Tag Archives: Sidney Catlett

SWEET LESSONS IN MELODIC EMBELLISHMENT (1946)

I woke up yesterday morning with the melody of SHE DIDN’T SAY YES in my head — as performed in 1946 by Joe Thomas and his Orchestra for Keynote Records — and that performance insisted that I share it and write a few words in its honor.  The song comes from the 1931 Jerome Kern – Otto Harbach musical comedy THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE, and it is limited in its ambitions (words and music) but it is also irresistible.  The steplike melody is difficult to get rid of once one hears it, and the coy naughtiness of the lyric — raising the question of being “bad” when badness seems so delightful, but tossing the moral question back at the listener — combine in a kind of musical miniature cupcake.

Here is a video clip from the 1934 film version of the play — Jeanette MacDonald, looking lovely, sings SHE DIDN’T after a large clump of cinematic foolishness, including post-Code dancing, has concluded. (My contemporary perspective makes this scene slightly painful to watch, as Jeanette is bullied by the crowd into declaring a love that she seems to feel only in part.)

The song was recorded a number of times in the early Thirties (by Leo Reisman and Chick Bullock, among others) but may have surfaced again with the 1946 film biography of Kern, who had died suddenly the year before, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY.  However, since its performance in the film by the Wilde Twins goes by quickly, I think other reasons may have led to its being chosen for this Keynote Records date.  Did Harry Lim hear something in its melody — those repeated notes that Alec Wilder deplored — or did Joe Thomas like to play it?  We’ll never know, but it is a recording both memorable and forgotten.

The band was “Joe Thomas And His Orchestra,” itself a rare occurrence.  Lim had used Joe on many sessions for Keynote (the Forties were a particular period of prominence on records for him, thankfully — where he recorded alongside Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Roy Eldridge, Don Byas, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Ed Hall, Barney Bigard, and other luminaries).  The band was  Joe Thomas, trumpet; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophone; Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophone; Bernie Leighton, piano; Hy White, guitar; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Lee Abrams, drums, and it was done in New York on August 16, 1946.  I don’t know who did the backgrounds and introduction, but the recording is a small marvel of originalities.  I listen first for the soloists and their distinctive sounds and then consider the performance as an example of what one could do with texture and small orchestral touches with only an octet.

I first heard this record coming out of my radio speaker when Ed Beach did a show devoted to Joe Thomas — perhaps in 1969 — and then I got to see Joe both on the stage of Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls (with Benny Carter and Eddie Condon, consider that!) and at much closer range in 1972-74, thanks to the kindness of my dear Mike Burgevin.

I don’t want to subject this recording to chorus-by-chorus explication, but I would ask listeners to hear the individual sounds and tones these players had: Joe, Tyree, Hilton, Jerry — each man singing his own distinctively recognizable song — and the perky unflagging rhythm section, with Leighton beautifully doing Basie-Wilson-Guarnieri, and the lovely support of Billy Taylor, Sr., who had kept the Ellington band swinging.

“We had faces then!” to borrow from SUNSET BOULEVARD.

I keep coming back to the gleaming warm sound of Joe Thomas — in the first chorus, outlining the melody as if nothing in the world were more important; in the closing chorus, flavoring and shading it as only he could.  And the rest of the band.  As a friend said to me recently, “They were pros.  They really knew how to do it.”  And bless Harry Lim: without him, we would know such things happened but they would now be silent and legendary rather than tangible and glowing.

This music says YES, no hesitation.

May your happiness increase!

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A NOTE FOR THE BURGLARS, 2018

Dear Gentlemen or Ladies Who Might Enter My Apartment, Uninvited, During My Absence,

Some thoughts to make your lives easier.

  1.  Please watch your step.  There are cardboard boxes of Louis buttons all through the living room.
  2.  If you accidentally knock over a pile of CDs or books, I would take it as a great kindness if you would — to the best of your ability, and time permitting — put it back as it was.  Nothing upsets a homeowner more than an ungracious burglar.
  3.  On that same note, please put the seat down when you are through.
  4.  Help yourself to whatever you like in the refrigerator, but (again, time permitting) please wash whatever plates and utensils you might use.
  5.  There is very little of monetary value in the apartment, so if you look in my sock drawer for stacks of currency or gold coins, I fear you will be disappointed.  There are quarters on the kitchen counter, for laundry and the parking meters.  Feel free.
  6.  I would very much appreciate if you would leave me the autographed jazz photos on the wall.  You don’t want the avenging ghost of Sidney Catlett to plague you, do you?
  7.  There is a Banner 78 of BELIEVE IT, BELOVED, by Henry Red Allen on one of the turntables.  Please, only take it if you have a turntable yourself and a proper stylus.  Otherwise it is not worth the effort of properly wrapping it in bubble paper for your getaway.

Why am I writing this?

I will indeed be away from my apartment from October 25 to 29, more or less, at the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea in Pismo, California.  Why?  To enjoy the festival, to meet new friends, and to hear and see my beloved friends make music.  (I’ll have a video camera or two as well, should you worry about such things.)

I know that I will be showing up to enjoy the work of Larry Scala, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Dave Caparone, Carl Sonny Leyland, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, the Au Brothers, Three Blue Guitars, the Creole Syncopators, Chloe Feoranzo, Bob Schulz, Katie Cavera, the Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band, and more.  I might pay a call on a few others, although if people reading this post expect me to make a full longitudinal video survey of the festival, neither my legs nor my aesthetic inclinations allow for such breadth.  (At any point in the festival, five groups are playing simultaneously in five locations.  Choices must be made.)

You’ll have to get out of your chair and be there in person your ownself — a radical thought for those of us accustomed to having the world come to us through cyberspace and for free.

For more information, click Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea.

And a postscript for the burglars, or at least the one portrayed above.  I admire the striped shirt, but once one attains a certain girth, perhaps a nice paisley?  Horizontal stripes, alas, are not slimming at all, even if they are traditional.

Here’s the Red Allen 78 (or at least the music) I’d like to keep:

Here’s the flip side (now a completely archaic phrase):

May your happiness increase!

EIGHT FOR THE FOURTH (July 4, 2018)

His limitless world.

Photograph courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

I thought I would — to celebrate Louis’ birthday (no arguing, now) — post my own very idiosyncratic survey of recordings I have loved for decades.

TOO BUSY, June 26, 1928 (Lille Delk Christian, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, Mancy Carr):

RED CAP, July 2, 1937 (Shelton Hemphill, Louis Bacon, Henry “Red” Allen, George Matthews, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, Pete Clarke, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster,  Paul Barbarin, Chappie Willett):

TRUE CONFESSION, January 13, 1938 (J.C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin):

IN THE GLOAMING, March 10, 1941 (George Washington, Prince Robinson, Luis Russell, Lawrence Lucie, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett):

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, September 6, 1946 (Vic Dickenson, Barney Bigard, Charlie Beal, Allan Reuss, Red Callendar, Zutty Singleton):

JEANNINE, I DREAM OF LILAC TIME, November 28, 1951 (Gordon Jenkins, Charles Gifford, George Thow, Bruce Hudson, Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, Charles LaVere, Allan Reuss, Phil Stephens, Nick Fatool):

HOME, August 14, 1957 (Russell Garcia):

CABARET, August 25, 1966 (Robert Mersey, Buster Bailey, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Bobby Domenick, Buddy Catlett, Danny Barcelona):

When I try to imagine a universe without Louis, I cannot.  And I don’t want to.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

NAT HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS: KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, JONATHAN DOYLE, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 24, 2017)

Kris Tokarski, piano; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet / tenor sax, with guest Katie Cavera, guitar and vocals. San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2017

In the words of Sammy Cahn, “I fall in love too easily,” but not when the Love Object is a great artist or a collection of them.  There my devotion rarely plays me false.  This band, led by the quiet virtuoso Kris Tokarski, gave extraordinary pleasure at the November 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I followed them happily and recorded (I think) five hour-long sets of the six they played.  Glowing music: heartfelt but beautifully expertly executed.  Somewhere Milt Gabler, Alfred Lion, and John Hammond are happily in the groove with all of us.  Here are the six posts I have already offered of the band’s great joyous surge — with guests Katie Cavera, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth: one and two and three and four and five and six.  (I did all that annoying hypertexting because I love my readers and I don’t want you stumbling around in the dark reaches of cyberspace.  Enjoy yourselves!)

Here are four brilliant performances from the band’s very first set at San Diego.  The first is a Jonathan Doyle original from 2016, called BATS ON A BRIDGE, dedicated to an Austin, Texas nature phenomenon, described here.  Jonathan has, to me, no peer at creating winding, clever witty lines based on the harmonies of “jazz standards,” and sometimes his lines are so irresistible on their own that I’ve found it hard to dig beneath to find the familiar harmonies. I’ll help you out here: the title of the song is exactly what Bithiah, otherwise known as Pharoah’s daughter, exclaimed when she saw the infant Moses in the bulrushes:

Next, a rarity at “trad” festivals, a purring reading of a ballad: in this case, YOU GO TO MY HEAD, which I believe Jonathan knew but had never performed in public.  Isn’t he marvelous?

Another Doyle original, from 2017, LONG DISTANCE MAN, whose source we get from the wise and observant Larry Kart — a story of the clarinetist Frank Chace’s meeting with Lester Young: [Chace] also told a very “Frank” story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (“I’m shy,” he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as “long-distance man.” Probably a meeting of kindred souls.

The “kindred souls” create one of the finest blues performances I’ve heard in this century, beginning with Jonathan’s barks — part schnauzer, part Henry “Red” Allen, part walrus.  The only complaint I have here is that I wish the band had jettisoned the set list and just kept playing this, just kept on exploring the infinite spaces between the three chords, the tonalities, the steady swing:

As a set closer, the down-home classic, BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

You’ll notice I’ve avoided the game of Sounding Like (all praise to the late Barbara Lea for putting it so pungently): I hear murmurs from the admiring ghosts of Sidney Catlett, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Frank Chace, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Miller, Bud Freeman, Ike Quebec and others I haven’t named.  But they are quietly present.  The real and the truly brilliant voices I hear come from Tokarski, Doyle, Scala, Ozaki, and Smith.  And what glorious music they make. There will be more to come.

Festival promoters and concert bookers looking for noise and flash, circus acts and Vegas Dixieland, pass this band by with my blessings.  People who want to give genuine jazz and swing a venue [think of the San Diego Jazz Fest!], consider these heroes.

May your happiness increase! 

“IT SURE SOUNDS GOOD TO ME”: WHEN IT’S SWINGTIME IN SAN DIEGO (PART TWO) with KRIS TOKARSKI, JONATHAN DOYLE, HAL SMITH, LARRY SCALA, NOBU OZAKI, and KATIE CAVERA (Nov. 25, 2017)

Yes, the very thing: Kris Tokarski, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Larry Scala, guitar; Nobu Ozaki, string bass, with guest star Katie Cavera, guitar / vocals.  Recorded November 25, 2017.

No one is truly that shade of purple in real life (aside from children’s television) but they played beautifully, ignoring the vagaries of stage lighting.  For the first part of this set, including CRAZY RHYTHM, IDA, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, and I NEVER KNEW, please click here.

Now the second helping.

Here’s Katie to sing one of her (and our) favorites, I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS — a Twenties phrase brought back a decade later in this 1936 song by Charlie Tobias and Sam H. Stept, which I first learned through Henry “Red” Allen’s recording of it, where (as was the custom) he couldn’t change the gender of the lyrics.  They fit Katie better:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME, with a delicate reading of the verse by Kris, solo:

This is surely a swing (and swinging) band, but my goodness, how they can play a ballad.  Case in point, I SURRENDER, DEAR:

and the set concludes with the Twenties classic, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

What a great band!  I look forward to seeing them at other festivals, and I hear that PBS, NPR, and the BBC are all ears, too.

May your happiness increase!