Tag Archives: Tampa Red

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

GOOD ADVICE / GOOD MUSIC

Thank you, George Carlin.  Now, musical variations on this most crucial theme — whether local or global.

Clarence Williams’s performance of a composition by Cecil Scott and Don Frye, with an interesting personnel as notated by Tom Lord: unknown (cnt), Cecil Scott (cl,ts) unknown (as) unknown (ts) or 2nd (as), prob. Don Frye (p) Cyrus St. Clair (tu) prob. Floyd Casey (d) Little Buddy Farrior (vcl), New York, June 28, 1934.  (This is the session, famous or not in the annals of jazz discography, where Brian Rust suggested, on some fragment of hopeful hearsay, that Lester Young was in the band.  If he was, he’s not soloing.)

All I can add to the commentary is that the cornetist seems to be playing into a metal derby, and that the whole record is a wonderful example of jazz genres subtly in transition: solos and vocal over riffing ensembles.

Take One:

Take Two.  The message is so important we need to hear it twice:

That’s positive and romantic.  Tampa Red’s version from May 10, 1940 (which I learned about thanks to the very candid Carl Sonny Leyland) is much more direct.  Tell the truth OR ELSE:

Now, go out and live the message, please.  Thanks to AJS for encouragement.

May your happiness increase!

KALLY PRICE’S DEEP SOUL (Red Poppy Art House, June 17, 2012)

I’ve admired the singer / songwriter Kally Price for some time now, and think it’s a very good omen that she was appearing at the very cozily singular Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco (visit it here) three days after we arrived in California.  She was joined by pianist / accordionist / composer Rob Reich (of Gaucho and other groups), string bassist Dan Fabricant, and drummer Beth Goodfellow.  Kally doesn’t shout or scream or gyrate, but it’s clear that her singing and her songs come from deep within her — a powerful private soul that she shares most readily with us.  She doesn’t sing at her songs, or even sing her songs . . . she becomes them.  And the three other musicians on the little stage gave her empathic support and love.

Here are some of the highlights of their two sets.

After a terse, romping I GOT RHYTHM (mixing Fifty-Second Street, Mel Powell, Bud Powell, and Kansas City) that the trio played while I was getting my camera accustomed to the dark, Rob offered his own composition, an unnamed waltz that he said was somewhat spooky.  For the moment, then, it’s SPOOKY WALTZ:

Kally shared one of her songs — simple yet intense, apparently plain but full of oblique twists and turns.  She calls it MY JOB:

She is very fond of the great singers of the Thirties, and here’s a medley that connects Billie Holiday and Ivie Anderson, in LET’S CALL A HEART A HEART and LOVE IS LIKE A CIGARETTE:

Tampa Red’s ROCK IT IN RHTYHM, which everyone on the stand was more than able to enact with style:

Rob, Dan, and Beth offer a spirited GLADIOLUS RAG:

I associate FLAMINGO with the 1941 Ellington band and rhapsodic delivery of the lyrics by Herb Jeffries (still with us!); here, Dan Fabricant takes it on himself to reinvent those same lyrics: the effect is mesmerizing, more or less:

Kally returns for a fervent WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

Her tribute to the late Regina Pontillo, THE HOPEFUL PLACE, a small devout masterpiece:

MELT MY HEART, a song with hymnlike intensity:

And finally her own LOVE FOR THE ASKING:

I hope the world keeps discovering Kally Price and her noble abetters.  I can’t decide if she sings with a powerful delicacy or a delicate power, but it really doesn’t matter.  We are so very lucky to have her.

May your happiness increase.

ROCK AND ROLL WITH CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH at SACRAMENTO (May 28, 2011)

One of the highlights of the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee was getting to meet the great jazz drummer Hal Smith in person.  I’d heard him on records (and eventually seen him in videos) for twenty-five years, but to hang out with him and see him play was a deep pleasure. 

I had recorded some fine music by the Carl Sonny Leyland trio — that’s the barrelhouse pianist and singer Carl, solid-as-a-rock string bassist Marty, and Hal — where I (perhaps appropriately) set up my camera so that you and I could admire Carl’s neat fingering, his joyously gutty singing.  For this set, I decided (in the ancient jazz phrase) to “give the drummer some,” and you will get to see as well as hear why Hal is so respected by musicians and listeners — the variety of tonal colors he offers from his drum set, his intense but relaxed swing. 

Here are five performances from a May 28, 2011 set.  They remind us of what rock and roll originally meant!

Carl recreated Tampa Red’s suggestion that we be loving and honest — hinting at the dark rewards for those who told fibs and falsehoods or bent the truth — DON’T YOU LIE TO ME:

Then, a little “postcard” for one of the most  warm-hearted, spiritually generous people it will ever be my privilege to know — Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler.  She is the surviving child of the legendary pianist / composer Frank Melrose, a jazz and blues lover (she plays the piano and sings, too) and I am proud to be able to send her this little video.  (I met her through Hal — another thing I have to thank him for!)  Here’s a romping Chicago version of a sweet late-Twenties pop song, MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS, which I associate with fellows named Crosby and Condon, who also happened to admire one another:

Don’t play near those tracks, boy.  Don’t you know that Cripple Clarence Lofton’s  STREAMLINE TRAIN is coming?

Another Twenties pop song (I think of Helen Humes and the Basie boys when I hear it), SONG OF THE WANDERER, made truly groovy by this trio:

And a piece of Americana that I believe dates from 1919, MARGIE:

What a band!