I’m sure your insurance plan has Doctors WIllie “the Lion” Smith, Frank Newton, Buster Bailey, Pete Brown, Jimmy McLin, John Kirby, and O’Neil Spencer as participating providers. Their theraputic model was based in a text written on July 14, 1937, by Doctors Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin. Here’s the mission statement of this medical group. (First the label; the music is below this photograph.)
Sammy Cahn doesn’t mention this song in his autobiography, but I wonder if it was his whimsical response to some self-help book popular at the time, perhaps Napoleon Hill’s THINK AND GROW RICH, surely one of the most enticing book titles ever. But Cahn’s lyrics are good homespun advice; Chaplin’s melody is simple and thus memorable, and the singing of O’Neil Spencer, and the solos — this is, for me, an irreplaceable recording. See if it doesn’t stick with you, also:
A little four-chorus masterpiece, full of individualistic voices and great ensemble unity. It’s not as well-known, but it’s surely the equal of the more-heralded Billie Holiday and Fats Waller recordings of the time. And it contains truths. “Take personal inventory” is advice that never ages. Sing it, play it, live by it.
This sign is catnip to me and to other cats — so much so that we were standing in line (in a drizzle) outside of Mezzrow long before the Powers would open the door. But our perseverance was well rewarded, that night of September 16, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Tal Ronen, string bass, got together for a vibrant imaginative session. Here are a few highlights.
Rossano’s musical beverage, TEA FOR TWO:
Honoring Fathahood, MONDAY DATE:
ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE (featuring Tal):
I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, echoing not only Fats but also Ruby and Ralph:
Rossano’s marriage of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and Fred Chopin, in SHOE SHINE BOY / Waltz, Opus 69, No. 1:
And Jon-Erik’s suggestion that we not leave, STICK AROUND:
Brilliant solo voices, rewarding thoughtful ensemble interplay. Yes, it happened.
How do you recognize wealthy people? They go on vacation with more possessions than they can carry, and they hire someone to do the work for them.
“Red cap” or “redcap,” now archaic, dates back to when people traveled by train, when suitcases did not have wheels, so passengers would need help with their luggage, and would summon a railway porter.
Hereis a 1983 news story, “The Top Redcap,” which explains it in greater depth. I believe that the redcaps were hard-working men of color who may not have been treated well by affluent passengers. One of the sadnesses of this life is that people who perform low-status jobs become servants and are thus invisible.
If you wonder at the photographs — figurines carrying suitcases and golf clubs, my intent is not to demean these diligent laborers, but these objects turned up online, described as “REDCAP W/ LUGGAGE, STANDARD GAUGE MODEL TRAIN PLATFORM FIGURE, NEW/REPRODUCTION” — produced for people who wanted the landscape of their model train layout to be realistic. “Look. Servants, too!”
The description reads: “This is a Standard Gauge figure of a redcap/train porter carrying luggage. It is a reproduction cast in tin from a Lionel antique original and is hand-painted by Leddy & Slack. Lionel’s six-piece set #550 of Standard Gauge figures was manufactured from 1932-1936. The redcap is 3″ tall and wears a dark gray uniform. The suitcase in his left hand is detachable. . . . Suitcases are also available separately to replace a lost piece of luggage on an old figure; please inquire.” It’s significant that this piece of miniature art dates from 1932-36.
But JAZZ LIVES has not turned into a cultural studies explication of Lionel train figures. It’s all a prelude to the music, which touches us through the decades.
In 1937, Louis Armstrong and Ken Hecht collaborated on a song, RED CAP. Everyone, including me, thinks the Hecht referred to was BEN — he’s even credited in the Mosaic set — but it’s KEN. See below for Dan Morgenstern’s correction.
Louis had traveled coast-to-coast many times by 1937, so he had first-hand experience of the amiable fellows who helped you and your bags off the train. Ricky Riccardi, my brother-in-Louis, told me something I hadn’t known, that Louis refused to put his name on songs he had no part in writing. But there’s an even stronger story behind RED CAP.
Louis grew up in poverty, knew what it was like to hunt through garbage cans for food, was contemptuous of the “lazy,” and held hard work for a goal as the greatest good. He also was generous, and I would bet that when Louis and his band came into town, he was a hero to the red caps and more.
A year before RED CAP, Louis had a great hit with SHOE SHINE BOY, by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin (Cahn wrote about Louis in his autobiography, and I posted this cameo in 2009). If you don’t know the song, or know it only through the instrumental versions by Count Basie, Lester Young, and Jo Jones, listen to this touching December 1935 performance:
So: a song celebrating the working man (or child) invisible to the higher classes, directed at him (as in “you” rather than “he”) and predicting a hopeful future, upward economic mobility. As you’ll hear, RED CAP has one extra touch that SHOE SHINE BOY doesn’t: it ends with the notion that the man working so hard hustlin’ and bustlin’ other people’s suitcases will someday be able to take a vacation and call for a red cap as well. A dream worth dreaming!
It’s easy to imagine the dialogue between Louis and Hecht about writing a song in praise of the unseen but invaluable red caps, no matter who started the conversation. Louis usually worked with Horace Gerlach, but you are free to let your imagination wander as to the genesis of RED CAP.
My imagination wanders to this wonderful 2003 performance now accessible on YouTube, from Scott Robinson’s eloquent spacious Louis tribute. Here Scott plays C-melody saxophone alongside another hero, Mark Shane, irresistible both as pianist and singer:
and from five years ago (can it be that long?), our friend Daryl Sherman, vocal and piano; Scott, taragoto; Harvie S, string bass:
And the Master comes last:
I write these words a few days before Labor Day — thus “Perhaps some day you may be shouting, ‘Red Cap!’ too!” — has much hopeful significance to me: people’s dreams can still become realities.
And this, a gift from the Big Dipper, which says so much:
THIS JUST IN, from Dan Morgenstern, whom I trust!
Alas, I too thought how wonderful that Louis and Ben Hecht, of whom I was and still am a great fan, should have collaborated, and on a theme fitting with Hecht’s ideology . But I was not convinced that Ben and Louis had ever been connected. Sure enough, the Red Cap lyric is by KEN Hecht, writer of special material for many comedians and such entertainers as Belle Baker and Rose Marie. None of his other songs is near Red Cap. As for Ben, his most famous work is the play “The Front Page” a big 1928 Broadway hit twice filmed with success, first with the same title and later as “His Girl Friday” with which anyone at all into vintage films will know. Hecht’s partner was Charles Macarthur with whom he screenplayed “Scarface”, “Twentieth Century”, “Nothing Sacred” and, for Noel Coward’s first major film role, “The Coward”, all that plus making the twosome major league screenwriter. Hecht was one of the major advocates for the creation of Israel, among other causes. His 1926 novel “Count Bruga” is a sui generis satire that should be rediscovered. I don’t know if he was a Louis fan but glad this brought him up. His dates are 1894-1964.
AND a wonderful postscript, just in, from the wise Paige VanVorst:
One of my longtime idols, Natty Dominique, who’s on as many classic jazz records as Bix (As Wayne Jones used to say, “but they don’t buy them for Natty’s playing”), worked much of his life as a redcap at Chicago’s Midway Airport. People loved him, and he told stories of the early days of jazz to the people he served. He had a very nice retirement- he had a nice apartment with everything he needed, a wife who was an excellent creole cook, and he’d tell you it was all from his work as a redcap.
“A tender plea” is what the fine writer Harriet Choice calls this Sammy Cahn / Saul Chaplin song. PLEASE BE KIND speaks of the vulnerability of love — the way we say “Here is my heart” to the person whose love we gently ask for. When the plea doesn’t work, we could feel as if we’d painted an archery target on our t-shirt.
But when neither person has arrows or bow, happiness is possible, blossoming out of mutual understanding. Kindness becomes the common language, enacted more than spoken.
I’d heard many great versions of this song, by Mildred Bailey, Frank Sinatra, Carmen McRae — but this version, performed at the San Diego Jazz Fest just a few days ago (November 26, 2017) is slower, more tender, and infinitely more touching than any of the more famous ones.
Dawn Lambeth sings it from her heart, as if it mattered, which of course it does.
I’ve known Dawn’s music for nearly fifteen years, thanks to the blessed and much-missed Leslie Johnson, of The Mississippi Rag, who offered me a copy of her first CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, to review. And from the first notes of “If I Were You,” I knew I was listening to a splendid artist: someone who understood the words, who knew how to swing, whose voice was a gentle warm embrace of the song and the listener. And although it might be rude to speak of an artist “improving,” the emotional riches Dawn offers us now are lasting gifts.
Pianist Kris Tokarski’s little band is just spectacular — Kris on piano, Larry Scala (who set the magnificent yearning tempo) guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone — showing his heart utterly as well; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Marc Caparone, trumpet.
I know that comparisons are precarious, but this performance hits me gently where I live — as Louis and Lester do. Allergies are not the reason my eyes are suddenly damp.
This performance quietly says to me that even in the darkest moments, when I might think all is harsh and hard, “No, kindness and beauty and subtlety have not been lost and will not ever be lost.”
I hope you watch and re-watch this performance, that you go away with words and melody in your mind and ears, and that you, too, make the choice to be kind. It always counts.
Jake Hanna would often say, “Start swinging from the beginning!” He would have loved the Mint Julep Jazz Band and their new CD, BATTLE AXE. Jake isn’t around to embrace them, but I will and do.
Hear and see for yourself: OLD KING DOOJI, live, from June 2015:
ROCK IT FOR ME, from the previous year:
The musicians on this CD are Paul Rogers, trumpet; Keenan McKenzie, tenor saxophone/clarinet/soprano saxophone; Aaron Hill, alto saxophone/clarinet; Aaron Tucker, drums; Jason Foureman, string bass; Ben Lassiter, guitar; Lucian Cobb, trombone; Laura Windley, vocal.
Why I love the Mint Julep Jazz Band (unlike a Letterman list, there are not ten items, and they are presented here without hierarchical value):
One. Expert, accurate, relaxed swinging playing in solo and ensemble. No matter how authentic their vintage costumes; no matter how gorgeous they are personally, for me a band must sound good. I can’t hear cute.
The MJJB has a wonderful ensemble sound: often fuller than their four-horn, three rhythm congregation would lead you to expect. Their intonation is on target, their unison passages are elegantly done but never stiff.
And they swing. They sound like a working band that would have had a good time making the dancers sweat and glow at the Savoy or the Renny.
They are well-rehearsed but not bored by it all. They have individualistic soloists — the front line is happily improvising in their own swinging style always. And a word about “style.” I’ve heard “swing bands” where the soloists sound constricted: Taft Jordan wouldn’t have played that substitute chord, so I won’t / can’t either — OR — let me do my favorite 1974 Miles licks on this Chick Webb-inspired chart. And let me do them for four choruses. Neither approach works for me, although I am admittedly a tough audience. Beautiful playing, folks. And a rhythm section that catches every nuance and propels the band forward without pushing or straining. I never feel the absence of a piano.
Two. Nifty arrangements. See One. Intriguing voicings, original but always idiomatic approaches to music that is so strongly identified with its original arrangements. I played some of this disc for very erudite friends, who said, “Wow, a soprano lead on that chorus!” and other such appreciative exclamations. Sweet, inevitable surprises throughout — but always in the service of the song, the mood, the idiom.
Three. Variety in tempos, approaches, effect. When I listen to BATTLE AXE, I’m always startled when it’s over. Other CDs . . . I sometimes get up, see how many tracks are left, sigh, and go back to my listening.
Four. They honor the old records but they do not copy them. They do not offer transcriptions of solos, although a listener can hear the wonderful results of their loving close listening.
Five. Unhackneyed repertoire: YOU CAN’T LIVE IN HARLEM / DUCKY WUCKY / SIX JERKS IN A JEEP / SWINGTIME IN HONOLULU / OLD KING DOOJI / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / THAT’S THE BLUES, OLD MAN / NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / WHEN I GET LOW I GET HIGH / EVERYTHING’S JUMPIN’ / SAY IT ISN’T SO / BETCHA NICKEL / BATTLE AXE — affectionate nods to Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, Noble Sissle, the Andrews Sisters, small-band Ellington (yes!), Artie Shaw, Lunceford, young Ella, and more. But obviously chosen with discernment. And the originals by Keenan McKenzie are splendid — idiomatic without being pastiche, real compositions by someone who knows how to write singable melodies and graceful evocative lyrics: TREBUCHET and THE DWINDLING LIGHT BY THE SEA.
Six. Laura Windley. There are so many beautiful (male and female) earnest almost-singers in the world. Audiences admire them while they are visually accessible. I listen with my eyes closed at first. Laura is THE REAL THING — she swings, she has a splendid but conversational approach to the lyrics; her second choruses don’t mimic her first. And her voice is in itself a pleasure — a tart affectionate mixture of early Ella, Ivie, Jerry Kruger, Sally Gooding. I think of her as the Joan Blondell of swing singing: sweet, tender, and lemony all at once. And once you’ve heard her, you won’t mistake her for anyone else.
Hereis the band’s website — where you can purchase BATTLE AXE, digitally or tangibly. And their Facebook page.
And I proudly wear their dark-green MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND t-shirt (purchased with my allowance) but you’d have to see me in person to absorb the splendor. Of the shirt.
Here‘s what I wrote about the MJJB in 2013. I still believe it, and even more so. BATTLE AXE — never mind the forbidding title — is a great consistent pleasure.
Emily Asher’s Garden Party — captured here nearing the end of their 2014 West Coast Tour (historians take note). Here they are at a very rewarding house concert in San Francisco, hosted by Daniel Fabricant and Vic Wong, offering good-old-good ones, Hoagy Carmichael, music associated with Louis Armstrong, and a few locally-sourced originals.
The GP in these videos is Emily, trombone, vocals, arrangements / compositions; Mike Davis, trumpet, vocal; Tom Abbott, reeds; Nick Russo, banjo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums. (My videos are a little dark but the music blazes brightly.)
For Ella, the Mills Brothers, Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the elusive Hy Zaret, DEDICATED TO YOU:
Emily’s original, dedicated to a clamorous stretch of road in her home town, EAST MERIDIAN:
TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, a sweet bit of Carmichael voiced for Asher and Davis, soft-shoe tempo provided by that nimble rhythm section:
Appropriate for a Garden Party, WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP:
Thinking again of Ella and Chick, the band shouts HALLELUJAH!:
A small Louis-Jack trilogy (catch Mr. Davis’ beautiful sound here) STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:
From ‘way out West, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN:
At a nice tempo, MUSKRAT RAMBLE:
Emily’s original, for her flowering niece, SWEET PEA:
More evidence of what everyone should know: that guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Matt Munisteri is blazingly yet subtly inventive in many kinds of music, transforming everything he touches into something sharp and new yet always full of the deepest human spirit.
Here he is with bassist Danton Boller and pianist Matt Ray at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City on October 3, 2013.
Much of the music performed that night was composed by Willard Robison — someone who, like Matt, turns a satiric eye on our rush to delude ourselves while offering us comfort in his melodies and hope that happiness and enlightenment are possible.
But the show wasn’t an archivist’s self-indulgence immersion in “the old stuff,” reproduced exactly from aged discs and crumbling pages.
Matt is far too imaginative for that, so each of the Robison songs was like a jewel in a new setting: I knew the melodies, but thought, “Wow! I have really never heard that song before.”
The same was true for Nick Lucas’ PICKIN’ THE GUITAR, reminding us how brilliantly Matt plays that much-abused instrument. The Sammy Cahn-Saul Chaplin GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF (which we usually associate with Willie “the Lion” Smith and O’Neil Spencer) receives a sharp modernist edge thanks to the new lyrics from Rachelle Garniez and Matt.
Matt was beautifully and wittily accompanied by pianist Matt and bassist Danton. They swung and provided just-right commentaries and eloquent solos: this wasn’t three musicians together for the night behind their music stands, but a true band, a conversation among equals, rocking us towards deeper insights.
I’ve tried fish oil capsules and probiotics, saw palmetto and niacin, magnesium and multivitamins, goldenseal and Bach flower remedies.
But nothing gives me the lift of a Reynolds Brothers set — and one with Clint Baker (trombone, clarinet, occasional vocal) is even more potent. Take as directed: like homeopathy, the smallest dosage is transformative.
The RB are, as always, Ralf (washboard); John (guitar, whistling); Marc Caparone (cornet); Katie Cavera (string bass) — all four have been known to break into song when the moment is ripe. See for yourself in this delightful long set recorded at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival (at the Railroad Museum on May 27, 2012, for the record-keepers).
Alex Hill must have been especially willing to please when he wrote I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, and Claude Hopkins suggested that his whole band was equally cooperative:
Sung by Bing. Who needs more? LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:
THREE LITTLE WORDS (but not with the variant Turk Murphy text):
For Bix and Tram, BORNEO:
Come to Camden, New Jersey — I hear the Bennie Moten band is cooking up something good on BLUE ROOM:
Sweet and sassy, Sister Katie invites us to join her in films, with YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES — and John whistles the theme so engagingly:
Mister Berlin must have liked a drop of schnapps once in a while, thus I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A — sung with spice and wit by Senorita Cavera:
From the Cotton Club Parade of 1935 (by Ted Koehler and Rube Bloom) — I just found a copy of the original sheet music: now I’m ready to start TRUCKIN’:
A beautiful excursion into Louis Armstrong – Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin democrary in SHOE SHINE BOY. That Caparone fellow didn’t study at the Waif’s Home, but he sure gets Louis:
If I could wire my refrigerator so that it played FAT AND GREASY when I opened the door, perhaps I would be back to my middle-school weight. of course having Fats Waller sing and play it does lend a certain ironic twist. Rockin’ in rhythm:
And the National Anthem of what Eddie Condon called “music,” Louis’ SWING THAT MUSIC:
Feeling better? I know I am. (And that’s not my medicine cabinet, in case you were wondering.)
Sometimes the best things happen when the more moderate types have gone to bed. Here’s “Late Night Swing” from Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 16, 2011), featuring a hot swing band and singer in peak form.
Duke Heitger’s Swing Band featured the man himself on trumpet and vocals; Dan Barrett on trombone and arrangements; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano and arrangements; Howard Alden, guitar; Glenn Holmes, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Becky Kilgore, vocals. It was a twenty-first century version of the band that recorded a Fantasy CD (9684-2) which I hope you’re still able to find:
But what we enjoyed at Chautauqua was more than sound coming out of speakers: catch the happy expressions on the musicians’ faces as they listened to these swinging arrangements and to Ms. Kilgore.
The set began with one of the best Thirties let’s-introduce-the-stars-in-the-band songs (courtesy of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra), which Duke sang, RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS:
Then something for Louis and for Billie, YOURS AND MINE, again with a lovely Duke vocal. (What a fine singer he is — on his horn or his vocal chords!):
A little Ellington excursion (thanks to Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters, Master Records, and the Irving Mills complex), the wittily-titled SWING PAN ALLEY. Remember to open up Letter B:
More Ellington (of a romantic tendency) from Becky, JUST SQUEEZE ME:
And for those who need the etiology of Swing explained to them, here is the big hit of late 1935, THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND, made perfectly clear by Becky:
Memories of the Goodman band, thanks to arranger John Sheridan, and a lilting I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU. It’s hard to see Duke at the start, but his sound is unmistakable:
And a hot salute to Sweets, Pres, Jo, Sidney, Illinois, Gjon, Norman, and the Brothers Warner, in JAMMIN’ THE BLUES. (Thank you, Pete Siers!):
Ruby Braff wasn’t terribly interested in what was on his plate — the way others obsessively considered their food bored him, but one of his favorite words of praise was DELICIOUS. It applies to the video below, courtesy of Bob Erwig:
He would have told you that Louis, Lester, and Billie were his deities — so YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY resonated with him as one of the handful of songs recorded by all three of them.
In this nice little band — loose and focused at the same time — are Gray Sargent and Howard Alden on guitar; Eddie Jones on bass; Oliver Jackson on drums. And Ruby, his hair mussed, in wonderful form.
Although Ruby was classified as “retro,” looking back when everyone else was looking forward to Miles, there is an intriguing balance here. Yes, you will hear Louis-intensity, Billie-cool, Lester-space, but there are many Bird and Dizzy phrases in Ruby’s 1989 vocabulary. And he was never in the position of trying to steal anyone else’s stuff to improve his identity, so the wide emotional and stylistc range is evidence of his mastery.
Very simple, beautiful, swinging, and uplifting: a kind of SUNRISE SEMESTER in jazz.
The easy floating and unaffected sincerity (and understatement) of Miss Maxine Sullivan in Bern, 1986.
She’s singing one of my favorite songs; even when the lyrics are a bit thin at points, the sunny affirmation is worth hearing. It’s the Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY, from a Cotton Club show that featured both Maxine and that Louis fellow. (His Decca recording of the song has a wonderful J.C. Higginbotham break and Sid Catlett accent that I can hear in my head right now.)
And alongside Maxine — as we say, “Couldn’t they get anyone good?” — a perfect rhythm section: Jack Lesberg on bass, Dick Hyman on piano, and Uncle Jake, Jake Hanna, on the drums.
Thanks to Bob Erwig for sharing this. Breathing? Have music? We’re lucky!
Here’s a delightful performance of SHOE SHINE BOY by the Copenhagen Washboard Five:
They have the right spirit, don’t they? (Almost as if Louis and Sidney had gotten together in 1940 to record a relaxed version of this pretty Cahn-Chaplin song.) And the vocal needs no translation.
The Five are Mikael Zuschlag (cornet); Erik Spiermann (soprano saxophone); Jonas Winding (banjo /vocal); Hans Kofoed-Nielsen (sousaphone); Knud Andersen (washboard and vocal). The performance was recorded on November 7, 2009, in the John F. Kennedy Pub & Jazzlounge, Torvet 4, Hillerød, Denmark.
And Mikael’s YouTube channel is “lic62,” where he’s posted more than one hundred and fifty jazz performances by a variety of bands. The most recent set brings together the Jelly Roll Morton-inspired pianist Bob Greene and the Peruna Jazzmen, with Bob playing TIGER RAG on a Roland keyboard with the band.