Tag Archives: Sophie Tucker

“OH, STOMP THAT THING!”: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, PART ONE: LEON OAKLEY, DUKE HEITGER, TOM BARTLETT, ORANGE KELLIN, CONAL FOWKES, JOHN GILL, CLINT BAKER, KEVIN DORN (November 28, 2019)

For their first set at the San Diego Jazz Fest (November 28, 2019), the Yerba Buena Stompers did what your bank or insurance company requests — they “went paperless” and had a fine time playing some good old good ones.  Here are the first three songs from that set, to remind you how solidly that band can rock. They are John Gill, banjo, vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.

NORK + Jelly = JOYS:

One of the most durable pop songs of 1920 — I remember Sophie Tucker on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday-night television show:

and a genuine TORCH song about the sorrow of what happens when the gang goes home . . . sung with special ardor by John, in fine voice:

More delights to come from this very durable band: people who know their stuff.

May your happiness increase!

SOLITUDE, AND THEN SOME: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, HOWARD ALDEN, FRANK TATE (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

SOLITUDE Columbia

Four of my New York heroes — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone, taragoto, cornet; Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass — onstage at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party, playing a most famous Ellington composition that, oddly enough, doesn’t get played that much, SOLITUDE, with great eloquence and  simplicity, in front of that rarest of things, a hushed, attentive audience:

No fancy arrangements, just beautiful solos and ensemble playing.

SOLITUDE Victor

Then, time for a Frolic on SOME OF THESE DAYS, which starts as a brass extravaganza and then builds:

SOME OF THESE DAYS

Quite amazing, I think, and I’ve been following these four musicians for more than a decade now.  This is just a small sample of what characteristically takes place at the Allegheny Jazz Party, a quiet spectacular of a weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. To have this experience for yourself, you might want to visit here to find out about the Party, taking place this September 10-13, 2015.

And . . . . Jon and Matt Munisteri and a cast of wonderful characters have just released their second CD as “The EarRegulars”: the first also features Scott Robinson and Greg Cohen; the latest one (on Jazzology Records) features Evan Christopher and Kerry Lewis.  Delightful music.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY IS ALWAYS HERE FOR US: REBECCA KILGORE, DUKE HEITGER, BRIA SKONBERG, DAN BLOCK, ALLAN VACHE, BOB HAVENS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, ED METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party: April 25, 2014)

May I offer a six-minute escape from the world that at times weighs so heavily upon us?  You know that world, defined by medical lab tests and inescapable bills, news of ungentle acts.  I could wear out your eyes and sink us all into gloom describing that world.

But there is another world, always alive if we can remind ourselves of it: the world of beauty and creativity, of joy and generosity.

This offering of Beauty was created on April 25, 2014, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, a musical cornucopia.  The exalted participants are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, tenor / clarinet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Ed Metz, drums.

THE ONE I LOVE

The song, ninety years old, is the Isham Jones / Gus Kahn THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — a simple melodic line built on a two-note pattern but one of those songs that takes up residence in your brain until it is chased away by external forces.  THE ONE I LOVE is also a sacred favorite of mine because it plays a part in one of the great meetings of the cosmos.  Earl Hines said that he was at the Chicago musicians’ union playing a new tune (yes, that one) and a cornet player introduced himself and started to play in duet with him.  Yes, that cornet player. How would the course of Western Civilization have been different if Hines had been practicing scales or was standing outdoors with his cigar?

Instead of a dim memory of 1924, the real thing in 2014:

I find everything about this performance endearing, from the cinema verite with which it begins (Becky offering everyone a lead sheet, facing an overexcited microphone, setting the tempo by singing the title). Maestro Sportiello enters and the rhythm section joins in: I find myself relaxing, all tension replaced by happiness, in forty-five seconds. “Safe in the arms of Joy,” I think.

Listen closely, please, whether you play an instrument, sing for your supper, or are simply a devoted fan — to the beautiful singularity of the individual voices here: Becky, Bob, Bucky, Duke / Dan, and Becky returning.  Each one is completely different but allied by a love for the melody and a respect for the rhythm.

And PHRASING — the way Ms. Kilgore fluidly offers lines of prose and individual syllables so that the meaning of the simple lyric is enhanced, not lost, but that the words aren’t rigidly tied to the beat.  Imagine the sheet music, which delineates a metronomic relationship between notes and words, and hear Becky’s intuitive elasticity, seconded by the horn soloists, elongatinf a phrase here, compressing another, emphasizing a few words and offering others with sweet conversational casualness.

And even though no one is “doing repertory,” the whole performance feels as if Basie and a few of the fellows just stopped by to play one.  That simple propulsive riff at the end — Basie, but reaching back to Louis.  Believable, natural, uplifting music.

This is high art — it takes lifetimes to know how to sing and play like this — offered without pretense.  I feel better already.

Visit here to find out more.

May your happiness increase!

“A BIT O’HARLEM” 1933

The acetates have not turned up, but, thanks to an eBay seller, we have the program that documents the 1933 appearance of the Earl Hines Orchestra at the Chicago World’s Fair.

EARL at 1933 Worlds Fair 1

The Hines band was identified by their prestigious radio broadcast affiliation — but that they were only one act of a long evening:

EARL at 1933 Worlds Fair 2

The seller describes this as “Original program from a concert titled “A Nite of Centuries” at the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, June 12, 1933, four pages, 8.75 x 5.75 in. One clipped corner (not affecting any text), and a very faint vertical crease, otherwise clean and very good.”

EARL at 1933 Worlds Fair inset
A “Sizzling Study in Sepia” indeed.  I won’t be content with the home-recorded discs of this; I want to see the newsreel footage as well, so that I can enjoy “3 Lightning Flashes and an ensemble of singers and dancers.”

It must have been a spectacular evening: note the appearance of Sophie Tucker, Martha Raye; Vincent Lopez; The Radio Rubes, “radio’s famous hill-billies”; Baby Rose Marie, “remarkable child artist of the stage, screen, and radio”; World’s Fair Frolics, “a dazzling ballyhoo of Chicago World’s Fairest”; and others.

I doubt that anyone who saw this show still walks this earth, which is (to me) a sobering thought.

May your happiness increase!

EARS TO HEAR WITH, EYES TO SEE WITH

The eyes, we are told, are the windows of the soul.  They protect us from falling downstairs, from the weaving car in the next lane; they help us pick out the Beloved in a crowd at the airport.  Surely they are precious and have enough to do.  So I propose we do not turn them into ears.

Here, to the right of Count Basie, is one of the finest singers of all time, practicing Mindful Eating:

countbasiejimmyrushing

In his prime, he was a mountainous man.  “Little Jimmy Rushing” was surely a self-mocking sobriquet; “Mister Five by Five” was more to the point. There is a Chuck Stewart photograph of him, in profile, that suggests a contemporary physician might calculate his body mass index and dub him “clinically obese.”

Oh, how he could sing!

Yet in this century, though, would Jimmy Rushing get a record contract?Would he be an opening act at a jazz festival?  My guess is that he would have a hard time, because audiences are fixated on what their eyes see than what their ears hear.

Look at the cover photograph of any CD featuring a singer or instrumentalist.  The star is beautifully arrayed, coiffed, resplendent in clothing (casual or formal) — an ensemble that was the result of serious planning.  The credits for such CDs thank hair stylists as well as arrangers.

We have been accustomed to the notion that Public People, to be Worthy, must appeal to our eyes.  I can’t trace the lineage of this, but at some point our notion that film stars were the ideal took over the world: so that politicians decked themselves out carefully — and musicians in the public eye were expected to do so as well.  For men, the beautiful suit, the jewelry, the costly watch; perhaps the personal trainer.  A hairpiece. (Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE is based on this as well as other painful delusions.)

For women, it was and is even more complicated, going beyond eliminating one’s graying hair and perhaps choosing cosmetic surgery.  I am not about to go on about the patriarchy with its male gazing, but for a woman instrumentalist or singer to appeal to the larger public, it seems that she must display and festoon herself as a sexually alluring product, accessible in some fantasy realm.

I thought we wanted to listen to players and singers, rather than to imagine what they would be like in bed.  Once again, I was naive.

I don’t recall who told the story — was it Charles Linton? — of bringing a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald to audition for Chick Webb in 1934.  We need not dwell on Webb’s physical appearance, hidden somewhat behind beautiful clothes.  But legend has it that Chick looked at Ella, neither svelte nor conventionally alluring and quickly said, “No.”  The Girl Singer had to be Glamorous.  The people who had heard Ella sing had to insist that Chick listen to her voice.  And then, happily, he was convinced.  But Ella was wildly popular with her hit record of A-TISKET, A TASKET — and it took approximately three years more for her to appear in a film, and if I recall correctly, it was a Western-musical from a second or third-tier studio, and she sang about her lost basket on a bus.  She wasn’t Pretty; she didn’t Count.

Imagine a world where Ella Fitzgerald and (let us say) Mildred Bailey or “Little Louis” couldn’t get a job because someone was convinced that they didn’t fit conventional notions of what was alluring.  Or they looked too old.

Youthful singers and players can swagger for a photo shoot: women can reflect Fifties ideals of cheesecake — be slim, show this or that body part to best advantage.  What of the artist, male or female, who has a beautiful series of recordings and performances . . . but is Getting Older?  A discerning audience came to see Mabel Mercer, Rosemary Clooney, Doc Cheatham, without the least thought of sex appeal — but do those audiences still exist?  There has always been a special niche for the Venerable (think Barbara Cook, Eubie Blake), or the Joyously Freakish (Fats Waller, Sophie Tucker, Mae West) — but so many fine artists are ignored in this vast desert between Young and Dewy and Better See Him / Her Now Because He / She Won’t Be Here Forever.

I have been to many concerts, clubs, festivals; I have watched many videos. Because of JAZZ LIVES, I am asked to approve of (and publicize) shiny, trim, nearly gorgeous men and women who present themselves as musicians.  When I begin to listen, I close my eyes.  It helps me actually hear the artist rather than concentrating on her shapeliness, her cuteness; to hear rather than watching the beautifully cultivated lock of hair falling over his forehead, his expensively tailored suit.  Listening and ogling might be simultaneous but they are not the same act.

I know this habit makes me seem even more of a distant and snobbish listener, when I say to someone rapturous over X, “You know, I agree with you that X is so perky / cute / handsome / charming, but I don’t think X is a great ______.”    And as an extension of this, when I say to other people, “Have you heard Y?” there is this politely glazed look on their faces, because Y hasn’t met their idea of what a Star should look like.  Y — oh my goodness! — looks like a Grownup rather than a Ripe Love Object.  Heavens.  Close the curtains right now.

Too bad.

The cover of a CD makes no sound.  Some of the finest musicians in the world don’t have as many gigs as they should because they don’t drape themselves as enticingly as lesser talents do.

Do we really, irrevocably love surfaces so much?

Now, I’m going to go back and listen some more to Jimmy Rushing.  I want to hear him sing, not get him on a scale.

Thanks to Bruno, Amy, and the Roo for various inspirations.

May your happiness increase!

THE SHAPE OF A CAREER: RED McKENZIE, 1924-1947

Photograph thanks to Scott Black: a trio of solid senders, Frank Trumbauer, Red McKenzie, and their former boss Paul Whiteman

William “Red” McKenzie, born in 1899, had a career whose highs and lows might have made a good — and sad — film biography.  Let us begin with a phenomenal hit record, the 1924 ARKANSAS BLUES — a smash for the novelty group, The Mound City Blue Blowers (McKenzie on comb and newspaper, Jack Bland on banjo, Dick Slevin on kazoo):

A word about his musical abilities, unique to him.  McKenzie’s singing isn’t to everyone’s taste; he is earnest, declaratory, even tipping over into barroom sentimentality.  But he could put over a hot number with style, and his straight-from-the shoulder delivery is both charming and a product of the late Twenties.  As an instrumentalist — on the comb and newspaper, a homegrown kazoo with panache — he had no equal, and the remarkable thing about the records on which he appears is how strongly he stands his ground with Coleman Hawkins and Bunny Berigan, powerful figures in their own right.  Both singing and playing, McKenzie reminds me greatly of Wild Bill Davison, someone who had “drama,” as Ruby Braff said.

In the late Twenties McKenzie was not only a musician but an activist for the music, bringing hot jazz players — Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Jimmie Noone, the Spirits of Rhythm — to the attention of record companies and creating early record dates where Caucasians and African-Americans to record.  Without McKenzie, Coleman Hawkins would have waited a number of years to be allowed into the recording studio to perform with mixed groups.

Here is McKenzie in 1929 — out in the open in the short film OPRY HOUSE as a delightfully unrestrained singer, with Bland, banjo; Josh Billings, whiskbrooms and suitcase:

His popularity grew — as s singer and someone whose face might sell sheet music of a new song:

McKenzie was the featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra — an orchestra, we should remember, that had launched the careers of Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey — with a pretty 1932 tune, THREE ON A MATCH (featured in the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis):

He continued to be someone whose presence could help sell new songs — this 1936 number, that most of us know through Billie Holiday’s recording:

and this 1936 song, more famous in Bing Crosby’s recording:

At forty, McKenzie went into a temporary retirement — moving back to his hometown, St. Louis, to work at a brewery for four years.  Apparently he was one of the great heavy drinkers of his time, and only the support of his great friend Eddie Condon kept him in the limelight in the Forties, where he appeared now and again at a Condon concert or a Blue Network broadcast.  The latter, I think, accounts for McKenzie’s 1944 appearance on a V-Disc and a session for Commodore Records — where Milt Gabler also thought the world of him.  Gabler produced record sessions simultaneously for Decca Records and the World Transcription System: here’s a 1944 version of DINAH with McKenzie, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, and Pee Wee Russell:

Here’s McKenzie as captured by William P. Gottlieb in an October 1946 photograph:

But little was heard from McKenzie for the last years of his life, except for one 1947 record date — shown in a newsprint advertisement for four sides on the National label.  His obscurity is nodded at — another “comeback story” in the sad word REINTRODUCING:

By February 1948 McKenzie was dead — cirrhosis the official cause.  I find IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER and HEARTACHES sad reminders of what had happened.  I would hate to think that his life could be summarized as an equal devotion to hot music and hard liquor, the latter winning out over the former.

Had he been in better health, he could have been one of those apparently ancient but still vivacious stars who appeared on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW and the HOLLYWOOD PALACE alongside Crosby, Sophie Tucker, Durante, and Ted Lewis . . . but it was not to be.

May your happiness increase. 

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS (Part Two: May 30, 2012)

It’s easy to tell the truth . . . so I will write it again.  (If you didn’t see Part One of this happy musical evening, here it is.)

Although John Gill is soft-spoken and wryly modest, he’s an extraordinary figure. It’s not just that he is a swinging banjoist, guitarist, drummer, and trombonist. It’s not merely that he is an intuitively fine bandleader: his bands have a certain serious lope, and the musicians look happy (no small thing). It’s not simply that he is a splendidly moving singer.

What makes John unique to me is the range and depth of his musical imagination. Many musicians have found a repertoire they prefer and it becomes their identity: when you go to hear X, you know that (s)he will play RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE. Y will break out one of the OLOGY tunes — ANTHROP or ORNITH. Z likes SATIN DOLL.

But John Gill’s world isn’t narrowly defined by one group of songs, one “genre,” one “style.” His knowledge of American music and performance styles is long, deep, and wide. In his spacious imagination, Bix and Louis visit Bing and Pat Boone; Elvis has coffee with Jolson; they hang out with Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, while Johnny Dodds, Billy Murray, Turk Murphy, and Lu Watters gossip about Tommy Rockwell and what’s new at the OKeh studios. Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker talk fashion; Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, and W. C. Handy compare royalty statements. King Oliver lifts the sugar bowl from Scott Joplin’s table, and Jimmie Rodgers does the Shim-me-Sha-Wabble.

When John is in charge, none of this seems synthetic or forced; you never hear the sound of gears changing. All of these musics live comfortably within him, and he generously shares them with us in his heartfelt, swinging ways. I had another opportunity to watch him in action at the National Underground on May 30 with his National Saloon Band — Will Reardon Anderson on clarinet and alto; Simon Wettenhall on trumpet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Steve Alcott on string bass.

Here’s the second part of that wide-ranging musical offering.

The NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES, which I associate with Bessie Smith and a 1940 Johnny Dodds recording:

Leadbelly’s THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL:

For Sophie Tucker, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and a thousand others — that hot jazz admonition, SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Another Jimmie Rodgers evergreen, THE DESERT BLUES:

I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned Cole Porter above; here’s I LOVE PARIS:

A song by Ewan MacColl from 1949, made famous by The Dubliners, DIRTY OLD TOWN:

Lots of fun with THE SECOND LINE IN NEW ORLEANS, a rocking good time:

John evokes Bing Crosby splendidly — without imitating him note-for-note — and he performed one of my favorite early Bing romantic songs, PLEASE (it’s part of the Polite Bing Trilogy: MAY I? / PLEASE / THANKS:

And to close off the performance (they kept on, but bourgeois responsibilities called me home), they performed John’s own salute to New Orleans, THE BORDER OF THE QUARTER:

In my ideal world, Professor Gill would be both Artist-in-Residence at any number of prestigious universities with American Studies programs . . . but he would have time to lead bands regularly.  Any takers?

May your happiness increase.

JOHN GILL’S AMERICAN SONGS: PART ONE (May 30, 2012)

Although John Gill is soft-spoken and wryly modest, he’s an extraordinary figure.  It’s not just that he is a swinging banjoist, guitarist, drummer, and trombonist.  It’s not merely that he is an intuitively fine bandleader: his bands have a certain serious lope, and the musicians look happy (no small thing).  It’s not simply that he is a splendidly moving singer.

What makes John unique to me is the range and depth of his musical imagination.  Many musicians have found a repertoire they prefer and it becomes their identity: when you go to hear X, you know that (s)he will play RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.  Y will break out one of the OLOGY tunes — ANTHROP or ORNITH.  Z likes SATIN DOLL.

But John Gill’s world isn’t narrowly defined by one group of songs, one “genre,” one “style.”  His knowledge of American music and performance styles is long, deep, and wide.  In his spacious imagination, Bix and Louis visit Bing and Pat Boone; Elvis has coffee with Jolson; they hang out with Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, while Johnny Dodds, Billy Murray, Turk Murphy, and Lu Watters gossip about Tommy Rockwell and what’s new at the OKeh studios.  Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker talk fashion; Cole Porter, George M. Cohan, and W. C. Handy compare royalty statements.  King Oliver lifts the sugar bowl from Scott Joplin’s table, and Jimmie Rodgers does the Shim-me-Sha-Wabble.

When John is in charge, none of this seems synthetic or forced; you never hear the sound of gears changing.  All of these musics live comfortably within him, and he generously shares them with us in his heartfelt, swinging ways.  I had another opportunity to watch him in action at the National Underground on May 30 with his National Saloon Band — Will Reardon Anderson on clarinet and alto; Simon Wettenhall on trumpet; Kevin Dorn on drums; Steve Alcott on string bass.  They began the evening with a MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR, which W. C. Handy then “adapted” as the ATLANTA BLUES:

One of those good old good ones that all the musicians love to play (and that includes Bix, Louis, Benny, and Basie), the ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

Here’s where John differs from the “traditional jazz” formula: how about the Jimmie Rodgers song T FOR TEXAS:

For the dancers (and they were at the National Underground that night), SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

If you enjoy odd intersections, I think MUDDY WATER counts as one, a song both Bing Crosby and Bessie Smith recorded in 1927:

Here’s a pretty 1931 pop tune that came back to life a quarter-century later (Vic Dickenson liked to play it, too), LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND:

And — to close off this segment — a song I’d only heard on recordings (Johnny Dodds); next time, I’ll ask John to sing WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO:

In my ideal New York City, John Gill is leading small hot bands like this on a regular basis.  It would take months before he and his colleagues had to repeat a song . . .  More to come!

May your happiness increase.

LE JAZZ HOT: MAKING THE SCENE ON MONDAY (August 8, 2011)

Monday nights are usually low-key if not anxious: the week looms.  Perhaps we should bring lunch to work?  But Le Jazz Hot has created a scene for musicians, listeners, and swing dancers at Le Colonial (which, I’m told, used to be Trader Vic’s), every Monday night from 7-10 PM.

I took my camera there on Monday, August 8, and captured these three performances by Paul Mehling, guitar, vocal, and leader; Sam Rocha, Isabelle Fontaine, guitars; Jeff Sandford, reeds; Clint Baker, bass.  And a variety of swing dancers, most expert, with our friend Leslie Harlib twirling and dipping at the bottom right of my frame.

Paul began with his own version of wild-eyed Harry “the Hipster” Gibson’s Forties drug-hallucination-fantasy, STOP THAT DANCING UP THERE:

Nothing could follow that except a peaceful song — pastoral rather than hallucinogenic — so here’s Carmichael’s SKYLARK:

And in another mood, the 1920 warning, beloved of Sophie Tucker and jazz bands alike, SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Make the scene at Le Colonial some Monday — it’s at 20 Cosmo Place in San Francisco; it has a very intriguing Vietnamese menu.  No cover, no minimum, nice acoustics.  To quote Slim Gaillard, “Very mellow.  Very groovy.”

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT EIGHT (July 10, 2011)

In the Fifties and Sixties, Sunday night at eight o’clock meant The Ed Sullivan Show — Asian acrobats, stand-up comedians, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Totie Fields, Sophie Tucker, Barbra Streisand, and more.

I no longer have a television set, and almost all the people on that list are now performing on The Other Side.  But there’s something that draws me even more strongly on Sunday nights at eight o’clock.  If you’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES, you might have guessed . . . . it’s The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (or The Famous Ear) at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

July 10, 2011, at The Ear Inn was especially good — or should I say typically uplifting.  And I have a certain bittersweet exultation about that evening, which I will explain at the end of this post.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Nicki Parrott, bass.  Old friends and a stellar group, in tune with each other — great soloists but also deeply attentive ensemble players.  I am already heroically impressed by Jon-Erik and Matt, but John’s easy range and melodic playing gets better every time I hear him, and Nicki’s speaking eloquence is ever more impressive.

I felt as if I was among friends — not only the musicians, but Jackie Kellso, Victor Villar-Hauser, John Rogers, Peter Collins, and Peter Jung . . . !

The first set was a lovely mix of “traditional” and “modern,” but I’ll let my readers decide where the boundary lines — if they still exist — can be seen.

The Ear Inn has never gone in for Lapsang Souchong or cucumber sandwiches, but we came close enough with the Jazz Age paean to romance, WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

An improvisation on I WANT TO BE HAPPY changes from 1947 or thereabouts, retitled MOVE (is it by Denzil Best?):

Two Italian ladies were celebrating a birthday at a table near the band, so PANAMA (with all its strains intact and a habanera beat) made room for HAPPY BIRTHDAY, seamlessly and hilariously:

Then, a collection of boppish lines on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN chords — DIG (by either Miles Davis or Sonny Rollins) and BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI (by Monk):

And a song I associate with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Richard M. Sudhalter, PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

Then it was time for the special guests — as if the ensemble wasn’t heated, subtle, and special enough!  Chris Flory came in and took over the electric guitar, while Matt brought out his fine-toned acoustic; Nick Hempton came in on saxophone, for a Basie classic followed by more BABY songs.

First, NINE-TWENTY SPECIAL:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Then, Don Redman’s wooing lament, GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?:

Corin Stiggall took over for Nicki Parrott, and Tamar Korn had a wonderful time with the sweetly sad BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU.  Catch Matt’s own version of Eddie Lang:

Nicki came back in for the last song of the night, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

The bittersweet pleasure of this July 10 evening is purely personal: the Beloved and I embark this week for a long stay in California, where we will meet and hear some of our friends and heroes: Marc Caparone and Dawn Lambeth, and nascent cultural critic James Arden Caparone; Rae Ann Berry, Clint Baker, Jeff and Barbara Hamilton, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Dan Barrett, Ralf Reynolds, John Reynolds, and I hope many more . . . as well as exploring the Golden State.  But The Ear Inn will have to wait until early September . . . anyone with a video camera want to step in?  No audition required!  Or — much simpler — go and enjoy for yourselves in my stead.

ALLEN LOWE’S NEWEST [BLUES] CORNUCOPIA

Musician, composer, and scholar Allen Lowe doesn’t hold back — either in generosity, scope, or opinions.  And he has perhaps the widest range of any musician I know: from Louis, Eubie, and Doc Cheatham (as well as the shade of Jack Purvis) reaching forward to Julius Hemphill, Matthew Shipp, and Marc Ribot. 

His book and CD set, THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE, was a re-presentation of the history of recorded jazz, and it did so with audacious delight across thirty-six discs, from the eighteen-nineties to the nineteen-fifties.  Lowe’s criteria for inclusion (and exclusion) excited some listeners and irritated others, but no one could ignore the heroic sweep of music presented in those four neat boxes.  

Some music scholars operate by exclusion and create their own criteria for artistic purity: if a performance doesn’t fit in the box they’ve made, it can’t be considered valid.  (Think of the airlines’ measurements for carry-on luggage and you get the idea.)  Like Whitman, Lowe is fascinated by elasticities, by stretching rather than closing-off. 

Lowe wants us to hear as if for the first time — in much the same way that Conrad said the novelist wanted to make us see.  He arranges his music, delighting in pushing aside the limiting constructs of race, gender, or “genre.”  So the expected nestles in beside the surprising, and this collage-approach encourages or forces the listener to hear just how explosive a Bert Williams, a Jelly Roll Morton, a Ma Rainey, was — as well as the artists we’ve not yet heard. 

The other parallel motion of a Lowe set is to say to us, “Listen to this!  You have large music collections, but I’ll bet you haven’t heard this.”  And few of us will be able to say, “I know all of the music presented here.” 

The question mark says a good deal about Lowe’s inquiring approach to this or any other musical subject. 

When I initially heard that he had completed one of his astonishing cornucopias on the loosely-defined subject of the blues, I was fascinated and more that a bit worried.  How would anyone endure thirty-six compact discs (nearly a thousand tracks) trapped within the twelve-bar blues form, with the occasional detour for the eight-bar and sixteen-bar varieties.  “My man’s gone,” “My woman’s gone,” “My old daddy’s got a brand new way to love,” “It hurts so good,” “Money all gone,” “Flood washed my house away,” “Why am I poor?” and variations on those tropes . . .

I needn’t have worried.  Always relying on his own imoulses, Lowe trusts himself, so his collection isn’t restricted to “official” blues performances using three chords only.  And the juxtapositions are thrilling — consider this sequence of four recordings from 1922 and 1923: Society Blues (Kid Ory and Mutt Carey); Teasin’ the Frets (Nick Lucas); I Ain’t Got Nobody (Marion Harris); Midnight Blues (Ethel Waters).  Although perhaps it is not something most jazz / blues listeners would like to admit, they would privilege some names above others as “authentic” (Ory and Waters) and others as “popular,” “derivative,” “vaudevillian.”  For many listeners, race would enter into their assessment.  There’s no question that Waters bursts upon the ear with a great soulful immediacy, but then again so does Harris.  And Nick Lucas has just as much fervor as Ory’s Sunshne Orchestra.  The surprises come thick and fast: I saw Sophie Tucker as a huge elderly Hot Mama on television some forty-five years ago: her 1922 AGGRAVATIN’ PAPA is fresh and lively, belying its age, her race, and the musical associations Ms. Tucker is saddled with.  So does Eddie Cantor in 1924. 

And since many listeners tend to burrow deeply but narrowly into their chosen loves, I wonder how many jazz / blues fanciers will know the music of The Pebbles, The Two of Spades, the Old Pal Smoke Shop Four, and others (I am leaving aside the early gospel recordings as an area many have never ventured into.)

The juxtapositions — both theoretical and actual — are vivid and fascinating.  Consider this list of thirteen recordings — all except one from the second half of 1927:  PENN BEACH BLUES (Venuti – Lang ) / BLACK HEARSE BLUES (Sarah Martin – Sylvester Weaver) / COLD PENITENTIARY BLUES (E.F. Shelton) / SHAKIN’ THE BLUES AWAY (Ruth Etting) / THE CROWING ROOSTER (Walter Rhodes) / CREOLE LOVE CALL (Ellington) / GOD’S GOING TO SEPARATE THE WHEAT FROM THE TARES (Blind Joe Taggart) / JAZZ ME BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (Bix and his Gang) / CHATTANOOGA BLUES (Allen Bros.) / NEW ORLEANS LOWDOWN (Ellington) / BARRELHOUSE MAN (Will Ezell) / I AM BORN TO PREACH THE GOSPEL (Washington Phillips). 

It is rather like coming to stay with the world’s most avid and generous collector of music who throws his or her shelves open to the listener, offering treasures, “common” recordings, and rarities, without a pre-set ideology or value system.  Lowe doesn’t say that everything is equal or important, but that it all means something in the larger picture of a culture, of shifting musical landscapes.  This is the first leg of a thrilling journey, and (to carry the metaphor to its logical conclusion) we couldn’t have a better guide. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of deep listening and reconsidering to do!  (So do you, if I may be so bold.) 

You can order the first volume of four at http://www.allenlowe.com

Here’s the link to the complete track list for the entire 36-CD set (in four volumes):

http://www.allenlowe.com/alpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Really-The-Blues-Song-List.pdf

WHILE YOU’RE UP, CLICK HERE: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

“AN AFFECTIONATE TONE”

That phrase is how cornetist Jimmy McPartland remembered the sound of Bix Beiderbecke’s playing.  It applies just as well to a book about Bix by the late Rich Johnson (with Jim Arpy and Gerri Blowers): BIX: The Davenport Album.

And an album is what this book is — nearly seven hundred pages of newspaper clippings, first-hand reminiscences, and photographs detailing Bix’s life and music.  Now, given that there have been a number of biographies of Bix, one might ask why such a book needed to be written.  But from the first page, it’s evident that Johnson was a masterful researcher, and that his diligence allows us to hear the now-silenced voices of people who knew Bix — primarily from his home town of Davenport, Iowa.  So it’s not the usual chronicle of gigs played, punctuated by comments from famous musicians.  (The book does, by the way, have comments from Bix’s famous colleagues, including Hoagy Carmichael, Armand Hug, Benny Goodman, Wingy Manone, and Louis Armstrong — but they are delightful ornaments to Johnson’s wider view.)

The people who knew Bix as a friend, a schoolmate, and a member of the community offer their voices and memories: many of them born in the earliest years of the last century.  These sweetly affectionate narratives make us see Bix anew: not simply as a phenomenal cornetist and improviser, but as the boy next door, one of the gang of kids.  The effect is very touching and intimate, as if we had been invited into their homes to drink tea and chat.

Here’s Leon Wermentein (1902-89): “I remember one Halloween night that he came to our neighborhood.  There was an old maid sourpuss everybody was scared to death of.  We dumped ashes on her porch and then rang the bell.  Bix was the last one to jump away a the door opened.  The old maid reached out, grabbed Bix and yanked him into the house.  Well, we didn’t know what would happen.  We all sat across the street staring at the house and wondering what she was going to do to Bix.  After about ten or fifteen minutes, the door finally opened and out came Bix carrying two big bags of cookies.  That’s the kind of guy he was.  He could win anybody over.  He was a charmer.”

We hear from Theresa Beyer (1911-2003) sister of Carlile Evans — in whose band clarinetist Leon Rappolo and cornetist Emmett Hardy played: “[Roppolo[ lived with us.  I remember many a night waking up and hearing him play clarinet.  He couldn’t read or write music, but boy, could he play.  The only thing . . . the only bad thing . . .he moked muggles, I think they called it.  My brother tried to get him to quit but he never did.”

Rolla Chalupa (1904-98), the Davenport postmaster, recalled Sophie Tucker’s appearances at the Columbia Theatre, where Bix (still in school) played cornet in the pit orchestra some nights and on weekends — and Tucker always introduced Bix as “the greatest trumpet player in the world.”

The book offers the sweet memories of Thelma Griffin, Bix’s Valentine in 1921: “I’m a pianist myelf and listeners tell me I have a different style.  It’s one that Bix taught me, how to play Somebody Stole My Gal, with a beat at the end where he’d come in on cornet.  Bix was just a wonderful guy.  I can’t believe some of the things they say about him today.  He and I were jut friends, even if the Valentine I’ve kept all these year does say To my sweetheart.  He was friendly, but shy.  I never dreamed that Bix would reach the status he did.  I moved to Springfield about the time he started on his road to the top bands.  We corresponded for a while, but I didn’t save his letters.  Sometimes I wish I had, now that he’s famous.”

And there’s more — the reminiscences quite affectionate, even Chet Salter, who remembered perhaps seventy years after the fact that Bix still owes him eight dollars for a pair of football shoes. 

Of course, since some of the incidents of Bix’s life are less fortunate — his alcoholism for one — Johnson does not ignore them, and I learned more about the “cure” at the Keeley Institute than I had expected.  But the overall tone of the book is anything but tragic or critical: it is a generous, sometimes sprawling valentine to Bix from the people who loved him — as a person as well as a musician.