Tag Archives: Sylvester Ahola

A PILGRIMAGE TO DECCA (August 2011)

There are some spiritual places on this planet.  Yours may be deep in the redwood forest, or on your yoga mat.  Mine is a wondrous record store in El Cerrito, California.  DOWN HOME MUSIC is at — or perhaps floats above —

10431 San Pablo Avenue.  The phone number is (510) 525-2129; the website is http://www.downhomemusic.com.  My good friend, trumpet player Tally Baker, took me there last week.  I spent seventy-five dollars and four cents, had the time of my record-collecting life, have no regrets, and want to go back again.  Here’s what I bought: some of it sentimental gap-filling (records to replace those lost in natural disasters), some of it “Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen a copy of that!,” some of it “Can you believe they have a copy of this record?”  And — to quote King Oliver — I MUST HAVE IT.  I found out that Down Home Music has live sessions, and is the beloved brainchild of Chris Strachwitz, who founded Arhoolie Records.  Long may he and the store and the music flourish.

The results of the pilgrimage, in no particular order.

MEL POWELL SEPTET (Vanguard): Powell, Buck Clayton, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, Jimmy Crawford.  Some of the music on this 10″ lp has been reissued on that hodgepodge series of Vanguard CDs — I fear they are now out of print — but they left out an extended I MUST HAVE THAT MAN that is as lovely and sad and groovy as anything I can think of.

WOLVERINE JAZZ (Decca): Bud Freeman, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Dave Bowman, Eddie Condon, Pete Peterson, Morey Feld.  This session doesn’t have Dave Tough, but it does have SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS).  And I started laughing when I remembered that Eddie advanced the idea that the album should be called SONS OF BIXES.

DON EWELL (Windin’ Ball): Ewell, solo.  Through this blog, I have met Birch Smith, who is responsible for this session.  Blessings on Ewell’s head and on Birch’s, too.  And on his DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, Don mutters (at the appropriate juncture), “Oh, crawl that thing!”  Indeed.

PETE KELLY AT HOME (RCA Victor): Dick Cathcart, Abe Lincoln, Matty Matlock, Jack Chaney, Ray Sherman, Jud DeNaut, George Van Eps, Nick Fatool.  Who knew?  This has (among other surprises) LA CUCARACHA, and it features Mister Lincoln, one of my heroes.

THE FABULOUS FINNS: SYLVESTER AHOLA (Qaulity): Ahola with the Rhythm Maniacs, Night Club Kings, Ambrose, The Rhythmic Eight, Plihip Lewis, Arcadians, Ray Starita, Georgians, Piccadilly Players.  Plus an interview done with Ahola at his home — in Finnish.  Could you resist?  I couldn’t.

BOB MIELKE’S BEARCATS (Arhoolie): Mielke, P.T. Stanton, Bill Napier, Dick Oxtot, Pete Allen, Don Merchant, Bill Erickson, Burt Bales.  Tally had played me some of this music.  It rocked then; it rocks now.

DICK OXTOT’S GOLDEN AGE JAZZ BAND (Arhoolie): Jim Goodwin, Meilke, Bob Helm, Ray Skjelbred, Bill Bardin, Napier.  Goodwin and Skjelbred.  Who could pass this up?

CHICAGO HIGH LIFE (Euphonic): Ray Skjelbred, Clarence Jackson.  Ditto.

ON THE WATERFRONT WITH BURT BALES (Cavalier): Bales, solo.  Yeah, man.

PUTNEY DANDRIDGE (Rarities): Volumes 1 and 2, with Roy, Chu, Teddy, Red, Buster, Ben, Bobby Stark, Cozy Cole, John Kirby, Slick Jones.  Mr. Dandridge is an acquired taste, but the bands swing gently and ferociously.

Blessings all around!

P.S.  Jazz 78s and 45s too, and a turntable to play them on — so that I could assure myself that the never-seen Peg LaCentra with Jerry Sears on Bluebird was, in fact, dull.  Invaluable experience — like the old days — to be able to check out a disc before plunging two or three dollars on it.

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HOOLEY’S HOME MOVIES

From Bill Haesler, the Australian jazz scholar, and courtesy of Denis King, I learned that Harry Oakley has posted on YouTube a four-minute selection from the trumpeter Sylvester Ahola’s home movies, taken in the 1920s.  They are cheerful sketches of musicians mugging for the camera, and in some cases doing vaudeville bits.  But few of young men we see here are identified or perhaps identifiable.  I wonder if these faces are known to my readers?  (I find it delightfully ironic that there’s a sign for ROOSEVELT FIELD in this selection: it was famous as a Long Island airstrip — remember Charles Lindbergh? — before it became a shopping mall.  I’ll drive past it today!)

From Harry:   Trumpeter Sylvester Ahola was a keen filmer and began his hobby in the 1920’s when amateur filming was still a novelty. Ahola filmed much that interested him but we have selected the footage which shows a number of his fellow musicians from different bands of which he was a member. Alas, with only a few exceptions, we have been unable to identify these men and we invite everybody to help us find out who they are. Ahola himself can be seen a few times; rowing a boat, with his camera in his hand (obviously filmed by someone else with another camera although it is possible that he owned two), playing his trumpet, doing a short dance and with an elderly couple, probably his parents. In the scenes with the guys in striped jackets we have identified Adrian Rollini and Tommy Felline – both from the California Ramblers of which Ahola was, very briefly, a member. This footage was shot on the roof of the Newark Branford Theater in March 1927. After leaving the California Ramblers Ahola joined Bert Lowe and his Orchestra (not to be confused with Bert Lown), and several members of this band were also filmed. We have added an appropriate soundtrack; a long version of “The Pay Off”, played by the California Ramblers in 1927.

BIX LUNCH !

hmv

Here’s a wonderful review of the two-CD set THE INFLUENCE OF BIX BEIDERBECKE, which collects rare American and European records — made while Bix was alive — that show how deeply he affected musicians worldwide.

I am reprinting this courtesy of its source, the magazine VINTAGE JAZZ MART (www.vjm.biz) and through the gracious permission of its jazz scholar / editor Mark Berresford.  Readers of this blog will find the VJM site and the magazine itself both highly rewarding.  I am also very pleased to be able to reprint this review by Rob Rothberg, who knows the music deeply.

2 CD SET: THE INFLUENCE OF BIX BEIDERBECKE. Jass Masters JMS1001. Available from Jass Masters, 71 Chalk Hill, Watford WD19 4DA, England. www.bixbeiderbecke.com. £15, E20 or $30 including p+p.

In the September 1932 issue of ‘Rhythm’ magazine, Hoagy Carmichael wrote that Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet solos were “food for plenty of thought” and “something the younger generation can study for ideas even in composition.” In the wake of Bix’s death in 1931, Hoagy lamented that the “almost total lack of recognition of one such as Bix is beyond my understanding.”

But Bix’s influence on other musicians began early on and spread widely – even to Europe, despite the fact that Bix himself never set foot there. In the two-CD set “The Influence of Bix Beiderbecke,” Nick Dellow and his associates set out to demonstrate Bix’s influence during his lifetime through 51 rare recordings principally from 1924 through 1931, a period that roughly encompasses Bix’s brief recording career.

Volume 1 concentrates on American recordings, starting with George Olsen’s 1924 recording of You’ll Never Get to Heaven With Those Eyes, on which Red Nichols interpolates Bix’s solo from the Wolverines’ recording of Jazz Me Blues, recorded four months earlier. This early replication of a recorded Bix solo on another musician’s recording was not an isolated event; the California Ramblers’ record of Tiger Rag is another example, re-enacting Bix’s solo from the Wolverines’ record.

More interesting is the way in which Bix’s contemporaries absorbed aspects of Bix’s style and created something of their own. Sterling Bose emulates the bell-like tone and driving lead of the Wolverines-era Bix (including a break taken from the master’s record of Davenport Blues) on the Arcadian Serenaders’ The Co-Ed, recorded after the Serenaders had begun playing opposite Trumbauer’s band with Bix at the Arcadia Ballroom in St. Louis. Jimmy McPartland gives us a rough-sounding, scrappy version of Bix on the Original Wolverines’ A Good Man is Hard to Find, McKenzie/Condon Chicagoans’ Liza, and the Hotsy Totsy Gang’s Out Where the Blues Begin (on which he stays too close to the melody for my taste). Andy Secrest’s ability to sound like his bandmate is well known, and he sounds so good on the Mason-Dixon Orchestra’s Alabammy Snow that Max Easterman wonders if Bix is present, as a soloist or otherwise. (I think Secrest is underrated, but I don’t hear the pride of Davenport soloing or in the ensemble.) The softer-toned Bob Mayhew blows up a Bixian storm on The Eyes of Texas by the Carolina Club Orchestra and on Broadway Rose by Dick McDonough (or is it Mickey Bloom?), the last from an unissued test pressing with great sound. Red Nichols evokes Bix beautifully and without copying on Crazy Rhythm with Miff Mole’s Molers. Dub Schoffner, who evidently was far away from the microphone for the Casa Loma Orchestra’s Little Did I Know, displays some Bixian phrasing in a Gene Gifford arrangement clearly influenced by Bill Challis.

Manny Klein, the Zelig of jazz trumpet, is heard on Lou Raderman’s Why Do I Love You (Bixian tone, but too many notes for Bix) and on Bill Challis’s arrangement of The Blue Room, written for the Goldkette band but not recorded until this 1933 version by the Dorsey Brothers, on which Klein evokes both Bix (in the opening phrases) and Bunny Berigan in a derby-muted solo. The technically-accomplished Klein is almost certainly the creative, confident player behind the derby on Roger Wolfe Kahn’s When a Woman Loves a Man as well.

In addition, Volume 1 gives us territory bands, including Perley Breed’s Shepard Colonial Orchestra (Where’s My Sweetie Hiding), Jimmy Joy’s St. Anthony Hotel Orchestra (Riverboat Shuffle), Hitch’s Happy Harmonists (Cataract Rag Blues), and Marion McKay’s Orchestra (Doo Wacka Doo). Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours display admirable drive on Papa’s Gone and No Trumps, and their trumpeter Tom Howell shows a Bixian lilt and a large, lovely sound (albeit with some technical insecurity). Andrew Aiona’s Novelty Four, whose identity is a discographical mystery, gives us Hula Girl, which will have you imagining Trumbauer’s band transplanted to the beach at Waikiki.

Along the way, we hear Bix’s influence on Jimmy Dorsey, on alto (the California Ramblers’ Davenport Blues) and clarinet (the Original Memphis Five’s Jazz Me Blues). Even players not known for sounding Bixian get into the act, such as Tommy Gott on the Jazz Pilots’ Wedding Bells, on which an unidentified scat singer channels the spirit of Harry Barris.

You’ll want to listen with Max Easterman’s splendid notes at your side. They offer a wealth of interesting detail not just about the recordings, but also the personalities and places involved. No matter how much you’ve read about the era, you will learn things that will enhance your appreciation of this music.

There are many rare photographs as well.

In Volume 2, we cross the pond to Europe, where Bix’s music exerted its influence directly, through recordings issued principally on Parlophone, Columbia and HMV, and indirectly, through emissaries such as Bix’s colleagues Adrian Rollini, Chelsea Quealey and Sylvester Ahola, who were ensconced in British bands. (Rollini even tried to recruit Bix in 1929 for Fred Elizalde’s band at the Savoy Hotel. Had he succeeded, one wonders if Bix would have lived longer.)

To my ears, Bix’s British disciples were his best. Norman Payne captured Bix’s chime-struck-with-a-padded-mallet tone and emotional reticence, particularly at slow and medium tempos.  Young Norman solos in an uncharacteristically assertive fashion in Jay Whidden’s A Dicky Bird Told Me So, then settles into a more lyrical mood for the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra’s Every Day Away from You, Jack Hart’s The Song of the Dawn and I’m Singing My Way Round the World, Spike Hughes’ Kalua, the New Mayfair Orchestra’s Follow A Star Selection, Harry Shalson’s With My Guitar and You (here with especially gorgeous tone), and the Night Club Kings’ Whispering. So effective is his evocation of Bix’s tone that he imbues the NMDO’s South Sea Rose with Bixian spirit merely by leading the ensemble (and also by ending the record with a break indebted to Bix’s introduction to Baltimore).

Jack Jackson tends to be underappreciated among jazz collectors, possibly because of his stint as the leader of a mostly sweet dance band in the mid-1930s. Here, however, we get Jackson the sideman, whose best work displays beautiful, pure tone, a Bix-like decisivene ss, and great technical mastery. On the  Crichton Lyricals’ 1927 record of Somebody Said, the teenage Jackson begins his solo by quoting Bix’s second break in Trumbauer’s recording of Riverboat Shuffle, then proceeds with a modernistic, multi-noted solo that bows mostly to Red Nichols.  (This acoustic recording has always struck me as a British counterpart to Bix’s acoustically recorded Broadway Bell-Hops date.) By the time of Jack Hylton’s Forget Me Not (note Poggy Pogson’s Bixian oboe solo!) and especially Oh! What A Night to Love, Jackson had rather less Nichols and more Bix, and was saying more with fewer notes. Night, on which the brass section crackles and Jackson alludes to Bix’s solo in Ostrich Walk, is a fine all-round performance that ought to be better known. We also hear Jackson on Spike Hughes’ record of A Ship Without A Sail, where Jackson and alto saxophonist Philip Buchel create an atmosphere that can make you wonder if you’re hearing a newly-discovered Trumbauer side.

Naturally, Sylvester Ahola is here as well. We know he was a great admirer of Bix, but he is, I think, mostly his own man, a great technician who showed a Bixian tone sometimes but Bixian ideas only rarely. Above all, Hooley is not, to use Paul Whiteman’s description of Bix, “a note miser.” He can remind you of someone running up and down a flight of stairs, as on the Rhythmic Eight’s There’s a Cradle in Caroline. When he restrains himself and slows down a bit, the results can be Bixian (e.g., Harry Hudson’s Some Hauntin’ Tune) or not. On the Night Club Kings’ In the Moonlight and particularly Spike Hughes’ A Miss is As Good as a Mile, his playing is very exciting and moving, but the aggressive, rangy style and strident tone aren’t Bixian.

But wait – there’s more. Max Goldberg does himself proud on Jay Whidden’s little-known record of Louisiana in a derby-muted solo modeled after Bix’s solo on the Whiteman record, although Bing Crosby need not worry about competition from Whidden’s stiff vocalist, Fred Douglas. (It would have been nice to have Max’s Bixian outing in Spike Hughes’ record of The Boop-Boop A Doopa  Doo Trot as well.)  Chelsea Quealey is heard with Fred Elizalde on Sugar (a Bill Challis arrangement also featuring Bobby Davis and Adrian Rollini, recorded a month before the better-known Whiteman version featuring Bix), an unissued take of Dance, Little Lady, and the Challis-influenced arrangement of I’m Glad, a lovely, hitherto-unknown performance from a recently-discovered test pressing that is issued here for the first time. We also get to hear England’s mysterious Frank Wilson (who left the music business to take up religion in the early 1930s and was not heard from again) on an unissued take of Nobody’s Fault But Your Own with Jack Payne; France’s Philippe Brun on Gregorology by Gregor et ses Gregoriens; Sweden’s Ragge Lath on Helge Lindberg’s record of Minns Du?; and Tiger Rag by the Original Capitol Orchestra, an American band in London with whom Bix had played aboard the steamboat S.S. Capitol. These are not records you see every day, at least in New York! Throughout, we are guided by Nick Dellow and Mark Berresford’s scholarly notes on the European tracks, with yet more rare photographs.

Care has been taken not to duplicate the tracks on Sunbeam’s Bix Restored, Volume 5. Nick Dellow’s careful digital restoration gives each recording vivid new life while respecting its 0riginal sound. As a result, even the tracks that a dedicated Bixophile might have heard before deserve another listen. (Full disclosure: I provided the source material for two of the European tracks here. Fuller disclosure: having listened to the records in question side by side with Nick’s transfers, I’m mpressed by what he has accomplished with them.) Apart from all of that, Bixophiles will be glad to have these recordings, packaged with perceptive commentary, in one convenient, affordable place, saving the significant cost of buying them one or two at a time on scattered CDs (not to mention the even more significant cost of buying the original records, if you can find them).

Profits from this set initially were contributed to a fund established to help meet the medical expenses of Richard M. Sudhalter, the Bix-inspired trumpeter and celebrated author of, among many other things, the books ‘Bix, Man and Legend’ (in 1974, with co-author Philip R. Evans) and ‘Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael’ (2003). (One of the CD set’s booklets includes a heartfelt tribute to Sudhalter from Bixography proprietor Albert Haim.) After Sudhalter’s death in September 2008, the profits were redirected to the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization that aids thousands of jazz musicians in crisis annually, and that helped Sudhalter during his illness. Thus is this musically worthy endeavor made even more worthy.

All in all, this set is a feast for Bixophiles. I’ll bet Hoagy would have loved it.

ROB ROTHBERG