Tag Archives: Spike Mackintosh

MODERN ROMANCES IN JAZZ, WITH A LEMON SLICE: “CHARLES RUGGIERO AND HILARY GARDNER PLAY THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE”

I will begin at an oblique angle.  One of my heroes is trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, fiercely devoted to the music he embodied.  Spike believed that the only jazz to be listened to was recorded between 1928-34.  I admire that devotion, but confining oneself to a narrow — even though pearly — segment of art would be stifling.  So I commend a new CD (Smalls Live SLoo61) of songs I’d never heard before by a duo entirely new to me.

Hilary Gardner by Shervin Lainez

Singer Hilary Gardner adores Rodgers and Hart but also knows theirs is not the only love music we might vibrate to.  When she asked if I’d like to hear this CD, she cautioned that I might not like it.  True, I don’t “like” it: I embrace it.

And before I ask you to read one more word, here is a song from the CD:

Although I still grow weepy when I hear Charles La Vere’s 1935 I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, this I find entrancing.  The song is a collection of half-sentences that coalesce into an emotional mosaic, a synergy larger than the apparent fragments.  And the other seven songs on this disc are small novellas in jazz.

When I first heard the CD, the image that kept recurring was “Warm heart and sharp elbows,” and I think it’s true.  Or a cake recipe where the expected sweetness is cut by a cup of lemon juice.  I may be older than the perceived audience for The Bird & The Bee, and I am usually very suspicious of new additions to the words-and-music I treasure, but I feel that this music not only sounds pleasantly surprising, but the lyrics express the modern world with snap, tenderness, and glee.  It could be the successor to all the songs I have taken to my heart from the Twenties onwards — intelligent additions and modifications to the world of love as seen by Porter and Hart and Gershwin, Wilder, Robison, and many others.

What strikes me now and did when I first listened to the CD is not the apparent “audacity” of the project — “My goodness, Mabel, jazz people recording non-jazz material!  Heavens!”  It’s neither incongruous nor is it a gambit to make money from bridging two disparate audiences (think: BASIE’S BEATLE BAG) but the delight is how seamless the result is, as if I and others had really been waiting for four wonderful creative improvisers to record this music.  And, by the way, the back of the sleeve has a gracious appreciative note from Inara George, one half of the musical duo, about this CD.

It is not only the original songs I admire, their mixtures of affection and wryness, their romance and realism, but the performances.  They are great songs not only to improvise on but to hear unadorned, even without lyrics.  I have admired Neal Miner for a long time, but the trio he forms with Charles Ruggiero, drums, and Jeremy Manasia, piano, is just superb: they mesh but remain distinctly individuals.  And Hilary comes through with great subtlety, gentleness, and wit: as if here she’d found the real nourishment to express herself afresh.  I should also add that the recording is lovely: the way we usually hear artists in a club, through amplifiers, microphones, and the club’s sound system is coarse by comparison.

The CD gleams in every way and will continue to do so.   And it’s available in all the usual places and ways.  (Hilariously, Amazon notes it is “Explicit” because the second song uses the F-word.  Oh, save me from such filth!  How very naughty.  But I digress.)  Buy it, I suggest.

May your happiness increase!

BEAU KOO SPIKE

SANDY'S SIDEMEN with Spike

I became fascinated by the UK trumpeter Spike Mackintosh from reading about him — one sentence! — in Dave Gelly’s beautiful book, AN UNHOLY ROW, and from that point tracked down all of his music that has been issued on records, slightly over seventy-five minutes.  So elusive is Spike, although deeply etched in the memories of those who knew him, that the only photograph I have ever found of him is above — he is bespectacled, off to the right.

And this caricature:

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp

If he’s new to you, here are three samples of his lovely soaring art.

and my own homegrown video of Spike’s WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE?

and FLOOK’S FANCY, which has some of the somber beauty of a new King Oliver recording:

I spoke to the multi-instrumentalist Bob Hunt (or Bob “Ironside” Hunt or Doctor Robert Hunt) — he leads the Chris Barber band these days —  for a few minutes on the morning of July 14, 2016, to ask  him about the late and very much-missed Spike Mackintosh.

And this is what Bob told me.  A long time ago, he and Spike lived near to each other in central London, “just up the road from me” near Abbey Road.  At that time, Spike “could still blow.”  “He’d walk to my house.”  Bob remembered the first time he heard Spike play, in a pub gig, with the front line being Spike, Bob, and Wally Fawkes, with Stan Greig on piano.

Later, Bob used to meet Spike at “The Codgers,” a regular gathering of musicians who shared the same views on jazz — at a time when modern jazz, which Spike disliked, was prevalent — so that they could get together at a pub, talk, play records, and enjoy themselves.  (After Spike’s death, his son Cameron carried it on for Spike’s friends.)

Spike’s favorite record was Louis’ BEAU KOO JACK, and he would insist on playing that at every Codgers meeting.  Spike was always beautifully dressed, with a hand-tied bowtie (a “butterfly”) or a necktie — Bob never saw him dressed informally with an open-necked shirt — “a very smart little chap, not very tall.”

Before Spike would place the needle on the record, he would stand up there and declare in his “posh accent,” “This is the real thing.”

“If there was a God in Spike’s mind it would be Louis,” Bob said.  “He was an extremely intelligent man.”

A pause for spiritual uplift: even if you know the record by heart, take three minutes and indulge:

Bob remembers Spike at one Codgers meeting going on enthusiastically about a singer.  “You must remember him.  One of the best singers those colonials, those Americans.  But I can’t remember his name.  He had a lot of hit records,” and finally everyone got Spike to recall that it was Bing.

Bob used to have a gig at a pub called THORNBURY CASTLE, which was the name of a train, appropriate because the pub was opposite Marylebone train station.  He invited Spike to come down and play, and gave him explicit directions how to get there, because Spike would be on foot.  “Absolutely splendid,” said Spike. “What is the name again?”  The band began to play.  No Spike.  Near closing time, Spike came in, looking a bit run-down.  But when he saw Bob, he greeted him with the question, “Is this THE CROSBY ARMS?” which everyone thought was hilarious.

Bob’s father, also a musician — who had played in UK dance bands — knew and loved Spike, even though they’d never played together, and when they met at The Codgers, they’d be “doing the old embracing thing.”

The last time Bob saw Spike, Bob and his father had gone to The Codgers and seen him.  At the end of the afternoon, Spike ran across the road to get the bus “like a kid,” and his father said, happily, of Spike, “He’s all right for his age, ain’t he?”

Spike was “a big pal of mine.  He was the best Louis-styled trumpet player.  That guy had got it in the pocket.  No one else had done that.”

“Even though he’s gone, Spike knows what I think of him.”

SPIKE MACKINTOSH 78

May your happiness increase!

SPIKE MACKINTOSH: MEMORIES and A MANIFESTO

Thanks to trumpeter Chris Hodgkins, jazz research archivist David Nathan (National Jazz Archive – Loughton Library), and trombonist / scholar Michael Pointon for more information about Spike Mackintosh:

ORIGIN OF THE CODGERSand some priceless first-hand information from Jim Godbolt’s book:

Godbolt Two

including Spike’s aesthetic manifesto:

Godbolt OneGodbolt’s assessment is in keeping what others have said, but I think anyone who ever heard Spike, live or on record, knew that he had a particular genius. I wonder what else is contained in that Melody Maker article, and launch a possibly fantastical question.  British jazz of the Fifties seems well-documented and not only on official recordings, but radio broadcasts, location recordings, even television and film.  Even given that Spike was reticent about playing — not simply about being recorded — it may be understandable that his recorded legacy is so small.  But are there any archivists who know of more music?

I talked with banjoist Bill Dixon of the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, who had heard Spike in the UK, and Bill told me he hadn’t played with or spoken to Spike — but provided this cameo:

I was playing on the UK jazz scene late 50’s through 60’s and was aware of him. Fiery but melodic lead,always seemed to have his beret hanging from his horn. Wild Bill Davison/Henry Red Allen style.

But one should never despair.  Earlier this year, I received this wonderful email from Spike’s youngest son:

Dear Mr. Steinman,

My daughter Lauren came across your article on my father Spike. I have yet to ask why she was googling his name but nevertheless I was very surprised but delighted to see an article about him so long after his death. I am in the US at the moment but going back tomorrow to the UK.

I am the youngest of the three sons. Cameron has probably said it all and you have obviously done your research, so I am not sure if can add to your knowledge. There is of course the story of him returning to a cafe to retrieve his trumpet before boarding a boat at Dunkirk and then refusing to go into the hold with the other soldiers because he wanted a ‘fag’ ( cigarette!) on deck! Needlessly to say a bomb was dropped into the hold and dad survived to keep blowing his trumpet!

Thanks for the article.

Kind regards,

Nicky

If my fascination with Spike seems excessive, I ask only that you listen to his playing:

 and this:

I’ve written much more about Spike — here is my most recent post — and hope to continue (with friends Jim Denham and Bob Ironside Hunt assisting).

May your happiness increase!

“HIS TALE NEEDED TELLING”: THE ODD BRILLIANCE OF P.T. STANTON

PT STANTON

I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many.  I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?

But there are people who understand.  One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others.  Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer.  Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable.  He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others).  It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.

Here’s a quick example.  For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough.  To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better.  To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.

And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well.  Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west?  I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.

But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.

STONE AGE JAZZ BAND

Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here.  But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice.  I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.

Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual.  That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention.  A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role.  One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.

He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating.  And his music!

In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly.  But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.

I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day.  Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.

May your happiness increase!

THE LONELINESS OF SPIKE MACKINTOSH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase.

THEY WERE BOILING WITH MUSIC: “AN UNHOLY ROW: JAZZ IN BRITAIN AND ITS AUDIENCE 1945-1960,” by DAVE GELLY

I enjoyed reading writer / musician Dave Gelly’s AN UNHOLY ROW: JAZZ IN BRITAIN AND ITS AUDIENCE 1945-1960 (published by Equinox) all the way through. I am a difficult audience for most books of jazz history that propose to cover a period of the music in a larger context (as opposed to a biography or autobiography).  Most times I find such books engaging chronological collages at best that never capture a larger world. Gelly’s quick-moving book has many good stories in it, covering those intense years in 167 pages, but his tales are all wisely connected.

His writing is also a pleasure: the book is not a series of quotations knitted together. One hears his voice: witty but not cruel, stylish but not self-absorbed. Here is part of the book’s opening chapter, an autobiographical fragment from which the book’s title comes:

I think there were five of us, all aged about fourteen, gathered in the ‘games room’ of a substantial family villa on the leafy southern fringes of London. We were equipped with musical instruments — battered cornet, decrepit clarinet, miscellaneous bits of a drum kit — and were doing out best to emulate our heroes, Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band. We had been at it for some time when the door burst open to reveal our unwitting host, the cornetist’s father. ‘Will you kindly stop making that unholy row?’ he demanded, in a voice more weary than irate, and withdrew.

The 1950s, as we are often reminded, was an age of deference. Accordingly, we shut up at once, abashed but not entirely surprised. By any standards, ‘an unholy row’ was a pretty fair description of our efforts, but even if we had been competent musicians, even if we had been Humph and his Band themselves, I wouldn’t mind betting that, as far as the cornetist’s father was concerned, it would still have been an unholy row. The whole thing was offensive to ears attuned to the BBC Midland Light Orchestra or the swing-and-water piano of Charlie Kunz. 

I could have gone on reproducing Gelly’s prose happily, but this brief bit (and he is rarely so autobiographical as the book proceeds) will do to convey his accuracy, charm, and subtlety.

I began taking notes on my reading early on, and find that I have too many of them to even hint at here. Gelly is understandably fascinated by the great individualists in British jazz of the period — famous (Humphrey Lyttelton, Sandy Brown, John Dankworth, Ronnie Scott) and less so (my new hero Spike Mackintosh, George Siprac) but the book is not simply a series of portraits.

Gelly, a fine cultural historian, is curious about artistic movements, not necessarily those as defined by the journalists of the time, but as manifested in groups, recordings, and seismic shifts of taste and commerce. Sometimes these movements are given names: “trad,” “skiffle,” “blues,” “rock,” other times they are only apparent in hindsight.  Much of this might be familiar, even subliminally, to listeners and collectors who know the period, but where Gelly is invaluable is in his awareness of redefinitions within audiences.

What happens to an art form that is — of necessity — enacted in public in front of audiences — when those audiences change, develop, grow older? That, I think, is Gelly’s larger question, one which transcends the names of the music, the players, the clubs, the measures of popularity.  Even if you weren’t deeply involved in British jazz of the period, the question not easily answered.  His thoughtful inquiry makes this book well worth reading, with no hint of the classroom, no pages of statistics, no Authorities beyond the musicians and listeners who were there on the scene.

But I must backtrack and write that when I was only a few pages in, I suddenly had a small stammer of anxiety: “What if the only reason I am enjoying this book so is because of my essential US ignorance of the UK scene? What would an UK reader who knew this as native culture and experience think?” And a few days later (as I was happily reading) the answer appeared in the shape of Peter Vacher’s enthusiastic review for thejazzbreakfast. Here is an excerpt:

gelly cover[Gelly] is, and has been for many years, the jazz correspondent of the Observer newspaper, has written perceptive biographies of his heroes, Stan Getz and Lester Young (the latter also published by Equinox) and of even greater moment plays jazz tenor saxophone professionally and well. Born in 1938, Gelly embraced jazz and began to play during the very period which the book covers. So his is a commentary informed as much by first-hand knowledge as it is by his extensive research.

The subtitle suggests something more than a strictly chronological account of jazz in Britain during the cited decade and a half and that is what Gelly delivers here. He’s good at capturing the mores of the times, as Britain moved from a war-time economy to the first awakening of the ‘never-had-it-so-good 1960s’.

This was when jazz found an audience among the young, newly-liberated from the stifling conventions that had marked their parents’ lives, sometimes to their seniors’ despair, hence the title of the book. He’s even-handed about styles, understanding the sincerity of the early revivalists and tracing the rise and rise of traditional jazz and skiffle before moving over to consider the passionate espousal of the modern style promoted by the collective known as Club Eleven and the more aware dance band players of the day.

He rightly emphasises the role played by the open-minded Humphrey Lyttelton and John Dankworth, two men who largely shook off their early American influences as they sought to produce distinctive music of their own. There’s social history here but it’s British jazz history too, neatly caught and clearly expressed. No fuss, no over-elaboration, all appropriate quotations included . . . . 

Peter is typically correct; it was a relief to know that I book I was so enjoying had much to offer readers who knew the terrain by heart.

Early on in the book, Gelly chronicles a number of what he calls “the Armstrong moment” — that instantaneous conversion to jazz experienced by listeners and players.  (The late US pianist Larry Eanet wrote of the moment when some records by Louis and Earl Hines “hit” him “like Cupid’s arrow.”)

AN UNHOLY ROW gave me a literary version of “the Armstrong moment.”  I am now a Gelly convert, and want to read his other books.  I predict you will, too.

May your happiness increase!

A SPIKE MACKINTOSH POSTSCRIPT by CLARRIE HENLEY

Through the kindness of US recording engineer Johnny Maimone and UK journalist / guitarist Clarrie Henley, we have another in-person reminiscence of Ian Robert “Spike” Mackintosh by Clarrie:

I knew Spike fairly well.  Whenever I went to London which was fairly often in the seventies / eighties, Jack Hutton used to take me to the Codgers as an honorary country member.  (It was really The Old Codgers.) Cameron bought Spike a portable mini-fi which he used to take to the Drum and Monkey and we played jazz, imbibed a few and rabitted on. There was a piano there and sometimes we had live music.  

One year Spike was engaged as a solo artiste at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and he was a bit out water there as none of his mates made the trip. We saw him whenever we could and did our best to make him feel at home. He isn’t on many recordings.  I have an EP of him with Wally Fawkes’s Troglodytes and I think that’s about all. I’ll ask Dave Bennett if he has more.   

The thing about Spike was his enthusiasm, energy, wit and personality.   Everybody liked him.

He was a tank commander during the war and he went into battle with the radio blasting a Louis record. 

Cameron still pays for food and drink at an annual Spike Mackintosh bash in London.   Naturally, it is always well attended.

May your happiness increase!