Tag Archives: Teddy Bunn

TRANSLUCENT SERENADES: “DUETS FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C”– MICHAEL McQUAID and CURTIS VOLP (Bandcamp, 2020)

Artwork by Nicholas D. Ball

I’ve known the multi-instrumentalist and jazz scholar Michael McQuaid for ten years now (we first met at the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, on a bus from the airport, if I remember); I just became Facebook friends with guitarist Curtis Volp.  This post is to let you know about their brand-new CD — can I call it a CD if it only, for the moment, exists intangibly? — available here.  There you can hear the first track for free, no obligations implied or expressed.

Some words, not mine, but right on target:

Established hot jazz authority Michael McQuaid and youthful guitar virtuoso Curtis Volp team up for a dynamic yet intimate series of duets, for no reason at all – other than musical enjoyment, of course.

The album features a surprising array of tunes from the 1920s and 30s, ranging from familiar favourites like ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Melancholy’ to unjustly neglected gems such as ‘Forget-Me-Not’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’.

Though inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Lang and Teddy Bunn, the duo achieves a fresh new sound through their warm and witty musical dialogue.

Some facts, now that you’ve figured out the personnel.  The songs are THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND TO ME / WITHOUT THAT GAL! / FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C / MELANCHOLY / THE MAN I LOVE / LOTS O’MAMA / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / BLUE RIVER / FORGET-ME-NOT / LOOKING AT THE WORLD (Thru’ Rose-Colored Glasses) / IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / BECHET’S STEADY RIDER /

And another sample:

Some random observations, because it seems important to me to make the JAZZ LIVES readership aware of this music right now.  I’m on my third playing, because when the “disc” ended the first time, I was shocked.  “Is it over?  Is that all?” which you can take as a positive endorsement.

The music is nicely varied — in tempo, in mood, in emotions and emotional associations.  Several of the more morose songs (you’ll know them when you hear them) are taken a little more brightly than is conventional, but the approach works.  Both Michael and Curtis are free, imaginative players, but they clearly love the melodies, so no track is a blowing exercise on the chord changes.  The person who has been deep in the music for a half-century (wait, that’s me!) can find subtleties to admire, but this is also unashamedly “pretty” music that wouldn’t scare the new kitten back into the closet.

The repertoire is of a certain era, and the playing is spiritually and chronologically appropriate — there are no quotes from 1958 Rollins or Wes here — but it isn’t a museum tour, with a guard glowering at us to keep our distance and not touch the precious OKeh icons.  Their approach is loving but not timid, reverent but not imitative (except in their FOR NO REASON AT ALL, which has its own little individualistic nuances).  Occasionally I felt as if I’d wandered into an alternate universe of “What if?” as in “What if Tram and Lang had had a whole side to themselves to play BLUE RIVER?” Although Curtis reminds me beautifully of Salvatore Massaro, he isn’t a clone; Michael knows so many reed players so deeply that there’s no danger of him getting buckled into one cosplay suit and never being able to free himself.

I admire this session all the more because I know how risky duet improvisations are when the two musicians are in the same space, can make mutual eye contact to signal changes in the itinerary, and can prance simultaneously together.  Somehow, I think watching the monitor and listening through earbuds doesn’t make it easier, and I rejoice at the warmth of their duet.

Incidentally, there are no jokes, no gimmicks, no earnest or comic vocals, but the musicians are having fun — this is a very lively jovial session, and Curtis even shouts “Yeah!” on BECHET’S STEADY RIDER.  Appropriately.

This is beautiful fulfilling warm music, a real accomplishment.  I think you’ll love it.  I certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

“SOLID, GATE!”: THE ONYX TRIO: TEDDY BUNN, LEO WATSON, BOBBY HENDERSON (Saturday Night Swing Club, July 15, 1937).

Bobby Henderson, as “Jody Bolden,” performing in Albany, New York.

The hell with time-travel.  Before you long to go back to 1937, remember lynching, polio, breadlines, dictatorships.  Don’t touch that dial.  But a short jaunt back into audible time, not heard before, cannot wound.  This five-minute radio airshot from the SATURDAY NIGHT SWING CLUB (on the Columbia Broadcasting System) of July 15, 1937, is a delightful rebuke to those who feel “all the good stuff has been found and heard already.”  Nay nay, indeed.

To me, and to many of  you, this will be an astonishing rarity: few knew it existed.  The earnest-comic-attempting-to-be-hep announcer (possibly chained to his script?) is Paul Douglas. The musicians are guitarist Teddy Bunn, scat-singing wizard Leo Watson, also playing drums, and pianist Bobby Henderson.

This is the only recording of Henderson in his prime; he was at one time the young Billie Holiday’s accompanist, and in 1932 he recorded some sides which were never released with Martha Raye and Lonnie Johnson — but he would have to wait until the middle Fifties to make recordings, three on the Vanguard label — one Verve side from a Newport Jazz Festival appearance in 1957 — then a decade later for Hank O’Neal, when Henderson had become ill.

Here he displays great swing mastery.

Teddy and Leo are deliciously unique: note Leo’s making “CBS” and “Columbia” part of his vocal, and Bunn is a complete rhythm CPR in himself.  The fidelity is narrow but clear.  Perhaps this is how it sounded on AM radio in mid-July 1937?

Blessings on the creators, and on the savers of their creativity.

May your happiness increase!

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DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS SLIM GAILLARD, LEO WATSON, and RED McKENZIE (March 22, 2019)

Just what the title says!  Dan Morgenstern, Jazz Eminence, celebrates the unique Slim Gaillard as swing linguist, singer, riff-monger, guitarist, pianist, comic improviser, ingenious composer, with glances at an ailing Charlie Parker, Brew Moore, Loumell Morgan, Arthur’s Tavern, Leo Watson, Red McKenzie, scat singing, Red McKenzie, Milt Gabler, and more.

and the appropriate soundtracks, to save you the search:

and Slim, justifiably celebrated in his later years:

and the first part of a 1989 BBC documentary on Slim:

Part Two:

Part Three, with Dizzy:

Part Four:

And a swing detour, to one of my favorite recordings ever:

Leo also quotes BLACK AND BLUE . . .

McKenzie was often dismissed as sentimental, but here it works: THROUGH A VEIL OF INDIFFERENCE, with Jess Stacy, Lou McGarity, Buddy Morrow, Red Norvo, Ernie Caceres:

As always, thanks to Dan for making the past and present shake hands so graciously.More tales to come, I promise you.

May your happiness increase!

DISMISSED, DERIDED, DELICIOUS: THE VARSITY SEVEN: 1939 and 1940

If you consider an artist’s works in chronological sequence (bibliography as well as discography) certain landmarks blot out their neighbors.  In the case of Coleman Hawkins, there’s BODY AND SOUL, then the Hampton Victor date, then his big band — leading up to the small-group sessions of 1943-44 for Signature, Keynote, Savoy, and more.

The Varsity Seven sides — full of delights — recorded in December 1939 and January 1940 — haven’t received the admiration they deserve.  Hawkins’ admiring biographer, the diligent John Chilton, calls them “a pastiche of Dixieland.”  I disagree.

The Varsity label (please note the transparent pseudonyms for Hawkins and Carter) was run by Eli Oberstein, and it never seems to have been entirely out in the open.  I don’t know that Oberstein was the equal of Herman Lubinsky of Savoy, but Eli seems to have been ingenious in his dealings.  I believe the masters of these and other sessions were bought by Savoy, and thus the trail to licit reissues is complex.  Were they Victor sessions, they would have been available straightforwardly for decades now, including “official” CD issue.

Another side-note is that the session — one or both? — was co-produced by Leonard Feather and Warren Scholl, which may account for a Feather composition being there.  I knew two sides from this date because my Long Island friend Tom Piazza played them for me, forty-plus years ago: SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT and A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY.  I don’t know where each of the musicians was working in 1939-40, whether Fifty-Second Street or Cafe Society or uptown, but they come together to create great jazz.  Cheerful Jeanne Burns (known for work with Adrian Rollini and Wingy Manone) is a liability, but we’ve all heard less polished singers.  Here’s the information for the first session.

Benny Carter, trumpet, alto saxophone; Danny Polo, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar, vocal; Artie Bernstein, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Jeanne Burns, vocal.  New York, December 14, 1939.

IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (Burns, vocal).  The first two choruses — bless Sullivan and Wettling, who are bringing Jimmy Ryan’s to a record date or doing the Commodore? — are flawless.  Ms. Burns has pitch trouble, but I concentrate on Sullivan behind her.  Polo and Livingston (the latter sounding much like a sweet Teddy Bunn) aren’t derailed by the young lady, and then Hawkins charges in, “I’m back from Europe, and let me remind you who is still King!”  My idea of perfection is of course subjective, but the instrumental portions of this recording stand up with any other of this period:

EASY RIDER (Burns, Livingston, vocal).  Hawkins starts off rhapsodically, and is then relieved by Polo, whose sound in itself is an aural landscape, no matter how simple his phrases.  (In this, he reminds me of poets Joe Marsala, Raymond Burke, and Edmond Hall.)  Ms. Burns Is much more at ease at this tempo and in this range, and her unusual mixture of Mae West and Mildred Bailey is her most successful vocal.  Livingston’s vaudeville couplets are harmlessly archaic counterpoint, leading in to an ensemble where Carter and Polo take up most of the space, leaving Hawkins little to do.  One must admire the lovely drumming of Wettling — and how beautifully Artie Shapiro’s bass comes through — before the consciously “old-timey” ending:

SCRATCH MY BACK is the one Leonard Feather composition, and a charming one, revisited by Dan Barrett a few years ago.  I can’t figure out the changes beneath the melody — an experienced friend / musician says the first strain is similar to YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME.  I love the opening ensemble, and Shapiro’s deep notes behind Polo, then Sullivan’s rollicking solo chorus, where Wettling is having a wonderful time — and the passage where Sullivan abstracts the melody for great dramatic effect.  Then — what’s this? — a glorious alto solo by “Billy Carton” (heir to the cardboard box fortune) punctuated by a Livingston blues-pastoral.  Everyone steps aside for Hawkins, and a recap of the theme with Livingston adding sweet arpeggiated chords.  No complaints here:

SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA (Burns, vocal).  Aside from the ending, I don’t think of this as “Dixieland”: rather a series of splendid improvisations from Carter, Sullivan, and two choruses from Hawkins — over a gently propulsive and balanced rhythm section.  I find Burns’ version of Mildred Bailey’s upper-register-vibrato jarring, but I was listening to Polo, murmuring sweet limpid asides, and the rhythm section while she sang:

Fast forward to January 15, 1940: the same personnel except Big Joe Turner replaces Burns, an improvement.

And in his honor, they began with HOW LONG, HOW LONG BLUES.  In the opening ensemble, Hawkins is nearly submerged (could this have been what irritated Chilton?) which leads into a lovely chorus by Polo — with plain-spoken rhythm section work.  Then, Big Joe, in glowing voice, supported by a very powerful Sullivan, with lovely ensemble encouragements.  It almost seems as if Hawkins has been waiting his chance, and he takes it eloquently, before Big Joe and the band return.  At 2:23, apparently Turner has momentarily forgotten the lyric couplet or has gotten distracted.  A fine improvised ensemble closes off the record, with a Wettling accent.  This side seems slightly under-rehearsed, but the looseness adds to its charm:

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT has always been a favorite, and this vocal version is a prize.  If there’s a sound more engaging than this rhythm section following Sullivan, I have yet to hear it.  Big Joe sounds positively exuberant (in touch with the lyrics); Polo and Livingston keep the forward motion going , and everyone is even more gleeful for Joe’s second chorus (“rub it all over the wall”) before particularly hot choruses by Carter and Hawkins follow, leading to jamming (with Wettling happily prominent) to end the record.  If this is “Dixieland,” I want many more sides:

A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY was not a song much utilized for jam session recordings, but to have it here is a pleasure.  I wonder if Oberstein said, “No more blues, fellows!  Let’s have a hot one!” as Big Joe left the studio.  Or it just seemed like a melodic yet under-played Berlin song, taken a little quicker than I imagine it was done in the Ziegfeld Follies.  A very simple — even cliched — vamp led by Livingston starts things off before Polo takes the lead — which surprisingly turns into an ensemble passage, then a wonderfully quirky Sullivan solo AND Hawkins leaping into his chorus with the zeal of a great athlete (powerful playing from Shapiro, Livingston, and Wettling) — then a magnificent Carter solo and a romping ensemble close.  This is one of the most successful sides of the eight:

And, finally, POM POM, a Carter original which might be a phrase from one of his solos scored for small band, with a particularly light scoring: I would have thought the opening 16 was scored for alto, clarinet, and tenor, but for the speed with which Carter plays trumpet on the bridge.  Polo’s chorus is so tenderly levitating that if you, hearing his work on this session, don’t want to hear more, then I have failed.  Hawkins is energized in his two-chorus solo, reminding me of the trio records he made in 1937, especially in his powerful second chorus — but Carter is as elegant a mountain-climber as I can imagine (with a distinct similarity to Joe Thomas or Bill Coleman of this period); another piece of swing lace-weaving from Livingston, and the record gracefully winds down — simultaneously hot and gentle.  Is that a recording engineer’s “fade” or simply everyone getting softer?  I don’t know, but it’s very sweet:

These aren’t flawless records. Some of them might have benefited from a second take.  But they are uplifting examples of the stars willing to come in and play two dates for what I imagine was scale.  All in a day’s work — and how glorious the results are.

May your happiness increase!

SO SAVORY, SO SWEET — VOLUME FOUR!

A Savory Disc

It’s not only Stupendous but Colossal.  And it’s Embraceable, too.

The fourth volume of music from Bill Savory’s discs is available to be ordered, and it features Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Joe Marsala, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Glenn Miller, and others.

That’s Bobby Hackett — detail from what I believe is a Charles Peterson photograph.

Since some people, even musicians, didn’t know who Bill Savory was and what riches he had for us, I wrote this in 2016 — which I hope is both introduction and inducement to purchase.  And I have no particular shame in “shilling” for Apple when music of this rarity and caliber is involved.

Here is the link which has all the delicious information — and, I believe, how to pre-order (or order) the package, which costs less than two elaborate Starbucks concoctions or one CD.  And here are comments by Loren Schoenberg, producer of this volume and founding director of the Jazz Museum in Harlem:

“Just like an old wine, they improve with age! So much of the music of the Era was played in the musical equivalent of capital letters. These performances are such a joy to hear from bands that played with the lower-case letters too, so relaxed and flowing.”

As the title emphasizes, the outstanding cornetist Bobby Hackett is prominently featured – on three tracks with his own ensembles and four as a participant in joyous jams led by the fine clarinetist Joe Marsala. Admired by trumpet giants from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, Bobby was already leading his own ensembles by the time of the recordings that open this album after gaining notoriety through his performance with Benny Goodman in his legendary 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.

Here he joins Marsala for a quartet of rollicking, extended pieces filled with dynamic ensemble work and inspired solos on California, Here I Come and The Sheik of Araby, as well as blues classics Jazz Me Blues and When Did You Leave Heaven.

A Hackett ensemble’s participation on a 1938 Paul Whiteman radio broadcast bring us the beautiful Gershwin ballad Embraceable You and a stomping take on Kid Ory’s Muskrat Ramble, with Bobby joined by the brilliant Pee Wee Russell on clarinet and legendary guitarist Eddie Condon.

A major find are three extremely rare recordings by the immortal pianist Teddy Wilson’s 13-piece orchestra, virtually unrecorded in live performances. Recently discovered and to this point the only excellent high audio quality (superb, at that) recordings of this group, these 1939 items feature such masters as tenorman Ben Webster and trumpeters Doc Cheatham and Shorty Baker. With Wilson’s majestic virtuosity front and center, the band is structured for smooth transitions and elegant voicings, employing the rare – for its time – two trumpet/two trombone brass section creating a uniquely singing dynamic that is as graceful as its leader’s singular artistry and presence.

Martin Block, famed for hosting terrific jam sessions (including those Joe Marsala excursions) also hosted the two loosely structured, but highly energetic 1939 jams here, led by the spectacular trombone titan Jack Teagarden and featuring Charlie Shavers on trumpet and the drummer and wildman scat-singer Leo Watson. Johnny Mercer also makes an unusual appearance alongside Teagarden and Watson for a highly spirited vocal trio on Jeepers Creepers.

This delightful album closes with three pieces by one of the most popular of the Swing-era big bands, the Glenn Miller Orchestra – all featuring the leader’s right-hand man, Tex Beneke on tenor sax and vocals. The exuberant sense of swing and joy that made the Miller orchestra so wildly popular is fully apparent throughout.

As I would say to the puppy, when playing on the rug and encouraging puppy-play, GET IT!  Even if you’re not a puppy or a dog-owner, these Savory collections have brought great pleasure. I’ve ordered mine.

May your happiness increase!

I’M GETTING MY BONUS IN STRIDE: JAMES P. FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Everyone who follows jazz devotedly has theories about why some musicians become Stars and others remain Obscure.  It clearly isn’t artistic quality, as one could find out quickly by playing recordings of famous and neglected artists. No, other factors interfere.

In that wonderfully uplifting sub-genre known as Harlem stride piano, the pantheon seems to have room for only one man, Fats Waller.  His fame is well-deserved: his genial embellishments, his rhythmic drive, his delicious pianistic surprises.  But we also have to consider the effect of Fats as a Personality (many recordings and some film appearances) and a Composer.  (In the jazz mythology, he is also remembered as a joyous Dionysiac child who died young — elements that stick in our minds.) Willie “the Lion” Smith seems a collection of delightful eccentricities — melodies, derby hat, cigar, scraps of Yiddish, an elegant braggadocio.  In our time, pianists Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Don Ewell, and their current counterparts have (or had) the advantage of being accessible.

But what of the man who came first (leaving aside Eubie Blake and Luckey Roberts), Fats’ teacher, James P. Johnson?  He was not a Personality; the one or two times he sings on record he seems uncomfortable; a quiet man, almost shy, he did not thrust himself forward.  It would seem that he didn’t record sufficiently, but the discographies prove otherwise.  Wellstood once said in print that James P.’s recordings didn’t always document his greatness — although for those of us who didn’t see and hear James P. at all, that would be a moot point.

Mosaic Records, blessedly, has seen fit to put Wellstood’s casual assertion to the test.

JAMES P. Mosaic

This box set will be available in mid-December; it offers the usual Mosaic largesse spread over six CDs; rare material (eleven sides not previously issued), beautiful photographs; a lengthy essay by Dr. Scott Brown, James P.’s biographer, familiar material in the best sound.

And should some worry about six CDs of stride piano, fear not: we hear James P. accompanying blues and pop singers (including Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters) and as a sideman in bands that include Frank Newton, Jabbo Smith, Clarence Williams, Garvin Bushell, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, King Oliver, Jimmy Archey, Teddy Bunn, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Smeck, Tommy Ladnier, Sidney DeParis, Mezz Mezzrow, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Sidney Catlett, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Christian, Ed Hall, and others.

Here‘s the discography, for those who (like myself) find listings of music we are going to hear very enticing.  And if you haven’t heard James P. recently — someone Thelonious Monk admired — scroll down on this Mosaic page and listen.

My holiday shopping list is now complete — my gift to myself, I mean.

May your happiness increase!

PLEASE DON’T WIGGLE. PLEASE KEEP STILL!

I hope the title of this blogpost causes someone to consider looking for a moment before sniffing out the newest Facebook notifications.  What follows is an intriguing recording from April 7, 1930 — made for the prestigious Victor company at the start of the Great Depression, aimed at the African-American market and also (I presume) the market for slightly salacious “party records,” material that one would hear on a Black vaudeville circuit.  The ostensible narrative is about a chicken and a worm, but I suspect that other messages are and were being sent . . . beyond the farm.

Here’s the label of another side from that session:

IT'S SWEET LIKE SO

The participants are Spencer Williams, vocal and perhaps composer; Teddy Bunn, guitar, vocal; Clarence Profit, piano.

I confess I have a hard time with some of the lyrics, but PLEASE DON’T WIGGLE. PLEASE KEEP STILL! is or are words to live by in so many situations.

And just for another visual representation . . . a literal one to be sure:

CHICKEN AND THE WORM

There are few enough opportunities to hear Teddy Bunn in this period, and fewer to hear the very short-lived Clarence Profit.  So listen closely to the merriment going on around and behind the vocals.  And spare any worms you might encounter.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

WARM TRANSLUCENCE: ANDY BROWN, SOLO JAZZ GUITAR

Andy Brown Soloist

Andy Brown knows and embodies the simple truth.  It’s not how many notes you can play: it’s how you convey feeling with those notes.

For some time, the guitar has been the most popular instrument on the planet. Many guitarists aspire to blazing technique that causes the fretboard to burst into flames.  If you like to blame people, you can blame Hendrix, Bird, or even Django, masters who suggested to the unwary that the way to be even better was to be faster, more densely aggressive.

I come from a different school, having heard Charlie Christian, Teddy Bunn, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Mary Osborne, George Barnes, George Van Eps and others early in my development. I cherish deep simplicities, not fireworks. That is why I have delighted in the playing of Andy Brown and am especially entranced by his most recent CD, plainly named SOLOIST (Delmark Records).

Andy Brown makes music, first and always.  His music woos the ear and the brain but lodges deep in the heart.  You shouldn’t get the wrong idea about him from my somewhat reactionary description: he is no primitive, rejecting technique because he has none.  On the contrary, he can play quickly, elaborately, and dramatically when the music calls for it.  The most mature players know that the greatest displays of technique involve restraint, subtlety, and breathing space.  Andy understands this, and what you hear is a relaxed lyricism where every note counts.  He is a melodic improviser, someone in love with beautiful warm sounds, not trying to impress listeners with outlandish dramatic spectacle.

Andy sounds like himself, but if I were pressed to say what ancestral heroes his playing suggests, they wouldn’t be guitarists.  Rather, I think this CD would have made Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, and Count Basie grin, for its understated singing grace, its beaming pleasure in music-making.

Time for a sample? Make yourself comfortable and savor these varied performances — beginning with luminous solos, then moving to collaborations with Howard Alden, Petra van Nuis, Jeannie Lambert, the cats at the Chautauqua Jazz Party, and even Barbra Streisand.  (Don’t be disconcerted that on the Streisand video — taken from a television appearance — the words “INSIDE DEATH ROW” appear bottom right.  No hidden messages here.)

Here you can hear brief audio samples from the CD.

Andy’s idols are many — he explains all that in his delightfully understated liner notes — but this isn’t a homage to any one guitarist.  It isn’t a disc where the artist reproduces and then elaborates on an influential album or set of recordings.

SOLOIST is a love letter to beautiful songs played with affection and swing, and it is easy to listen to without being Easy Listening.  It would impress any harmonically-astute guitar whiz but it could also embrace someone who knew nothing about substitute chords.  And although most of the songs are “standards,” they are played as if they were just written. Their melodies shine through; they swing.

And — unlike many solo guitar recordings I’ve heard — the sound is plain, unaltered, but gorgeously warm.  I see that the engineer is Scott Steinman — we are no relation — and he has done a lovely job.  And all I can say is that when I began listening to this disc, I delighted in it from first to last and then it seemed the most natural thing to start it up again.  You will feel similarly.

SOLOIST is a lovely recording, and an accurate record of the music of someone I admire, having heard him in person.

Andy writes in his notes that he simply began to play in the recording studio as he would on a gig. That should give any motivated person in the Chicago area a good idea: see Mr. Brown live and buy several copies of the CD from him.

May your happiness increase!

THE MIGHTY MEZZ: A NEW NYC JAZZ CLUB OPENS (September 3, 2014)

MEZZROW club

Spike Wilner, pianist, clubowner, and a true Disciple of Swing, has another bold idea: a new New York City jazz club that presents genuine improvised music in kind settings.

Simple facts first: the club opens on September 3, 2014.  It will thrive in the basement of 163 West 1oth Street, steps away from the happily thriving SMALLS, co-piloted by Spike and Mitch Borden.  (For those who worry about such things, both clubs are a few minutes’ walk from the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station on the Seventh Avenue subway line. And it’s a calm area to be in.)

The club is a “piano room,” which is a term that needs a little explanation.  I don’t mean a “piano bar,” where people accost the pianist at close range and insist (s)he play songs whose title they half know, or where sing-alongs explode like small wildfires — with much the same result.  No.

Once upon a time, New York City had a number of such rooms, usually small, with well-tuned pianos where solos and duos were what you came to hear.  I saw Jimmy Rowles at Bradley’s, Ellis Larkins and Al Hall at Gregory’s.  Although horn players might sit in, these rooms were meant for thoughtful improvisation. In this century, where patrons have a hard time keeping still, paying attention, turning their phones off, Spike’s determination to make such a spot possible is a beautiful and courageous act — in a city that prides itself on having every kind of entertainment and enlightenment in profusion, his new club is a rarity if not a solitary gem.  (Yes, there is the Knickerbocker, and thankfully so, but that large room is a different species entirely.)

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

Spike has named the club for one of his musical heroes, the clarinetist / saxophonist / organizer / man with plans Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Mezzrow was a fascinating figure, someone whose deep-hued nearly-surrealistic autobiography REALLY THE BLUES made a profound impression on me when my sister gave it to me as a birthday gift (I was, I think, 14).  The dream of this century and the preceding one is “You can be anything you want to be if you only want it fiercely enough,” and Mezz — in his own way — exemplified that romantic notion.  Mezz was a White Jewish Chicago kid (those identifiers are important to the story) who was so entranced by the Black music he heard that he knew that was what he wanted to play.  More importantly, he knew that “that” was the person he wanted to be, the life he wanted to lead.

So, although he was never a great musician, he became a friend to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier; he heard and hung around Bix, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, and the rest.  He organized record dates with Teddy Bunn, Bechet, Hot Lips Page, Chick Webb, Frank Newton, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Benny Carter, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney Catlett, Art Hodes, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.  He was deeply involved in a near-religious crusade to offer marijuana as a more healthy alternative to whiskey or hard drugs.

And he crossed the color line early and without pretense.  In an era when having mixed-race record sessions was rare, Mezzrow (like Eddie Condon) pushed this idea forward with historic results.  He led a band, the Disciples of Swing, where “white” and “colored” musicians played together.  And more seriously, he identified as Black — marrying a woman of color, and taking his convictions into everyday life.

I think (although I could be presuming here) that this latter figure — the man so deeply committed to a music and the ideas behind it: community, equality, creativity — is the man Spike honors by naming this new club MEZZROW.

Here is the club’s website, where you can learn more about it — the schedule, ticketing, about Mezz himself, and more. I don’t know when I’ll make my first visit, but since I see my friends Rebecca Kilgore, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Michael Kanan, Scott Robinson, Neal Miner . . . I expect to be there often, and it may well be a deeply needed oasis of quiet creativity in New York. And https://www.facebook.com/mezzrowclub is the club’s Facebook page.

Blessings on you, Spike.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL, ELUSIVE, GONE: CLARENCE PROFIT (1912-1944)

By any estimation, the pianist Clarence Profit (June 26, 1912 – October 22, 1944) was immensely talented and short-lived. People who heard him play live, uptown, said he was a match for Art Tatum. He was proposed as a replacement for Teddy Wilson with Benny Goodman in 1939; Profit’s sleek drumless trio may have inspired Nat Cole’s.  Although his approach was spare rather than exhibitionistic, his harmonic subtleties were remarkable for their time, and his gentle touch and elegant playing are remarkable today. clarenceprofit One could collect every recording he made (fewer than fifty three-minute sides, less than half of them under his own name) on two compact discs, and his recording career was exceedingly brief: dates with the Washboard Serenaders, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and Teddy Bunn in 1930 and 1933, then Profit’s own piano trio (guitar and bass) and piano solos in 1939 and 1940. John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO OF JAZZ (1978) sums him up in a paragraph:

His father, Herman Profit, was professional pianist; his cousin was pianist Sinclair Mills. Played piano from the age of three, led own 10-piece band during his teens including Bamboo Inn, Renaissance, and the Alhambra. In 1930 and 1931 worked with Teddy Bunn in the Washboard Serenaders. In the early 1930s visited his grandparents in Antigua, remained in the West Indies for a few years, led own band in Antigua, Bermuda, etc. Returned to New York in November 1936 and began leading own successful trio at many New York clubs including George’s Tavern (1937-9), Ritz Carlton, Boston (1938), Yeah Man Club and Cafe Society (1939), Village Vanguard (1940), Kelly’s (1940-3), Performers and Music Guild Club (1942), Village Vanguard (1944). Was part-composer (with Edgar Sampson) of “Lullaby in Rhythm.”

I knew Profit’s work — solo, trio, and as a band member — for many years, but he has come back to my mind and ears because of a purchase made a few nights ago at the Haight Street Amoeba Music in San Francisco: a red-label Columbia 78 of BODY AND SOUL (take B) / I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, both Profit solos. I was so taken with them that I had to share them with you.

Each of the two performances begins with an exposition of the theme — simple yet quietly ornamented, with a spareness that is masterful, a peaceful, almost classical approach to the melody (but with elegant, often surprising harmonic choices beneath). He is patient; he doesn’t rush; he doesn’t attempt to impress us with pianisms. His playing verges on the formal, but it is based on a serene respect for the melody rather than a tied-to-the-notes stiffness.

Then, Profit moves into a more loosely swinging approach, which superficially sounds much like Wilson’s or a pared-down Tatum, but his choices of notes, harmonies, and his use of space are all his own. (There are suggestions of Waller in the bridge of the second chorus of I DIDN’T KNOW, but it is a cerebral, yet warm version of the stride motifs Waller tossed off to amaze and delight.)

Listen for yourself. The beauties of his style will not fully appear on one listening):

BODY AND SOUL:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS:

I know nothing of Profit’s early death, and can only speculate. Did he, like so many musicians of the time, succumb to tuberculosis or pneumonia?  I am not simply asking a medical question here, but a larger one: where did Clarence Profit go?  How could we lose him at such a young age? How many pianists under the age of sixty have heard these recordings? He left a void then, and it remains unfilled today.

Perhaps some readers have the Meritt Record Society issue above, or the Memoir CD devoted to Profit’s work, and can offer more information.

My own story of his elusiveness comes from this century. The parents of one of the Beloved’s New York friends had frequented Cafe Society and Fifty-Second Street.  Oh, yes, they had seen Clarence Profit — the name supplied voluntarily by the friend’s octogenarian mother — but it was so long ago she didn’t remember any details.  Like the jazz Cheshire Cat, all that remained was her smile as she said his name.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!

MARK CANTOR’S CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS (JAZZ ON FILM)

celluloidimprovisations

The renowned (diligent but never stuffy) scholar of jazz on film, Mark Cantor, is also a generous fellow, and he has launched a new website.

There, you can see and hear Fats Waller, Joe Marsala and Adele Girard, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, the Washboard Serenaders, Andy Secrest, Benny Carter, Connee Boswell, Red Nichols, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Dave Brubeck, Punch Miller, Lady Will Carr, Ethel Merman and Johnny Green, the Max Fleischer team of surrealists, Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, Ray Eberle, Sidney Bechet, Thelma White, Buck and Bubbles, Maude Mills, Gerry Mullingan, the MJQ, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Bill Robinson, Louis Jordan, Joe Williams, as well as groups and musicians we might never have heard about — the daring Sandra among them — and a few mysteries: unidentified players just waiting for you to recognize them. (If you are interested in footage of “the girls in the band,” you will find some here as well.)

Some of these films and excerpts are familiar, but many are rare: offered here for your viewing in the best available prints with good sound and clear images.

May your happiness increase! 

ANOTHER SUNDAY SUPPER AT BRENDA’S WITH GAUCHO (DAVE RICKETTS, ROB REICH, ARI MUNKRES): JUNE 23, 2013

provider-photo

Dr. Matilda Weinstein (the JAZZ LIVES house physician) asks, “Have you had your GAUCHO today?”

Here’s a hot and sweet musical tonic from my visit to one of GAUCHO’s regular spots — Brenda’s French Soul Food on Polk Street in San Francisco — on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

Dave Ricketts brought along his ever-reliable Tin Man (you’ll see it in his lap) but also his cornet, where he displays an admirable calm lyricism; Rob Reich swung out on the accordion in ways that the instrument isn’t accustomed to — all for the good! — and Ari Munkres showed again why he is a one-man rhythm section.

A hot SWEET GEORGIA BROWN (I got my camera in action late, but the second half is delicious):

The little-known rhythm ballad, MOANIN’ FOR YOU (courtesy of the Mills Brothers and patented Ricketts-Romanticism):

And for those who like their New Orleans cuisine with Middle Eastern touches, THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

Tasty (as is the food at Brenda’s)!

May your happiness increase!

PERFECT YOUR SWING! (September 11-15, 2011)

Now that I have your attention, would you like to perfect your swing?  I don’t mean you could become the next Bobby Jones, but you could become a better jazz musician or singer by studying with the pros!

In the old days, you could learn your craft by apprenticing yourself to a master craftsperson.  The guilds are long gone, but the idea of studying with the Masters is still appealing.  I don’t suggest that you need to learn Japanese or become certified as an electrician, but here’s the jazz version of such an opportunity — my idea of the Princeton Institute For Swing:

CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION PRESENTS

THE CHAUTAUQUA TRADITIONAL JAZZ WORKSHOP

Dan Barrett, Music Director

September 11-15, 2011

Faculty:

Duke  Heitger, Trumpet

Scott Robinson, Reeds

Dan Barrett, Trombone

Rossano Sportiello, Piano

Howard Alden, Guitar / Banjo

Kerry Lewis, Bass

Ricky Malachi, Drums

Rebecca Kilgore, Vocals

Chautauqua’s first-ever Traditional Jazz Workshop will be held on the beautiful grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, with your home base at the historic Athenaeum Hotel.  The 4-day session will include ensemble workshops, coaching, jam sessions, and performance opportunities in student groups and with faculty members.  Students will focus on jazz standards and works from the American Songbook, with emphasis on improvisation and ensemble performance.  Enjoy social events with faculty and fellow students on beautiful Chautauqua Lake.  The workshop culminates in a performance opportunity at the opening session of the 14th Annual Jazz at Chautauqua traditional jazz party on Thursday evening.

Tuition for the workshop will be $550 USD; the lodging and meal package at the Athenaeum Hotel will be $525 per student (single occupancy) or $775 (double occupancy) USD.  Stay on for the annual Jazz at Chautauqua party and receive a 20% discount on your food and lodging.  For reservations at the Athenaeum, call 1-800-821-1881 or email athenaeum@ciweb.org.  For information about the workshop, contact Nancy Griffith at 216-956-0378 or email her at nancylynngriffith@yahoo.com.

And if you have never thought of learning to play C JAM BLUES on the trombone, please don’t rule this idea out.  The jazz fans of my generation lament the impending demise of traditional jazz.

Why not give the art form we love a blood transfusion from young folks — your guitar-strumming grandson of yours who has just discovered Teddy Bunn, or that niece who is trying to play Cootie Williams’ growls on BENNY’S BUGLE.  Of course, it could also have a secret didactic purpose: turning a young man or woman slightly away from heavy metal to floating swing.  Attending this workshop and learning from these genial masters could be a life-changing event.

And you don’t have to be a raw youth to come aboard, either . . . if you yourself would like to sound more like Benny Morton or Tricky Sam Nanton, this is a heavensent opportunity.  Or you might sign up for the singers’ workshop just to learn from Rebecca Kilgore how to sing more sweetly!

See you in Chautauqua, and don’t be late!

“GRAB YOUR AXE, MAX!” or A SPLENDID PRESENT

Oh, I absolutely have to start practicing!  Do I have enough time to become semi-amateurish by September 2011 . . . . ? 

Consider the following, very enticing for anyone who’s got rhythm:

CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION PRESENTS

THE CHAUTAUQUA TRADITIONAL JAZZ WORKSHOP

Dan Barrett, Music Director

September 11-15, 2011

Faculty:

Duke Heitger, Trumpet

Scott Robinson, Reeds

Dan Barrett, Trombone

Rossano Sportiello, Piano

Howard Alden, Guitar / Banjo

Kerry Lewis, Bass

Ricky Malachi, Drums

Rebecca Kilgore, Vocals

Chautauqua’s first ever Traditional Jazz Workshop will be held on the beautiful grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, with your home base at the historic Athenaeum Hotel.  The 4-day session will include ensemble workshops, coaching, jam sessions, and performance opportunities in student groups and with faculty members.  Students will focus on jazz standards and works from the American Songbook, with emphasis on improvisation and ensemble performance.  Enjoy social events with faculty and fellow students on beautiful Chautauqua Lake.  The workshop culminates in a performance opportunity at the opening session of the 14th Annual Jazz at Chautauqua traditional jazz party on Thursday evening. 

Tuition for the workshop will be $550 USD; the lodging and meal package at the Athenaeum Hotel will be $525 per student (single occupancy) or $775 (double occupancy) USD.  Stay on for the annual Jazz at Chautauqua party and receive a 20% discount on your food and lodging.  For reservations at the Athenaeum, call 1-800-521-1881 or email athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.  For information about the workshop, contact Nancy Griffith at 216-956-0378 or email her at nancylynngriffith@yahoo.com.

I wasn’t quite serious about practicing enough to be accepted into the workshop in time for September, but I meant “A Splendid Present” emphatically.  Many older jazz fans lament the impending demise of traditional jazz.  Why not give the art form we love a blood transfusion from young folks — that grandson of yours who has just discovered Teddy Bunn, or that niece who is trying to play Cootie Williams’ growls on BENNY’S BUGLE — being able to attend this workshop and learn from these genial masters could be a life-changing event.  And you don’t have to be a raw youth to come aboard, either . . . if you yourself would like to sound more like Benny Morton or Tricky Sam Nanton, this is a heavensent opportunity.  Maybe I should sign up for the singers’ workshop just to be taught breath control by Rebecca Kilgore . . . now there’s a thought.

See you in Chautauqua, and don’t be late! 

 

 

IN THE SPIRIT of TEDDY BUNN

Here’s a band of young fellows — recorded in January 2011 at the VU Bar in Newhall, California — called CAPTAIN JEFFREY AND HIS MUSICAL CHUMBUCKETS*.  The lead guitarist, Patrick Morrison, is a deep Teddy Bunn devotee, and it shows.  His colleagues are Captain Jeffrey (Jeffrey Moran), vocals, steel guitar; Carlos Reynoso, drums; Eli Hathaway, rhythm guitar; Marquis Howell, string bass.  Here they pay tribute to and reinvent the late-Thirties recording of WILD MAN BLUES by Johnny Dodds and his Chicago Boys:

P.S.  *Patrick says that everyone hates the band’s name.  But I say they swing!

THE SPIRITS OF RHYTHM SIGN IN on eBay

I admire the Mills Brothers; I revere the Boswell Sisters. 

But I have a special place in my heart for a group that has received far less attention — the aptly-named Spirits of Rhythm, featuring Douglas Daniels and his brother Wilbur on tipple (a twelve-string instrument), Teddy Bunn on guitar, and Leo Watson on vocal, occasionally drums. 

Their recording career was brief: their records can fit on one compact disc (it’s worth searching for — on the Timeless / Retrieval label) and they flourished, intermittently, between the early Thirties and the mid-Forties.  Electrified, Bunn went on to record into the Fifties; Watson drifted into obscurity and died in 1950.  What happened to the Daniels brothers I do not know (although I just sent an email to Wilbur’s granddaughter, found on YouTube — the internet makes such deliciously odd things possible!). 

I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog the two clips of the Spirits — or variant combinations — on film, and they can be found on YouTube.  One is an exceedingly out-of-synch TOM TOM THE ELEVATOR BOY, from a 1941 musical SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS.  The other features Eddie Cantor impersonatory Jackie Greene in ALABAMY BOUND. 

But here’s some music.  First, I GOT RHYTHM from 1933:

And DR. WATSON AND MR. HOLMES (lyrics by Johnny Mercer, 1937):

What else would anyone need?

How about some calligraphic evidence?  Here’s a contract offered to the highest bidder on eBay: dating from 1942, it offers the signatures of Ramon La Rae (a singer?  a bassist?), Teddy Bunn, Leo Watson, and the Daniels brothers.  I never thought I’d see something like this:

Here’s a closeup:

My only question now is whether I want the image below on a sweatshirt or will content myself with the wall hanging. 

Design suggestions, anyone?

The bidding ended — someone offered over $325 for this rare piece of paper.

KEEP EVERYONE’S SPIRITS HIGH: CLICK HERE (ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS)

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

TEDDY BUNN in FULL FLIGHT

REMEMBER!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

The world would be a better place if more people knew about guitarist / singer Teddy Bunn. 

There!  I’ve said it again! 

Most people who know anything about Mr. Bunn associate him with the Spirits of Rhythm and with deep blues playing.  But he could also fly over that fretboard in a most swinging fashion!

Here are two examples: IT’S SWEET LIKE SO (1931, Victor) a duet between Bunn and pianist Spencer Williams.  Williams — more often known as a composer — is equally adroit, mixing Hines and stride, although he tends to get faster and faster as the already fast tempo continues.  The song (if you can call it that) is a rapid-fire vaudeville piece with the same chord changes as a dozen other slightly naughty ones:

And here is one of Bunn’s masterpieces — a solo rendering (1940, Blue Note) of KING PORTER STOMP, where his enthusiasm and invention seem boundless, as he keeps his only indetity while impersonating a thirteen-piece swing band:

Listen and admire — the bent notes, the overall sonority — even if you’re not a guitarist.  And if you know a guitarist, do all of us a favor by sending this post along.  I have kept up my Bunnian missionary zeal for years now: when I meet a student who brings his or her guitar to class, I say, “Your homework is to check out Teddy Bunn.”  And a few — the rare few — have come back and thanked me.  “Professor, Teddy Bunn is really cool.” 

That he is.

JOHN SCURRY’S “REVERSE SWING”

One of the most gratifying things about being a jazz listener is the possibility of meeting one’s heroes in the flesh.  I could lament that I never saw Django or Charlie Christian or Teddy Bunn, but I’m happy and proud to be able to write, “I’ve met John Scurry.”

I first heard John — guitarist, banjoist, composer, and not incidentally an artist — on several NifNuf CDs that came out of Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties (a glorious series of celebrations running for a decade). 

I would put the CD into the player, most often in my car, and just listen, not knowing who the players were aside from Bob and one or two others.  But when I got to my destination or at a stoplight, I would look at the personnel to see exactly who that most impressive (unidentified) player was.  Sometimes it was Fred Parkes, other times Chris Taperell or George Washingmachine. 

But I came to know John Scurry’s work quickly: his ringing lines that didn’t go in familiar paths, his solid rhythm, his interesting voicings.  I then heard him on CDs with Allan Browne and Judy Carmichael and continued to be impressed.

And it would have stayed that way except for this summer’s trip to England and the long thrilling jazz weekend at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival. 

One night before the festival actually began, there was a concert devoted to the great British dance bands of the Thirties.  After we found seats on the little bus that was to take us to the hall, I recognized some people I’d met at the previous year’s festival — the multi-instrumentalist Michael McQuaid and his sweetheart Anna Lyttle. . . then Michael introduced me quickly to his colleagues, “there’s Jason, and John, and Ian.”  I’m not terribly good with names the first time I’m introduced, so I let the new bits of data wash over me.   (Eventually I came to meet and admire Jason Downes and Ian Smith.)

Later on, though, someone pointed out “John” and gave him his full title . . . and I went up to him and said, “You’re John Scurry?  I’ve been admiring your work for a long time . . . ” and on.  When he played with Michael’s Late Hour Boys, he was even better in person.  (I’ve posted a number of clips on YouTube that will bear me out.)

I’ve been listening John’s winding, curious compositions on some other CDs with Allan Browne recently.  I regret that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to make a solo or duo CD.  In a world full of guitarists, he surely stands out.

I was both delighted and a bit puzzled by the portrait top left — even though I could understand that it is summer in Australia while we are worrying about the effects of the first frost on the plants . . . so I asked John to explain:

The band is a drumless quartet with Eugene Ball trumpet, Mike McQuaid
reeds, Leigh Barker bass, and myself on guitar.  We are unrehearsed and
playing standards, some of my so called originals and whatever comes
to mind in the balmy summer eve atmosphere of the lovely interior
spanish mission style courtyard of the Mission to Seafarers in
Melbourne, and old circa 1910 building.  The painting is by Antoine Watteau and I think it may be in the Met.  Jed Perl who writes for The New Republic did an article on it a few  years back. The painting if I remember correctly was recently rediscovered: I downloaded the image from his article, which was called  ‘A Big Surprise”.  A very beautiful work, don’t you think?  Sort of
encopasses everything really.

 As to “reverse swing”.  It’s a cricketing term, wherein the ball when
bowled swings the other way unexpectantly and contrary to Mr. Isaac
Newton’s expectations.  I like the name, I’m left-handed and happen to
play cricket…and I’m a bowler.  At this stage up until Christmas the gig is only for three weeks, however as  with all things we live in hope and joyful anticipation that more music may be had from the seafarers in the New Year.
I did this gig last year with Mike and Leigh, it’s a lot of fun
working with an acoustically based group without drums……it’s good
to  find one’s voice for better or worse without certain aural
encumbrances.

I only wish that New York was closer to Australia, or the reverse.  Perhaps someone will record REVERSE SWING with a video camera and share the results with us?  It won’t be the same, but it will tamp down my “Something wonderful is happening far away and I can’t get to it.” 

May John Scurry and his friends — not only in the Australian summer — prosper.

FIFTY-SECOND STREET WEST (Cafe Borrone, Oct. 15, 2010)

Because of the wonderful photographs that Charles Peterson and others took, some of my readers will be able to visualize the bandstand at Jimmy Ryan’s sixty-five years ago — crowded with hot musicians jamming on, say, BUGLE CALL RAG, with every luminary in New York City eagerly improvising at the peak of their powers.

Now imagine that scene with additions.  A wondrous singer — let’s say Connee Boswell, Lee Wiley, or Mildred Bailey is joining in for a few numbers. 

And, if your imagination can hold this, Django Reinhardt and some members of his group are also there, off to the side, having a fine time.  Bob Wills is coming through the door, too. 

Did this happen?  If it did — in New York City, circa 1945 — it hasn’t been documented.  But something very much like it happened last Friday, October 15, 2010, in Cafe Borrone, which sits happily in Menlo Park, California.

Cafe Borrone has — through the generosity and prescience of its owner, Roy Borrone — having Clint Baker’s All-Stars as its Friday night jazz band.  For twenty years of Fridays, mind you.  And the 15th was a twentieth-anniversary party.

And “SFRaeAnn,” who is Rae Ann Berry on her driver’s license, was there to record this occasion.  Clint’s regulars were in attendance, but so were some instrumentally-minded friends.  As was the eloquently hot Gypsy-tinged small group Gaucho, and New York’s own wonder, Tamar Korn.  The musicians (collectively) are Clint Baker, playing everything expertly; Robert Young, saxophone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar; Tom Wilson, trombone; Jim Klippert, trombone; Dave Ricketts, guitar; Rob Reich, accordion; Mike Groh, guitar; Ari Munkres, bass, J. Hansen, drums, Riley Baker, drums.

A word about GAUCHO — a group I’ve seen in San Francisco (and I’ve also listened happily to their recordings): many “Gypsy swing” groups that loosely resemble this one specialize in superhero-speedy readings of the Reinhart-Grappelly repertoire.  In such cases, I agree with my friend Anthony Barnett when he proposes a moratorium on such endeavors.  In my case, all I want is not to be pummelled with notes.  But GAUCHO is superbly different.  The overall affect is superficially of music you’d hear on the porch or in the living room, but that feeling is undercut by the instant awareness that no amateur musicians ever, ever sounded this good.  Its two guitarists play and swap roles with grace and a stylish casualness.  Rob Reich makes the accordion an instrument I would happily listen to, as he spins out wandering lines (I was traumatized by an accordion as a child.)  And Ari Munkeres brings together Pops Foster and Paul Chambers very adeptly.  The overall feeling brings together Teddy Bunn and Western swing and a whole host of refreshing improvisations on various subtle, profound models.   

Here’s part of a delightful EXACTLY LIKE YOU, where Tamar and Leon converse:

And a full-fledged YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — where Tamar’s eyes and facial expressions reveal a great comic actress, singing the twisty lyrics at a rapid clip.  (Not only that: she sings the verse twice!)  This performance becomes a series of witty conversations and overlapping monologues, most fetchingly: 

How about SOME OF THESE DAYS, with an incredible outchorus where instruments and Tamar (the Mills Sister) blend so exuberantly:

Here’s a  delicate, unaffected I’M CONFESSIN’ — a performance where Ari’s arco bass, Leon’s Ziggy Elman – Harry James emoting, Robert’s sweet alto, and more theoretically disparate elements come together to create something terribly moving:

The simplistic philosophy of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING remains true — complain too much and even the dog walks out of the room — but what catches my eye in the first minute of this performance is that an audience member has asked Tamar to dance (unless I am missing the essential subtext).  At what other site do band members dance with the audience?  I ask you!  And don’t miss the vocal duet between Tamar and Jim Klippert, a man who is having just too much fun to keep it to himself:

Tamar sat out PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE (perhaps the jitterbugging had worn her out for the moment?) and Clint took the vocal, with solos from everyone: 

And the evening ended with a romp nothing short of ecstatic on BILL BAILEY (or, as Joe Wilder calls it, THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY), which should have you grinning for days:

I’m thrilled that this music was created and that the apparently tireless Rae Ann Berry saved it for us and for posterity.  Bless Roy Borrone, all the musicians, and our own devoted videographer, too.

P.S.  And I have it from good authority that GAUCHO’s new CD has Miss Korn and Mister Oakley in attendance — with some songs that Tamar has written lyrics for.  I check the mailbox every day . . . and will let you know when it arrives!

MICHAEL McQUAID’S LATE HOUR BOYS at WHITLEY BAY (July 9, 2010)

At my first Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival last year, I met and instantly liked the young Australian jazz virtuoso Michael McQuaid — he plays alto saxophone, clarinet, and cornet — but didn’t get to hear him in his natural settings.  This year the fates were kinder: I saw Michael and the little hot band he leads, the Late Hour Boys, in two sets. 

After the first one, someone asked me what I thought.  Without thinking for a second, I replied, “Scalding!”  I think you will see that I wasn’t being hyperbolic.

The Late Hour Boys take their name, some of their repertoire, and their joyous attitude from the late Ade Monsborough, who named his group this way not because they favored midnight performances, but because he assembled his personnels at the last minute.  Michael McQuaid’s LHB summon up the kind of hot improvisation I associate with Spanier and Bechet, with a bare-knickle version of Soprano Summit in its closing choruses. 

You’ll hear evocations of Johnny Dodds and Pete Brown, of Teddy Bunn and Milt Hinton and Zutty Singleton.  It’s a two-man all reed front line, with Michael and the peerless wit Jason Downes switching off on clarinet and alto; the rhythm is taken care of by the splendid John Scurry on banjo and guitar and Mark (the Eel) Elton on bass.  Ian Smith, who also played cornet with Ade some years back, is a driving homespun drummer and washboardist who sings with great effectiveness — tenderly on a ballad, raucously on a jump tune.  And this band jumps for sure.

Here’s a rollicking CANDY LIPS (I’m STUCK ON YOU) from the Clarence Williams book:

Here’s a wartime composition by Monsborough, SORRY TO BE LEAVING:

PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES is not the usual homage to Louis and the Hot Five.  It has its own romping momentum.  Although I don’t quite understand the emotional / romantic nuances of the lyric, I believe anything that Ian sings:

RAIN is a pretty tune that no one else seems to remember; Ian is in the moment on his sweet vocal:

EUROA, a Monsborough composition, honors a place that Michael suggests is improved by the song:

MELANCHOLY, which harks back to the glory days of 1927 Chicago with Johnny Dodds and Louis Armstrong:

BLAME IT ON THE BLUES, which I associate with Sidney Bechet and Albert Nicholas, intertwining:

Michael and the Late Hour Boys also have a new CD out which entirely captures the exuberance of these video performances.  Listening to it is also a much more focused experience, since you don’t have a running-shoes-for-sale poster in the background.  It is a limited edition, so I don’t know if this posting is too late, but I hope not! 

Check it out at http://www.jasondownes.com/lhbcd.