Tag Archives: Sir Robert Cox

THE LONELINESS OF SPIKE MACKINTOSH

Trumpeter Spike Mackintosh — glorious, elusive — has been on my mind for months.  As soon as I read about him (thanks to Dave Gelly) and heard his few recordings, I wanted to know more about this shadowy figure.

My quest began here in July, and continued a month later here and finally here.  (Readers fearful of hyperlinks will find that these posts have homemade videos of Spike’s masterpieces — WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE and HIGH TIME, so you can delight in his inspired music.)

In my efforts to learn more about Spike, I face the dilemma of the biographer whose subject and his circle are dead or reclusive.  (I have written to Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Spike’s son, and to Wally Fawkes, but Wally is 91 and Sir Cameron has larger subjects on his mind.)

At the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, which just concluded, I was surrounded by British musicians, but I had little hope that any of them had encountered Spike. He had died in 1986, and his recordings had been done thirty years earlier.  But a kind friend, Sir Robert Cox, found a UK musician who had played with Spike, twice, and would speak with me.  I will call this musician — in honor of Ian Fleming, M, although that initial is not part of his name.  What follows is what I wrote down over breakfast.

M said that what Spike’s “decline” was “so sad,” seen first-hand in the early Seventies.

M was part of a “nice Dixieland band,” with “tasteful players,” with a regular club gig.  One evening, in mid-session, Spike came in, “always nicely turned out, in blazer and flannels, well-spoken.”

He took the place of the band’s trumpet player.

“Spike didn’t look drunk but he wasn’t playing well. In fact, his playing was a mess. But the man had been a superb Louis Armstrong trumpet player — even in his cups he was a wonderful stylist.  You could hear little subtle things he would do.”

Spike finished the set and left.  The band’s trumpeter said, “Thank God he’s gone.”

The second meeting took place at a club that featured pianists. This night it featured a pianist I will call P, someone M admired and knew.  The club treated P well, and when M visited, P was in the dressing room eating a steak.

There was a knock on the door. Someone said, “Come in,” and Spike entered.  P was aware of him but kept eating his steak, saying nothing.

Spike asked, “Any chance of a blow?” [Translation: “May I sit in with you?”] P remained silent.

After a pause, Spike said, “Ah.  I see.  Bye,” and left.

M understood, though nothing was said, that Spike was unwelcome, not only for that night.

At its best, the community of jazz musicians is a living embrace, brothers and sisters lovingly allied against an unsympathetic world. They ask only, “Can you make genuine music?  We will protect you.  We will take you in.”  To be rejected by one’s peers, ostracized by that community must feel a fatal blow.

I do not doubt that Spike, intoxicated, could not create the luminous music he had once done.

But how sad to think of “Thank God he’s gone,” even if Spike was no longer there to hear it.

What must P’s cold silence, his reaction to Spike’s appeal to be admitted to the tribe once again, have felt like? Could anything be sadder than being cast out of jazz?

May we never find doors shut against us.  I find it hard to close as I always do, but —

May your happiness increase.

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“NOTHING BUT LOVE”: ROB HECHT, TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, ROB ADKINS (May 19, 2011)

Walter Donaldson knew “what makes the world go round,” and it was displayed in many ways at Teddy’s (that’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York) on the night of May 19, 2011.

Violinist Rob Hecht (he plays a five-string fiddle) was joined by singer / actress Tamar Korn, trumpeter Gordon Au, and string bassist Rob Adkins for a few sets of familiar music made new. 

I was there with the Beloved. and UK comrades Sir Robert Cox, his wife Bobbie, and sons Tom and Ed — representing the Empire most happily amidst barbecued spareribs and appropriate beverages. 

Here are seven performances from that evening: musicians in love with the music, creative artists able to focus on making beauty in the midst of an amiable crowd enwrapped in their own conversations.  I make a point of the chatty crowd not to rebuke them — they’re used to background music. even if it’s coming from live musicians.  But I applaud the unselfconscious integrity and focus of these (and other) musicians who shut out the distractions and go straight ahead, sending beauty and swing into the world even if the world seems not to pay much attention.  Musicians know that there’s always someone listening . . . !

Here’s some optimism.  THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE (which we are reasonably sure will come again tomorrow morning):

Another kind of optimism is a little more didactic.  There’s only one thing to do, so WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

I suppose it’s hard not to take it personally, but YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, which Tamar sings with great good humor (and the verse!) rather than rancor or frustration:

Donaldson’s paean to domestic bliss, from whence this posting’s title comes, MY BLUE HEAVEN:

A sweet old-fashioned song (Wayne King’s theme), THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME, gets a beautifully delicate and convincing performance here:

STARDUST, a song that doesn’t grow old:

Do you run your hands / through silv’ry strands?  You might be BLUE, TURNING GREY (OVER YOU) or over someone:

Beautiful music, bravely made!

FIFTY-SECOND STREET, SOUTHWEST at THE EAR INN (May 15 / 22, 2011)

In the Thirties and Forties, “Swing Street” was the name given to one special block — New York City’s Fifty-Second Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, where jazz flourished. 

Given tectonic shifts and climate change, it’s no surprise that everything we know has moved — so Swing Street reappears every Sunday night from 8-11 PM at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).

Here are glimpses of two enchanted evenings — May 15 and 22, 2011, with the EarRegulars and friends at their best.  The magicians that first Sunday were Dan Block, reeds; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon Burr, bass.  How about a tender ballad — Irving Berlin’s SAY IT ISN’T SO:

Then, trombonist Jim Fryer joined in for UNDECIDED (no dithering here):

And Matt gave up his seat (his guitar and amplifier, too) to Chris Flory, who made TOPSY sound just like uptown, 1941:

Fast-forward. 

The calendar pages fall off the wall.  The work week evaporates. 

It’s Sunday, May 22.  On the imaginary Ear Inn bandstand: Danny Tobias, cornet; Pete Anderson, reeds; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, bass — joined later by friends Andy Stein, violin, Mike Carrubia, cornet.   In the audience, Sir Robert Cox and family, on their New York City jazz tour.

W.C. Handy didn’t know about rayon and soymilk a hundred years ago, but he certainly understood the perils of LOVELESS LOVE:

Yes, I WANT TO BE HAPPY.  Easily accomplished at The Ear Inn:

Another good old good one — circa 1922 — THAT DA DA STRAIN:

And the romantic pleasure of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, a rhapsody for two cornets and friends in 4 / 4 time:

A Dixieland classic, not too fast — THAT’S A PLENTY:

Without leaving their seats — RUNNIN’ WILD, courtesy of James P. Johnson:

Ballads are never out of season — so Danny called for SPRING IS HERE (perhaps a geographical comment more than an emotional utterance?):

And to conclude the evening, the groovy blues line called CENTERPIECE by Sweets Edison:

The EarRegulars will be celebrating their fourth anniversary in early July 2011.  What a remarkable accomplishment!  And these Sunday evenings are marvels, best viewed first-hand.

GENEROUS JOHN STRIKES AGAIN!

There are many generous individuals in this world, and many of them are named John.  But the particular John that readers of this blog will want to celebrate with me is my British “cousin” John Whitehorn.  John and I (along with Sir Robert Cox) first met in Westoverledingen in 2007 — and John was there at this year’s Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival. 

He had a manila envelope, which he presented to me.  Inside . . . treasures!  Tal Farlow:

Johnny Varro, looking more like a teenaged woodsman than a great jazz pianist.

And the much-missed Kenny Davern. 

This was a hit song, but I’d never seen the sheet music — with Louis Prima in a streamlined white double-breasted jacket. 

But I’ve saved the most amazing piece of sheet music for last.  Again, it’s a song familiar to jazz listeners from recordings by Jack Teagarden and another beloved singer:

That lovely picture was a real surprise to me: here’s a close-up of the beautiful Miss Wiley:

Now I call that superb generosity, don’t you?  Thank you, John!

RHYTHM SAVED THE WORLD

This kind of rhythm, especially. 

Sir Robert Cox (known as “Cousin Bob,” more informally) pointed out these YouTube romps to me — posted by “TOTOCHIO” in September 2008.  They feature the wonderful clarinetist Aurelie Tropez, James Evans on clarinet and sax, Keith Stephen and Martin Wheatley on banjo and guitar, and Bruce Rollo on bass.  The venue looks much like one of the rooms in the Village Newcastle — site of the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival — but this is just a guess. 

Here’s DINAH:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

and an extended session on I GOT RHYTHM, undisguised:

Thanks for the rhythms, the echoes of Benny and of the QHCF as well!