My title, I think a borrowing from Poe, refers to those musical performances, rare and surprising, that have gone unobserved on YouTube for months and years. Volume One can be found here.
Doris Duke is usually identified as tobacco heiress, philanthropist, and socialite. She’s less well-known as a fervent supporter of jazz and an amateur pianist. She and pianist / singer / composer Joe Castro had a lengthy relationship, and Doris’ devotion to jazz led her to stage and record jam sessions in studios on both coasts. Two CD box sets on the Sunnyside label, under Castro’s name — LUSH LIFE and PASSION FLOWER — collect astonishing recordings in first-rate sound, the participants relaxed and eloquent. Here, Castro is not the pianist, but Doris’ friend Teddy Wilson is.
Teddy and Stan Getz only recorded together on one other occasion — the soundtrack of the BENNY GOODMAN STORY, but nothing quite so personal as this quartet, where they are supported splendidly by Bob Berteaux, string bass; Jimmy Pratt, drums. I hear parallels to PRES AND TEDDY (which had not yet happened) and the Lester Young – Nat Cole – Buddy Rich date, but Stan is very much himself here, and the quartet soars and muses beautifully.
FALCON BLUES (BLUES IN G):
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:
JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:
OUT OF NOWHERE:
I WANT TO BE HAPPY:
“Hidden in Plain Sight”? When I assembled these titles for this post, I noted that the music had been on YouTube for three years and none of these performances had received more than a hundred views. Surprising is the most gentle way I can put it. Some digging on YouTube often yields treasure.
Music first. Then, words. Many words: suitable for lovers of jazz mysteries.
HONEYSUCKLE ROSE Teddy Wilson Sextet at the Fats Waller Memorial Concert, April 2, 1944, [mis-dated as May 4, all issues] Carnegie Hall, New York City: Wilson, piano; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Emmett Berry, trumpet; Bennie Morton, trombone; Al Hall, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums:
GET THE MOP:
LADY BE GOOD Mezz Mezzrow Septet at the Fats Waller Memorial Concert, April 2, 1944, [mis-dated as May 4, all issues] Carnegie Hall, New York City: Mezzrow, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; unknown, tenor saxophone; Trummy Young, trombone [mis-identified as Dicky Wells on all issues]; unknown, piano; unknown, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums:
and from the Carnegie Hall archives:
Sunday, April 2, 1944 at 8:30 PM
Main Hall PRESENTED BY American Youth for Democracy A Salute to Thomas (Fats) Waller
Selections (unspecified) Raymond Edward Johnson, Actor Will Geer, Actor Mezz Mezzrow, Clarinet Jimmy Savo, Comedian Al Hall, Double Bass Oscar Pettiford, Double Bass Pops Foster, Double Bass Cozy Cole, Drums Sid Catlett, Drums Slick Jones, Drums Josh White, Folk Singer Ralph Cooper, Host Al Casey Trio, Jazz Ensemble Count Basie and His Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble Teddy Wilson and His Band, Jazz Ensemble Art Hodes, Piano Bob Howard, Piano Count Basie, Piano Hazel Scott, Piano J. C. Johnson, Piano Mary Lou Williams, Piano Pat Flowers, Piano Teddy Wilson, Piano Willie “The Lion” Smith, Piano Edith Sewell, Soprano Muriel Rahn, Soprano Howard Da Silva, Speaker Paul Draper, Tap Dancer Ben Webster, Tenor Saxophone Trummy Young, Trombone Erskine Hawkins, Trumpet Frankie Newton, Trumpet Hot Lips Page, Trumpet Teri Josefovits, Unspecified Instrument Xavier Cugat, Violin Baby Hines, Vocalist Billie Holiday, Vocalist Jimmy Rushing, Vocalist Mildred Bailey, Vocalist Thelma Carpenter, Vocalist
A little history, a little mystery. I first encountered these three selections on two Jazz Archives microgroove issues in the early Seventies. Jazz Archives was the creation of the assiduous collector Jerry Valburn, whom I met in person a few times because we lived only a few miles away. His label issued live recordings, alternate takes, rare issues, and more. But in this case his documentation was not completely accurate, or it may have been the fault of the person identifying the source material. All issues have placed this concert as May 4, which couldn’t have happened, because that night A. Philip Randolph and others were speaking at Carnegie. The issue mis-identified the trumpet player on HONEYSUCKLE and MOP as Hot Lips Page, a logical error, but it’s very clearly Emmett Berry, who also recorded with the almost-identical Wilson band in 1944. Finally, the trombonist on LADY BE GOOD was identified as Dicky Wells, but it’s very plainly Trummy Young.
There are several other blank spaces in the identification of the Mezzrow Septet: Mezz, Sidney, Ben, and Trummy are completely recognizable. But the oom-cha pianist and anonymous string bassist? Since the concert drew on musicians connected to Cafe Society Uptown and Downtown, I wonder if the first tenor saxophonist is Kenneth Hollon. Teri Josefovits composed and played “novelty piano,” rather like a modern Zez Confrey. But I also want to know how Xavier Cugat fit in. And if you are wondering, “American Youth for Democracy” was the youth group of the Communist Party: not at all surprising, for in 1944 “the left” was vigorously in support of jazz, African-American art, and interracial presentations.
All of this is understandably minutiae, “into the weeds,” as our friend Matthew Rivera calls it. But the three recordings above are professionally done. (A fourth performance from this concert, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ by the Basie band, was issued on lp, not CD — Valburn’s “Everybody’s” label — but I don’t have that disc.) I want to know what happened to the other discs. Where are the performances by Newton, Lips, Mildred, the Lion, Pettiford? I did go down a few alleys in my quest: I asked the wonderful musician-archivist David Sager if the discs resided in the Library of Congress (Valburn had donated his Ellington collection there, I seem to recall) and the answer was no. I have a vague memory of leaving a phone message with Lori Valburn, Jerry’s daughter, whose artwork decorated more than a few Jazz Archives covers, but she never called back.
If anyone knows, I’d be thrilled to learn more. Until then, three more performances that many of you may not have heard.
Jazz festivals, by their very nature, lean heavily on all-star groups of musicians who don’t work together often — sometimes resulting in a gathering of brilliant names that is less than the sum of its parts. This set, nearly an hour, is an exception. Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson had associations going back to 1933; Bobby Hackett appeared memorably on a few of Teddy’s recording dates in 1938. Larry Ridley was a versatile player, often called in for such gatherings (he supported Benny, Bobby, and Teddy at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York for a jam session at Radio City Music Hall). Sometimes his bass is not caught well by the microphones, but when it is, it is lovely.
Those four players did not travel in the same orbits in the Seventies, so it is a wondrous thing that they were caught together, not only in performance, but for posterity by French radio.
I’ve left the drummer, David Lee, Jr. (1941-2021) for last, because initially he seems distant from the rhythmic feel of the other players, even though his working associations were with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins, who understood swing, if in their own idiosyncratic ways. But Lee adapts himself more as the session continues and his hi-hat, initially relentless, is less distracting.
In 2023, only Larry Ridley (born 1937) survives. Bobby would die of a heart attack less than a year later. Note that Bobby, always gracious, calls a Carter composition for his feature. Easy medium tempos and arching lyrical solos are consistent beauties here.
Bobby Hackett, trumpet (or cornet?); Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Larry Ridley, string bass; David Lee, Jr., drums. Grande Parade du Jazz, July 18, 1975. Broadcast on French radio: audio only.
I MAY BE WRONG / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? / ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET / BLUES IN MY HEART (Hackett) / BODY AND SOUL (Carter) / WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
I’m not sure that great art ever points the way to a “moral,” but two occur to me. One is to bless these adaptable musicians, so sweetly durable. Their lyricism did not age and will not. The second is to tip our hats in the direction of Thomas Edison’s lab in New Jersey . . . and bless all recording equipment. Yes, “recording” brings us TikTok, but it also made these notes and tones eternal, undying.
We don’t often use “Benny Goodman” and “New Orleans” in the same sentence, but this sublimely relaxed performance suggests we might have been wrong.
It’s reminiscent of the happy ease of the 1935 Trio, with a smooth rhythmic push throughout provided by Sid Weiss, string bass, and Morey Feld, drums. Benny and Teddy seem joyously in synch and free. The sound isn’t perfect but one’s ear gets used to it quickly.
Deep Goodman collectors no doubt know this music, but it hasn’t been issued in any commercial form that I know of. And it’s a consistent pleasure, free from the demands of the recording studio.
Municipal Auditorium, New Orleans, “National Jazz Foundation,” WWL radio broadcast: LIMEHOUSE BLUES / EMBRACEABLE YOU / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / BODY AND SOUL / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / ROSE ROOM / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / HALLELUJAH! / THE MAN I LOVE / BOOGIE WOOGIE / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET //
My tape copy is from the collection of the late John L. Fell; audio limitations are to be expected: acetates transferred to magnetic tape of unknown generations from the original.
And since so much conversation about Benny is detached from his music, let me urge you to put the mocking anecdotes aside and just bask in the sounds: the melodic fluidity, the rhythmic ease, the masterful playfulness. I propose that those qualities are more important than whether Benny forgot someone’s name.
This post is for Alessandro King and Nathan Tokunaga, both of whom understand Benny in deep ways.
That’s a very important question, I think. Sincerity leads to shared joy; duplicity to heartbreak. Popular song of the great period revels in the second (think of Bing singing WERE YOU SINCERE?) but we know the delight of being told the loving truth.
Helen Ward, aglow.
We all have recordings that touch us, for a variety of reasons. I have too many “desert island discs” to consider the possibility to transporting them all, even metaphysically, somewhere else. But this post celebrates one of them. The song is the clever and touching DID YOU MEAN IT? from 1936. The title had been used nine years earlier and there is a contemporary version, but this song may be most familiar in a recording pairing Ella Fitzgerald with Benny Goodman, a joint venture that happened only once.
But with all respect to Ella and Benny, this is the version that touches me deeply: I have been playing it over and over.
On this venerable disc — part of a copy of a radio broadcast from March 1937 — Helen Ward’s voice comes through with the most earnest candor. You can believe that she believes what she is singing: no tricks, no gimmicks. She is sincere through and through, and she has the most wondrous band of musicians having the time of their lives around her.
The recording has a good deal of surface noice but one can ignore that easily. It’s what was called an “airshot,” in this case, a recording made of a live performance “off the air.” We don’t know the source and the date is not certain, but whoever had the disc prized it and played it often.
We can hear it now, eighty-five years later, through the brilliant diligence of the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett, who has devoted decades to the reverent study of well-known figures Stuff Smith and Eddie South, less well-known ones Johnny Frigo, Ginger Smock, Harry Lookofsky, Dick Wetmore, Henry Crowder, Juice Wilson, and dozens of others. His CDs are models of presentation of the rarest (and most entertaining) material; his books are serious but never ponderous studies in which the people chronicled are instantly alive in evidence and good stories. Learn more here.
Now, to the music.
The band is Helen Ward, vocal; Teddy Wilson, piano; Stuff Smith, violin; Jonah Jones, trumpet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums.
After a declamatory introduction by Jonah, three choruses: one by Helen (obbligati by Stuff and Teddy), one split between Teddy (thank you, Kirby) and Ben at his best pre-1940 rhapsodic, the last for Helen, even more earnest and tender, if such a thing could be imagined, with Jonah making derisive noises behind her as the room temperature rises and she — without changing very much at all — becomes trumpet-like in the best Connie Boswell manner. Please notice the way the band stops, to hold its breath, perhaps, at 2:42. Was this an arrangement based on Helen’s having performed it with the Goodman band, even though Ella made the Victor record?
The applause that closes this performance sounds artificial, but mine is genuine.
This was broadcast on the radio in March 1937. Listen and ponder: do we have it so much better? I wonder.
Thank you, Helen and colleagues. Thank you, Mort Dixon and Jesse Greer.
Perhaps because I have been listening to this music adoringly, obsessively, for decades, occasionally I think there will be no more surprises, no more electric shocks of delight. And then someone comes along and wonderfully proves me wrong. Without further ado, Arifa Hafiz and “Arifa’s Reefers,” led by Ewan Bleach, in performance in the Netherlands in November 2022.
ROSES OF PICARDY:
BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD:
Now, a pause for breath. And for information. The band is Ewan Bleach, clarinet and saxophones; Mike Soper, trumpet; Will Scott, clarinet; Colin Good, piano; Jean-Marie Fagon, guitar; Louis Thomas, string bass. And Ms. Hafiz.
DID I REMEMBER?:
and, finally, FOOLS RUSH IN:
Now, a few words, although they are hardly necessary. That band is completely grounded in the present: they aren’t museum curators. But they have the finest swing-romp one could have, a mixture of Basie and the Commodore Music Shop, with a good deal of Teddy Wilson stirred in for warmed leavening. Arifa is passionate but not melodramatic, joyous yet exact. She loves the song: that’s clear immediately, and she gets right inside it and makes herself comfortable. And in my very brief correspondence with her, she reveals herself to be without pretense: modest, friendly, and gracious — what you hear in her voice is who she is as a person.
You can’t imagine how much my happiness has increased. And there’s a CD in the works. Bless everyone in these videos, and (to borrow from Whitney Balliett) may they prosper.
which contained six sides that Teddy had recorded as a sideman with “Redd Evans and his Billy Boys” for Vocalion Records — great records I think few had ever heard.
But a little online research — my effort to answer the question, “How had Teddy or John Hammond or someone else heard of Redd Evans, and what had they heard that would lead them to offer him more than one record date?” led me to these listings in the DAHR:
Victor BS-019565 10-in. 2/11/1938 A shack in the back of the hills Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019566 10-in. 2/11/1938 Please be kind Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019567 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019572 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019573 10-in. 2/11/1938 Prove it Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019574 10-in. 2/11/1938 Moments like this Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
I also found out that the February 11, 1938 session had the following personnel, some names completely unknown, others familiar to those of us who have studied the period: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City.
I have been able to find nothing about Debin and Jones. Potoker was recognizable to me as a member of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, and part of a Charlie Shavers date (1946) for Vogue on its short-lived picture record line. But the first record date I found for him was in 1945. Russ Case was famous — an early Goodman trumpeter, someone appearing with Teagarden, the Boswell Sisters, and Trumbauer. Most intriguing was this early appearance by guitarist Art or Artie Ryerson, explicated by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi: Artie staking his claim as perhaps one of the first US guitarists to show an explicit Django influence! Ryerson told my friend (and journalist) Jim Carlton that he heard Django on record in 1935 and was influenced by him for the next several years. This, to my ears, is proof of that claim. Ryerson elsewhere in the interview was pretty good with dates by the way – even if he is off by a year or so (which he may very well be based on the research I’ve done around Django’s US record releases), that still gives him ample time to absorb the influence by the time of the recording in question. And who else WAS showing a Django influence in the USA on record in February 1938?
Luigi Lucaccini pointed the way to this gem:
and Javier Soria Laso added more delightful evidence:
These sides are hidden gems in the best pop-songs-swung Thirties tradition. Yes, Evans was more confident on the later sides (or was it Victor’s microphone setup?) but the instrumentalists are splendid; the ocarina solos are delightful — not jokey at all — and the overall effect is polished and homespun at once. And we remember that these three pop tunes were classics in their own way — more memorably recorded, perhaps, by Mildred and Maxine, but touching. I am especially fond of Leo Robin’s wry-mounful lyrics to MEMORY, so true and witty at once; his niece told me a few years ago in conversation that the narrative came from her uncle’s very real heartbreak, and the genuineness comes through in every turn of phrase.
I decided to look deeper on my own and found the two remaining sides from the 1938 date, surprising myself.
A SHACK IN THE BACK OF THE HILLS:
If I’d heard any of those sides coming out of a record store speaker or jukebox, I would have been entranced, As I am now. And the gentlemen of the ensemble play so sweetly and easily.
And by the way, if you want what Germans call “the thing in itself,” a reputable eBay seller has the 78 of MOMENTS LIKE THIS and PLEASE BE KIND for sale — $25.00 plus 8.63 shipping) here.
Thanks again for kind erudite diligence, Luigi, Javier, and Nick.
One of the great pleasures of jazz recording and performance is the sound of Teddy Wilson, born 110 years ago today: a complete orchestra, every measure of jewel-box of shining details. The records he made with Billie Holiday have to be among the most famous in the last century, with his sides with Benny Goodman, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Jo Jones creating a galaxy of pleasures.
But here are some sides from 1939 that few have heard.
They require a bit of speculative research for context. It’s hard in 2022 to imagine how violently the world, and, yes, the entertainment world, was racially segregated. Benny Goodman had broken “the color line” by hiring black musicians who would appear on the same bandstand, but the integration of those artists into radio orchestras and recording groups (as in “studio work”) happened very slowly.
One of the people fighting to break this barrier was John Hammond. I have a good deal of ambivalence about him: he created self-glorifying narratives, he played favorites, he had numerous agendas — but the results of his crusading cannot be denied.
At the start of 1939, Wilson had had almost five years in the spotlight from his work with Goodman; he made many small-group recordings under his own name for Brunswick; he even had a business venture, the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists.” This was a transitional period: he appeared on a few broadcasts as a member of Benny’s band while his own orchestra was taking shape and broadcasting from the Savoy Ballroom.
Hammond tried, often without success, to stage-manage musicians’ careers (Ellington, Holiday, Frank Newton, and Rex Stewart are the most dramatic examples) and often those musicians grew exasperated and broke off the relationship. But I think he and Teddy respected each other, and Teddy was grateful.
One of John’s ideas was to slowly, subversively mix white popular artists with black jazzmen and women on record. So in 1939-41, Wilson was part of a band or the leader of his own unit for record dates with Redd Evans, Eddy Howard, and Chick Bullock. All of those sessions are rewarding and more: the mix of sweet crooning and hot solos and accompaniment is, to me, irresistible.
Of the three, Redd Evans is perhaps the most obscure, and his fame is now as a lyricist for NO MOON AT ALL, THERE! I’VE SAID IT AGAIN, THE FRIM FRAM SAUCE, ROSIE THE RIVETER, LET ME OFF UPTOWN, and DON’T GO TO STRANGERS. But in 1938 he made six sides for Victor or Bluebird as “Lewis Evans and his Bama Boys,” which I have never seen nor heard. (Anyone?) Here the connections become pure speculation. Did Hammond hear those records, or was Evans performing in a club or on the radio? Or did Evans reach out to Wilson or Hammond? A side note: an internet source says that Evans was a saxophonist and that he played the ocarina.
This just in, as they say on news programs. Luigi Lucaccini pointed me to the one “Bama Boys” record — on Bluebird — that not only delights but answers the question. It’s PLEASE BE KIND:
That’s perfectly charming — I want to hear all of them! And I can completely understand Hammond or someone else wanting Evans, a delightful singer and ocarina soloist, to record again with jazz accompaniment. The facts about this session are: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City. Again, this is a worthy entry in the pop-song-swung tradition, and it shows that fine music was played by people who weren’t stars, although Potoker, Case, and Ryerson are certainly known.
So these would be called “crossover” recordings, mixing jazz and Western swing. And here is the discographical data, thanks to Tom Lord (I’m puzzled by the note that Evans sings on the first session but the vocals are done by “Hot Sweet Potato,” since Evans played the ocarina. But this doesn’t stop me from enjoying the music.)
Redd Evans (vcl) acc by tp, ts, g, Buster Bailey (cl) Teddy Wilson (p) unknown (b) J.C. Heard (d). New York, April 17, 1939. W24381 They cut down the old pine tree Voc 4836 W24382 Red wing – W24383-B Carry me back to the lone prairie 4920 W24384-A Red River Valley –
Here are files (courtesy of the Internet Archive) of the first four songs.
The trumpeter sounds both fine and familiar: Emmett Berry, possibly?
Those four sides enjoyed some popularity — if you count appearances on eBay as a valid indicator. I have one of the two discs (OLD PINE TREE and RED WING) and made rudimentary transfers of the worn 78 for YouTube, for those who like to see the disc spin.
RED RIVER VALLEY and RED WING were classic Americana; the other two were more contemporary creations, with the light-hearted morbidity of OLD PINE TREE, which always catches me unaware.
The other two sides were both fascinating and elusive: the digital transfers are a gift from collector Peter J. Doyle, although I have never seen the disc. But brace yourself for BAGGAGE COACH, which is an ancient barroom ballad (Eugene O’Neill used it in A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN) much more morbid than OLD PINE TREE. This rocking version owes something to Jerry Colonna and the Tommy Dorsey “glee club.” It’s a favorite record of mine. And MILENBERG JOYS simply rocks: when wasn’t that the case?
Redd Evans And His Billy Boys : Willis Kelly (tp) Floyd Brady (tb) Reggie Merrill (as) Clark Galehouse (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Al Casey (g) Al Hall (b) Cozy Cole (d) Redd Evans, “Hot Sweet Potato” (vcl). New York, August 11, 1939. 25189-1 Milenberg joys (re vcl) Voc 5173 25190-1 In the baggage coach ahead (re vcl) – 25191-1,2 Am I blue ? (re,hsp vcl) (unissued) 25192-1,2 When it’s springtime in the Rockies (hsp vcl) –
and a less unusual composition:
Are these six sides imperishable jazz classics? Perhaps not. But Teddy’s work is stunning — a magical combination of ease and intensity. As always.
Thank you, Mister Wilson, for all you gave us and continue to give us.
Although I have spent the better part of my life wholly immersed in this music, I envy those who are coming to it for the first time. Because they don’t “know everything” behind and around what they hear, they are able to hear the music’s energies and shadings in ways that those of us whose minds are portable libraries can’t. The more you know, ironically, the heavier your psychic knapsack becomes, even though some of those accretions are relevant and precious.
I imagine someone coming to the four-minute performance with no knowledge of the players, their personal histories, the cultural context in which this performance happened, and simply thinking, “That sounds wonderful!” They know nothing of “Benny Goodman”; they hear a clarinet, piano, vibraphone, and drums at once being expert beyond belief and playing like children, full of joy. Personal quirks and tragedies aren’t in that knapsack, merely exuberant bright thrilling sounds — the music of great artists having a great time, on the spot.
So I urge the most erudite of my readers to attempt an experiment. Put aside all the gossip you’ve heard about the players, forget your memories of perhaps seeing them live or buying your first recordings by them. Forget what you know or what you think you know, and drop down, trusting and blindfolded, into the rich irreplaceable sounds:
To quote Frank Chace about another clarinetist, “Doesn’t that just scrape the clouds?”
I could write a thousand words on what seems marvelous to me here, but I’d hope that readers take the pleasure of hearing this performance again. And before turning to their other tasks, I invite them to subscribe to the YouTube channel created and maintained by my friend who calls himself, not by accident, “Davey Tough” — a treasure-house of marvels, presented with care, intelligence, and love.
Yes, that’s right: Tommy Dorsey taking Bennie Morton’s place, briefly, reading the trombone book, alongside Emmett Berry, trumpet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Sidney Catlett, drums. Members of this band we don’t see are the leader Teddy Wilson and the bassist, either Johnny Williams or Slam Stewart. Alas, there’s no recorded evidence, but Brown Brothers had a photographer there to show us that it did happen.
Incidentally, “sits in” means that he wasn’t there as a regular member of the group; his business suit isn’t their tuxedo band uniform, and his posture suggests (even though Tommy was a completely expert professional musician) that he is seeing the music for the first time.
and the front, so remarkable:
I suspect whatever they are playing is or was an arrangement new to them, because Emmett and Ed are looking at their music as well. It must have sounded so fine.
How do I know about this? This photograph, with watermarks added, appeared on eBay about a week ago and I put in a substantial bid and sat back. The auction ended less than an hour ago; I was outbid, and the new owner will pay $134 (shipping included) which was more than I felt up to. But we all can see this version — even with watermarks — and marvel, for free.
And just because it would be cruel tp post silently in this context, here is nearly forty-five minutes from that same Wilson band (Berry, Morton, Hall, Slam Stewart, Catlett) recorded for Associated Transcriptions in 1944. Ignore the incorrect “Onyx Club” description and float along in the finest swing:
That photograph says a good deal about Tommy Dorsey the active and respected jazzman, something that posterity hasn’t always said quite as generously. He could, and did, play, and I am sure that Teddy was delighted to have him on the stand.
In his sixty-year performing career, Earl Hines was never characterized as a timid improviser. No, he was daring — that he had a piano in front of him rather than a machete was only the way the Fates had arranged it. Dick Wellstood called him, “Your Musical Host, serving up the hot sauce,” and that’s apt. Whether the listener perceives it as the freedom to play whatever occurred to him or a larger musical surrealism, it was never staid.
Later in life, Hines had (like his colleague Teddy Wilson) various medleys and tributes that could form a set program for an evening, but he improvised, even within set routines. The listener was in the grip of joyous turbulence, and Hines’ showmanship was always part of the show. Here, first solo and then accompanied by Harley White, string bass, and Eddie Graham, drums, he plays music composed by and associated with his friend Fats Waller. Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips before we start.
The songs are BLACK AND BLUE / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / JITTERBUG WALTZ / SQUEEZE ME / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . and each of them has its possibilities examined, shaken, stirred, and offered to us in the most multi-colored way. And, yes, my mixing of metaphors is an intentional bow to the Fatha:
Hines told more than one interviewer that his flashing “trumpet style” of playing — octaves and single-note lines exploding like fireworks — was born out of necessity, his desire to be heard over the band. He kept to that path even when no band was present, and it’s dazzling.
It is raining in my world, so that is reason to work more on closet-archaeology (“What was I saving this for?”) and other probing questions, which led coincidentally to emotional-musical introspection. Thanks to Nick Rossi, who holds the lantern for so many of us, I wandered to this brief lovely rousing performance (November 23, 1937):
Three choruses and an extension, a masterpiece of individual improvisations and collective Swing architecture. Imperishable. If you need subtitles: the Benny Goodman Trio, which was Benny, clarinet; Teddy Wilson, piano; Gene Krupa, drums — performed live on the Camel Caravan radio program, recorded for us by the Blessed William Savory and shared with us by the equally Blessed George Avakian. (I understand there are many hours of unheard BG in the Savory discs, but don’t know the state of the negotiations that would make them audible.)
And one more. Anyone for pineapple and plumeria, still fresh, from June 29, 1937?
I heard these recordings when I was still in the first years of high school — the gift of a friend who had played clarinet in his childhood, who later, as a math teacher, helped me pass the Regents — and they stuck with me. Doug Brown, thank you across the decades.
Then and now, I delight in Benny’s enthusiasm, his special kind of melodic embellishment; Teddy’s marvelous pulse and harmonic surprises; Gene’s energetic delight. (If you think that Gene is “heavy” on these recordings, listen to the way Benny and Teddy are inspired by him, then ask yourself, “Is this what I am hearing or am I merely repeating what someone else has said?”)
And one other thing. These were brand-new popular tunes in 1937 (you can look up their histories at your leisure) so it wasn’t a ponderous matter of “the classics from the Great American Songbook,” but three masters having fun with new music. What a blessing such music was made, and captured.
First, some music: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY as performed by Don Redman’s Orchestra in Geneva, Switzerland, October 27, 1946. The band is Bobby Williams, Alan Jeffreys, trumpet; Peanuts Holland, trumpet, vocal; Quentin Jackson, Jack Carman, trombone; Tyree Glenn, trombone, vibraphone; Don Redman, alto saxophone, piano, vocal, arranger; Chauncey Haughton, Pete Clarke, alto and baritone saxophone, clarinet; Don Byas, Ray Abrams, tenor saxophone; Billy Taylor, piano; Ted Sturgis, string bass; Buford Oliver, drums; Inez Cavanaugh, vocal:
The music (in this case featuring Tyree Glenn, Ted Sturgis, Don Byas, and others) is relevant to the pieces of paper below. And for those who would like to hear the whole Geneva concert — happily broadcast on Swiss radio and even more happily, preserved for us seventy-five years later! — here are all the performances:
Now I shall modulate into another key.
As a young jazz fan, I had to decide what variety of souvenir I wanted to take home from an evening’s entertainment. At one point, I fancied myself a still photographer — with a Canon AE-1 — and I would take as many shots as I’d bought rolls of 35 millimeter film. That was especially appropriate in the venues where I had learned beforehand that illicit audiotaping would get me thrown out unceremoniously (as in, “We don’t allow that here. Give it to me and please leave”).
I asked very few musicians for autographs, because I was afraid that they would say, “Was that a cassette recorder I saw in front of you? Kindly bring it here so that I can smash it with my shoe, if you don’t mind.” I also felt at the time that asking for a hero’s autograph relegated me to the status of “fan,” where conversation would have been limited. I could speak to Bennie Morton, but if I’d asked him to sign something, perhaps he would have done so, said a few polite words, and the interchange would have ended.
Eventually I also realized that approaching an artist for their autograph right before a set was ungenerous (“Let me get prepared, let me discuss the first song and the key, or let me get my charts together”) and after a set perhaps more so (“I just gave you my all for 45 minutes; I’m depleted, and want to visit the facilities”) so thrusting a tiny piece of paper in the Idol’s face was not always a kindness.
I must say, though, that in 1971 if I delayed Teddy Wilson for three minutes to ask him to sign my copy of PRES AND TEDDY and send beams of admiration at him, I feel no guilt now, and a prize of mine (thanks to the very dear Mike Burgevin) is an enthusiast’s 1933 autograph book that has a Jack Pettis signature. So I am not free from such urges.
Many people, however, perhaps with less timidity, have asked for autographs. Their ease, decades after the fact, results in slips of paper being offered for sale on eBay. One of the most rewarding sites is “jgautographs”— and here are a few items of unusual interest from a recent auction.
Don Redman’s 1946 orchestra (including Don Byas) that “went to Europe”:
and one of its trumpet stars, Peanuts Holland:
another Quentin Jackson signature (he deserves the attention):
our hero, James Rushing, Esquire:
the underrated and superb drummer Kansas Fields:
A souvenir of the 1938 Paul Whiteman orchestra, featuring Charlie Teagarden, Frank Signorelli, and George Wettling, and what looks like a Miff Mole signature squeezed in at the bottom:
Finally, a trio that I would have loved to hear — perhaps at a festival in 1978 — Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and Ray Bryant:
Holy relics, mingling gratitude, admiration, affection, passing back and forth from artist to happy listeners.
(Postscript: none of these seem mechanical: if you haunt eBay, as I do, you can find what seem like hundreds of signatures by certain famous musicians, and I suspect they sat at a table, as do sports stars, and signed a thousand in an afternoon, which now are for sale. These seem to be signed in real life and under real circumstances, which is a very fine thing.)
I’m in favor of authenticity, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, but for fifty years, Benny Carter’s song (music and lyrics) SYNTHETIC LOVE has been a true favorite of mine. So many things come together in it: the irresistible little motifs of the opening melody line and the notes that underpin “Although my life may be pathetic, better that than more synthetic love.” It should have been a hit, but I think the lyrics — so clever — were not easy for singers. “What rhymes with synthetic? With artificial?” Benny was living in the age of synthetics — between Bakelite in 1907 and nylon in 1935 (yes, I looked this up) — so the idea of “synthetic love” might have hit him as hard as “milkless milk and silkless silk” did W.C. Handy.
I am terribly fond of Carter’s early singing, how clearly he idolizes the equally-young Crosby, with the patented mordents, dips and slides. The usual jazz-history response to Bing is that he was influenced by African-American musicians, but I think the reverse is also true: his work was deeply absorbed by them as well.
I cannot provide any facts about his vocal work of the time: our friend Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of the Hot Club of New York, talked to Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, who told him that the King had no desire to linger on or in the past . . . he was always moving forward, so that he recorded SYNTHETIC LOVE once in 1933, then a year later, and never again. Here are those two versions and two modern evocation-tributes. All entrancing, I feel.
Shad Collins, Leonard Davis, Bill Dillard (tp) George Washington, Wilbur DeParis (tb) Benny Carter (cl,as,tp-1,dir,arr) Howard Johnson (as) Chu Berry (ts) Nicholas Rodriguez (p) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Ernest Hill (b) Sidney Catlett (d,d & vib-2) New York, March 14, 1933.
Here we have — in addition to Carter, composer, arranger, and singer, Benny’s first recorded trumpet solo, a beauty. This recording is not only splendid jazz, but wonderful dance music, thanks to Lucie (who takes a break), Hill (who’s swinging with the bow), Sidney Catlett’s propulsive brushes — switching to powerful press rolls in the outchorus. Also note the trombone (Washington?), early Chu, and lovely Carter clarinet. Hard to believe one man was so talented!
If the first version was an expansive yet unaffected display of Carter’s talents, the second is far more modest (although not in its effect).
Russell Smith, Otis Johnson, Irving “Mouse” Randolph (tp) Bennie Morton, Keg Johnson (tb) Benny Carter (as,cl) Ben Smith, Russell Procope (as) Ben Webster (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Clarence Holiday (g) Elmer James (b) Walter Johnson (d) Charles Holland (vcl). New York, December 13, 1934.
The trumpet solo is by Irving “Mouse” Randolph, whom no one chronicles — maybe I should? — the glorious trombone solo is by Bennie Morton, and you hear Teddy Wilson gleaming throughout. Carter did not sing again; rather, the vocal chorus is by Charles Holland, who also recorded with Chick Webb; he was (I learned this morning) trumpeter “Peanuts” Holland’s brother:
Into this century, from November 2000. Dan Barrett, cornet and vocal; Chris Hopkins, piano (a version I had the honor of playing for THE Benny Carter scholar and all-around gentleman Ed Berger, who hadn’t known of it). What a wonderful idea to take the chorus rubato, then pick up into a swinging 4/4:
The most recent version, from 2002, by ECHOES OF SWING: Colin Dawson, trumpet / vocal; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Bernd Lhotzky, piano; Oliver Mewes, drums:
Who will bring this neat, clever song into 2021? And may I wish all my readers love that is in no way synthetic. We know the difference.
P.S. This blogpost is for all the members of the Hot Club of New York, many of whom love this song as I do.
This is not the most famous of Cole Porter’s songs, nor the most heralded of Teddy Wilson’s performances. But I found myself humming it — silently — the past few days, and thought I would remind myself and you of these moments of beauty. The three-note downward motif is not complex, but it ensnares the listener, and the bridge is so lyrical that it startles on first hearing or rehearing. The version I have permanently embossed on my brain is Lee Wiley’s, but when I turned to the solo piano inventions here — Teddy at his thoughtful best — I was entranced.
Here, from a 1939-40 transcription session:
Here, for Musicraft Records, in 1946:
It’s easy to caricature the most obvious facets of Wilson’s style: the rapid tempos, walking-tenths basslines, the magnificent right-hand arpeggios, but at this tempo, the beauties of his style — sedate, grave, respectful but rhythmic — are evident. Teddy, like his colleagues of the early Thirties, knew how to honor the melody while spelling out the harmonies, and to create new melodies from those harmonies. Elegance, grace, and feeling, all in place from his introduction to Louis’ I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING. The ease of his performance, less violent than Hines, or room-filling like Tatum, could lead someone to believe that it was easy to do, but having spent some time attempting to reproduce four measures of his introduction to I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS from the 1928 “School for Pianists” recordings, I assure you that even when he simplified his style, he was creating magic. And these two performances, exploring Porter’s melody without the “smart” lyrics, have a wistful grace.
And, just because Miss Wiley’s version didn’t leave my mental soundtrack either, here she is at an Eddie Condon concert (Ritz Theatre, March 17, 1945) with Joe Bushkin, piano; Sid Weiss, string bass. That the top notes are slightly beyond her reach only adds to the poignancy of her rendition):
There is a good deal of history within and around the live performance you are about to hear. However, the sound is not ideal — which I will explain — so sonically-delicate listeners may want to come back tomorrow.
It might be difficult for younger readers to imagine the excitement that I and my jazz friends greeted the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1972. It was the Arabian Nights — a cornucopia of concerts where we could see and hear musicians who, for the most part, had been sounds coming out of a cloth-covered speaker grille or posed on the cover of a long-playing record. My friends and I, specifically Stu Zimny, bought tickets to the concerts we could afford — we were college students — and I brought my cassette recorder with the more exotic Shure microphone attached. I don’t remember the ticket prices at Radio City Music Hall, but for people of our class, it was general seating which required climbing flights of stairs. I looked it up today and the hall seats just over 6000.
I think we might have scored seats in the front of the highest mezzanine. Our neighbors were two exuberant women from Texas, younger than I am now, understandably ready for a good time. They’d brought Scotch, offered us some, which we declined, and they politely declined our offer of Cadbury chocolate. I kept silent because I had a cassette recorder in my lap; the Texas contingent gave out with appropriate exultations. The audience in general was excited and excitable, although they paid attention to the solos. (One of the women, commenting on the applause, can be heard to say, “You like something, you tell ’em about it,” and who would disagree?)
The players were a constellation of heroes: Gene Krupa, drums; Larry Ridley, string bass; Teddy WIlson, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Norvo, vibraphone; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Roy Eldridge, trumpet.
The first set offered four long songs, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID were the closing pair, with Gene, whose health was not good, playing only those two, taking over for the younger Bobby Rosengarden. (Gene would die fifteen months later.) There is some distortion; my microphone was not ready for 6000 people; the engineers seemed only partially aware of how acoustic instruments might sound in such a huge hall. The ensembles are not always clear, and the applause can drown out part of a solo, although this excitable audience is tame when compared to some recorded at JATP concerts. Even in substandard sound, the music comes through, the individual voices of the soloists, and their pleasure at being on this stage together. Our pleasure you will have to imagine, but it was substantial then, perhaps more so now.
Consider for yourself, with or without Scotch or chocolate:
The Festival concerts were reviewed regularly in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs of Don Heckman’s review, “MIDNIGHT JAM SESSION AT MUSIC HALL,” in the New York Times, July 5, 1972:
The jam session, that most venerable of institutions, is still at the very heart of the jazz experience. Rare though it may be in these days of musical eclecticism, it continues to be a kind of proving ground for musicians, in which they can test and measure themselves against their contemporaries.
The Newport Jazz Festival had the first of two scheduled Midnight Jam Sessions at Radio City Music Hall Monday at midnight. The first group of the session, a mainstream‐oriented ensemble, included Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Bobby Rosengarden, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson and Bobby Hackett. They bounced happily through a passel of swing standards, with Carter, Eldridge and Freeman sounding particularly energetic.
Then the old gladiator of the swing drums, Gene Krupa, was announced and the proceedings went rapidly down hill. Krupa dashed buoyantly on stage and proceeded to hammer away in a style that would have been more appropriate for a Blaze Starr strip show than for the backing of some of the finest jazz players in the world. Yet his reputation and his flair for showmanship sustained him, and every tasteless clang of the cymbal was met with shouts of approval from the overflow audience.
I know Mr. Heckman (born 1932) is widely-published, has a musical background, and is well-respected. Several of my readers may know him; others may find nothing extraordinary in his prose. After all, “Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, Michael?” But I am amazed at what he heard — balanced against what readers in 2021 can hear even on my murky tape — and by his positioning himself above the artists and above the audience. His three sentences read as contempt for Krupa — a hammering gladiator who would have been more appropriate playing for a stripper — and for an audience too foolish to know, as did Mr. Heckman, that they should have sat silent in disapproval.
That kind of self-aggrandizing disapproval makes good copy, but it is to me a repellent attitude towards the art one is supposed to depict and evaluate. I know that if I had been able to ask Gene his reaction, he might have sighed and said, “Chappie, these fellows do it to sell papers. I don’t take them seriously,” and he told Harriet Choice that the wild applause was because the young audience perceived him as an icon of marijuana culture — which I think says more about his deep modesty than anything else.
At this late date, I am offended by Heckman’s paragraph, for the sake of this holy art. Sneering is not art criticism.
It was and is a blessing to be in the same room with these players.
I feel that what’s loosely defined as “Western civilization” has some horrible things to answer for in the last century. But we must have done something right to have Dick Hyman grace us with his presence, his durable energy, his intelligence, his joy. Today, March 8, is his 94th birthday.
We are honored and grateful to share the planet with you.
Here’s some evidence — Teddy, once Dick’s teacher, goes first.
TEDDY WILSON: FATS WALLER Medley: I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / DUKE ELLINGTON Medley: SOPHISTICATED LADY – SATIN DOLL / LOVE / SHINY STOCKINGS //
DICK HYMAN: LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / CAROLINA SHOUT / MAPLE LEAF RAG //
Thank you ninety-four times, Maestro Hyman!
And if you haven’t seen the July 1978 Nice video of the Perfect Jazz Repertory Quintet — which pleased the Maestro greatly — visit here.
Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students. Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951. Then again, jazz was still the popular music. Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers. Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:
They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).
That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.
One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame. Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line. In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street. Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981. He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.
Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan. He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.
“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford. But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948. His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.
I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble. Where did he go after Harvard? Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved. (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)
That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.
I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.” To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds. As young as they were, they were splendidly professional. And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)
I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology. Was this a dance? Did the girls get to invite their beaux? Or was it a social event where the band played for listening? I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all. I wish I knew, but here’s the music. And what music!
In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew. When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix. And that sound! — full and shining. Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans. Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song. Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support. And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner. It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures. And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings. Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.
Can you tell I admire this band?
The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):
The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other. Was it broadcast on the local radio station? And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”
On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm. I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.
Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school. Days gone by for sure. (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream. I will send this post to them.)
P.S. I invite the word-averse to skip what follows. Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond. Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette. Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month. Why? Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes. It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard. That was intolerable to me. So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.
When the Welsh jazz pianist and composer Dill Jones (born Dillwyn Owen Paton Jones) died far too young in 1984, the New York Times obituary was titled Dill Jones, Pianist, Dies at 60; Expert in Harlem Stride Style. No one who ever heard Dill rollicking through Waller, James P., Sullivan, or his own improvisations on ANYTHING GOES, could quibble with that. But Dill was so much more, and now we have a half-hour’s vivid evidence, on several pianos, in his homeland (I don’t know a date, but I see that this recital was recorded in BBC Llandaff, Studio C1. — and Dill’s trio partners are Craig Evans, drums; Lionel Davies, string bass. The songs are GRANDPA’S SPELLS / I WANT TO BE HAPPY (interpolating HANDFUL OF KEYS) / SLOW BUT STEADY (trio) / JITTERBUG WALTZ (solo) / A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY (solo, Dill, vocal) hints of boogie and IN A MIST / ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET / YELLOW DOG BLUES (trio) / Reprise: GRANDPA’S SPELLS:
I saw Dill first as a member of the JPJ Quartet (Budd Johnson, Bill Pemberton, and Oliver Jackson), then at a solo recital in April 1972, thanks to Hank O’Neal — with Eubie Blake, Teddy Wilson, Claude Hopkins, as pianist in the Basie-reunion small band “The Countsmen,” and with Mike Burgevin, Sam Margolis, and Jack Fine in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, circa 1974. The last time I saw Dill was not in person, but on one of Joe Shepherd’s videos at the Manassas Jazz Festival in December 1983, a tribute to Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson at the Roosevelt Grille (with Ernie Hackett, Larry Weiss, and Vic): Dill was not in good health but I can hear his ringing piano even now.
His stylistic range was broad and authentic: he could play in the best two-handed style but also be sweetly ruminative, and his musical intelligence was not limited to any one period. And in our one person-to-person meeting, he showed himself as unaffectedly funny, gentle-spirited, articulate, and full of feeling. A rare man, not only at the piano.
He left us far too soon, but — for half an hour — he is back with us.
Tree sparrows, Passer montanus, on bird table in garden. Co. Durham.
Did you awake from a five-star anxiety dream? Is the news its own generator of such dreams? Are the gray days of winter not getting longer quickly enough? Are the inanimate objects ganging up on you: the banging radiators, the toilet that threatens to overflow? Can you see the bottom of the crumb supply?
Perhaps you want to insert this piece of music into your mental jukebox.
The song is by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack and it is central to this 1936 musical, with a singularly foolish plotline. Alice Faye cheerfully delivers this song in one of the obligatory nightclub scenes. (It’s on YouTube.)
It was a small hit in 1936, if these records are any indication. And I find it cheering now.
Teddy Wilson in Los Angeles, with Chris Griffin (tp) Benny Goodman (cl) Vido Musso (ts) Lionel Hampton (vib) Teddy Wilson (p) Allan Reuss (g) Harry Goodman (b) Gene Krupa (d) Redd Harper (vcl):
Ruby Newman (an unknown recording where his band sounds very much like that of a Chicago clarinetist — Dick McDonough happily prominent! — as well as JAZZ LIVES’ hero Larry Binyon . . . Jack Lacey, Felix Giardina (tb) Alfie Evans, Sid Stoneburn (cl,as) Larry Binyon (cl,ts) Rudolph Adler (bar) Ruby Newman (vln,ldr) Sam Liner (p) Dick McDonough (g) Sam Shopnick (b) Al Lepin (d) Barry McKinley (vcl):
Putney Dandridge, with Henry “Red” Allen (tp) Joe Marsala (cl,as) Clyde Hart (p) Eddie Condon (g) John Kirby (b) Cozy Cole (d):
Bob Howard, with Marty Marsala (tp) Sid Trucker (cl) Zinky Cohn (p) Dave Barbour (g) George Yorke (b) Stan King (d):
Bob Crosby, with Zeke Zarchy, Yank Lawson (tp) Ward Silloway, Warren Smith (tb) Matty Matlock (as,cl) Gil Rodin, Noni Bernard (as) Eddie Miller (ts,cl) Deane Kincaide (ts) Bob Zurke (p) Nappy Lamare (g) Bob Haggart (b) Ray Bauduc (d) [Tom Lord actually identifies the bassist as “Bob Haggard” — those transcription dates could wear you out]:
Charlie Barnet: George Kennedy, Kermit Simmons, Irving Goodman (tp) Johnny Doyle, Sonny Lee (tb) Charlie Barnet (sax,vcl,ldr) Willard Brady, Don Morris, George Vaughn, Murray Williams (reeds) Horace Diaz, Jr. (p,arr) Scoop Thomson (g) Sid Weiss (b) Billy Flanagan (d):
Teddy Stauffer gives those crumbs some Continental seasoning, with Betty Toombs (voc), Harry Herzog, Carl Hohenberger, Max Mussigbrodt (tp) Walter Dobschinski (tb,arr) Erich Bohme, Albert Wollenhaupt (tb) Ernst Hollerhagen, Bertalan Bujka (cl,as) Helmut Friedrich, Teddy Kleindin (ts) Teddy Stauffer (ts,vln,ldr) Franz Thon (bar,as) Jack Trommer (p) Buddy Bertinat (p,vln,accor) Billy Toffel (g,vcl) Andre Schuster (b) Polly Guggisberg (d):
The Swingtimers, who may be unknown (tp) Abe Walters (tb,p) Ern Pettifer (cl,as) unknown p, g, b, d, Sam Costa (vcl):
and let us leap forward from 1936 into this century (January 2016) with a sweetly swinging version from string bassist and raconteur Bill Crow — singing the optimistic message straight to our hearts, nobly aided by Flip Peters:
There will be crumbs — and more — enough for everyone, if we keep singing.
Facebook is good for something. Last month, Clyde Groves, Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law, cordially reached out to me and we decided to do a profile of Billy – so respected in every context during his lifetime and less known now. I offer the result, a delightful conversation among Clyde, Billy’s daughter Judi, and son Pat.
For reasons of space, I have not written about Billy — from my own perspective — in this post, but tomorrow’s post will add in some previously unseen video and a few lines of mine. I also have not listed who’s playing what on the music excerpts, but can provide those details on request.
But first, some memorable music.
Pat Butterfield: He was a very private person, definitely incredibly generous. He would befriend anyone, which might have been one of his failings, too. Some people took advantage of him because of that. My father was very quiet.
He liked to read a lot. When I knew him, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go sit in the living room and read. Not necessarily the best-sellers, although he liked fiction, but he also would read about musicians. Not actually music itself, but the classical people – the life of Beethoven, people that he admired. And he listened to a lot of music in the house. He particularly liked Ella Fitzgerald, he felt that she was probably the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time. He listened to classical music, and, in fact, he introduced me to it. I can remember listening to SWAN LAKE and things like that, and a lot of Beethoven. In fact, I got the sheet music to the Moonlight Sonata. I’d sit there and peck away at it, and he’d help me with reading some of the difficult parts of the bass clef. He would sit down and play the piano. The problem was his hands weren’t very big, so he did a lot of slurring. My brother Mike had the same ability, an ear for music and a natural understanding of chord systems, but I didn’t inherit any of that. My brother played with string bass with him several times.
Clyde Groves: I met him when I was fourteen – that’s when I met Judi and her twin sister Debbie, and her mother Dottie, who was a wonderful vocalist also. We always thought that she sounded a lot like Ella, the vocalist she admired the most. And Billy was fortunate enough to have recorded with Ella.
Billy was very humble. He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, so to speak. I would be over at their house, for instance, and he’d have just gotten back from a tour, or he’d been on the Johnny Carson show, or with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band on Mike Douglas, or by himself on Merv Griffin, and I would tell him, “Oh, Mr. Butterfield, I just saw you on Johnny Carson!” and he would go, “Yeah. So, Clyde, how’s school? How’re you doing in baseball?” He would just change the subject.
Judi Groves: He was very shy. He was a man of few words, but when he would speak, because he didn’t talk a lot, you perked up and wanted to listen to what he had to say. It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his childhood and things that he had done, amazing things that he had done. You know, he played for the first all-integrated audience in South Africa. He came home and never even spoke about it. I didn’t even know about it until years afterwards. He told them that would be the only way he would play, that he could bring his black musicians and play for a mixed audience. He also – and I found this kind of neat – back then, they had the Green Book: you couldn’t go to hotels with black musicians, and since they wouldn’t let them stay in the hotel with him, he would go to the black motel. He was very loyal to his band in that way also. He was a very loving man.
When my dad did those college tours, my mom travelled with them, and we stayed with my mom’s sister. My cousins are more like my brothers and sisters than cousins. My dad wanted us to move down to Virginia. He wanted us to be with family. Once, I remember that my dad was kind of embarrassed. We lived in Smithfield, Virginia, where the meat-packing plant is, where the hams come from. They had asked my father to be the Grand Marshall of the parade there. He didn’t want to turn it down, because they really wanted him to do it. But he wasn’t about that kind of thing – that put him back in the limelight. I think he wanted people to like him for himself rather than for what he had accomplished, which is why he didn’t want us to talk about it all the time, either.
Clyde: He liked playing ballads more than anything. That was his favorite thing. He looked at the trumpet as his singing voice. And Yank and Billy, when they were with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, they could really play off each other, the harmonies they could make on their horns on BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME or BLACK AND BLUE. Yank Lawson was an all-time great. And I put Billy there too. They’re being forgotten, unless it’s younger people who are playing the horn or in a jazz ensemble – most people don’t know who they were. He played that STARDUST with Artie Shaw, and he was in the Gramercy Five. He played with everybody.
Judi: He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.
Clyde: Yes, Louis and Bix were his essentials. Are you familiar with the album BILLY PLAYS BIX? That’s a true joy to listen to. There’s the album on Victor called GUS HOO – I think the musicians were all in some kind of contract disputes, so they couldn’t play under their own names. He picked “Gus Hoo,” which was his sense of humor.
Judi: He did! He was a funny man.
Clyde: When I first met Judi, I was fourteen, and I had no idea who Billy Butterfield was. I was into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I had never heard of him, but of course my mom and dad knew who he was. My dad would try to get under Judi’s mom’s skin and say, “Yes, Billy’s a great cornet player,” and Dottie would correct him, “He’s a TRUMPET player.”
Billy was on the road so much when Judi and I were dating. He was thoughtful and kind. I used to go see him at Andy Bartha’s, and whenever he’d spot me in the audience, during the break he would come and sit with me. Of course, then all my drinks were on the house. All around us, people would be whispering. You could hear them, “Oh, that must be his nephew. He’s got to be related,” because every break Billy would come and sit with me. There were all these people he could have sat with, and I felt really honored that he would do that.
Judi: I found a record of my dad singing, and I was kind of amazed that he had a pretty good voice.
Clyde: It was with his big band, and Billy had commented that, back then, all the rage was that the trumpet players, the leaders of the band, would do vocals. But Billy said that this was the record company’s way of saving money, by not hiring a vocalist, but he hated doing it. He was pretty young then.
You know the story of how Bob Crosby discovered him? Bob and Yank or Bob Haggart were driving to a gig, and their car broke down near Lexington, where the University of Transylvania was, so when they went to the hotel, they asked the clerk if there was any good music around in this town, and the clerk referred them to the Austin Wylie band. As soon as they heard Billy play, they were amazed. After they stopped playing, Bob and either Yank or Haggart went over to Billy and said, “We’d like you to join the band. Are you interested?” Of course he said yes, and they said, “Well, we’ll send you a ticket to New York.” Weeks went by, and Billy was, “Well, they were just pulling my leg and praising me,” which was nice, but he thought nothing would come of it. I guess they knew there was going to be an opening, and here comes a telegram with a ticket to New York. So that’s how he got found by Bob Crosby. The chances of the stars aligning like that. If the car hadn’t broken down, who knows if anyone would have heard of Billy. That was his big start. He was in college, and he dropped out and went to New York. He played football. He was on the high school and college team.
Judi: He got cleated in the leg, and that was when penicillin first came out, because he almost lost his leg.
Pat: Dad got out of the service in 1945, when they said that anyone who could employ twenty-five people could get out, so he immediately did that, put this band together, and went on the road. The first year, which would have been ’45-’46, he did all right, and then in 1947, they basically went in debt. The Big Band Era was over, so he moved to New York. He had accrued a debt of twenty-five to maybe thirty thousand dollars, and he went to work as a staff man for ABC. I was five or six, and we lived out in Great Neck, in a house we called “House Horrible,” a big old Victorian they rented while Dad was paying off the debt. That period, my parents went through pretty difficult times. My mother insisted on making sure that he cleared his debt, that they have good credit. That entailed a few arguments.
I think Debbie and Judi were about two when they moved down to Virginia, and he left for Florida when they were about thirteen. After my mom and dad got divorced, she moved to Florida, and eventually she lived in a place called Coral Ridge, and the house where my dad and Dottie lived was, as the crow flies, five hundred yards from my mother’s house. It was really strange. But in order to get to their house from my mom’s house, you had to drive four or five miles. Five hundred yards, but they couldn’t see each other. I stayed in touch with them, and every summer I spent about a month with them in Virginia, a little place called Carrolton. Then, my wife and I would see them in Florida.
Clyde: Billy and Dottie were moving from these condominiums by the ocean, in Fort Lauderdale. They had bought a house on the water, by the Intercoastal. I went over with a friend of mine to help them move. Billy was built like a bulldog. But I was 16, 17, an athlete, really strong, and my buddy was also. We were lifting all this furniture, and there was one piece that was really heavy. Billy went to grab one end of it, and I told him, “No, don’t do that, Mr. Butterfield, that’s really heavy!” and he looked at me and said, “Just pick it up.” And he picked that thing up like it was a feather. I was thinking, “All he does is play music. He can’t be that strong,” but he just picked it up. I was the one struggling with it.
You know, Judi and I dated all through high school, and then things happened, and we got back together twenty-five years later. I was always in love with her. I was married, and I loved my wife, and we had two children, but when I saw on the national news that her dad had passed away, in 1988, I wanted to get back in touch with Judi, but I didn’t know how. But Dottie always had a public number, it wasn’t unpublished, so I called Information. Billy had been deceased for a number of years, and I got her number and called her house. And when Dottie answered, I said, “You’ll never guess who this is,” and she said, “Of course I do. You want to bet?” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “This is Clyde.” I said, “Dottie, how do you remember that, after all these years?” and she said, “I’ll never forget your voice.” People didn’t have Caller ID then. So her mom helped reunite us.
Judi: Dottie lived a long time, to 92. She was something! She was a lot of fun. Daddy was very quiet, but she was very outgoing.
Clyde: They were a perfect husband and wife in that respect. And after Billy passed away, Dottie never wanted to remarry, because there was no man that could ever compare to him, even though she was still fairly young. She was never interested in meeting anyone, even though she was still beautiful and men were always asking her out. She was gorgeous and always dressed impeccably.
Judi: When he was a kid, he first started out playing the violin. I’m not sure about the story that he was going to become a doctor. I know he went to the University of Transylvania. His brother, Donald, was a doctor, and I think he was eleven years older than my father. I’m not sure what his specialty was, whether he was a brain surgeon – I think that’s what he was – but he went in to the military in World War One and it affected him so much that he couldn’t go back into practice. When Billy first started out, he was playing violin on a riverboat – earlier than 13, he was just a small kid, so that he could help his brother who was going through college. Hard times back then. His dad would drive him where he had to go, because he was too young to drive.
He was beyond talented. Most of his recordings were done in one take. But he didn’t talk about the music business, and he dissuaded us from ever going in to it, because he felt it was a very hard life. He never talked about himself, and he didn’t talk about other musicians. He would have some friends he would play with, Andy Bartha. When Andy was playing, my dad would go and be the headliner where Andy was. Yank Lawson was a good friend of Daddy’s. They were good friends from Bob Crosby’s band. You know with musicians, they all have big heads. Daddy wasn’t about that. I think that annoyed him a bit, because they always wanted to talk about themselves.
When he came home, he would read the paper, watch tv. We had a boat, wherever we lived, and he loved to go out on the boat. We always lived on or near the water, he loved that. He loved being around family.
Clyde: They had a pool, they’d be out there swimming, relaxing, cooking on the grill. Even when he was at home, a lot of times he would have local gigs, so he wouldn’t get home until late at night, but he always would get up to spend family time. He enjoyed his time at home for sure.
Judi: And he liked to watch golf. I can picture him in the reclining chair, watching golf on tv. He liked to play.
Pat: When I was small, a lot of musicians would come around. We spent a lot of time with Felix Giobbe, Bob Haggart, and a really good friend, Andy Ferretti. We were all members of the same country club in Brookville. My father was apparently a terrible golfer. He could hit it a long way, but he never knew what direction it was going in!
Judi: But he never really kept anything he ever did. Anything we have of his, besides the trumpets – my sister and I have all of them – he said, “I did it. Why would I want to hear it again?” We don’t have all the records. And pictures, we’ve had to buy off eBay. He was totally the opposite of anyone who was famous. Even when we were growing up, he didn’t want us to talk a lot about him. So we didn’t.
Clyde: The only album that he had out on display was an album he made with the Dutch College Swing Band. Out of all his recordings, that was the only one he had framed and put up on the wall. But he loved playing. That was his passion. Even though you’re on the road most of the time, travelling, he wouldn’t have given that up for anything.
The reason they moved to Florida was that when Jackie Gleason moved his show down to Miami Beach, he wanted Billy to be down there, and the arrangement was he would pay him X dollars a year so that when he was available, he would play in the Sammy Spear orchestra. When Billy wasn’t available, Jackie was fine with that.
You know, after Billy had moved down to Virginia, just so the girls could have their mother’s family around them, when he was on the road, he and Dottie were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, and across the street, he heard, “Hey, Billy!” and he looked over and it was Dizzy. So Billy said, “Hey, Dizzy, how’re you doing?” And Dizzy yelled back, “Hey, what’s this I hear about you moving south of the Cotton Curtain?”
Judi: He walked around all the time with a mouthpiece in his pocket, and he would always take it out and blow in it. He had to keep his lip up, you know.
Clyde: He’d go out on the boat and he’d have it with him, even though he’d just played a gig. It was part of him. You have to keep your skills up.
Judi: I remember he played at Nixon’s inaugural ball. He was on the road a lot. Especially in the late Sixties, he was in Europe a lot. Jazz was very big in Europe. He played over there all the time. I got to go on a tour with him, with The Great Eight, in Germany, for three weeks. That was really cool. That was the first time I got to see him really play, outside of going to the Jackie Gleason Show, or the Merv Griffin Show. But this was actually being with the guys, and even they didn’t toot their own horns. These were gentlemen like Sam Woodyard, who had played with Duke Ellington, and Tal Farlow. It was a wonderful trip. I got to see how much the people really loved him. I never got to see that when I was growing up, so for me it was a real treat, and it gave me a real appreciation for my dad. I’ll never forget that. It was the trip of a lifetime. This was 1981-1982, something like that.
Clyde: Judi’s dad had his own nightclub for a time, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Escape Hotel. Andy Bartha had a standing gig at the Moonraker, and whenever he was off the road, he would always go there to support Andy. He got the album made with Andy, and he just liked the man personally. He was a very giving man. If he could help somebody out, he would. And he never had anything bad to say about anyone, because his premise was, if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything, instead of putting somebody down.
Judi: Yes, the only negatives we heard were from my mom (laughing), about other people, not my dad. He was a saint!
Pat: He was disappointed with the way the music industry went after the Fifties, but he really enjoyed the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, all the travelling they did together. I never heard him say anything negative about them, but he wasn’t the type to complain.
Clyde: Even now, sometimes I’ll be playing some of his music, and Judi will ask me to please turn it down, because she gets really emotional hearing her father.
Judi: STARDUST was my favorite record of his, but if I was around when he was playing, I would ask him to play MY FUNNY VALENTINE. He always played that for me. But my favorite album, I think, was BOBBY, BILLY, BRASIL. I had the reel-to-reel tape and would play it all the time. Dad wasn’t mechanical, so I was always the designated person to set up the tape recorder or the video. And I knew exactly where to stop the tape to get it to play SUNNY or whatever. They did really well with the harmony of that. I really loved it.
Pat: It’s unfortunate that he really didn’t take care of himself, and that had a big effect, that he died at what I think is a really early age, 71, and he was in pretty lousy health the last five years of his life. And Dad definitely drank. He functioned, though. He tended to be more of a binge drinker. He could go for a month and not have a drink, and then he’d drink a lot. But those days in New York when he was a staff member, they’d all go over to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, after the job was over, and have jam sessions, and that would result in his getting home very late at night, and he often fell asleep on the Long Island Rail Road. My mother would be there, waiting for him, and he wouldn’t get off the train because he was asleep, and he’d go all the way out to the end of the Island and come back. He spent the night on the train quite a few times.
Clyde: I wasn’t there, but I heard a story about their Virginia house. He had a good sense of humor. They were having parties at that house, and they had a big pool. And they’d all been partying, having fun, and Billy took his horn and walked down the steps of the pool, playing, and when he got underwater, the bubbles were all coming up. He was a lot of fun to be around.
Pat: He was a really genuine individual. He wasn’t impressed with his own self-importance. He enjoyed life.
I really appreciate the time and effort and kindness of Clyde Groves, Judi Butterfield Groves, and Pat Butterfield — helping me insure that no one will forget the very talented musician and very sweet man Billy Butterfield. More about Billy tomorrow!
Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs. Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.” Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.
Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance. I am a Fan, you are The Star. The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription. In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them. (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books. And Whitney Balliett.)
But I no longer chase Stars. Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal. I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%. In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.
I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term. He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.
Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on. The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down. I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.
I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know. In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.
Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:
I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.
And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:
This autograph’s closer to home for me:
Again, completely authentic. But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently. I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?” Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.
Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:
Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson. Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:
It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.
Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:
Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged. The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely. For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off. (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)
I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on. I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.
But some people did. Thus . . .
I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones? I doubt it. And inside:
This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.” I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare. But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box. Hence:
At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.” I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.
Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano; Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:
I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH. It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other. Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue: