Tag Archives: St. Louis Blues

“BECHET PARADES THE BLUES”: SIDNEY BECHET, VIC DICKENSON, DON DONALDSON, WILSON MYERS, WILBERT KIRK (December 9, 1943)

Good and hot, rare and fresh, a recent eBay purchase.

It’s immediately recognizable as ST. LOUIS BLUES, but it’s great fun no matter who got the composer royalties. (Whether there was some intended connection to Glenn Miller’s ST. LOUIS BLUES MARCH, recorded for V-Disc in late October, I don’t know.)

This extended performance was recorded for V-Disc on December 9, 1943.  It features Bechet, soprano saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Don Donaldson, piano; Ernest Myers, string bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums. Someday I could do a better transfer: maybe when the world is properly back on its axis. Whenever.  Vic and Sidney made a superb team and they gigged as a two-man front line, although in their record dates from 1941 to 1958, there was usually a trumpet player attempting to lead the band.  They were both instantly identifiable soloists but also the best intuitive ensemble players: hear how they hand off the lead here, supported by a fine rhythm section.  

Two other sides — AFTER YOU’VE GONE and BUGLE CALL RAG – OLE MISS were recorded and issued — each selection on one side of a different V-Disc.  But a fourth side was not issued at the time and is thus tantalizing.  It was assigned the matrix number of JB 331, and is called MEDLEY OF PARODIES, the parodies of current pop hits being DEAR MOM, TANGERINE, NAGASAKI.

Decades ago, David J. Weiner, who knows what a glass-based V-Disc acetate looks like, told me (or did I dream it?) that TANGERINE was a parody now called GASOLINE, because of wartime rationing, and that Vic sang it.  I can imagine how his opening phrase sounds.  Tom Lord lists the vocalist as Myers, but I have hopes of Vic. 

And this tiny mystery gets even better, at least to me.  I had thought that recording completely lost, but one copy at least survived, and was issued on a fourteen-CD set called SIDNEY BECHET: COMPLETE AMERICAN MASTERS (1931-1953), issued on the French “Universal” label as (F)533616-7.  But wait! There’s more!  The box set, issued in 2011, seems completely unavailable, but several sites advertising it offer the first sixty seconds of this performance, where Bechet, acting atypically like a jovial master of ceremonies bringing on a production number, introduces Myers to sing DEAR MOM: Myers begins it, the band chimes in, and the sample ends. 

If anyone has that set and can send me a digital copy of the MEDLEY OF PARODIES, I will create an appropriate reward: perhaps I have something here in my apartment-collection that would gratify the as-yet unidentified benefactor.  Find me at swingyoucats@gmail. com, and many thanks in advance!

And until that desire is fulfilled, let us keep on parading with Sidney, Vic, Don, Ernest, and Wilbert.

May your happiness increase!   

TRICKY SAM’S EXUBERANT SOUNDS (1940)

JOSEPH “TRICKY SAM” NANTON, 1904-46, thanks to Tohru Seya.

One of the great pleasures of having a blog Few jazz listeners would recognize is the ability to share music — often, new performances just created.  But I go back to the days of my adolescence where I had a small circle of like-minded friends who loved the music, and one of us could say, “Have you heard Ben Webster leaping in on Willie Bryant’s RIGMAROLE?”  “Hackett plays a wonderful solo on IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN (IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE).”  Allow me to share some joy with you, even if we are far away from each other.

Some of the great pleasures of my life have been those players with sharply individualistic sounds.  Think of trombonists: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Bennie Morton, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Harrison, Bill Harris, Trummy Young, J.C. Higginbotham, Miff Mole, Sandy Williams, and more.  And the much-missed fellow in the photograph above.  This high priest of sounds is a hero of mine.  He left us too young and he loyally refused to record with anyone except Ellington.  I don’t ordinarily celebrate the birthdays of musicians, here or in other neighborhoods, but February 1 was Mister Nanton’s 115th, and he deserves more attention than he gets.  He was influenced by the plunger work of Johnny Dunn, a trumpeter who is far more obscure because he chose a route that wasn’t Louis’, but Tricky Sam was obviously his own man, joyous, sly, and memorable.

Here he is with Ellington’s “Famous Orchestra” band on perhaps the most famous location recording ever: the November 7, 1940 dance date in Fargo, North Dakota, recorded by Jack Towers and Dick Burris on a portable disc cutter.  ST. LOUIS BLUES, unbuttoned and raucous, closed the evening, with solos by Ray Nance, cornet; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Ivie Anderson, vocal; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; and Tricky Sam — before the band combines BLACK AND TAN FANTASY and RHAPSODY IN BLUE to end.  (The complete band was Duke, Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, Wallace Jones, Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Otto Hardwick, Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Fred Guy, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries.  And the whole date has been issued on a 2-CD set.)

It says a good deal that Duke saved Tricky Sam for the last solo, the most dramatic.  Who, even Ben, could follow him?

You will notice — and it made me laugh aloud when I first heard it, perhaps fifty years ago, and it still does — that Tricky Sam leaps into his solo by playing the opening phrase of the 1937 WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK (Larry Morey and Frank Churchill) from the Disney SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.  How it pleases me to imagine Ellington’s men taking in an afternoon showing of that Disney classic!

Let no one say that Sonny Greer couldn’t swing, and swing the band.  To paraphrase Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD, “They had sounds then.”

And just on the Lesley Gore principle (“It’s my blog and I’ll post if I want to”) here’s a full-blown 2013 version of WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK by John Reynolds, guitar and whistling; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, clarinet — recorded at the 2013 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California . . . another stop on the 2019 JAZZ LIVES hot music among friends quest.  No trombone, but Joseph Nanton would have enjoyed it for its headlong verve:

May your happiness increase!

EASY SWING in ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN

Pianist / arranger / composer James Dapogny and trombonist Christopher Smith co-lead a hot band called PORK (ask them to explain when you get to Ann Arbor, Michigan) and my friend Laura Beth Wyman took her video camera to capture this hot band playing an Archie Bleyer arrangement of ST. LOUIS BLUES at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, on December 7, 2014.

In this performance, PORK has the authentic sound of a Thirties hot dance chart down just right — nothing tense, no rushing.  And the Dapogny-plus rhythm section interlude in the middle has only one thing wrong with it: it ends too soon:

PORK is Eddie Goodman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Mark Kieme, tenor and clarinet; Mike Jones, alto and clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, Justin Walter, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; James Dapogny, piano; Jordan Schug, string bass; Rod McDonald, guitar; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Thank you, PORK!  Thank you, dancers.  Thank you, Ms. Wyman.

May we have some more?

May your happiness increase! 

“PLAY IT TILL 2051!”

On the original Bluebird 78 of Earl Hines’ BOOGIE WOOGIE ON THE ST. LOUIS BLUES, one of the musicians shouts, “Play it till 1951!” which might, even in 1940, have seemed short-sighted.  1951 has come and gone, so might I suggest an updated shout, even though that due-date is a mere four decades away?  These thoughts are motivated by this piece of sheet music for sale on eBay:

I don’t expect to be around in 2051, but hope earnestly that the music Earl Hines made is still being accessed or downloaded from some computer storage cloud, somewhere.  Here’s what I have in mind:

“Don’t quit now, Jack!”

MOUND CITY BLUE BLOWERS: “NINE O’CLOCK FOLKS”

This Vitaphone short (circa 1931) is ten minutes long, and viewers who suffer from even mild impatience may want to fast-forward through the hillbilly jokes that take up the first four minutes: the man sitting on a box of eggs because his hen has wandered off, the local constable directing traffic (it’s another man and his cow).  Cinematic vaudeville at its finest and broadest, as those city slickers show how dumb the rubes are.

But things start to get hot when the trio from the local cafe, “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” (who are they, really?) sing a low-down melody, an eccentric dancer capers around the stage on clown shoes.  That would be intermitently hilarious vaudeville, but the jazz content would be low.  However, you can begin to hear Red McKenzie creating wailing phrases behind the dancer, as if he couldn’t contain himself.  Then, after some more labored banter, the trio-that-became-a quartet takes the stage for a ferocious ST. LOUIS BLUES — from left to right, there’s Red (blowing his comb wrapped in newspaper into his hat), Josh Billings whacking a suitcase with whiskbrooms and kicking it for bass-drum accents, Eddie Condon and Jack Bland, playing what appear to be Vega lutes.

Josh Billings, by the way, is credited with one of the great wry aphorisms of the last century.  Someone is supposed to have been complaining about how things were in what would later be called the Great Depression.  “Will it ever get better?” lamented the nameless interlocutor.  Billings said thoughtfully, “Better times are coming . . . now and then.”

The rocking interlude is over too soon, and we descend into a drunken-dog act . . .  I find it weirdly significant that Whitey the dog gets star billing, but no matter.  How else would we have seen the Mound City Blue Blowers?  Thanks to Vitaphone, to Roy Mack, the director, to TCM, to Dailymotion, and others.

And now, ladies and gentlemen . . . !