This Town Hall concert was produced by Bob Maltz as a tribute to Baby Dodds, Eddie Edwards, and Tony Parenti. I don’t know how a recording of it was made (presumably on disc) but a copy came to me thanks to the late John L. Fell almost thirty-five years ago. (Two tracks have been issued on a CD included with their Tony Parenti book.) It’s time to share the music with people who might never have heard it otherwise: a cross-section of the jazz riches that were at hand in 1946, with veterans of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band still active.
Here are the details, which I find head-spinning.
ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP / talk: Eddie Edwards, trombone (and Tony Parenti, clarinet) and Maltz
FIDGETY FEET (NC): Marty Marsala, trumpet; Tony Parenti, Eddie Edwards, Joe Sullivan, piano; Tony Spargo, drums and kazoo on FIDGETY
DIPPERMOUTH BLUES (NC) / talk: Albert Nicholas, clarinet and Maltz
CLARINET MARMALADE: Sidney and Wilbur DeParis, trumpet and trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano saxophone and clarinet; Albert Nicholas, Art Hodes, piano; Pops Foster, string bass; Baby Dodds, drums
GRACE AND BEAUTY Parenti, Hodes, Foster, Dodds
BALLIN’ THE JACK DeParis band plus Marsala, Sandy Williams, trombone; Jim Moynahan, clarinet / talk: Parenti and Dodds with Maltz, about fifteen minutes
I have a sentimental attachment to the music issued on the Black and White label in the Forties. My father, a motion-picture projectionist, spent his working life “in the booth.” In addition to keeping the picture and sound on the screen, the projectionist was expected to fill the theatre with music during intermissions. In my childhood, theatres were making the transition from turntables in the booth that played 78s, and my father would occasionally liberate a disc he thought his music-mad son would like.
He told a funny story of playing Bill Haley and the Comets’ ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, not paying much attention to it until the manager called him in a frenzy to take the ——- ——– record off because of what the kids were doing to the theatre. But I digress.
One of the records he brought home was this 12″ disc:
The other side is LADY BE GOOD, and it made a considerable impression. (“BROWN GAL” is a reference to her composition and 1936 Decca recording of the same name.)
Later on, when I began to actively collect records, I saw that so many issues on this label were rewarding and unusual combinations of musicians: Joe Marsala (with Chuck Wayne and Dizzy Gillespie!), Joe Thomas, Art Tatum, Leo Watson, Nat Jaffe, Art Hodes, Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, an imperishable session with Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster; Barney Bigard, Cliff Jackson, Erroll Garner, Teddy Bunn, Leo Watson, Brad Gowans, Oscar Pettiford, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Red Rodney, Howard McGhee, Irving Ashby, Ulysses Livingston, Lucky Thompson, and two dozen others. But almost all of them were simply listings in discographies.
Occasionally a session, transferred from worn discs, would surface on a European anthology, and a supermarket-label, TOPS, issued a compilation called JAZZ GREATS with the unequalled combination of no data and a yearning young woman portrayed on the cover. Still later, perhaps into this century, a short series of CDs appeared on the Pickwick label, anthologies assembled with hope but little logic. And there it stood.
To be fair, the story is not unique to this label. Search for a coherent reissue of many of the small labels that proliferated in the Forties, and you have to hope for the best. Ownership rights are tangled or on the ocean floor, and most — if not all — reissue companies are not relying on an audience thirsting for invaluable music.
But what is that I hear, coming over the hill? The drums and trumpets of Mosaic Records, once again, bringing heart, valor, enthusiasm, and exactitude to a worthy project.
The facts? 243 tracks, spanning 1942 to 1949, primarily studio performances with a few concert ones for leavening; New York, Chicago, California (mostly Los Angeles), eleven CDs, price $179.00 plus shipping. I’ll let you do the math, but just for a thrill, I looked up the Lil Armstrong disc I began with on eBay, and the least expensive version is $23.66 here, assuming of course you have the turntable and stylus to play it properly. You could also look for some of these records on YouTube — happy hunting! — but although the Tube is priceless for certain things, music tends to transfer off-pitch, and some of the collectors (heartfelt as they are) have makeshift methods of getting the music to us.
No, the Mosaic Records issues remain — a cliche but no less true — the gold standard. They are also limited editions, so one cannot really say, “I’ll buy that set in _______ years when and if my ship comes in,” because then the only place to purchase it will be charging a premium price, if, indeed, it can be found.
But enough words about money. How about some sound(s)? Here you can hear Charlie Ventura, Red Rodney, Willie Smith, Barney Kessel, Billy Hadnott, and Nick Fatool play ‘S’WONDERFUL; Jack McVea; Gerald Wilson; Joe Marsala with Dizzy Gillespie, Cliff Jackson, Chuck Wayne, Irving Lang, Buddy Christian play MY MELANCHOLY BABY; Willie “the Lion” Smith, Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, Frank Orchard, Jack Lesberg, Mack McGrath play BUGLE CALL RAG. Delightful performances.
And the sound is translucent; you hear all the nuances, thanks to lovely transferring from the best original sources by Andreas Meyer and Nancy Conforti of Swan Studios, who have outdone themselves. Perhaps you knew that small labels of this period suffered because shellac was rationed, so many treasured 78s were pressed on a mixture of substances including horse manure, as my expert friend Matthew Rivera tells us.
On that same page, a detailed discography, and, of course, a place to buy the set.
The set has photographs — rare and stunning, beautifully reproduced, and essays by Billy Vera, Scott Wenzel, and the Eminence Dan Morgenstern. Dan’s notes are characteristically witty, heartfelt, and candid. Who else do we have who was in New York in 1947, saw, spoke with, and befriended many of the musicians on this set? Priceless.
It’s a valuable swinging human archive. And you deserve a present, don’t you?
Here, in the welcoming ambiance of The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on July 31, 2022, are two welcoming improvisations by The EarRegulars for that night: Danny Tobias, trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and alto clarinet; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
The composers of the lines are, I hope, well-known to those who know: Sidney Bechet and Bud Freeman, but the memorable lines aren’t often played: Bechet’s KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES and Bud’s THAT D MINOR THING.
The jazz lineage from Bechet to Coltrane is seamless: Scott quotes A LOVE SUPREME in his trading phrases with Danny (thanks to Alessandro King for the catch).
And here’s Bud’s riff from his days with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:
And as for the talkers in the audience: pity them their self-absorption, waste no energy berating a video-recording.
Have you ever visited the Ear Inn on a Sunday night? Talk about life-affirming! And before you write in to say, “It’s so far away and I wish I could,” which I do understand, have you seen some live jazz in 2022? I do hope so.
LESTER’S BLUES is a septet (often with guests) based in Gent, Belgium, and they swing like mad.
In instrumentation, they resemble the Reno Club band and they have much of the same free-wheeling joyous spirit. Basie always started with the saxophone section, so I will also: Tom Callens, tenor, alto, vocal; David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor; Hans Bossuyt, trumpet; Luk Vermeir, piano; Victor Da Costa, guitar; Sam Gersmans, string bass; Frederik Van den Berghe, drums; guests Dree Peremans, trombone; Monique ‘Mo’ Harcum, vocal.
I found their first album so delightful that I did everything but hug the disc. I distrust hyperbole, but called it “a triumph” here. Visit that post, by the way, and you can savor some delightful video evidence. Just be sure that the Depression glass is not too close to the edge of the shelf, because your castle will be rocking.
One of the pleasures of this band is that their repertoire is intelligently spacious. “Basie tributes” often fall back on familiar lines on I GOT RHYTHM, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, the blues, and a few ballads . . . but JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE has been picked clean, and many forget that the Basie band was also playing IF I DIDN’T CARE, THE YOU AND ME THAT USED TO BE, and originals like TAXI WAR DANCE, inspirations that LESTER’S BLUES follows. They remember that Lester loved the music he heard on the radio.
Enough with the words, as they say. Some music!
Thinking about the blues idiom and Bessie — in a performance that, to me, imagines a Basie-Bessie performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 (think FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING). Totally evocative without raising its voice:
and the expertly frolicsome GEORGIA JUBILEE, credited to Arthur Schutt and a young man from Chicago named Benny:
Several things leap out at me: not only the immense subtlety of the soloists, but the wonderful mix of exactitude and freedom in the ensembles. And the sound! Delicious and warm, never clinical.
In addition to these two performances, the new disc, RADIO RHYTHM, offers LITTLE WHITE LIES, WHEN THE SUN SETS DOWN SOUTH, MOTEN’S SWING, ROLL ‘EM, CLIMAX RAG, I LEFT MY BABY, THAT’S ALL, and the title tune for a total of ten performances both leisurely and compact. The band is comfortably “modern,” in its grooving, but no one needs six choruses to get rolling. Readers with memories will notice associations with Jelly Roll and Mary Lou, Smack, Bechet, and Mister Five by Five in addition to Basie and Lester in a variety of periods.
And what this recording and this band remind me, with gentleness and integrity, is that classic jazz is an unbroken continuum over the last century-plus, with our heroes in contemporary times offering love to the past, while the past says, “Go on and be yourselves! We did it, and that’s why you admire us so.”
I offer as testimony to the greatness of this orchestra and of this session my chunk of enthusiastic prose — but don’t quail, it’s only a little more than six hundred words. Or you can skip to the end and purchase the music.
There are two ways to approach the Past. One is to handle it tenderly as fragile relic, ready to dissolve into dust. Thus, bands play CHANT OF THE WEED from manuscript paper, aiming to sound like a 1933 Don Redman 78 rpm record. Expertly done, it sends shivers down the spine. But for others it is like a parlor trick, an impressionist pretending to be someone else. The other approach acknowledges that our heroes were innovative, horrified at the idea of being “a repeater pencil.” LESTER’S BLUES knows the originals by heart and has taken them to heart, but they are a band with spice. They have a glorious wildness at their center of their deep love of classic jazz. They are respectful of the original arrangements – they do not destroy the cathedral to put up a shopping mall — but within the arrangements they go their own idiosyncratic joyous ways. They create devoted homages to the recorded past, but those prayers to Bluebird Records and the Famous Door are springboards for creativity, not ankle bracelets to keep living artists restricted to older conventions. And what I hear is exultant, even when melancholy andslow.
The musicians have a common love of swing. Sadly, manycontemporary players and singers keep “the pocket” or “the groove” at arm’s length, as if swing is Grandpa’s pocket watch and fob in the era of the iPhone. How sad. On the rock of this rhythm section this band could build a new swinging city on a hill. And the soloists! Bless them for their strong personalities, rooted yet playful, and celebrate them for how well they meld into vivid unity. And bless the light-hearted and sublimely effective arrangements, at once roadmaps and wind in the trees.
Each performance has its own singularity. I won’t praise the soloists, nor will I anatomize each performance or tell the history of each song – that’s your delightful homework – but these ten performances fill the room with light and joy. And more: each track is at once music and beyond music: one is a Turner landscape, another a Jacob Lawrence, a Calder, a Kandinsky.
None of this is by accident. Tom Callens told me, “We have a total of ten tracks which were chosen out of a bigger pool of songs. We chose these for their freshness, special arrangements, strong melodies, less popularly known (except ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out’ of course), or just because we have an emotional attachment to them. That’s why it’s not a concept or tribute album. It’s just us trying to play really well, having a new repertoire, a cohesive and rhythmic sound, and enjoying the ride. We recorded at the same place as earlier and this time did it using one stereo ribbon mic (in blumlein configuration), positioning ourselves around it and adjusting our positions to mix the individual volume levels. The L-R signal was fed through a state of the art dual tube microphone preamp and sent straight to two-track tape. Tracks were recorded in one go (one-takes) so there’s no editing involved.”
Just like the old days, but brand-new. Passion and exactitude; personal freedom within defined frameworks, power and airy lightness (like Jimmy Rushing on the dance floor). And it all fuses in the nicest communal way. LESTER’S BLUES feels like “a band,” spiritually: a happy group united for a communal purpose. I imagine them getting together for a celebratory meal after the session, laughing and enjoying what they have created. I am sure that Pres, Basie, Jo, Benny, Bessie, Jelly Roll, Mister Five by Five, and Charlie (Christian and Parker) are grinning their faces off. You will be, too.
Yes, music for dancers, but also music for people who pat their foot and grin while seated in front of their computer and speakers. Music for people who understand joy, recognize it, and avidly choose it.
You can find both their albums (or downloads) here.
Sometimes life turns around — gracefully — to permit a rewarding full circle. Robert Sage Wilber studied and lived with Sidney Bechet in the middle Forties, and nearly forty years later, around 1981, assembled a fine small band to pay homage to The Master, a band he called the Bechet Legacy. It wasn’t a band devoted to reproducing the splendid recordings Bechet created for slightly more than a quarter-century; it used Bechet’s compositions as springboards for inspired improvisations. And, redrawing another kind of cross-generational circle, Bob surrounded himself with younger players, becoming Bechet to a shifting assemblage of young Wilbers. . . while allowing each of them to follow their own impulses.
Here they are at the Bern Jazz Festival in 1984. Bob, soprano saxophone and clarinet; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Mark Shane, piano; Mike Peters, guitar / banjo; Len Skeat, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums; Bob’s wife and life-partner Joanne “Pug” Horton, vocal*. Introduction by Clark Terry. LADY BE GOOD / DANS LA RUE D’ANTIBES / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / PREMIER BAL / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE* / A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT* / PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE* / PETITE FLEUR (closing theme):
Sidney would have been very pleased with this music that resonated then and continues to resonate now . . . an eminently democratic band with everyone being given space to speak (and sing) their piece.
I apologize for not having audio or video from 1919, but . . . here’s something amazing for sale on eBay: an original, four-page printed program for the Southern Syncopated Orchestra’s appearance at London’s Philharmonic Hall on August 14, 1919. Will Marion Cook is the musical director. The concert included “Characteristic Blues,” a history-making “clarionet solo” by “Sydney Bechet.”
The seller’s description: The SSO’s concerts prompted what may be the first published jazz criticism. In 1919, conductor Ernst Ansermet wrote in the “Revue Romande” about the interest jazz could hold for classical musicians. The article became famous for its early perception of Bechet’s talent. (See the last photo, from Walter Schaap’s translation of the article for the French magazine “Jazz Hot.”). All of the pages are pictured in this listing. This 7-1/2″ by 10″ program is in very good condition overall. There is a half-inch tear to the front cover (visible in the first photo at the right margin, opposite the word “southern”). The program is faintly creased because a prior owner folded it in half horizontally. The original owner wrote the date of the concert on the cover in fountain pen.
The starting bid, as of January 30, was $100.00; the link is here — and here are some relevant photographs (you can see more on the eBay page):
I’m entranced by this, although I have heard about Bechet’s triumph in 1919 often before this. Paper artifacts are especially meaningful in mystical ways: this program was so valuable to someone (Joyce and her partner, I assume) that it was kept tenderly for more than a hundred years, and the person who wrote the date on the cover was at the event. It is as close as we can get to time-travel, and I imagine that molecules from 1919 vibrate within this sheaf of papers. (I feel the same way about autographs: the piece of paper that Joe Thomas signed has some spiritual Joe-Thomas-DNA in it and I won’t be argued out of this belief.)
I said at the start that I cannot offer music or video from 1919, and that’s still true. But Bechet did record CHARACTERISTIC BLUES in 1937, and through the generosity of jazz scholar Nick Dellow, we can hear an alternate take unissued in this form on 78:
Astonishing, isn’t that? (Nick Dellow’s channel is full of marvels.)
My only regret is that the 1919 performance, according to the program, was completely instrumental. Imagine, if you will, the ladies and gentlemen there — two shows — hearing tales of bedbugs and alopecia. Quite a wonderful thought.
To see more of this wonderful artifact, visit the eBay page.
Do you dread the start of the workweek? Or does Monday remind you of homework undone, bills unpaid, responsibilities that weigh? Take heart: JAZZ LIVES is here to help.
(Cue rousing music): the EarRegulars to the rescue! And they’re locally sourced and cage-free. Investigating all the corners of Earl Hines’ 1928 classic, they are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jay Rattman, clarinet (in a Bechet mood for a few seconds, sparking joy); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. All of this took place at the Ear Out — 326 Spring Street — on June 6, 2021:
And just think, with Monday done and done, the rest of the week will soar (or totter) by. Wishing you safe passage — with the help of these joyous sounds.
I have it on good authority that the Sunday-afternoon revival-meetings will continue through October, with guests Don Mopsick, Evan Christopher, Dennis Lichtman, Bill and John Allred . . . don’t miss out!
Masters of the soprano saxophone Kenny Davern (straight soprano) and Bob Wilber (curved soprano) plus Claude Luter, clarinet, who played alongside Sidney Bechet on dozens of recordings and live performances, pay homage to the Master, with Marty Grosz, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France, on July 20, 1975.
SOME OF THESE DAYS / Wilber talks / THE FISH VENDOR / Wilber introduces Claude Luter / PETITE FLEUR (Wilber and Davern out) / ST. LOUIS BLUES (Wilber and Davern return) / DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND (Luter) /CHINA BOY (Wilber and Davern return):
Passion, control, romanticism, swing. You can hear it all.
What follows is nearly an hour of searing hot music by remarkable players, drawing on the rarely-played repertoire of Clarence Williams, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson.
The band is a Swedish-American hybrid, generating incredible heat. Bent Persson, cornet, trumpet; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Tommy Gertoft, banjo; Ed McKee, tuba. Recorded between November 25-28, 1988, at the Manassas Jazz Festival (the date posted on the video is incorrect).
INTRODUCTION by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee / MEAN BLUES / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / WHAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO? (continued on 2):
WHAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO? (continued from 1, with an incredible solo from Bent) / WILD MAN BLUES / MANDY LEE BLUES / OLD FASHIONED LOVE (continued on 3):
OLD FASHIONED LOVE (continued from 2) / WHIP ME WITH PLENTY OF LOVE (with a dazzling four-chorus solo by Bent, followed by rollicking Dapogny):
Such a glorious combination. Never before, never again. Thanks to two gracious gentlemen: Joe Shepherd for these holy relics, Sonny McGown for accuracies.
I’ve enjoyed hearing and meeting the great drummer and drum scholar Nicholas D. Ball, thanks to the Whitley Bay jazz parties that I attended 2009-2016. Nick not only understands vintage drum artistry in academic ways but embodies them: he swings the hell out of a very — by modern standards — constricted authentic set, while combining complete seriousness and wicked glee. You can see him in action (just one example of many)hereand also delve into his absorbing site, “Drums in the Twenties,” here.
But this post isn’t about Nick. He’s a gateway to the real subject.
He asked me if I’d like to hear solo drum recordings by someone I think of as an unknown master, Bob Matthews. Would I? Indeed I would. And you can also.
I listened, was entranced, and asked Nick to tell all:
I was first contacted by Bob in 2018, he having stumbled across my Drums In The Twenties website. He explained who he was and recounted some of his memories of personal encounters with our mutual drumming heroes when he was a young man, during the 1940s and 50s in New York and New Orleans. We began a semi-regular correspondence, during which I got to know all about his jazz career, learning at the feet of Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds, his recordings with Raymond Burke and Johnny St. Cyr and his travels across America. Also I learned about his current life, then aged 90 and more or less alone, in retirement in a remote rural town in North Carolina. Despite the great distances between us in both age and geography, over the months we became regular pen pals, to the extent that Bob entrusted to me (by international mail), the one extant copy of the EP he recorded for the great historian Bill Russell’s ever-hungry tape recorder, in New Orleans in October 1955: DRUM SOLOS.
Bob was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1928. Throughout his childhood he was bewitched by music, beginning on drums at the age of nine and also studying mallet percussion and piano to a high level.
As a jazz-mad high-school student, Bob became an avid record collector and attended concerts whenever his heroes visited Atlanta on tour, managing to slip backstage to meet many of the top drummers of the era including Dave Tough and Jo Jones. Aged 18, he travelled to New York, where he befriended and played with several resident jazz greats including Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds; he then moved to New Orleans where he became a fixture on the traditional jazz scene for over a decade. He then served three years playing with three different US Army bands during the early 1950s, and in 1957 relocated to San Francisco, working in a trio with pianist Don Ewell and clarinettist Ellis Horne, both of whom became close friends.
On the solo session in 1955 that yielded DRUM SOLOS, Bob’s playing, whilst clearly inspired by Dodds (as whose protégé he was proudly known) and firmly within the New Orleans drum tradition, has a distinct character and quality of its own.
‘When we started the session I just couldn’t get it together. We then took a break & had a meal at a nearby cafeteria I always ate at. After we returned it started to fall into place. I don’t know how, but it did. I recorded a variety of things: Morton’s New Orleans Joys, Scott’s Climax Rag, 2 Improvisations (full set and soft mallets on tom toms), and 3 others. I don’t remember how I thought of using complex rags & melodies to inspire me to try & follow. I could have done even better, but I never had the chance again. I had to choose the repertoire from memory at that moment. No time to plan or practice for.’
Whilst Matthews did perform on sessions with several notable bands during the 1940s and 50s, his DRUM SOLOS record was never commercially released, and has never before been made available to the public – until today, 66 years later. When Bob suggested he mail me some of his most treasured possessions, including the one copy of DRUM SOLOS (which had been dubbed onto a 10” vinyl disc some time in the 1950s) I was wary of the responsibility, but excited that perhaps I might be able to at last make this hitherto-unheard artifact from jazz drumming history available to the public after 66 years. With Bob’s blessing and co-operation, I’m really proud and delighted to at last be able to present the record for release via VEAC Vaults; as a set of downloadable audio files accompanied by a 7-page PDF document tracing Bob’s story and illuminated with his memoirs and photographs.
The solo drum recordings are unbelievably interesting: hear a sample here.
They aren’t what Whitney Balliett called “fountains of noise.” They feel like measured yet passionate melodic explorations. Bob looks into the sonic treasure-chest and pulls out gems (in a nice steady 4/4) to show us.
Some of you, deep in the tradition, will say, “Ah, these are just like the Baby Dodds drum improvisations,” and you will have created the nicest pocket to place the music into. That will be an inducement to go to Bandcamp — the link right above this paragraph — and buy a copy. Others, more quick to judge, will say, “I already know what this sounds like,” and, without listening, ready yourself for another diversion. But I suggest that you listen first.
Preconceptions shape reality. Tell someone, “This is the funniest joke in the world,” and almost whatever follows falls flat. Or, “This soup is so spicy, you’ll need gallons of water,” and we brace ourselves. Thus it is with naming music: if we allow ourselves, we create a concept and are unable to hear beyond it.
If a jazz broadcaster presented this release, “We have a new set of experimental, innovative Sonatas for Solo Percussion by T. Vasile, the young Romanian percussion star (she just turned 30) that combine ‘free’ playing with traditional New Orleans convention, down to the antique sound quality of the recordings,” some of us would turn up the volume to hear the marvels.
And — as couples say in “discussions,” one other thing. As you’ll read in the notes, Bill Russell recorded this on his tape machine, and some time later, Bob Matthews paid a local engineer to make a disc copy. A disc copy. One. So I feel in the presence of a weird greatness, facing a singular object (think of the Jerry Newman acetates, for the easiest instance) rather as I did when reading TRISTRAM SHANDY and Laurence Sterne tells the reader he is drawing on a manuscript that only he possesses the sole copy. In this case, it’s not a whimsy, but it’s true. Even if this it’s-the-only-one-in-the-universe fact does not win you over, I hope the music does.
To celebrate the publication of his book REALLY THE BLUES, Mezz Mezzrow was the star of a concert at New York’s Town Hall on January 1, 1947 as a benefit for the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief.
The basic band was Muggsy Spanier, Sandy Williams, Sidney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, Sammy Price or Art Hodes, Wellman Braud, Baby Dodds. Later in the evening Bob Wilber’s Wildcats were added: Johnny Glasel, Ed Hubble, Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Charlie Traeger, Eddie Phyfe. Coot Grant and Kid Sox Wilson also performed. The concert was recorded on twelve-inch acetates on two machines (hooray!) and ten performances were issued on lp — Jazz Archives JA-39 — but what follows was not.
Quite simply, it is an exultant hymn of praise to Louis.
It’s a life-changing performance of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING by Johnny Windhurst, unlisted in Tom Lord’s discography, with Bechet, prominent, and Dick Wellstood on piano. My guess is that the veterans gave place to the Youngbloods, but it’s Windhurst who catches our ears and our hearts. Rather like Hot Lips Page in his prime, Windhurst seems energetically lit from within, and just when you think he might have had enough or done enough, he takes another chorus. Radiantly.
After Mezz’s announcement, the roadmap (to my ears) is one ensemble statement of the theme, one chorus by Bechet; one chorus by Wellstood; one by Eddie Hubble, trombone; two choruses by Windhurst with Bechet and the ensemble joining in. The tape I was working with was a copy of a reel-to-reel tape where the plastic had started to decay, alas, so there is some distortion and tape squeal. But if you can turn away from Windhurst’s shining Louisness because of these flaws, we don’t have much to say to each other.
Incidentally, the question, “How’s your Louisness?” is, I believe, a co-invention of two of my favorite people, Riley and Clint Baker. . . . it is another way of saying, “How’s your internal spiritual compass?” and “Have you spread some joy today?” They do, and certainly young Mister Windhurst does.
Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students. Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951. Then again, jazz was still the popular music. Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers. Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:
They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).
That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.
One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame. Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line. In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street. Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981. He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.
Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan. He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.
“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford. But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948. His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.
I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble. Where did he go after Harvard? Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved. (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)
That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.
I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.” To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds. As young as they were, they were splendidly professional. And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)
I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology. Was this a dance? Did the girls get to invite their beaux? Or was it a social event where the band played for listening? I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all. I wish I knew, but here’s the music. And what music!
In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew. When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix. And that sound! — full and shining. Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans. Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song. Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support. And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner. It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures. And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings. Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.
Can you tell I admire this band?
The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):
The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other. Was it broadcast on the local radio station? And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”
On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm. I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.
Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school. Days gone by for sure. (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream. I will send this post to them.)
P.S. I invite the word-averse to skip what follows. Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond. Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette. Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month. Why? Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes. It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard. That was intolerable to me. So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.
In these most tempestuous times, we need some relief, and the phenomenon known as the Weatherbird Jazz Band offers it — hot jazz with passion and precision. And although I wouldn’t want to move permanently to 1928 Chicago, these musicians make the trip easy and rewarding.
The marvelous players and occasional singers are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums. They don’t rush; they aren’t noisy; they have a deep dark authentic groove over which luminous soloists soar.
ST. JAMES INFIRMARY:
ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE:
Over the past ten months, I’ve posted more than two dozen videos of this reassuringly groovy hot band: you can enjoy them here, here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t know what the CDC says, but if you are suffering from the news, be assured that this band is systemically healing, an anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-nausea, anti-fungal, anti-whatever-the-hell-might-be-ailing-you-at-the-moment panacea, cure, and solution. Or your money back. I speak from experience: playing FUNNY FEATHERS four times in a row has made me feel better about life . . . try it!
The last of five splendid performances that took place at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2008, celebrating the hot music of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, enlivened in the present moment by Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass. The first four performances: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, SWEET SUE, and IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) can be savored here.
And the inspiration, although not on the original Hot Record Society label:
And here we go!
All I will say is that these informally-captured treasures have been in the Official JAZZ LIVES vault for a dozen years. They haven’t gotten stale; in fact, their flavors seem richer today than ever. Bless them all: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud, Steve Smith (HRS record producer), Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Wilber, Joe Boughton, family, and friends . . . even the people crossing in front of me with plates of food and Styrofoam cups of coffee, because they, as the audience, made Jazz at Chautauqua possible. Days gone by.
The scene of the gorgeous music, and now, the poignant memories:
Where it happened!
The reality, as created forty-eight years later, by Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass:
How lyrically they swing out — and before noon, no less. For those of you who slept late (in a manner of speaking) here you can enjoy the first three songs performed that morning: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, and SWEET SUE.
My title . . . in my suburban town, parking meters ornament the sidewalks except for a very few oases. And municipalities such as mine are always looking for more money, so when I moved here in 2004, a quarter bought me sixty minutes on the meter. A few years ago, the Code Enforcement people decided that this was too generous, and now I’d need two quarters for the same time. Love, or even a trip to the pizza parlor, became twice as costly. But still worth the price.
The title of the song. Exhibit A:
But also Exhibit B:
I prefer the latter, perhaps because I was trained by the late — and very much missed — John L. Fell, who would type WDYINO for the famous song about New Orleans. Life is too short to spell everything out, and you can always ask.
Finally, when my hero Vic Dickenson, very late in his life, sang ONE HOUR, when he got to that phrase, he would very clearly and vehemently hold up two fingers so that everyone could see that sixty minutes would be insufficient for “I’d love you strong.” You can see that performancehere — a small masterpiece.
One more performance from 2008 exists: see you and it tomorrow.
As JAZZ LIVES waves adieu to 2020, we continue with our series of five memorably hot performances created at Jazz at Chautauqua on a Sunday morning, September 21, 2008, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass — honoring irreplaceable recordings from 1940 featuring Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, known to us as the “Bechet-Spanier Big Four.”
If this is your first immersion in Hot, you can visit the first two splendid performances — THAT’S A PLENTY and SQUEEZE ME — here.
And here’s Will J. Harris and Victor Young’s 1928 paean to Miss Sue, with a charmingly period sheet music cover to start the good works.
and the sounds of 2008 as we — hopeful and cautious — peer into 2021:
thanks to Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass. For Part One (THAT’S A PLENTY) and more explication, click here. Today, our breakfast menu has one item, Fats Waller’s airbrushing of THE BOY IN THE BOAT into SQUEEZE ME:
Delightful. Timeless. And this Big Four played three more. No fractions.
It was a Sunday morning, 10:30 or so, and perhaps half of the audience was deep in contemplation of their breakfasts on September 21, 2008.
But magic larger than bacon and coffee was being revealed to us. We can revisit it now: festival director Joe Boughton’s idea to recreate the Bechet-Spanier Big Four of Blessed Memory (1940, Hot Record Society: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud) with living Masters: Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass. Five songs were performed, each a Hot Benediction:
I had no video empire then — no collection of cameras, tripods, batteries, external hard drives — and I recorded this quite surreptitiously. But I didn’t want it to vanish. For you, for me, forevermore.
Today, Saturday, October 31, is Halloween — but no “spooky” posts, because the holiday is eviscerated for valid health reasons. And at my age, the only costume I don is my own, and I don’t buy candy bars for myself.
But Sunday, November 1, is the official end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States, “giving us” an extra hour of sleep or some other activity. (Sundays are reserved for the EarRegulars, which is why this post comes early.)
I encourage all of you to enjoy the faux-gift of sixty minutes in some gratifying ways. But here are my suggestions about how you could happily stretch out in the extra time: versions of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, the unaging classic by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer, which speaks to our desire to spend time in pleasurable ways.
Here’s a pretty, loose version from the September 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, performed by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and commentary; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass sax; Arnie Kinsella, drums:
Two years later, Andy Schumm’s evocation of the Mound City Blue Blowers, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, paying tribute to one “Red” McKenzie, hot ambassador of the comb / newspaper — here, with Andy, comb; Jens Lindgren, trombone, off-screen because of a patron’s coif; Norman Field, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums:
and, from the 2018 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, here’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, for that set, Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Marty Eggers, string bass (subbing for Steve Pikal, who was on secret assignment):
1944, for V-Disc, with Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Ernie Caceres, clarinet; Nick Caiazza, tenor saxophone; Bill Clifton, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Felix Giobbe, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums — one of those perfectly memorable recordings I first heard decades ago, with its own sweet imperfections: some uncertainty about the chords for the verse, and the usually nimble Caiazza painting himself into a corner — but it’s lovely:
Of course, we have to hear the composer, in 1944, with Eddie Dougherty, drums:
Marion Harris, 1930:
Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, 1940:
Helen Humes and Buck Clayton with Count Basie, 1939:
Ade Monsbourgh and his Late Hour Boys, 1956, with Bob Barnard, trumpet; Ade Monsbourgh, reeds, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Jack Varney, banjo, guitar; Ron Williamson, tuba; Roger Bell, washboard:
George Thomas with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, 1930:
and at the very summit, Louis in 1930:
Now, you’re on your own: use the time for pleasure.
Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones. I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos. But humor me on this, if you will.
I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter. Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours. I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet. This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.
For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes. I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish. Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.
So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again. In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves. This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation. Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right. I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.” Childish, perhaps. But I won’t have people I admire shat on.
I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?” Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.
Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.” Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.
But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?” (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)
I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person. Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?” Let that sink in. Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman. Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.
But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance. I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.
Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool. The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.” It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.
Artists are not members of a service industry.
So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!” I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish. I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.” You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication. What’s next?
I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level. In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things. But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications. So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration. I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.
I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage. And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.
I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them. It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited. Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.
Great art outlives its critics. The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.
To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians. They own themselves. And we should bless them rather than carp at them.
Seasonal Hot migrations: the Weatherbird Jazz Band has just paid us another welcome visit. (I’ve posted perhaps two dozen of their performances, which are both gratifying and easy to find.)
Here are six more beautiful performances, mostly celebrating the 1925-28 sides that Louis Armstrong and friends created in Chicago, with celebratory glances at Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and the NORK.
The Weatherbirds, for these sessions, are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums. You’ll notice that I refrain from explaining and explicating: this music needs no subtitles, just listeners open to joy.
MY MONDAY DATE:
TIN ROOF BLUES:
BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (today is Mr. Morton’s birthday):
Some may read those words as blasphemy, but the music is its own divine truth.
One of John Hammond’s best ideas, and he had many, was the two FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concerts in 1938 and 1939: marvelous events with irreplaceable music from Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ida Cox, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Count Basie, and more. The music was recorded, and even with some technical flaws, it remains monumental. Because of Hammond’s connection with Vanguard Records, it was issued there — first a two-record set, and more recently, on CDs. (Like most CD sets, it’s “out of print,” but you can find copies.)
But this post is concerned with “newer” music . . . created in 1967.
In 1967, someone had the good idea of booking Carnegie Hall for a thirtieth anniversary concert, and selections from the concert were recorded and (five years later) issued on a two-record set featuring Basie, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, John Handy, George Benson, and Marion Williams. I wrote on the back of my copy that I bought it at Record World, a local chain, for $5.29, on April 23, 1972. (I no longer annotate purchases this way: life got more complicated.) The segment I love the most has a distinct Basie flavor.
In conversation with a new erudite jazz friend, Randy Smith, I found that we both had hoped for this music to be issued on CD, but obviously the glory days of jazz reissues are gone for whatever corporate entity controls this music, and even the European issuers have not touched it. So — since yesterday was oddly and happily quiet in my apartment building, the families and dogs elsewhere for the moment, I made a DIY transfer of the music. There’s a certain echo-y quality, but pretend that you have been taken by magic back to Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1967, and let me — and us — have our fun.
Goddard Lieberson introduces the “Cafe Society Band,” with some rueful amusement that the crowd response to that fabled place is small (the generation that had heard Frank Newton and Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Basie there had probably stayed at home) and he stumbles over Milt Hinton’s name, but he brings on the celestial orchestra: Count Basie, piano; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums, for SWINGIN’ THE BLUES. I won’t explicate the delights here, but these nine minutes have been special music since 1972, and when I return to this performance I hear gratifying surprises, the hallmark of the greatest art.
The solos and ensemble interplay between Buck, Ed, and Buddy are priceless, showing that the players so brilliant in 1937 were still brilliant thirty years later, without a hint of repeating their routines. (How DO they age so well?) For me, though, this is a post-graduate seminar in rhythm-section playing, with each of the three “in the back” bringing so much sonic and textural variety, playing little aural games of hide-and-seek. Basie, especially, shows once again that he was not only the master of silence, which is not a paradox, but of how to push a soloist with the right note or propulsive chord. I think only Sidney Catlett approached his mastery in this — when to bide his time, when to create one accent that would have the effect of a “Yeah!”:
“They called him a shouter.” Big Joe Turner, who had appeared at Hammond’s original concerts, comes onstage. In his later years, he often appeared to be very little concerned with what verses he sang in what order (although he may have had a plan that I am not able to discern) and the result was a kind of swing autopilot, where I and others just listened to the majestic roar and holler of his voice. But here, on a blues called (perhaps after the fact) I’M GOING AWAY TO WEAR YOU OFF MY MIND, his dramatic gift, his sadness, is lovely and powerful. Hear how he sings his initial “Thank you,” and note the wonderful support Ray Bryant gives him, Buck’s solo, and Jo Jones’ exhortations:
Then, ROLL’EM, PETE — which Joe and Pete Johnson first recorded in 1938. Pete Johnson had been ill, but he was at this concert. I’ll let Dan Morgenstern, who was also there, describe the scene that you will hear, as he did in DOWN BEAT (included in Don DeMicheal’s fine liner notes):
Then, for the concert’s most moving moment, Lieberson escorted Pete Johnson on stage and introduced him as one of the participants in the original Spirituals to Swing and the greatest boogie-woogie pianist. Johnson had suffered a series of paralytic strokes and had not played piano for many years. His old buddy, Turner, took him by the hand, and for a moment the two middle-aged men looked touchingly like little boys.
Turner dedicated ROLL ‘EM PETE to his old friend, as Lieberson and Johnson were about to leave the stage. Instead, they stopped, and the pianist seated himself next to Bryant at the piano and began to play the treble part of his old showpiece, Bryant handling the bass. Johnson was a bit shaky but game, gaining in confidence as the number built in intensity:
It wasn’t 1938 any longer, but it was a damned fine evocation, with Buddy Tate at his vocal best, Edmond Hall matching him in exuberance (Hall died later that year), Buck and Jo building castles of swing as only they could:
In 2020, no one who sang or played on that stage in 1967 is around to uplift us. (I take pleasure in knowing that Dan Morgenstern will read this post.)
But their sounds, their passion, their grace remains.