No one talks during these bass solos, I assure you!
Milt Hinton, Arvell Shaw, Slam Stewart, Bob Haggart, string bass; Hank Jones, piano; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. YESTERDAYS (Arvell Shaw) / BODY AND SOUL (Slam Stewart) / BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (Bob Haggart) / HOW HIGH THE MOON (ensemble) // “Four Basses,” Bern Jazz Festival 1983.
A precious document: four masters, having a deep friendly swinging good time.
I wish they had had a longer showcase, with more jamming, but it’s pointless to carp about what should have been . . .especially because this exists to be shared and treasured.
Bless these gentlemen, and bless the organizer of the Bern Jazz Festival who thought of this and the Swiss television people who had it televised. The words, “We don’t know how lucky we are,” float through my head, and I hope through yours.
And this one is for Bonnie Prince Andrew of Malta.
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.
Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett at the Metropolitan Opera House, January 18, 1944
Here’s an extraordinarily fulfilling eighteen minutes, as if — in the name of humanity and enlightenment — a New York radio station was able to gather everyone of note into its studios to uplift listeners: Billie Holiday, vocal; Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers; trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Bennie Morton, trombone; Ed Hall, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Art Tatum, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Arthur Trappier, drums; Josh White, vocal and guitar.
“NEW WORLD A-COMING: THE STORY OF NEGRO MUSIC,” Broadcast on WMCA, June 25, 1944, based on the book by Roi Ottlei, narrated by Canada Lee. Theme by Duke Ellington. Introduction / I GOT A HEAD LIKE A ROCK Josh White / FINE AND MELLOW Billie / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ALL OF ME Billie / I GOT RHYTHM // Hall Johnson Choir announced but edited out of this recording.
The music is timeless; the commentary may seem less so: I was struck by “from cabin to cabaret,” and sensitized listeners might find other archaisms. But the music!
P.S. “Jazz can be hot or languid.” You knew that, of course.
P.P.S., based on fifteen minutes of online curiosity: WMCA was a rock-and-pop AM station in the Sixties, home of the “Good Guys.” Started in 1925, it had a wide range of popular music programming, with programs aimed at an African-American audience. In 1989, it became a Christian radio station and continues today.
Here’s a group of musicians you would only see at a festival, playing “the music of Duke Ellington”: Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ruby Braff, cornet; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums. Take a moment to let those names sink in.
Sometimes these groups don’t coalesce: they are the musical equivalent of a soup made with the contents of the refrigerator, and even in this case the closing “Ellington composition” might seem like the lowest common denominator, but it works wonderfully — thanks to the experience of the soloists and the splendid rhythm section. And if you look closely, you will see Vic Dickenson mutely ask to be left alone while he’s soloing — he didn’t like horn backgrounds — but he’s eloquent even when annoyed. Any chance to see Jimmie Rowles at the piano is exquisite, and I feel the same way about watching Ruby and Vic together.
The two selections — the end of a longer set which, alas, I don’t have on video — are ALL TOO SOON (Jacquet and rhythm) / C JAM BLUES (ensemble). They were performed at the “Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 7, 1979, and broadcast on French television.
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!
Some jazz groups “have history”: that is, the intuitive understanding that comes from playing often, even if not night after night, together. (In the dating world, it’s called “chemistry.”) Other collaborations — by whatever circumstance — emerge when people who don’t ordinarily work together are asked to play for the public. I don’t know whether the producer of the Grande Parade du Jazz, colloquially called the “Nice Jazz Festival,” decided it would be interesting to mix it up, or whether Milt Jackson said, “Here are the people I’d like to play with.” I suspect the former.
But, for almost an hour, we have a set of music from Milt, vibraphone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Duffy Jackson, drums. I would guess that Milt and Jimmie might have encountered each other as far back as the mid-Forties in California; Bucky and Slam worked as a duo and in many rhythm sections at this time; Duffy, the youngest of the group, had experience as Basie’s drummer. Being a Rowles-devotee, my overpowering first reaction was, “Goodness! Nearly on hour of Jimmie in a different context, on video!”
Preparing this post, I looked in Tom Lord’s discography for any evidence that this quintet — or a near-relation — had recorded, and found none. But Milt, Jimmie, and Ray Brown (and perhaps others) had performed a year earlier in Sao Paulo as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival tour, and here’s photographic evidence. I certainly would like to hear this:
Milt, someone with great awareness, treats the repertoire as he would if presiding over a jam session, and calls songs that no one could get lost in — THE MAN I LOVE / STARDUST / BLUES / DISORDER AT THE BORDER / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / BAGS’ GROOVE //. I don’t know, if when the set was over, the players said to each other, “Well, we got through that. Did you see all those television cameras? Damn, people are going to be watching this? I need to lie down,” or if the general reaction was, “What a triumph!”
2020 criticism of 1979 joys will be discouraged. I think this is a priceless hour, and am thrilled it exists. I hope you feel the same way. And I am able to share this with you through the generous kindness of A Good Friend.
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
Jazz festivals and jazz parties with a proliferation of star soloists sometimes get everyone who’s available to take a few choruses on a standard composition, which can result in brilliant interludes or dull displays. The results are not the same as a working jazz ensemble, but they do often create splendid surprises.
Here is a seventeen-minute exploration of the Duke Ellington-Bubber Miley 1932 evergreen that took place at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 15, 1977, nominally under clarinetist Barney Bigard’s leadership, which really translates here as his being the first horn soloist. The others are John Lewis, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Clark Terry, Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpets; Vic Dickenson, Kai Winding, trombones; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone. (To my ears, Daniels seems a visitor from another world.) A “string of solos,” yes, but, oh! what solos:
In the summer of 1972, Red Balaban led one of his often-eloquent bands at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now an empty space for rent) with Bobby Hackett as the guest star — and I recall Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Chuck Folds, Marquis Foster. Barney Bigard was in the house, and Bobby invited him up (Muranyi graciously sat the set out except for a two-clarinet HONEYSUCKLE ROSE). The bell of Barney’s clarinet was perhaps three feet from my face, and his sound — on ROSE ROOM, MOOD INDIGO, and two or three others — was warm and luminous. Yes, he looked exactly like my tenth-grade English teacher, but Mr. Kavanagh had no such glissandos.
There will be more to come from the Nice Jazz Festival. And in case you missed my most recent extravagant offering — ninety-seven minutes of bliss — you can immerse yourself here. MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) used to say it had “more stars than there are in heaven,” and you will find them in that post: George Barnes, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Illinois Jacquet, Ruby Braff, Wingy Manone, Dick Sudhalter, Spiegle Willcox, Michael Moore, Pee Wee Erwin, Eddie Hubble . . . along with Barney, Vic, and others.
I can’t believe how many people who love jazz are asleep on Benny Carter.
The King, a few years before 1977.
The hierarchy of stardom in jazz gets narrower with time, so it feels as if there is only room at best for a dozen boldface Names from Louis to Ornette. Can contemporary jazz audiences understand the absolute reverence that Benny Carter received from his peers during his lifetime and now? How many students in jazz education programs know him as he should be known? After 1945, Charlie Parker cast a giant shadow, but Carter, quietly indefatigable, pursued his half-dozen careers with immense grace. Perhaps his life lacked drama: he wasn’t a tragic figure; he lived a long time and was happily married (his widow, Hilma, is with us at 99!); he was a professional who made it all look easy: alto, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, compositions, arranging, bandleading, film and television scores — a genuine Renaissance man. Ben Webster said that Benny could bake a cake as light as a feather and whip any man: what better testimonial could anyone want? But I wonder how many fans today could name more than one Benny Carter record?
Recently a Irish collector-friend, Mchael O’Donovan, has passed on to me a substantial assortment of videos, some broadcast on French television, of La Grande Parade du Jazz, in the second half of the Seventies. I’ve shared a duet between Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna here. I think these videos are precious, even though the cinematography is unusual: multi-camera setups where no shot is longer than a few seconds, and the videos came to me arbitrarily cut into time-chunks, so one will end at twenty minutes, no matter what is happening . . . but these are small complaints when one considers the wonderful assortments of jazz stars, the good sound, the leisure to stretch out. Occasionally someone in the band rushes, but we’re all human.
And now, for some Benny Carter — with a wondrous feature for Vic Dickenson (I saw Vic play this perhaps twenty times, but watching him at close range is something I never dared to think I would see on video), delightful Mel Lewis, and some late-period but refreshing Teddy Wilson.
7-9-77 THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE Carter, Kai Winding, Ray Bryant, Slam, J.C. Heard 7-7-77 IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD Vic, Hank Jones, Bill Pemberton, Oliver Jackson (identified by Bo Scherman, who was there!) 7-10-77 THREE LITTLE WORDS Benny, Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis and the first few notes of the next song.
7-10-77 WAVE Carter, Ray Bryant, Milt, Mel Lewis
7-7-77 SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE // SOPHISTICATED LADY – SATIN DOLL (partial) Teddy solo.
Doc Cheatham told James Dapogny that his secret to a long life was to listen to Louis Armstrong every morning, sound medical advice. Matt Rivera begins his Monday-night Zoom sessions of the Hot Club of New York (7-10 PM, the link can be found here) with a Carter record. Maybe that’s a perfect healing regimen: breakfast with Louis, dinner with the King. In between, you’re on your own. You can do this.
The eBay seller “jgautographs,” from whom I’ve purchased several marvels (signatures of Henry “Red” Allen, Rod Cless, Pee Wee Russell, Pete Brown, Sidney Catlett, among others) has been displaying an astonishing assortment of jazz inscriptions. I haven’t counted, but the total identified as “jazz” comes to 213. They range from “traditional” to “free jazz” with detours into related musical fields, with famous names side-by-side with those people whose autographs I have never seen.
As I write this (the early afternoon of March 21, 2020) three days and some hours remain.
Here is the overall link. Theoretically, I covet them, but money and wall space are always considerations. And collectors should step back to let other people have a chance.
The signers include Benny Carter, Betty Carter, Curtis Counce, Jimmy Woode, Herb Hall, Bennie Morton, Nat Pierce, Hot Lips Page, Rolf Ericson, Arnett Cobb, Vernon Brown, Albert Nicholas, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Margolis, Ed Polcer, Ed Hall, Billy Kyle, Sam Donahue, Al Donahue, Max Kaminsky, Butch Miles, Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Arvell Shaw, Barrett Deems, Buck Clayton, Babs Gonzales, Benny Bailey, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Burrell, Reggie Workman, Stanley Turrentine, Louis Prima, Wayne Shorter, Tiny Bradshaw, Harry Carney, Juan Tizol, Bea Wain, Red Rodney, Frank Socolow, Bobby Timmons, George Wettling, Roy Milton, Charlie Rouse, Donald Byrd, Kai Winding, Kenny Drew, Kenny Clarke, Steve Swallow, Shelly Manne, Frank Bunker, Charlie Shavers, Ben Pollack, Jess Stacy, Ron Carter, Bob Zurke, Jimmy Rushing, Cecil Payne, Lucky Thompson, Gary Burton, Jaki Byard, Noble Sissle, Muggsy Spanier, Don Byas, Pee Wee Russell, Slam Stewart, Hazel Scott, Ziggy Elman, Buddy Schutz, Ernie Royal, Boyd Raeburn, Dave McKenna, Claude Thornhill.
And signatures more often seen, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Hoagy Carmichael, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Gerry Mulligan, Cab Calloway, Rosemary Clooney, Wynton Marsalis,Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Chick Corea, Count Basie.
In this grouping, there are three or four jazz-party photographs from Al White’s collection, but the rest are matted, with the signed page allied to a photograph — whether by the collector or by the seller, I don’t know. And there seems to be only one error: “Joe Thomas” is paired with a photograph of the Lunceford tenor star, but the pairing is heralded as the trumpeter of the same name.
My head starts to swim, so I propose some appropriate music — sweet sounds at easy tempos, the better to contemplate such riches, before I share a half-dozen treasures related to musicians I revere.
Jess Stacy’s version of Bix Beiderbecke’s CANDLELIGHTS:
Harry Carney with strings, IT HAD TO BE YOU:
Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Gene Ramey, Jo Jones, PRISONER OF LOVE:
Here are a double handful of autographs for your amazed perusal.
Charlie Shavers, name, address, and phone number:
Lucky Thompson, 1957:
Jimmy Rushing, 1970:
Hot Lips Page (authentic because of the presence of the apostrophe):
Benny Carter (I want to see the other side of the check!):
And what is, to me, the absolute prize of this collection: Lester Young, whom, I’m told, didn’t like to write:
Here’s music to bid by — especially appropriate in those last frantic seconds when the bids mount in near hysteria:
Just what the title says! Dan Morgenstern, Jazz Eminence, celebrates the unique Slim Gaillard as swing linguist, singer, riff-monger, guitarist, pianist, comic improviser, ingenious composer, with glances at an ailing Charlie Parker, Brew Moore, Loumell Morgan, Arthur’s Tavern, Leo Watson, Red McKenzie, scat singing, Red McKenzie, Milt Gabler, and more.
and the appropriate soundtracks, to save you the search:
and Slim, justifiably celebrated in his later years:
and the first part of a 1989 BBC documentary on Slim:
Part Three, with Dizzy:
And a swing detour, to one of my favorite recordings ever:
Leo also quotes BLACK AND BLUE . . .
McKenzie was often dismissed as sentimental, but here it works: THROUGH A VEIL OF INDIFFERENCE, with Jess Stacy, Lou McGarity, Buddy Morrow, Red Norvo, Ernie Caceres:
As always, thanks to Dan for making the past and present shake hands so graciously.More tales to come, I promise you.
When I was in my teens, I remember a television program on not-yet-PBS where a Japanese ink-painter showed us how to draw Mount Fuji in a very few brush-strokes. I have over simplified it in memory, reducing it to two upward slopes with some detail in the middle, and it remains in my mind’s eye. Happily, I threw out my very limited attempts in blue ballpoint pen, but the experience stays with me. The artist didn’t “simplify” his subject, but his airy, dancing brush-strokes made its immovable solidity nearly translucent.
Here is a more elaborate version, beautiful in itself and as metaphor:
Although I could not have verbalized it then and words still seem heavier than the experience, the artist was doing with his brush what jazz musicians do, making familiar melody, harmony, and rhythm take flight. He was improvising on Mt. Fuji and his improvisations enhanced it.
As an adolescent deeply under the spell of the music, I encountered the 1945 live recordings of Don Byas and Slam Stewart, performing INDIANA and I GOT RHYTHM as if the music was brand-new, the results joyous — soaring and solid both. Then, I didn’t analyze the results as a musicologist-chemist would, noting what percentage Swing, what percentage Bop, what percentage Unclassifiable Solids, and I leave such activities to those who care to, working in their basement laboratories. The music was dense but airy: angels chatting about clouds.
A few years later, I was privileged to see Ruby Braff in performance, often leading a quartet. One of his architecturally spacious ideas was to play duets within the quartet — creating a series of small orchestras — so I was dazzled by Ruby in duet with string bassists George Mraz, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, and Michael Moore.
Fast forward to NOW, for beauty that transcends “less is more.”
I present to you four duets by Chris Madsen, tenor saxophone, and Clark Sommers, string bass — an enterprise they are calling “The Duet Book.” For those of you who might mutter, “WHAT can you do with a tenor and a bass?” my answer turns out to be, “Everything.”
One, DONNA LEE, authorship debated:
Two, TRICROTISM, by Oscar Pettiford:
Three, MOVE, by Denzil Best:
Four, ORNITHOLOGY, by one C. Parker:
The beautiful videography — steady, attentive, catching every detail of sound and image — is by Brian Schwab. Hereis Chris’s Facebook page, and Clark’s is here.
One more video remains, and I wish this series were ongoing, because I cherish these effusions, where two gifted individualists show us what loving community looks and sounds like, passing the lead, being completely supportive, having fun while knowing that the serious work of life is being done.
We could say, “I wish young musicians would study these videos,” but I’d add, “Yes, young dancers, playwrights, poets, teachers, painters . . . .”
And if any member of the jazz hierarchy mutters, “Oh, they’re just playing bebop,” I would reply, “Do, please, Sir or Madam, leave this place and come back in forty years. Devote yourself to the study of beauty, and while you’re at it, work at growing up.”
Forget Mount Fuji, forget metaphor: these air-creations are profound, their beauties not absorbed in one casual hearing. Blessings on Messrs. Madsen, Sommers, and Schwab: quiet gracious masters all.
Postscript from September 14, 2018: Here’s Chapter Five —
This is not really a post about shopping, but since shopping is one of the experiences held in common by so many of us, it works as metaphor. A dozen years ago, if I thought I needed a new shirt, I would have headed to The Mall, where I could gaze at two dozen machine-made shirts, identical except for size and perhaps color. The plenitude was a reassuring reminder that we live in the Land of Too Much, and often I bought more than I needed.
As my clothing style became more personal, the racks of identical product no longer charmed. I began to go thrift-shopping for the quest for unique pleasures. Surprise was the rule, even among the inexplicable proliferation of plaid shirts (why?). I would spot something thirty shirts away, move towards it as if magnetized, and might have a small breath-taking experience. “That’s for me! I could wear that! That looks like it belongs to me!”
Illustration by Jesse Rimler
Such impassioned bonding happens with music also: I was two minutes into the first track of a new CD — its cover above — and my mental soundtrack alternated between, “Oh, my goodness, this is wonderful!” and the more defensive, “You’re not getting this CD away from me.” And then,addressing the invisible JAZZ LIVES audience, “You need to hear this,” I thought.
“This” is the debut CD of Jacob Zimmerman and his Pals called MORE OF THAT, and to use my own catchphrase, it has increased my happiness tremendously.
The cover drawing, which I love, by Jesse Rimler, says much about the cheerful light-heartedness of the enterprise. Why has this twenty-first century Nipper got his head in a protective cone? Has he been biting himself? Is the cone a visual joke about the morning-glory horn? Is this the canine version of cupping a hand behind your ear to hear your singing better? All I know is that this dog is reverently attentive. You’ll understand why.
Here is Jacob’s website, and you can read about his musical associations here.
I had heard Jacob’s name bandied about most admiringly a few years ago; he appeared in front of me in the Soho murk of The Ear Inn and was splendidly gracious. He’d also received the equivalent of the Legion of Honor: he was gigging with Ray Skjelbred. But even these brightly-colored bits of praise did not prepare me for how good this CD is.
The overall ambiance is deep Minton’s 1941, Keynote, and Savoy Records sessions, that wonderful period of music where “swing” and “bop” cuddled together, swinging but not harmonically or rhythmically constrained. And although Jacob and Pals have the recorded evidence firmly in their ears and hearts, and under their fingers as well, this is not Cryogenic Jazz or Swing Taxidermy (with apologies to Nipper’s grandchild on the cover).
As a leader, Jacob is wonderfully imaginative without being self-consciously clever (“Didja hear what the band did there? Didja?”) Each performance has a nifty arrangement that enhances the song rather than drawing attention from it — you could start with the title tune, MORE OF THAT, which Jacob told me is based on MACK THE KNIFE, “MORITAT,” so you’ll get the joke — which begins from elements so simple, almost monochromatic, and then builds. Each arrangement makes full use of dynamics (many passages on this CD are soft — what a thing!), there’s some dark Ellingtonia and some rocking neo-Basie. And each song is full of delightful sensations: when I get through listening to BALLIN’ THE JACK (a song often unintentionally brutalized) I think, “That’s under three minutes? How fulfilling.” So the Pals are a friendly egalitarian organization with everyone getting chances to shine.
A few words about the compositions. SIR CHARLES is Ray’s homage to our hero Sir Charles Thompson; Jacob says RADIATOR “was composed as a feature for Ray and was inspired by the Earl Hines record “Piano Man.” It’s based on “Shine.” SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY “is a feature for bassist Matt Weiner and pays homage to the record of that tune by Lester Young and Slam Stewart.” “FIRST THURSDAY is based on”Sunday.” My monthly gig at the jazz club “Egan’s Ballard Jam House” has happened every first Thursday for over 5 years.” And SCULPT-A-SPHERE “is based on “Nice Work If You Can Get It”…I tried to imagine what it would be like if Thelonious Monk and Lester Young wrote a tune together.”
Before I get deeper into the whirlpool of praise, some data. Jacob plays alto and clarinet (more about that in a minute), aided immeasurably by: Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Ray Skjelbred, piano; D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Cole Schuster, guitar; Christian Pincock, trombone; Meredith Axelrod brings voice and guitar to the final track. And the compositions: RADIATOR / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / FIRST THURSDAY / SONG OF THE ISLANDS / BLUE GUAIAC BLUES / BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES / IN A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN / MORE OF THAT / BALLIN’ THE JACK / BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? / SCULPT-A-SPHERE / I AIN’T GOT NOBODY. All immensely tasty, none crowding its neighbor.
This being the twenty-first century, many saxophonists live in a post-Parker era, which works for some. But Jacob has deeply understood that there are other sounds one can draw upon while playing that bent metal tube: a mix of Pete Brown (without the over-emphatic pulse), Hilton Jefferson (rhapsodic but tempered), and Lee Konitz (dry but not puckering the palate). On clarinet, he suggests Barney Bigard but with none of the Master’s reproducible swoops and dives: all pleasing to the ear.
Because I have strongly defined tastes, I often listen to music with an editor’s ear, “Well, they’re dragging a little there.” “I would have picked a brighter tempo.” “Why only one chorus?” and other mind-debris that may be a waste of energy. I don’t do that with MORE OF THAT, and (imagine a drumroll and cymbal crash) I love this CD so fervently that I will launch the JAZZ LIVES GUARANTEE. Buy the disc. Keep the jiffybag it came in. Play it twice. If you’re not swept away, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, send me the CD and I’ll refund your money and postage. I don’t think I will be reeling from a tsunami of mail, and should some people (inexplicably) not warm to this disc, I’ll have extra copies to give away.
This is the third and final segment of my splendid afternoon at The Lovelace (66 Pearl Street, New York City) with the “Animule Dance,” Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; Adam Brisbin, guitar / vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass / vocal. The thought that it is — for the moment — the final segment makes me sad, but the realization that we can enjoy these performances again and again is cheering.
Let’s call a heart a heart. Explanation below.
For the story behind Romy’s heartfelt gift, please visit here — and you’ll also find the first two parts of the music made by this splendid trio that day. As an aside, many musicians don’t like having their work compared to that of the Ancestors, but as I have been delighting in these videos again, I thought I heard an alternate universe where Lester Young, Milt Hinton, and Al Casey were jamming for their own pleasure. Floating, you know. Not imitating, but Being in 2018.
And here are the last of the savory treats from that rare Friday afternoon, so delicious.
INDIANA (with sweet hints of Don Byas and Slam Stewart):
SQUEEZE ME, which couldn’t be nicer:
A Spanish-singed I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS:
OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, which mixes Twenties soul, bluegrass tints, and a little Django and Billy Taylor as well, before Evan wins the Miscellaneous Instruments category by a nose. Thanks to Scout Opatut for direction and continuity: her Oscars are on the way:
an easy yet impassioned RUSSIAN LULLABY:
WHEN YOU’RE SMILING served with a bowl of gumbo:
and the closing Frolick, LIMEHOUSE BLUES:
What a thrilling band! I want lucrative gigs, public and private, club and festival, what the Youngbloods call merch — pinback buttons, hoodies, bath sponges, bumper stickers — CDs I can play in the car, the concert tour (I’ll be press agent and videographer), and worldwide huzzahs. Nothing less.
If Una Mae Carlisle is known at all today, it is as a jazz footnote and “friend-of”: protege (perhaps mistress) of Fats Waller; singer on the lone and lovely record date that Lester Young’s band did in 1941; composer of WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER, someone recording with Danny Polo, John Kirby, Big Nick Nicholas, Buster Bailey, Ray Nance, Budd Johnson, Walter Thomas. Sadly, her life was very short, made even shorter by illness. I propose that she deserves admiration for her own art, not just for her associations with greater stars.
Una Mae had all the qualities that would have made her a success, and she did get some of the attention she deserved. She had a big embracing voice; she could croon and swing; she was a splendid pianist — more than a Waller clone.
Here are two samples of her genial, casual art, in 1940 and 1941. First, the song she composed (its title suggested by John Steinbeck). The wonderful small group is Benny Carter, trumpet; Everett Barksdale, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums. Una Mae plays piano. Were Ed Berger here with us, he could tell us how Benny came to be in that studio — perhaps a rehearsal for his own Bluebird big-band date a few days later:
Here is one side from the famous session with Lester Young, Shad Collins, Clyde Hart, John Collins, Nick Fenton, Harold “Doc” West in 1941:
I come from that generation of listeners who discovered the sides with Lester through a lp compendium called SWING! — on Victor, with notes by Dan Morgenstern. I think I was not alone in listening around Una Mae, regarded at best as someone interfering with our ability to hear Lester, purring behind her. But if we could have shaken ourselves out of our Prez-worship for three minutes, we would have found much pleasure in Una Mae’s singing for its own sake, not in comparison to Billie. As I do now.
This small reconsideration of Carlisle’s talents springs from a nocturnal prowl through eBay, then on to YouTube, then Google, then here — a familiar path, although the stops are not always in that order.
First, an autographed postcard, 1940-2, when she was recording for Bluebird:
I then visited YouTube to find — to my delight — two brief but very entertaining film clips (from the 1948 BOARDING HOUSE BLUES) where her magnetism comes through:
I savor her ebullience — while trying to ignore the thinness of the song (which, in fairness, might be more sophisticated than GOT A PENNY, BENNY, which Nat Cole was singing a few years earlier) — and her expert piano work, with its small homages to Fats and Tatum.
I write the next sentence with mixed emotions: it cannot have hurt her fame in this period that she was slender and light-skinned. Had she lived, she might have achieved some of the acclaim given other singer-entertainers, although I wonder if her easy accessibility would have hampered her with the jazz purists of the Fifties, while making her a pop star of sorts. Certainly her last recordings (1950) show her being targeted for a large popular audience, which is to say the songs are awful and beyond.
The other song from BOARDING HOUSE BLUES is equally thin, built on RHYTHM changes — but it is not the THROW IT OUT YOUR MIND that Louis and the All-Stars performed in WHEN THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS (1965):
Looking for more information on Una Mae, I found that others had — admiringly and sadly — done deep research here and elsewhere. Because the internet encourages such digressions, I now know more about mastoiditis than I would have otherwise. It shortened her life. The disease is now rare.
I present all this as a collage in tribute to someone who should not be forgotten. And I think of Una Mae as one of the talented people who died just short of great fame. I can imagine her, as I can imagine Hot Lips Page, on the television variety shows of my childhood, appearing in the nightclubs I was too young to go to.
Although the lyrics are those of a formulaic love song, the mood is apt for her epitaph. May she live on in our hearts:
Drummer Sam (or “Sammy”) Weiss played in New York with many of the most prominent jazz musicians of the ’30s and early ’40s, including Louis Armstrong, Adrian Rollini, Wingy Manone, Miff Mole, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. He also worked with Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Louis Prima, and Erskine Hawkins, among others. After moving to California in 1945, Weiss led his own successful orchestra and worked freelance. He led bands throughout the ’60s, and also worked in television; his TV work included appearances on The Jack Benny Program in 1961 and 1964. He died in 1977.
Here are Jack, Sammy, Wayne Songer, and others doing a “hilbilly” sketch:
And going back a few decades, a Weiss appearance with Gene Kardos in 1934:
Here I pause the official biography for a moment, to say that one of the most pleasant aspects of JAZZ LIVES (which I began nine years ago this year . . . no presents, please) is that people find me. Some months back, I got a cheerful message from Jayne Weiss, Sammy’s daughter, who had noticed that I had mentioned her father in a blogpost. In our conversation, I mentioned that her father was remarkable in making the transition from sideman to bandleader to personality, “Sammy The Drummer.” And she said, “That was exactly who he was. He was a personality.”
Sammy was one of the cast of characters on the Jack Benny television show: this episode is based on New Year’s Eve, 1961:
Here are some of Jayne’s thoughts.
Since my dad’s death, people are always finding things and sending them to us, so I got a hold of my cousin Brian, who does web design, and we are going to create a website for my dad, with discographies, clippings, photographs, videos. In 1971, my mother started to write a book about my father, because he had a very interesting story. She had written to Ralph Edwards of THIS IS YOUR LIFE, but the show was being cancelled. But I found the letter and the story she had written about him. I have a letter from Artie Shaw and telegrams from Jack Benny. He was with Jack Benny for twenty-five years, radio and television.
Sammy Weiss and Mickey Katz
He was from the Lower East Side, a very poor family, because his father, who was a bootlegger, had died when he was very young and he had to help support the family. He was self-taught at thirteen; he took rungs of a chair and made drumsticks, then took parts of the chair and tin plates and made a set of drums. And he would sit at the front of the building and entertain the neighborhood. One day a neighbor came by and asked Sammy if he would get a few friends together and play their daughter’s wedding. He was maybe fourteen, a big, tall guy. Having no drums, he would rent a set, and he got a band together . They paid the band three dollars, and my father decided that this was for him. At fifteen, he started his career. Then he started playing in the Catskills, fall and winter, dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs. In 1933, he was playing at the Stevensville Lake Hotel, where he met my mother. (They were married for thirty-seven years and had five children.)
Now, my mother, who looked like Jean Harlow, was already engaged to Henny Youngman’s brother-in-law. But when Sammy met my mother, he walked her all around the hotel, introducing her to everyone as his future wife. When she went to break up with the brother-in-law, he locked himself up in a room with a gun and threatened to kill himself. Unlike Sammy, my mother came from money: her father was in the pants business and one of his customers was Bugsy Siegel. Her parents were opposed to the marriage because Sammy didn’t seem as if he could support a family. Then she was in the hospital, seriously ill with peritonitis, with her father at her bedside, praying for her to get well. She looked at him and said, “I’ll only live if I can marry Sammy.” And she got well.
You know, he was the first drummer for Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw. He was with Goodman at Billy Rose’s Music Hall in June of 1934. But when they went on the road, he didn’t go, because he wanted to stay home and raise a family.
That’s why Gene Krupa showed up, and Buddy Rich, because Sammy stayed in New York. In fact, when I was young, I went with my dad to the musicians’ union on Hollywood and Vine, I was crossing the street and Buddy Rich was crossing the street the other way, coming towards us, and the two of them stopped in the middle of the street, hugging each other, and I was standing there, going “What the heck?”
He moved to the West Coast in 1945 because my older brother got very sick, and the doctors told him that my brother couldn’t survive another winter. Luckily, the Jack Benny Show was moving west. When he and my mother first moved out to California, their house had a room separate from the house where the musicians would jam, also because my brothers were musical. There were always people coming and going, and they used to say that my mother cooked in army pots because there were so many. Maurice played trumpet, drums, and piano. My brother Allan sang and played drums. And Jack played clarinet, saxophone, drums, and piano. And they all had bands.
I was twelve years younger, so I remember hearing about all of this, but I was little. I played piano, violin, and guitar. My father always used to say I had perfect pitch, because he would call across the room, “Hit A,” and I would hit it. One day they got a notice in the mail, “Come to _____ School. Your daughter is playing first-chair violin in the orchestra.” They didn’t even know. I had found a violin in the garage, took it to school, and learned how to play it.
On radio, he worked on WNEW and then went on staff with WNBC. He had his own radio show called JAMMIN’ WITH SAMMY, and worked with Paul Whiteman, Kate Smith, Walter Damrosch, “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” with Abe Lyman — also with Mark Warnow, Freddie Rich, Ray Bloch, Raymond Scott, Paul Lavalle. He could read, play piano, and all the percussion instruments. He was on the Carnation Show, Meet Millie, Edgar Bergen, the Colgate Hour, Russ Morgan, Jack Carson, Lucky Strike, Al Jolson, Steve Allen, Burns and Allen, Victor Young, Dinah Shore. My mother took Dinah Shore to pick out an outfit for her first audition in New York. My father accompanied Tony Martin at the Cocoanut Grove. In 1953, he did a movie with Frank Sinatra, THE JOKER IS WILD. He recorded with Johnny Guarneri and Slam Stewart for Savoy Records.
On the Benny Show, he was a character. He was bald. They actually wrote a show about me, in May 1951, “When Sammy’s Wife Has a Baby.” The joke was that everyone went to see the baby in the hospital, and someone says, “How did you know which one was Jayne?” “She was bald!” Jack and Mary Benny bought me my layette when I was born.
He had his own band for private parties and conventions, dances. In November 1957 he had a month’s engagement at the Hollywood Palladium, “playing the kind of music the public has always loved.”
He was wonderful. Definitely Mister Personality. A wonderful father who loved his kids. I had the best parents ever. He was so involved. We would have lots of people for the holidays, for Thanksgiving. Wherever we went, if we would walk into a restaurant, “Oh, my God! Sam!” And he was such a sport. My mother would yell at him because he would always pick up the tab. “Bring me his check.” People knew him at the market, on the golf course. He could golf during the day and work at night.
There’s a famous steakhouse, Monty’s in the San Fernando Valley. On my twenty-first birthday, we went there for dinner. Over the years, I heard “Me Tarzan. You Jane.” jokes constantly. That night, sitting at the bar, was Johnny Weissmuller, drunk. My father didn’t realize just how drunk Johnny was, but he said, “Look, it’s my daughter’s birthday, and her name is Jayne. It would be such a hoot if you came over and did your shtick.” There was an outdoor patio, and Johnny opened the doors and did the Tarzan call, then came over to the table and said, “You Jane. Me Tarzan.” I wanted to die, to crawl under the table.
Sammy was on every Mickey Katz album. My mother actually sings on one. Mickey and Grace Katz were very dear friends of our family. In fact, I have a picture of Joel Grey before his nose job, dancing with my mother at one of the bar mitzvahs! Mickey did my father’s eulogy. I knew Mannie Klein (his wife was nicknamed “Dopey”) and he gave me a nickname when I was about three. They would sit me on the piano, and call me “Quackwee.”
He passed away in 1977 from pancreatic cancer. He was only 67. My older brother also contracted that cancer and died at 75.
Many thanks to Jayne Weiss and her brother Allan for their memories and memorabilia: they’ve made their father come wholly alive once again.
No blues lyrics that I know begin with “The mail carrier came today, and (s)he brought me good news,” but it happens to be the case. Evidence herewith:
Once again, prowling eBay about ten days ago, I saw ten issues of Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD — a short-lived and wonderful magazine on sale — and I took money out of the grandchildren’s retirement fund and splurged. The issues were the prized possession of someone whose name I can’t quite read, and their original owner not only read them avidly, but had a cigarette in his hand . . . typical of the times.
I will in future offer selections — a concert review, or a letter to the editor complaining about varying prices for King Oliver Gennetts — but this is what caught my eye immediately, and the neighbors called to complain that my whimpering was upsetting the dogs in this apartment building. You will understand why.
On the inside front cover, there is a print column titled I Thought I Heard . . . Buddy Bolden wasn’t audible in 1945, but his heirs and friends were certainly active in New York City.
Stuyvesant Casino, 2nd Ave. at 9th St. — Bunk Johnson’s New Orleans Band
Nick’s, 7th Ave. and 10th St. — Miff Mole and orchestra with [Bujie] Centobie, [Muggsy] Spanier, [Gene] Schroeder, George Hartman, bass, Joe Grauso.
Down Beat, 52nd St. — Art Tatum.
Onyx, 52nd St. — Roy Eldridge.
Three Deuces, 52nd St. — Slam Stewart, Erroll Garner, Hal West.
Ryan’s, 52nd St. — Sol Yaged, clarinet; Danny Alvin, drums; Hank Duncan, piano.
I think that on Sunday, October 27, 1968, I might have been helping my father rake leaves in the backyard, or perhaps doing my homework for the next day. (I was in eleventh grade.)
I can say with regret that I wasn’t at the jazz event above. And I certainly didn’t have a video camera yet. The forces in the cosmos didn’t work together on my behalf that Sunday — but it’s very pleasing to know that these musicians had a gig. And that we can see the evidence now.
Before WCBS-AM radio in New York became an all-news station, Jack Sterling had a famous morning show, which is why he would have been a good host for this concert. Here’s more about Jack:
From the same eBay prowl, I offer another holy relic. True, that Oran Thaddeus Page felt that his nickname needed an apostrophe makes the English professor in me wince, but Hot Lips Page could do whatever he wanted.
And here’s why (with the noble assistance of Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett):
Notes from the JAZZ LIVES editorial board. I originally posted this video and created this blog in November 2016, and some logistical considerations interfered, so it went into the darkness. But now it pokes its sweet head up again into the light and like happiness, it will not be denied.
The United States Constitution, I remember, offers its citizens the promise of “the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness can be quite elusive, but occasionally it slows down long enough for us to get a sniff, a taste.
I present to you five earnest, gifted artists who are in pursuit as well as expertly embodying it.
JAZZ IM RATHAUS April 2016 Photograph by Elke Grunwald
All of this — improvisations on a venerable Vincent Youmans song — took place on April 9, 2016, at the Rathaus in Westoverledingen, Germany — cozy and sweet — under the benignly serious aegis of Manfred Selchow: concert impresario, jazz scholar, and friend of three decades. The artists I refer to are Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophone; Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, piano and hijinks; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Bernard Flegar, drums.
And without consciously choosing to copy, to reproduce, these five players summon up the joyous swing of the Lester Young recordings in the early Forties: the trio with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich; the quartet with Sidney Catlett, Slam Stewart, Johnny Guarnieri.
More to come. And a special postscript. I’ve video-recorded Paolo, Stephanie, Nicki in varied settings and they are heroes to me. Angel (that’s what his friends call Engelbert) I’ve only captured once before, on his visit to New York at The Ear Inn. But this was my first opportunity to see as well as hear the youthful Master Bernard Flegar. Does he not swing? I ask you!
Although some of us understandably recoil from chronicles of suffering, pain and oppression make for more compelling narrative than happiness does. Think of Emma (Bovary) and Anna (Karenina), their anguish and torment so much more gripping than the story of the main character in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky.” Montherlant, the French writer Larkin loved to quote, said that happiness “writes white,” that it has nothing to tell us. Give us some despair, and we turn the pages. It is true in jazz historiography as it is in fiction. Consider the ferociously detailed examination of the painful lives of Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker. Musicians like Hank Jones, Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey or Bennie Morton, artists who showed up early and sober to the session, are not examined in the same way.
Suffering, self-destruction, misery — those subjects engross us.
And Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959) whose birthday approaches, will be celebrated on WKCR-FM this weekend, is a splendid example of how the difficulties of one’s life become the subject of sad scrupulous examination.
The “Lester Young story” that is so often told is that of his victimization and grief. And there is sufficient evidence to show him as a man oppressed — from childhood to his final plane ride — by people who didn’t understand him or didn’t want to. Readers who know the tale can point accusing fingers at a stock company of betrayers and villains: Willis Young, Leora Henderson, John Hammond, the United States Army, a horde of Caucasians (some faceless, some identifiable) and more.
Although he is simply changing a reed, the photograph below is most expressive of that Lester. Intent, but not at ease. Skeptical of the world, wondering what will happen next, his expression verging on anxious.
But there is the music, lest we forget. It speaks louder than words, Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson.
A different Lester — ebullient, inventive, full of joyous surprises — is the subject of one of the most grand musical productions I have ever seen, an eight CD set onMosaic Records, its cover depicted below. Every note on this set is a direct rejection of the story of Lester the victim and every note tells us that Lester the creator was even more important, his impact deeper and more permanent.
Where did this mournful myth come from, and why?
Few African-American musicians received perceptive and sympathetic media coverage in the Thirties, perhaps because jazz was viewed as entertainment and writers often adopted the most painful “hip” jargon. (I leave aside Ansermet on Sidney Bechet and early analysis of Ellington as notable exceptions.) So the writings on Lester, some of which were his own speech, come late in his life and are cautious, full of bitterness and melancholy. He was by nature sensitive and shy, and which of us would feel comfortable speaking to a stranger in front of a microphone? Yes, the Lester of the irreplaceable Chris Albertson and Francois Postif interviews is quite a bit more unbuttoned, but much of what comes through is despair, exhaustion, suspicion, hurt. (I make an exception for Bobby Scott’s gentle loving portrait, but that was posthumous, perhaps Scott’s effort to say, “This was the Lester I knew.”)
Even the film footage we have of Lester (leaving aside those jubilant, silent seconds from Randalls Island) supports this image of the suffering Pres, a bottle sticking out of the pocket of his long black coat, elusive, turning away from the world because of what it had done to him. The mystical icon of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES is to me a mournful figure, even though Lester participates in the riotous closing blues. The Lester of THE SOUND OF JAZZ evokes tears in his music and in his stance. And on the 1958 Art Ford show, the song Lester calls for his feature is MEAN TO ME, a fact not cancelled out by JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID. The 1950 Norman Granz film, IMPROVISATION, is a notable exception: in BLUES FOR GREASY Lester quietly smiles while Harry Edison struts. But the visual evidence we have is in more sad than happy.
Adding all this together, the mythic figure we have come to accept is that of Pres on the cross of racism, a man watching others less innovative getting more “pennies” and more prominent gigs. Then, there’s the conception of him “in decline,” running parallel to Billie Holiday, “still my Lady Day.” Although some have effectively argued for a more balanced view — why should a musician want to play in 1956 the way he played twenty years earlier, assuming even that it was possible? Some critics still muse on the change in his sound around 1942, constructing the facile story of a man bowed down by adversity. And we are drawn to the gravity-bound arc of a great artist, blooming beyond belief in his twenties, alcoholic and self-destructive, dying before reaching fifty.
But the brand-new eight-disc Mosaic set, taken for its own virtues, is a wonderful rebuke to such myth-making. If you have heard nothing of it or from it, please visit here.
I am writing this review having heard less than one-fourth of this set, and that is intentional. We do not stuff down fine cuisine in the same way one might mindlessly work their way through a bag of chips; we do not put the Beethoven string quartets on while washing the kitchen floor, and we do not play these Lester Young tracks as background music, or in the car. To do so would be at best disrespectful.
I think that by now everyone has heard about the virtues of Mosaic’s delicate and thoughtful work. Fine notes by Pres-scholar Loren Schoenberg, rare and new photographs, and transfers of familiar material that make it shine in ways I could not have imagined. The music bursts through the speakers and I heard details I’d never heard, not even through forty years of close listening.
The news, of course, is that there are four astonishing discoveries on this set: alternate takes of LADY BE GOOD, EVENIN’, and BOOGIE WOOGIE from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc., session, and a previously unknown alternate take of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the 1937 Basie band.
Now, what follows may mark me as a suburban plutocrat, but if you’d come to me at any time in the past dozen years and said, “Pssst! Michael! Want beautiful transfers of three alternate takes from Jones-Smith, Inc., and I’ll throw in an unissued Basie Decca — for a hundred and fifty dollars?” I would have gone to the ATM as fast as I could.
When I first heard the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY in 1969 — I taped it from an Ed Beach radio show and treasured it — the music went right to my heart in a way that only Louis did. It still does, a living embodiment of joy.
And the joy is still profound. I know this not only because of the feelings that course through me while listening to the Mosaic set, but because of an entirely unplanned experiment earlier this week. I had lunch with a young musician whom I admire and like, and after the food was eaten we went back to my place — as is our habit — so that I could “play him some Dixieland!” as he likes to say.
But this time I asked, “Do you like Lester Young?” Had he said “No,” I would have invented an appointment with my podiatrist that I had to get to right away, but he answered properly and with enthusiasm. He had never heard SHOE SHINE BOY, so I put the first Mosaic disc on. He is someone whose emotions bubble through him, and although he is taller and broader than I am, he capered around my living room, completely ecstatic. Lester’s magic is potent and undiminished: I could see the music hitting him as hard and sweetly as it had done to me in 1969.
And as I have been listening to this set while writing these words, I am continually astonished — by recordings I heard forty years ago, by recordings I first heard a week ago — not only by how alive they sound, but by the complete picture of Lester’s first decade of recordings, so influential. Jones-Smith, Inc. Una Mae Carlisle. Dickie Wells. The Kansas City Six and Seven, and Lester’s 1943 Keynote quartet. The Aladdins. TI-PI-TIN. I FOUND A NEW BABY with Teddy Wilson, twice. The Philo trio with Nat Cole. A few Helen Humes sides. The only studio recordings beyond Mosaic’s reach are the Savoy sessions.
The joy is not only Lester. There’s Count Basie, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Johnny Guarnieri, Doc West, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, Shad Collins, Sweets Edison, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Nat Cole, Red Callendar, Buddy Rich, Buster Bailey, Bill Coleman, Dickie Wells, Joe Bushkin, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, Bennie Morton, Earle Warren, Jack Washington, Helen Humes . . . and more.
I’ve read a good deal of discussion of this set, of price, of value — as always! — on Facebook, and I won’t reiterate it here. I will only say that this box is superb listening, provocative and rewarding music. And as a wise person used to say, “Amortize!” — that is, instead of buying ten lesser CDs, buy this. And think of the expense as ten manageable chunklets: that’s what credit cards allow us to do. You will be listening to this music for the rest of your life.
Some, reared on Spotify and Pandora — and the idea that everything should be free — will burn copies of the set from jazz Enablers, will wait for the material to be “borrowed” by European labels. I think this is at best polite theft, and the sole way that we have of keeping enterprises like Mosaic afloat — and there’s nothing like Mosaic, if you haven’t noticed — is to support it.
For those who have their calculators out, the set is eight CDs. There are 173 tracks. The cost is $136.00 plus shipping. There are only 5000 sets being produced. They won’t be around in five years, or perhaps in one. (I paid for my set, if you wonder about such things.)
Thank you, Pres, for being so joyous and for sharing your joy with us. We mourn your griefs, but we celebrate your delight in sounds. And thank you, Mosaic, for bringing us the joy in such profusion.
Timme Rosenkrantz was born a Danish Baron, but he preferred to identify himself as “a little layman with an ear for music and a heart that beats for jazz.” Duke Ellington, no stranger to the nobility, called him “a very unselfish man who dedicated himself to the great musicians he loved and the music they played.”
A jazz fan on a lifelong pilgrimage, Timme arrived in New York City in 1934 and made dear friends of many musicians, writers, and critics. His cheerfully light-hearted chronicle of those journeys has been published (translated and edited by Fradley Garner) as HARLEM JAZZ ADVENTURES: A EUROPEAN BARON’S MEMOIR, 1934-1969 (Scarecrow Press).
One of the most tantalizing sections of that book — full of lively anecdotes — is its discography of private recordings that Timme made between 1944 and 1946: a trove, including pianists Erroll Garner, Herman Chittison, Jimmy Jones, Billy Taylor, Ellington, a young Monk, Eddie Heywood, Willie “the Lion” Smith, hornmen Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Shavers, Barney Bigard, Bobby Pratt, Jack Butler, Benny Harris, Vic Dickenson, bassists Slam Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, violinists Stuff Smith and Ray Perry, guitarists Bernard Addison and Zeb Julian, drummers George Wettling and Cliff Leeman . . .
A few of these recordings have been issued commercially (the best example being the Smith and Perry sides on Anthony Barnett’s ABFable label) and others less properly or in edited form. I first heard some of the music Timme recorded through the collectors’ grapevine, on cassette, in the Eighties, and it still sounds magical, with musicians stretching out, free from the tension of the recording studio or the imposition of the producer’s “taste.”
You can hear more — although there’s only one private recording — of the music Timme cherished from sessions he produced at THE JAZZ BARON, a site devoted to him, his musical adventures, and the book.
But we are going to be able to peek behind the curtain that has kept those privately recorded sessions private . . . soon, because Storyville Records is issuing what I hope will be the first in a series, TIMME’S TREASURES.
I haven’t heard a copy yet, but I am eagerly looking forward to it. How about ten minutes of solo Monk from 1944 — a six-minute THESE FOOLISH THINGS and a four-minute ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT? Or a quartet of Don Byas, Monk, Al Hall, and an unidentified drummer playing something called LET’S GO for another six? Broadcast material featuring Stuff Smith, Frank Froeba, Byas, and Sidney Catlett? More from Lucky Thompson, and a trio session for Jimmy Jones, bassists John Levy and Slam Stewart?
The liner notes are by Timme’s friends Dan Morgenstern and Fradley Garner. And the Storyville Records site will soon have more information about this exciting release.
Here’s a wonderful example — imperishable — of Timme’s taste: a duet for tenor saxophone (Don Byas) and string bass (Slam Stewart) recorded in concert in 1945:
The masterful Joel Press created a wonderful musical evening at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street) at the end of my 2013 stay in New York City — a first portion posted here. Joel had Michael Kanan, piano; Boots Maleson, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, along for some soulful melodic explorations, which bow to Masters Lester and Thelonious along the way.
THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU, which jumps right in:
JUST YOU, JUST ME:
ALL OF ME:
In honor of Don Byas and Slam Stewart in 1945, a duet for tenor saxophone and string bass on INDIANA: