I hadn’t heard of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania before the summer of 2015, when drummer-percussionist-archivist Josh Duffee announced his intention of giving a concert with his ten-piece Graystone Monarchs to celebrate the appearance of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra at the Capitol Theater on May 4, 1927, which was a triumphant evening, made even more so because Chambersburg was legendary drummer Chauncey Morehouse’s home town.
As you will see, the modern evening was triumphant also. And a fact that says something about Josh’s devotion to the jazz heritage — the 2015 concert was free to the public (I am sure the 1927 one wasn’t).
Of course, I asked Josh if he needed a videographer, and he did, so you can see highlights of that concert here. The band — expert and hot — was Josh on drums; Leigh Barker, string bass; John Scurry, banjo / guitar; Tom Roberts, piano; Jason Downes, Michael McQuaid, Jay Rattman, reeds; Jim Fryer, trombone; Andy Schumm, Mike Davis, trumpets.
Twelve performances from this evening have been approved for you to enjoy, and I have taken the perhaps unusual step in presenting them in three portions, as if you’d bought two new records from the local Victor dealer and would have weeks or more to savor them. But eight more performances will follow.
An exuberant start:
SLOW RIVER, arranged by Bill Challis, who told Phil Schaap he hated the limp melody and tried to bury and sabotage it:
DINAH, harking back to the 1926 version featuring Steve Brown:
And the fourth “side,” from Chauncey’s days with the 1935 Russ Morgan orchestra:
Some ensembles need many people to make a statement: Jacob Zimmerman, Cole Schuster, and Matt Weiner (reeds, guitar, string bass) create memorable vignettes in a small space: it’s a band that could travel comfortably in a subcompact car. They have a new CD coming out, and Jacob has posted two selections recorded last month — what ease and grace, what quiet impact.
Jacob wrote of the first selection, LANTERN OF LOVE (a 1925 tune), A few weeks back my trio that plays Tuesdays at IL Bistro got together to rehearse some of the fancier arrangements I’ve written. I first heard this song on a Roger Wolfe Kahn record. I love the elegance of this melody. I tried to channel the spirit of the Jean Goldkette orchestra and feature Matt Weiner playing his version of Steve Brown style slap and arco bass playing.
and here’s the more familiar THE SONG IS ENDED — a remarkable treatment of a lovely Berlin melody which makes me think of Ruby Braff at the start and then segues into what I think of as 1945 Jamboree Records swing, up on the aesthetic mountaintop in less than four minutes (I kept waiting for Joe Thomas to appear and take the bridge):
I don’t see a trip to Seattle soon (although anything is possible) but I believe I will see Jacob again as part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet at the San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza in November, and I certainly look forward to that new CD!
JAZZ LIVES has not changed its nature to advertise automobiles, but this is one instance where the music related to the car is memorable to those who remember and I hope it will become irresistible to those who have never heard it.
Sheet music, 1931
From the subversive geniuses at the Fleischer Studios, in the early Thirties, this tuneful piece of advertising (as old as 1905) — thanks to Janette Walker:
I always hear the invitation of the lyrics as not too subtly lascivious, because I dimly remember the statistics that showed the birth rate in this country ascended once more people had automobiles . . . but the couple in the song is also headed for marriage, lest you worry that this blog condones sinful behavior.
Thanks to Emrah Erken, the beautiful transfer of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra’s 1927 version:
and the first take:
and a sweet-hot version from this century, by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society on December 18, 2011, with Ray Skjelbred, piano, leader; Chris Tyle, trumpet; Steve Wright, reeds; Jake Powel, banjo; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal:
and a two-minute wartime coda, reminding me of the days when music was our common language, when everyone knew the words and the tune:
The song suggests that one could have fun being with one’s sweetheart, which is always a wonderful goal. The couple in the Oldsmobile were even speaking to each other — cellphones not being in evidence when the song was new.
Sheet music, 1905
Incidentally, this post is in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who understand.
It’s a familiar sight. But now it’s re-emerged for an even more exciting reason. Josh Duffee, drummer and bandleader who loves the hot / dance music of this period, especially admires drummer multi-instrumentalist Chauncey Morehouse. And rightly so.
Josh’s dreams are substantial, and he energetically makes them take shape. His newest venture will please up to 800 people on the evening of Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at the Capitol Theater in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Chambersburg isn’t one of the most famous stops on the Official Jazz History tour, but it was the home town of Chauncey and of Jean Goldkette trumpeter Fuzzy Farrar. In 1927, the Goldkette orchestra played a concert in this beautiful theatre; on July 22, a reconstituted tentet of some of the finest hot musicians worldwide will honor Chauncey and his music. And it’s free.
You can find out much more about the concert here and, should you be so inclined, you can make a donation to cover the expenses.
I asked Josh for more details about the music and the musicians. First off, this ten-piece band will be primarily made up of the brilliant Hot Jazz Alliance, a sextet that is four-sixths Australian and two-sixths North American and six-sixths brilliant: From Oz, Michael McQuaid, reeds; Jason Downes, reeds; John Scurry, banjo / guitar; Leigh Barker, string bass. From the US: Andy Schumm, cornet; Josh Duffee, drums. Joining them for this concert will be Jay Rattman, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet; David Sager, trombone; Tom Roberts, piano.
If you’ve heard nothing of the Hot Jazz Alliance, feast your ears here:
GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER:
The second performance is particularly significant because it comes from the HJA’s debut CD — which is now issued, in gorgeous sound, ready for the eager multitudes.
But back to the Capitol Theatre concert.
The tentet will be playing a variety of songs that Chauncey played throughout his career. Josh says, “We’ll play the closest Goldkette recording to the date they played in 1927, Slow River. We’ll also be playing Congoland, which Chauncey co-wrote with Frank Guarente when they were with the Paul Specht Orchestra. Audience members will hear music from the bands Chauncey played in throughout his career, like Paul Specht, Jean Goldkette, Russ Morgan, Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Howard Lanin’s Benjamin Franklin Dance Orchestra, Irving Mills’ Hotsy-Totsy Gang, and others. This will be the very first time this music will have been heard in this acoustic form in this theatre! Here are some of the songs we’ll be playing: Slow River; Harvey; My Pretty Girl; Midnight Oil; Clarinet Marmalade; Don’t Wake Me Up, Let Me Dream; Stampede; Dinah; Idolizing; Three Blind Mice; Congoland; Singin’ The Blues . . . .”
I don’t like being in the car for more than ninety minutes at a time, but I’m driving out to Chambersburg for this one.
And two days earlier / closer to home in New York City, the Hot Jazz Alliance will be performing two shows on Monday, July 20, at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in Jazz at Lincoln Center: details here.
As I write these words, it is ninety degrees and humid both inside and out. But even more Hot — of the best sort — is coming.
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.
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.
Carl (piano), Clint (bass), and Jeff (drums) don’t play waltzes, but I thought this recent acquisition provided just the title for the music they created at the Wednesday Night Hop in Mountain View on August 20, 2011:
Because Carl is such a superb boogie-woogie pianist and blues singer (no one else I know summons up all that lowdown energy) he is often typecast within that genre. But he is such a fine player of straight-ahead swinging jazz that I wanted to showcase him in that way here. (Readers take note: he is also a powerful yet subtle player of ragtime and stride: I’ve been dazzled by his versions of SWIPSEY CAKEWALK and CAROLINA SHOUT.)
Clint is so good on so many instruments that his strong, focused bass playing might be taken for granted. But he makes me think of the heroes of that instrument — Al Morgan, Wellman Braud, Steve Brown, Walter Page.
And I always knew how marvelously Jeff Hamilton swung, having admired the two compact discs he’s recorded as a leader — check them out for yourself at http://www.jeffhamiltonjazz.com — but his playing at this session was especially rewarding. He can swing mightily in any tempo; his time is superb; he makes any drum kit sound orchestral without raising the volume; his solos have shape and form and wit. He surprises in the same way Dave Tough did, and his grounding in New Orleans jazz keeps any band rocking.
I apologize to Jeff and to viewers for the post that seems to bisect him vertically. It didn’t seem to affect his playing, and filming from this angle kept me safe from airborne lindy-hoppers.
Here are the HEAVENLY RHYTHM BOYS (rechristened for the purpose of this blog), making music that needs no exegesis:
The post’s title isn’t hyperbole. A friend sent me a few YouTube videos of this new band — holding forth on May 7, 2011, at the Bellingham Jazz Club (in Washington State).
I got through about fifteen seconds of the first clip before becoming so elated that I stopped the clip to make a few phone calls . . . their import being “You HAVE to see this band! You won’t believe how wonderful they are!”
For a change, let’s begin with the rhythm section. You can barely see Candace Brown, but you can hear her firm, flexible pulse — she’s playing a Thirties National steel guitar. On her left is her husband Dave on string bass — strong yet fluid. Closer to the camera is that monument of unaging swing, Ray Skjelbred on piano — the hero of the steady, varied left-hand and the splashing, striding right hand. (His right hand knows what his left is doing: no worries!) The front line is a mere duo but with multiple personalities — great for Jimmie Noone / Doc Poston ecstasies — of two gifted multi-instrumentalists. On the left is Steve Wright — cornet, clarinet, soprano sax, vocal; to his right is Paul Woltz, bass, alto, soprano, tenor sax, and vocal. Their repertoire moves from New Orleans / ancient pop classics to Bix and Tram to Condonite romps with a special emphasis on Noone’s Apex Club.
You’ll hear for yourself. I began with MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (homage to Bing and to Cutty Cutshall, who called this tune MAHONEY’S . . . . ):
Pee Wee Russell had a girlfriend named Lola (this would have been in the late Twenties and onwards, before Mary came along); legend has it that Lola was violently jealous and when she got angry at Pee Wee, she’d take a big scissors and cut his clothes to bits. The Mound City Blue Blowers (with Coleman Hawkins and Glenn Miller) recorded a wonderful song and called it HELLO LOLA — were they glad to see her or merely placating her, hoping she hadn’t brought her scissors along? We’ll never know, but this version of HELLO, LOLA (with comma) has no sharp edges — at least none that would do anyone harm:
The young man from Davenport — forever young in our imaginations — is loved so intensely that the RCBB offer two evocations of his music. Young Bix Beiderbecke is on everyone’s mind for a romping IDOLIZING (memories of those Goldkette Victors):
And we think of Bix at the end of his particular road — with I’LL BE A FRIEND (WITH PLEASURE):
Now do you understand why I find these performances so enlivening? This band has tempo and swing, heart and soul, rhythm in its nursery rhymes! Seriously — what lovely rocking ocean-motion, heartfelt soloing and ensemble playing. This band knows and plays the verse and the tempos chosen are just right. And that beat!
I want Ralph Peer or Tommy Rockwell to hear the RCBB and I want them to be under contract to Victor or OKeh right this minute! I would invite John Hammond to hear them, but John tends to meddle so – – – he’d want to replace half the band with people he liked better. And I can’t think of people I would prefer . . .
How about two more selections?
This one’s for Mister Strong — his composition, you know! It’s MUSKRAT RAMBLE at the nice Hot Five tempo:
And just for fun (and because Red McKenzie sang it so wonderfully), the DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — with the verse:
By day and by profession, I am an academic — which explains the didactic streak in my character — but this is a suggestion aiming my readers towards happiness rather than a graded assignment. You might want to consider visiting Steve Wright’s YouTube channel — “swr2408018” and indulging yourself in the other performances by this band. How about SWEET SUE, EVERY EVENING, KING JOE, ONE HOUR, STACK O’LEE, CHANGES MADE, GEORGIA CABIN, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, and I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY.
Multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright told me this about the band’s instant creation, gestation-while-you-wait:
“We pulled this together in a hurry. Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Band was originally booked, but Chris got a call for some work in Europe and gave the gig to Dave and Candace (who play with him in Silver Leaf). I play occasionally with the three of them in Candace’s Combo De Luxe, so I was looped in, and then we decided to pull in a second horn player (Paul) and Ray on piano. I pulled together some leadsheets and two-reed arrangements from previous bands, and off we went. Even the name was a rush job: I got a call from the Bellingham folks needing a band name for their publicity, and an hour to figure something out. Since I was already planning to use some Red McKenzie material from the First Thursday book (Hello Lola, for example), I thought of taking off from the Mound City Blue Blowers.”
Now . . . suppose the names of these players are new to you? Ray Skjelbred has his own website — go there and feel good!
— but Wright, Woltz, and the Browns might be less familiar to you. Don’t fret. Here are some facts for the factually-minded.
DAVE BROWN began his musical career decades ago, on banjo and guitar, later expanding his impressive talents to string bass. He lays down solid rhythm with an energetic style influenced by Steve Brown and Pops Foster. Dave’s credits include membership in the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, Stumptown, Louisiana Joymakers, Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Combo de Luxe, Glenn Crytzer’s Syncopators, Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, Gerry Green’s Crescent City Shakers and others. Many West Coast bands call Brown for gigs, including Simon Stribling’s New Orleans Ale Stars, Red Beans and Rice, Vancouver Classic, Solomon Douglas Sextet, and Jonathan Stout’s Campus Five. Over the years he has appeared at national and international jazz festivals and has been privileged to play alongside jazz greats “Doc” Cheatham, Spiegle Willcox, Jim Goodwin, and others.
STEVE WRIGHT has been a sparkplug of many fine bands, including the Paramount Jazz of Boston, the Happy Feet Dance Orchestra, the Stomp Off “studio” band (The Back Bay Ramblers). He’s even substituted a few times with the Black Eagles on clarinet. After moving to Seattle in 1995, he joined the Evergreen Jazz Band as a second reed player and then moved to mostly playing cornet as personnel changed. In the last few years, he’s played a great deal with Candace’s and Ray’s bands, as well as with a local Lu Watters-style two-cornet band, Hume Street Jazz Band.
CANDACE BROWN is one-half of the Jazzstrings duo with husband Dave, Combo de Luxe, Louisiana Joymakers, and she has subbed in many other bands (including Simon Stribling’s Ale Stars and Mighty Aphrodite) as well as playing in the pit orchestra for musical theater. Candace has been heard at a number of festivals including the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, on an Alaskan jazz cruise, at several jazz society concerts, and in July of 2007 she was a member of the pit orchestra for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Candace is also a splendid writer — if you haven’t read her inspiring blog, GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST, you’re missing out on deep pleasure: http://goodlifenw.blogspot.com/
PAUL WOLTZ began playing music in his youth, in California. He performed frequently at Disneyland for a decade, worked as a studio musician in Hollywood, and was a member of the Golden Eagle Jazz Band. In the Seattle/Everett area, he is a member of the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band (with whom he has performed at countless jazz festivals and on jazz cruises) is principal bassoonist in the Cascade Symphony, occasionally performs with the 5th Ave Theater, and is called as a sub in numerous bands in the Puget Sound area and beyond — all over the United States and abroad.
Here’s more rollicking joy from Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) that I attended in March 2011.
(“Attended” isn’t really the right word — too formal — but I can’t find a really good way to say “floated.” I’m still floating, and if you wonder why you need only to sit down in front of the videos below.)
This was a session held at the Wharf Theatre. It wasn’t billed as FAMILY REUNION, but it might as well have been.
First, the Reynolds Brothers (and they are!): John Reynolds on National steel guitar, vocals, and sweet whistling, and brother Ralf on washboard, whistle, emotional uplift, and traffic control.
Then there’s the Caparone Family. Marc on cornet; his father Dave (the fellow over to the left of your screen, looking very serious, sounding like Benny Morton — in fact, sounding like Don Redman’s trombone section of 1932-3 with an occasional nod to Dicky Wells — a real prize!), and daughter-in-law Dawn Lambeth (vocals, piano, and cheer).
Observant eyes will catch that Dawn is about to become a Jazz Mommy (Marc had something to do with this, it was told to me) so there’s another generation of Caparone onstage. And baby does make three!
The sole non-relative was the sweetly leafy Katie Cavera (string bass and vocals) . . . but everyone who meets Katie adopts her within the first few minutes, so she’s not an outsider.
Free-range and locally sourced, too! She’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW (for the dancers):
Jazz scholars will note so many wonderful influences floating through these performance: Bing, the QHCF, Louis, Basie, Steve Brown, Red Allen, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, the Marx Brothers, Brunswick Records, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Steve Washington, and more.
Time for something deeply satisfying in its sweetness: and watch everyone’s face as they feel the love on that stand, just as we do. What tenderness as Dawn, Dave, and Marc celebrate SUGAR!
Something exultant — from the man who wrote the brooding ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET — a song from A DAY AT THE RACES (originally sung by Ivie Anderson). How they rock it here! And at the end, Marc reminds us of a song from another 1937 movie. Hint: “Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out.” Here’s ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM:
Dawn had a cold — a great problem for a singer! — but her natural swinging heart, her spirited earnestness comes through complete . . . and no one bends and slides into notes as she does. Here, MY BLUE HEAVEN, the perfectly appropriate song for the moment, with the verse. And Marc suggests what might have happened if Louis and the Mills Brothers had recorded this one for Decca, before Papa Dave and John show what they can do:
One of the great delights is being introduced to a “new” “old” song — from 1922 or 1923 . . . a song Vic Dickenson loved (although I never heard him play it), TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME. Isn’t it wonderful how lovely / hilariously comfortable Whislin’ John Reynolds is in front of an audience! He’s a thrill and a hoot all in one. And the brass section — worth another watching. Like father, like son. More below*:
Finally, something sweet and tenderly nostalgic — Dawn sings BLUE ROOM, which has very endearing lyrics (although the position the lovers find themselves in — an innocent one — might lead to neck pain, whether your head is wee or not):
“Every day’s a holiday” with a band like this, for sure!
While watching these videos, I keep thinking of Baby Lambeth-Caparone, who’s going to greet the new day at the end of March 2011. Someday that Baby is going to be able to see these clips and say, “There’s Mommy, and Daddy, and Grandpa, and I was there, too!” Yes, Baby — you were swinging with your families.
CLICK HERE TO GIVE BACK TO THE MUSICIANS IN THE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):
I have to come out with it: the seventy-five minute span of a compact disc is often too much for me. So when I loaded the first of three discs by the Royal Garden Trio into the car player, I expected the outcome to be the same: restlessness halfway through. No, the Beloved and I (she’s a stern critic herself) played the three discs nonstop during a six-hour drive.
They’re that good.
On these CDs, the RGT is made up of Mike Karoub (cello and string bass); Tom Bogardus (tenor guitar and clarinet), Brian Delaney (acoustic and electric 6-string guitars). And they have eminent guest stars: Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); James Dapogny (piano); Bess Bonnier (piano, heard on JITTERBUG WALTZ below); Chris Smith (sousaphone), Louis Caponecchia (ukulele / vocal); Jo Serrapere, Paul King, Melissa Brady (vocals); Gian Paulo (string bass), Rod McDonald (guitar), Donn Deniston (drums).
What makes the Royal Garden Trio so delightful is their own restrained eloquence. The world is full of enthusiastic Hot Club spinoffs — very capable musicians, inspired by Django and Stephane. But often the result is “note for note,” which is amazing technically but less so aesthetically, or an overabundance . . . many notes, many choruses, fast tempos, dalling string virtuosity. One part of the brain admires; the other portion asks (in Lester Young’s words) to be told a story.
The members of the RGT have beautiful stories to tell. They are virtuosic as well, but they know that too much is not a good thing. So their solos are thoughtful speech, not diatribes; their notes ring and resound in the air. Each player creates compelling melodies, and they work together like a swing version of the Budapest Quartet.
Since I often find the heirs to Grappelli are given to excessive sweetness and high drama, I am thrilled by Karoub’s cello: earnest, dark yet lithe. Mike’s conception is never overblown, but his solos can be majestic. Delaney’s guitar is part Lang, part Lonnie Johnson. Bogardus romps on his guitar and his clarinet playing is easy, fervent, balancing Dodds and klezmer. And the trio works together to create something beautiful, varied, and cheering. Their performances are marvelous vignettes, the guitarists switching lead and rhythm, Bogardus playing a chorus on clarinet; Karoub bowing and then plucking in a propulsive manner (across bar lines) that recalls Steve Brown.
And they swing — without even trying hard.
Although much of the repertoire is familiar, the trio’s approach lifts it up: I never found myself saying, “Oh, another ST. LOUIS BLUES,” but was excited by what this band can do. And the CDs offer some less-played material as well: Ellington’s SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (for the home-improvement minded among us, but this time with the verse), THERE’LL COME A TIME, RAGGIN’ THE SCALE, I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES, GO INTO YOUR DANCE, a hidden track of APRIL KISSES, and some winding originals that sound like theme music for mid-Thirties screwball comedy films.
The RGT's debut CD, 2002
But you can hear and see the Trio for yourself courtesy of YouTube:
HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (which Mike Karoub informs me was Moe Howard’s favorite song, a valuable fact):
JITTERBUG WALTZ (with the legendary Bess Bonnier on piano):
The RGT's second CD, 2005
To find out more, visit the Trio’s website: http://www.theroyalgardentrio.com/sched.html. And if you feel moved to purchase all three discs (I recommend this) ask for the JAZZ LIVES discount. These players (and their nimble friends) will bring joy, in or out of the car.
SWING OUT WITH PAYPAL! ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS:
The Beloved and I have been on the road for more than a month now. While we are in the car, the CD player is (as Pee Wee Erwin used to say) hotter than a depot stove, with respites for cassettes (the Braff-Hyman Concord duet version of MY FAIR LADY) or the CBC. But most often we are listening to one of the two hundred-plus compact discs I brought along. (If ever someone was a candidate for an iPod, I nominate myself.)
Sinatra with Gordon Jenkins arrangements, 1937 Basie airshots, Dick Sudhalter, Jack Purvis, Lester Young, Seger Ellis, 1940 Ellington, Ben Webster, Spirituals to Swing, early Crosby, late Jimmy Rowles, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, and so on.
This musical buffet has led me to think, admittedly not for the first time, about artistic originality, creativity, and “influence.” Especially in jazz, listeners and critics privilege a musician’s having an individualistic, recognizable sound, something that musicians worked towards with some earnestness. And it went beyond sound: musicians were proud of their origins but even more proud of telling their own stories.
But taken to an extreme, this pride in individuality might have its limitations. It leads us to make the appearance of originality the greatest virtue, so that a cliche of jazz prose or oral history is, “When K came on the scene, we were amazed, because he didn’t sound like P, the main man at the time.”
So, when I listen to Jones-Smith, Inc. romping through “Lady Be Good” or “Shoe Shine Boy,” I think of the impact those sides must have had on 1937 listeners who knew nothing of Lester, Tatti Smith, Basie, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. The quintet we hear still seems daringly “original.” Certainly Lester sounds so unlike Hawkins and his disciples, unlike other musicians,even now. His rhythm, his tone, his flight. And it is certainly valid to praise the Basie rhythm trio for the same driving singularity. I do not mean to slight Carl “Tatti” Smith in all this, but his percussive attack was not uncommon among trumpeters of that era.
So it is a commonplace to cherish these sides for their singularity, that they sounded so unlike the records made in late 1936. But what shall we then say of the Fats Waller turns of phrase and whole phrases so evident in Basie’s playing? (Earl Hines and James P. Johnson are in there, too.) What of the influence of older bassists Steve Brown, Wellman Braud, and Pops Foster, on Page’s work here? Jo Jones’s drumming was certainly a revelation, but one can hear Sidney Catlett in his accents and Walter Johnson in his hi-hat work. Perhaps some of Gene Krupa and George Stafford as well.
And when one listens closely to the riffs that the Basie band threw around with such headlong delight on, say, “One O’Clock Jump,” one hears familiar late-Twenties / early-Thirties jazz figures: one of them in particular, is the phrase Louis sings to the words “Oh, memory” on that take of “Star Dust.”
Of course we might fold our hands and say meditatively, “Oh, everyone comes from somewhere,” which is undeniable. But this makes me think of the way the conceive of jazz improvisation, the ways in which jazz finds us, and the technology that enwraps it. If you were to take someone who knows little about jazz to a club or concert performance, the novice usually says, with a hint of astonishment, “How do they know what they are playing? How do they know where to come in?” And the more experienced listener can say, “There is a common language in this music as in othercommunal arts. If one of the players says, ‘Let’s do “Undecided” in two flats,” the other players are familiar with that melody, its harmony, rhythmic patterns, the conventions that go with it. All this is learned through intent listening, bandstand-practice, and intuitive empathy.” So what looks “made up on the spot” both is and isn’t. And only the musicians, perhaps, know whether the trombonist is playing the solo she always plays or if she is stepping bravely out into space. Whether she herself knows, at the time or after, is beyond our knowing and perhaps hers.
Playing a musical instrument competently is difficult. Inventing something that even approaches “originality” while playing an instrument, among other musicians, the notes moving by inexorably, is even more daunting. So, as a result, many musicians have a set of learned patterns they can call upon while speeding through familiar repertory: their “crib,” some call it. Thus, if you hear Waltie King speed through “It’s You Or No One,” one night, Waltie may dazzle with a wondrous display of technique allied to feeling. “What a solo!” you say. If you follow Waltie to his other gigs and hear him play that same song twenty times, would you be disillusioned if his solo on Thursday bore close resemblance to his brilliant exploits of Monday? How many listeners truly know when a musician is inspired one night, playing it safe the next? And, frankly, does it make a difference if the solo — ingenious or worked-out — charms our ears?
This brings us to Lester Young, who said that a musician had to be original, and that he did not want to listen to his old records for fear of being influenced by them and becoming a “repeater pencil.” His fellow musicians testify that he was astonishingly inventive, that he could play dozens of choruses at a jam session and never repeat himself. But even given that piece of mythology, can we be sure that his improvisations on the Vocalion “Lady Be Good” and “Shoe Shine Boy” were not, in some way, workings-out of ideas he had already played in other contexts? Were those solos as original to him as they continue to appear to us?
We cannot know, since we have no recordings of Lester before this one (Jo Jones spoke of a “little silver record” (you’d have to imagine his odd verbal style here) he had once owned of Lester, circa 1934, but told Stu Zimny and myself that it had disappeared long ago). And even if we had acetates stacked to the ceiling, the question might be both unanswerable and moot.
And records themselves complicate the issue. Before there were strings of alternate takes and session tapes, records were singular artifacts: three minutes capturing one unrepeatable occasion. Think of the Armstrong-Hines “Weather Bird” or the Webster-Blanton “Star Dust” duet from Fargo 1940. Unique. Irreplaceable. But the same worrying questions apply to the music captured by microphones. And the dazzling singularity of a recorded performance, by people who are now dead, puts a weight on the shoulders of living players whom we hope will create fresh solos each time they lift their horns. I think that this also accounts for some of the pressure musicians feel when they must step into the recording studio, that their improvisations will attain a certain permanence, a permanence they might never intend.
And jazz critics condescend to musicians who create solos and, with only minor variations, repeat them for years. I have quietly groaned when faced with yet another late Jack Teagarden performance of “Basin Street Blues,” but perhaps, in retrospect, I should not have done so. It could not have been easy for him or anyone to a) find something new to say about that particular piece of music, and b) to play and sing so beautifully, even if every nuance had been worked out. I was a trifle disappointed whenever Vic Dickenson, whom I saw often in his last years, would embark upon “In A Sentimental Mood,” because every note, sigh, and slur in it had been perfected through repetition. But, and some may find this sentimental, I would love to have him here to play it again. And it was an exquisite piece of music.
Such ruminations might seem to have no particular beginning and certainly no end. Perhaps the only conclusion we might draw is the oldest one, that all kinds of human creativity are miraculous. We should cherish those pieces of music that are both intelligent and impassioned, whether they seem “original” or derivative. And road travelers might find a great deal of pleasure, as I do, listening to what Jack Purvis plays behind Seger Ellis on the unissued “Sleepy Time Gal” — but more about that in a future posting.