Tag Archives: Symphony Sid

“LITTLE THINGS THAT DON’T GET INTO THE HISTORY BOOKS”: DAN MORGENSTERN TELLS TALES of SYMPHONY SID TORIN, WILLIS CONOVER, ARTIE SHAW, and COOTIE WILLIAMS (June 8, 2018)

I am so fortunate in many ways, some of them not evident on this site.  But JAZZ LIVES readers will understand that my being able to interview Dan Morgenstern at his home from March 2017 on — at irregular intervals — is a gift I would not have dreamed possible when I was only A Wee Boy reading his liner notes and DOWN BEAT articles.

Dan is an unaffected master of small revealing insights that show character: in some ways, he is a great short-story writer even though he is working with factual narrative.  Watching these interviews, you’ll go away with Artie Shaw pacing the room and talking, Willis Conover’s ashtrays, Cootie Williams reverently carrying Louis’ horn back to the latter’s hotel, and more.

About ten days ago, we spent another ninety minutes where Dan told affectionate tales of Jaki Byard, Ulysses Kay, Randy Weston, Kenny Dorham, and more.  Those videos will come to light in time.  But we had a marathon session last June, with stories of Louis, Cozy Cole, Milt Hinton, Coltrane, Roy, Teddy, Basie, Joe Wilder, Ed Berger, Perry Como and others — which you can savor here.  And, although it sounds immodest, you should.  (I also have videos of a July session with Dan: stay tuned, as they used to say.)

Here are more delightful stories from the June session.

Dan remembers Symphony Sid Torin, with sidebars about John Hammond, Nat Lorber, Rudi Blesh, Stan Kenton at Carnegie Hall, Roy Eldridge, and jazz radio in general:

Dan’s affectionate portrait of another man with a mission concerning jazz — the Voice of America’s Willis Conover:

and some afterthoughts about Willis:

and, to conclude, another leisurely portrait, early and late, of Artie Shaw:

with Artie as a “champion talker,” and a gig at Bop City, and sidelights about Benny Goodman and Cootie Williams, the latter reverent of Louis:

Thank you, Dan, for so generously making these people, scenes, and sounds come so alive.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

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!

FAST COMPANY at THE EAR INN (June 26, 2011)

The music played at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) this last Sunday night — June 26, 2011 — was inspiring.  And you won’t have to take my word for it.

The EarRegulars that night were a slightly different crew, although three of the four players were SemiRegulars: guitarist Chris Flory, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, and trumpeter Charlie Caranicas.

The fourth player was new to me — bassist Corin Stiggall — but I can only reproach myself for not knowing his work before this: he is a find, indeed.  All I will say about Corin (you will hear the truth for yourself) is that he reminds me greatly of Oscar Pettiford — strong, steady, inventive, with his own deep sound, and he doesn’t think of his instrument as an overfed guitar.

Here’s the quartet on a truly exuberant reading of Billy Strayhorn’s early don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out, I’M CHECKING OUT, GOOM-BYE (the brisk tempo courtesy of Mr. Allen):

A little good blues?  Here’s JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID, celebrating the days when Lester played and Sidney Torin spoke on your AM radio:

For Rodgers and Hart, an enthusiastic, twining THIS CAN’T BE LOVE:

In the middle of the evening, the marvelous community of friends old and new — so often encountered these Sunday nights at The Ear — began to come together.  Earlier, trumpeter, dancer, and scientist Lucy Weinman came up to me and introduced her West Coast buddy, reed expert Chloe Feoranzo.  (Chloe has made two CDs already — the second in the company of serious players: Dan Barrett, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, Bryan Shaw, Dave Koonse, Richard Simon*.  She’s no tyro, tentative and unsure.)

Chloe had brought her clarinet and was welcomed to the Ear Inn “bandstand” for PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Her bell-bright sound is a treat, as is her reluctance to go familiar ways.  Many clarinet players are tempted towards glibness — “I can play a fast run here, so why not?” — but Chloe seems to be thinking about what phrases she might create (without hesitating), her sound reminding me of Tony Scott, of early Jimmy Hamilton — with Teddy Wilson in 1941 — and now and again Lester on clarinet:

Friends came by — a whole reed section began to assemble.  Dan Block unpacked his alto saxophone.  Pete Anderson and Andy Farber brought their tenors.  And I felt as if I had been happily dropped into the middle of this: as you will see on the videos, Harry stood in front of me, as did Chloe; Dan was seated to my right on a barstool, Andy on the next one away, Pete diagonally across from me.  Reed rapture!

And although I am usually much more interested in the sound of my videos than the visual aspects, I was very happy to be able to capture Harry’s happiness, his eyes half-closed, while he listened to Chloe play.

How about that romping affirmation of joy, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

A sweet IF I HAD YOU:

For the closer, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the Soho version of the Henderson / Hopkins riffs:

Incidentally, speaking of community, there were old friends and new at The Ear — among them man of music Doug, the inspiring singer Jewel, and Claiborne (the last a genuine movie star — catch her in PAGE ONE).

You’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night, never heard the EarRegulars, never met Victor Villar-Hauser (a gentleman, a scholar, and a serious actor)?  Alas.

*Chloe’s second CD looks like this: I predict there will be many more!