Tag Archives: Todd Bryant Weeks

“PHOTO OF UNKNOWN MAN WITH BANJO” and “CREATORS OF JAZZ AND DIXIE LAND MUSIC”

Given the sorrow created by the deaths of John Sheridan and Phil Schaap, I felt the need for a different kind of post.

Todd Bryant Weeks, author of the fine biography of Hot Lips Page, LUCK’S IN MY CORNER, sent me the unidentified photograph below. He told me that the sender was a high school friend. “The face looked familiar and I thought he was quizzing me… But in fact it is from an old family scrapbook, and the owner of the scrapbook has passed away recently.” Todd added, “There is little or nothing to go on. The photograph was likely taken between 1950 and 1965 and may well have been taken in Massachusetts, possibly on the campus of Amherst College. The owner of the scrapbook is now deceased and his memory of the photograph was not clear enough to remember the time nor the location.”

Todd thought — and I hope — that some JAZZ LIVES readers might recognize this genial fellow. But beware: not everyone is or was famous.

See below! for a lovely answer to the question, provided by the wise Youngblood Colin Hancock, who knows.

And this just in, from eBay:

I can find nothing on either band.

The two pieces of tantalizing ephemera just remind me of a line from HAMLET: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your Jazz History books.”

Or, more seriously, there are always people playing and singing — documented only by a snapshot or perhaps as “Harlem’s Snappiest Night Club Entertainers,” than the books can contain. And that, whether at this distance or just two weeks ago, seems a wonderful thing, that the energetic music we cherish is overflowing its banks all the time, even if Ralph Peer of Victor wasn’t there to offer those bands a contract or no one can recall the banjoist’s name.

Here’s what Colin says about the happy man with the banjo:

The last addition to the Blue Ribbon Syncopators was banjoist Robert ‘Gil’ Roberts. Born on April 5, 1896 in Amherst, MA, he was a descendant of a prominent Black Massachusetts family that had fought in the Civil War as members of the legendary 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and Connecticut 29th Colored Infantry. Roberts took up the banjo at a young age, and eventually found his way to Buffalo’s North side where he met George West and joined the Blue Ribbons. He performed with them on all of their recordings for both Okeh and Columbia. He left the band in 1928, eventually travelling to Europe with “Eubie Blake’s Blackbirds” in the early 1930s. He later went on to perform with Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong, before settling in Boston, then his hometown of Amherst, MA. He lived there working around Amherst College as a handyman, but also serving as a guardian to the limited number of African-American students at the school. He also was an honorary member of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, performing with them for many years. He lived to be 106, passing away peacefully on October 6, 2002.

Roberts was more than a man with a banjo. Take the time to read this, please:

https://www.amherst.edu/amherst-story/magazine/issues/2012spring/insights/node/398112?fbclid=IwAR1sAFMUkc1X0iesq3nFAkD4VsqMCZrT78-nL1p3k-WsBoUeThJnCYy-X-4

May your happiness increase!

THE GLORY OF HOT LIPS PAGE

Having a plethora of new compact discs to listen to is a wonderful thing, but it can make even the most devoted listener forget about the records of one’s past. But all of this can be repaired easily, and I am grateful to Todd Bryant Weeks, jazz scholar and trumpeter, for reminding me about Oran “Hot Lips” Page, the Texas-born trumpeter and jazz singer. Weeks’s biography of Lips, Luck’s In My Corner: The Life and Music of Hot Lips Page (Routledge) has just come out — and it is a thoroughly rewarding study.

It is impossible not to regret that such a book wasn’t written in the 1980s, when Lips’s colleagues Jo Jones, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Sammy Price (the list could go on) were alive and talkative, but Weeks is a first-rate researcher, so he has gleaned more than one would expect from oral histories, newspapers, letters, and interviews with the survivors, including Lips’s family. Weeks is also a calm, plain-spoken prose stylist, which makes the book a pleasure to read. As well, he is a jazz trumpeter himself, so the examination of Lips’s music is clear and enlightening. (In the evocative photograph by Charles Peterson, Lips is having a joyous time playing alongside another jazz warrior, Sidney Bechet, at Jimmy Ryan’s.)

Who was “Hot Lips” Page? An early Basieite, a Louis Armstrong disciple, a trumpeter with power, subtlety, and seemingly indefatigable swing, an inventive and touching blues singer, a musical sparkplug — the hero of “Harlem after hours,” an ebullient, down-home man and player. Although his career never blossomed as it should have, given his talents, he was also visible and active in changing styles in jazz and popular music: he could play with Eddie Condon, Fats Waller, Charlie Parker, Pearl Bailey, Big Joe Turner, Billie Holiday, and Wynonie Harris. His recorded career bridges early Kansas City swing and jump blues, Swing Era big bands, the transitional groups of the Forties and Fifties — and when he died, far too young, in 1954, rhythm and blues and early rock were in place. He could have given Ray Charles some fierce competition, the records prove.

Although Lips did not get the opportunities he deserved, and Weeks’s rather sunny biography is at times more optimistic than the facts would suggest, Lips left a splendid musical legacy.

The biography has a fine discography, so I hope that suitably-inspired readers will be able to search out such masterpieces as the 1951 “Sweet Sue,” recorded at a Rudi Blesh party, the irreplaceable live material Jerry Newman caught in 1940 and 1941 with pianist Donald Lambert, among others, including “I Got Rhythm,” “Konk,” and “My Melancholy Baby,” and the ad hoc 1950 Philadelphia concert that had Lips holding forth majestically on “Muskrat Ramble” and “Squeeze Me.” There’s a priceless duet with Fats Waller at Carnegie Hall in 1942, and some whooping 1952 sessions taken down from the Stuyvesant Casino with Joe Sullivan, Lou McGarity, and George Wettling.

Lips always had a great time working with Eddie Condon, as the rare Floor Show recordings and the — happily available — Town Hall broadcasts show. Search out “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street,” “Chinatown,” “What’cha Doin’ After The War?,” “Uncle Sam Blues,” and “The Sheik of Araby.” Glorious playing from a man whose casual intensity comes right through your headphones, someone worth discovering and re-discovering.