Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

“ON ROLLER SKATES,” or “SOMEBODY STOLE MY FATS!” (an eBay Vignette)

When I weary of the usual pursuits, I visit eBay to see what’s floating around at enticing prices.  Sometimes it’s a CD or a 78, a book, or even a teapot.  (I’ve bought most of my wardrobe there in the past few years, but for obvious reasons the need to Dress for Success has quieted down.)

Late Tuesday, I saw this gem, upside-down in the original posting (I’ve rotated it to show off the signature):

I have seen enough carefully ornate signatures by Fats to feel this one is authentic, and, better yet, it’s from real life: when the star is leaning against the wall and people ask for autographs, as opposed to what one might do sitting at a desk.  Incidentally, too-neat signatures are usually suspect, especially if the star’s handwriting was not all that tidy.

Feeling artifact-lust and isolation boredom, I noticed that the bid was low — around $28 — and offered a more substantial bid, and sat back.  I’ve seen autographs and inscriptions that I felt passionately I had to have, but I was easy about this one.

Today, engrossed in chores, I forgot to obsess over the bidding when the auction ended, and got a notification from eBay that someone had plunged more money than I had offered, which suited me fine.  I lost this sacred piece of paper, but I have an extra $107.51, a relief.

And at the bottom of the eBay notification, as if to bring me back to commerce, this delicacy was for sale:

Happily, I didn’t need this: I have a Basie signature, and around 1973 I met Buck Clayton and he graciously autographed a record he was on.  Both signatures look genuine.  Basie had perfected his in one swoop, and it is a little raggedy, which suggests on-the-spot.  I’d never seen Buck use a fountain pen, nor write in green, nor offer his own trumpet logo-ornament.  But as remarkable as this holy relic is, all I need is a photograph to show you.

Maestro, please?  And bring along Mr. Holmes, if you will:

That piece of paper is gone, but no one can steal my Waller-joys.

A postscript, as of August 15.  A dear Swiss collector-friend pointed out very kindly (and that makes a difference, you Corrections Officers out there!) that the Waller signature could not in any way be connected to Fats, because the paper on which it was written was from a Down Beat 78 rpm record sleeve, and that the D.B. label started in 1947, four years after Fats left us.  So I feel a twinge of wicked pleasure in being saved from buying something fake presented as real.  It pays to have good friends!

May your happiness increase!

THE SPIRITS OF RHYTHM SIGN IN on eBay

I admire the Mills Brothers; I revere the Boswell Sisters. 

But I have a special place in my heart for a group that has received far less attention — the aptly-named Spirits of Rhythm, featuring Douglas Daniels and his brother Wilbur on tipple (a twelve-string instrument), Teddy Bunn on guitar, and Leo Watson on vocal, occasionally drums. 

Their recording career was brief: their records can fit on one compact disc (it’s worth searching for — on the Timeless / Retrieval label) and they flourished, intermittently, between the early Thirties and the mid-Forties.  Electrified, Bunn went on to record into the Fifties; Watson drifted into obscurity and died in 1950.  What happened to the Daniels brothers I do not know (although I just sent an email to Wilbur’s granddaughter, found on YouTube — the internet makes such deliciously odd things possible!). 

I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog the two clips of the Spirits — or variant combinations — on film, and they can be found on YouTube.  One is an exceedingly out-of-synch TOM TOM THE ELEVATOR BOY, from a 1941 musical SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS.  The other features Eddie Cantor impersonatory Jackie Greene in ALABAMY BOUND. 

But here’s some music.  First, I GOT RHYTHM from 1933:

And DR. WATSON AND MR. HOLMES (lyrics by Johnny Mercer, 1937):

What else would anyone need?

How about some calligraphic evidence?  Here’s a contract offered to the highest bidder on eBay: dating from 1942, it offers the signatures of Ramon La Rae (a singer?  a bassist?), Teddy Bunn, Leo Watson, and the Daniels brothers.  I never thought I’d see something like this:

Here’s a closeup:

My only question now is whether I want the image below on a sweatshirt or will content myself with the wall hanging. 

Design suggestions, anyone?

The bidding ended — someone offered over $325 for this rare piece of paper.

KEEP EVERYONE’S SPIRITS HIGH: CLICK HERE (ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS)

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

THE “POTATO HEAD” MYSTERY SOLVED AT LAST!

The genial man to the left doesn’t exactly resemble Sherlock Holmes or even Dr. Watson, but he’s helped me solve a nagging mystery.  He’s Dr. Julius “Boo” Hornstein, longtime resident of Savannah, Georgia, and chronicler of its varied jazz scenes.  His research, memories, and appropriate photographs have been published in his book, SITES AND SOUNDS OF SAVANNAH JAZZ (Gaston Street Press).  In it, I found more than I’d expected about King Oliver’s last days and his benefactor Frank Dilworth — and anecdotes about Jabbo Smith, Johnny Mercer, Ben Tucker, and other improvising natives.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing this post.  Exhibit A:

Recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven in 1927, POTATO HEAD BLUES has been a mystery to many for nearly eighty years.  The music itself isn’t mysterious — exultant, rather — but the title has puzzled jazz enthusiasts forever.  Some plausibly have thought it came from the teasing way New Orleans musicians made up names for each other based on essential physiognomy — and one of my readers, Frank Selman, wisely suggested that the title was a sly dig at Clarence Williams, whose cranial structure resembled an Idaho Russet.

Eighty pages into Dr. Hornstein’s book, we meet Sam Gill — not the Brooklyn-born bassist who recorded and played with Randy Weston, Monk, and Blakey, but a Savannah-born trumpet player who (as a young man) had met the down-on-his-luck Joe Oliver. 

But I’ll let Dr. Hornstein lead us back to POTATO HEAD BLUES:

Sam Gill is the kind of guy who likes to tell a story.  Consider this.  We’re sitting around City Market Cafe one early summer afternoon, and Sam is holding forth.  “You ever heard the expression ‘potato head’?  You know, ‘So-and-so is nothing but a potato head?’  No one in our group can rightly say that we have, so Sam proceeds to set us straight.  ‘Well, the expression goes way back in time and has to do with the parades which frequently took place on West Broad Street.  If you were an important figure in the black community, say, a businessman, it was expected of you to have your own band to march in the parades.  The bigger the band, the better in terms of your the image.  So, every now and then you would beef up your band with one or two good-looking men.  The problem was, a lot of the time these fellows looked good, but they couldn’t play.  So, you’d put a potato in the bell of their horns and let them march.  Of course, no sound came out, but that was okay ’cause you only wanted the guys to look good.  That’s how they got to be known as potato heads.” 

You have no idea how relieved I am by this riddle, now unraveled for all time.  And how prescient of Louis not to have turned to his band and said, “Boys, I have a new song for us: it’s about those street parades in New Orleans.  You’ll never forget it: BLUES FOR THE CATS WHO COULDN’T PLAY SO WE HAD TO MAKE SURE WE COULDN’T HEAR THEM PLAY A NOTE EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE SHARP-LOOKING CATS.  One, two!”

Thank you, Sam Gill; thank you, Dr. Hornstein — we’ll all sleep better tonight!