Tag Archives: Swing Street

IT COMES OUT HOT: DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, RILEY BAKER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE: Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” February 8, 2019

I find “novelties” charming: their goofy allure harks back to my childhood.  This one has stuck since I saw Danny Kaye perform it in THE FIVE PENNIES.

We can (in the best Amazon way) peek inside:

In 1935, it was a phenomenal hit for this band, and one of them, probably Mike Reilly, had an ancient brass instrument, very complicated, that he used in the nightclub presentation:

But this post isn’t a nostalgic ramble down “Swing Street” (New York’s Fifty-Second Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, its raucous charm obliterated for decades) — it’s about living hot music, with a touch of comedy, performed right now, at the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” by a lively hot band.  They’re Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang, for this occasion, Dave on guitar, vocal, and amusement; Marc Caparone, cornet, verbal japes; Nate Ketner, reeds; David Aus, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass; Gareth Price, drums, with guest star Riley Baker, trombone — he only gets a few bars on this number, but he makes the most of them.

If you don’t understand the circular course that hot music takes, watch the video again.  Share with your friends who need to be enlightened.  It will turn up on the final exam in your Doctorate in Hot.  Until then . . .

May your happiness increase!

THE MYSTERIES OF JANUARY 17, 1936, or WHO WAS CHEECH?

If it please Your Honor, Exhibit A:

And Exhibit B:

Those are two unassuming-looking sides of a Decca “sunburst” label 78 disc.  Fine music with small mysteries attached, and no one around to tell the tale(s).  This 78 is not easy to find these days but it seems to have been a popular issue: I have had two copies, the first a (now-vanished) sunburst, the second (near me as I write) a later Decca reissue.  It was also issued on UK Decca.

This group, not a working band, recorded only these two sides in the New York Decca studios on January 17, 1936.  The personnel was Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Frank Signorelli, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Stan King, drums.  Erwin and Mastren would work with Tommy Dorsey in early 1937, but at the time Erwin was in New York with the young Benny Goodman band before it went to Chicago; the rest of this group might have been together on Fifty-Second Street with Manone or Louis Prima, or freelancing in other record or radio studios.

Marsala and Mastren had been in the Decca studios for another small-group date, apparently organized by Wingy Manone, in whose recording groups they were working consistently for Bluebird — “the Delta Four,” with Roy Eldridge and Sid Weiss making up a quartet, also completing only two sides, FAREWELL BLUES and SWINGIN’ ON THAT FAMOUS DOOR, on December 20, 1935.  Signorelli and Mastren had done a date at Decca with Bunny Berigan as “Bob Terry’s Orchestra” on the 15th; Signorelli, King, and possibly Mastren were in the Decca studios on the 20th with Red McKenzie.

What or who brought these musicians together is one of the mysteries.  It could  have been that one of the six got a call from someone at Decca, perhaps Bob Stephens, saying, “We need a small band tomorrow in the studios at 11.  No more than six, and for scale,” and whoever picked up the phone or got the message at Hurley’s (the bar-gathering place before Jim and Andy’s) talked to other musicians down the bar or made some phone calls.

One more small gush of data: the Six Blue Chips were a late-morning or afternoon assemblage: blues singer Georgia White (piano, vocal, with unknown bass) recorded three sides earlier in the day, and Mike Riley (of THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND fame or infamy) recorded four sides later. American Decca, still quite a new company, was busy recording music and selling discs at lower prices than, say, Victor, as shown by three disparate sessions in one day.

Note the absence of composer credits, something unusual on Decca recordings of current pop tunes, but seen often on their recordings of “hilbilly” music, where the company could pretend that there were no people owed royalties.  It suggests even more that this was a hurry-up session, or perhaps someone’s idea to add to the Delta Four (whose labels do have composer credits).

Incidentally, the reason that all this prose is speculative is because no one connected with the session seemed to remember it or wrote about it.  If King, Shapiro, and Signorelli were ever interviewed, I haven’t encountered it.  I met Carmen Mastren once — on either Lloyd Rauch’s or Dave Weiner’s radio show — and at the time did not know of this recording.  He was very kind . . . and I don’t know where the V-Disc he autographed for me went.

The most likely candidate for an informed recollection would have been Pee Wee Erwin, who told his life story to Warren Vache, Sr., over four hundred pages, in what would be published as THIS HORN FOR HIRE.  But although Vache mentions this disc in an appendix, it seems as if that discography was assembled after Erwin’s death. Pee Wee mentions meeting Bob Stephens in the very early Thirties (when Stephens was a trumpet player) but nothing of substance is offered about the date or the other musicians.  One of the sad surprises of that biography is that Pee Wee had a substantial alcohol problem, which might have erased his memory of casual record dates.

None of this would matter if the music wasn’t delightful. Here it is:

STEEL ROOF, of course, steals from TIN ROOF BLUES, but it took me decades to realize this.  The side begins with a familiar — to some of us painfully familiar — piano introduction, with which Frank Froeba began all of the Dick Robertson sides, much loved because of the opportunity they offer to hear a young Bobby Hackett.  I’m always struck by the ease with which everyone plays this medium-slow blues, and how readily identifiable their sounds are, including King’s idiosyncratic but telling accents.  Erwin runs parallel to Bunny, but with his own sound; how lovely to hear Mastren out in the open, and Marsala always charms — even though this is “a slow blues,” he is charmingly optimistic.  The solos and closing ensemble have deep roots in the past: Oliver, Noone, Lang or Lonnie Johnson, but it’s clearly 1936, not a decade earlier.  And what a pleasant surprise to find that same piano passage used to wind down the performance — with the punchline being a King bass drum accent.  Unpretentious and completely effective.

Then, the reverse, with its elusive title: was Cheech someone who cheated or were they describing the process of cheating him (or her)?

There really isn’t much to CHEECH — it sounds like two or three familiar cadences taped together to make a chorus, but the overall effect is jolly, with the wonderful emphasis that the great improvisers placed on individual sound.  The record seems over before it’s through, but I hear Marsala’s luminescence and Mastren taking a trip into the land of what I first associated with McDonough, but Nick Rossi, who can play, suggests it is much more like Lang.  (I know the game of “sounds like” is silly, but I wonder how much Carmen had absorbed of Teddy Bunn and Lonnie Johnson as well?)

How these sides came to be remains mysterious, but they are little slices of Swing Street life, captured forever.  These discs, incidentally, come to us through the generosity of “Cliff,” whom I’ve been unable to identify further, but who has a wonderful YouTube channel, cdbpdx — full of now-rare 78 discs.

May your happiness increase!

SWING SCENE: MONDAY NIGHT at LE COLONIAL SF with THE IVORY CLUB BOYS (PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, ISABELLE FONTAINE: April 28, 2014)

A week ago, last Monday night, I was making the scene at Le Colonial SF (20 Cosmo Place, San Francisco) on the site of the famous Trader Vic’s.

Virtuoso guitarist Paul Mehling and friends usually play hot gypsy jazz — homage to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli — as the Hot Club of San Francisco. But Paul brought a new variation on swinging themes, The Ivory Club Boys, to Le Colonial on April 28, 2014.

The Ivory Club Boys evoke the jazz scene of the late Thirties on New York City’s fabled Swing Street (Fifty-Second Street) with a special emphasis on the hot music of violinist Stuff Smith.

Along with Paul, the ICB are Evan Price, electric violin; Clint Baker, trumpet AND trombone AND vocal; Isabelle Fontaine, guitar, vocal, and non-Boyishness; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.

OPENING BLUES (like the old days, and wonderful):

CRAZY RHYTHM:

CARELESS LOVE (a blues Stuff Smith adored):

An assertively quick reinvention of SWEET AND LOVELY:

DESERT SANDS:

DINAH:

Le Colonial is a fine place to be on Mondays — to hear hot music; to dance to it; to watch the exuberantly acrobatic dancers; to eat Vietnamese food and drink all sorts of intriguing liquids.  And now “20 Cosmo Place” is in my GPS, so I feel both secure and excited.

May your happiness increase!

SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part Two): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

A second helping of The Ivory Club Boys, a hot band that satisfies. (Here is the first helping, for those who’d rather listen than read.)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were having a wonderful time with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to violinist Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot sounds right off the record — so the scholars may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  (Whisper this: the Ivories even perform songs Stuff never recorded.)  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are more rocking numbers from their second set:

ROSETTA (vocal Sam Rocha):

Stuff’s own IT’S WONDERFUL:

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

I COVER THE WATERFRONT:

‘S’WONDERFUL:

MOONGLOW:

SOLID OLD MAN:

MOTEN SWING:

This band was so rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the Ivory Club Boys come to your town, enjoy this set.

May your happiness increase!

SWING STREET COMES TO NICASIO (Part One): THE IVORY CLUB BOYS: PAUL MEHLING, EVAN PRICE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA, and MIKE LIPSKIN (March 2, 2014)

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, while the rest of America was watching the Oscars, the Beloved and I were muggin’ lightly with the Ivory Club Boys (presented by the Hot Club of San Francisco) paying tribute to Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, at Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California.

The Ivories were (for this occasion) Paul Mehling, guitar and vocal; Evan Price, violin; Clint Baker, trumpet, euphonium, clarinet, and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass, and guest star Mike Lipskin, piano.

And before we proceed: the Ivories aren’t a repertory band devoted to reproducing Stuff and Jonah’s hot ecstasies right off the record — so the scholars among us may find a certain liberty in their improvisations.  My goodness, they even perform songs Stuff never recorded!  But they don’t want to make history; they just want to swing. Four-four, if you don’t mind. Charlie Christian and Teddy Bunn are at the bar, too.

Here are eight rocking numbers from their first set:

CRAZY RHYTHM:

SARATOGA SWING:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (vocal by Paul Mehling):

DESERT SANDS (a Stuff original, very atmospheric):

CHINA BOY (Mike strides in):

I’M CONFESSIN’ (with commentary by Mister Lipskin at the start):

JEEPERS CREEPERS (ditto and likewise — hear the band shift into tempo after the verse!):

ONE HOUR (vocal by Clint Baker after Mike’s lovely exposition of the verse):

We were with them two hours that night, and the band was so very rewarding.  I’m looking forward to their next gig, their CD, their DVD, the world tour, the t-shirts, keychains, their own Facebook page. Until the real thing comes along, enjoy this set — and there’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

ONCE THERE WAS A HOUSE ON FIFTY-SECOND STREET (Henry “Red” Allen, 1946)

The Soundies — a kind of early video jukebox — seem very primitive today.  Watch more than two at a time by the same band, and it’s clear they were done rapidly, cheaply, and without much emphasis on variety.  The same sets and presentation continue throughout a series,  and the musicians are clearly miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack.  But how else would we see Henry “Red” Allen and his sidekick J. C. Higginbotham in performance in 1946?

This Soundie — HOUSE ON 52nd STREET — was not intended as a follow-up to Red’s moody THERE’S A HOUSE IN HARLEM, but it seems an extension of songs like GIMME A PIGFOOT and THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ — efforts to invent a party scene in less than three minutes.

Its rather thin melody and lyrics already must have seemed nostalgic for a scene rapidly slipping away. By 1946, I think “the Street” was in decline: the returning servicemen had already decided to take their girlfriends to the suburbs, own some lawn, raise families — and I do not scoff at these activities, for they delineate aspects of my early life . . . but domesticity meant that you didn’t stay up late listening to jazz in the city.  And then there was television, a few years later . . .

In Manhattan, I believe that the block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on Fifty-Second Street is called SWING STREET on the green-and-white sign, but that’s possibly the only thing swinging there now.

But we can return to this invented scene — sixty-five years ago now! — and hear Red, Higgy, Don Stovall, alto; Bill Thompson, piano; Benny Moten, string bass; Alvin Burroughs, drums; Johni Weaver and Harry Turner, dancers.  And Red obviously didn’t develop his stage presence only at the Metropole: he has it here, exuberantly selling this song:

Thanks again to Franz Hoffmann for delving even deeper into his treasure-chest and letting us see and hear these prizes.

SWING STREET, BURBANK, CALIFORNIA (Aug. 15, 2011)

To a New Yorker like myself, “Burbank, California,” summons up memories of Luther Burbank and his hybridizing of fruits and vegetables, and (on another, less serious level) the jokes Dan Rowan and Dick Martin used to make about the city on LAUGH-IN, so many years ago.

But it’s possible that Burbank may go down in local jazz history as the place where Hal Smith’s FOUR DEVILS AND AN ANGEL had their first gig.  (The band was really THREE DEVILS, but all that can be clarified.)  JAZZ LIVES readers will remember that one of our roving correspondents, Henry Maldon, went to Joe’s in Burbank on August 15 and came back with a glowing report about the music he had heard.

No surprise there, considering that the band was Hal on drums, Katie Cavera on bass and vocals, Albert Alva on tenor sax, and Chris Dawson on piano.  (You can guess who the ANGEL is, although the three other men on the stand aren’t exactly on the Satanic payroll.)  The fourth DEVIL came along in the person of guitarist / vocalist Dave Stuckey, who also made these informal videos of the band at work.

On ROSETTA, the mood is definitely Keynote — a Basie feel with hints of Red Allen on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, 1957.  You forget immediately that Chris is playing a keyboard, and although Hal isn’t well-captured by the camera microphone, he’s felt even when not heard.  And the rest of the band rocks along in a delightfully easeful way:

And here’s a sweetly swinging version of CHERRY, where Chris reminds us of his beautiful sensitivity to the groove, his Wilsonian subtleties:

The glories of Fifty-Second Street, way out West . . .