Tag Archives: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

ROCKING THE COSMOS: IDA BLUE SINGS THE BLUES AT JOE’S PUB, PART TWO (with JOHN GILL, KEVIN DORN, EVAN ARNTZEN, DAN BLOCK, JAY RATTMAN: August 29, 2015)

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Ida Blue’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Ida at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are the first six songs Ida and the band performed that rocking evening, in case you missed the earlier posting.

Now, for those who have been patiently or eagerly waiting (or both), more. Seven more, making lucky thirteen.

Pigmeat Terry’s BLACK SHEEP BLUES:

Robert Johnson’s COME ON INTO MY KITCHEN:

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s STRANGE THINGS HAPPENING EVERY DAY:

Victoria Spivey’s IT’S EVIL HEARTED ME:

MR. FREDDIE’S BLUES:

Sister Wynona Carr’s touching I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (for me, one of the evening’s most memorable performances — very tender and candid.  We are all pilgrim travelers):

Robert Johnson’s 32-20 BLUES:

Now, let’s assume you’ve enjoyed this dazzling show — albeit through my video camera — for free.  How could you repay and support these musicians?  One way would be to actually attend some live music in your neighborhood, which doesn’t have to be New York.  You could also keep track of Ida Blue and friends here or here or show your love here.  I know I provide music free for those miles away from it . . . but a group of people sitting in front of their computers and doing nothing else in the way of active support will mean that this art form has a harder time.  End of sermon.

May your happiness increase!

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ROCKING THE COSMOS: MARA KAYE SINGS THE BLUES AT JOE’S PUB, PART ONE (with JOHN GILL, KEVIN DORN, EVAN ARNTZEN, DAN BLOCK, JAY RATTMAN: August 29, 2015)

IDA BLUE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

MARA KAYE. Photograph by Philip Schnell

A little poem: She / and they / just blew me away.

I’m speaking of Mara Kaye’s recent appearance at Joe’s Pub, which was a phenomenon rather like the Aurora Borealis as redesigned by Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and a dozen others.  With Mara at the helm: she is not simply someone who is producing microwave renditions of old records.

And then there was the band: Kevin Dorn, driving it all with subtlety and ferocity mixed, drums; John Gill, National steel resonator guitar, played as only he can; three reed virtuosi: Dan Block, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor sax; Jay Rattman, bass sax.  Dan Block said of this band, after the fact, “We were like three 747’s!” — no collisions, but much delightful polyphony and energy.  Here’s what I wrote about the evening when it happened.

And here are highlights from the first half of this delightfully seismic event:

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER (originally recorded by
Edith North Johnson):

Memphis Minnie’s I’M NOT A BAD GAL:

W.C. Handy’s YELLOW DOG BLUES:

SKINNY LEG BLUES (by the elusive Geeshie Wiley):

Something different but entirely apropos, Mitchell’s Christian Singers’ YOU GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:

Chippie Hill’s SOME COLD RAINY DAY:

What joy — even in sadness — and what beautifully focused, expertly powerful emotional intensity.  A second half of this program will arrive soon.  Until then, feel the oceanic surges.

May your happiness increase!

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: DENNIS LICHTMAN / MISS IDA BLUE (August 29, 2015)

Just hold on a moment.  Before you start packing the car to flee somewhere pastoral for the final weekend of August, may I inform you of two delightful reasons to stay in (or visit) New York City on Saturday, August 29, 2015?

The first concerns our friend Dennis Lichtman — virtuoso on clarinet, fiddle, and mandolin.  I first heard and met Dennis in 2009 when he was a member of the Cangelosi Cards, then heard him in other contexts around the city — always playing marvelously, with a bright sound and memorable creativity, whether sitting in with a hot band or leading his own group, the Brain Cloud.

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

Photograph by Bobby Bonsey

At 2 PM on Saturday, Dennis will be celebrating his tenth year as a resident of the borough of Queens, New York — in music.  He and a great band will be offering a concert celebrating the history of jazz in Queens . . . the result of his first grant project, “Queens Jazz: A Living Tradition.”  Thanks to the Queens Council on the Arts, he will be presenting “original music inspired by this borough’s jazz heritage.” In addition, there will be classic songs associated with Queens jazz masters of the Twenties to the Forties. (Think of Clarence Williams and Fats Waller, among others.)

The concert — the FREE concert — will take place at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, New York, (718) 478-8274.  In case of rain, it will be held at the Queens Public Library, 40-20 Broadway, Queens, New York.

Lichtman Queens Jazz

Dennis has assembled a wonderful band: Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nathan Peck, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.  You can keep up with Dennis here and here is the Facebook event page for the concert.

But that might leave you at liberty in mid-afternoon on a beautiful Saturday.  What to do?

I will be heading towards lower Manhattan for evening music of a most soulful kind: Miss Ida Blue and friends (including Dan Block, reeds, and John Gill, guitar) will be hosting an evening of the blues at Joe’s Pub.  The photograph below also shows Andrew Millar, drums, and a figure I assume to be the heroic Brian Nalepka — you hear his sound even when you can’t see him.

Photograph by Steve Singer

Photograph by Steve Singer

Here is the Facebook event page for this concert.  It’s a one-hour gig, starting at 9:30.  And Miss Ida and Joe’s Pub go together spectacularly, as I have written here about her triumphant May 15 gig.  I first heard her delivering the blues like a superb short-order cook — hot and ready — with the Yerba Buena Stompers, and I look forward to more of that spicy cuisine at this year’s Steamboat Stompwhich will begin in New Orleans a little more than a month from this posting.

Miss Ida Blue debut blues

I note with pleasure that Miss Ida has two pairs of dark glasses in this photograph.  Obviously the energy she unleashes is so powerful that wise listeners might want to bring extra protection — aural sunscreen.  But don’t be afraid: her power is a healing joyous experience.  And you might hear songs associated with blues monarchs Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, and others, all performed with conviction, invention, and ingenuity by our own Ida.  To purchase tickets ($15), click here.

Now you know it all, and can make plans.  For me, a suburban New Yorker who commutes to Manhattan and Brooklyn for pleasure, I can occupy my spare moments in the next two weeks with the philosophical calculus of transportation: drive to Corona in the morning, enjoy the concert, then choose — take my car into lower Manhattan on a Saturday night and attempt to find street parking, or go home after Corona, take the commuter railroad in . . . matters of time, finance, ease.  Such things should be my (or your) largest problems.  I hope to see friends at both concerts!

May your happiness increase!

QUIETLY ACCOMPLISHED: CHRIS BARBER’S “JAZZ ME BLUES”

The biographies of jazz musicians often follow a predictable path, from Mother at the organ or Dad’s 78s, precocious talent, hours of rigorous training, encounters with older professionals, early gigs, and then success.  If the musician is stable and fortunate, the narrative quiets down to a series of gigs and concerts; if the subject is tragic, the pages darken: alcohol, drugs, abusive relationships, auto accident, major illness, premature death.

The jazz eminences who have written autobiographies (excepting Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day, although I am sure some readers will add to that list) have been the more fortunate ones, and their books depict elders looking back on friendships and triumphs.  Often the narrator is justly proud, and his / her singular personality is a strong consistent presence.

Trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber, born in 1930, continues to have a wonderful career — one that began with “traditional jazz” and stretched the definition to include different music incorporated into his own.  He’s played and recorded for more than sixty years with British jazz legends Ben Cohen, Ottilie Patterson, Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk, Pat Halcox, Lonnie Donegan, Monty Sunshine, Bruce Turner, Ian Wheeler, Beryl Bryden; with American stars Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Ed Hall, Ray Nance, Albert Nicholas, Joe Darensbourg, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Cecil Scott, Don Frye, Floyd Casey, Ed Allen, Sidney deParis, Hank Duncan, Wild Bill Davis, Russell Procope, Dr. John, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lewis and George Lewis, Clarence Williams, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Sam Theard, Jack Teagarden, Ornette Coleman, Scott LaFaro, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band . . .so the reader who opens a Barber autobiography hopes for good stories.

But this long list of names isn’t all there is to JAZZ ME BLUES (written with the very capable help of Alyn Shipton . . . Barber says in his acknowledgments that they first talked about this book in 1982) — published this year by Equinox in their Popular Music History series.

Barber follows the usual chronological path from his early encounter with jazz to becoming an international eminence. However, it took me about thirty-five pages (the book is 172 long) to settle in to JAZZ ME BLUES because of his distinctive personality.

He isn’t forceful or self-absorbed, telling us of the wonderful thing he did next. Barber comes across as a quietly modest man who has no need for us to admire him. Chronicling his life, he is so placidly matter-of-fact that it might take readers by surprise. But once we do, the absence of self-congratulation is refreshing, as if we were introduced to a very talented person who had been brought up to think self-praise was vulgar.

An interval for music.  First, STEAMBOAT BILL and HIGH SOCIETY from the Fifties:

GOIN’ HOME BLUES from 2013:

Aside from its subject’s remarkably modest approach to his own life, JAZZ ME BLUES has two great pleasures.  One is Barber’s unwillingness to stay neatly in the style that had brought him success. Beginning in the Sixties, his band takes on different shadings while not abandoning the music he loves: he brings in electric guitarist John Slaughter, altoist Joe Harriott, organist Brian Auger; he works and records with blues and gospel legends; he plays extended compositions. Again, since Barber speaks about these events with polite restraint, one must estimate the emotional effect of being booed by British traditionalist fans who wanted “their” music to stay the same. Barber is not making changes to woo a larger audience or to stay in the public eye, but because he is genuinely interested in adding other flavorings to a familiar dish. He is a determined seeker, and he grows more intriguing in his quests.

The other pleasure I alluded to at the start, delightful first-hand anecdotes. Readers deprived of their own contact with their heroes always want to know what the great men and women were like, and JAZZ ME BLUES — although never mean-spirited in its quick sketches — is a banquet here. Not only do we hear about Sonny Boy Williamson and Zutty Singleton (the latter saying he is most happy in a band without a piano because pianists all “lose time”) but about Van Morrison, George Harrison (who likes the 1930 BARNACLE BILL THE SAILOR) and colleagues Lennon and McCartney; we read of Howlin’ Wolf saying grace quietly and sweetly before a meal. Trumpeter Ed Allen tells Barber that he always used to learn the songs for Clarence Williams record dates in the taxi on the way to the studio.

And Barber has been in the right place at the right time. When he comes to America, he sits in at Condon’s. After an uneventful beginning, “. . . suddenly the rhythm section started to swing. I looked round and Eddie had picked up his guitar and joined in. From then on, with him there, every tempo was just right, and everything swung. His presence was subtle, but it made the world of difference. I knew what a fine player he could be, as, when the band had appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in 1957. I’d gone along to their late night concert. The thing that sticks in my memory from that night was Eddie taking a half-chorus solo on a tune in the ballad medley. It was just perfect, and with the tuning of his four-string tenor guitar it had a very distinctive sound. It reminded me of Carmen Mastren, who was a true virtuoso.”

JAZZ ME BLUES is an engaging portrait of a continuing life in jazz (with rare photographs, a selective discography, and an index). It is available in North America exclusively through ISD ($34.95 hardcover): ISD, 70 Enterprise Drive, Suite 2, Bristol, CT 00610: orders@isdistribution.com.

May your happiness increase!

GENEROSITIES OF JULY 1975 / 1976, NICE JAZZ FESTIVAL: EARL HINES, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, BARNEY BIGARD, BENNY CARTER, JOE VENUTI, RED NORVO, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, HARLEY WHITE, EDDIE GRAHAM

Then and now, jazz critics to look scornfully on “all-star” sets at concerts.  Some of the musicians play to the crowd; solos go on too long or were rushed; tempos were brisk; the repertoire simplified; the gatherings weren’t always well-planned.

But now, nearly forty years after this jam session at the Nice Jazz Festival, we can only give thanks for such an assemblage.  We can note mournfully that almost all of the musicians named above — with the exception of Harley White and Eddie Graham — have departed.

Here are giants.

And you’ll see delightful fashion statements as well — Norvo’s summer casual; Carter’s psychedelic trousers; Hackett’s demure mandarin collar, and more.  Hines’s attire needs its own posting.

George Wein announces Hines; the stagehands move around; we see Duvivier toting his bass and Rosengarden making those preliminary percussive noises before Hines appears, smiling widely.  He begins a brisk OUR MONDAY DATE with the rhythm falling in line — and all the flash, daring, and exuberance is entirely in place, forty-five years after his early bravura playing in Chicago.  The ensemble that follows is cheerful although the instrumental voices seem to float to the surface and down again — perhaps because of the cinematography of Jean-Christophe Averty (usually known for his incessant cutting between shots) focuses on Hines.  Carter is majestically fleet for two; Norvo cool and mobile for his, raising and lowering his shoulder as always.

But little dramas are going on.  Carter is dissatisfied with his reed and is working on it; Vic looks as if he’d rather be elsewhere, at a slower tempo (although his bridge is splendid).  The other all-stars seem to have decided that the way to deal with Hines’ tempo is to split choruses — Bigard / Venuti swap trademark phrases for two choruses (while Bigard plays, Venuti tidies his bow); Hackett and Carter embark on the same playful gambit, but the King looks quite surprised at a squeak and is almost ready to put his horn down for its misdemeanor.  Hines returns for two exuberantly showy choruses, mixing lopsided shards of the melody with surrealistic stride, calling the band in for a final chorus (where the camera stays on them), Hackett more powerfully leading — into the leader’s showy extended ending: nine minutes later.

A year later, it is Hines (in green) with Harley White, bass; Eddie Graham, drums, paying tribute to early Ellington with BLACK AND TAN FANTASY in a reading that sticks closely to the original arrangement — then a romping C JAM BLUES which is all Hines at his flying best, with an equally flying solo by White and a half-time ending.

What follows is, for me, magic: Vic Dickenson playing a ballad, I GOT IT BAD, with no other horns.

Please note how he quietly puts the tempo where he wants it (slower than Hines has counted it off) and his amazing variety of tones and moods — exultation and pathos, sadness and near-mockery.  No mutes, nothing but years of lip technique and experimenting with the kinds of sounds both he and the horn could make.  The delicacy yet solid swing of the last eight bars of his second chorus; the entire solo returning to the melody but the very antithesis of “straight” playing.    Vic isn’t cherished as he should be, for his mastery of “tonation and phrasing,” but his vocalized range, his soulful use of vibrato, his balancing the blues and wit . . . there should be statues of Vic Dickenson!

What comes next seems from another world, with all respects to the very excellent drummer Graham — a lengthy CARAVAN, with some reflections of Jo Jones.  Appropriately.

It is a varied half-hour, and viewers will have their favorite moments, as I do.  But we owe thanks to our YouTube friend (details below) for sharing this with us, and (even before this) French television for having the foresight to record such gatherings . . . against the day when the giants would no longer honor us with their presence.

The begetter of this slice of delicious French television,”belltele1,” on YouTube, seems to have a special key to the treasure chest of jazz video rarities.  In a half-hour of casual browsing, I saw Eldridge, Brubeck, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bechet, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Monk, Rollins, Mingus, Teddy Buckner, Louis, Jonah Jones, Ellington, Basie — the marvels are there for the viewing.  And he offers DVDs of the programs . . . .

May your happiness increase!

CHARLES PETERSON GOES TO A PARTY (1939)

Want to come to a party?  Duke Ellington, Dave Tough, Hot Lips Page, Billie Holiday, Ivie Anderson, Pee Wee Russell, Johnny Hodges, and Chu Berry will be there.

Unfortunately, I sent out the invitation a little late, because the party ended seventy years ago.  But Charles Peterson was there with his camera.  And it is through his generosity of spirit and his art that we can drop in now.   

In the middle Thirties, someone at LIFE Magazine thought of sending a reporter and cameraman to parties, perhaps in an attempt to offset grim news in Europe and at home, and the phrase “LIFE Goes To A Party” grew familiar — so much so that it became the title of a riffing original by Harry James, played by Benny Goodman at the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.  Now, we’d call this phenomenon “cross-marketing,” but the music remains. 

In 1938, Peterson’s photographs of “Swing” musicians and fans had been a hit in LIFE.  A year later, in August, he, publicist Ernie Anderson, and their musician friends arranged a jam session party at the studio of Burris Jenkins, both for fun and to publicize the music.  The photographs never ran, but Don Peterson compiled a number of them for the book SWING ERA NEW YORK.    

Jenkins was a friend of Peterson’s, a then-famous sports cartoonist for the New York Journal-American and the Hearst newspapers nationwide, and an enthusiastic jazz fan.  The other journalist in these pictures is Hubbell Young, another friend and jazz fan, then an editor on the staff of Readers Digest.  The third civilian is an unidentified French jazz fan, possibly in the diplomatic service.  And (most familiar to jazz fans) there is twenty-year old Harry Lim, record producer, in whose honor the jam session was held.

Let’s start with the photograph at the top of this post.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gospel-jazz singer and guitarist, is at the piano, her white headband gleaming, her back to us.  To her right, in profile, is Duke, working out something on Rosetta’s guitar.  Behind Duke and to his right is Johnny Hodges, his face shadowy, his expression typically stony.  Along the back of the room are people not holding instruments: Hubbell Young and a woman in black; Young pensive, the woman more animated.  In front of them, the French guest drains the last drops from his soda or beer bottle.  In the middle, cornetist Rex Stewart seems to aim his cornet at the back of Harry Lim’s head; behind them, Eddie Condon (without guitar) seems to be grinning at something tenor saxophonist Chu Berry has just played.  The host, Burris Jenkins, holds his hands up in a telling gesture: is it “Too loud, for God’s sake”? or perhaps “I surrender, dear”? or even “All of you — get out of here now!”?  (The people who surround Jenkins remain elusive; they might have been guests, family, or neighbors: when you’re planning a loud party, you always invite the neighbors.)  To Chu’s right are two members of the ensemble named by Phyllis Condon — the Summa Cum Laude orchestra: bassist Clyde Newcombe and trumpeter Max Kaminsky, the shadows from trombonist J.C. Higginbotham’s horn are traced on Max’s face.  Bent backwards with the intensity he always brought to playing is Hot Lips Page; in the middle of the swirling mass of sound is Cozy Cole.   

It would be impossible to know, but I suspect that this ensemble is not embarked on something tidy and delicate, nothing like DON’T BLAME ME.  Rather I hear in my imagination  a Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE, rough and ready. 

Here’s what might be Peterson’s most famous photograph — the cover shot for SWING ERA NEW YORK.   In 1938 and after, there were record dates with a touch of novelty, featuring jazz musicians proficient on more than one instrument, either playing an instrument they weren’t associated with, or switching horns during the date.  One such recording has Bobby Hackett on guitar as well as cornet, Pete Brown on trumpet as well as alto saxophone.  Of course, Benny Carter had been doing all this on his own for years. 

Whether this photograph was Peterson’s idea or it came from the musicians themselves, we can’t tell, but everyone seems delighted to be playing around in this way.  Observant readers will note that it is a close-up of the collective photograph at top, although Peterson has also moved to a different vantage point. 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe has, for the moment, passed her guitar (with a resonator) to Duke Ellington, who is strumming a simple chord (guitarists out there can tell me what it is); both of them are grinning away.  But their hilarity is nothing compared to the rakish smile on the face of Cab Calloway at the piano.  Calloway, at times, considered himself a saxophonist, although members of the Missourians and later Chu Berry did not hold the same opinion — outspoken Chu, in fact, told his boss to put the saxophone back in the case permanently.  I don’t think that Duke and Cab are venturing into some of that “Chinese music” that would become the common language of jazz in just a few years. 

The smiles themselves are intriguing: Sister Rosetta and Cab are on the same exuberant wavelength; they would be looking into one another’s eyes if Cab wasn’t cautiously looking down at the keyboard to see what notes his fingers were hitting.  It was a hot August night, so most of the guests and players are in short sleeves; Ivie Anderson particulary stylish in her tailored suit, with striking buttons; she grins indulgently down at Cab’s chording.  The French guest, whom no one has yet identified, is smiling, but somewhat tentatively, as if he is watching and hearing something in translation.  But my eyes are drawn to cornetist Rex Stewart, who seems to be considering the collective merriment at some distance, even though he is standing close to the piano.  Was he wondering, “What are these fools doing?”  Perhaps he was overhearing a conversation out of Peterson’s camera range.  But his reticence, his near-skepticism, make him the still center of this particular turning world.  And although one’s eyes are intially drawn to the features the flashbulb illuminates: Cab’s grin, his white shirt, Duke’s forehead and cufflinks . . . it is to Rex that I find myself returning.  And to that suit jacket on top of the piano, part of the evening’s larger story. 

In this shot, we see Billie Holiday, perhaps twenty-four, her head cocked slightly, her expression serene and observant, her eyes half-closed.  Behind her, Hubbell Young and the woman in black are either greeting or saying goodbye to another woman wearing a whimsical summer straw hat.  Rex looks nearly malevolent with the effort of blowing; Harry Lim is leaning in closer to get a better look; Condon is dreamily happy but his eyes are only part-focused.  (Was it late in the evening?)  We do know it was hot in the room — the temperature as well as the music — if we look at Lips Page’s sweat-soaked, translucent shirt.  Cozy Cole made a specialty out of lengthy sustained press-roll solos; perhaps he is, shouting with pleasure, in the middle of one here, while the horns punch out encouraging chords.  

Slighty earlier in the evening (Lips still has his vest on).  Around the piani where presumably Dave Bowman is accompanying Lips are Harry Lim, Newcombe, the French guest, and a seriously chubby-looking Miss Holiday, smiling inwardly, her rings and bracelet and manicure evidence (although her dress is unimpressively plain) that she knew photographs were being taken for LIFE.  Those of us who know the iconic pictures Milt Hinton took of Billie at her last recording session — where she seems fiercely thin — will find these surprising.    

J.C. Higginbotham is telling Bud Freeman a story, to which Harry Lim is listening.  Bud is intent, but whether he is concentrating on what Dave Bowman is playing or on Higgy’s story is a mystery.  Eddie Condon, to the right of the piano, drink in hand, is listening deeply (he was deaf in one ear, which may account for his quizzical expression), and Clyde Newcombe is at his ease, off duty.  The man in dark glasses, a lock of hair falling over his forehead, is promoter and publicist Anderson.  The French guest tries to play Max Kaminsky’s trumpet (with what success?) and Max, displaced for the moment, takes a pair of sticks to the snare drum.  The center of this shot is once again Billie, still looking well-fed, happy, smiling at the amateur trumpeter as if he were her child, tenderly.  

From another angle: a perspiring Ellington listens appreciatively to what six brass are doing: from the left, Higgy, Brad Gowans, Juan Tizol, Lips Page, Rex, and Max (great trumpet and cornet players, as Whitney Balliett once wrote, are rarely tall men), and Harry Lim at the rear, looking younger than his twenty years.  I find myself drawn to the sideways glance Max is giving his colleagues, as in “Are we going to take another chorus or not?”

From the evidence of his singing and speaking, Lips Page was a wonderful actor and story-teller.  He never got the opportunity to fully show this side of his talents.  Jerry Newman, I once read, recorded Lips telling a tale of a hair-straightening product gone awry.  Here it’s obvious that he’s doing “the voices” by the curl of his lip, convulsing Ivie and Cab in the foreground, Higgy, Brad, and perhaps Rex close by in the background.

This shot seems as if it might have been posed — as if Peterson had asked the three reed players (Pee Wee having left for work) to stand together.  What sounds they would have made, each one with his immediately identifiable sonority!  The reflected explosion of the flash makes a small sun behind Chu’s head, and is it by accident or on purpose that the three hands are posed on the three horns in exactly the same plane?  (Hodges, incidentally, looks even more like a little boy in his father’s clothing than usual.)  Chu’s horn casts a shadow on his shirtfront.  Beneath Chu is a newspaper, perhaps, advertising CHINESE FIGURE LAMPS.  And it’s possible that the figure almost entirely cut off to the left is pianist Dave Bowman, if the bit of striped shirt is evidence.  You wouldn’t know that Chu had just gone through some painful dental work by this photograph. 

This is another celestial version of “gathering around the piano,” with Duke happily concentrating, Ivie passionately singing something delicate yet forceful — a quiet high note? — Harry Lim thoughtfully observing, the French guest somber in the background, Max and Higgy playing in support.  What amuses me most is Cab, who has of course positioned himself as close as possible to Ivie to drink in her voice . . . but he also instinctually seems to have placed himself to be sharply visible in every shot.   But what fascinates me are the four happy facial expressions seen here: Duke, musing, avuncular, affectionately considering both the piano and Ivie’s voice; Harry Lim, a star student, a good boy, observing, wondering, savoring; Ivie, perhaps reaching for a poignant turn of phrase, her face in a kind of controlled artistic ecstasy — which the light of Peterson’s flash illuminates, as if sanctifying the music pouring out; Cab, grinning hugely, part listening, part onstage.  What painter could do these faces justice?  

I love this photograph for its beauty and implied ideological statement.  Throught his long career, Bud Freeman never got the praise and atention he deserved: the closest thing to a wise, loving assessment of his work was published in Richard Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, after Bud had died.  But Freeman had several strikes against him — he was White and poised (thus going against the stereotype that jazz musicians had to be Black martyred primitives); he played “Dixieland” with Eddie Condon, which gave critics the opportunity to take him less seriously; his style required close listening to be grasped — on a superficial level, it might have sounded just like a series of bubbling scalar figures that could be applied to any composition in any context.  But he was a great ballad player and his style was HIS — no small accomplishment.  Here, he is somewhere in the middle of a phrase or perhaps ready to launch into one — his last improvisatory turn so novel, so refreshing, that the man at the piano — we remember him! — is laughing aloud with joy and surprise.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe is behind this duo, chatting over her beer, and I don’t know the other figures in this photo, except to note that the smile on the face of the man in suspenders is commentary enough on what he’s hearing. 

That celestial brass section again!  But it is very clear who is in charge here — Oran Thaddeus Page, leaning against the wall (I’ve been admiring Jenkins’s faux-three-dimensional wallpaper in every shot) both casual and intensely focused: it takes all one’s energy and strength to play as Lips did!  Rex, a champion trumpet-gladiator, is watching Lips with a cautious-potentially dangerous look in his eyes (“My chance will come in the next chorus and I’ll top what he just played, I will!”)  Higgy and Brad, for the moment content to be out of the way of those trumpets, are offering harmonies.  But it’s Lips the eye returns to: leaning backwards as if perched on the edge of the table with nothing particular to do, but electrically charged with his message, making the impossible, for a moment, look easy.   

This photograph, taken early in the evening (notice that Pee Wee, someone not highlighted in this session, has his suit on) has its own tale: best told by the enthusiastic Ernie Anderson, the man in dark glasses, holding a telephone for Mr. Russell to play into . . . ? 

LIFE Magazine had wanted a jam session.  So Eddie Condon and I cooked one up for them.  Duke Ellington happened to be playing in town so we got him and some of his players and mixed them in with Eddie’s Barefoot Mob.  LIFE sent their great music photographer, Charlie Peterson, who used to play the guitar in Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees.  We staged the rout in our friend Burris Jenkins’s pad.  He was Hearst’s star cartoonist, a terrific fan of jazz.  His place was the whole top floor of an ancient rookery on the West Side of Manhattan at the beginning of Riverside Drive, with panoramic views of the Hudson River.  This was a little study where the phone was. It was just off the dining room where there was a concert grand Steinway.  Duke was at the keyboard, Cozy Cole was swinging up a storm on his drums . . . and there were about twenty horns around the grand in full cry.  It was just what LIFE wanted and they didn’t want us to stop . . . .But it was eight o’clock.  Pee Wee was due at Nick’s at nine and Nick had promised to fire him for good if he was a minute late.  So I found the phone and called Nick.  I tried to explain but Nick wasn’t having any.  Then Pee Wee started to growl on his subtone clarinet into the telephone.  Nick loved that growl.  Finally Nick relented and gave permission for Pee Wee to miss the first set.  While all this was taking pace, Charlie Peterson came out of the drawing room with his camera to get some more film.  He saw the action and snapped this photo.  That’s Dave Bowman holding his scotch and soda.  He played the piano in the original Summa Cum Laude band and also made some famous sides with Sidney Bechet.  The trumpet is . . . . Lips Page.  And beside him, in the right hand corner, is Brad Gowanswho probably invented the valve trombone.   The party roared on for some hours.  Pee Wee didn’t get fired that night.”  (excerpted from STORYVILLE , 1 December 1990, no. 144) 

Aside from Pee Wee’s intent expression and substantial chin (prefiguring Robert DiNiro years later?) I notice the telephone book, bottom left: they had to look up the phone number of Nick’s to call its gruff owner, Nick Rongetti — making the story more plausible.    

Swing dancers take note!  Ivie’s anklet gleams; she and Cab are having themselves a time.  Condon is happily watching their feet from the left; Bud Freeman’s grin threatens to split his face in two on the right.  Brad, Rex, Max, and Lips are playing their parts; Juan Tizol, nattily dressed and looking just like Tommy Dorsey, is smiling.  Again, the tiny details make this even more delightful: Condon’s exuberantly striped socks; Cab and Ivie’s white shoes; the rippling material of her dress.  What step are they executing?  I hope some adept reader can tell us.  But the great musicians (including Louis and Dizzy) were champion dancers.    

And we come full circle: Sister Rosetta’s face nearly Asiatic; Duke’s delighted eyes fixed on her mouth; Lips thoughtfully admiring what he sees and hears; Cab, for once, rapt, his face not aimed at the camera.  

Two postscripts.  One concerns Dave Tough, then drummer in the Summa Cum Laude band and someone inextricably drawn to alcohol and terribly sensitive to its effects.  There’s a famously blurry Peterson photograph of a reeling, shaky Tough, his shirt drenched to near-transparency, his hand being held by Cozy Cole, who looks none too steady himself.  I would assume that Tough played early on, got helplessly drunk, and had to be sent home, leaving Cozy the sole percussionist.

And that suit jacket?  Condon, in his SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ (assembled and edited by Hank O’Neal, one of jazz’s living benefactors) told the story that it was terribly hot in Jenkins’s apartment, as the photographs prove.  Ellington took his jacket off and hung it over the back of a chair, perhaps forgetting that in the pocket was money for the band’s pay.  When the jam session was over, the envelope was gone.  Music hath charms, but its redemptive powers might have limits.

As I’ve written before, how lucky we are that Charles Peterson was there, and that Don Peterson has not only preserved these photographs but has collected archival material to explain them: we owe him many thanks!  Now, if you will, close your eyes and imagine the music.

LOUIS and FATS, by SAMMY CAHN

Sammy Cahn

When I was a young boy Louis Armstrong was already a legend.  All these rumors that he was not allowed in the country, that he was a junkie, that he’d married a white (gulp) woman.  Louis Armstrong?  There was no Louis Armstrong.  He was a trumpet and a voice you heard on a record in the middle of the night.  I would listen and listen to those records.

One day Connie Immerman of the Cotton Club — also famous for Immerman’s Hot Chocolates — said he wanted to introduce me to Louis Armstrong.  Connie took me to the Cotton Club, and when I walked in and saw Louis I just gasped.

The first thing Armstrong said to me was, “When were you born?”  I said June 18.  He whipped out this book he had and flipped through the pages to that date.  He turned the book around and showed me the names of other people — famous people — who had been born on June 18.  I hoped some of it would rub off on me.

I found out that Louis was terribly weak at memorizing lyrics.  His wife would place lyrics all over the house — in his socks, in his shoes, any place he couldn’t miss and so at least would have to look at them a lot.

At the Cotton Club most of the songs were written to help work out a piece of business in the show.  They had a little boy for an act and needed a way of getting him into the show.  I had the idea of a shoeshine boy coming forward through the tables — which is how “Shoe Shine Boy” got written.  I wrote a number for Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “I Bring You Religion On A Mule.”  They hired a little white mule.  She came riding in on it.  Two days later Connie Immerman said to me, “You and your ideas!”  I said, “Isn’t the song stopping the show?”  Connie said, “Sure it’s stopping the show.  Everybody’s quitting.  Somebody found out the mule is getting more than the chorus girls.”  I’ve never suggested an animal act since.

I became close to Louis Armstrong.  One night we covered ten joints in Harlem, and each place somebody was doing Louis Armstrong.  In the tenth and last one it was a really terrible imitation.  I said, “Louis, why are we here?  This man just tries to do everything you do.”  Louis said, “He may do somep’n I don’t do.”

I learned that Armstrong’s solos never varied, and I asked him why.  He said, “Is it good?”  I said yes.  “So?”  No argument.

Once I saw Fats Waller at a rehearsal with a quart of gin on the piano.  “That’s a funny way to run a rehearsal,” I primly said.  He answered just fine: “Hey, I get four arrangements to a quart.”

Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller.  Can you top them?

[From I SHOULD CARE: THE SAMMY CAHN STORY, by Sammy Cahn, pp. 223-24.]