To me, Sidney Catlett is a marvel beyond marvels. An extraordinary soloist; an unmatched team player with the greatest intuition about what his colleagues were creating. An alchemist. And when Big Sid had the finest musicians to work with, which was most of the time, they scaled mountains.
Thankfully for us, he had many opportunities to record between 1929 and 1950. Most of his work is readily available: with Louis, Benny, Duke, Bird, Bechet, Hawk, Ben, Roy, Condon, Lips, James P,, Joe Thomas, Teddy, and three dozen others. But his performances at Carnegie Hall on April 5, 1947, have not often been heard, and they deserve to be.
His pairing with Charlie Shavers is acrobatic magic (catch them on film, although out of synch, in SEPIA CINDERELLA); Hank Jones, so youthful in 1947, was already creating pearls of sound. SID FLIPS HIS LID is beyond belief. And the jam session offers opportunities to hear players who no doubt encountered each other often (the Ventura-Harris unit was a working group) but never recorded together otherwise.
Two by an unassailable trio: Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Sidney, drums.
SID FLIPS HIS LID — like nothing else before or since:
and the closing jam session on JUST YOU, JUST ME. The label says the drummer is Dave Tough, but I always thought that an error, given his dislike for drum solos and the very Catlett-sound of the set. I asked a few drummer-scholars who agree it’s Sidney, joined by Charlie Shavers, Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Marjorie Hyams, vibraphone; Curly Russell, string bass:
There’s a surprising lack of documentation about this evening (even on its CD issue, as the last offering in a Verve multi-disc Forties JATP set). I believe it was produced by Leonard Feather, even though it was issued on Norman Granz’s Norgran label. I wonder how much of the evening was recorded and not issued: this would have been an interlude rather than a full concert. Where’s the rest of it?
(And Tom Lord’s online discography makes the first selections by the Hank Jones Quartet, with Curly Russell added, and he adds guitarist Bill DeArango to JUST YOU.)
A memory: I was not born when this concert took place, but twenty-plus years later Ed Beach played SID FLIPS HIS LID on a two-hour radio program devoted to Sidney, and when I write that it exploded through the speaker, I am not exaggerating. A number of years later I found a seriously scratched copy of the Norgan issue — with its yellow label — that I must have lent to someone, because it no longer is within my reach. No matter, the music was issued on the JATP set mentioned above.
But here is it for collective astonishment. And just in case your supply of marvels needs replenishment, the drummer on the other performances issued from this concert is Dave Tough: hear them here.
That would have been an evening to remember. Miraculously we have these performances.
As they say, THIS JUST IN. It’s a saving grace to have friends, even better when they’re erudite and generous. Guitarist / writer / scholar Nick Rossi rescued me from my ignorance, as he has done often.
According to author/historian Gayle Murchison, the April 5, 1947 Carnegie Hall concert was promoted by Don Palmer (aka Dominic Plumeri, not the Canadian jazz musician of the same name), who was Ventura’s manager at the time. This is backed up by an April 23, 1947 review in “Down Beat.” As you can see from the clipping it was titled “Concert in Jazz” and did feature Feather as an emcee. The headliner? Mildred Bailey! Williams and her working trio which may have included Bridget O’Flynn (drums) and June Rotenberg (bass) got second billing. Intriguing to me is that Mary Osborne was on the bill, but it is not believed that she appeared with Mary Lou. Feather was still pushing his “Girl Stars” concept — Williams was a key component at the time — so he may have had more to do with the concert than billed. In early May 1947, “Down Beat” reported that the concert had lost money.
and Mike Levin’s DOWN BEAT review:
Nick’s research and the review offer answers to a few questions. Any distorted sound (thanks to the Carnegie Hall microphones) may have made some of the recording unusable. I believe Norman Granz issued this recording in 1956, and whether the rest of the concert tape or acetates were scrapped, we can’t know, but no mention of them turned up in the recent JATP compilation. Second, the “Girl Stars” were recording for RCA Victor and Mildred Bailey may have been under contract to Crown Records, which may have made Granz reluctant to negotiate to issue their work. Did the unissued material end up in Leonard Feather’s archive? I don’t know.
On another note: when I first heard the drumming on JUST YOU, I thought it was, in fact, Dave Tough playing on Sidney’s drum kit. But keener-eared professional jazz drummers told me otherwise. Listening to it again, the drumming up until the middle of Hyams’ solo still sounds very much to me like Tough: the steady bass drum work, the cymbal splashes, the relative absence of the ornamentation Sidney did so beautifully. In JAMMIN’ THE BLUES, we see Sidney hand the sticks over to Jo Jones in mid-solo without losing the beat. I have heard an unissued Eddie Condon concert, announced by Alistair Cooke, where Sidney passes the sticks to Cozy Cole in the middle of a long IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE. My ears tell me that something of the sort — wonderful acrobatics and great visual theatre — is happening here, although I am perfectly content to hug my theory if others disagree. Do listen again.
Honoring Sidney Catlett while remaining completely himself: that’s what the masterful artist-percussionist Josh Collazo does here in spellbinding ways. It was the set closer of Marc Caparone’s Back O’Town All-Stars set at the Redwood Coast Music Festival because nothing — except perhaps SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH or the national anthem could follow that.
And for those of us who understand the music, STEAK FACE (named for Louis’ Boston terrier, a happy carnivore) IS a national anthem. It’s thrilling, a complete drama embodied on a drum set.
The band is modeled on Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, majestically. Marc Caparone, trumpet, vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums. This marvelous six-minute natural event took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Eureka, California, September 30, 2022:
Josh inhabits the world of that solo so splendidly that it would be an affront to post a photograph of Big Sid here. But I hope he’ll forgive me for posting the source of this composition’s title: “General,” Louis Armstrong’s Boston terrier (Joe Glaser bred dogs) who obviously had deep culinary awareness:
but the real story is told here . . . STEAK FACE in action!
I apologize if the canine candids have distracted you from the glories Josh and the band create — music, to paraphrase Whitney Balliett, that makes you want to dance and shake and shout. All in six minutes: beyond remarkable.
I found this holy relic for sale on eBay. Do I have to say how much I would have given to be there? But alas, my parents had not even met. So there goes that dream. It is, of course, only a piece of paper. But Louis’ big band did broadcast between 1939-43, and some extraordinarily rare and fine music was preserved for us — and issued on a CD on the Ambassador label, Volume 10 of their Armstrong series, the gift of the late Gosta Hagglof to all lovers of hot music.
So in honor of Louis and in honor of his birthday (let’s not argue about the date this year, please) I have extracted two very lively and different performances. Alas, neither is from the Port Arthur dance, but they are by his remarkable big band — with him remarkably out in front, showing the way, as he continues to do.
This composition by Joe Garland got the dancers on the floor and kept them there. The band for this performance is Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Wilbur deParis, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Charlie Holmes, Rupert Cole, alto saxophone; Bingie Madison, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Joe Garland, bass sax, reeds, arranger; Luis Russell, piano; Lee Blair, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Cotton Club, New York City, March 22, 1940. Listen for Sidney Catlett catching every detail in the arrangement, Garland on bass saxophone, Red Allen on trumpet — further evidence that Red wasn’t “buried” in Louis’ band — and the sound of the respective sections, well-rehearsed, before Bingie Madison’s clarinet and Louis’ entrance, his sound so recognizable, then the duet with Sidney, electrifying:
and a lovely performance (missing the cadenza at the end) of a song written for Louis in 1936 by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, SHOE SHINE BOY. The band’s personnel had changed: Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Frank Galbreath, Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood, trumpet; George Washington, James Whitney, Henderson Chambers, trombone; Rupert Cole, Carl Frye, alto saxophone; Prince Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Joe Garland, reeds, arranger; Luis Russell, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Casa Manana, Culver City, California, April 1, 1942. Hear the tenderness in Louis’ voice (and the sweet inspired trumpet obbligato behind his singing), again with Catlett’s heroic support. The incomplete recording catches me by surprise, but I can imagine the notes that follow and hope you can also:
Bless Louis, and his orchestras, and the unknown recordists. The dancers, too. To me, every day is Louis’ birthday. I hope for you also.
Yes, that’s right: Tommy Dorsey taking Bennie Morton’s place, briefly, reading the trombone book, alongside Emmett Berry, trumpet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Sidney Catlett, drums. Members of this band we don’t see are the leader Teddy Wilson and the bassist, either Johnny Williams or Slam Stewart. Alas, there’s no recorded evidence, but Brown Brothers had a photographer there to show us that it did happen.
Incidentally, “sits in” means that he wasn’t there as a regular member of the group; his business suit isn’t their tuxedo band uniform, and his posture suggests (even though Tommy was a completely expert professional musician) that he is seeing the music for the first time.
and the front, so remarkable:
I suspect whatever they are playing is or was an arrangement new to them, because Emmett and Ed are looking at their music as well. It must have sounded so fine.
How do I know about this? This photograph, with watermarks added, appeared on eBay about a week ago and I put in a substantial bid and sat back. The auction ended less than an hour ago; I was outbid, and the new owner will pay $134 (shipping included) which was more than I felt up to. But we all can see this version — even with watermarks — and marvel, for free.
And just because it would be cruel tp post silently in this context, here is nearly forty-five minutes from that same Wilson band (Berry, Morton, Hall, Slam Stewart, Catlett) recorded for Associated Transcriptions in 1944. Ignore the incorrect “Onyx Club” description and float along in the finest swing:
That photograph says a good deal about Tommy Dorsey the active and respected jazzman, something that posterity hasn’t always said quite as generously. He could, and did, play, and I am sure that Teddy was delighted to have him on the stand.
Early on in my listening career I was frankly enraptured by Jack Teagarden, trombone and voice. I heard his ST. JAMES INFIRMARY from Louis’ 1947 Town Hall concert and although I played that whole recording until it turned grey, that track and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ were especially worn. In my local department store, a Decca anthology, THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, was a cherished purchase, with recordings from 1929 to 1947. Ask any trombonist how astonishing Jack’s technique is — and note I use present tense. And as for his singing . . . who has matched its easy fervor?
This little meditation on the man from Texas is motivated by two autographed photographs on eBay. The seller is from Belgium. Here is one link (the portrait); here is the other (the group photo).
First, a standard publicity shot when Jack was a member of Louis’ All-Stars (and thus employed by Joe Glaser’s Associated Booking Corporation) — inscribed “To Rosie and Tony,” in peacock-blue fountain-pen ink. I suspect that either Rosie or Tony dated the photograph at the bottom; the neat printing is probably not Jack’s:
That photograph holds no mysterious half-submerged stories. But this one does. It is heralded by the seller as “Louis Armstrong – Lucille Wilson – Jack Teagarden – RARE back signed photo – COA,” and I have no quibbles with that except that by 1942, “Lucille Wilson” had taken “Armstrong” as her surname.
But wait! There’s more! Is the partially obscured clarinetist to the left Peanuts Hucko? I believe the seated baritone saxophonist is not Ernie Caceres, but the elusive Bill Miles. And standing behind Louis is a naggingly familiar figure: the penny dropped (as my UK friends may say) — drummer Kaiser Marshall. His headgear suggests that this is a candid shot from a 1947 gathering, “Jazz on the River,” that also included Art Hodes and possibly Cecil Scott — connected to the premiere of the film NEW ORLEANS at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City.
William P. Gottlieb took a good number of photographs of this concert which was to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, and you can see them at the Gottlieb holdings at the Library of Congress here. Here’s one:
Other musicians in this band were Cecil Scott, Sandy Williams, and Henry Goodwin. We have even more evidence: an NBC radio broadcast of a concert at the Winter Garden on June 19, 1947, the performers being Louis and Jack, Peanuts and Caceres, Bobby Hackett, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and Sidney Catlett. The broadcast, m.c.’d by Fred Robbins, offered ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, MUSKRAT RAMBLE, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, and TIGER RAG.
Back to the second photograph for a moment. It does not look to me like a Gottlieb shot. Was it was a candid one, created by another photographer. Is the number on the back significant of anything more than the developer’s index? I do not know. Did Louis, Lucille, and Jack sign this photograph at or after the concert? And . . . who can decipher the fourth signature, quite cryptic and unfamiliar to me?And an aside: we don’t always think of Kaiser Marshall when we list Louis’ great drummers, but they were colleagues in the Fletcher Henderson band during Louis’ 1924-5 tenure, and they teamed up so very memorably for the 1929 KNOCKIN’ A JUG session — although not after that, at least in terms of recorded evidence. You can hear Kaiser (born Joseph) with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and, in 1946-47, with Mezz Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet for KING JAZZ recordings. Kaiser died on January 2, 1948; he was only 45.
All of that has taken us some distance from Jack Teagarden, but I hope you found this jazz-mystery solving rewarding. Now, for some relevant music from the 1947 Winter Garden broadcast — with Louis in that brief golden period when he appeared and recorded with a group of musicians we would most happily associate with Eddie Condon, to great effect:
‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:
MUSKRAT RAMBLE :
DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (Bobby Hackett at the start, and a gorgeous solo by Jack):
(Note: the YouTube compilers seem to have hidden DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, a duet for Louis and Dick Cary, and SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY. I have no idea why.)
TIGER RAG (with raucous Jack and a wonderful Sidney solo):
Photographs, imperishable music, and a small mystery: JAZZ LIVES’ gift to you.
This post — and the musical surprise it contains — are inspired by my friend Nick Rossi’s celebration of Sidney Catlett’s birthday on Facebook. Nick posted the cosmically glorious STEAMIN’ AND BEAMIN’ by an Edmond Hall group on Blue Note — including Bennie Morton and Harry Carney, so you know it’s remarkable.
There are two or three sessions that Sidney graced, late in his recording career, that have eluded me: one is by “Gloria Mac,” which I suspect might be a mis-typing of “Gloria Mae”:
Gloria Mac (vcl) acc by Dick Vance (tp) Sandy Williams (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) George “Big Nick” Nicholas (ts) Bill McRae (p) Thomas Barney (b) Sidney Catlett (d) New York, May 5, 1949 G657 The one in your memory Abbey 75 G658 What is this thing called love ? –
I dream of hearing Sandy Williams backed by Sidney . . .
I thought the other session would be equally elusive, but I found two of the four sides on the Internet Archive, the treasure chest of unimagined joys:
Kirby Walker Orchestra : Dick Vance (tp) Benny Morton (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) Sam “The Man” Taylor (ts) Kirby Walker (p,vcl) Al Hall (b) Sidney Catlett (d) New York, June 28, 1949
CO40919 Oh I’m evil Col 30178 CO40920 High brow blues 30170 CO40921 Juke box time 30178 CO40922 Shut up 30170
Before I proceed to the music — that delightful reward — I will note that Kirby Walker doesn’t impress me greatly as lyricist or singer, but he is middle-competent. Both sides are well-arranged, with a written duet for Taylor and Jefferson: I would guess that the charts are by Dick Vance, and they are reminiscent of Hot Lips Page and Wynonie Harris’ contemporaneous efforts: good-time music, no demands made on it to be innovative. And while you’re listening closely, pay attention to the beautiful sound and reliable drive of Al Hall — someone I had the good fortune to see in person circa 1974-5 (Bennie Morton as well).
But the reason to shine a light on these brief interludes is the magisterial presence of Sidney, whose powerful accents, rimshots, and direction are strong but never obtrusive. HE is leading the band, propelling, orchestrating, and shaping the performances. Masterfully.
Hereis OH I’M EVIL. (You can find another version of Kirby Walker performing this song on the air, for the 1947 THIS IS JAZZ series, on YouTube.)
And hereis JUKE BOX TIME (when did the juke box get the name “piccolo”?) with Sidney in especially wonderful form in the second half of the record — kicking Taylor into action and then driving the band exuberantly.
He was such a phenomenon: a percussion orchestra who could be so very gentle when the music required it. Gone in 1951, his loss a tragedy that still reverberates. The only compensation for his abrupt death, his short life, is that he was very well-represented in recordings from 1928 (Al Wynn) to 1950 (Muggsy Spanier): everyone wanted the Catlett magic in their band, from Bechet to Byas to Bird. They knew full well what having Sidney behind the drums meant.
Here’s some extraordinary music that doesn’t often get shared, and it affords us opportunities to hear the singular percussionist Dave Tough late in his life playing the music he most preferred then. The occasion was a concert apparently produced (and recorded) by Leonard Feather, with the tapes sold to Norman Granz for issue on his Norgran label. This was a 12″ lp, and then issued on CD as filler material for Verve’s optimistically-named THE COMPLETE JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC ON VERVE, a ten-disc set. Another portion of the concert has Sidney Catlett playing drums: material for a future posting.
Some mysteries accompany this issue: no one has yet documented all the music played that evening: there has to have been more than thirty-six minutes. The record sleeve mis-identifies Dave as playing (JUST YOU, JUST ME) when it is audibly Sidney. And it is difficult to ascertain the order of performance. But perhaps there is a jazz Hercule Poirot who can solve these mysteries. For now, let us hear Dave in the company of Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Ralph Burns, piano; Bill DeArango, guitar; Curly Russell, string bass.
Here’s CHARACTERISTICALLY B.H., for the wonderfully versatile Harris:
and RALPH BURNS UP, by Ralph, Curly, and Dave:
finally, Ventura rhapsodizing on one of the great tenor sax ballads:
More to come, with Sidney and friends. Thanks to Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn for their erudite assistance with this music.
This little portion of joy has always been slightly mysterious. And it remains so. When I Googled “Eddie Condon” and “Central Park” and my site came up first, I knew the possibilities of getting new information were slim. The late Bob Hilbert issued LADY BE GOOD on his own Pumpkin Records compilation devoted to James P. Johnson, but he mis-identified the drummer as Grauso rather than the quite recognizable Sidney Catlett.
My research team turned up nothing relevant to this event in contemporary newspapers: perhaps it was that in summer 1945, an outdoor concert by these luminaries was not a big news story . . . make of that what you will. Students of history will note that there were other events competing for our attention in those months.
But still. What were Eddie and friends — the people who were ordinarily doing Blue Network concert broadcasts from Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall — doing in Central Park in front of what sounds like a good-sized audience? Obviously baritone saxophonist Ernie Caceres, a Condon mainstay, had another gig somewhere — thus we have the miraculous coupling of Harry Carney, James P. Johnson, and Sidney Catlett . . . which did not get captured on record ever again. The unidentified string bassist on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME might be Bob Casey — hear his steady tread.
Here are the facts as I know them, with details from collectors Roy Bower and John L. Fell as well as Bob Hilbert:
Central Park, New York mid-1945, dir. Eddie Condon —
LADY BE GOOD: Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Joe Dixon, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums; possibly Bob Haggart, string bass. (This performance was issued on a Johnson compilation with the drums credited to Joe Grauso: our ears tell us it is Big Sid.)
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME: Buck Clayton, trumpet; unid. piano, string bass, Joe Grauso, drums.
IF I HAD YOU: Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Felix Giobbe, string bass, drums //
I would love to know more about this, and would love to hear more from this date . . . but so far, that’s all there is. Savor it along with me.
If anyone has a) more specific information or perhaps b) a stack of nicely preserved 16″ transcription discs from this concert, I’d be more than interested. The phrase “A king’s ransom!” comes to mind.
Even if Frederick Law Olmsted didn’t have hot music in mind when he designed the park, I will guess that the sounds — and the people — would please him. As they do us.
This just in (December 1, 2021): I just found another tape source that identifies the string bassist on IF I HAD YOU as Felix Giobbe, and the original broadcast coming from New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.
Dan Morgenstern’s birthday celebration is too large to be contained in one twenty-four hour period, so this is the third day of posting interviews he did in front of my camera. I present this small tasting menu to remind people of Dan’s even-handed expansiveness: other jazz writers range across styles and decades, but few do it with the comfort and empathy he shows. And his first-hand experiences with his and our heroes are priceless.
How about Coleman Hawkins and Jack Purvis?
and Pops Foster?
and Sidney Catlett?
and Miles Davis, too:
Miles as friend and neighbor:
and it always comes back to Louis:
My informants in the Jazz Under-and-Overworld tell me that this Wednesday, at 5 PM (doors open at 4) David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band will be paying loving tribute to Dan, who will be there (we hope!) at Birdland, in New York City. Birdland does not allow impromptu videography, so I hope you can join us. Or if you are far away, Dan is on Facebook and I am sure he could endure some more congratulations and greetings.
One of the benefits of “straightening up” is that, occasionally, treasures resurface. Here’s one whose importance I can’t overestimate. But before I write a word more, this airshot of SING SING SING comes to us because of the generosity of Loren Schoenberg, master of so many arts, who played it on a broadcast he did over WKCR-FM perhaps thirty-five years ago. I captured it on cassette, and now share it with you. (Loren generously provided a pitch-corrected version for JAZZ LIVES.) It was not issued on Jerry Valburn’s set (lp and CD) of Goodman-Catlett recordings, should you reach for that set. Your ears will tell you so.
If you needed more evidence of the superhuman power and joy that Sidney Catlett brought to any group in his two-decades-plus playing career, this should do it. It also suggests, words I write with some ruefulness, why Benny Goodman fired him. Listening to this performance, it’s hard not to believe that Sid was leading the band and Benny was doing his best — which was considerable — to keep up. It also reminds us how much music the Swing Era bands created in performance that the 10″ 78 count not capture, because this performance is ten minutes long. Real life — for dancers, a band released from the recording studio. I bless the unidentified recordist, and so should you.
Here are the names of the heroes in that wonderful band, although on this performance, aside from brief ventures by Vido Musso and Mel Powell, by my count, six of the ten minutes are given over to a Catlett-Goodman experimental interlude in duet improvisation:
Billy Butterfield, Cootie Williams, Jimmy Maxwell, Al “Slim” Davis, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Skip Martin, Clint Neagley, alto saxophone; Vido Musso, George Berg, tenor saxophone; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Marty Blitz, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Broadcast, “Meadowbrook,” Cedar Grove, New Jersey, September 27, 1941.
This is an extraordinary piece of music, full of courage, energy, and joy. I hope you feel about it as I do, and that, once again, we may extend our gratitude to Sidney, Benny, Loren, and someone sitting in front of the radio with a microphone and a disc cutter.
I’m in favor of authenticity, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, but for fifty years, Benny Carter’s song (music and lyrics) SYNTHETIC LOVE has been a true favorite of mine. So many things come together in it: the irresistible little motifs of the opening melody line and the notes that underpin “Although my life may be pathetic, better that than more synthetic love.” It should have been a hit, but I think the lyrics — so clever — were not easy for singers. “What rhymes with synthetic? With artificial?” Benny was living in the age of synthetics — between Bakelite in 1907 and nylon in 1935 (yes, I looked this up) — so the idea of “synthetic love” might have hit him as hard as “milkless milk and silkless silk” did W.C. Handy.
I am terribly fond of Carter’s early singing, how clearly he idolizes the equally-young Crosby, with the patented mordents, dips and slides. The usual jazz-history response to Bing is that he was influenced by African-American musicians, but I think the reverse is also true: his work was deeply absorbed by them as well.
I cannot provide any facts about his vocal work of the time: our friend Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of the Hot Club of New York, talked to Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, who told him that the King had no desire to linger on or in the past . . . he was always moving forward, so that he recorded SYNTHETIC LOVE once in 1933, then a year later, and never again. Here are those two versions and two modern evocation-tributes. All entrancing, I feel.
Shad Collins, Leonard Davis, Bill Dillard (tp) George Washington, Wilbur DeParis (tb) Benny Carter (cl,as,tp-1,dir,arr) Howard Johnson (as) Chu Berry (ts) Nicholas Rodriguez (p) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Ernest Hill (b) Sidney Catlett (d,d & vib-2) New York, March 14, 1933.
Here we have — in addition to Carter, composer, arranger, and singer, Benny’s first recorded trumpet solo, a beauty. This recording is not only splendid jazz, but wonderful dance music, thanks to Lucie (who takes a break), Hill (who’s swinging with the bow), Sidney Catlett’s propulsive brushes — switching to powerful press rolls in the outchorus. Also note the trombone (Washington?), early Chu, and lovely Carter clarinet. Hard to believe one man was so talented!
If the first version was an expansive yet unaffected display of Carter’s talents, the second is far more modest (although not in its effect).
Russell Smith, Otis Johnson, Irving “Mouse” Randolph (tp) Bennie Morton, Keg Johnson (tb) Benny Carter (as,cl) Ben Smith, Russell Procope (as) Ben Webster (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Clarence Holiday (g) Elmer James (b) Walter Johnson (d) Charles Holland (vcl). New York, December 13, 1934.
The trumpet solo is by Irving “Mouse” Randolph, whom no one chronicles — maybe I should? — the glorious trombone solo is by Bennie Morton, and you hear Teddy Wilson gleaming throughout. Carter did not sing again; rather, the vocal chorus is by Charles Holland, who also recorded with Chick Webb; he was (I learned this morning) trumpeter “Peanuts” Holland’s brother:
Into this century, from November 2000. Dan Barrett, cornet and vocal; Chris Hopkins, piano (a version I had the honor of playing for THE Benny Carter scholar and all-around gentleman Ed Berger, who hadn’t known of it). What a wonderful idea to take the chorus rubato, then pick up into a swinging 4/4:
The most recent version, from 2002, by ECHOES OF SWING: Colin Dawson, trumpet / vocal; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums:
Who will bring this neat, clever song into 2021? And may I wish all my readers love that is in no way synthetic. We know the difference.
P.S. This blogpost is for all the members of the Hot Club of New York, many of whom love this song as I do.
The last song of the night, when both musicians and the audience are drained, is traditionally a rouser. When everyone is overwhelmed by an evening of sensations, the leader might call for SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, or JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE to send the crowd to their rooms feeling exhilarated, feeling that they’ve got their money’s worth. In truth, some of these spectacles seem formulaic, seasoned lightly with desperation: I would imagine that the last thing the band wants to do is to play Fast and Loud through weary lips and hands, but it’s expected of them.
I always think that calling AFTER YOU’VE GONE is an inside joke — a hot way of saying, “Could you go away, already?” to an audience that surely has had its fill. (Audience members sometimes stand up and shout “MORE! MORE!” although they’ve been well and over-fed, and perhaps have talked through the last set.) For Duke Heitger to call SLEEP as a closing tune is a nice bundle of ironies: it doubles as the kind suggestion, “Go to bed, so that we can stop playing and relax,” but it’s also a high-energy, spectacular jazz performance. The song didn’t begin that way. Here’s Fred Waring’s first recorded performance of it (he took it as his band’s theme):
So it began as lulling, soporific, but since 1940 (Benny Carter’s big band) and 1944 (Sid Catlett – Ben Webster) the song SLEEP has often been a high-powered showcase . . . as it is here, featuring Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Eddie Metz, drums.
Please note all the fun these possibly-exhausted musicians are having: the glance Bucky gives Rossano when the latter begins the performance, “Oh, so THAT’s the tempo?!” and the delightful hi-jinks between Eddie, Paul, and Rossano (Eddie, especially, is the boy at the back of the classroom passing notes while Mrs. McGillicuddy is droning on about the Pyramids) — they way the horns float and soar; Duke’s idea of having an ensemble chorus in the middle of the tune (no one else does this); Bucky’s super-turbo-charged chord solo, Paul and Eddie taking their romping turns, all leading up to a very tidy two-chorus rideout.
Louis Armstrong told Larry L. King in 1967, “I got a simple rule about everybody. . . If you don’t treat me right—shame on you!”
He wasn’t a malicious man and it comes through in every second of his music, but it’s clear that Louis had no patience for those who weren’t fair or generous to him. It occurred to me, seeing a video performance of SO LONG, DEARIE from a 1964 Ed Sullivan Show, just how he gravitated to songs whose essential message was “You weren’t nice. I put up with it longer than I should, but now it’s over, I’m leaving, and my last act — as my feet move to the exit — will be to elaborate on your bad behavior for everyone to hear.”
In fairness, Louis wrote only one of these songs — his famous SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY — and there is a long tradition in popular music for songs that waggle an accusing finger at someone (AFTER YOU’VE GONE, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON are two that come immediately to mind, and, yes, Louis recorded both of them) but this was an emotional thread in his performing career.
JAZZ LIVES does not endorse vengeance as a way of life, but it does celebrate people’s coming to realize when they are not treated well and acting on it.
The 1942 Soundie version of (I’LL BE GLAD WHEN YOU’RE DEAD) YOU RASCAL YOU, with glorious Sidney Catlett, the remarkable Velma Middleton, and appropriate political commentary:
The grave, mournful NOW DO YOU CALL THAT A BUDDY? from the previous year:
a spinoff from the 1931 YOU RASCAL YOU, (YOU SO-AND-SO) YOU’LL WISH YOU’D NEVER BEEN BORN:
The song that Louis said came to him in a dream, SOMEDAY (YOU’LL BE SORRY), in its first recording:
THROW IT OUT [OF] YOUR MIND, from a 1965 Connie Francis film, WHERE THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS:
and the performance that began my train of thought, the 1964 SO LONG, DEARIE — where Louis packs so much music and comedy into slightly over two minutes, on the Ed Sullivan Show:
One could write a good deal about these performances as evidence that Louis felt betrayed at least one of his wives; male insecurity about the threat of more appealing lovers; a cultural tradition rooted in “the dozens,” where the insults may be good-natured or deadly; Louis and songwriters looking for new material that would be hits.
Or one could simply be moved, cheered, and amused by these variations on the theme of public rebuke for betrayal, deceit, and harm.
And one could quote Louis — to Richard Meryman in 1966: “. . . a baby or a little dog always knows the one who ain’t slapping him on the rear all the time.”
Thank you, Mister Strong. Again and again. Even when he appears to be wishing someone dead, we are having the time of our lives, as he was.
Speaking of “something to look forward to,” did you know that Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside The Ear Inn on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30? Of course you knew.
It’s premature to play this, but I don’t care. And any excuse to feature Bobby Hackett, Ernie Caceres, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, and Sidney Catlett has to be seized:
And here are some “old times” that are forever new, from January 16, 2011. provided generously by Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Mark Lopeman, Neal Miner, and friends Pete Martinez, Chris Flory, Tamar Korn, and Jerron Paxton.
Chris sits in for Matt on that most durable of philosophical statements, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
Tamar sings of love — surrender and power — in BODY AND SOUL:
Jerron Paxton tells us what will happen SOME OF THESE DAYS:
Tamar sings a faster-than-usual WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:
I offer the keys to an Easter Sunday compact outdoor jazz festival in New York City — like water for people who have been parched by deprivation far too long — and Easter celebrations of the hallowed past. Yes, JAZZ LIVES is your full-service Easter jazz blog. Did you doubt it?
The good news for Sunday, April 4, 2021, for those people within easy reach of Manhattan, is that what Jay Rattman modestly calls “the little gig at the church” is going to happen. Hark! It’s 2-3 on Sunday in front of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 81 Christopher Street. (Take the #1 subway if you are so inclined.) Danny Tobias on trumpet, Jay on soprano saxophone assuming it’s a little too chilly for clarinet, Josh Holcomb on trombone, James Chirillo on banjo, and Brian Nalepka on tuba. I won’t be there with a video camera . . . other commitments . . . . so you have to make the scene yourself. And that, as E.B. White’s Charlotte says, is SOME BAND.
Here’s music to get in the mood, no matter what your Sunday plans are.
The live performances below combine all sorts of pleasures: Irving Berlin, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Pee Wee Russell, Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Sidney Catlett, and more. Eddie liked the song — he loved American pop music of the highest order — as you can hear, he didn’t save it for the one spring Sunday.
I have another EASTER PARADE that didn’t get shared with the troops, but that will appear as part of a Condon concert that only a handful of people have ever heard. Watch this space.
Back to the issued music: if it needs to be pointed out, these performances stand alongside the more-heralded jazz recordings of the time, the small-group sides of the middle Forties, for delight, ingenuity, swing, and feeling. Let no one characterize Eddie and his friends’ music as “Dixieland”; let no one stereotype it as too-fast renditions of traditional warhorses. There’s elegance and lyricism here, exploration of the subtle variations possible within medium and medium-fast tempos. I think those truths need to be said repeatedly, to re-establish a proper hierarchy of great jazz performances.
Bobby Hackett, Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Gene Krupa (d). Town Hall, New York, Sept. 23, 1944:
Max Kaminsky (tp) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (cl,bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Bob Casey (b) Joe Grauso (d). November 11, 1944:
Billy Butterfield (tp) Lou McGarity (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar,cl) Gene Schroeder (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Sidney Catlett (d). March 31, 1945:
Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Jack Lesberg (b) George Wettling (d). Audition for a Chesterfield cigarette-sponsored radio program, Spring 1945:
People who celebrate Easter as the most serious Christian ritual may do it in their own way; perhaps some families will still get together for closeness and food; some will just take the occasion to get dressed up or to watch others, so spiffy in their spring finery. Wise types who understand the importance of pleasure will get themselves down to 81 Christopher Street between 2 and 3 on Sunday. Heretics like myself may entertain themselves by thinking that chocolate bunnies will be half-price on Monday.
“It isn’t how you succeed; it’s how you recover when you don’t.” (Source unknown.)
YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS was written by Gene de Paul (music) and Don Raye (lyrics) for an Abbott and Costello film. Most listeners know it from versions by Coltrane, Miles, Billie, Chet, and a few big bands — Benny, Harry, Earl — that recorded it when the song was new in 1941.
But how many know Louis Armstrong’s heart-stopping, human, and touching version from 1942? It will come as a surprise to most — except if you heard it on the radio — an April 1 broadcast from Casa Manana in Culver City, California or on the CD on Gosta Hagglof’s Ambassador label. (I wish Louis had recorded the song again, fifteen years later, with Russell Garcia — I can hear it in my mind’s ear.)
This is one of Louis’ great big bands — and I presume the dark arrangement is by Joe Garland, who loved the lower register (you can hear his bass saxophone in recordings from this period): Louis, Frank Galbreath, Shelton Hemphill, Bernard Flood; George Washington, James Whitney, Henderson Chambers; Rupert Cole, Carl Frye; Prince Robinson; Joe Garland; Luis Russell; Lawrence Lucie; John Simmons; Sidney Catlett.
Louis doesn’t start the performance off, which gives the dancers some time to enjoy what I will call Swing Menace, sounds that don’t feel reassuring or optimistic, backed by Sidney’s tom-toms. The first thirty seconds or so tell us that what’s coming isn’t a comedy, but something much more threatening: if we’re with Abbott and Costello, hilarity is going become doom. Over the trombone section, the muted trumpets sound alarms. Danger! Danger!
The clarinet soloist (Cole? Prince?) who takes the bridge allows some light to shine in, but that heavy brass still warns us that the way is dark. (Please listen, now or later, to Sidney Catlett, master illuminator and spiritual support, shaping and supporting the soloists and the orchestra.)
Almost two minutes have passed (and how beautiful the band sounds) before the modulation into the key for Louis’ heartfelt vocal. This is serious stuff, the chronicle of the heart learning but only after being wounded. He’s so deeply into the song, even though the lyrics pass by at a dancers’ tempo: hear what he does with “kissing,” something he enjoyed in real life. For the bridge, he’s nearly at the top of his vocal range — earnest and endearing. “What I’m telling you is the truth,” he sings. What follows is majestic and of, so human — with Sidney saying, “I know, Brother!” every beat. I won’t explain it except to say that Louis begins his solo an octave higher than a more prudent player would . . . .
Hear and marvel. “That’s the one!”
And, true professional, he returns to sing the remainder of the chorus before the band takes it out. To attempt the impossible and then recover with grace . . .
Late in life, when William Faulkner was asked by an undergraduate how he would rank himself among the novelists of his generation, he said that artists should be measured not by what they accomplished, but what they tried to do. I already place Louis above other mortals: these five minutes are more proof.
Here‘s Ricky Riccardi’s wonderful little essay on this performance — so worth reading (Ricky feels Louis deeply and always has facts to stand on). Like Ricky, I want to applaud when this recording is over. Then I play it again. Try it.
I try to avoid hyperbole, but what I present here is twelve minutes of frankly incredible music — intense swing created by six masterful individualists.
The songs performed by the “All American Quintet [sic]” are JUST YOU, JUST ME, and I FOUND A NEW BABY — for a “Jubilee” broadcast in California, at the very beginning of 1945. “Jubilee” was a half-hour radio program aimed at an African-American audience, created and distributed on transcription discs by the Armed Forces Radio Service beginning in 1942. Much more information, including an index to the programs until mid-1953, can be found here.
The musicians are Vic Dickenson, trombone; Willie Smith, alto saxophone; Eddie Heywood, piano; Les Paul, guitar; Oscar Pettiford, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. My copy of this music comes from a bootleg lp on the Jazum label purchased perhaps forty-five years ago. The extended performances — longer than was possible on any commercial recording of the time — make for wonderful solos and a combination of intensity and ease. The two songs were well-established vehicles for improvisation, JUST YOU, JUST ME, and I FOUND A NEW BABY. Although the group technically had no leader — it’s a very egalitarian gathering — I’ve given Sidney Catlett pride of place for reasons you will hear, but everyone plays magnificently:
These performances are very dear to me. I hope you find them equally thrilling.
Facebook is good for something. Last month, Clyde Groves, Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law, cordially reached out to me and we decided to do a profile of Billy – so respected in every context during his lifetime and less known now. I offer the result, a delightful conversation among Clyde, Billy’s daughter Judi, and son Pat.
For reasons of space, I have not written about Billy — from my own perspective — in this post, but tomorrow’s post will add in some previously unseen video and a few lines of mine. I also have not listed who’s playing what on the music excerpts, but can provide those details on request.
But first, some memorable music.
Pat Butterfield: He was a very private person, definitely incredibly generous. He would befriend anyone, which might have been one of his failings, too. Some people took advantage of him because of that. My father was very quiet.
He liked to read a lot. When I knew him, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go sit in the living room and read. Not necessarily the best-sellers, although he liked fiction, but he also would read about musicians. Not actually music itself, but the classical people – the life of Beethoven, people that he admired. And he listened to a lot of music in the house. He particularly liked Ella Fitzgerald, he felt that she was probably the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time. He listened to classical music, and, in fact, he introduced me to it. I can remember listening to SWAN LAKE and things like that, and a lot of Beethoven. In fact, I got the sheet music to the Moonlight Sonata. I’d sit there and peck away at it, and he’d help me with reading some of the difficult parts of the bass clef. He would sit down and play the piano. The problem was his hands weren’t very big, so he did a lot of slurring. My brother Mike had the same ability, an ear for music and a natural understanding of chord systems, but I didn’t inherit any of that. My brother played with string bass with him several times.
Clyde Groves: I met him when I was fourteen – that’s when I met Judi and her twin sister Debbie, and her mother Dottie, who was a wonderful vocalist also. We always thought that she sounded a lot like Ella, the vocalist she admired the most. And Billy was fortunate enough to have recorded with Ella.
Billy was very humble. He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, so to speak. I would be over at their house, for instance, and he’d have just gotten back from a tour, or he’d been on the Johnny Carson show, or with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band on Mike Douglas, or by himself on Merv Griffin, and I would tell him, “Oh, Mr. Butterfield, I just saw you on Johnny Carson!” and he would go, “Yeah. So, Clyde, how’s school? How’re you doing in baseball?” He would just change the subject.
Judi Groves: He was very shy. He was a man of few words, but when he would speak, because he didn’t talk a lot, you perked up and wanted to listen to what he had to say. It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his childhood and things that he had done, amazing things that he had done. You know, he played for the first all-integrated audience in South Africa. He came home and never even spoke about it. I didn’t even know about it until years afterwards. He told them that would be the only way he would play, that he could bring his black musicians and play for a mixed audience. He also – and I found this kind of neat – back then, they had the Green Book: you couldn’t go to hotels with black musicians, and since they wouldn’t let them stay in the hotel with him, he would go to the black motel. He was very loyal to his band in that way also. He was a very loving man.
When my dad did those college tours, my mom travelled with them, and we stayed with my mom’s sister. My cousins are more like my brothers and sisters than cousins. My dad wanted us to move down to Virginia. He wanted us to be with family. Once, I remember that my dad was kind of embarrassed. We lived in Smithfield, Virginia, where the meat-packing plant is, where the hams come from. They had asked my father to be the Grand Marshall of the parade there. He didn’t want to turn it down, because they really wanted him to do it. But he wasn’t about that kind of thing – that put him back in the limelight. I think he wanted people to like him for himself rather than for what he had accomplished, which is why he didn’t want us to talk about it all the time, either.
Clyde: He liked playing ballads more than anything. That was his favorite thing. He looked at the trumpet as his singing voice. And Yank and Billy, when they were with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, they could really play off each other, the harmonies they could make on their horns on BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME or BLACK AND BLUE. Yank Lawson was an all-time great. And I put Billy there too. They’re being forgotten, unless it’s younger people who are playing the horn or in a jazz ensemble – most people don’t know who they were. He played that STARDUST with Artie Shaw, and he was in the Gramercy Five. He played with everybody.
Judi: He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.
Clyde: Yes, Louis and Bix were his essentials. Are you familiar with the album BILLY PLAYS BIX? That’s a true joy to listen to. There’s the album on Victor called GUS HOO – I think the musicians were all in some kind of contract disputes, so they couldn’t play under their own names. He picked “Gus Hoo,” which was his sense of humor.
Judi: He did! He was a funny man.
Clyde: When I first met Judi, I was fourteen, and I had no idea who Billy Butterfield was. I was into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I had never heard of him, but of course my mom and dad knew who he was. My dad would try to get under Judi’s mom’s skin and say, “Yes, Billy’s a great cornet player,” and Dottie would correct him, “He’s a TRUMPET player.”
Billy was on the road so much when Judi and I were dating. He was thoughtful and kind. I used to go see him at Andy Bartha’s, and whenever he’d spot me in the audience, during the break he would come and sit with me. Of course, then all my drinks were on the house. All around us, people would be whispering. You could hear them, “Oh, that must be his nephew. He’s got to be related,” because every break Billy would come and sit with me. There were all these people he could have sat with, and I felt really honored that he would do that.
Judi: I found a record of my dad singing, and I was kind of amazed that he had a pretty good voice.
Clyde: It was with his big band, and Billy had commented that, back then, all the rage was that the trumpet players, the leaders of the band, would do vocals. But Billy said that this was the record company’s way of saving money, by not hiring a vocalist, but he hated doing it. He was pretty young then.
You know the story of how Bob Crosby discovered him? Bob and Yank or Bob Haggart were driving to a gig, and their car broke down near Lexington, where the University of Transylvania was, so when they went to the hotel, they asked the clerk if there was any good music around in this town, and the clerk referred them to the Austin Wylie band. As soon as they heard Billy play, they were amazed. After they stopped playing, Bob and either Yank or Haggart went over to Billy and said, “We’d like you to join the band. Are you interested?” Of course he said yes, and they said, “Well, we’ll send you a ticket to New York.” Weeks went by, and Billy was, “Well, they were just pulling my leg and praising me,” which was nice, but he thought nothing would come of it. I guess they knew there was going to be an opening, and here comes a telegram with a ticket to New York. So that’s how he got found by Bob Crosby. The chances of the stars aligning like that. If the car hadn’t broken down, who knows if anyone would have heard of Billy. That was his big start. He was in college, and he dropped out and went to New York. He played football. He was on the high school and college team.
Judi: He got cleated in the leg, and that was when penicillin first came out, because he almost lost his leg.
Pat: Dad got out of the service in 1945, when they said that anyone who could employ twenty-five people could get out, so he immediately did that, put this band together, and went on the road. The first year, which would have been ’45-’46, he did all right, and then in 1947, they basically went in debt. The Big Band Era was over, so he moved to New York. He had accrued a debt of twenty-five to maybe thirty thousand dollars, and he went to work as a staff man for ABC. I was five or six, and we lived out in Great Neck, in a house we called “House Horrible,” a big old Victorian they rented while Dad was paying off the debt. That period, my parents went through pretty difficult times. My mother insisted on making sure that he cleared his debt, that they have good credit. That entailed a few arguments.
I think Debbie and Judi were about two when they moved down to Virginia, and he left for Florida when they were about thirteen. After my mom and dad got divorced, she moved to Florida, and eventually she lived in a place called Coral Ridge, and the house where my dad and Dottie lived was, as the crow flies, five hundred yards from my mother’s house. It was really strange. But in order to get to their house from my mom’s house, you had to drive four or five miles. Five hundred yards, but they couldn’t see each other. I stayed in touch with them, and every summer I spent about a month with them in Virginia, a little place called Carrolton. Then, my wife and I would see them in Florida.
Clyde: Billy and Dottie were moving from these condominiums by the ocean, in Fort Lauderdale. They had bought a house on the water, by the Intercoastal. I went over with a friend of mine to help them move. Billy was built like a bulldog. But I was 16, 17, an athlete, really strong, and my buddy was also. We were lifting all this furniture, and there was one piece that was really heavy. Billy went to grab one end of it, and I told him, “No, don’t do that, Mr. Butterfield, that’s really heavy!” and he looked at me and said, “Just pick it up.” And he picked that thing up like it was a feather. I was thinking, “All he does is play music. He can’t be that strong,” but he just picked it up. I was the one struggling with it.
You know, Judi and I dated all through high school, and then things happened, and we got back together twenty-five years later. I was always in love with her. I was married, and I loved my wife, and we had two children, but when I saw on the national news that her dad had passed away, in 1988, I wanted to get back in touch with Judi, but I didn’t know how. But Dottie always had a public number, it wasn’t unpublished, so I called Information. Billy had been deceased for a number of years, and I got her number and called her house. And when Dottie answered, I said, “You’ll never guess who this is,” and she said, “Of course I do. You want to bet?” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “This is Clyde.” I said, “Dottie, how do you remember that, after all these years?” and she said, “I’ll never forget your voice.” People didn’t have Caller ID then. So her mom helped reunite us.
Judi: Dottie lived a long time, to 92. She was something! She was a lot of fun. Daddy was very quiet, but she was very outgoing.
Clyde: They were a perfect husband and wife in that respect. And after Billy passed away, Dottie never wanted to remarry, because there was no man that could ever compare to him, even though she was still fairly young. She was never interested in meeting anyone, even though she was still beautiful and men were always asking her out. She was gorgeous and always dressed impeccably.
Judi: When he was a kid, he first started out playing the violin. I’m not sure about the story that he was going to become a doctor. I know he went to the University of Transylvania. His brother, Donald, was a doctor, and I think he was eleven years older than my father. I’m not sure what his specialty was, whether he was a brain surgeon – I think that’s what he was – but he went in to the military in World War One and it affected him so much that he couldn’t go back into practice. When Billy first started out, he was playing violin on a riverboat – earlier than 13, he was just a small kid, so that he could help his brother who was going through college. Hard times back then. His dad would drive him where he had to go, because he was too young to drive.
He was beyond talented. Most of his recordings were done in one take. But he didn’t talk about the music business, and he dissuaded us from ever going in to it, because he felt it was a very hard life. He never talked about himself, and he didn’t talk about other musicians. He would have some friends he would play with, Andy Bartha. When Andy was playing, my dad would go and be the headliner where Andy was. Yank Lawson was a good friend of Daddy’s. They were good friends from Bob Crosby’s band. You know with musicians, they all have big heads. Daddy wasn’t about that. I think that annoyed him a bit, because they always wanted to talk about themselves.
When he came home, he would read the paper, watch tv. We had a boat, wherever we lived, and he loved to go out on the boat. We always lived on or near the water, he loved that. He loved being around family.
Clyde: They had a pool, they’d be out there swimming, relaxing, cooking on the grill. Even when he was at home, a lot of times he would have local gigs, so he wouldn’t get home until late at night, but he always would get up to spend family time. He enjoyed his time at home for sure.
Judi: And he liked to watch golf. I can picture him in the reclining chair, watching golf on tv. He liked to play.
Pat: When I was small, a lot of musicians would come around. We spent a lot of time with Felix Giobbe, Bob Haggart, and a really good friend, Andy Ferretti. We were all members of the same country club in Brookville. My father was apparently a terrible golfer. He could hit it a long way, but he never knew what direction it was going in!
Judi: But he never really kept anything he ever did. Anything we have of his, besides the trumpets – my sister and I have all of them – he said, “I did it. Why would I want to hear it again?” We don’t have all the records. And pictures, we’ve had to buy off eBay. He was totally the opposite of anyone who was famous. Even when we were growing up, he didn’t want us to talk a lot about him. So we didn’t.
Clyde: The only album that he had out on display was an album he made with the Dutch College Swing Band. Out of all his recordings, that was the only one he had framed and put up on the wall. But he loved playing. That was his passion. Even though you’re on the road most of the time, travelling, he wouldn’t have given that up for anything.
The reason they moved to Florida was that when Jackie Gleason moved his show down to Miami Beach, he wanted Billy to be down there, and the arrangement was he would pay him X dollars a year so that when he was available, he would play in the Sammy Spear orchestra. When Billy wasn’t available, Jackie was fine with that.
You know, after Billy had moved down to Virginia, just so the girls could have their mother’s family around them, when he was on the road, he and Dottie were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, and across the street, he heard, “Hey, Billy!” and he looked over and it was Dizzy. So Billy said, “Hey, Dizzy, how’re you doing?” And Dizzy yelled back, “Hey, what’s this I hear about you moving south of the Cotton Curtain?”
Judi: He walked around all the time with a mouthpiece in his pocket, and he would always take it out and blow in it. He had to keep his lip up, you know.
Clyde: He’d go out on the boat and he’d have it with him, even though he’d just played a gig. It was part of him. You have to keep your skills up.
Judi: I remember he played at Nixon’s inaugural ball. He was on the road a lot. Especially in the late Sixties, he was in Europe a lot. Jazz was very big in Europe. He played over there all the time. I got to go on a tour with him, with The Great Eight, in Germany, for three weeks. That was really cool. That was the first time I got to see him really play, outside of going to the Jackie Gleason Show, or the Merv Griffin Show. But this was actually being with the guys, and even they didn’t toot their own horns. These were gentlemen like Sam Woodyard, who had played with Duke Ellington, and Tal Farlow. It was a wonderful trip. I got to see how much the people really loved him. I never got to see that when I was growing up, so for me it was a real treat, and it gave me a real appreciation for my dad. I’ll never forget that. It was the trip of a lifetime. This was 1981-1982, something like that.
Clyde: Judi’s dad had his own nightclub for a time, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Escape Hotel. Andy Bartha had a standing gig at the Moonraker, and whenever he was off the road, he would always go there to support Andy. He got the album made with Andy, and he just liked the man personally. He was a very giving man. If he could help somebody out, he would. And he never had anything bad to say about anyone, because his premise was, if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything, instead of putting somebody down.
Judi: Yes, the only negatives we heard were from my mom (laughing), about other people, not my dad. He was a saint!
Pat: He was disappointed with the way the music industry went after the Fifties, but he really enjoyed the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, all the travelling they did together. I never heard him say anything negative about them, but he wasn’t the type to complain.
Clyde: Even now, sometimes I’ll be playing some of his music, and Judi will ask me to please turn it down, because she gets really emotional hearing her father.
Judi: STARDUST was my favorite record of his, but if I was around when he was playing, I would ask him to play MY FUNNY VALENTINE. He always played that for me. But my favorite album, I think, was BOBBY, BILLY, BRASIL. I had the reel-to-reel tape and would play it all the time. Dad wasn’t mechanical, so I was always the designated person to set up the tape recorder or the video. And I knew exactly where to stop the tape to get it to play SUNNY or whatever. They did really well with the harmony of that. I really loved it.
Pat: It’s unfortunate that he really didn’t take care of himself, and that had a big effect, that he died at what I think is a really early age, 71, and he was in pretty lousy health the last five years of his life. And Dad definitely drank. He functioned, though. He tended to be more of a binge drinker. He could go for a month and not have a drink, and then he’d drink a lot. But those days in New York when he was a staff member, they’d all go over to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, after the job was over, and have jam sessions, and that would result in his getting home very late at night, and he often fell asleep on the Long Island Rail Road. My mother would be there, waiting for him, and he wouldn’t get off the train because he was asleep, and he’d go all the way out to the end of the Island and come back. He spent the night on the train quite a few times.
Clyde: I wasn’t there, but I heard a story about their Virginia house. He had a good sense of humor. They were having parties at that house, and they had a big pool. And they’d all been partying, having fun, and Billy took his horn and walked down the steps of the pool, playing, and when he got underwater, the bubbles were all coming up. He was a lot of fun to be around.
Pat: He was a really genuine individual. He wasn’t impressed with his own self-importance. He enjoyed life.
I really appreciate the time and effort and kindness of Clyde Groves, Judi Butterfield Groves, and Pat Butterfield — helping me insure that no one will forget the very talented musician and very sweet man Billy Butterfield. More about Billy tomorrow!
Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs. Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.” Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.
Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance. I am a Fan, you are The Star. The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription. In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them. (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books. And Whitney Balliett.)
But I no longer chase Stars. Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal. I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%. In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.
I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term. He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.
Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on. The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down. I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.
I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know. In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.
Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:
I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.
And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:
This autograph’s closer to home for me:
Again, completely authentic. But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently. I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?” Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.
Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:
Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson. Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:
It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.
Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:
Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged. The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely. For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off. (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)
I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on. I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.
But some people did. Thus . . .
I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones? I doubt it. And inside:
This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.” I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare. But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box. Hence:
At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.” I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.
Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano; Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:
I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH. It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other. Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue:
Is the world going a little too fast for you? Is this your internal soundtrack?
Do you feel like a character in a Fleischer cartoon where everything’s too speedy to be brought under control? (I mean no disrespect to the 1936 Henderson band — with spectacular playing on this fast blues, appropriately called JANGLED NERVES — from Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Sidney Catlett, Fernando Arbello, and Buster Bailey.)
I believe the following interlude will calm and enliven your nerves at the same time. It happened here, in a vanished but remembered past — the third weekend in September 2009 at Jazz at Chautauqua, Joe Boughton’s creation, at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York.
Joe loved to begin and end his weekend programs with ballad medleys, and here is a segment of one of them, featuring Duke Heitger, trumpet; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Ehud Asherie, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass;, Pete Siers, drums. The bill of fare is MEMORIES OF YOU (Duke), STARDUST (Bob), PRELUDE TO A KISS (Scott), OLD FOLKS (Andy), IF I HAD YOU (Dan, with the ensemble joining in):
Let’s see how you’re feeling tomorrow. Leave a message with Mary Ann.
First, Wally Fawkes, clarinetist and cartoonist, 95 in June 2019, interviewed here. It’s lovely to know he is still with us.
Wally in 2013. Photograph by the fine jazz historian Peter Vacher.
This has the look of an authentic signature: paper taken from someone’s pocket notepad, the calligraphy of someone not lifting the pen a great deal from letter to letter. No date, no place, but it doesn’t inspire skepticism:
and a vignette from Wally’s most recent recording (2003) — with Doug Murray, piano; Eddie Taylor, drums. He doesn’t come in immediately, but when he does!
My hero Buck Clayton, with Charlie Shavers at the Esquire record date of 1946:
and here’s a remarkable autograph:
and a smaller, complete version:
Obviously this is a page from a deep fan’s autograph book –(s)he taped the signature to the page and then annotated it. What’s most intriguing to me is that the city and date are noted: the night before (or in the same 24-hour period) the JATP assemblage had played and been recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York City: Buck, Trummy Young, Willie Smith, Flip Phillips, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Kersey, Benny Fonville, and Buddy Rich — BELL BOY BLUES, HOW HIGH THE MOON, and an unissued FLYIN’ HOME.
You can hear BELL BOY on YouTube for yourself. I chose something more focused on Buck and less violent: Buck, in France (October 1949) BLUES IN FIRST with Charlie Lewis, piano; Georges Hadjo, string bass; Wallace Bishop, drums. Don Byas and Merrill Stepter were on the session but don’t play here:
Coming back to this page, the eBay seller has noted the signature of “Ken Kenny” on the other side — obviously Kersey. If this could be more authentic, I don’t know how. Even the decaying Scotch tape speaks of years.
Here’s another beautifully annotated holy relic:
and an inset:
If there is a date on this page, the seller did not photograph it — but it is also Boston. And on the other side, there’s “Sonny Green,” which should be “Greer.” Ray Nance is quite a hero of mine, and I had the honor of seeing him perform several nights in a row with a local rhythm section in suburbia, 1975 (and Sonny, in the same period, in New York City).
Here’s Ray in 1942 with the Duke and Sonny, espousing strategic reticence:
One more, from a man who probably signed his name as many times as any movie star (which he was, also), Gene Krupa:
and the larger image:
I wonder what the owner blanked out at top, but this is as authentic as one could want. The seller doesn’t say anything about a signature on the reverse; perhaps Gene got his very own page. And here, for me, is the great Krupa moment, from the rather unsatisfying film — as a film — BOY, WHAT A GIRL! (1947) with Sidney Catlett, Dick Vance, Bennie Morton, Don Stovall, and others, and “You are Gene Krupa!”:
I didn’t buy the Wally Fawkes autograph, but I did bid on the others and win: to keep my spirits up until the days get brighter and my feelings follow suit. And at least you can look at the holy relics and (I hope) murmur admiringly. The eBay seller —alvarez1 — is a very gracious fellow, who has two more pages from that same book for bidding: one Charlie Shavers (backed by Charlie Queener), the other Jess Stacy (backed by Cy Baker). . . .as well as many fascinating non-jazz signatures. I don’t need to have everything, so if you move quickly, they might be yours.
Although the idea of stride piano is that the singular player on the piano bench is able to simulate the depth and textures of a larger ensemble in their solo playing, I recall very clearly that my earliest exposure to stride playing was in hearing duets between piano and drums: James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty (and Sidney Catlett’s work with James P. as part of a rhythm section), Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison . . . later, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones — and of course, Fats Waller with Al Casey, bass, and drums. So there is a real tradition, and an intuitive percussionist is a bonus rather than an intrusion.
Guillaume Nouaux is such a player, and his new CD is wonderful. But you don’t have to take my non-playing word for it: I shared it with Mr. Kadison, the man about whom Donald Lambert said, “That’s my drummer!” and Howard was delighted by it.
“Delight” is appropriate here, because listening again to the CD — once won’t be enough for anyone — I was reminded of one of the stories I’ve probably told too often here, my feeling when Jo Jones came and sat in with Ellis Larkins and Al Hall. Guillaume is just that kind of player: varied, intuitive, swinging, always making great sounds, adding some flavors that increase our aural joys. He is a wonderful accompanist — like a great witty conversationalist who always knows the right thing to say, or perhaps a sly supple dance partner — but also a splendid melodic soloist, someone whose terse outings are shapely and welcome. I can’t emphasize enough the glorious variety of sounds he gets out of his kit, although he’s not fidgety (some drummers won’t stay in one place for more than four bars) so he’s not restricted to one approach. He can be very gentle, but he can also create great joyous noises. (Hear his MOP MOP on this disc.) And neither he nor his great collection of pianists is aiming for the consciously archaic: the music on this disc isn’t trying to wear the same trousers it wore in adolescence, if you get the metaphor.
Each of the seven pianists (some very well-known to me, others new marvels) has two selections — loosely speaking, one up and one down — which is to say one a quick-tempoed stride showcase, the other more ruminative, which makes this disc so refreshing. The songs are HARLEM STRUT / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I WISH I WERE TWINS / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / RUNNIN’ WILD / JITTERBUG WALTZ / CHEROKEE – SALT PEANUTS / WHY DID YOU TELL ME “I LOVE YOU”? / HANDFUL OF KEYS / OVERNIGHT / MOP MOP (For Big Sid) — Guillaume’s brief solo feature / TEA FOR TWO / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE LADY IS A TRAMP / OVER THE RAINBOW.
Before you read a syllable more: discs and downloads can be obtained through Bandcamp here. It’s also one of those rare discs — because of its premise (a rainbow of artists) that I play all the way through with pleasure. And I believe you can hear some of the music for yourself there. But if you need sonic breakfast-in-bed, here are Guillaume and Louis Mazetier trotting deliciously through DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:
You can find out more about Guillaume and his imaginative projects here.
I will leave it to you to decide who plays on which track — it would make a very sophisticated Blindfold Test even for those who consider themselves stride experts.
Several other things need to be said. The recorded sound is lovely (the piano is well-tuned and the balance between piano and drums, ideal). You might think this is overly finicky of me, but one of my favorite sessions ever is the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, where — I believe — the piano could have been tuned again before the session: I hear its glassy-tinkly upper registers and wince. Not so here.
The repertoire is in part familiar, but hooray! no AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, no HONEYSUCKLE ROSE. And although both stride piano and jazz drumming are, even at slow tempos, displays of athleticism (try tapping your finger for three minutes and keeping steady time), this isn’t a collection of fifteen kinds of Fast and Loud. Oh, there’s dazzling playing here . . . but there are also caresses and meanders of the best kind. And each of the pianists brings his own particular approach to the material. The CD delights me, and I think it will do the same for you.
Fats would have called it “a killer-diller from Manila.” Don’t be the last one on your block to be grinning.