Tag Archives: The Sound of Jazz

EMMETT BERRY’S BUESCHER TRUMPET, 1952

This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges.  For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.

Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams.  On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge.  He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.

Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer.  But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.

Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.

But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music.  (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)

His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears.  On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.

Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:

Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.

He’s someone I miss.

May your happiness increase.

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TAKING RISKS, HAVING A BALL: TWO CINEMATIC MASTERPIECES from “THE SOUND OF JAZZ” (1957)

Next to JAMMIN’ THE BLUES and HOT HOUSE, the 1933 footage of Louis in Copenhagen, Duke in CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK, the silent newsreel film of the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing, the 1957 THE SOUND OF JAZZ might be the most famous film of jazz performance extant.  I’ve seen it in various forms: on a muzzy VCR copy, an improved DVD, and in bits and pieces on YouTube.

And I hope everyone has seen it so many times that it has the gleam of photographs of a dear old friend — lovingly glimpsed from many angles in a leisurely way.

But when the generous collector Franz Hoffmann opened his Henry “Red” Allen box of wonders, I thought, “What if there are some people who haven’t seen ROSETTA and WILD MAN BLUES — ever?”  So in the same way we return to stand awestruck in front of a Sargent portrait or we settle in for a long night with KING LEAR, let us return to these two magical filmed performances.

The first thing, of course, is the music — music made by titans at the peak of their casual achievements.  Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet and vocal; Rex Stewart, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Nat Pierce, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.

Let us be frank about this band.  It was a gathering of strong personalities — players who demanded space for themselves (perhaps with the exception of Pierce and Barker) who — given the wrong audience, could caricature themselves.  To some this will seem like heresy, but the evidence exists.  But what remains here is an exuberant jostling in the name of the music:  the combat between Red and Rex is subtle and sly, and Jo’s solo — although perhaps a digression — is constrained rather than a show-stopper.

Careful observers will note that in a program ostensibly devoted to the blues, neither ROSETTA nor WILD MAN BLUES is one, although the latter descends into those emotional depths with great fervor.

So one could watch these clips over and over, marveling at the balance between individual ego and cohesion.  What Red Allen does is also an advanced course in leadership.  I know that the band had had a “rehearsal” for the purposes of recording the music for Columbia Records (more about that later) but it’s clear that not much had been worked out aside from the basics: who solos first and for how long.

But I would propose another reason to marvel at these clips, and it’s a silent one — almost in the name of moving sculptures and shadows.  The director of the program, Jack Smight, was a great jazzman himself — not that he played an instrument, but in the chances he took.  This was live television, so his decisions were made on the spot and there were no retakes.  He had five cameramen — their names Bob Heller, Harold Classen, Joe Sokota, Jack Brown, and Marty Tuck.  And Smight moved from one to the other with great logic, sensitivity, and freedom.  Musicians hard at work — in love with their art — are great studies, and these five cameras captured not only the usual visual cliches: the sweating face, distended cheeks, intake and outflow of breath, but the musicians listening and responding to one another.  And to their own creations: one of the most memorable seconds of this is the expression on Rex Stewart’s face after he has pulled off what he understands is a particularly felicitous epigram in WILD MAN BLUES.  It’s self-congratulatory but in a sweetly hilarious way, “Hey, Ma!  Look what I just played!”  And who would deny Rex his pleasure in his own art?

In an era where multiple-camera setups often lead to restlessness that is difficult to endure (even before everyone had a video camera) these cuts and chance-takings are both beautiful and highly rewarding.  I propose something nearly audacious: one could watch these films with the sound off and marvel at the faces and their expressions.  Truly rewarding film of a musical performance is not only the soundtrack, but the way the players present themselves to us, as we see here.

WILD MAN BLUES:

ROSETTA:

And a purely aural note.  In the vinyl era, both a monaural and a stereo record were issued.  They captured the music at the “rehearsal,” December 5, 1957.  (I assume that this session also captured the disembodied voices we hear on the television program, explaining what the blues meant to them.)  Both of those issues were slightly different: at one point in the last minutes of DICKIE’S DREAM, the brass and reeds got out of synch with one another; on one issue, the raggedness is documented (very reassuring for those of us who are not giants on the scale of these players!); on the other, a neater passage and a different Basie piano bridge have been spliced in.  George Avakian was apparently not involved with this project, but Irving Townsend seems to have picked up some of George’s skill with a razor blade.  But — even better! — the CD issue, now possibly difficult to find (Columbia Legacy CK 66082) includes a previously unissued take of WILD MAN BLUES that runs almost nine minutes.  (Much harder to find is the late Bob Hilbert’s vinyl issue on his own Pumpkin label, THE “REAL” SOUND OF JAZZ, which presents the audio from the television show.)

Even if you think you know these performances, I will wager whatever you like that something will come and surprise you in a repeat viewing.  Bless these musicians; bless Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff; bless Smight and his cameramen; bless Franz Hoffmann, too.

“RHYTHM IS MY BUSINESS”: AN EVENING WITH MARTY GROSZ

In the last year, whenever I encountered Marty Grosz at a jazz party, he would tell me that someone good was doing a documentary with him as the subject.  Since we know that many projects never get completed, I didn’t dare to anticipate that I would ever see the results.  But the DVD is out and it’s a thorough pleasure.  Here’s a six-minute plus excerpt — Marty and the Hot Winds urging us to be candid, honest, and frank in all things:

RHYTHM IS MY BUSINESS: AN EVENING WITH MARTY GROSZ is a superb hour-long performance film / documentary by filmmaker / acoustic guitarist Jay Brodersen, capturing Marty, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, and Vince Giordano in concert.  It’s available from Jay himself for $25 (including first-class mail shipping) and you can contact him at jaybrodersen@yahoo.com., or at 6859 N Road, Escanaba, Michigan 49829.

Most of the film is the music — Marty and the Hot Winds in a small concert hall swinging through eleven songs — many of them Grosz classics, and a few surprises: I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / I’M BUILDING UP TO AN AWFUL LET-DOWN / EMALINE / I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY / JUST A GIGOLO / IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE / YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME / WABASH BLUES / IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN – JUBILEE / JUST FRIENDS . . . and the strains of DREAM MAN can be heard as the credits roll.

The beauty of this film is that, from the first minute, it presents experiences that even those intent listeners in the front row do not have.  First of all, the sound and lighting are terrific: everything’s audible and the audience is quiet yet appreciative.  Then there’s the wonderful camerawork.  As an amateur videographer, I know the limits of the single camera, which can (at best) follow the photographer’s eye, and zoom in or out.  Of course, such videos are often marred by extraneous noise or real-life distractions.

Jay has used a multi-camera setup to show us things we would never see, and he’s done this with restraint and taste.  Some multi-camera videos are always on the move: the camera rests only a few seconds in any shot.  The result can seem dizzying, all in the name of novelty.  But this film isn’t afraid to patiently watch something that’s interesting, yet (in the manner of THE SOUND OF JAZZ) it takes us to surprising places: things we would never see if Jay had simply aimed one high-quality camera at the stage and switched it on.  In addition, Jay has interviewed the members of the band and expert admirers — so there are very short interludes, always relevant to the music at hand, where Dan, Scott, and Vince talk about what Marty creates; where Marty speaks about his background and his father’s art.  But the “talking heads” are entertaining and they never dominate the film.

Every time I’ve watched it I’ve seen something new: the expression on one musician’s face when someone else is soloing, a fantastic duet in WABASH BLUES (which has delightful playing by Dan on baritone sax) between Vince and Scott, making beautiful music in unorthodox ways: Scott buzzing through a clarinet with the mouthpiece removed and Vince playing his bass sax with the tuba mouthpiece . . . or so it seems.  And although the concert is greatly devoted to swing numbers, Marty offers a sweetly convincing reading of EMALINE and a mournfully tender exploration of JUST FRIENDS that once again shows what a great balladeer he is.

The DVD has received a showing on the local PBS channel: I’m hoping that someone at the national level gets a chance to preview it.  It’s just that good, and not only because it features one of the best bands we will ever hear.  Kudos to Jay Brodersen for creating this film, and to the musicians for playing so splendidly.

CHARLES and WILLIAM, AN ALTERNATE TAKE (Chicago Tribune, December 1957)

Take one or take two?

Who knew?  Twenty-four hours ago, I thought that the photograph of Count Basie and Pee Wee Russell in connection to THE SOUND OF JAZZ was unique.  Now eBay has (from another seller) a less-formal version — although the two players look rather stiffly posed, even though their suit jackets are off.  What will tomorrow bring?

CHARLES AND WILLIAM, December 1957, New York City

Yes, Charles Ellsworth Russell (clarinet) and William Basie (piano) in the CBS television studio, December 1957, probably for the rehearsal for THE SOUND OF JAZZ. 

There is only one other photograph I’ve ever seen of the two great individualists together — at the Leadbelly Memorial Concert.  Here’s the reverse of the 1957 candid portrait:

It makes me wonder how many other previously unseen photographs (this one isn’t by Milt Hinton but by a CBS staff phogorapher) exist.

But I don’t have to wonder about the composition Pee Wee Russell and Count Basie are embarking on — no, I’d bet my 2012 salary that it’s a Bb blues.  And I wish I’d been able to hear it . . .

CHRIS TYLE, CL.

I know Chris Tyle as a wonderful hot cornetist, a superb drummer, an affecting singer.  What more would anyone want? 

But Chris is a splendid clarinetist as well — and I’ve just been reminded of this by one of the most consistently stirring new CDs to burst out of its mailer.  It won’t be out until mid-October (so says Amazon) but this will give you time to get excited, to anticipate, and (if you like) to pre-order.  It’s a honey of a session!

Since the photograph is a bit small, I will offer subtitles: the band is CHRIS TYLE’S PACIFIC PLAYERS, and the disc is “TRIBUTE TO PEE WEE RUSSELL” (Jazzology JCD 378). 

The Pacific Players are Chris, clarinet, vocals; Katie Cavera, solo guitar, bass, vocals; Ray Skjelbred, piano; June Smith, rhythm guitar; Hal Smith, drums. 

Most CDs by one jazz group — even the ones I earnestly yearn for — begin to seem long.  Maybe it’s my late-life-attention-deficit-disorder, but it’s more the unintentional lack of variety on those discs.  Seventy-five minutes of the same thing can get monotonous.  

Happily, I listened to this disc all the way through, delighting at the varied tempos and instrumental textures this little group accomplished with great style and knowledge. 

Creating a tribute to someone whose sound and approach were so distinctive could pose its own problem for a musician less intuitive than Chris Tyle.  Russell’s twists and turns, his mutters and wails have tempted less gifted clarinetists to attempt to “be” Pee Wee for a day.  And since Russell’s vocabularly was always vividly aduible, from his talking-to-himself chalumeau musings to his out-and-out arching hollers, lesser musicians might simply offer almost-identical collections of gestures within familiar repertoire.  The result, a shadow Pee Wee. 

But Tyle, rather like the late Frank Chace, knows better.  We have the original recordings, and someone attracted to a Russell tribute is likely to know them well, so imitation is suicide, to reiterate Emerson. 

Tyle has some of Russell’s characteristic phrases under his fingers and in his emotional library, but he blends his own left-handed approach with the Master’s.  If I heard this CD in a Blindfold Test (or a CADENCE “Flying Blind”) I would say, “That’s someone who loves Pee Wee but has his own musical identity.”  Chris has an innate rhythmic energy (he is a hot player even when purling his way through a ballad) and his own sound, both within and enveloped by Russell’s. 

And the CD — wisely — roams throughout Russell’s career and wide range of musical situations: there’s a WILD MAN BLUES that suggests the 1957 performance on television on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, a number of songs associated with Russell’s late quartet with Marshall Brown (MY MOTHER’S EYES and HOW ABOUT ME), some Condonia (MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND and SAVE YOUR SORROW) and homages to the Rhythmakers among others.  This multi-faceted approach — without making the disc a chronological tour through Pee Wee’s recordings — adds a great deal to its charm and vitality.  I heard the rhythm section taking on some of the characteristics of Russell’s later recordings with Nat Pierce, Jo Jones, and George Wettling, and they manage to make SHINE ON YOUR SHOES and HELLO, LOLA romp with one horn only.

Chris would have had a steeper uphill climb with a lesser rhythm section, to be sure.  The first sound I heard on this disc was the joyous swish of Hal Smith’s hi-hat, and I will say only that his drumming through this session is supportive and exultant: he uses every part of his drum kit in the most swinging ways.  Katie Cavera adds her girlish singing (very sweet indeed) to a few numbers, her solo guitar most effectively, and her solid bass work throughout — sounding much like Walter Page, no small compliment.  June Smith is a wonderful guitarist with an authentic rhythm wave that can echo Freddie Green or Condon most delightfully.  And Ray Skjelbred is just invaluable — his rocking accompaniment and brilliant solo playing do honor to Hines and Frank Melrose, to Stacy and Sullivan . . . boiling away through the ensembles. 

I think this is a thrilling CD.  Hail Chris Tyle and his mighty colleagues!

TRIPLE PLAY

Dan Vernhettes has been celebrated in these pages as the author of the thoroughly illuminating study of trumpeter Tommy Ladnier, TRAVELING BLUES.  So I knew and admired him as a diligent and original jazz scholar, someone devoted to doing more than repeating the same facts and assertions printed elsewhere. 

But I had almost forgotten that Dan is a fine jazz trumpeter himself.

Here’s his nine-piece band, SWING FEELING, doing a lovely job on DICKIE’S DREAM (homage to the 1957 version from THE SOUND OF JAZZ) — recorded in August 2007:

Dan takes the second (open) trumpet solo.

And, going perhaps sixty years in conception — from Basie to Bolden — here are the VINTAGE JAZZMEN playing DON’T GO ‘WAY NOBODY (which surfaces later as HOW’M I DOIN’ and other variants):

Here, Dan’s colleagues are Tommy Sancton (cl, ts), Olivier Beuffe (tb), Siphan Upravan (bj), Enzo Mucci (b, g, bj), Guillaume Nouaux (dm). Filmed at Jazzclub Mülheim (Germany) in May 2006.  Visit http://d-vernhettes.club.fr

It’s always inspiring to see someone who puts his love of a subject into action!