Tag Archives: Storyville

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS RUBY BRAFF (December 15, 2017)

 

To get us in the proper mood, here are Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman investigating Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME, a performance that has its light-hearted moments and a very touching ending:

and why stop with one performance only?  SWEET SAVANNAH SUE is one of my favorite recordings of the thousands Ruby created:

Dan’s first musing on Ruby mentions some mutual friends — Ruby’s bio-discographer Tom Hustad, Sam Margolis, Jack Bradley, Loren Schoenberg — but keeps on returning to the well-seasoned enigma that was Ruby himself:

Here is a musical interlude whose relevance will become clear to the conscientious:

More tales of Ruby, Dick Gibson, Ruby in hospice, friends and former friends:

Finally, Ruby and Dick Sudhalter, Ruby as record reviewer, and sidelights on Kenny Dorham and Miles Davis, who will be the subject of the next videos:

I find Dan’s reminiscences invaluable.  He was there.  But more than that, his sharp, friendly observations make a scene come alive.  And he’s taught me an invaluable lesson about interviewing . . . to stay out of the interviewee’s way.  I’ve learned that Dan’s zigzag paths are much more interesting than any list of questions I might have prepared.  Take it from me.

May your happiness increase!

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DAN MORGENSTERN, AMONG FRIENDS: DICK WELLSTOOD, BUZZY DROOTIN, GEORGE WEIN, MOREY FELD, ZUTTY SINGLETON, WILD BILL DAVISON, and a few words about TESCH, (April 21, 2017)

Here’s another opportunity to hear some priceless stories from the man who was there, with eyes, ears, and heart open — our friend and hero Dan Morgenstern, at home on April 21, 2017, speaking of the people he knew and admired.  I’ve shared previous interview segments here and here.

And here’s more: Dick Wellstood covering fires for the local newspaper, Lester Young auditioning the new pianist:

and on a wide range of memorable people.  (After I’d shut the camera off, I mentioned the Singletons’ dog, Bringdown — whom Dan had also encountered. Perhaps the next interview segment should be devoted to Famous Jazz Pets?)

What’s the moral?  Nothing new, I think.  When people pass into spirit, they never “die” as long as they are remembered with affection, as Dan does here. And the living — that’s us, with luck — have a responsibility to keep the memories fresh, by telling stories and making sure those stories don’t vanish.  If you have a story-teller in your bunch, and the stories don’t have to be about jazz, place your iPhone in front of Grandma and ask her to tell what made her love Grandpa so. (Big Joe Turner had his own answer, which you can inquire about.)

Bless Mister Morgenstern — not only for keeping the memories alive, but for sharing them with us so beautifully.  There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“BEST SESSION IN TOWN”: OUR HEROES, GIGGING AROUND

Buck Clayton, Bob Wilber, Johnny Windhurst, 1951:

buck-at-storyville-flyer

Red Allen, 1956,

red-allen-central-plaza

Tony Parenti, 1949:

tony-parenti-at-ryans-1949

Pee Wee Russell, 1964:

pee-wee-and-johnny-armitage-october-1964

I am tempted to close this very unadorned exhibit of treasures with a sigh, “Ah, there were wonders in those days!”  That sigh would be a valid emotional reaction to the glories of the preceding century.  But — just a second — marvels are taking place all around us NOW, and those who lament at home will miss them.

May your happiness increase!

“IF LOVE IS A TRANSACTION, CAN IT BE GIVEN FREELY?”: WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP (NYMF, July 18-19, 2015)

I first met jazz pianist / composer / singer Jesse Gelber in the early part of 2005, when he was playing a Sunday brunch gig deep in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and was impressed by his music, his wit, and his imagination.  Soon after I met his wife, Kate Manning, and heard her beautiful focused singing.  We’ve crossed paths infrequently in the last decade, but I am pleased to be able to tell you about their musical — set in the early part of the last century, in New Orleans, in Storyville. Kate has written the book and lyrics; Jesse, the music and story.  I didn’t know when I first met Jesse that he was a “serious” composer, but since then he has won an ASCAP Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award for his opera, and has arranged music for Itzhak Perelman and PBS.  And here I thought he was simply an inventive musician — praised by Kevin Dorn, Craig Ventresco, and Tamar Korn.

RIVERS Gelber Manning

You can learn more about this project here — and, if you are so inclined, support it.  To quote Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, every nickel helps a lot. And this is the production’s website, where you can hear such enticing songs as MID-COITAL MUSINGS (MONEY ON THE TABLE); WE HAD TODAY; IF IT FEELS GOOD, IT’S GOOD.  You see a general trend, I hope: this is an officially hedonistic musical, and we could use more of those.

The story — in brief — is this: the musical follows Cora Covington, a young prostitute in Storyville, the fabled New Orleans red-light district, who falls in love with Apolline Albert, a beautiful Creole woman. Cora draws Apolline into a life of prostitution at one of the district’s most extravagant brothels, servicing the city’s wealthiest and most powerful men, and run by the notoriously cold Madame and voodoo priestess Marie Snow. When Apolline’s husband Joe returns from up North and wants her back, a desperate Cora will do anything to keep her from leaving. She commits a terrible crime, for which she then seeks redemption.  In a world where love is a transaction, can it ever be given freely?

Ordinarily I have to be lassoed to a musical newer than 1936, but I trust Gelber and Manning’s artistic instincts, so I will be at the July 18 performance of WHERE ALL THE RIVERS GO TO SLEEP at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.  It’s a concert performance, with a twelve-person cast and twelve-person orchestra.

Since this is JAZZ LIVES, let’s start with the orchestra: Peter Yarin, piano; Andrew Hall, string bass; David Langlois, washboard; Nick Russo, guitar and  banjo; Benjamin Ickies, accordion; Charlie Caranicas, trumpet; Matthew Koza, clarinet; Jake Handelman, trombone; Josh Henderson, Eddie Fin, violin; Sarah Haines, viola; Emily Hope Price, cello.

And the cast, under the direction of Tony nominee Randal Myler and the musical direction of Dan Lipton (The Last Ship): Carole J. Bufford (Broadway By The Year, speak easy, Body and Soul) as Cora, and Ann McCormack (West Side Story 50th Anniversary World Tour) as Apolline, with Jacqueline Antaramian (Dr. Zhivago, Coram Boy, Julius Caesar), Kenny Brawner (Kenny Brawner is Ray Charles), Damian Norfleet (Show Boat, Ragtime), Brynn Williams (In My Life, 13), Amanda Castaños (Spring Awakening), Mariah MacFarlane (Nice Work If You Can Get It, American Idiot), Ryan Clardy, David Lajoie, Michael Lanning, and Erika Peterson.

Here is the link to buy tickets for the Saturday, July 18 performance at 8 PM and the Sunday, July 19 one at noon. Performances will take place at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street, New York City.  I’m told that tickets are going quickly, and since this is not a huge space, I know it’s true.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ WORTH READING: “THE BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES: FACES, PLACES AND NIGHTLIFE 1937-1962”

Some of my readers will already know about Richard Vacca’s superb book, published in 2012 by Troy Street Publishing.  I first encountered his work in Tom Hustad’s splendid book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY. Vacca’s book is even better than I could have expected.

VACCA book

Much of the literature about jazz, although not all, retells known stories, often with an ideological slant or a “new” interpretation.  Thus it’s often difficult to find a book that presents new information in a balanced way.  BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES is a model of what can be done.  And you don’t have to be particularly interested in Boston, or, for that matter, jazz, to admire its many virtues.

Vacca writes that the book grew out of his early idea of a walking tour of Boston jazz spots, but as he found out that this landscape had been obliterated (as has happened in New York City), he decided to write a history of the scene, choosing starting and ending points that made the book manageable.  The book has much to offer several different audiences: a jazz-lover who wants to know the Boston history / anecdotal biography / reportage / topography of those years; someone with local pride in the recent past of his home city; someone who wishes to trace the paths of his favorite — and some obscure — jazz heroes and heroines.  (Vacca’s book could become the ULYSSES of jazz Boston, although we’d have to settle on a day to follow the paths of, perhaps Sabby Lewis or Frankie Newton through this vanished terrain.)

I found the proliferation of new information delightful, even though I was familiar with some of Boston’s “hot spots of rhythm” and the musicians who played there: Newton, Max Kaminsky, Dick Twardzic, Serge Chaloff, Bobby Hackett, George Wein, Jaki Byard, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Alan Dawson, Jaki Byard, Herb Pomeroy, Nat Pierce, Charlie Mariano, John Field, Buzzy Drootin, Joe Gordon, and others.  I’d known about the Hi-Hat, the Savoy, Mahogany Hall, and the various permutations of Storyville.  But on every page I read stories that were both new and illuminating (filling in gaps in the lives of musicians I had known as well as obscure ones) and learned a great deal about place and places.

And Vacca has an old-fashioned respectfulness, which is rare in this century.  True, there are stories of low life and bad behavior, for some of those night spots were run by and populated by people who gave way to their impulses — but Vacca is no tabloid journalist, savoring wicked or illicit behavior.  And his amused, gentle forgiveness makes the book especially charming.

Topography — whether substantial or vanished — has a good deal to do with experience.  When I could visit Your Father’s Mustache in New York and realize that its floor space was that of Nick’s circa 1944, it made something click: memory met tangible reality.  Knowing more about the Savoy — as a place, run by real figures in a genuine historical panorama — adds to my experience of listening to broadcasts taken from there.

The photographs — almost all of them new to me — and the maps (a delight) add to the pleasure of this book.  As well, I learned about musicians I’d never heard of, or from, who played major roles in Boston’s jazz life: Dean Earl, Al Vega, Mabel Robinson Simms, as well as places I’d heard little of — Izzy Ort’s Bar and Grille, for one.  james Reese Europe puts in an appearance, as does Sam Rivers; George Frazier, Nat Hentoff, Father Norman J. O’Connor, Symphony Hall, Symphony Sid, Teddi King, Jake Hanna, Leroy Parkins, Fat Man Robinson, John McLellan, Charlie Bourgeois, the Newport Jazz Festival, and the Berklee College of Music pop in and out.

But what makes this book rise above the information and stories collected within it is Vacca’s skill as researcher, editor, writer, and presenter.  The first thing a reader will notice is his lively but not flashy writing style: I’d call it refined, erudite journalism — fast-moving but never superficial.  He is a great storyteller, with a fine eye for the telling detail but someone who leaves a reader wanting more rather than feeling as if one was trapped at a party with an Authority on some bit of arcana.  (The writer Vacca reminds me of is THE NEW YORKER’S Joseph Mitchell, and that is not a compliment I utter lightly.)  He has a light touch, so the book is entertaining without ever seeming thin or didactic.  I would hand this book to an aspiring writer, researcher, or reporter, and say, “This is one admirable way to do it.”

In addition, the book is obviously the result of diligent research — not simply a synthesis of the available books that touch on the subject, although there is a six-page small-print bibliography (and a discography, a generous touch) but much of the information here comes from contemporary newspapers and magazines and Vacca’s interviews with Bostonians who were there, whether they were musicians, fans, or interested onlookers.

I’ve finished reading it, but it remains on my desk — an irresistible distraction, a book I have been returning to often.  It’s a remarkable accomplishment — literate, vivid, accurate, and animated.

To find out more about the book, click here. I predict it will provide more pleasure, and more lasting pleasure, than its price — which is roughly that of one compact disc.

May your happiness increase!

“EVERYONE KNOWS HIS CREATIVE PERIOD WAS BEHIND HIM BY _______.”

Louis Armstrong reached his artistic peak somewhere before 1929, when his recording of commercial songs — I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE as opposed to POTATO HEAD BLUES — was ruinous.  Right?

As we say in my country, “Oh, please!”

You play what you are!  And Louis in 1954 and 1960 still embodied the deepest human truths of joy and sorrow.

These two videos are now available widely thanks to the tireless collector, historian, and archivist Franz Hoffmann.

The first, from May 9, 1954, is part of a wonderfully odd CBS-TV program,
“YOU ARE THERE: “THE EMERGENCE OF JAZZ,” which purports to recreate the closing of Storyville as if it were a news story happening at the moment.  In 1954, I wasn’t sufficiently sentient to have been watching this episode, but I gather that this neat gimmick allowed various actors to recreate events in history — with light brushes with accuracy and the help of Walter Cronkite to make it seem “real.”  Here, Louis was asked to become King Oliver, fronting his own All-Stars . . . all African-Americans, with the exception of drummer Barrett Deems, who had his face blacked to fit it.  The other band members are Barney Bigard, Trummy Young, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw.  In other segments, Louis Mitchell was played by Cozy Cole and Jelly Roll Morton by Billy Taylor. No doubt.  Here, much of the fun is that the Oliver band is “challenged” by an offstage White band — the Original Dixieland Jazz Band — impersonated by Bobby Hackett, Bill Stegmeyer, Lou Stein, Cliff Leeman, and Lou Mc Garity.  To see and hear Louis play BACK O’TOWN BLUES and read his lines is enough of a pleasure; to hear Louis and Bobby improvise on the SAINTS is a joy.

Six years later, with no faux-news report, just a substantial production for a BELL TELEPHONE HOUR (January 1, 1960), we see Louis in magnificent form (although this segment is taxing).  After SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and LAZY RIVER — with the plastic mute Jack Teagarden made for him — there is one of the most touching episodes of Louis on film, beginning at 3:30.  If you ever meet anyone who doubts Louis’ sincerity, his acting ability, his skill in conveying emotion, please play them this video and let them hear and see the ways he approaches SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD, intensely moving.  Then the mood switches to an early-television meeting of Louis with an unidentified vocal quartet for MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  In all, eight minutes plus of wonderful music.

Louis sustains us as he sustained himself.

Thanks to Franz Hoffmann and of course to Ricky Riccardi, who has done so much to remind us that Louis never, ever stopped creating.

May your happiness increase.

“IT’S GOOD FOR YOU”: HOT JAZZ IN THE HEALTHY OPEN AIR with THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 26, 2012)

My mother used to gently urge me — “urge” is the nicest way of putting it — to go outside occasionally.  “Are you going to stay in your room with a book all day?  It’s so nice outside!”

This post’s for you, Mom — I made it out-of-doors at a jazz festival — the Sacramento Music Festival — and soaked up the sun, the Vitamin D, the sweet California air.

Of course, I didn’t notice much of those cosmic gifts, because I was busy feeling the good seismic disturbances that the Reynolds Brothers and Clint Baker were creating — that’s John on guitar, vocal, and whistling; Ralf on washboard and vocal; Marc Caparone on cornet and vocal; Katie Cavera on string bass and vocal; Clint Baker on trombone, clarinet, and occasional vocal (he had some laryngitis that weekend).

They began with their public profession of loving willingness from Alex Hill and perhaps Claude Hopkins, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU.  John asserts it all so willingly; who would doubt him?

Marc sings about that naughty flirtatious COQUETTE, so tantalizing:

Ralf and John team up for their classic SADIE GREEN (The Vamp of New Orleans):

No one sings on MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (the lyrics would be about the fleshpots of Storyville) but the ghosts of Louis and Higgy certainly were enjoying the outdoors as well:

John, more plaintively this time, gives us the early Thirties version of the solitary lover, pale and wan, HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF:

The other side of the amorous spectrum — having one’s hands full of delights — is offered by the witty Miss Cavera in CHARLEY, MY BOY.  “Shivers of joy,” indeed:

My new quest.  Where or what or why is SAN?:

For Harold Arlen, Louis, and Jack, Marc lets us know he’s GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES:

I don’t know the source of STOMP STOMP! (is it Slim and Slam or the Cats and the Fiddle or a physical therapist’s command?) but it certainly made the cosmos move:

“Jack, you really come on!”  How true.  Even though no one in the band is named Jack.

“See, Mom, I went outside!  What?  Now you want me to clean my room . . . . ?”

May your happiness increase.