oh Dicky…” (must have shot up in the men’s room after lunch), and drove us across the Harvard Bridge to MIT.

The reading was closed to the public; it took place in a very ordinary classroom – teacher’s desk up front on the left, equal size table on the right for the guest. We were almost late. Walked into a nearly full house and found seats just as the presiding faculty member was introducing Dylan Thomas.

What did he look like? The picture of him in the BBC bio shows an uncanny resemblance to Orson Welles as Harry Lime in ‘The Third Man’. Attractive, perspiring, mop of wild curly hair, red-faced, really drunk, but the kind of drunk that can function normally when he should be in a coma. He began his lecture, interspersed with readings from his poetry – and you couldn’t tell them apart. His language was luminous – beyond beautiful, and his presence eerily commanding [the Welsh and Irish can do that. Celts]. It isn’t often given to any of us to be in the same room with true genius. Palpable, vibrating genius.

So where am I? In the presence of two great artists, both doomed to die real soon of substance abuse – Thomas, gone at 39, with a substantial body of work behind him, the other, Dick, 24, with the barest hint of what’s coming in his sparse recorded legacy.

Here’s a glimpse of Dick’s genius. He is simply not ‘just another be-bop piano player’ In recordings with Chet Baker and Serge Chaloff he sounds more conventional, but that’s what a sideman is supposed to do. Not upstage the leader [and more than by-the-way, note his gorgeous piano sound. Gene Lees in his Woody Herman biography says that that sound quality is a hallmark of all of Margaret Chaloff’s students].

And there is a home recording, 1954 Improvisations. Boston. June-October 1954, where, in a fragment of Jerome Kern’s ‘Yesterdays’ the future really shows. He deconstructs the tune the way Charles Ives might have – and then he’s gone.

Dick’s is the only early death among musicians/composers that really bothers me artistically [it killed me emotionally]. Mozart made it to 35. And left a complete life’s work. I’ve always felt that he lived a compressed, accelerated existence and died of old age. Ditto, Bird, also gone at 35.

Charlie Christian? Dead of TB at 26, with less than two years in the public eye and ear. But heavily recorded, and – here’s the Internet quickie: “was the founding father and primary architect of the modern jazz guitar style”. And revolutionary. Someone else would have done it, but in fact it was Christian that set the stage for guitar driven rock and roll, comin’ at you a little over ten years after his death in 1942.

Dick Twardzik left only the barest hint of what was to come…

I realized, whizzing around the park on my bike yesterday, what I uncovered here. Note the extreme contrast of the house Dick lived in and the joint he – and we all – played in. A couple of observations: No matter what your background – in Dick’s case it seems clear that there was substantial wealth in his family – you were likely to play in the scuzziest possible circumstances unless you became a star and Storyville (or its equivalent in any city) could afford you. More likely in a joint with the mafia lurking in the background. And of course – as an only child from an affluent family, how could he not have been rescued from his virtual suicide? It wasn’t exactly a secret. Let’s look:

His father was one of only two stained glass window designers and builders in the United States. Had an atelier on St. Botolph St., the front 3 stories high so they could assemble a finished window, then take it apart for (very careful) shipping. St. Botolph – that funky little street that petered out behind the Conservatory, coming over from Mass. Ave. just across the tracks from the ‘colored district’. David Young’s studio was there in the early 50s.

[What follows is probably from my friend Jack Lawlor, the left-handed bass player who shows up on several records and attended the sessions we held at Dick’s parent’s home. As I write, the long promised biography of Dick remains back-ordered at Amazon and people in Dick Twardzik chat rooms are getting pretty upset. So 1) I have no confirmation of the health issue; 2) Jack Chambers, the biographer, could conceivably have missed this. Families are pretty close-mouthed about health disasters].

It matters that Dick was a sickly child. He had a rare disease – here’s the Internet word:

“…probably had polyarticular arthritis, a form that affects children in at least five joints. Samantha at 16 months had 11 swollen joints, in her knees, wrists, toes, elbows and fingers. NY Times 9.30/03, Health & Fitness”

People that knew him told me that by the time he was 11 Dick had every joint in his body operated on. Helps explain the indulgent mother. How could you not spoil an only child with such a dreadful illness?

There was just forming up when I returned to Boston in 1950 a consortium of young modern musicians that called themselves ‘The Jazz Workshop’+; their mission to provide a space where students and professionals could play and study together. They found a bar downtown that had a little used back room; they persuaded the owner that jazz would bring in customers and were given carte blanche to do whatever they liked. I paid my dues with saw, hammer and nails many an afternoon helping to build the stage. [+Those musicians, led by trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, became the core faculty of the internationally famous Berklee School of Music. They are now of course very senior faculty or emeritus]. It prospered; a Monday night big band session was laid on, with Jaki Byard writing the arrangements and sitting in the tenor sax chair rather than piano.

And eventually they had to move to larger quarters; a club called The Stable on nearby Huntington Ave.

Dick Twardzik was a frequent member of the Jazz Workshop ‘in house’ rhythm section and it was here that he asked his fellow musicians for help with his heroin addiction. We have seen that his family was no help at all.

Now look: This may be apocryphal in places; it went around town as scuttlebutt. But it rings true. He asked the guys in the band for help “…and they laughed at him”. So after the gig, at two o’clock in the morning, on a cold December night, he walked up to a cop on Huntington Ave. and said, “Officer – I’m an addict and need to quit. Can you help me?”

Bless that cop. I’m sure there was and is a city agency set up for this. They helped get Dicky into the Massachusetts detox unit in Bridgwater, where he stayed for six months, met a priest he really liked and started going to church. Came out squeaky clean and full of the joy of life. He had finally beaten it.

In a musical composition that returns to the beginning for the last few measures, there is a convention that we’ll use here. “Dal Segno” – “to the sign”, which is a squiggle not on the keyboard. We’ll use $.

“Dal segno $ al fine [finish]”

If you don’t want to bother, it goes like this:

$ [Alta Ann – you were in on the end – the night before he went off with Chet Baker. We had invited him to dinner; with desert I played him some of the Billy Banks sides with Fats Waller. He sat down at that great Bechstein grand in the living room and got very upset because he – a marvelous technician – couldn’t lay a glove on some of those triplet filigrees that Waller tosses off like cake frosting. It was you who asked – our friend now really clean after six months in the Bridgewater detox unit – “Dicky – why are you doing this – going off with all those junkies?” “To prove that I can do it”. You all know of course that he got dead in Paris instead. 1955].

Fine.

Copyright © 2006 Leroy Parkins

[Here’s Sam’s own biographical sketch, taken from his MySpace page:

Leroy (Sam) Parkins: born in reign of Calvin Coolidge. Heard Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton 1936 – 1945. Charlie Parker from then on. Normal life no longer possible. Cornell for composition; New England Conservatory for Masters. Saxophonist-in-residence two whorehouses (Bowdoin Bar & Grill, Boston, 1945; Barbara Kelly’s Glass Hat, NYC 1960), the Heroin Capital of the North Shore (Melody Lounge, Lynn MA, 1954 but didn’t sample the wares); Carnegie Hall (one-shot, 1976) etc.etc. Sixteen years with two major society orchestras. Duties included playing New Years Eve for the Carnegies and Mellons at Rolling Rock Country Club, Ligonear, PA.; deb parties as far away as St. Louis, MO. Joined production staff CBS Masterworks 1967. Recorded the complete Charles Ives chamber music. One Grammy (European); four Grammy nominations. Recorded Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Charles Wuorinen et al for New World Records, 1975. Black composers series, various labels: Music of Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake, Cecil Taylor, Benny Carter, Scott Joplin. Stravinsky’s ‘Ebony Concerto’ with Richard Stolzman and Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, RCA Victor, 1987. Grammy nomination. As featured soloist, ‘Take Me To the Land of Jazz’, Aviva records. Stereo Review, Album Pick of the Year, Acoustic Jazz, 1979. Recorded ‘Preservation Hall Live!’ for Sony Classical, 1991. Miscellaneous recordings since; clarinetist-in-residence, Cajun Restaurant, NYC; ditto weekly stint New York Public Library. Commence writing ‘Journey to Bohemia’ 1997. Lived.]

A JAZZ HOLIDAY! (February 2009)

No, this post isn’t about Benny Goodman’s 1928 recording — although that record does deserve to be celebrated.  Rather, it’s about a jazz immersion because of what my college calls “Presidents’ Week” — the Monday holiday stretching into a full week to follow the public school calendar.

What that means for me (and the Beloved) is a wonderful chance to hear four live jazz sessions.

Sunday night I went to the Ear Inn, newly lit and full of people celebrating that they, too, didn’t have to get up early the next morning.  The EarRegulars were there in stellar form: Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, with their inspiring friends Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen.  I was sitting three feet from Greg’s bass, and it was a transforming experience: the rhythm shot through me all night long.  And Scott — the mysterious shape-changer of jazz, who finds a new self whenever he picks up a different horn — was in a happy groove from the opening notes of WEARY BLUES.  (Scott had brought his tenor, a cornet — I couldn’t see if it was his fabled echo cornet) and his sopranino sax.  In the second set, Rachelle Garniez sat in with her Hohner claviola, Ted G (we couldn’t figure out his last name) brought his Maccaferri guitar, and Lucy, sixteen years old, sat in on trumpet.  As they used to say in the society pages of small-town newspapers, “a good time was had by all.”

Last night I went to Banjo Jim’s to catch a return appearance of the Cangelosi Cards with their guest star Sam Parkins, who had brought “his Klarinette.”  If you want to get the flavor of that evening, I’ve posted clips from their last jam session on “LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS.”  It was a smaller hand of Cards — Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Karl Meyer, Marcus Millius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden (who uses gut strings on his bass — as the great players of the Swing Era did).  The joint rocked: Tamar sang the blues and ALL OF ME; the Cards turned into a gypsy /tango band with NUAGES, MINOR SWING, and their own line on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Heady stuff!

Tonight, the Beloved and I are going to the 8 PM show at Iridium to hear Barbara Rosene and her New Yorkers.  Enough said!  Barbara will sparkle and move us, and the New Yorkers include Jon-Erik, Michael Hashim, Conal Fowkes, Matt Szemela, Doug Largent, and Kevin Dorn — fine players and fine friends.

And (if that weren’t enough) we’re going downtown on Thursday for the 36th Anniversary HIGHLIGHTS IN JAZZ concert, featuring David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or the Gully Low Jazz Band, what you will) — Jon-Erik, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Mark Shane, David himself, and Kevin Dorn.  Jack Kleinsinger’s concerts are always models of jazz generosity, and this one includes a pair of raw recruits named Joe Wilder and Dick Hyman.

Yes, I still have to grade two more sets of student essays, but I would call this A JAZZ HOLIDAY.  Wouldn’t you?  And I haven’t even mentioned the Gully Low Jazz Band’s regular Birdland gig on Wednesday and a midday solo piano outing for Hyman at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown.

New Yorkers are lucky to live in this time and place, the economy notwithstanding.  Go and hear some live jazz, even if you don’t have the week off.

CAST OUT OF PARADISE: LESTER YOUNG

lester-in-parisSam Parkins, who was there, attentive, muses about Lester Young:

September 1945 I found myself back in the infantry at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The army had lost some of my training records and they needed me to fire the Bazooka and the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle – 30 cal. and a real bear to shoot), and they were in no hurry. I was going to have to re-graduate from basic training. Most of the rest of this rag-tag company were hardened combat veterans who had been fucked over by the army losing their records. It’s after VJ day.

The sergeants in charge were totally sympathetic; roll-call in the morning, traditionally out on the company street, included a lot of hung-over guys in bed, shouting from the sack, “I’m here sergeant.” Days on end with nothing to do so I found the band, started doing parades, the officers club ($5.00),the non-coms club ($4.00), and the USO. Played baritone with the big band. The drummer was a veteran of the entire European campaign, had been running into a fire fight with his best buddy beside him and watched the guy’s head being completely blown of by a mortar shell. He simply didn’t give a shit, and kept a bottle of Gordon’s gin under the bed for breakfast to keep the boogies away.

The army was totally, and I mean totally, segregated. The colored soldiers had their own gate, and there was a 100 yard lawn – a DMZ – between the two posts. No one allowed to pass in either direction. But their band had Count Basie’s drummer, Jo Jones, other Basieites, Lester Young (Basie’s star saxophonist) had just been drafted, was in basic training and played with the band when he could. Our drummer was the only one of us with the balls to walk across the lawn to rehearsals and dances and to get to know the black musicians.

He came back one night with a really lousy story. Lester Young (street name ‘Pres’) was in the guard house. He had pleaded to be excused from basic and be allowed in the band; the band leader petitioned the authorities, to no avail (and I wonder if a white musician would have made out better. I knew some who did, and after all, the war was over…).

In Geoff Dyer’s book, “But Beautiful” (great book if you can stand unvarnished tragedies), the author, using the Freedom of Information Act, got the transcript of the trial; there’s a lot of detail, all brutal, that I wasn’t privy to, but this here narrative is missing from all biographical accounts. No way any latter day historian could know it.

It’s night firing on the fifty caliber machine-gun range. Outside of the noise, it’s a pretty sight. Maybe twenty machine-guns lined up about eight feet apart, shooting down a slight incline at cardboard cutouts of enemy soldiers; every tenth bullet (tracer bullets) lights up as it’s fired so you see slightly arched lines of electric magic flowing from each gun barrel.

The sergeant, off to the side and slightly down-range, notices one line of magic markers disappear. He goes to investigate, and finds Lester Young lying on his back smoking a joint. Sergeant is aghast. “On your feet soldier!” Pres’ reply is to hand the sergeant the joint and – “Hey sarge — aren’t the stars pretty up in the sky?”

In his left hand pocket of his fatigue jacket were five more joints; sergeant calls the MPs and the founder of a style that was to sweep the country (think Stan Getz and “The Girl From Ipanema”) is led off to jail.

There was no rush to bring him to trial. He started acting up in his cell, noisy, woke guys at night, he wanted his horn. So the guard got it for him. End of the world. He played 24 hours a day, made everyone crazy, so they took it away from him. And he really lost it. I have no details, but the guards were white – and so forth.

Disobeying a direct order, possession of narcotics, 400 days in an army detention center.

Finally, mid-November, I fired the bazooka at a rusted-out shell-shocked hulk of a tank and was declared through with basic – again – and was awarded a 15 day furlough. And re-enlisted for an extra year (paid a lot more GI bill) and they tacked on another 30 days, so I was home from Thanksgiving to New Year and then some.

[Here I had a memory lapse, because I have remembered this over the years as 1946, after Pres had served his sentence. Wrong. Jazz impresario Norman Granz got in touch with the authorities, applied some kind of heat, and got him sprung in a few weeks].

Of course I went to the Savoy and there on the bandstand was Lester Young, leading a quintet with trumpeter Jesse Drakes and rhythm section. He was struggling – and in the middle of a tune pulled the horn from his chops and began to cry.

He never again played with the fluency of the Basie days. There are, captured on record, moments of magic, but something was broken. And the last time I saw him, at Storyville a month before his death, you knew you were hearing and seeing a dead man. He was drinking and starving himself to death… You don’t want to hear it from me. Read “But Beautiful” (Geoff Dyer; North Point Press, 1996. Paperback).

ca 2.19.03 notes

Regarding the Army vs. Lester Young: Goeff Dyer makes it clear that the army had a pretty good idea from Lester Young’s pre-induction physical what they were getting – a wired, messed up addict with syphilis – and they took him anyhow. Here we can damn the army, but show a mitigating factor.

Damning: After the war, the army essentially apologized for doing such a lousy job of screening draftees, and vowed to do better next time. My wife, Camilla Kemple, spent her academic life teaching the battery of psychological tests used for this purpose, and she tells me that they were mostly in place by the early forties when she started teaching (at the New School in New York). The army made little or no use of them.

An example right under my nose covers two wondrously disconnected elements. In the bus with me (during the Battle of the Bulge) on the way to the army induction center (Ft. Devens, Ayer, Mass.) was a cute little cat named Little Pres. Always showed up at sessions (along with a baritone player who called himself Lester Parker in order to cover all bases). Little Pres didn’t play all that well, but he was a pioneer. Lester Young hadn’t hit yet; us tenor players were still consumed with Hawkins/Webster fever. So Little Pres tried to show us the new way. He was round, maybe 5 ft. 2, had fashioned a pork-pie hat in the manner of his master, and preached the superiority of Pres Senior.

I have to interrupt here to describe what we apprentice tenor players were up against when we encountered the real thing. Little Pres and I, with our horns, were wandering the streets of Boston one Sunday afternoon and said, “Hey – Arnett Cobb is at the Savoy. Let’s go see if we can blow with him”. Arnett Cobb, veteran of Lionel Hampton’s band, one of those huge sounding Texas guys, master interpreter of the Illinois Jacquette “Flying Home” solo (which I had to play four times a night a few years later at the Golfer’s Club in Ithaca – that black after-hours dance hall/gambling club).

Get to the joint – “Sure boys, come right on up.”  And in the most kindly way possible, Arnett Cobb blew us right across the Charles River. There’s no point trying to put on paper how loud those guys were. Amplification for anyone but singers was unknown; the sheer power of the big bands came from acoustically loud (remember the girdles worn by the Condoli brothers, trumpets in Stan Kenton’s band. Prevented hernias).

I was in the army with a tenor player from Sam Donahue’s band. He described what the power-players did (Eddie Miller, Tex Beneke, Bud Freeman were of another, quieter, order). They bought the most open metal mouthpiece, filed it more open yet, got #5 hard reeds and clipped them. I tried a set-up like that and couldn’t make a sound. Not strong enough.

Back to Little Pres. He had seemed a little flaky, but what else is new? Drafted at the same time, we rode the bus together, had our uniforms fitted together, and parted. Assigned to different outfits, where a senior sergeant taught us to make a bed, army style. I didn’t see Little Pres again, but a week later heard about him. He was discharged. The flakes must have showed in some non-military way and he was sent home with a Section Eight. The most coveted premature discharge in the army. Medical discharge. Dishonorable discharge or discharge-without-honor can screw you up in later life. Means the induction center did no screening of this guy at all. I could have told them he was unfit.

Mitigation: Lester Young was inducted in August of 1944 when he was 35 years old. The Battle of the Bulge was raging, we weren’t at all sure we weren’t losing the war, and there loomed the horrendous prospect of invading Japan, code name ‘Operation Downfall’ (a novelist, using all available planning records from our army and Japan’s, wrote a fictional history of what would have happened had we invaded Japan. You don’t want to know). The atom bomb decision came very late in the game.

Green troops were pulled out of basic before they learned anything; were flown across the Atlantic to try to plug the leaks in our too thin lines across the neck of the Bulge. The draft was scraping the bottom of the barrel; the draft age was raised to forty. In my first go at basic training, while the Bulge was still on, we had a guy come in late – one of those poor slobs whose training records had been lost. He had been sent back from combat in the Bulge because: I noted his Coke-bottle glasses and asked him how come he was sent home. Here’s what he said:

“I was running into battle when this lieutenant came up to me and said, ‘Soldier – why are you wearing your gas mask?’  I said, ‘Sir, I’ve broken my glasses and I can’t see without the gas mask.'” If you had really rotten vision, your GI gas mask had prescription lenses. This guy had 20/400 vision; drafted anyhow.

So the drafting of Lester Young in this context makes it make a little more sense. But Geoff Dyer observes that Young consistently infuriated the army from physical on by being so weak and so passive. In an account of a white lieutenant making him tear up a picture of Billie Holiday (perceived as white) in the presence of the rest of the company, Dyer portrays the officer’s feelings:

“…He’d never encountered a man more lacking in strength, but he made the whole idea of strength and all the things associated with it seem irrelevant, silly. Rebels, ringleaders, and mutineers – they could all be countered: they met the army head-on, played by its rules. However strong you were, the army could break you – but weakness, that was something the army was powerless to oppose because it did away with the whole idea of opposition on which force depends. All you could do with the weak was cause them pain – and Young was going to get plenty of that.”

But it ain’t that simple. Here’s Dyer from an earlier time in Lester Young’s life: “When they jammed together Hawk tried everything he knew to cut him but he never managed it. In Kansas City in ’34 they played right through the morning; Hawk stripped down to his singlet, trying to blow him down with that big hurricane tenor, and Lester slumped in a chair with that faraway look in his eyes, his tone still light as a breeze after eight hours of playing. The pair of them wore out pianists until there was no one left and Hawk walked off the stand, threw his horn in the back of his car, and gunned it all the way to St. Louis for that night’s gig”.

That’s hardly a description of a weakling. But it’s ten years earlier, Pres is 25, and in that he freely admitted to having been an addict for ten years when he was drafted at 35, was at the time of this session drug free (‘though it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t blow a little gage – the term for smoking pot in the thirties). Here it should be noted that several Lester Young scholars find signs of his eventual disintegration in recordings made in the period just before he went in the army.

So what happened in 1944-45? Maybe the drugs. He had to be smoking pot, and admitted to amphetamines. Benzedrine, legal at the time, is truly vicious, starting with the cardio-vascular system and finishing with the brain. A combination of drugs may have begun to wreck his nervous system. And don’t forget the syphilis. It can go underground and leap out at you years – decades – later, and it eventually destroys the brain

But more likely – this from personal experience. In that session where he wasted Coleman Hawkins, he was on native turf, doing what he was born to do. In the army? Here’s an abbreviated version of my tale. Some of us have some schizophrenia and a touch of epilepsy in their ancestry; in my family, a lot (and look around you. More than you thought?). In 1950 my soon-to-be wife’s father came bombing up to Ithaca to prevent an unholy marriage. Ours. Late afternoon harangue. No dinner. Later and later harangue. I couldn’t walk away from it because it wold have put my wife-to-be at risk. Somewhere in the early AM I partially fainted. Still conscious, but removed from the scene. (We got married anyhow).

I’ll bet that under the brutal pressure Lester Young was subjected to, he simply shut down. It’s a mild seizure – protective circuitry kicks in. There was no way out of this. No Joe Glaser* to call. So the organism crawled into its shell. [* Joe Glaser – Louis Armstrong’s connected manager, never let anything remotely bad come near Louis]. And most likely, a combination of the above.

Here’s the day after I wrote all that, and I find it dissatisfying, in part because it exposes an arrogant attitude on my part which implies that Lester Young might have acted “better,” or “stronger,” for which I abjectly apologize. Don’t delete the above, because it includes contributing factors, and will stand as “out-takes” but let’s take another crack at it:

First of all, this is 1945, civil rights legislation is years away, we’re in the South, Lester Young, however light, is black, and the officers are white. The situation mirrors slavery because the officers have absolute power.

Now go ahead to about 1972. The magazine ‘Psychology Today’ reported a failed experiment at Stanford in the psychology department. The mission was to examine the dynamics of being a warden/prison guard as against being a prisoner. So the entire graduate department was enlisted; half the students were assigned prisoner status, the other half became guards. They were to be observed for two weeks at which point their roles would be reversed; guards would become prisoners and vice versa.

It lasted barely a week. The faculty had to abort the experiment abruptly because the prisoners were having crying jags and some were approaching a nervous breakdown. The guards were showing increasing meanness bordering on brutality – physical violence was looming. Remember that this was a reasonably random cross-section of the population. Now go back to Lester Young in the army and take another look at it with this experiment in mind.

For another vision of Lester’s story, read Frank Buchmann-Moller’s extraordinary biography, YOU JUST FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE — which draws on the Army’s files to give the facts behind this most traumatic story.  And, yes, it is just as painful as the mythic versions we all knew before the files came to light.

FEBRUARY 10, 2009: RONNIE WASHAM AND FRIENDS

Really, do I need to say more?

All right.  Singer Ronnie Washam will be leading her friends (and they are!) in another evening of heartfelt swing — downtown at the Greenwich Village Bistro on Carmine Street from 9 PM.  Her friends?  None other than Sam Parkins, pianist / singer Peter Sokolow, bassist Dave Winograd.

For details, check my post IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO PRAISE.  And make sure your datebooks are properly annotated for Tuesday night.  It will be one of the better, warmer places to be — emotionally as well as Farenheit.

CANGELOSI CARDS: LIGHTNING IN THE DARKNESS

Often, when the Beloved and I go to a wonderful restaurant the second time, hoping to repeat the delicious experiences, Disappointment is one of the specials, on or off the menu.  What was blissful now seems formulaic; the shine is off of everything.

So I am thrilled to report that I dared the Fates and went back to Banjo Jim’s last night to repeat the experience of one week earlier — seeing the Cangelosi Cards perform on a Monday night.

And I brought a friend: the clarinetist and reed explorer / jazz scholar / memoirist Leroy “Sam” Parkins, whose words you’ve been reading in these pages.

Or, rather, he couldn’t stay away.  He had seen my January 30 posting about the Cards: CANGELOSI CARDS: SWEET SATORI! and wondered what they were like in person, and if he should bring his “Klarinette.”  I gave him encouraging answers to both questions.  The result was that Sam sat next to me right in front of the band for the first four songs (you’ll see them below) transfixed.  In fact, if you listen closely, you’ll hear an astonished man’s voice commenting on what’s going on in a kind of jazz rapture.

Tamar and Jake were happy to meet him and delighted with the idea that he wanted to sit in once the band got itself into its groove.

The Cards began as a band-within-the-band (a neat trick for such a compact touring ensemble) in Hot Club style.  Tamar Korn stood at our left, and you’ll see Karl Meyer on violin, Marcus Millius on harmonica, Jake Sanders on guitar, and Cassidy Holden on bass, pizzicato and arco both.  Everyone was in splendid form, with solo honors often going to Jake and Cassidy, both of whom soloed at greater length than I had heard them do a week ago.

The set began unusually with a soulful rendition of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, one of those songs (like GOODNIGHT, SWEETHEART) I expect bands to play at the end of the night, the close of the gig.  Here it was a wistful jumping-off place, quite remarkable.

Then, another piece associated with farewells (what was going through everyone’s mind?): AFTER YOU’VE GONE.

Gordon Webster, pianist of note, came in just in time to join the Cards on EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which I think of as ‘ZACKLY — and he was more than welcome.

Another admonitory song (in the “you’d better watch your step” mode) followed: SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Next to me, Sam alternated between rapture and impatience — this, after all, is truly his music, the sounds he grew up with.  Ever the instigator, I suggested he politely let everyone see that his clarinet was assembled, the reed properly moist and seated happily in the ligature . . . and it worked.  He was invited to the bandstand (an illusion at Banjo Jim’s) and, even better, the estimable trombonist Matt Musselman and Dennis Lichtman (usually on clarinet but initially doubling mandolin with great style and skill) came in.

Once the front line (actually leaning against the back wall and window) had settled itself in and introductions had been accomplished, someone asked Sam if he knew IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE.  This courtesy made me smile: it’s graciousness of the highest order when the members of the band want to make sure that the newcomer is comfortable with their repertoire.  But it was a kindness that Sam didn’t need, as he smiled gently and said that it was the first song he had learned to play as a young man in the Thirties.  He has an innate gleeful sense of his environment, and he let them know how pleased he was that they had chosen something that was in his very capillaries.)

And did they swing out.  Catch Matt grinning while Sam plays, and notice that although Tamar has taken her inspiration from Fats Waller’s recording (always a good idea!) that her scat singing goes deep inside.  It’s plaintive and nearly primitive, reaching back before recordings.

After a sweet, long MOONGLOW and a deep-down TISHOMINGO BLUES (not visible here because so many eager, expert dancers — including the nimbly stomping Mimi Terris — obscured Flip’s view), the Cards decided to end their set with another surprise.  Eddie Cantor’s theme, IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, is almost always done at a medium tempo.  Red Nichols took it very slowly; Eddie Condon (twenty years later) repeated the same wonderful idea (Pee Wee Russell in charge, both times).  But I’d really never heard it done as a stomp — which it is here. (Incidentally, all the percussive accents you hear in these clips are Tamar’s inventions.)

When this set was over, I was both elated and drained.  I had said I would stay for the second one, but I ended up taking my leave by saying to Tamar, “I’m full!  I don’t need to hear any more music,” and I happily drove home, thinking about the experience — which is at once jazz, country, Hot Club stomp, and music with a timeless yearning delicacy.  And a good deal of my pleasure is that Flip and I can share essential portions of it with you.

It just might be that the Cards are a pleasure we can go back to again and again with no diminuition of joy or insight.  At least I can testify that their brand of heartfelt, romping lightning struck twice — in the same place, no less.

CREATIVE VIOLENCE?

wby1When I was in graduate school, deep in W.B. Yeats-idolatry (my other life has been wound around Irish literature), I admired “Under Ben Bulben”  — his great late poem — immoderately.  But I had very little patience for this quatrain, and wondered if Yeats had made the idea fit his rhymes.

Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.

The slightly satiric visual image these lines suggested to me was of the artist as bullyboy, getting ready to wallop someone, the man getting dressed to go out with his ladylove, shaving in front of the mirror in tremendous annoyance.  And as I write this, I am listening to an old record of Johnny Windhurst ambling through a ballad-tempo “Memphis Blues”; he sounds utterly at ease.  And Yeats himself — in the famous photo here — looks more pensive than violent.

But I do know that the creative process, even for writers, is tension-producing, the effort of making something a tiring and often irritating thing.  Although we talk about “relaxation” as an ideal creative state and imagine that the string bassist playing those beautiful lines (I am thinking of Pat O’Leary at the Ear Inn last Sunday) is dreamily easeful, every muscle loose, this may be a fallacy.  I wonder if creative energy, productive anger and violence are much like sexual tension: that state of being ready for action, mildly edgy, on the brink of action.

But these lines came to mind again because Sam Parkins, sage and improviser, sent me something he had written about Louis and the emotional climate needed for creativity.  It also reminds us of Louis’s essential deep seriousness about his art, something that all the grinning pictures occasionally obscure.  Some readers might think that these two examples are atypical, but I wonder.  A great deal!

louis-somber-1

In all the voluminous writing about Louis Armstrong there is something elementary missing, and the minute I tell you about it you’ll agree.  I started looking for it about ten years ago, when I started researching him. Had to be there.  Violence.  The need for it comes at you from all directions.  His start in life, in the funkiest, most criminal part of New Orleans.  The stress of dealing with really bad racial stuff – from both sides, because he was darker than most, and would have got it from lighter folks as well as whites.

And something I know from myself.  When I get deeply involved in music, I go around slightly pissed all the time.  It generates a kind of energy that it’s a good idea to be aware of.  I noticed it only last fall when I had to play clarinet on a critical recording, including memorizing the book, and having to practice my way to more than competence in a hurry.  If you knew Zoot Sims, you would have been aware that it was always there – an undercurrent.  (Don’t take this to include all artists all the time – just a tendency).  But all the writing portrays Louis as this pussy cat.

So finally I found it.  In a recent book, “The Louis Armstrong Companion: 8 Decades of Commentary” (ed. Joshua Berrett, Schirmer Books, 2000), there’s a couple of prime examples:  1) Someone goes into the dressing room just in time to see Louis with his hands around his manager Joe Glaser’s neck – “Lissen motherfucker – if I find you’ve stolen one penny from me you’re dead”.

2) Just before the All Stars are about to go on stage, Louis flattens Jack Teagarden.  Knocks him out.  And goes on to announce sweetly, “Mr. Teagarden will not be able to be with us for this performance”.  (Doesn’t tell us why). I asked biographer James Lincoln Collier if he knew about this, because it’s not in his book. “Yes – I knew about it, but didn’t include it because I have to have something like that from two sources and there’s only one”.

LOUIS, AN ECSTATIC EXPERIENCE

louis-posterSam Parkins, bless him, sent me the backstory (or is it “prequel”?) to his 1945 Louis experience, which I posted as LOUIS AND “THAT MODERN MALICE”:

A note from now – January 2009: It’s impossible to overstate Louis’ nearly-vanished position in the early 40s, when I came into jazz sentience.  To us hep-cats he was only slightly more ‘there’ than Alphonse Picou (whom no one had heard of).  We’d heard of Louis, but he hadn’t mattered for years.  I did have a high school classmate who kept a wind-up Victrola and some 78s in the garage, but when he tried playing me some red-label Columbia Hot Fives they didn’t register so he gave up.  Benny and Duke (oh all right – and Glenn Miller) were pretty nearly all there was.

So the following trip was – well – a trip: 1945 was a hell of a year.  A half-dozen big things happened: I got drafted, Roosevelt died, VE day, I heard Louis Armstrong for the first and almost last time (drunk in Geneva – the other time – doesn’t count), VJ day, Bird and Diz first record, Stravinsky writes “The Ebony Concerto” for the Woody Herman band… I was let out of basic training end of March just after VE day and given a chance to go back to college for engineering.  Seemed vastly superior to heading for the Pacific so I didn’t tell them I had already switched to a music major at Cornell, and fetched up at the University of Kentucky, where the girl/boy ratio was 5-1.  Cool.

I’d been there three days – and met a girl acquaintance downtown on the main (and only) drag by the drugstore. Saturday afternoon.  There’s no possibility of transcribing this but I’ll try: “Yawgnjlnnye?”  It evolved that Louis Armstrong was playing at the Joyland Ballroom that night and was I going?  Joyland was the classic American amusement park and ballroom, built by the trolley company, always at the end of line to get customers out on weekends.  Think Coney Island.  So I took her.  At least I took her, bought tickets and got her in the door.  Then Louis started to play and I was rooted to the floor in front of the stage, which was high, at shoulder level (a good idea if there’s a riot – and I’ve been in one, at a wedding where the bride was Irish and the groom Polish.  High stage saved the band).  Never saw the girl again. (But I did see one of the dancers.  Barefoot guy, nearly seven feet tall, very long – past shoulder length – hair, in an era where that simply wasn’t done.  Guy stood out.  Jitterbugging like hell.  Must have still been with girl; asked her “Whoozat?”  “Oh – that’s a hillbilly. They come down from Harlan County.”    Ferociousest lookin’ guy I ever saw).

Rooted to the floor with tears streaming down my cheeks.  Louis could play one note and destroy me.  Never ever let up.  This was his traveling big band, one nighters all over the country, and this was the South, where by all accounts the going was rough for a black band.  He could – and I think this was true all his life – only play and sing wide open. And that doesn’t mean loud.  “Commitment and Abandon”?  This is it.

I look over my long life in music and can think of only one comparable experience.  Bob Palmer, our composition teacher at Cornell, took us – his class of four would-bes – up to Eastman to hear Frederick Fennell conduct the student orchestra in Bartok’s “Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste”.  Bartok had just died, and his music immediately spread like a tidal wave everywhere.  Erased everyone else for a few years.  At the end of the performance Fennell asked the audience, “Would you like to hear it again?”  Of course we would.  At the end of the second go-’round I nearly fainted – had to be partly carried to the door.  Too much emotion.

(And folks – tell me: can any of the other arts do that to you?).

Stoned: Like most bands in the ballroom era, Louis only took one break – no more that a half-hour.  His arranger had his office across the hall from Big Nick’s studio over the Savoy in Boston; when I was about to leave for the army he said, “If you run into Louis on the road, say ‘Hi’ for me”.  So at intermission I went back stage, found Louis’ road manager, flashed the arranger’s name (which I’ve forgotten) and asked for an autograph (on my gold-rimmed union card – issued when drafted, dues suspended).  He disappears, comes back with Louis and introduces me.  Louis reaches out his hand to shake, and I really shouldn’t try to transcribe this one.  Guttural utterances, no recognizable words at all.  I thing he was working on “pleasedtameetcha”.  So wrecked he couldn’t talk.  (Now you know why he needed Joe Glaser).  But he could play and sing like an angel.  (All sources including All-Star players I know agree that it was mostly pot.  He did drink a little Slivovitz, but only at parties).

I asked my father (doctor) about this phenomenon and he told me about a colleague, brain surgeon, deep in the toils of senile dementia – and still able to do the most delicate surgery.  Dad said that what ever you’ve spent your life doing day in and day out is so embedded in the brain (sounds like a back-up circuit) that it’s often available when everything else has packed it in.  Regarding music against speech – nowdays we would say that speech is left lobe and music right, and right is apparently more durable.

So what do I close the 20th century with?  Only Louis and his idol Caruso (played on a wind-up Victrola on the original discs please.  Anything more modern destroys his soul; digital buries him) have the ability to by-pass hearing.

They go straight to the gizzard and shake it up mercilessly.

A note from a grateful reader: now you see why I praise Sam as a writer — intent, exuberant, apparently heedless but knowing what he’s up to all the time.

BARBARA LEA AND JOHNNY WINDHURST, THEN AND NOW

One of the great pleasures of this not-for-profit enterprise is the connections that it creates and makes possible.  Sam Parkins writes about hearing Louis in 1945, then Ricky Riccardi does some detective work to track down the song Sam might have heard Louis play.

When I posted about Johnny Windhurst on January 8, it provoked some felicitous comments from musicians.  Today, I heard — indirectly — from Barbara Lea.  I say “indirectly,” because Barbara’s been ill of late, so her dear friend Jeanie Wilson wrote to me . . . which was a pleasure in itself — and sent these two photographs.  Barbara spoke of Johnny in the most glowing terms, much as she spoke of the late Dick Sudhalter, who joined her on a number of more recent sessions.

For those of you who don’t know all about Barbara Lea, I would direct you to her website (www.barbaralea.com) and then to Amazon to purchase the three CDs that contain the music she recorded with Johnny Windhurst, Dick Cary, Garvin Bushell, Ernie Caceres, Dick Hyman (as “Richard Lowman”) and others: BARBARA LEA, A WOMAN IN LOVE, and LEA IN LOVE.  (Details of these sessions can be found in the discography, nicely done, on Barbara’s website.)  The intuitive teamwork between Barbara and Johnny — intense yet delicate — summons up the celestial music that Lee Wiley and Bobby Hackett made on a precious few records.

The first photograph, as atmospheric as you could want, was taken during a 1956 Riverside recording session at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio — which was actually his living room, if you didn’t know.

When was the last time you saw a trumpeter or cornetist sweetly change the timbre of his sound with a felt hat?  (I saw Vic Dickenson put a beret over the bell of his horn, and the resulting sound was lovely, clear but far-away, as if heard in the forest.)

lea-windhurst-1

Here’s another snapshot of Johnny, from Barbara’s scrapbook:

lea-windhurst-2

And a beautiful portrait of Barbara herself in full flower:

lea-portrait

And just so you know that virtue is, in fact, sometimes rewarded:  Barbara is an alumna of Wellesley College, and they are honoring her with their Alumnae Achievement Award.

Who deserves it more?

LOUIS AND “THAT MODERN MALICE”

louis-somber-2

Sam Parkins, wily explorer of the reeds, is also a phenomenal writer.  Here’s a snippet from his memoirs about Louis’s approach to the harmonic “modernism” that so shaped the jazz of the times:

I heard Louis Armstrong the music critic at that dance in Lexington KY, spring 1945.  A very clear statement about his loathing for modern music, coming at him like a tornado.  Music lesson:   For preceding centuries, a song or a complete chorus ended on what’s called the “tonic” – the home key, and the chord that preceded it was called the “dominant”, 4 notes below. Here comes modern, and by 1944 the “dominant” was often replaced by a somewhat purple 7th chord a half-step above the “tonic”.  Let’s put our mythical tune in the key of F major; at least 20% of the standard repertoire is in F.  Eddie Condon called F “the key of love”.  Means the traditional “dominant” chord is C, usually with a 7th.  So I’m grooving away with Louis blowing his heart out over the band, and come to an ending, where his up-to-date arranger has modernized things with a G-flat 7th before the “tonic” F.  Louis slashes an angry C triad right across it, making him play at least two “wrong” notes, and Louis was incapable of playing wrong notes.  “That for your godamned modernism!”.


DICK SUDHALTER, CELEBRATED

Marianne Mangan sent in her heartfelt note about last week’s memorial concert in honor of Richard M. Sudhalter, a man so missed that one evening couldn’t hope to do him, his music, and his memory justice:

In the two hours that we were able to be at the Richard Sudhalter Memorial (lovingly arranged by Dan Levinson this past Monday) there were riches enough for many evenings–spoken and sung, played on the piano (Marian McPartland, impossibly frail, still incomparably gifted; Steve Kuhn, teenage band brother and lifelong friend), and jammed by various configurations of musicians in numbers from two to many–the best talent in town. All in the name of one outstanding horn player, scholar, jazz historian, and, quite apparently, friend.

It seemed especially fitting that the passing of this man of prodigious talents, so good at showcasing others’ talents (who could forget the Paul Whiteman recreations and the 1979 Hoagy Carmichael concert?) should be the occasion for several notable partnerships to shine once more. Peter Ecklund rejoined co-Orphan Newsboy Marty Grosz for “Jubilee”, and it was a swinging affair, propelled from the first by Marty’s rhythmic guitar to Peter’s final rousing high notes. With Dan Levinson and Scott Robinson on bass saxophone jubilating along… Sam Parkins was “revered in the Sudhalter household” sister Carol said and in a sort of ghost reunion, the wily reedman and musical sibling put their heads together for an utterly charming “My Baby Just Cares For Me”. As is his wont (“Someone!”), Sam literally passed the baton to Howard Alden, Dick Katz, Bill Kirchner and Ray Mosca… And then there were two: Marty Grosz and Joe Muranyi, sans Dick(s) Wellstood and Sudhalter, playing lustily on “Louisiana” (with verse) and “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans,” making us miss the The Classic Jazz Quartet, making us glad they’re still here…

Dick Sudhalter recognized what good jazz was and how to make it live again, and it seems he’s still at it.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO PRAISE

My title is a slight distortion of a Willard Robison song that Mildred Bailey did beautifully, and it’s also a statement of philosophy for this blog.  But I’m not going back into the Dear Departed Past, to quote Dave Frishberg, only back to last year — December 30, 2008, to be precise. 

applause

In a December post, WAY DOWN YONDER ON CARMINE STREET, I urged my New York readers to come hear the singer Ronnie Washam (she’s Veronica on her return address labels) and her Friends at the Greenwich Village Bistro for a debut gig.  I made it to 1 and 1/2 sets that night.  And they were worth writing about. 

Ronnie’s Friends — not just an idle band title — are Sam Parkins, also known as Leroy Parkins, Albert-system clarinetist, scholar, record producer, raconteur, and writer; Pete Sokolow, pianist-singer, honoring Earl Hines and Fats Waller, and bassist Dave Winograd. 

When I got down to the Bistro (just south of the IFC theatre and around the corner — 13 Carmine Street), this little band was already strolling through S’WONDERFUL.  They proceeded to honor George and Ira Gershwin in a fond and musically articulate set.  The songs ranged from the tender (EMBRACEABLE YOU and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY) to the affectionately satiric (THEY ALL LAUGHED, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT), the rueful (BUT NOT FOR ME), and the riotous (Sokolow’s tribute to “my hero,” Thomas Waller, in a piano-vocal I GOT RHTYHM that summoned up Fats’s band version of 1935 hilariously and effectively.

Ronnie was in wonderful form and fine voice.  I hadn’t heard her since the Cajun closed in 2006, when she was “The Chelsea Nightingale,” positioned off to the side of the bandstand as an accessory to Bob Thompson’s Red Onion Jazz Band.  Thompson, even then, was a solid drummer with a well-earned grasp of jazz history, but he called the songs Ronnie sang, and it was a pleasure to see her sing others at the Bistro.  I knew her then as someone who loved the melody and understood the words; with this more relaxed combo, I heard her as a far freer improviser, someone whose second choruses were developments of what she had sung in her first exposition of the theme.  Her time remains excellent; her diction is splendid.  But it’s her feeling that sets her apart from a thousand other singers trying to comvince us that they own the Great American Songbook.  Like Bing, Ronnie makes it seem easy: listening to her, one might think, “Oh, I  could do that!”  But that would be an error.  And she had an easy give-and-take with the band, being content to be one of them rather than the Star. 

The band — all three of them — was very pleasing as well.  The piano wasn’t perfect, but Sokolow covered every inch of it, graciously playing the right chords, delicately voiced, behind Ronnie and the other two players.  Dave Winograd sat on a high stool, his bass at an angle over his shoulder, impressing us all with his huge tone and fine notes.  Sam Parkins has all the Goodman facility anyone would want, but he isn’t the twenty-first century’s Peanuts Hucko: he uses those flurries to create his own sound-pictures, with lovely excursions into the horn’s lower register. 

Sam is also a not-quite-dormant showman and vaudevillian, so one high point of the evening was his rapid-fire delivery of I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS.  Who among us remembers all of those tongue-twisting lyrics?  Sam remembers them and puts them over, exuberantly.  It was a joy to watch and hear him, occasionally finishing his sixteen bars and deciding to hand the baton to another player, hollering, “Somebody else!”  It worked. 

The second set moved beyond Gershwin to a naughty MAKIN’ WHOOPEE, a tender TIME ON MY HANDS, a funny CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU (a Waller-Razaf collaboration with an irresistible melody and irresistibly silly lyrics), a fervent ME MINUS YOU (in honor of Connee Boswell, one of Ronnie’s — and my — heroines), and a moving AM I BLUE, complete with the rarely-heard verse, where Ronnie showed just how compelling her understated delivery is.

I sat next to my friends Marianne Mangan and Bob Levin, and the three of us were beaming.  Others in the Bistro seemed to know just how good the music was, and the tip jar was filled with bills.  I hope this quartet has a new steady gig.  The ambiance, in itself, was worth seeking out, as if a group of talented friends was playing for their own enjoyment in someone’s living room, caring for the music above all.   

A postscript: Sam Parkins has been writing his musical and intellectual autobiography (he gave me some chapters from it when we were both regulars at the Cajun) and it’s wonderfully addictive.  You can find excerpts from it on his MySpace page:   http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=201966595.  He was there (I was just re-reading his piece on the death of Ellington bassist Junior Raglin) and he can write.  A rare combination indeed.

THREE CHEERS FOR PETER ECKLUND!

One of the pleasures of this blog is the attentive local correspondents who come bearing gifts of information and insight.  Marianne Mangan is the most recent addition to the unpaid Jazz Lives staff of roving reporters, and I hope she phones in her stories frequently!

Hi Michael,

What a night Monday is for the hot stuff! You’ve talked about Vince & the Nighthawks at Sofia’s, and we know about the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s (VERY good on Sunday, too, with the Creole Cooking Jazz Band), but here’s one more. On Monday night we (my “beloved” / husband is writer / one-time jazz critic Robert Levin) had occasion to hear the Stan Rubin Jazz All-Stars at Charley O’s Time Square Grill. The poster outside still shows Dan Levinson and Jon-Erik Kellso…not so and no matter. The multi-talented and always able Herb Gardner led on keyboard, with young Peter Reardon Anderson on clarinet and tenor sax, steady Steve Alcott on bass, Arnie Kinsella hammering those accents home on drums (and using brushes more than anyone around) and the remarkable Peter Ecklund on trumpet and four-valve flugelhorn. They swung and stomped their way through the likes of “Milenberg Joys,” “Who’s Sorry Now?,” “Big Butter & Egg Man” and “Oh, Baby,” pausing occasionally to temper  the heat with the out & out heart-melting: “One Hundred Years From Today” and “I Surrender, Dear.”

Ecklund played every song like he had a personal connection to it: so musical, so smart, sometimes sly, sometimes sweet, always accurate. He’s generous with the other players, leading them into phrasings that are unexpected and just right. They seemed happy for the inspiration and played like a tight unit, although he’s only with them once or twice a month.

Peter also plays with the Gotham Jazzmen on Wednesdays 12:30 to 2:00 at the Greenwich Village Bistro, 13 Carmine Street at Bleecker & 6th. With Jim Collier leading on trombone, Sam Parkins on clarinet, Dick Miller on piano and Peter on whatever he feels like (which was flugelhorn and ukelele last week), the old pros wove a spell around “Rosetta,” “Deed I Do,” “China Boy,” and more. Subtle, nuanced–lovely stuff.  Peter’s played like this every time I’ve seen him recently.  In person, he sounds like his CDs, made when he was the hot hand among cornet players.  I, for one, would like the opportunity to see him work a lot more.

Thanks for all the great information (and mood elevating, too!) you get out there, Michael!

Sincerely,

Marianne

A few more words about Peter Ecklund.  Perceptive, witty, and insightful, he’s been a jazz scholar of great renown — his work on Bix and Louis is hugely admired in the field and by his colleagues.  I first heard him on a Stomp Off vinyl issue, PETER ECKLUND AND THE MELODY MAKERS, which featured him in the congenial company of Dan Barrett, Ken Peplowski, Joe Muranyi, Barbara Dreiwitz, Marty Grosz, Eddy Davis — the finest players then in New York.  Happily, that CD has just been reissued as HORN OF PLENTY on the Classic Jazz label — eminently worthwhile listening, vigorous, lyrical, and hot.  Even when Peter puts down his horns on these sessions, his whistling on “Take Your Tomorrow” is reason enough to buy the CD.

I had the opportunity to hear him twice in 1990 in concerts held in Babylon, New York (no one’s idea of a jazz hotbed) with Muranyi, Grosz, and Barrett — wonderful stuff.  I remember with pleasure Muranyi’s singing of “Louisiana Fairy Tale,” which was still the theme song of THIS OLD HOUSE.  Days gone by!

I followed Peter’s playing through several Arbors CDs, and then caught up with him a few years ago — at the Cajun with the Gotham Jazzmen, with other pickup groups, and as a noble guest at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  Peter has always had a variety of approaches — his early work had some of the tumbling bravado of Jabbo Smith balanced against the sweetness of Bix and Bobby Hackett.  When he used his mute, his personality as well as his sound changed, sometimes summoning up the growls and moans of the Thirties Ellington brass.  Peter always offered shining melodic improvisations that went in unexpected ways, and his recent playing, focused and fervent, is reminiscent of the delicate yet arching trajectories of Doc Cheatham.  I hope we hear Peter more and more . . . and that, like Doc, his playing career is long and delightful.  All hail a great talent!

As a postscript, at Marianne’s suggestion, I put on the Jazzology CD of 1994, ECKLUND AT ELKHART: Peter leading what might be The Perfect Band: Dan Barrett, Bobby Gordon, Mark Shane, Marty Grosz, Greg Cohen, and Hal Smith.  Music to rejoice by, and sorely needed, too.