Tag Archives: Stan Getz

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

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.

May your happiness increase!

“KEEP SEARCHING”: EPHIE RESNICK, CONTINUED (August 1, 2020)

First, some music.  I’m told it speaks louder than words.  Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:

and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:

My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention.  Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me.  I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more.  It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.

I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops.  So I thought that was a great thing.  With Chas, we played almost every week.  We played clubs all over the country.  We did some festivals, and we did a record.  And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record.  I don’t have a copy.  Maybe I can ask him for one.  And that’s that.

I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor.  The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective.  It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.

I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too.  That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.

I studied with Lennie Tristano.  I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff.  He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students.  I never worked with him, but he played with us.  The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible.  Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself.  So you have to keep searching.  That was an important experience for me, I loved that.

The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin.  I worked a lot for Lester Lanin.  And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name.  Both of them were horrible people.  Just absolutely horrible.  But they worked a lot.  Meyer Davis, he was busy.  He worked two jobs every day.  So he bought an ambulance.  After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time.  I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting.  About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people.  He was very good.

One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody.  And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again.  So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes.  He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.

I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him.  He did two of those things — big, splashy things.  FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band.  I was on the one with the big band.  He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake.  Everything was perfection.  Absolute perfection.

In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith.  We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one.  He was crazy.  He was wonderful.

I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims.  Buddy was mean.  Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten.  He exuded evilness, or something.  He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up.  He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up.  Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early?  Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.”  Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play.  The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational.  He could do anything.  He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks.  He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it.  So he was positively a genius of some sort.  Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people.  And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards.  It was fun.  Beautiful, easy.

I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk?  I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us.  He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special.  He was wonderful.  And it was Thelonious Monk.  And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me.  He was willing to hear.

Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger.  He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing.  Nobody played like him.  He was wonderful.

I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot. 

Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time.  ALL of the time.  But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill.  But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop.  He’d call it a lambchop.  He knew I was Jewish.  So I thought that was nice.  He was a funny man.  And for what he did, he was the best.  His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need.  He was wonderful in his own way of playing.  George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk.  Then he was a terrible person.

I went down to see Bunk Johnson.  I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot.  I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music.  He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places.  And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that.  Beautiful.  And there were crowds every night when he was there.  Dancers.  It was an exciting time.

I loved playing with Max Kaminsky.  I worked a lot with him, for years.  He was a simple player, but he kept the time.  His time was great.  I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records.  But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him.  His wife was wonderful.  I loved her.  I played with her a couple of times, with him.  She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.

I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE.  In the back there are signatures.  Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him.  And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen.  I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door.  I didn’t do that.

[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.]  Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with.  When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me.  They all were above me.  Every one of them was above me.

Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz  — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK.  (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)

Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.

Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world.  And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor.  In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’  He was a dentist.  And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’  When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”

I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him.  At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful.  I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:

I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.

May your happiness increase!

 

THE TREASURE CHEST REOPENS, or HOLY RELICS, CONTINUED

Less than a week ago, I published a post here, marveling at the riches made available in an eBay auction by “jgautographs” which have been all bought up now, including this glorious relic. 

and this:

I don’t know how much Lester’s signature fetched at the end of the bidding, but Mr. Page’s (with the telltale apostrophe, another mark of authenticity) sold for $147.50, which says there is an enlightened and eager audience out there.  That auction offered more than 200 items, and I would have thought the coffers were empty.

Now, the gracious folks as “jgautographs” have offered another seventy items for bid.  I can say “gracious with certainty,” because I’ve had a conversation with the head benefactor.

This is the eBay link, for those who want to get in line early.  The new listing has only one item held over from the past sale, and it is full of riches (including blues luminaries).  I’ll mention only a portion: Ellington, Brubeck, Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Sippie Wallace, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Jay McShann, Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Woods, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Benny Carter, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Charlie Ventura, Teddy Wilson, Eubie Blake, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Erroll Garner, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins — you can explore these delights for yourself, and if you have disposable income and wall space, some treasure might be yours.  Those whose aesthetic scope is larger than mine will also see signatures of Chick Corea, Archie Shepp, and Keith Jarrett among others . . .

For now, I will offer only five Ellingtonians.  And as David Weiner pointed out to me years ago, a sloppy signature is more likely to be authentic, since musicians don’t have desks to sit at after gigs.

Cootie:

Rex:

Cat:

Paul:

Johnny:

Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.

May your happiness increase!

HAMP AND DOC: LYNN “DOC” SKINNER and the LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL: A MEMOIR (by DR. LYNN J. “DOC” SKINNER as told to ALAN JAY SOLAN)

News flash: I started to review this seriously entertaining book a few months ago, lent it to a friend who promised to return it after a weekend, then didn’t . . . so this review is, with apologies, late.  But I offer this anecdote to show I am not the only person who found the book irresistible.

Some books, full of invaluable information, are austere and forbidding.  “Do you dare to approach, ignorant mortal?  Are you worthy of opening my pages?  Don’t even think of removing my dust jacket.”  Other books, equally worthy or perhaps more so, are casual and welcoming.  Reading them is like having a very relaxed old friend over to your house for a meal, and the friend — never boring — is a treasure chest of pleasing stories you’ve never heard before.

HAMP AND DOC is a marvelous example of the second kind of book.  I’ve said it often, but books that tell me new stories are enticing reading, as are books that are narrated by the participants.  And, I never thought of it as a criteria, but if a book has a great deal of affection in it — in this case, someone’s hugging or getting hugged every few pages — that, too, is a winner.

Lionel Hampton is deservedly well known, not only for his long career, his many talents, his ebullient musicianship, the hundreds of musicians whose lives he touched — so this book has a kind of anchor in its story of Hamp’s last years, from 1984 to 2002, years full of playing and energetic involvement in the lives of everyone he encountered.

Lynn “Doc” Skinner would not be well known, I think, outside of Idaho, but he also has touched many lives — as a musician, multi-instrumentalist and composer, a music educator, a festival organizer, an ingenious and kind man never at a loss for an idea, and ultimately as a friend to hundreds, perhaps thousands — some of them famous, others not known to us.  Born in 1940, he is still with us, and HAMP AND DOC is his engaging story as well.

Engaging stories are at the heart of this affectionate, vivid book, and the ones that I find memorable reveal character.  Many know that in 1997, a fire in Hamp’s New York apartment destroyed everything he had.  He was 88, had had two strokes, and was sitting outside his apartment on the sidewalk in a wheelchair, clad in pajamas and robe, having been helped outside by two attendants.  What you won’t know is this telling anecdote.  Watching the fire from the street, Hamp calls Doc, who knows nothing of what is going on, and asks him, “Doc, are you okay?” and getting an answer in the affirmative, then tells him about the fire.

Of course, not everyone in this book is a saint (although most of the cast of characters are eminently nice): Doc tells the story of Sarah Vaughan refusing to get in the student’s four-door sedan that is picking her up from the airport because her contract specifies a limousine, and, later, refusing to go on because she does not have her $10,000 fee (cash) in her hand.  Other sharp and tender vignettes have Stan Getz, Al Grey, Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Claudio Roditi, Clint Eastwood, Dizzy Gillespie, or Bill Charlap at the center.  But the affectionate relationship between Doc and Hamp is the book’s backbone, and the wonderful things that resulted — the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival (the first jazz festival aimed at students, the first one named for a musician, the first one named for an African-American) and later, the Lionel Hampton School of Music.

The book is free from ideological bias or theorizing — in that regard it is blissfully old-fashioned, but it is as if we are privileged to spend some delightful afternoons with Doc as he shares his crystal-clear recollections reaching back to his childhood and forward into the present.  Like Hamp, he comes across clearly, as a man with a purpose, devoid of artifice or meanness.  He is ambitious, but his ambition is for the music alone and what it can do to reach others.

It’s a welcoming collection of lovely stories, well-edited, with beautiful photographs, many in color, and a lively design overall.  Not incidentally, the book benefits hugely from the unseen talents of Alan Jay Solan, the man to whom Doc told his stories.  The book works wonderfully as a book — not simply as a collection of associated memories — because of Solan.

Any jazz fan who loves Lionel Hampton, who feels good after reading stories where kind people treat each other kindly, or who wants to see lovely candid photographs will love this book.

Here‘s a link to Inkwater Press, although I am sure that the book is available in many other places (there’s a Kindle edition also).

And in case you have done the unthinkable and taken Hamp for granted, here are two pieces of evidence to prove that a truly bad idea.

Hamp and a stellar cast of Ellingtonian friends (Carney, Hodges, Cootie) and Jess Stacy in 1937:

Fifty years later, on the David Letterman Show:

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS, CONTINUED (July 8, 2017)

Our good fortune continues.  “Tell us a story, Dan?” we ask, and he kindly obliges.  And his stories have the virtue of being candid, genuine, and they are never to show himself off.  A rare fellow, that Mister Morgenstern is.

Here are a few more segments from my July 2017 interlude with Dan. In the first, he recalls the great clarinetist, improviser, and man Frank Chace, with glances at Bob Wright, Wayne Jones, Harriet Choice, Bill Priestley, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Russell, Nick’s, Louis Prima, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, and Zutty Singleton:

Here, Dan speaks of Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Charles Edward Smith — with stories about George Wein, Stan Getz, Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet:

and a little more, about “jazz critics,” including Larry Kart, Stanley Dance, Helen Oakley Dance, and a little loving comment about Bunny Berigan:

If the creeks don’t rise, Dan and I will meet again this month.  And this time I hope we will get to talk of Cecil Scott and other luminaries, memorable in their own ways.

May your happiness increase!

THE WARM SOUNDS OF BILL NAPIER (1926-2003)

Clarinetist Bill Napier might be one of the finest musicians that few people outside of California have ever heard, or heard of.  Marc Caparone says, “I only played music with him twice, but he was a god, a very quiet man who didn’t get much publicity but was always superb.”  Leon Oakley remembers him as a “warm, creative player.”  Hal Smith told me that Bill cared about the music more than “traditional” ways of playing a chorus.

Almost all of the recordings Bill made, and the live performances captured outside of the studio have him in the middle of six or seven-piece units.  What I now can share with you here is intimate, touching music, with Bill the solo horn in a congenial trio.

The personnel of these live recordings is Napier, clarinet; Larry Scala, banjo; Robbie Schlosser, string bass.  They were recorded on August 8, 1994, outdoors at Stanford University, by Dr. Arthur Schawlow, who won the Nobel Prize (with others) for his work on the laser beam.  Dr. Schawlow not only liked jazz, but was an early adopter of high-tech: Larry says that he recorded these performances on a digital recorder, the first one he had ever seen.

Here are five delicious chamber performances, beginning with ALL MY LIFE.

ST. LOUIS BLUES:

I’M CONFESSIN’:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

IF I HAD YOU:

and a masterpiece:

Napier’s sound comes in the ear like honey.  He never plays a superfluous note; he honors the melody but in the most gentle supple way.  It is rather as if he were leaning forward, softly saying something heartfelt that was important to him and that he knew would uplift you.  Beauty and swing without affectation.

Before we move on to precious oral history, a few words about one of the other members of this trio.  After you have bathed in the liquid gold of Napier’s sound, listen once again to the very relaxed and gracious banjo playing of Larry Scala. Like Napier, he understands melodic lines (while keeping a flexible rhythm going and using harmonies that add but never distract).  Banjos in the wrong hands can scare some of us, but Larry is a real artist, and his sound is a pleasure to listen to.  (You can find examples of his superb guitar work elsewhere on this blog.) And this post exists because of his generosity, for he has provided the source material, and Larry’s gift to us is a great one.  Music to dance to; music to dream by.

I asked California jazz eminences for memories of Napier, and this is some of what people remembered.  Bill was obviously A Character, but everyone I asked was eager to praise him, and you’ve heard why.

From Hal Smith: I was going through tapes in the archive of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation. One tape had several of the bands which performed at the Clancy Hayes benefit at Earthquake McGoon’s in May of 1970. Napier led a band for the occasion. I heard him get onstage, walk to the mic and say “Here we are!” Then, a couple of seconds later, “Where ARE we?”

By the way, Bill’s real name was James William Asbury.  I’m not sure how it got changed to “Bill Napier.”  When he would tell stories about his youth, or time in the Army, he always referred to himself as “little Jimmy Asbury.”

Bill told me about the clarinetists he admired, including Jimmie Noone and Jimmy Dorsey. He also liked Albert Nicholas and went to hear him at Club Hangover in San Francisco. He asked to sit in, but was turned down. As he described it, “I asked Albert Nicholas if he needed any help and he said he didn’t think so.”

Bill was the original clarinetist with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band. He left the group following Jack Sohmer’s mean-spirited review of Schulz’s CD which was published in The Mississippi Rag. After that, whenever Schulz would ask if Bill was available to play a gig, Bill would say, “No. Jack Sohmer may be in the audience.”  Before he left the Schulz band, we played a concert at Filoli Mansion outside San Francisco. M.C. Bud Spangler asked each musician to explain why they play music for a living. There was a wide range of responses, but Bill’s was the best: “Well, I have to pay my taxes!”

From Clint Baker:  Bill Napier was a bit of a prodigy, as a teenager he was playing at the Dawn Club as part of a young band that was one of the substitute bands for the wartime Yerba Buena Jazz Band.  By the late 40’s he was working with Wingy Manone in San Francisco. He went on to have a couple of stints with the Turk Murphy band and also with Bob Scobey, a band for which he was better suited for sure. He later worked with all the better bands around here; he was not all that interested in playing music on the road and kept close to home for the most part after the Fifties.

I encountered him many times when I was coming up.  He was always the consummate sideman, and always played with great imagination; he had the most amazing tone, liquid would best describe his.  But he NEVER ran out of ideas, he was a wellspring of original musical thought. If he did fall back on a device such as quote, it was always the most obtuse thing one could come up with.

Bill was one of the only players I ever played with who perfectly combined the elements of swing clarinet and New Orleans style clarinet; he all at once sounded like Goodman or Shaw or Simeon or Bigard.  He was hip to all of it and could combine all of the musical DNA of those styles in to his own rich sound. I remember speaking with him about to old masters and he told Simeon was one of his main favorites.  BUT he was truly his own man with the richest of musical imaginations.  I was always honored to work with him, and wish I had had more chances, but the times I did, I cherish. You knew when you were on the bandstand with him you were in the presence of greatness.  Bill was a master.

From Paul Mehling: I worked with him for nearly thirty years in a trio of bass, guitar, and clarinet, and he is on two of our CDs.  He was very shy, quiet, and private. He loved his two (or more?) cats. He and his wife would take the two cats camping and one year when it was time to leave they couldn’t find one of their cats. They called and called but feared he’d been abducted or eaten so they drove home very sad. Next year, they went camping again, same spot/campground. Guess who showed up!  They were overjoyed.  He never really believed how much I loved his playing and all I aspired to at that time was to be GOOD ENOUGH TO SHINE HIS SHOES (musically). I used to try to get into his head during each song and try to give him the kind of rhythm that he’d be most comfortable with.

I was 18 when I first played a full gig with him, but I first met him at the Alameda County Fair when I was 16, long-haired, and didn’t know anything about music but had enough gumption to drag my acoustic guitar into the fairgrounds and find those guys- Lueder Ohlwein, banjo; maybe Ev Farey, trumpet; for sure Bob Mielke, trombone, was there and probably Bill Carrol on bass.  They said Do you know any songs?” I said “Sure, whaddabout Avalon and I Got Rhythm,” and probably one other song.  I played, they liked it, and a few years later Napier remembered me!

He and I bonded early on over comedy. He liked how often I quoted Groucho. We had a shared love for bad puns:
Napier: “Let’s play the suspenders song.”
Me: “ What song is that?”
Napier: “It all depends on you.”
Me: “What?”
Napier : “It hold de pants on you.”

Napier: “You like to golf?”
Me: “Uh, no. You?”
Napier: “No, I never wanted to make my balls soar.”

We’d come up with all manner of re-titling songs to keep us from feeling bad about playing background music and getting almost zero love from “audiences.”

When the Bob Scobey band did a two-year stint in Chicago, Benny Goodman used to show up just to dig on Napier’s playing (which sounded like Goodman/Bigard/Noone!

One thing for sure: the guy never did NOT swing. Never. Even a song he didn’t know. In fact, and more curious was that I could throw all kinds of (gypsy) chord substitutions at him (I didn’t know any better, I thought that’s what jazz musicians did: reharmonize everything) and he never, EVER said “No” or so much as cast an evil eye in my direction. I think the years he played with Bill Erickson at Pier 23 were his favorite years.  He didn’t speak much of Erickson, but I could just tell.

Oh, here’s the BEST story. I just remembered: we were at a swanky Sunday brunch on the Stanford Campus, near that big Stanford Mall with Bloomingdales and other stores.  We would often try to engage diners by chatting and asking if they had a request. Most people wanted to hear something from CATS (ugh). Or they wanted to hear In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.  So we went up to this table, and there’s a guy there, of a certain age. With an attractive woman half his age.  One of us said, “What would you like to hear?”
Man: “ I want to you to play “It Had To Be You” but not fast, about here- ….”(snaps his fingers indicating a medium slow tempo)
Me, aside to Napier: “Why don’t you ask MR. CONDUCTOR what KEY he’d like to SING it in?”
Napier, whispering to me: “I think MR. CONDUCTOR is MR. Getz.”
Boy, did I feel stupid: Stan Getz, doing a residency at Stanford, one of Napier’s heroes.

Obviously, a man well-loved and well-remembered.

I have foregone the usual biography of Bill, preferring to concentrate on the music for its own sake.  But here is a lovely detailed sketch of his life — unfortunately, it’s his obituary, and here is another week’s worth of rare music — Napier with bands — provided thanks to Dave Radlauer.  There are more trio performances, also.

Now, go back and listen to Napier play.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS FIFTY-SECOND STREET, SIDNEY BECHET, DICK WELLSTOOD, KENNY DAVERN, ALONZO LEVISTER, KANSAS FIELDS, and MORE (April 21, 2017)

Here is another unique interlude generously offered to us by Dan Morgenstern. I’ve posted earlier segments here and here — with immense pleasure.

In pursuit of the fine surprising stories that have delighted us so, I’d asked Dan to recall his experiences on Fifty-Second Street, slightly after that street’s legendary height . . . and here’s what he recalled, with portraits of Sidney Bechet, Alonzo Levister, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood among others.

I will have the mental-emotional image of a set-long Bechet / Dickenson blues forever.  And since Dan was close to both Kenny and Dick, here’s a wonderful performance, little-known, recorded by the very gracious Joe Shepherd at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978. I WANT TO BE HAPPY, with Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Spiegel Willcox, Spencer Clark, Dick Wellstood, Marty Grosz, Van Perry, Tony Di Nicola.

The video quality is a little fuzzy, but the music is memorable and more.  And thank you, Dan, for insights and generosities.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS STAN GETZ (March 3, 2017)

This is the sixth part of a series of video-interviews the irreplaceable Dan Morgenstern sat for on the afternoon of Friday, March 3, 2017.  The previous five parts can be found here.

In those segments, Dan shares remarkable stories about the people he’s heard and met and become close with: everyone, including Lester Young, Jimmy Rowles, Tony Fruscella, Tommy Benford, Brew Moore, John Carisi, Nat Lorber, Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Rushing, and two dozen more.

Here he speaks lovingly of the magnificent Stan Getz — including an anecdote of one way to deal with noisy spectators at a jazz club:

I would have you notice — as well as Dan’s eye for the telling detail (that quality that makes great storytellers as well as novelists) — that even his retelling of incidents that might be painful is shot through with kindness.  These interviews are not a settling of scores; rather, they are graceful homages to the giants and friends he has known — and Dan continues to make friends in 2017.

Here, for those who have other thoughts about Stan, a sweet yet little-known 1954 performance by him, Jimmy, Bob Whitlock, and Max Roach, of the early-Thirties song, DOWN BY THE SYCAMORE TREE:

Dan refers to Stan’s PARKER 51:

and one of Stan’s duets with Kenny Barron at the end of his life:

I look forward to a second set of interviews.  Dan has hinted that he has tales of Cecil Scott.  Who could resist such knowledge?

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part One: March 3, 2017)

On Friday, March 3, 2017, I had the immense honor of visiting Dan Morgenstern at his home on the Upper West Side of New York City.  I brought my video camera.  Dan and I sat in his living room and he graciously talked about the wonderful people he has encountered.  I am writing this simply, without adjectives, because I truly don’t know how to convey the pleasure of being able to ask this delightful man questions about his friends and heroes.  Our heroes, too.

Dan offered telling portraits of Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, Tony Fruscella, Brew Moore, Lee Wiley, Donald Lambert, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Dick Wilson,Olivia de Havilland, Andy Kirk, Ben Webster, Curly Howard, Bud Powell, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Rushing, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Joe Thomas, Jimmy Rowles, Buster Bailey, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, and more.

My premise, which Dan had approved of, was that I would ask him about people, “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” in the DOWN BEAT phrase, who didn’t get the attention they deserve.  I thought it best to speak of musicians who have moved on, because if the conversation was about the living (who are also deserving of recognition!) someone’s feelings might be hurt by being left out.

We spent more than four hours together, and the cliche that the “time just flew” is appropriate.  I recorded twelve segments, and present the first three here. Look for the others soon.  If you’ve never heard or seen Dan in person, you will soon delight in his enthusiasm, wit, sharp recollection of details — the kind of telling details that a novelist would envy — and graciousness.  And he was seriously pleased to be able to tell true first-hand stories to you — this audience of people who know who Hot Lips Page is.

and!

and!

We have another afternoon session planned, with a list of  people we did not talk about the first time.  As I say, I have kept my language restrained for fear of gushing, but we are blessed to have such a generous wise unaffected fellow in our midst.  Of course he has great material to share with us, but he is a magnificent storyteller.  And for those who savor such details: Dan is 87.  Amazing, no?

May your happiness increase!

WARM AND SWINGING: AN EVENING WITH BILL CROW and FLIP PETERS (PROJECT 142: January 28, 2016)

BILL CROW

On January 28, 2016, I had the rare privilege of seeing / hearing / recording a duo session (under the aegis of project142) featuring the eminent Bill Crow — at 88 still a peerless string bassist, engaging raconteur, and surprisingly effective singer — and his friend and colleague, guitarist / singer Flip Peters.  (Thanks to Scot Albertson for making this all possible!)

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Here, in six parts, is that evening, one I won’t ever forget for swing, elegance, humor, feeling, and the joy of being alive, the joy of playing music.  And here is what I posted about the evening as prelude — don’t miss Flip’s beautiful words about Bill.

Bill describes his childhood immersion with music — all the way up to hearing Nat Cole for the first time:

Bill’s sings and plays SWEET LORRAINE for Nat Cole; his arrival in New York, memories of Birdland, Lester Young and Jo Jones, of Charlie Parker and Stan Getz:

More about Stan Getz, Claude Thornhill, Terry Gibbs, and the Detroit players: Billy Mitchell, Paul Chambers, Curtis Fuller (with a wicked cameo by Miles Davis) — then Bill and Flip play YARDBIRD SUITE:

Working with Marian McPartland and with Gerry Mulligan, and a swinging vocal from Flip on NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT:

Studying with Fred Zimmerman, a concert with Duke Ellington, then (in tribute to Duke) ROSE ROOM / IN A MELLOTONE:

Bill on his writing career, tales of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and a touching bonus, his vocal rendition of a forgotten 1936 swing tune, SING, BABY, SING:

I hope some person or organization, seeing these videos, says, “Let’s have Bill and Flip spend an evening with us!”  You know — for sure — that they have more music to offer and certainly more stories.  And their rich musical intimacy is wondrous.  To learn more about Bill, visit www.billcrowbass.com/.  To find out about booking the duo, contact Flip at flippeters@gmail.com or call him at 973-809-7149.  I hope to be able to attend the duo’s next recital: watch the videos and you will know why, quickly.

May your happiness increase!

HE’S JUST OUR BILL: AN EVENING WITH BILL CROW and FLIP PETERS (January 28, 2016)

BILL CROW

Bill Crow is one of the finest jazz string bassists ever.  But don’t take my word for it — hear his recordings with Marian McPartland, Jo Jones, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Al Haig, Jimmy Raney, Hank Jones, Jimmy McPartland, Manny Albam, Art  Farmer, Annie Ross, Jimmy Cleveland, Mose Allison, Benny Goodman, Cliff Leeman, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Morello, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Jackie and Roy, Bob Wilber, Ruby Braff, Eddie Bert, Joe Cohn, Mark Shane, Jay McShann, Al Grey, Barbara Lea, Claude Williamson, Spike Robinson, and two dozen others.

Here’s Bill, vocalizing and playing, with guitarist Flip Peters on SWEET LORRAINE:

And if you notice that many of the names on that list are no longer active, don’t make Bill out to be a museum piece.  I’ve heard him swing out lyrically with Marty Napoleon and Ray Mosca; I’ve heard him lift the room when he sat in with the EarRegulars, and he plays just as beautifully on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE as he does on a more intricate modern piece.

Bill Crow - From Birdland to Broadway

Bill is also a splendid raconteur — someone who not only has a million stories, but knows how to tell them and makes the experience enjoyable.  You should know of his book JAZZ ANECDOTES, which grew into a second volume, and his FROM BIRDLAND TO BROADWAY, a charmingly casual but never meandering autobiography.  (Like  his colleague and friend Milt Hinton, Bill is also a wonderful photographer.)

And did I mention that Bill recently turned 88?

I don’t know which of these three offerings of evidence should take precedence, but put them all together and they are excellent reasons to join in the musical pleasures offered this Thursday, January 28, 2016 — details below:

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To reiterate, thanks to www.project142.org

Thurs. – Jan. 28, 2016 – 8:00pm – 9:30 pm. – The DiMenna Center for Classical Music – NYC – Bill Crow Project 142 Concert with Flip Peters – 450 West 37th St. (between 9th & 10th Aves.) – Benzaquen Hall (elevator to 1st Floor) – Doors open @ 7:30p. – $15.00 Concert Charge @ door.

I asked the delightful guitarist / singer Flip Peters to speak about his relationship with Bill:

I first became aware of Bill Crow in the early 1960s when as a young jazz fan I heard him with Gerry Mulligan. I remember around that time reading a quip in Down Beat about bass players with bird names, Bill Crow, Gary Peacock, and Steve Swallow.

In the early 1980s, I began to read Bill’s column, “The Band Room,” in the Local 802 paper, Allegro. That column is a highlight and I turn to it first each month when I get that paper. I received a copy of his Jazz Anecdotes as a Christmas present a few years back and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I first played gigs with Bill in 2014. The first one we played on together was a Gatsby-themed party with Marti Sweet’s Sweet Music (www.sweetmusic.us). On that gig Bill doubled on bass and tuba and I was struck by his mastery of the tuba. After that we played private party gigs and some Dixieland gigs with trumpeter Tom Keegan. Then in 2015, I played on gigs with Bill in Rio Clemente’s band (www.rioclemente.com). On one of those gigs, Bill asked me to join him at Shanghai Jazz where he had been hired to speak and play for the Jersey Jazz Society. After that gig I decided that it would be a good idea to present this to a wider audience. Anyone who loves jazz would be fascinated to hear Bill recount some of his many stories, and of course to hear him play.

I am honored and thrilled to play music with Bill. He is a rare person and musician. Not only is he a virtuoso on his instruments but he is a true gentleman. When you are in his presence you can’t help but feel comfortable. When he relates his experiences, everyone present feels as though they are sharing those moments with him. And he continues to play at an extremely high level. He has truly stayed at the top of his game for many years. He maintains a busy playing schedule and plays with the energy of a young musician who possesses the experience of an elder statesman.

You can find out more about Bill at his website but I politely urge you to put the phone down, back away from the computer, and join us on Thursday night to hear Bill and Flip, in music and story.  Evenings like this are rare.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN, WRITER

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Pianist Hod O’Brien is a master of melodic improvisations.  If you missed his July 2015 gig at Mezzrow with bassist Ray Drummond, the evidence is here.

But here’s the beautiful part.  Some jazz musicians keep words at a distance and their expressiveness comes out through the keyboard, the brass tubing, and so on.  But Hod has written a pointed, light-hearted memoir that operates the way he plays.  His words seem simple, his constructions are never ornate, but he gets to the heart of things and leaves the reader enlightened, renewed.

HOD BOOK

The first thing to say about this book is how pleased I am to read a book by someone who, like Hod, has been an active part of jazz for six decades.  It’s not “as told to,” nor is it embellished by a jazz scholar as a posthumous tribute.  Here is part of  Hod’s preface, which reveals much about his character:

“This book is not intended to be a strictly biographical text, but, rather a collection of funny, little incidents and stories I’ve witnessed and heard along my way, on my path as a freelance jazz musician over the past 60 years of my professional life.

It’s intended mostly for fans of mine, whomever and wherever you all are, and fellow musicians, who might be interested in hearing a little bit more about me from another perspective, rather than from just my music and recordings alone. . . . The jazz community is a small, but hip part of the world, of which I’m happy and proud to be a member, and to whom I wish to express my deep gratitude — to those of you in it and interested in my work.”

I was immediately struck by Hod’s self-description as “happy and proud,” and the book bears him out.  “Proud” doesn’t mean immodest — in fact, Hod constantly seems delighted and amazed at the musicians he’s gotten to play with, but his happiness is a great and reassuring undercurrent in the book.  (When was the last time you met someone deeply nourished by his or her work?  Hod is that person.)

His  book moves quickly: at the start he is a child picking out one-finger melodies on the piano, learning boogie-woogie, hearing JATP and bebop recordings; a few pages later it is 1955 and he filling in for Randy Weston at a gig in Massachusetts, hearing Pepper Adams, getting threatened by Charles Mingus, meeting and playing with Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer.  Oscar Pettiford (called “Pet” by Thad Jones) gets a longer portrait.  The O.P. portrait is so good that I won’t spoil it, but it has cameo appearances by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe Jones.  In case you are realizing that Hod has managed to play with or hear or meet many jazz luminaries in the past sixty years, that alone is reason to buy the book.  There’s J.R. Monterose and a defective piano, a compromised Wilbur Ware, friendliness from Max Roach and Arthur Taylor.

The book (and Hod’s life) takes a surprising turn with Hod losing interest in his jazz career, studying with Charles Wuorinen, and delving into physics, higher mathematics, and early computer programming.  But a reunion with his old friend Roswell Rudd moves him back to performance and the club scene.

Interruption: for those of you who can only read about doomed heroic figures, victims, or the chronically self-destructive, this is not such a book.  Hod has setbacks but makes friends and makes music; he marries the fine singer Stephanie Nakasian, and they remain happily married, with a singer in the family, daughter Veronica Swift (born in 1994) — who just won second place in the Thelonious Monk jazz competition.  Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative.

Hod’s experiences as a clubowner are somewhere between surreal, hilarious, and sad — but his reminiscences of Sonny Greer (and a birthday gift), Joe Puma, Chuck Wayne, Al Haig, Stan Getz, and the little East Side club called Gregory’s (which I remember although I didn’t see Hod there).  There’s  Hod’s playing a set with Dizzy, Ornette, Ed Blackwell, and Teddy Kotick . . . and much more, including more than fifty photographs, a discography, and a list of Hod’s compositions: very nicely done at 122 pages.

You can buy it here — and you can also find out more about Hod . . . such as his return to Mezzrow on March 18-19, 2016. But until then, you can entertain yourself with a copy of HAVE PIANO . . . WILL SWING! — a book that surely lives up to its title.

May your happiness increase!

“HAVE YOU TRIED THE ELEPHANT BEER?”: INSPIRED STORIES: “JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS,” by MONK ROWE with ROMY BRITELL

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Monk Rowe is a jazz musician — saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger — and he has a day gig at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, as the  Joe Williams Director of the Filius Jazz Archive there.  The Archive will be twenty-one in 2016, and it is indeed remarkably adult.

So far, Monk has conducted video interviews with more than 325 musicians, ranging from the great forbears (Doc Cheatham, Eddie Bert, Kenny Davern, Jerry Jerome, Ray Conniff, Joe Williams, Milt Hinton) to the living legends of the present and future (Nicki Parrott, Kidd Jordan, Sherrie Maricle, Bill Charlap, Holly Hofmann, Maria Schneider).  And excerpts from those interviews, thematically and intelligently arranged, now form a compact yet impressive book (with a brief foreword by jazz eminence Dan Morgenstern) whose title is above.

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A friend at Hamilton sent me a copy of the book some weeks back, and I have been slow to write about it — for two reasons.  One, the semester got in the way, unforgivably, and two, I was often making notes and laughing so hard that I couldn’t read much at a sitting.  But my instant recommendation is BUY IT.  So those of you who want to skip the evidence can zoom to the bottom of this post. Others can linger.

A brief prelude.  I am immensely in favor of oral history although it cannot replace the best analysis or aesthetic criticism.  I wouldn’t give up Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins, Anthony Barnett, Frank Buchmann-Moller, Manfred Selchow, or John Chilton . . . the list goes on and I know I am leaving two dozen worthy writers out.  But what wouldn’t we give for a ten-minute interview with Tony Fruscella, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Harrison, Herschel Evans, Eddie Lang, Jimmy Blanton, or Buster Bailey?  True, some musicians were and are shy or not always able to articulate much about the music, but others — as we know — are born raconteurs, sharp observers, comedians, anthropologists.  Their stories, no matter how brief, are precious.  Two pages by Clark Terry where he speaks of being beaten by Caucasians because he was a “Nigerian” while in Mississippi — and then being rescued by another group of Caucasians — say more about race relations in the United States than twenty hours of PBS footage could ever do.

The material is organized thematically, enabling the reader to hear, for instance, stories of life on the road from Kenny Davern, Lanny Morgan, and Phil Woods. Then there are sharp observations — one can almost hear the rimshot that follows.  Dave Pell calls Stan Getz “the greatest dressing room player that ever lived.”  Stan Kenton stops his band from swinging too much and says, “This is not Basie.  This is Stan Kenton.”  Bobby Rosengarden talks about Toscanini, Joe Wilder about punctuality, Dick Hyman and Bucky Pizzarelli about life in the recording studio.  Keter Betts, as a high-school student, is bought lunch by Milt Hinton; Jean Bach explains the Ellington habit of “seagulling”; Sherrie Maricle recalls her metal clarinet.  Dan Barrett gives advice to young musicians.  Randy Sandke talks about the perils of thinking.  Karl Berger talks about his conducting; Kidd Jordan deconstructs a song’s title.  And there’s a historical perspective covering nearly a century: we hear Doc Cheatham talk about Ma Rainey, then Jerry Jerome describe the first Glenn Miller band — all the way up to the present.

It’s an enthralling book.  And since Monk Rowe is a professional musician, his interludes and commentary are more than useful; his questions are on the mark. Other writers put themselves into the dialogue merely to say, “Well, Dizzy always used to say to me,” but Monk is a gracious interpreter rather than a narcissist.

To find out the story of the elephant beer and the priceless answer, visit Monk’s JAZZ BACKSTORY blog here  and scroll down to the bottom of the page.  Then you can read the rest of Phil Woods’ words and — by the way — find out exactly what Dizzy Gillespie said when presented with the key to the city of Syracuse, New York.

JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS is available here through Amazon.  And the proceeds from the book support the Archives.

NEWS FLASH: Monk is going to be teaching a free online course on jazz, starting February 2, 2016: details here.

May your happiness increase!

JUDY WEXLER SINGS, AND WE ARE GLAD

I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, or that the cosmos is a series of accidents, some dreadful, some blissful.  But I can report on a happy encounter at the always-rewarding jazz club Mezzrow on West Tenth Street earlier this summer, when a nicely-dressed cheerful couple sat down next to me.  We began to speak (like my late father, I am not reticent when the mood seems right) and I met Judy and Alan Wexler.  I’d not encountered Judy in my California travels, but she told me she was a jazz singer; soon this CD arrived in the mail: JUDY WEXLER

I wouldn’t be writing these words were I not seriously impressed.

WHAT I SEE isn’t a brand-new disc: Judy and her wonderful musicians recorded it in 2013, but all that means is that I came late to the party.  (It’s her third disc for JazzedMedia, with good sound and liner notes.)  Her instrumental crew is Jeff Colella, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar, ukulele; Chris Colangelo, string bass; Steve Hass, drums; Ron Stout, flugelhorn, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, bass clarinet, also flute; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Billy Hulting, percussion.

The songs were not all familiar to me, but I was pleased and impressed with the breadth of Judy’s repertoire and the light-hearted conviction she brings to her material: a few classics associated with Louis, Billie, and Blossom, alongside lesser-known delights by King Pleasure (his lyrics to a Stan Getz solo), Benny Carter, Dory and Andre Previn, John Williams and Johnny Mercer, and songwriters new to me: TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY / THE MOON IS MADE OF GOLD / CONVINCE ME / THEY SAY IT’S SPRING /  A CERTAIN SADNESS / THE LONG GOODBYE / JUST FOR NOW / FOLLOW / ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE / A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON / LAUGHING AT LIFE.

Before I begin to write about Judy’s singing style, perhaps you should hear her for yourself: one of the songs on this disc:

The first thing I note is Judy’s distinctive — and pleasing — voice.  She has a beautiful technique but one is never drawn to pure vocal effects; rather, she puts herself at the service of the song.  I’d call her vocal timbre bittersweet, which fits the material — the voice of someone essentially romantic who knows that it’s necessary to look all four ways before crossing the street.  You wouldn’t mistake herself for another singer, which is a great thing.  She neatly balances emotional intensity and a swinging ease.  Her music woos; it doesn’t insist.  On other performances, such as TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY, her improvising skills are even more gratifyingly evident: she sings three choruses and her elastic variations from chorus to chorus are never stark — she never obliterates the composer’s intent — but one delights in her playfulness.  She sings with an irresistible conversational ease, and on some songs I feel as if she is wryly smiling.  That’s very good medicine for us in this century.

Here’s another:

Judy Wexler does everything right: she sings rather than dramatizes, she knows how to swing, she respects the melody and the words, and you know it’s her. What more could anyone want?  (Nothing, except perhaps a new CD to listen to.)

See what happens when you go to the best jazz clubs and strike up conversations?  Your life is enriched.

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 BRAZILIAN WATERCOLOR: NATE NAJAR TRIO

More than half a century ago, Bossa Nova and Brazilian pop music became part of our common musical language; I recall how delightfully we were surrounded by the sounds of Charlie Byrd, Stan Getz, Jobim and Gilberto.

NATE NAJAR TRIO

The music is still vividly alive, as demonstrated by guitarist Nate Najar’s new CD, AQUARELA DO BRASIL (Candid Records CCD79988), where he is joined by Tommy Cecil, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums (all except 5, 7) and vibes (5, 7); Harry Allen, tenor saxophone (3, 8); Duduka Da Fonseca, drums (5, 7).  The songs are Canto De Ossanha / Carinhoso / Ligia / Aquarela do Brasil (Brazil) / Amparo (Olha Maria) / Chovendo No Roseira (Double Rainbow) / Fotografia / Samba For Felix / Charlotte’s Fancy / Canto De Ossanha (in an extended version).

Nate, in the fashion of his mentor Charlie Byrd, makes beautiful pools of sound on his unamplified guitar — reminding us that this sometimes-abused instrument was meant for amorous serenades — but he never loses his uplifting pulse.  Indeed, many of the performances on this disc have rollicking vamps as their heartbeat, but they are never merely rhythmic exercises, for Nate, Tommy, Chuck, and Harry are too deeply committed to melody for that. And although the swinging evocations of dancing in Rio are irresistible, I was drawn to the more meditative moments on this disc: Nate’s ruminative playing on CHARLOTTE’S FANCY and CARINHOSO, and his opening statement on AMPARO. The music, although all “Brazilian,” comes from different composers and eras — four by Jobim, but also compositions by Barrosa, De Moraes, and two more recent originals by Byrd and Cecil — spanning a range of music from the late Thirties to the present. The result is evocation rather than a copy — this is not a “famous album reproduced fifty years later” but a soulful exploration of the many possibilities of the genre.

Here is more information about the disc (including Nate’s gently perceptive notes — minus the final two paragraphs) on the Candid Records site, and you can learn more about Nate here.  For an engaging sample of the music Nate’s trio creates live, here is a 2012 recording of SAMBA FOR FELIX (named for jazz enthusiast and disc jockey Felix Grant) recorded in 2012:

May your happiness increase! 

TOMMY THUNEN, SEEN (THANKS TO MARK CANTOR)

The very diligent film historian Mark Cantor reminded me that unsung trumpeter Tommy Thunen (chronicled here)can be seen on film in the 1929 Vitaphone short, RED NICHOLS AND HIS FIVE PENNIES.  Understandably, much has been made of the short film for its hot qualities — Pee Wee Russell soloing, two vocals from Eddie Condon — but at the two-minute mark, Nichols and two other trumpeters (John Egan to his right, Thunen to his left) play an a cappella chorus of WHISPERING:

This is the sort of research we’ve relied on Mark for — and his generosity is legendary.  But you don’t have to be in the inner circle of jazz film collectors to enjoy his offerings.  In January, March, and May 2014, Mark will be offering his annual film programs at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco at 3200 California Street, (415) 292-1200.  We attended last year and found the program and Mark both equally delightful and informative. You can read more about Mark here.

January 25 – Treasures From the Archive – a potpourri of rarities from the collection.  “Join us for an evening of film clips showcasing some of the finest names in big band and small combo jazz, including many never before screened at the JCCSF. Among the artists to be featured are Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Shorty Rogers, Buddy Rich and Thelonious Monk.”

March 22 – Showtime at the Apollo – a compilation of artists and bands that appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. “The stage shows at the Apollo had it all: jazz bands and combos, vocalists, R&B, dance and comedy routines. Join us to watch clips of Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra, Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, “Moms” Mabley, The Berry Brothers, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and many more.”

May 3 – Broadway to Hollywood – jazz performances based on music from the Broadway and Hollywood musicals.  “A lot of the repertoire of classic jazz can be largely traced to the Broadway stage and Hollywood musical. Join us for an evening of film featuring jazz performances of compositions by the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer and many more.”

Mark says he has been digging through his treasures for these three programs and expects to offer performances by Joe Venuti, “Red” Allen All Stars, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Thelma White, Buddy Rich, Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, Stan Getz, Billy Eckstine, Yusef Lateef. John Coltrane. Nat “King” Cole, Marian McPartland . . .

The programs begin at 8 PM; tickets for non-members are $25.  Details and ordering here.

May your happiness increase!

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

THOMAS McGUANE’S JAZZ COLLECTOR

Thomas McGuane’s short story, THE CASSEROLE, published in the September 10, 2012 issue of THE NEW YORKER, is short, sharp, and hard.  It begins on page 93, with the nameless narrator and his wife — and by the end of 94, the story is over, the narrator is by himself, not knowing what has hit him.

I was so struck by the story — and I mean that phrase in the literal sense — that I may bring it with me tomorrow morning when my semester begins and read it to my students.  But what also struck me is this short passage early on in the story, which I reprint here:

I had an extensive collection of West Coast jazz records, including the usual suspects, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, and so on — not everybody has  Wardell Gray and Buddy Collette, but I did — and if I’d had a bit more dough I could have added a room on to our house specifically to house this collection, with an appropriate sound system.  But when I complained about things like this to Ellie, she just said, “Cue the violins.”

Now, if you read this without any context, it may well seem that our sympathy is with the narrator.  Poor fellow, his unsympathetic bitch of a wife doesn’t understand his love for jazz.  But the hubris of his boasting to himself that he knows what the real stuff is — I own Wardell Gray records! — comes to bite him a page later, for he is one of those characters (modeled on real people) who don’t see the train coming until it had flattened them.

I don’t present this as an example of how jazz collectors are represented in fiction, nor do I see it as an overarching commentary on marital relations when the soundtrack is jazz music.  (By the way, the narrator still has his records at the end of the story: this is not a fictionalized reading of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE.)

Incidentally, trusting the author is slippery business, but McGuane said this in a brief interview (on the magazine’s website), after calling the narrator a “twit,” “I think he has nearly everything wrong. He is a peevish fault-finder who gets what he deserves.”

This passage simply caught my attention not once but twice, and I suppose it is worthy of note when Wardell Gray shows up in THE NEW YORKER now that Whitney Balliett is dead . . .

I am sorry I cannot reprint the story for everyone to read, but you surely can find this issue in your local library or find someone who subscribes to the magazine.

May your happiness increase.

BOB WILLOUGHBY’S REMARKABLE PORTRAITS

Because they give themselves to what they are creating, jazz musicians make splendid photographic subjects.

Bob Willoughby, who died in 2009, wasn’t the first to capture their intensity, lack of self-consciousness, and energy on camera.  But his beautiful volume of photographs and recollections, JAZZ: BODY AND SOUL, shows on every page that his work is superbly moving.  (Evans Mitchell, 2012, 192 pages, hardbound.)

Since musicians — in the act of creation — aren’t standing still, some photographs begin to look like versions of poses we have already seen a thousand times before: the horn player, face distended, sweating, looking like a runner just before crossing the finish line; the intimate relationship between the singer and the vertical microphone; the drummer, moving so quickly that the sticks blur.  Other photographs entrance us because they are the only visual evidence we have that an otherwise obscure musician was ever seen.

Willoughby’s work goes well beyond these formulas, although some of his images have been reproduced so widely that they are now the way that we mentally identify the subject.  But even his most famous pictures have something to offer us, a half-century after they were created.

The book is divided into two sections: one of Wlloughby’s West Coast photographs from 1950 to — Billie Holiday, Wardell Gray, Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Ventura, Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Peggy Lee.  Particularly absorbing is a series of dramatic photographs catching the emotional interplay between saxophonist Big Jay McNeely and a crowd in hysterical rapture.  Willoughby photographed Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Stan Getz, Buck Clayton, Martha Tilton and friends during the recording sessions for the soundtrack of THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY.  An extended photo-essay on Frank Sinatra tells us more than any biography.

The second section of the book offers photographs Willoughby created in Germany in 1992 and 1994 — fascinating portraits of Lee Konitz, Marcus Roberts, Jon Faddis, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, John Lewis, Mulligan much transformed by the years, and many others.

Having purchased many volumes of photographs of jazz musicians, I tend to look at the book with fascination immediately after their purchase . . . but not often after.  Willoughby’s book has proven itself an exception.  In tne month that I have had a copy, I have come back to it over and over, drawn by what his eye captured — tantalizing wordless dramas that open deeper each time I stare into the pages.

And the appeal of the book is wider than the allure of the musicians portrayed there.  Without being precious or coy, Willoughby created small paintings full of feeling, emotion coming through the lovely blacks, greys, and whites.  He was a master of seeing, of shaping line and angle, shape and focus.  I look at these portraits and I can feel Louis’ happiness, imagine the words passing between Bing and Frank on the set of CAN-CAN, hear Billie’s voice.  In addition, Willoughby’s photos are idiosyncratic master classes for photographers: what to emphasize, what to leave out. . . all the more remarkable because he captured his subjects in the moment.

Marc Myers, of JAZZ WAX, knew and spoke with Willoughby, and the essays Marc has created about the man and his work are rewarding (with photographs that will astonish): read more here and here.   The book’s website — with even more beautiful pictures — can be found here.  Willoughby’s photographs reward the eye.

May your happiness increase.

QUIETLY SPECTACULAR: “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”: MARK LOPEMAN’S DEBUT CD

If you’ve been following the New York City jazz scene, you’ll know Mark Lopeman — a master saxophonist who’s been an invaluable addition to many bands for the past few decades.  Mark has just released his first CD under his own name, and it’s wonderful.

You can skip the prose and go right to the heart of things here

But if you’ve never heard or heard of Mark Lopeman (which I could understand) a few words might be in order.  Mark is another one of those people who proved F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong — not only are there second acts in American lives, but the plays we write and act in go seamlessly on without intermissions or other arbitrary divisions.  Mark is now in his early fifties, but this is no middle-aged man’s self-indulgent effort.  Rather it is beautiful music throughout — no pretenses, nothing antiquarian or postmodernist.  It is lively and fresh (locally sourced and organic, too), yet not a familiar running-through-an-hour-of-tried-and-true.  Readers of a certain age will know what I mean when I say it reminds me very happily of an imagined session for the Prestige-Swingville label, in better sound.  Mark and his colleagues know how to hit a variety of grooves, but the music never pokes a listener in the ribs and says, “Gee, look at how funky we are!”

Rather than retell Mark’s biography, I would direct you to his site — where the tale, involving the circus, a traffic ticket, Gerry Mulligan, and other notables, can be found here

I would offer my own narrow version of the Mark Lopeman saga.  When I first began to haunt New York jazz clubs, I heard Mark as a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, someone who could work his way through the reeds without fear.  He swung hard, never missed a turn, and when it came to his feature number — a transcription of the 1939 Hawkins BODY AND SOUL — he played it with accuracy and fervor, but I could hear his personality peeking out through the transcribed notes.  Then I had the good fortune to hear him as a guest EarRegular at The Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  To use the ancient locution, I flipped.  He swung, he soared; he was lyrical, witty, and to the point.  Ruby Braff had originally wanted to play the tenor saxophone; had he gotten his wish, he would have sounded like Mark Lopeman: wearing his heart on his sleeve but never getting in anyone’s way.

Mark is also one of those players who has thoroughly absorbed the tradition but has managed to bob along on the waves, remaining true to himself.  So a tenor aficionado will hear affectionate side-glances of Charlie Rouse and Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson and Stan Getz, but Mark is not one of those Real Book / play-along creations who coast from one learned phrase to another.  He is himself, and what a good thing that is!

Back to our story.  When I meet an artist I admire, I am not subtle or restrained in saying so.  After the first EarRegulars experience, I think I buttonholed Mark and said, “Wow, you play beautifully!  Have you got a CD of your own?”  And he looked a bit shy and said he hadn’t.  Later on, either at Sofia’s or The Ear Inn, I met his wife, the artist Susan Manley, and said (once again subtly), “Damnit, he plays so well.  When the hell is he going to make a CD of his own?”  And she agreed with me.  I can’t take any credit for helping NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT see the light of day, but I would like to think that my nagging had a point: if there were enough annoying people hanging around the Lopemans making this pesky request, perhaps the CD emerged in some small part to get us to be quiet.  Maybe?

Would you like to hear some of the music?  I thought so.  Here are a whole raft of thirty-second snippets, enough to give you a sense of the CD’s candor and variety.  Click here

You can read all about the genesis of the music in Bill Kirschner’s perceptive, concise liner notes, but I would add a few things.  Mark is joined in his lyrical efforts by a splendid rhythm section of Ted Rosenthal, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Tim Horner, drums.  He plays not only tenor saxophone but soprano and clarinet, and about half of the CD is illuminated by the presence of Brandon Lee on trumpet and fluegelhorn and Noah Bless on trombone — both players who know their stuff without cliche.  The repertoire is deliciously varied — from a trotting I’M ALWAYS CHASING RAINBOWS that begins and ends with a hilariously swinging Rosenthal-plays-Chopin, to the title tune, with hints of Charlie Rouse and Monk, a hip-swinging MY KIND OF GIRL (several selections have their roots in Mr. Sinatra’s repertoire), and two very intriguing Lopeman originals, WORLD ECONOMY BLUES (a collaboration with saxophonist Chris Byars) and INTENTIONS — which also feature fascinating scoring by their composer.  My absolute favorites on this disc are two Lopeman – Rosenthal duets, EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (which keeps its yearning quality without any of the self-conscious pathos this song often encourages) and the heartbreaking I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU.  (Jonathan Schwartz would love them: I hope he gets his own copy.)

I worry that JAZZ LIVES readers will think I am always tugging at their collective sleeves (and credit cards) saying “Buy this!  Buy this!”  But this CD is quietly spectacular.  Nice work indeed, Mark — and how lucky we are that we can indeed get it.

P.S.  The cover portrait is a family affair — a watercolor done with wit and affection by Rosie Lopeman . . . another artist in the house!

JAZZ WORTH READING: “NORMAN GRANZ: THE MAN WHO USED JAZZ FOR JUSTICE,” by TAD HERSHORN

Three singular personalities have been responsible for much of what we now take for granted in jazz in the last hundred years in recordings and public performance: John Hammond, George Wein, and Norman Granz.

Hammond wrote his own somewhat mythic autobiography and was the subject of a tepid posthumous biography.  Wein, the only member of the trio still with us, has an expansive autobiography.  Granz, who died in 2001, discouraged efforts to write his story until journalist and jazz scholar Tad Hershorn entered his life.  And Hershorn’s biography of Granz is a substantial accomplishment.

A book on Granz as record producer (for fifty years) would have been intriguing in itself, for even though Granz alternated between being controlling and negligent, he recorded Armstrong, Fitzgerald, Holiday, Young, Webster, Tatum, Parker, Gillespie, O’Day, Getz, Hampton, Wilson, Konitz, Hawkins, Eldridge, Rich, Peterson, Ellington, Basie . . . The sessions are uneven, but the energy animating them is undeniable, and the successes are memorable.  Imagine a jazz cosmos without JATP, Norgran, Clef, Verve, Pablo.

Another book might have chronicled Granz the concert promoter — the inventor of Jazz at the Philharmonic, the model for many concerts to come after its inception in the early Forties.  (Who else would have Louis, Ella, and Tatum on the same bill?)

And there might have been another book concerning Granz as friend-of and sometimes enemy-of: his relations with Picasso, with Sinatra, Ellington, Peterson, Fitzgerald, among others, are intriguing windows into his character and theirs, providing both inspiring and acrimonious anecdotes.

But the narrative Hershorn chose to tie these stories together is Granz’s vehement, unwavering vision of jazz as a racially integrated music played in public for integrated audiences.  Younger (or more idealistic) readers may be startled by the historical information that emerges in the first fifteen years of Granz’s years as a concert promoter: yes, there were drinking fountains for “colored” and “white,” as well as restaurants that did not serve anyone appropriately light-skinned.  Granz, who often appears to be someone indifferent to social grace, an abrasive, self-righteous and self-absorbed figure, comes through as a heroic figure who made it possible for “mixed” audiences to sit together and to hear American music (a struggle, I must point out, that he didn’t originate — although he continued it valiantly).

Hershorn’s book is the result of fifteen years of work on the subject, including a number of in-person interviews of an ailing (although still acerbic) Granz.  The book is thoroughly researched — some forty pages of footnotes, a chronology, an extensive bibliography, rare photographs.  The book has no competition, and he has spoken with people who knew Granz — from publicist Virginia Wicks to Peterson to Quincy Jones and Nat Hentoff — so this book has a freshness many other jazz biographies lack because the important sources are long dead.

But Granz — energetic, willful, moving quickly — is a difficult subject because he is always in motion.  Occasionally Hershorn’s chronological organization (with extended considerations of important musicians and friends) seems like an airport walkway, efficient but constraining.  At times the mere data seems overwhelming: during the JATP period, we learn about every concert tour — the players, itinerary, gross receipts.  A biographer should fall in love with the material, and is writing both for the contemporary audience and for future generations who may use the book as an invaluable research tool.  But some of this material might have profitably been placed in an appendix, unless it was needed for the dramatic arc of the story.

Granz’a extended career and long active life — I would not have wished it otherwise — also pose problems for a biographer properly intent on showing him an unacknowledged civil rights pioneer.  Once Granz can be sure that the local police won’t attempt to plant drugs on his musicians; once they can stay at the best hotels; once there is no restriction on who can sit where in the audience, much of the air goes out of the book.  Once the battle has been won, Granz can go on being a wealthy businessman, an art collector, friends with Picasso, playing tennis.  To be fair, this diminuendo is often the inevitable pattern of biographies: when the book is focused on its subject’s struggle towards a goal, what happens to the biography once that goal is achieved?

But overall the book is a fine one.  Hershorn has managed his relationship to his subject with great grace.  Some biographers loathe their subject and crow over errors of judgment,  meanness of spirit.  Others adore their subjects and make excuses for bad behavior.  Hershorn is careful, accurate, and fair, permitting us to applaud what Granz made possible even if we find the man unpleasant.  Hershorn is also a clear writer, although too fond of casual cliche — “the red carpet treatment,” “made no bones about it,” “wined and dined” — for me, but this will not bother others.  And in an era where large, detailed books are becoming more and more rare, to have published this one is a remarkable accomplishment.

If occasionally the reader tires of Granz, the book can be put aside for a day.  Or one might listen to a half-hour of Pres and Teddy, Ben Webster with strings, Billie Holiday with Jimmy Rowles, or one of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks.  For those masterpieces, one would forgive Granz anything.