Tag Archives: Sidney Bechet

“IT’S FAT LIKE THAT”: MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

Rainbow One

One of the great pleasures of the summer of 2016 was the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado.  There I and others enjoyed the Carl Sonny Leyland trio with Clint Baker and Jeff Hamilton; the Kris Tokarski trio with Tim Laughlin and Hal Smith (and guest star Andy Schumm), and the Fat Babies, with Beau Sample, Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, Paul Asaro,  Jake Sanders, and Alex Hall.

I’ve posted videos from the Fat Babies’ July 29 set here.  And some especially Fat music here. And even here.

Here are three more from the next day’s frolic.

The first, a composition from 1925 where Louis Armstrong plays slide whistle as well as cornet with his Hot Five, WHO’S IT . . . which I am assuming might have something with playing tag or an adult version rather than being a metaphysical inquiry into the slippery parameters of identity.

whos-it

Here are the Fat Babies romping through the thickets of swing:

Another Louis-related item, I AIN’T GONNA PLAY NO SECOND FIDDLE, which he recorded with Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools as well as with Bessie Smith:

and Jimmie Noone’s APEX BLUES:

And here is my review of the band’s latest CD — on the Delmark Records label, SOLID GASSUH — a disc whose virtues I do not exaggerate.

Support The Fat Babies!  They’re remarkable.

May your happiness increase!

STILL SPARKLING: JOE BUSHKIN AT 100

joe-bushkin-on-piano

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

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

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

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

and this, Joe’s great melody:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

louis-birthday-cake

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

May your happiness increase!

SO FAT, SO GOOD (Part One): THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 29, 2016)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Wonder of wonders (continue) with the Miracle Boys of Hot, The Fat Babies, at their July 29, 2016.  Even the elk were swinging.  They are (of course) Alex Hall, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Paul Asaro, piano / vocal; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, reeds; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, arrangements.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

PLEASURE MAD (later known as VIPER MAD, by Sidney “Bash-shay” in any case:

HE MAY BE YOUR MAN (BUT HE COMES  TO SEE ME SOMETIMES):

and a quick but satisfying set-closer, MAPLE LEAF RAG, Charles LaVere 1935 style:

So hot it’s delightful.  And another whole Evergreen set to come.

And . . . the Babies have three CDs out on the Delmark label: CHICAGO HOT, 18th and RACINE, and the new Baby, SOLID GASSUH, as well as two featuring Paul Asaro on Rivermont, WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM (devoted to Fats) and SWEET JAZZ MUSIC (for Jelly).  Lay in a supply.  They say it’s going to be a cold cold winter.

May your happiness increase!

PRESENTING DENNIS LICHTMAN AND HIS ALL-LICHTMAN ORCHESTRA!

When I first met Dennis in 2009 at the now-quiet Banjo Jim’s in New York City, we were both younger, and he was restricting himself to clarinet, mandolin, and fiddle, as an integral member of the Cangelosi Cards.

dennis-lichtman

Now see what he’s done!  This video seriously goes where no musician has gone before, and it outdoes Sidney Bechet’s One-Man Band in several ways.  In it, Dennis composes a paean to his musical development, sings, cavorts, and plays violin, clarinet, guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo (and he avoids the difficult non-rhyme), C-melody saxophone, and a few surprises:

Credit where credit is due:

Dancers:  Amy Johnson and Laura Manning.  Band:  Jason Jurzak, Russell Welch, Ben Polcer.  KILLER KOWALSKI PRODUCTIONS.  Director of Photography & Editor: Michelle Nicolette Kowalski.  Production:
Danielle Elizabeth / Tamara Grayson / Russell Welch / Jason Jurzak / Simon Lever / Kerry Genese / Bobby Bonsey / Camila Santos.  Special thanks to Welbourne Farm and Inn and Welbourne Jazz Camp.  http://www.welbourneinn.com / http://welbournejazzcamp.com  © 2016 Triple Treble Music, all rights reserved

It is terribly unsubtle of me to write this, but the festival promoter or club booker or what have you who can see this video and not think, “I ought to hire this fellow.  Think of all the talent I can snag for one salary!” is someone I can’t imagine.  Find Dennis here or here to make those connections.

Keep on keepin’ on, Dennis.  You’re no fool.  Thank you for the joy and the sounds.

May your happiness increase!

POUR MONSIEUR BECHET: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego, Nov. 30, 2014)

The great man himself, signing a promotional postcard, in 1955 or 56:

Bechet postcard front

and the other side:

Bechet postcard back
Honoring Sidney, these great lyrical artists, November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest:

An absolutely exquisite rendering of SI TU VOIS MA MERE, Bechet’s paean to maternal love and memory, here performed by Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

I look forward to seeing Tim at the Steamboat Stomp, later this month.

May your happiness increase!

MAGGIE FEELS THE HEAT (November 8, 2015)

MAGGIE Swing label

SWING indeed.  It gets very hot in Newcastle during the long weekend when the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party gently but firmly occupies the Village Hotel in Newcastle, England.

Nick Ball and Graham Hughes at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party. Photograph by Emrah Erken.

Nick Ball and Graham Hughes at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party. Photograph by Emrah Erken.

This year, the Party begins with a jam session on Thursday, November 3 . . . and runs almost without a letup until late Sunday (really, early Monday morning) — either November 6 or 7, depending on what your watch or smartphone tells you.

I’ve posted links to the Party site below, but before you venture into the land of Clicks, how about some hot music?  This rousing performance (from November 8, 2015) was part of a set led by Thomas Winteler paying tribute to the 1938-41 recordings Bechet made for Victor Records.

The heroes onstage are Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Bent Persson, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass; Nicholas Ball, drums.

Visit the Party’s Facebook page here.

To see who’s playing, click here.  And to book your seat, click here.

The Party’s webpage has a number of delightful videos, so prepare to spend some happy (hot) minutes.  I’ve posted a substantial number myself from 2009 on, on this site, too.  Maybe we’ll see each other there this November.

May your happiness increase!

LESTER YOUNG’S JOY (“Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions, Mosaic Records: Mosaic MD-8 263)

Although some of us understandably recoil from chronicles of suffering, pain and oppression make for more compelling narrative than happiness does. Think of Emma (Bovary) and Anna (Karenina), their anguish and torment so much more gripping than the story of the main character in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky.”  Montherlant, the French writer Larkin loved to quote, said that happiness “writes white,” that it has nothing to tell us.  Give us some despair, and we turn the pages.  It is true in jazz historiography as it is in fiction. Consider the ferociously detailed examination of the painful lives of Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker.  Musicians like Hank Jones, Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey or Bennie Morton, artists who showed up early and sober to the session, are not examined in the same way.

Suffering, self-destruction, misery — those subjects engross us.

And Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959) whose birthday approaches, will be celebrated on WKCR-FM this weekend, is a splendid example of how the difficulties of one’s life become the subject of sad scrupulous examination.

The “Lester Young story” that is so often told is that of his victimization and grief.  And there is sufficient evidence to show him as a man oppressed — from childhood to his final plane ride — by people who didn’t understand him or didn’t want to.  Readers who know the tale can point accusing fingers at a stock company of betrayers and villains: Willis Young, Leora Henderson, John Hammond, the United States Army, a horde of Caucasians (some faceless, some identifiable) and more.

Although he is simply changing a reed, the photograph below is most expressive of that Lester.  Intent, but not at ease.  Skeptical of the world, wondering what will happen next, his expression verging on anxious.

Lester-Young-standing-changing-reed

But there is the music, lest we forget.  It speaks louder than words, Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson.

A different Lester — ebullient, inventive, full of joyous surprises — is the subject of one of the most grand musical productions I have ever seen, an eight CD set on Mosaic Recordsits cover depicted below.  Every note on this set is a direct rejection of the story of Lester the victim and every note tells us that Lester the creator was even more important, his impact deeper and more permanent.

LESTER BASIE Mosaic

Where did this mournful myth come from, and why?

Few African-American musicians received perceptive and sympathetic media coverage in the Thirties, perhaps because jazz was viewed as entertainment and writers often adopted the most painful “hip” jargon.  (I leave aside Ansermet on Sidney Bechet and early analysis of Ellington as notable exceptions.)  So the writings on Lester, some of which were his own speech, come late in his life and are cautious, full of bitterness and melancholy.  He was by nature sensitive and shy, and which of us would feel comfortable speaking to a stranger in front of a microphone?  Yes, the Lester of the irreplaceable Chris Albertson and Francois Postif interviews is quite a bit more unbuttoned, but much of what comes through is despair, exhaustion, suspicion, hurt.  (I make an exception for Bobby Scott’s gentle loving portrait, but that was posthumous, perhaps Scott’s effort to say, “This was the Lester I knew.”)

Even the film footage we have of Lester (leaving aside those jubilant, silent seconds from Randalls Island) supports this image of the suffering Pres, a bottle sticking out of the pocket of his long black coat, elusive, turning away from the world because of what it had done to him.  The mystical icon of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES is to me a mournful figure, even though Lester participates in the riotous closing blues.  The Lester of THE SOUND OF JAZZ evokes tears in his music and in his stance.  And on the 1958 Art Ford show, the song Lester calls for his feature is MEAN TO ME, a fact not cancelled out by JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID.  The 1950 Norman Granz film, IMPROVISATION, is a notable exception: in BLUES FOR GREASY Lester quietly smiles while Harry Edison struts.  But the visual evidence we have is in more sad than happy.

Adding all this together, the mythic figure we have come to accept is that of Pres on the cross of racism, a man watching others less innovative getting more “pennies” and more prominent gigs.  Then, there’s the conception of him “in decline,” running parallel to Billie Holiday, “still my Lady Day.”  Although some have effectively argued for a more balanced view — why should a musician want to play in 1956 the way he played twenty years earlier, assuming even that it was possible?  Some critics still muse on the change in his sound around 1942, constructing the facile story of a man bowed down by adversity.  And we are drawn to the gravity-bound arc of a great artist, blooming beyond belief in his twenties, alcoholic and self-destructive, dying before reaching fifty.

But the brand-new eight-disc Mosaic set, taken for its own virtues, is a wonderful rebuke to such myth-making.  If you have heard nothing of it or from it, please visit here.

I am writing this review having heard less than one-fourth of this set, and that is intentional.  We do not stuff down fine cuisine in the same way one might mindlessly work their way through a bag of chips; we do not put the Beethoven string quartets on while washing the kitchen floor, and we do not play these Lester Young tracks as background music, or in the car.  To do so would be at best disrespectful.

I think that by now everyone has heard about the virtues of Mosaic’s delicate and thoughtful work.  Fine notes by Pres-scholar Loren Schoenberg, rare and new photographs, and transfers of familiar material that make it shine in ways I could not have imagined.  The music bursts through the speakers and I heard details I’d never heard, not even through forty years of close listening.

The news, of course, is that there are four astonishing discoveries on this set: alternate takes of LADY BE GOOD, EVENIN’, and BOOGIE WOOGIE from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc., session, and a previously unknown alternate take of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the 1937 Basie band.

Now, what follows may mark me as a suburban plutocrat, but if you’d come to me at any time in the past dozen years and said, “Pssst!  Michael!  Want beautiful transfers of three alternate takes from Jones-Smith, Inc., and I’ll throw in an unissued Basie Decca — for a hundred and fifty dollars?” I would have gone to the ATM as fast as I could.

When I first heard the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY in 1969 — I taped it from an Ed Beach radio show and treasured it — the music went right to my heart in a way that only Louis did.  It still does, a living embodiment of joy.

And the joy is still profound.  I know this not only because of the feelings that course through me while listening to the Mosaic set, but because of an entirely unplanned experiment earlier this week.  I had lunch with a young musician whom I admire and like, and after the food was eaen we went back to my place — as is our habit — so that I could “play him some Dixieland!” as he likes to say.

But this time I asked, “Do you like Lester Young?” Had he said “No,” I would have invented an appointment with my podiatrist that I had to get to right away, but he answered properly and with enthusiasm.  He had never heard SHOE SHINE BOY, so I put the first Mosaic disc on.  He is someone whose emotions bubble through him, and although he is taller and broader than I am, he capered around my living room, completely ecstatic.  Lester’s magic is potent and undiminished: I could see the music hitting him as hard and sweetly as it had done to me in 1969.

And as I have been listening to this set while writing these words, I am continually astonished — by recordings I heard forty years ago, by recordings I first heard a week ago — not only by how alive they sound, but by the complete picture of Lester’s first decade of recordings, so influential.  Jones-Smith, Inc. Una Mae Carlisle.  Dickie Wells.  The Kansas City Six and Seven, and Lester’s 1943 Keynote quartet.  The Aladdins.  TI-PI-TIN.  I FOUND A NEW BABY with Teddy Wilson, twice. The Philo trio with Nat Cole.  A few Helen Humes sides. The only studio recordings beyond Mosaic’s reach are the Savoy sessions.

The joy is not only Lester.  There’s Count Basie, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Johnny Guarnieri, Doc West, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, Shad Collins, Sweets Edison, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Nat Cole, Red Callendar, Buddy Rich, Buster Bailey, Bill Coleman, Dickie Wells, Joe Bushkin, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, Bennie Morton, Earle Warren, Jack Washington, Helen Humes . . . and more.

I’ve read a good deal of discussion of this set, of price, of value — as always! — on Facebook, and I won’t reiterate it here.  I will only say that this box is superb listening, provocative and rewarding music.  And as a wise person used to say, “Amortize!” — that is, instead of buying ten lesser CDs, buy this.  And think of the expense as ten manageable chunklets: that’s what credit cards allow us to do. You will be listening to this music for the rest of your life.

Some, reared on Spotify and Pandora — and the idea that everything should be free — will burn copies of the set from jazz Enablers, will wait for the material to be “borrowed” by European labels.  I think this is at best polite theft, and the sole way that we have of keeping enterprises like Mosaic afloat — and there’s nothing like Mosaic, if you haven’t noticed — is to support it.

For those who have their calculators out, the set is eight CDs.  There are 173 tracks.  The cost is $136.00 plus shipping.  There are only 5000 sets being produced.  They won’t be around in five years, or perhaps in one.  (I paid for my set, if you wonder about such things.)

Thank you, Pres, for being so joyous and for sharing your joy with us.  We mourn your griefs, but we celebrate your delight in sounds.  And thank you, Mosaic, for bringing us the joy in such profusion.

May your happiness increase!