Tag Archives: The Rhythm Boys

DESIRE (SUPPRESSED) and PASSION (SECRET), THEN and NOW

Does popular art follow high art, or the reverse, or are the coincidences simply coincidental?  In 1915, Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook premiered a play, SUPPRESSED DESIRES; 1924, Eugene O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS; 1929, Dali’s THE ACCOMODATIONS OF DESIRE.  PASSION had always been part of the cultural vocabulary, so no need to search out appearances in the Twenties.  A graduate student in early modernist popular culture would probably trace some of this to Havelock Ellis, Theodoor Hendrik Van de Velde, and others writing for a curious public.  I don’t doubt that Dr. Freud is behind all this in some way, also.

I know that the stereotypical idea of pop songwriters is cigar-smoking fellows looking to make money off the latest craze, but it is possible that some of those brilliant tunesmiths read something in the paper besides the sports pages.  Make what you will of the synchronicity or the coincidence, these two songs, HE’S MY SECRET PASSION and MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE enjoyed some fame in that year, the second creation even featured in a film where I would think little was suppressed.

I’ve known MY SUPPRESSED DESIRE for years through the Bing Crosby – Harry Barris – Al Rinker recording, a series of small hot comedic playlets unfolding one after another:

Bing’s “Tell it!” at 1:35 is a favorite moment, and I like the way the recording morphs through moods and tempos — a whole stage show in miniature, with the introduction coming around as the conclusion, and the rocking intensity of Bing’s last bridge.

Here’s a very pleasing Goldkette-styled version by Abe Lyman’s California Orchestra:

There are several excellent contemporary dance band versions of this song — by Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Verne Buck, and Lud Gluskin — which I leave to you to find on YouTube, because for me the Rhythm Boys’ version blots all the others out.

Now (thanks to Jonathan David Holmes) I have a new recording of HE’S MY SECRET PASSION by The Four Bright Sparks, my favorite new band name, to share with you.  I find the instrumental combination of clarinet, xylophone, guitar, drums, and piano entrancing, and Queenie Leonard’s slightly emphatic singing is also charming.  Discographer Tom Lord sniffs, “The above was a studio group but they played straight dance music and nearly never featured hot solo work,” a classic example of jazz-snobbery:

And here is Marion Harris’ impossibly tender reading of PASSION:

Showing that passion has living validity in this century also, Barbara Rosene and friends (among others, Conal Fowkes, Michael Hashim, Pete Martinez, Brian Nalepka, and Craig Ventresco) in 2007:

Barbara, Conal Fowkes, and Danny Tobias will be performing at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street in New York City on June 13.  Her shows are always delightful, and, yes, attendance will be taken.

Attentive textual explicators will note that these are not the same song at all: the singer of PASSION is wistful and hopeful that an introduction can be arranged and great things will result, where the singer of SUPPRESSED notes accurately that the Object of Desire belongs to someone else, which is an entirely different situation.  But these recordings and the songs are atypically cheerful — no one is lamenting that the opportunity has passed forever.  For listeners, we hope for the best: gratified passion, reciprocated desire.

May your happiness increase!

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“I KEEP CHEERFUL ON AN EARFUL / OF MUSIC SWEET”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 28, 2014)

Better than anything you could buy in a chain drugstore or any prescription pharmaceutical, this will keep the gloomies at bay.  Unlike those little pink or blue pills, it lasts longer than four hours and there are no cases recorded of drastic side effects.

One of the highlights of 2014, of this century, of my adult life — let’s not let understatement get in the way of the truth! — was a quartet set at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest featuring Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  I’ve been sharing it one or two performances at a time on JAZZ LIVES in the same way you never want a delicious experience to end.

Here is the quartet’s very groovy, very hot HAPPY FEET (Jack Yellen – Milton Ager, originally from THE KING OF JAZZ):

And since this song “has history,” I offer a few more variations on this terpsichorean theme.

Leo Reisman with Bubber Miley, 1930, at a truly groovy tempo:

Noble Sissle, also in 1930, with the only film I know of Tommy Ladnier:

Frank Trumbauer and Smith Ballew:

and the irresistible 1933 version by the Fletcher Henderson’s band, with specialists Dr. Horace Henderson, Dr. Henry Allen, Dr. Dicky Wells, and Dr. Coleman Hawkins called in:

There’s also a life-altering live performance with Hot Lips Page and Sidney Catlett from the Eddie Condon Floor Show, but you’ll have to imagine it for now.

I hope you’re feeling better, and that your feet and all points north are happier.

May your happiness increase!

“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)

But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.

I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:

If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it.  Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES?  Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”

Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.

This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say.  (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)

He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.

To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.

Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.

I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.

May your happiness increase!

ONE SOUNDTRACK FOR MY IDEAL WORLD

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW was a very popular song in the late Twenties: in my memory, it is connected to Whiteman, Bix, and the Rhythm Boys; Helen Kane; Cliff Edwards, and I am sure two dozen others.

If you’ve never heard it, here is Miss Kane’s 1927 version (with the verse and at a sweet tempo):

Its bouncy melody and amorous conceit –“[S]he loves these [apparently difficult] acts, so I am compelled to perform them also — pity poor me who has to suffer billing and cooing [but not really]” — made both singers and audiences float along in amusement.

THAT-S-MY-WEAKNESS-NOW

But between 1929 and 1939 no one recorded it in a jazz context (according to Tom Lord’s discography) and it’s understandable: its bouncy two-beat melody line and rhythms didn’t lend themselves all that easily to a smoother Swing Era treatment, and it may have seemed to contemporary audiences a relic of their parents’ now-ancient flapper / sheik past.  (The song re-emerged in later decades — with recordings by George Lewis and Humphrey Lyttelton — as a sweet homage to the late Twenties, and that is how modern bands play it today.)

I don’t know who thought of the song for this July 1944 record date, but it’s a wonderful choice.  This was one of Harry Lim’s Keynote dates, so he might have been the inspiration — or leader Pete Brown might have liked the song as a perfect match for his own jaunty, accented, ebullient playing.

As a record producer, Harry Lim had a thousand virtues: good taste in musicians, a liking for medium tempos and melodic improvisation, and the courage to have players who weren’t household names lead sessions.  His 12″ 78 recordings are a body of work that remains its freshness.  (I am only sad that when I was a young record-buyer at one branch of the New York City Sam Goody’s, I didn’t recognize him, wring his hand embarrassingly and tell him how much his fine musical taste had enriched my life.)

Here is THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW, performed by Brown, alto saxophone; Joe Thomas, trumpet; Kenny Kersey, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums.

I think the beauties of this recording are self-evident to anyone willing to listen closely for just over four minutes — perhaps a seeming-lifetime in our restless century.

The disc starts with an unaccompanied introduction by the under-celebrated Kenny Kersey, who had absorbed Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines but also was very much aware of what the jazz critics like to call, retrospectively, “advanced harmonies,” but which musicians of the time might have called “funny chords.” Kersey had played with Andy Kirk as well as with Red Allen’s Cafe Society band, and (for me) his accompaniment nearly steals the show during the first chorus, where the melody is played in a neat, clipped way by the horns.  And as for bass and drums: they provide a swing heartbeat.

The horns offer very individual sounds.  I don’t think an experienced listener would mistake Brown for any other altoist: the way he pushes the beat, as if his notes and phrases were impetuous, his solos impatient to get out of the horn where they could be heard.  And his tone!  Lemony, bittersweet, tart?  One would need a truly subtle food writer to describe the sound of his alto.  Joe Thomas, ah, Joe Thomas — glowing and spare but deeply emotive without playing one more note than needed . . . a true lesson in storytelling, full of nuance but never over-elaborated.  In the melding of the horns, they are synchronous (you hear the professionalism of musicians used to working in sections, in big bands, where blending was essential) but their individual voices are audible, their sounds so personal.

Even on longer-playing discs, the idea of splitting a chorus (the horns play the first sixteen bars of a thirty-two bar chorus; another instrument takes the eight-bar “bridge,” then the horns return or let the other players have the second half) was nothing new, but Kersey’s piano, spare and elegant, is refreshing.  But while Kersey is exploring, so — in the most sympathetic way — is Milt, climbing higher on his instrument without ever seeming to solo.  Heard’s emphatic brushwork (out of Sidney Catlett) never falters, wavers, or becomes mechanical.  The following sixteen bars are equally calm — they are riffing this evening! — with an emphatic flare on the last notes of the chorus, where the horns seem especially determined to repeat the title in song.

Brown was either a  generous or wise leader — I think both — content to build a performance architecturally rather than saying THIS IS MY RECORD and playing all through it, so if we are waiting for the leader to solo, it doesn’t happen for some time.

So the next chorus is apparently a Kersey solo, and what an elegantly swinging pianist — great musical intelligence and no cliches — he was.  But just as Kersey stole the show behind the horns, the horns (with their simple little pushing riff) might easily distract us from his gleam.  Horn backgrounds to a piano solo used to be commonplace — in the departed ideal world — but one does not hear them in this century, with some exceptions.  The way the whole band — is it only a quintet? — sounds, with such sweet subtle variety — is gratifying.  Kersey has some of the same quiet energy of Johnny Guarneri (someone Lim also loved and featured) but he is his own man, steering his own course between Fats and Bud Powell.

With a push from Heard, Thomas is on.  And how beautiful his tone is — dark, clear, not “sweet” but not harsh, brassy.  All his trademarks are in place: the careful repeated notes, the breath-like phrasing, the upward arpeggios, the pace (no matter how fast the tempo gets, at his best, Thomas mastered the Louis trick of relaxing, of “playing whole notes,” of letting everyone else seem hurried while he takes his time, admires the scenery, adjusts the knot on his tie just so.  His bridge is especially luxurious.  If, perhaps, you think, “Oh, that’s just Louis-influenced Swing Era trumpet playing, and everyone was doing that,” may I respectfully suggest that a deep immersion in the period will prove revelatory. No one sounded like Joe.  Ask a trumpet player you know to listen to that solo, closely, and see if it’s easy to create such a sound, such an effect.

Behind Thomas, Brown has been nudging the band along (there are no dead spots on this record) as it shifts into a higher gear, with Heard and everyone else deciding — to use the Thirties expression — “to put the pots and pans on,” to get seriously playful.

And then comes our leader — Mister Brown to you.  What a remarkable sound!  At first, it makes me think of someone with laryngitis who insists on speaking although his voice croaks and cracks, but one quickly gets accustomed to the sound because Brown’s pulse is so warm and enthusiastic.  He doesn’t rush, but he intently gives each phrase its own shape and a rocking momentum.  And his solo is made up of small gems, a phrase turned round and round over the harmonies, without pressure or monotony.  (I am not usually fond of quotations — some musicians overindulge — but Brown’s reference to FUNKY BUTT at 3:12 is hilarious. I hope that there is no particular connection between that subject and what the imagined lover prefers, but more likely it was just a witty idea, floating by, that laid nicely over the chords.)

And that last chorus is a marvel of tidy architecture, of generosity, of variety: sixteen glorious bars for the Judge, Milt Hinton — no one ever talked through his solos! — with the band riffing around and through his sonorous notes, then a “modern” bridge featuring Kersey, four more bars for Milt (how many people understand what Milt understood about the string bass, parallel to Jimmy Blanton?) then four bars where the band says in a politely declamatory ensemble, “THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW!” and the record is over.

Yes, I have heard recordings like this in our century, and, better yet, bands actually doing these glorious acts of solo brilliance and communal swing on the bandstand, in person, but this 12″ 78 is imperishable.  There are a million ways for an improvising jazz group to sound, and I wouldn’t be such a bully to insist that this is the only one, or the best one, but it moves me every time I hear it.

May your happiness increase!

FEELING BIXISH?

By the time everyone gets to read this post the eBay article below will have been sold.  Still, I think it’s worth noticing.  When I was first visiting New York City on my own — intermittently and as part of a high-school independent study group, I found a shop still selling 78 rpm records in midtown.  Was it the Merit Music Shop?  It isn’t clear in my memory, and I thought the owner might have been a Mr. Meltzer.  Details gratefully appreciated from any New Yorkers! 

Mr. Meltzer wasn’t all that welcoming, although he wasn’t any worse than superficially gruff.  I bought a number of Commodore 78s for three dollars apiece, and a Disc three-record Pee Wee Russell set that I wish I had today (although I have the music on CD).  But I had read, somewhere, of the fabled Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Set on Victor — circa 1936 — and I asked him about it on my first visit to the shop.  “That?” he said derisively.  “That was gone thirty years ago!” and thus the conversation came to an abrupt halt and I went into the shelves to look for marvels (which were to be found).

Thus, while idling through eBay this evening, it was a remarkable shock to come across this same set — advertised as never played (why? under what circumstances?).

Feast your eyes.  All the music is no doubt available in a hundred issues, but this is rather touching — with the names of the SWING players there for the unaware buyer.

I love the Deco typeface!

When 78 record “albums” came with separate explanatory brochures.

Heartfelt — even if inaccurate — no doubt.

The seller wants (or wanted) $45.00, which seems far less extreme than other prices.  I will forego the pleasure of buying something as an adult that was beyond my reach in childhood, but I find the sight of this album moving.  I am happy to have seen it, even now.

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY COLLECTED ON THIS SITE GOES TO THE MUSICIANS WE LOVE!

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

THE REAL THING at THE EAR INN (January 30, 2011)

TO MAKE SURE THAT THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND, WHY NOT CLICK HERE?  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS, YOU KNOW:

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

The EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Chris Flory, and Jon Burr — began their Sunday session last week (at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) as a relaxed tribute to the spirit and energies of Roy Eldridge, who would have celebrated his hundredth birthday on January 30, 2011.

Roy was not available to drop in with his horn, but this didn’t deter the participants.  And when the second set rolled around, Jon-Erik Kellso asked two of his colleagues what they would like to play — a nicely egalitarian gesture.  Young Eric Elder from Chicago suggested the lilting hymn to romantic togetherness through domestic chores — easier to do in song than in real life: James P. Johnson and Andy Razaf’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID, which sweetly rocked.  The jazz scholars in the audience didn’t rise to their feet and insist that the EarRegulars cease and desist because there was no evidence that Roy had ever recorded this song.  Oh, no, we were having too much fun with this group that at times sounded like a modern version of the John Kirby Sextet, but looser (enjoy those riffs!) crossed with a John Hammond Vanguard date — with Chris and Jon, the string section, reaching new heights of easy elegance:

Chris then asked Jon-Erik how he felt about HAPPY FEET — always a good idea, a fine romping song with echoes of the 1933 Henderson band (an outfit that had Dicky Wells, Henry “Red” Allen, and Coleman Hawkins) as well as Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys.  And one of our most prized secret weapons, Pete Martinez, took up his position leaning against the phone booth.  Then a surprise for me — Tricky Sam, I mean Jim, Fryer, seated at the bar, playing wonderfully — Jon Burr bowing his heart out before everyone traded epigrams:

Give them a low-down beat and they begin dancing!