Tag Archives: Tony Bennett

ERNIE HACKETT REMEMBERS HIS JAZZ FAMILY: “DAD,” “UNCLE VIC,” “PAPA JO,” “MR. SINATRA,” and MORE (December 2020)

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

Bobby Hackett remains one of my musical heroes, and I cherish his recordings, the few times I saw him in person, and the sound of his horn in my memory, a sound I can call up at will.  In case you need a reminder of Bobby’s delicate mastery, here is his 1975 performance of SWEET LORRAINE at the Grande Parade du Jazz in July 1975.

Bobby’s son Ernie — swinging drummer and vivid individualist — has fascinated me since I encountered him on Facebook years ago.  Outspoken, tender, kind, hilarious, a man of deep perceptions and deep emotions, he’s been a remarkable presence to me.  Recently, thanks to our mutual friend Clyde Groves — who appears here and here (Clyde is Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law) — Ernie and I had a delightful long phone conversation about the people we both love, a few noted in my title, which it is my honor to share with you here.

Now . . . here’s what Ernie told me, just before Christmas 2020 — a big present for all of us.

Simplicity was Dad’s art. He loved the melody, and he knew how to play around with the melody, but he never got out of control. He didn’t like the spotlight, the glamour, and he rarely took the first chorus. What always hit me in the family, blessed as I was, was his wonderful sense of humor, his dry, witty sense of humor. He was going through Customs once, and the agent looked at the cornet case and said, “Is that a musical instrument?” Dad’s one-word reply was, “Occasionally.” Little things like that: all my life I was familiar with those little things.

He was one of nine children, in Providence, and he dropped out of school at a very early age, because he started playing gigs, I believe on violin, then ukulele in the beginning. He didn’t play horn until he was in his teens. I didn’t know many of my aunts and uncles, except Aunt Dottie was very very close with Dad, and she had the same type of humor. She and her husband used to visit us, after the family relocated to Cape Cod, because they were coming in from Providence. There’s something about a dry sense of humor with musicians to begin with. I can’t say why, but I’m sure you’ve spotted it. Dad’s favorite phrase, if anybody asked him about politics, was “When the President tells me how to play the horn, then I’ll tell him how to run the country.” Plain and simple, to the point.

When he was home, he constantly practiced in the living room. In his boxer shorts. He never played a tune in his practicing, nothing but scales. Modulating scales, up and down, that’s all he ever practiced. And if people were coming over, he might put his robe on, or a t-shirt. That’s how Billy Butterfield was also. I knew Billy to some degree, because when Dad and Billy happened to be in New York at the same time, and Billy was passing through, he would always stay with us at our house in Jackson Heights. And I’ll always remember, Billy, first thing in the morning, coming down in his shorts – at least he had a t-shirt on – hair all messed up, saying good morning to everybody. He was like a shorter, stubbier Dad.

[I’d asked Ernie about Bobby’s generous nature, which sometimes led him to be taken advantage of, and his reaction.] I’d say he shrugged his shoulders, and always moved forward. The one thing that comes to mind would be the Jackie Gleason records. He never berated Jackie Gleason for that. My mother blamed Jack Philbin, his manager at the time, who I just recently learned was Regis Philbin’s father. It was Dad’s decision. He took the ten thousand dollars, because he wanted to buy a house for the family, for us, not knowing what was going to happen in the future. He wasn’t bitter about it. Nobody in the family ever begrudged him for making that decision. He did it for us.

He got along with just about everybody.

Mom was from Fall River, Mass., and Dad was from Providence. I don’t know exactly how they met, but I do know they married on Nantucket, and I think he was with the Casa Loma band at the time. Of course, this is way before my time, so it’s all hearsay and articles that I’m remembering. [Ernie asked his niece, Michelle, and she added this wonderful story: “Grandpa had a two week gig at a posh resort on Nantucket, with full accommodations. He asked Grandma to go with him, but she said she couldn’t travel with him as a single lady. So he suggested that they get married the first day they were there, then they had a two week (all paid) honeymoon on Nantucket.”]

They were wonderful friends. It was a rocky marriage at times: we’ve all been through that. I’m sure you know that Dad was an alcoholic. We’ve always been realistic about that. It was out in the open. Dad’s loving term to refer to Mom was “The Warden.” I’m not going to say he never drank at home: he slipped a couple of times. It became ugly when that happened. My sister and I used to spend nights crying at the top of the stairs with Mom and Dad going at it, arguing. A day or two, they’d get over it and Dad would straighten up again.

Incidentally, contrary to popular belief of “Ernie Caceres” – I was named after my Mom’s older brother named Ernest – who died at an early age in a freak bus accident.

Eddie Condon was my Godfather! I always figured that my parents thought if anything should ever happen to them that Eddie would be sure to teach me how to handle alcohol!

When I was about seventeen, I dropped out of high school. I was still playing drums. From what I understand, George Wettling showed me how to hold a pair of drumsticks when I was about five years old, though I don’t remember that. I’d spent a couple of years playing electric guitar in a high school rock and roll band, but I still had a set of drums.

If I hadn’t become a jazz drummer, I probably would have become a rock drummer. Actually my first choice of music was always rock! What sort of pushed me towards jazz was my association with all the guys that worked with Dad!

Dad had a detached garage that he converted into a sound studio, outside the house. I was in there one night and Dad knocked on the door, came in, and said, “How’d you like to come out on the road with me and learn how to play drums?” I was flabbergasted – I was seventeen — and the first thing that came to my mind was “You don’t dare say no to that.” What an experience. And that’s what proceeded to happen over the next couple of years.

The first thing I realized was that when Dad was on the road, he was off the wagon. My first professional gig with Dad was in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was about a two or three-week stint, and Dave McKenna was with us. And I learned how to drive because it was very rare that Dad and Dave were on the road and could drink together, because Dad had to drive back to the hotel every night. However, they learned quickly that if the kid drove them back home at night, they could have fun during the gig. And that’s how I got my license. It could be sad at times: Dad’s playing suffered quite a bit when he drank, and it was obvious. He was always apologetic to me the next day. He was embarrassed that I saw him like that. But we muddled through it.

I really learned on the job. It was a good education. One of my fortes as a drummer was keeping very good time, not dragging or rushing. And the reason I got that way was because in the beginning, if I started to drag the slightest shade, Dad would stomp his foot, on stage, to the right beat. And, boy, I probably turned beet red. That’s embarrassing! If I started rushing, he would slow me right down. He would correct me immediately. But it paid off. I talk a lot about going into parochial schooling and then into the army, and all the discipline I went through, but when you look back at it as an adult, you’re thankful for it. It taught you. Things were done the right way.

[I asked Ernie about Bobby’s dear friend and colleague (and my hero) Vic Dickenson.] Oh, boy. My uncle. He and Dad had a brotherly relationship. The thing that hit me the most is that after Dad passed, Mom and I relocated to New York City from Cape Cod. That’s when I started hanging around Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, and getting ready to make my move in that direction, and Vic just took me under his wing like you wouldn’t believe. I’ll talk about the risqué parts – the many, many breaks we spent in his Oldsmobile 98, “The Office,” for our smoke breaks.

His sense of humor was astonishing also. Subtle, so subtle. One night at Condon’s, we came out from being in his car on one of the breaks. I remember standing there – he always had the best stuff in the world – I remember getting up on the stage and saying, “How the heck am I going to get through this? My God.” Usually getting high didn’t affect my playing, at least I didn’t think so, anyway, because I was high. So, we started playing, and it was during the first chorus. Now Vic, at Eddie Condon’s, always sat right in front of the mounted tom-tom. And Connie Kay, God bless him, always left his drums for me. So we were playing, and Vic turned around to me with a big smile, and he tapped the tom-tom, and said, “Whaddaya think?” And I said, “Whoa!” and his reply was, “Wait another minute or two. Just wait.”

What a wonderful soul he was, a loving person. You could easily see the love affair between him and Dad. In fact, I was just watching the JUST JAZZ program, where they were doing JITTERBUG WALTZ. You could just see the love between the two of them. It was just amazing. It was a wonderful show. They had such mutual respect for one another – not only as musicians, but as people. It was really quite a friendship. Vic was family. There was no other way around it. We all loved Uncle Vic, and he was just a sweetheart to all of us. And he never acted drunk. He’d drink Cutty Sark all night long, a straight shot in a glass, and a back of water, but he never lost his cool, ever, no matter how much of it he drank. God bless him. He knew himself – very much so.

I have to tell you about Vic and his joints. When Vic rolled a joint, it was the most perfect joint, and the trick was you’d have to roll it quite loose, and leave some room at the end to tuck that end in with the blunt end of a wooden match. So that way the grass wouldn’t fall out of it. And it was perfectly shaped, like an English Oval cigarette. So I taught myself how to do it, so I could roll a joint just like Uncle Vic. So one night we were in his car, hanging out, and I said, “Here, Vic. Do my stick here,” and he said, “All right, OK,” and I lit it up and handed it to him, and he looked at me and said, “Did I give you this?” And I just had the biggest smile, and I said, “Nope. I made that.” He said, “Get outta here!” I said, “No, I taught myself how to roll like you!” and he just got the biggest kick out of that. What an honor!

Dad had a clique of musician friends who came to the house.  I’m told that Louis would occasionally visit our house in Jackson Heights! But I was too young to even remember.  There was Ruby Braff, and I think Sam Margolis a couple of times. He was another sweetheart. Sam subbed from time to time at Condon’s, but we also worked together with Max Kaminsky, after Max’s regular drummer, Freddie Moore, a funny gentleman, really nice guy, wanted to retire, and Max asked me if I wanted to be in the band.

I could go on about Max: we had a love-hate relationship. Max could be pretty nasty when he wanted to be. There was one gig he got for us in North Carolina, a wedding at a golf resort. It turned out to be a pain in the neck: Sam was on it with us. We had to fly down, and the gig happened, and then the next day we were supposed to play in the garden for the reception, and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get paid at the end of the gig, but at the month, like a club date, he would have our money. Well, I was living completely hand to mouth at that time, struggling to keep my studio apartment on Central Park West, and I got so mad at him, really mad. We were returning, and we were at the airport in North Carolina, at a long gateway, and I saw Max walking down from the opposite direction. I was just staring at him, because he knew I wanted my money. But sometimes you’d have to love Max, too. He took me off to the side, and he looked really nervous. He gave me a hundred-dollar bill, maybe half of what I was supposed to get, and he said, “I can’t give you the whole thing now, Ernie, but take this, I hope it helps you. Please don’t tell any of the other guys.” So I shook his hand and I kept his secret. We used to get mad at each other a lot, but we forgot about it the next day and hugged each other.

Tony Bennett wasn’t a frequent visitor to the house, but from time to time he’d pop in. Whenever Dad had these visits, everybody disappeared into the garage – are you familiar with the air freshener / deodorizer Ozium? They used to use that to cover up the marijuana.

On that subject: a few years later, before I was going in to the service, I was doing a four-week gig with Dad in New Orleans, my first opportunity to be in New Orleans, and we were at Al Hirt’s nightclub. At the time Dad had a pseudo-manager named Leo Kappos, a Greek gentleman, short little guy, likeable. Mom hated him, because she knew that he was Dad’s enabler. The funny thing was, that at that time, I’ll be honest with you, I was already a pothead. Dad used to try to smoke grass to stay away from alcohol, but it never really worked for him. So one night, I was going downstairs to the gig, in a tux, and I got in the elevator, and Leo was in there too, just Leo and me. And Leo started laughing, and he said, “Listen, I gotta get you and your Dad together, because the two of you are smoking pot all the time and not letting each other know about it. You gotta get to know each other!” I never forgot that.

Dad would try it from time to time, but his high of choice was beer. He had a very low tolerance, because he had a very slight frame, he always suffered with diabetes, which didn’t make drinking any easier. Half a Heineken and he’d almost be on the floor. It was difficult. He had quite a battle to stay away from that.

I’ll slide that around to another story that involves me introducing myself to Frank Sinatra.  [Here you can enjoy Frank and Bobby.]

Dad and I were playing at the Riverboat in New York, in the basement of the Empire State Building, 1966 or 1967. It had to be around July 4. Dad was featured, and I guess a six or seven-piece band. And one night, I noticed Tony [Bennett] came in, and he was only there for ten or fifteen minutes. He and Dad kind of disappeared. And at the next break, Dad came over to me, and said, “Listen. Tony told me that Frank’s going to be at Jilly’s tonight. He’s having a party. We’re all welcome to stop in there and join him.” My sister idolized Frank Sinatra all her life, so Dad said to me, “Call Barbara, and have her and her boyfriend meet us at Jilly’s, around 12:30 or 1 AM,” which I did. Dad and I got in a cab – I wasn’t quite driving at that time – up to Jilly’s, on 55th Street, I think it was, and we went in.

The party was in a private room at the back, and people were throwing firecrackers around the bar. It was Frank’s crew, because it was the Fourth of July and he felt like throwing firecrackers around. We went in the back room, Dad and I, and Dad started to drink, had a Heineken. My sister and her boyfriend showed up, and that was it for the family, the four of us, we’re at a table. Off to my left was a long Last Supper-type of table with Mr. Sinatra in the middle of it, with his back against the wall, and he was entertaining the people at the table. So all of a sudden, Dad said, “Ernie, I want you to go over and introduce yourself to Mr. Sinatra.” My legs almost crumpled out from under me, I almost fainted. When Dad was drinking, you didn’t dare say no. So I had to toughen up for this.

I walked behind the back of the table, and I came up right behind – I don’t like calling him Frank, he was Mr. Sinatra to me. He was in the middle of a story, a joke, whatever, and the two goons on either side of him, with their hands in their laps, were staring at me, like, “What are you doing here?” Nothing was said, but they would not take their eyes off me. I was waiting for Mr. Sinatra to end the story so I could quickly tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hi, I’m Ernie Hackett. My Dad said I had to say hi to you,” which is what happened. When I went to tap him on the shoulder, the two goons went to stand up, so right away, I blurted out, “Mr. Sinatra, I’m Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son. He told me to come over, I should say hi.” And he was very gracious, stood up, shook my hand, gave me a big smile, said, “Thank you so much, Ernie. Very nice to meet you,” and that was that.

Now we fast-forward ten to fifteen years. Now I was playing at Eddie Condon’s. Dad had passed. Wild Bill Davison was in town, which is going to lead me into another story. I don’t know if you remember at Condon’s, the big table was the round one right in front of the bandstand, and that’s where the celebrities would sit. Sinatra came in with his wife Barbara, and a priest who always traveled with him – I think that was in case he needed the last rites – and three or four other people at the table, to enjoy Wild Bill. After the set ended, and remember, at Eddie Condon’s, the stage was about two or three feet off the ground, I got down from the drums onto the floor, and there was a table right there, and someone started chatting with me, I don’t know, about Dad or something, two or three minutes. All of a sudden I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn around, and it’s Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t believe it. He shook my hand, and all he said was, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your playing, Ernie. It was just fantastic.” I didn’t know what to say! I just thanked him. I often wonder, with my sense of humor, if I had pulled a Don Rickles on him and said, “Hey, Frank. I’m just talking to people here. Can you wait a minute? I’ll be right with you!” but thank God I didn’t do that. He might have shot me: I don’t know.

But I always liked Frank Sinatra as a person. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, very gracious. He donated – I don’t remember the amount of money – the New Jersey Jazz Society had a benefit for Mom, and I think he donated two or three thousand dollars, which at that time was like ten thousand dollars. And he was at Condon’s one night, waiting for the rest of his entourage to come up from the rest room, and he was under the portrait at the end of the bar, just standing there, staring off into the distance. He wasn’t a very tall gentleman, if you recall. I went up to him and said, “Frank, I’m Ernie Hackett. I don’t know if you remember me,” and he just nodded his head. “I just want to thank you so much for the donation you made for Dad’s benefit,” and all he did was nod his head in acceptance. He wouldn’t talk about anything nice that he did. That was very private to him.

But the punchline is this. And I always wondered, and I would almost guarantee that he came up and tapped me on the shoulder because he remembered that’s how I introduced myself to him. I’ll bet you anything, he said to himself, “I remember that kid. He’s Bobby Hackett’s son. He tapped me on the shoulder once.”

Here’s the side story about Wild Bill. You must know about him and his background. He wasn’t the quietest of souls. Cliff Leeman, of course, was his favorite drummer. And Wild Bill would come in to Condon’s, maybe two or three times a year, for a two-week stint. He always insisted on Cliff being there. This time around, Cliff was starting to fail, and he wasn’t feeling well any longer. So he told Ed Polcer and [Red] Balaban, who ran the place, that he couldn’t make it this time around. Well, Ed and Red decided to give me a shot at it, which I was very thankful for. I get to replace Cliff? Good enough that I’m replacing Connie Kay every night!

So, Monday came, and I’m coming in again with my snare and my stick bag, because Connie always left his drums there for me. I walked in to the club, and I saw that Wild Bill and his wife Anne were sitting all the way in the back, having coffee or something. We had never met. I walked in to the club, deposited my snare drum and bag on the stage, and came up, introduced myself. I said, “Hey, Wild Bill, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ernie Hackett and I’ll be playing drums with you for the next couple of weeks.” He stood up and shouted, “WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF?” Well, that’s a fine how-d’you-do! How do you get over that one? Well, the ending of it was a sweet story. After the first set, Wild Bill came up to me and said, “I like the way you play.” And then he insisted, going forward, that if Cliff couldn’t make it, I had to be his replacement. So I had another medal on my chest. My head got a little bit bigger at that time. But I’ll never forget WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF? That was typical Bill.

Another one was Papa Jo Jones. You know how cantankerous he could be. He took me under his wing, and I used to love hanging with him at the bar after the gig, with the two of us getting drunk, or high, whatever, and he would go on a real rant, a tirade about anything! And then he’d turn around with a sly little smile, and wink at me, like “What kind of reaction did I get from that one?” He was letting me in on his game. He was very much an actor. God, what a talent. He used to sit in at the drums sometimes, after the gig, and just go up there with the brushes and play the drums. And my jaw would be on the floor. Then, the honor of letting me sit next to him at the bar, in his court.

One time, Ruby Braff and I had a falling-out. I joined the club! I interrupted him, one night when he was telling a joke. Oh my God. He stopped talking to me. I tried calling him, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. Well, he’d pick up the phone (we didn’t have Caller ID back then) and hang up on me. We parted ways. We stayed away from each other a good amount of time, maybe six-seven-eight months. And then, all of a sudden, one night the Magic White Powder parade was marching downstairs and Ruby looked at me and said, “Come on. Come with us.” We both did that. And we came downstairs, we looked at each other, and started laughing, and he gave me a hug and said, “OK. The hatchet’s buried.” I said, “Thank you. It took you long enough,” and we were fine after that.

I loved Jimmy Andrews. Jimmy and I were the closest of friends. He was very quiet, but what a sense of humor, and a gentleman. I loved Mike Burgevin. Jimmy and Mike, they were like brothers. And Mike, a quiet guy but a real gentleman of a person.

My splash on the scene was after Dad passed, and I’m kind of happy it worked like that. It allowed me to be more of myself.

So when Dad passed, we were living up on Cape Cod there, and I was doing a lot of odd gigs there – Mom had the house. Mom wanted to sell the house and move back to New York, which is what we ended up doing, and I got married to my second wife at the time. We went back from Cape Cod to New York and got an apartment there. I thought, I have my drums here, I have a car, I’ve got to start getting into the scene. I’d drive into Manhattan and start hanging out at Condon’s and Ryan’s, three-four times a week, just to hang out, and eventually to sit in, which kind of broke the ice for me, because these guys got to hear what the Hackett kid could do.

And all the Black people had such respect for Dad and everyone took me under their wing. Do you know Jackie Williams? I understand he’s still going — another wonderful friend of the family, a funny, funny guy. I played with Roy Eldridge quite a bit, a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he enjoyed my style of playing as much as Condon’s did. But that didn’t get me. I don’t expect everyone in the world to love my style of drumming. But Roy was a wonderful guy. I loved him, and he always treated me with the utmost respect. I loved Jimmy McPartland too, a great character. And his wife! We weren’t that close as friends because he wasn’t as much a hanger-outer. I think he was curbing his drinking. Marian was very polite and demure, such a lady, and a fantastic musician. The two of them took me up to Salem, Massachusetts for a one-week gig with Frank Tate – he and I were great buddies, through Dad – and we had a great time.

The hangouts after the gig were the cream of the crop at Condon’s. The gigs were great, but I had to stay sober until the end of it, so I used to ration one Heineken at a break. But then, after the last set, I started mixing shots of Johnnie Black with it, and that’s when the party would begin. It was such an honor to be exposed to all that, to get to know all these guys.

There’s a thirty-minute video on YouTube of a night at Eddie Condon’s. That’s me on drums. I’ll never forget that night. It was, I believe, a Monday night, and I was subbing for Connie. I came in and was setting up my snare drum, and a couple of college-looking kids were setting up very professional video equipment, right in front of the bandstand. And I was always a rabble-rouser. I’m not proud of it all the time, but if there was trouble to be started it was started by me. I got done setting up the drums and rearranging the stands, and then I came down the stairs and the one guy who seemed to be more in charge – as it turned out, it was Red Balaban’s cousin – I politely asked him, “What are you going to be filming this for?” “Oh, it’s just a college project. It’s nothing more than that.” But there were two very professional-looking cameras. I said, “Oh, really. Is the club planning to pay the band scale for this, for the videotaping?” And he said, “No, we’re just a couple of college students.” I said, “Oh. I have to talk to Eddie Polcer about this,” and that’s how I left it. I think I told one of the college kids, “If the red light goes on, and we’re not getting paid scale, I’m not playing,” and evidently the kid went back to Eddie and told him.

So Eddie came in, and it was getting closer to hit time, maybe 8:30, and we were supposed to be going on in ten or fifteen minutes. I went outside to have a cigarette, and Polcer always bummed cigarettes off of me – that’s another story. Eddie came outside, and said, “So, you’re not going to play if the red light goes on?” I said, “Yeah, exactly. Eddie, you know how this works. You’re going to make a video, you’ve got to pay the musicians.” We were going back and forth. He didn’t want to give in. Finally, he said to me, “Do you know how much scale is?” “No,” I said, “but we can both find out in the morning with a call to Local 802.” This is what really got under his skin. He said, “If I pay you scale, will you play?” My reply was, “If you pay the whole band scale, yes,” and he just looked at me like he wanted to kill me, and he gave in at that point, “All right. You got it. They’ll all get scale.”

Years later, he was at the Atlanta Jazz Party, and my wife and I, when she was still here, God bless her, we used to go every year and visit with the guys from New York, and Eddie and I remained close friends. We’d hug each other and reminisce. And he told me, years later, “Red Balaban went to his death never knowing that you did that, that night. If I’d ever told him, he would have banned you from the club completely.” I said, “Thank you.” I was always on the ins and the outs with Eddie Condon’s. They finally stopped using me. If you go back and look at that video, Jimmy Andrews and I were the only two they didn’t interview – because we were the rough guys!

The good old days. Just an honor! And as Vic would say, “Ding ding!”

“Just an honor!” sums it up for me.  Bless Ernie, and all our heroes above.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM, PART TWO (July 19, 2017)

Because he is justifiably one of the most busy musicians I know, it was hard to find a time when saxophone master and master raconteur Michael Hashim and I could sit down and talk at leisure.  And because Michael is so busy gigging, it was hard to find a photograph of him without a horn attached to him, but I did.  (I love the dashing color palette here.)

Michael and I had a long afternoon’s conversation last July, the first two segments of which I posted here.

Now, throwing caution to the winds — or another apt cliche — I offer the four remaining segments of our talk.  And, as you’ll hear, Michael is one of those rare creatures who can speak beautifully, extemporaneously, without hesitation: lovely long sentences, full of information, feeling, and wit, come tumbling out.  A master of improvised prose as well as one of improvised music.

Three.  In which Michael speaks so well and affectionately of Jimmy Rowles — the pianist, the man, and the artist — with side-glances at Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, and The Fifth Dimension, Tommy Flanagan, Phyllis Diller, Benny Carter, Michael’s own recording with Rowles, Ray Brown, and some comments on race:

Four.  In which Michael tells anecdotes of encounters with heroes in New York, saxophonist Pony Poindexter, trombonist Benny Morton, as well as jazz clubs Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, with memories of Red Balaban, Jo Jones, Bobby Pratt, Tony Bennett, Joe Muranyi, Artie Baker, Roy Eldridge, Scott Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Freeloader, and others:

Five.  In which Michael remembers not only individual musicians but the feeling and understanding of their art that they embodied, including Cab Calloway, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, Eddie Barefield, Sammy Price, Jerry Potter, Earle Warren, Phil Schaap,Toots Mondello, Percy France, Doc Cheatham, Scott Robinson, Roy Eldridge, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie, Haywood Henry:

Six. In which Michael lovingly speaks of the importance of the drums and remembers memorable percussionists and the players surrounding them, including Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Locke, Ray Mosca, Oliver Jackson, with a special pause for the master Jo Jones, for Sonny Greer, Johnny Blowers, Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Bubber Miley, Elmer Snowden, Freddie Moore, Eddy Davis, Kenny Washington, Billy Higgins, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, George Butler, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Henderson:

What an afternoon it was, and what a person Michael Hashim is.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE BARNES COULD DO IT ALL, AND HE DID

"Georgie," youthful

“Georgie,” youthful.  Photograph reproduced with permission from the owner.  Copyright 2013 The George Barnes Legacy Collection.

Alec Wilder told George Barnes that the latter’s music offered “Reassurance, reaffirmation, wit, warmth, conviction and, best of all, hope!”  I agree.

I first heard the magnificent guitarist (composer, arranger) George Barnes without knowing it.  His sound cut through the Louis Armstrong Musical Autobiography sessions for Decca — in the late Sixties. Even listening to Louis — as any reasonable person does — I was aware of this wonderful speaking sound of George and his guitar: a man who had something important to tell us in a short space (say, four bars) and made the most of it.  Not loud, but not timid.

As I amassed more jazz records, George was immediately evident through his distinctive attack.  I believe that I took in more Barnes subliminally in those years, in the way I would hear Bobby Hackett floating above my head in Macy’s. (George recorded with Roy Smeck, Connie Francis, Richard M. Jones, Bill Harris, Anita O’Day, Artie Shaw, Pearl Bailey, Jeri Southern, Connee Boswell, the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins, George Wettling, LaVern Baker, Earl Bostic, Joe Venuti, Sammy Davis Jr., Don Redman, Little Willie John, Della Reese, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Hans Conried, Solomon Burke, Sy Oliver, Buddy Rich, Bud Freeman, Tony Bennett, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress  — just to give you an idea of his range.  And those are only the sessions documented in jazz discographies.)

In the early Seventies I actually saw George and heard him play live — he was sometimes five or six feet from me — in the short-lived quartet he and Ruby Braff led.  And then he was gone, in September 1977.

But his music remains.

George Barnes Country JAzz

And here’s a new treasure — a double one, in fact.

Now, some of you will immediately visit here, bewitched and delighted, to buy copies.  You need read no more, and simply wait for the transaction to complete itself in the way you’ve chosen.  (Incidentally, on eBay I just saw a vinyl copy of this selling for $150.)

For the others. . . . I don’t know what your feelings are when seeing the words COUNTRY JAZZ.  Initially, I had qualms, because I’ grew up hearing homogenized “country and western” music that to me seems limited.  But when I turned the cardboard sleeve over and saw that Barnes and friends were improvising on classic Americana (OLD BLACK JOE, THE ARKANSAS TRAVELER, CHICKEN REEL, IN THE GLOAMING, MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME) I relaxed immediately.  No cliche-stew of wife / girlfriend / woman / dog / truck / rifle / beer / betrayal / pals here.  Call it roots music or Americana, but it’s not fake.

And the band is exciting: George on electric guitar, bass guitar, and banjo [his banjo feature is extraordinary]; Allan Hanlon, rhythm guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums, percussion; Phil Kraus, vibes on one track; Danny Bank, mouth harp on one track.  The sixteen tracks (and one bonus) come from this 1957 session recorded for Enoch Light — in beautiful sound.  The improvisations rock; they are hilarious, gliding, funky, and usually dazzling. There’s not a corny note here.  And gorgeously expansive documentation, too.

george-barnes_thumb

That would be more than enough fun for anyone who enjoys music.  But there’s much more.  George began leading a band when he was 14 (which would be 1935) but made a name for himself nationwide on an NBC radio program, PLANTATION PARTY, where he was a featured from 1938 to 1942. The fourteen additional airshots on this generous package come from the PARTY, and they are stunning.  Each performance is a brief electrifying (and I am not punning) vignette, and sometimes we  get the added pleasure of hearing announcer Whitley Ford introduce the song or describe George’s electric Gibson as a “right modern contraption,” which it was.

I can’t say that it’s “about time” for people to acknowledge George as a brilliant guitarist and musician, a stunning pioneer of the instrument — because the jazz and popular music histories should have been shaken and rewritten decades ago. But I’d bet anything that Charlie Christian and a thousand other players heard PLANTATION PARTY, and that a many musicians heard George, were stunned, and wanted to play like that.

I’m writing this post a few days before July 4, celebrated in the United States with fireworks.  George Barnes sounds just like those fireworks: rockets, stars, cascades, and explosions.  I don’t know that fireworks can be said to swing, but with George that is never in doubt.

To buy the CD, visit here — and at the George Barnes Legacy site, you can learn much more about George, his music, his family, his career.  Worth a long visit.

May your happiness increase!

“BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC” (by George Hulme and Bert Whyatt)

BOBBY HACKETT 2 auto

I’ve written at length about my affection and admiration for cornetist Bobby Hackett, someone who illuminated my musical life on recordings and in person and continues to do so.  If Hackett is someone you haven’t heard deeply, I offer this as evidence of his quiet soaring majesty — a 1961 recording of LOVE LETTERS with Glenn Osser’s Orchestra — hidden in it are Dave McKenna and Jake Hanna:

The first thing I hear is Hackett’s sound — warm, glowing, controlled but entirely natural-sounding.  One doesn’t think of vibrating breath going through metal — just as one doesn’t anatomize birdsong.  No, that sound on its own seems both unearthly and completely friendly, evocative.  And one does not have to be a cornet player to imagine how difficult it is to “make melody come that alive,” as Hackett said of his greatest inspiration Louis.  LOVE LETTERS is itself simple-sounding yet treacherous, a test of a player’s delicacy and ingenuity: how to make all those repeated notes sound as if each one of them had a pulsing life? But Hackett did, and does.

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

The other side of Hackett’s recording and performing life moved at a faster pace — call it “Dixieland” or other names — often with the best Mainstream musicians, including Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, Pee Wee Russell, the aforementioned Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, Cliff Leeman.  Here’s a 1962 sample, DARK EYES — from a “theme” album, Condon and friends capitalizing on the success of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW:

And the first recording where Hackett was in evidence that I can recall — the 1947 TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart, Peanuts Hucko, Sidney Catlett, and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — where Hackett takes over for Louis, presumably making his way to the vocal microphone, at :35, and then follows Hucko with his own beautiful solo:

And if you haven’t heard any of the 1937-onwards Dick Robertson sides made for Decca (for the jukebox market, with an identical piano introduction and similar formats) you need to begin your enlightenment here — 24 bars of pearly Hackett in the middle:

This posting isn’t meant to offer all of the Hackett recordings available on YouTube that move me: it would turn impossibly long. Readers can find or discover their own favorites.  My purpose is to let you know about a superb book on Bobby and his music.

Although Hackett’s life (1915-1976) was not dramatic in the ways the chronicles of other musicians have been, he has deserved a book for decades.  He appeared memorably in profiles by Whitney Balliett and Max Jones, but the first legitimate full-scale study of his musical life has just appeared, and it is a delight. The book, BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC, by George Hulme and the late Bert Whyatt, is a model of what such books should be, and the only reason it has taken me this length of time to write about it is that every time I open it, I am so suffused with Hackett-love that the book goes down so that I can listen.

Full disclosure: I traded tapes and information with Bert and George, and there is a little Hackett-reminiscence of mine, “Thanks, Bobby Hackett,” at the start of the book.  (That is how he signed my record label when I timidly requested his autograph.)  So I won’t pretend to objectivity here.

The book looks unobtrusive from the front:

HACKETT book cover

but the cover design is this famous late-Forties photograph:

HACKETT photo for book cover

Its contents are anything but dull.  and the 630-plus pages of this book (in a readable typeface, for which we give thanks) are detailed yet unfussy and thoroughly informative.  It contains twenty rare photographs and an equal number of record label scans.  The book is divided in three parts: after the acknowledgments, there is a fifty-page section of reminiscences — which begins with Hackett in his own words, then continues on to include brief essays by Vic Lewis, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett (via Will Friedwald), Warren Vache, Sr., George Hulme, as well as on-the-spot pieces about appearances of Hackett and bands from 1943 on.  Hackett was an early recording / stereo equipment enthusiast, and Hulme has written an intriguing essay on that facet of his life.

From there, a truly informative musical biography, organized chronologically, which offers reviews of performances, details of sessions, gigs, and recordings. I find such assemblages of detail fascinating (especially because Hulme and Whyatt offer reasoned research rather than conjecture or repetitions of debatable facts).  One small instance: “Eddie Condon offered a concert at Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, on March 21 [1947], with Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, James P. Johnson and Dave Tough.”  Those are words to dream about, and I can hear that band, faintly, as I write this.

Other delights pop up throughout the 135 pages.  The remainder of the book — some four hundred pages — is a beautifully clear, well-organized discography, ending with pages of “discographical mysteries,” a bibliography, and two detailed indices.  It is a worthy tribute to a musician whose work never disappoints.

Here is a link to purchase the book — which, because it’s paperbound, is surprisingly affordable.  I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm.  And now, I’m going back to listen to more of Bobby:

May your happiness increase!

RUBY BRAFF and MARIAN McPARTLAND PLAY, TALK, and LAUGH (1991)

RUBY portrait

Thanks to National Public Radio, here is a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s PIANO JAZZ featuring the one, the only Ruby Braff, in a mellow mood, here.

MARIAN McPARTLAND

There’s delicious music — both players in exquisite form — THOU SWELL, THESE FOOLISH THINGS, THIS YEAR’S KISSES (with Ruby at the piano), THIS IS ALL I ASK, BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL (a piano duet), SINGIN’ THE BLUES (Marian, solo), BY MYSELF, AS TIME GOES BY, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, and an extra bit of holiday laginappe, WHITE CHRISTMAS, as well as commentary on Vic Dickenson and Buster Bailey, the “Laws of Comping,” Mel Powell, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, the Boston jazz scene in the Fifties, George Barnes, Frank Tate, Dave McKenna, a CD that never emerged, the Braff-Hyman GIRL CRAZY, Tony Bennett, the value of caring and having standards, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, picking songs and making records, Maurice Chevalier, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

The authority on all things Braff, Tom Hustad, thinks that the program was recorded in fall 1991 — as he notes in his invaluable book, BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY AND DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES.  Hear the music; buy the book; remember Ruby and Marian and the music they made always.

May your happiness increase!

“WOULD YOU CARE TO SIGN OUR GUEST BOOK?” (Liberty Music Shop, 1956-57)

As of July 10, 2015, this was the eBay link for those who like an incredible collection of autographs — and who have $4500.

Here’s the description.

[Autographs] [Guest Book] Hemingway, Ernest. (1899 – 1961) & Barber, Samuel. (1910 – 1981) & Givenchy, Hubert de. (b. 1927) & Graham, Martha. (1894 – 1991) & Ferber, Edna. (1885 – 1968) etc.

Incredible 1950s Guest Book for the Liberty Music Shop

Guest book for the famed Liberty Music Shop of New York, containing approximately 200 autographs and inscriptions, signed by distinguished visitors, a virtual who’s who of the cultural life of 1950s New York. Written approximately 15 to a page on the first 14 pages, some with date or place or comments, concluding with a large bold signature by Marian Anderson, written diagonally across the blank page. Oblong 8vo, leatherette. New York, [1956-57]. The signers include Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Barber, Martha Graham, Anna Magnani, Hubert de Givenchy, Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire, Hoagy Carmichael, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Hayes (with an AMQS), Alan Jay Lerner (2x), Yul Brynner, Ogden Nash, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontaine, Andres Segovia, Margaret Hamilton, Tony Bennett, Myrna Loy, Edna Ferber, Zino Francescatti, Byron Janis, Farley Grainger, Rex Harrison, Broderick Crawford, Edward G. Robinson, George Szell, Jessica Tandy, Basil Rathbone, Claudette Colbert, Hazel Scott, Raymond Massey, Michel Auclair, Alexander Smallens, Kate Smith, James Mason, Ray Bolger, Benny Goodman, Noël Coward, Joan Blondell, Arnold Stang, Constance Talmadge, Garson Kanin, Mischa Elman, Erica Morini, Connee Boswell, Mario del Monaco, Robert Helptmann, Andor Foldes, Marta Eggerth, Vincent Price, Lillian Gish, Paulette Goddard, J. William Fulbright and dozens more.

The Liberty Music Shop was a fixture in the New York music scene from the 1930s through the 1950s, catering to cognoscenti and celebrities.

Why should this be on JAZZ LIVES?  One, it’s a spectacular rarity.  Some of the names above should excite people who apparently only listen to jazz, night and day.  But for the most seriously narrow readers, there’s also a genuine Benny Goodman signature and — happiness! — a Jo Jones inscription, which is how he signed two record jackets for me in 1981-2.  The seller offered photographs of sample pages — not all fifteen — which means that some of the signatures noted above aren’t visible.  But enough are to make it fascinating.

Here’s the first page, beautifully signed by Marian Anderson:

AUTOGRAPH BOOK NINE Marian Andersonand here I see Mischa Elman, Peter Lind Hayes, Alan Jay Lerner, Farley Grainger, Edward G. Robinson, and Joyce Van Patten, among others.

AUTOGRPAH BOOK TWOHere’s Jack Carter (who just left us), Bill Hayes, Garson Kanin, Herman Shumlin, and Earle Hyman . . .

AUTOGRAPH BOOK THREEAnd where else would you find Ray Bolger and Francoise Sagan in such proximity?

AUTOGRAPH BOOK FOURI love the strange combinations: Gene Tunney, Herb Shriner, Jo Jones, Margaret Hamilton, Tony Bennett, and Herb Shriner, the last asking for a discount.

AUTOGRAPH BOOK FIVE Jo Tony 1957Still more: David Rose and Chris Connor.

AUTOGRAPH BOOK SIX Chris Connor David RoseAnd Charles Boyer, an authentic Benny Goodman (unless he brought one of his staff to sign for him), Kevin McCarthy, Givenchy, and Anthony Perkins.AUTOGRAPH BOOK SEVEN BGFinally, Dorothy Gish, Hoagy Carmichael, Fred Astaire.

AUTOGRAPH BOOK EIGHT Gish Hoagy AstaireKeener eyes than mine will no doubt discern other famous names.  It’s an awful cliche to say that giants walked the earth, but I know for certain that they went to the Liberty Music Shop.

May your happiness increase!

THE TRUE SPARK: MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S NEW CD

MARIANNE SOLIVAN

Thanks to the splendid pianist Michael Kanan, I am very proud that I was captivated by the singer Marianne Solivan as far back as the spring of 2011. Here are Ms. Solivan and Mr. Kanan in performance then:

Notice her delicate intensity, her strength of conviction — authentic rather than put-on-for-effect — her witty tenderness, her elastic yet perfectly respectful phrasing . . . Marianne is a model of joyously inventive improvisatory singing, her sweet candor transforming any song.

Her belief in the lyrics, her immersion in the emotions of the song, her courageous yet friendly bending of the original melodic line — all of these virtues make her singing entrancing.

Here is a later Solivan-Kanan medley about enduring romance:

I followed Marianne to a number of gigs at Smalls and Iridium in those years, and I continue to take pleasure in her first CD, PRISONER OF LOVE.  Here is the title track (a song I love, thanks at first to Lester Young and Russ Columbo):

You might not initially notice that the “new” verse, perfectly appropriate and deeply felt, is Marianne’s own composition — which points to another talent.

Hearing these venerable songs, treated as if they were new, one might be tempted to assign Marianne her own little cubbyhole: “She sings the Great American Songbook with a twist.”  But she is and does more than that.  (Although I have heard her perform Annie Ross’ TWISTED, which may count for something in the imagined taxonomy.)

SPARK

This year, she created and produced her second CD, SPARK (Hipnotic Records) — compelling yet light on its feet.  Here’s a video that will give you a taste of the disc’s riches.  One of the songs is THE HUMDRUM BLUES, but nothing about this effort is in the least monotonous.

Although I’ve heard Marianne favor dark, pensive songs, SPARK is lively and energized.  She has power, but it’s never being wielded against an audience.

SPARK starts off immediately at a high level — with the title song, which Marianne created, words and music.  Unlike many singer-songwriters, she is not attempting to fit words and notes into a conventional box.  Her songs sound much more like conversations with an audience — or the listeners — or someone being wooed.  Her lyrics might use conventional phrases, but they are always arranged in new ways, without formal reliance on end-rhymes.

The song SPARK depicts the heady beginning of a romance; FIRST DESIRE (Marianne’s setting for the Lorca poem) is a rumination, full of images and evocations, music and lyrics evoking exalted states.  IF I WERE TO LOVE YOU is a paean to love’s magic in the natural world, although voiced in the subjunctive.  ON A CLEAR NIGHT meditates on a love affair tenuously balanced between past happiness and present erosion. THE DOVE, a collaboration between Marianne and pianist Xavier Davis, seems a twisting, intense carpe diem — don’t neglect love!  Marianne’s compositions do not reveal themselves immediately, but each re-examination offers new levels of emotion and intelligence.

The other songs on this disc are wonderfully varied. There’s Oscar Brown, Jr.’s sharp-edged HUMDRUM BLUES (which has a touch of hope if one gets through the complaints of the lyrics); Francesca Blumenthal’s darkly ambivalent THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN.

Marianne also gives her own singular transformation to songs associated with others: the sardonic modern folk song TENDER AS A ROSE (Abbey Lincoln), which sits somewhere between an unwritten PORGY AND BESS song and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY; I WANNA BE AROUND (Tony Bennett) which has a violent swinging energy, suggesting that Marianne could be dangerous if crossed, although she’d never diminish her rhythmic energy in the midst of taking revenge; a very brisk THIS IS NEW, rescued from those singers who have turned it into a moony dirge in opposition to the exultant lyrics.  Ruben Blades’ EL CANTANTE (THE SINGER) is beautifully sung in Spanish — truly evocative — and Marianne explains the lyrics in part in the video.

Singing Loesser’s WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR’S EVE? she rescues this song and brings a tender sweetness to the title — making the question vibrant yet fragile.  OOH, WHAT’CHA DOIN’ TO ME, by Timmie Rogers, is a Forties trifle that offers Marianne the opportunity to play — she never copies Billie, early or late, but I think of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO as the only parallel to Marianne’s evident delight.

SPARK is buoyed by Marianne’s joy in the music, but also by the evident joy in the studio, as Marianne and her working band take pleasure in creating together. They are Xavier Davis, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.  The instrumental settings are fresh: one never thinks of “singer plus rhythm trio,” but rather of four musicians on an equal footing.  The CD is splendidly recorded by Joe Marciano and Max Ross, with excellent liner notes by drummer Lewis Nash.

SPARK is never formulaic, but it is not oddly or whimsically “innovative” in offputting ways.  Marianne’s inventiveness is refreshing throughout, but her music will not scare anyone off.  She always sounds like herself, which is delightfully reassuring.  I am happy to experience her blossoming creativity, and I look forward to more surprises.

SPARK is available in all the old familiar places: CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, but I suggest you begin your investigation here — you can learn more about Marianne, keep up with her schedule, perhaps take a class with her (she is a most respected and beloved teacher of singers), and more.

Here and here are Facebook pages where you’ll find Marianne . . . but the best way to experience her magic is to buy her CDs and meet her at a gig.  Whichever comes first or is more convenient is the one I recommend to you.  Don’t wait until she is booked into huge concert halls and the security prevents your getting close to the stage . . . catch her now.

May your happiness increase!

DEBRA’S PLATTER PARTY (1952-1953)

I imagine a teenager, Debra, who has her friends over in her parents’ rec room, perhaps the den, perhaps the basement with knotty pine walls.  Her little brother wants to come and join them but Debra firmly refuses.  This is for her friends, not for twirps.  Debra and  her friends have a few bottles of soda which they pour into aluminum tumblers; there is a bag of potato chips.  But the main focus is the music.

RCA 45

Debra has a pile of new 45 rom records and she has gotten a special record player for her birthday — one of those with a big center spindle.

She stacks up a pile of the current hits: Les Paul and Mary Ford, Tony Bennett, Percy Faith, Jo Stafford, Frankie Laine, Eddie Fisher, Patti Page, Perry Como, Teresa Brewer, Kay Starr, Leroy Anderson, Al Martino, and someone the kids don’t immediately recognize.  He sings familiar songs: COLD COLD HEART, BECAUSE OF YOU, MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE, I’LL KEEP THE LOVELIGHT BURNING.

He has an unusual voice — rough yet tender — and there is a really impressive trumpet player on the records.  “Who is that singing, Debra?” one of the girls asks.  “Don’t you know Satchmo?” Debra responds.  “Satchmo?” says Julie.  “What kind of name is Satchmo?”  “Oh, that’s Louis Armstrong,” another friend pipes in.  “He’s a jazz musician.  My parents listen to him all the time.”  “He sounds really good,” says Julie.  “Let me see the record,” says one of the other girls.

And so taste is formed.

satchmo serenades

And, yes, there was life before Bill Haley and his Comets, before Elvis.

These ruminations are the result of a trip to a fabled flea market in Alameda, California, where the only thing either of us purchased was this set of two extended-play 45 rpm records — for a dollar.

I have invented the little scenario above because my copy is well-loved and well-played, and Debra wrote her name on the front cover and on the label of each record.  They were hers, you know, and she wasn’t going to get them mixed up with anyone else’s records.

There was a time when “popular music” wasn’t so energetically polarized, when people gathered communally to listen to records, to enjoy, to comment, to discuss.  Life before earbuds.  When Satchmo serenaded, and no one recoiled from “jazz,” or “Dixieland,” or “your parents’ music.”

We can’t bring back those days — or can we?  Play some music for a friend or colleague or family member . . . see if you can send them some old-fashioned good vibrations.  I’m going to play SATCHMO SERENADES when I get back to New York.

Where is Debra?

May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.

WHAT COLOR IS THE MUSIC? WHAT ETHNICITY IS JAZZ?

This open letter from the young singer Julia Keefe is, I think, a very gracious way to discuss an uncomfortable subject.  Since Miss Keefe is not in any way polemical, I might take the opportunity for a few lines.  In the history of giving honors and recognition to jazz musicians and singers, there has been a fairly clear hierarchy.  African-American men got first preference (and under that rubric were included all players whose ethnicity looked in the least similar), then followed by Caucasian men.  A long pause ensued, then African-American woman, followed by a few women of other ethnicities.  This isn’t an attack on Jazz at Lincoln Center, Mr. Marsalis, or any of the other august players and critics connected with JALC . . . but a quick perusal of the evidence will, I think, prove my general contention here correct.

When I was on the hiring committee at my college, we were instructed and encouraged — in the name of fairness, diversity, and equity — to ask ourselves “Who’s missing?” when we considered our prospective candidates.  In this context, I believe that the answer to that question can properly begin with the name MILDRED BAILEY at the head of the list.  I know that the late Richard M. Sudhalter and Hoagy Carmichael would agree with me.

Here’s Miss Keefe’s letter:

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE NESHUI ERTEGUN JAZZ HALL OF FAME

March 19, 2012

Mr. Wynton Marsalis

c/o Selection Committee

Jazz Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center

33 West 60th Street, 11th Floor

New York, N.Y. 10023

Dear Mr. Marsalis and fellow Selection Committee Members:

My name is Julia Keefe, and I am a student at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, studying vocal jazz performance. I am also a member of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe. Shortly after I first became interested in jazz over ten years ago, I began researching the life of Bing Crosby, who also attended my high school, Gonzaga Prep, in Spokane, WA. I was surprised and happy to learn that Bing Crosby gave credit for his early success to a Native American woman from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe named Mildred Rinker Bailey who had, like me, lived her formative childhood years on her Idaho tribal reservation before moving to Spokane and discovering jazz. I am writing to urge that Mildred Bailey be considered for induction into the Neshui Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in recognition of her groundbreaking role in jazz history.

To say that Mildred Bailey inspired me in my chosen vocation as a jazz singer would be a great understatement. But I am not alone. Bing Crosby once said, “I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life. I learned a lot from her. She made records which are still vocal classics, and she taught me much about singing and interpreting popular songs.” And a sideman from her husband Red Norvo’s band, trumpeter Lyle “Rusty” Dedrick once wrote, “She had a magic. So many people down the line, so many singers, benefited from her, owe debts to her – and they don’t even know it. Mildred Bailey probably never made a bad record; she made many that were excellent, and quite a few considerably better, even, than that.”

As the very first female big band singer in America, Mildred was a role model and inspiration for contemporaries including Billie Holiday, Helen Ward and Ella Fitzgerald. She opened the door of opportunity for every female lead singer who followed the trail she blazed. Her singing style and phrasing caught the ear of aspiring young singers of that era including Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney, and still, much later, Linda Ronstadt. She was respected and admired by performers including Frank Sinatra, the Dorsey brothers, Coleman Hawkins and Artie Shaw. A 1944 Time Magazine review of her show at the Café Society in New York called Mildred, “just about the greatest songbird in the U.S.”

Recognition of Mildred Bailey in the Jazz Hall of Fame would, I believe, open a door to a largely neglected and ignored chapter in the history of this All-American art form known as jazz: the involvement of First Americans. When I was living on my own reservation in Kamiah, ID, I came across old photographs of tribal members in small ensembles and quartets, playing jazz. One group, the Lollipop Six, was made up of young Nez Perce men who had learned to play their instruments while attending Indian boarding schools in the early 20th century. I can still recall how proud Lionel Hampton was when he visited our reservation to be honored while attending the international jazz festival at the University of Idaho that still bears his name.

On too many reservations in modern America there are not enough inspirational stories of successful native women who rose above the challenges they faced and helped to change history. But Mildred Rinker Bailey, did just that. Though widely thought to have been a white singer, Mildred was, in fact, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Mildred once called traditional Indian singing, “a remarkable training and background” for a singer. “It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that make it squeak; it removes the bass boom from the contralto’s voice,” she said. “This Indian singing does this because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover a lot of range.” Every Native American who has ever attended a tribal ceremony, whether a feast, a memorial, or a modern pow-wow, knows exactly what Mildred Bailey was talking about here. I believe that Mildred Bailey’s success as a jazz vocalist is grounded in her early vocal training and development from singing traditional tribal songs as a young girl on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation.

I would deeply appreciate the chance to provide you and the other selection committee members, and your entire international voting panel, with a complete packet of information that I have collected while researching the remarkable career of the first female vocalist in America to sing with a big band. Recognizing Mildred Bailey’s pioneering, ground breaking accomplishment, would do honor to the Neshui Ertegun Hall of Fame, and provide Indian tribes from across this country a symbol of their own contribution to the rich cultural heritage of a uniquely American art form that I have come to love, thanks in large part to Mildred Bailey.

Respectfully,

Julia Keefe

Nez Perce Tribal member #4152

Frost School of Music, Class of 2012

www.whereismildred.com

www.juliakeefe.com

May your happiness increase.

“WE CALLED HIM SATCHMO”

Last week, on a weekday afternoon, I gave a presentation on Louis Armstrong and his influence on American popular music at a center for ailing senior citizens attached to a local hospital.  I played WEATHER BIRD and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, and the Bing Crosby-Lennie Hayton SWEET SUE Connee Boswell’s ME MINUS YOU (with an incendiary Bunny Berigan interlude), and some Rodgers and Hart by Tony Bennett and the Braff-Barnes Quartet.  Returning to Louis, I decided to humor myself and played ON A COCOANUT ISLAND and then segued into I COVER THE WATERFRONT and DINAH from the 1933 Copenhagen film.

Not everything was cheering.  The technology I was dealing with (someone else’s laptop and DVD projector) worked well enough but was balky, so there were periods  that felt interminable while I was waiting for it to catch up.  And many audience members seemed seriously oppressed by illnesses and were silent, although I kept reminding myself that it was a great good thing to play Louis’s music for them. 

I got thrown several times by audience questions — “What is his first name?  Is it Lois?” and someone kept insisting at length that Louis was playing a cornet rather than a trumpet.

But there were substantial rewards.  At one point, after I had played ON A COCOANUT ISLAND, with the Polynesians and Lionel Hampton’s rocking drums, a few people timidly applauded.  This was the first sign of enthusiasm, so I paused and told them: “I’m a sentimentalist.  I believe that the dead know.  So it would be a really nice thing if you wanted to applaud Louis and his music right now,” and they all took it up.    

And good things happened right from the start in the front row, where there were two cheerful African-American women, dressed in bright colors, in wheelchairs.  Before I began, one of them said, “I knew Louis and Lucille because I lived in Corona,” and I said, “OK!  I’m going to want to talk to you later!” and she beamed.  Her name was Thelma.

After I’d been introduced by the pert supervior, Cathy Mercadante, I was about a minute into my talk when I said that everyone called him “Lou-ee” but that he pronounced his name “Lew-is.” 

Oh, no,” said Thelma vigorously.  “We didn’t call him that.”

“What did you call him?” I asked, not knowing where it would lead but enjoying having the presentation, for a moment, completely removed from my hands.

“We called him Satchmo,” she said triumphantly, and I acquiesced. 

As I was playing one record after another and improvising commentary, fielding questions, I kept my eyes on another woman in the front row.  Immobile in her wheelchair, she was tapping both one slippered foot and then the other.  Keeping quite good time.  Thank you, ma’am.

When I was through, another woman in the audience came up to me (with her fiftyish daughter cheerfully in attendance) and thanked me for playing Louis’s music.  “I remember when she and her sister were young, we would play his records, and they would be hopping around the house!”  Just the right response, I told her.

Then I chatted with Thelma, who told me about seeing Louis in the local bar / restaurant, Big George’s, and how Louis and Lucille would close the block off and have parties for everyone, how he loved the neighborhood kids.  “Do you know about his son?” she asked.  And I, thinking she meant his adopted son, said, “Oh, yes, Clarence?”  “Not that one,” she said,  “He wasn’t all right, so he had a lady to take care of him.  But Louis had a real son — very few people know about him.  It was kept a secret.”  Then she told me of all the photographs she had had of Louis and friends, and Louis and her husband (a drummer) but that they were all stolen when she moved.  I told her I would write her stories down, then gave her my card and my thanks.  Maybe someone will show Thelma this posting, and she will know that I kept my word.  Thank you, Thelma, for opening the door into Louis’s world!.

GEORGE AVAKIAN’S 90th BIRTHDAY PARTY (Birdland, March 18, 2009)

George’s birthdate is March 15, 1919.  So his celebration last night was slightly late — but neither he nor anyone in the audience that filled Birdland to capacity last night seemed to mind.  It made sense to celebrate George amidst the music he loves — Louis, Duke, and Fats, played live and joyously.

We heard heartfelt tributes to George from Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Bob Newhart, Michel Legrand, Quincy Jones, and Joe Muranyi — a stellar assortment for sure.

And Birdland was filled with the famous — Tony Bennett, Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Vince Giordano, Michael Cogswell, Mercedes Ellington, Lloyd Moss, Phoebe Jacobs, Robert O’Meally, Ricky Riccardi, the Beloved, and myself.

All of us were there to honor George, who has recorded and supported everyone: Louis and Duke, Brubeck and Rushing, Eddie Condon, Garner and Mathis, Rollins, Miles Davis, John Cage, and Ravi Shankar — in a wonderful career beginning with the first jazz album (CHICAGO JAZZ, for Decca, in 1939), helped reissue unknown jazz classics, made recordings of the first jazz festival.

The Louis Armstrong Centennial Band played a marvelously uplifted version of its regular Wednesday gig — with Paquito D’Rivera sitting in with his clarinet when the spirit moved him — that’s David Ostwald, tuba; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals; Anat Cohen, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano and vocals; Kevin Dorn, drums.  I was recording the whole thing (audio and video) and offer some video clips.

However, I have not chosen to post the version of ST. LOUIS BLUES during which my tabletop tripod collapsed and sent the camera, still running, into the Beloved’s salad.  It’s cinema verite as scripted by Lucy and Ethel.

Here’s a tribute by Wycliffe to Louis, to Hoagy Carmichael, and to George — ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

And a gently trotting version of the 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic, THOU SWELL, remembering George’s reissuing the best of Bix Beiderbecke:

Duke Ellington said that he was born at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, and George’s stewardship of the famous Columbia recording of that concert was the occasion for the band to recall Duke, pre-Newport, with a wonderfully deep-hued MOOD INDIGO (also for Mercedes Ellington, honoring us all by her presence):

George never recorded Fats Waller, but he did help Louis record the peerless SATCH PLAYS FATS, so the band launched into a perfectly jubilant I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, complete with the verse (“I’m walking on air . . . .”) and an extraordinarily evocative vocal by Mark Shane, who known more about the many voices of Fats than anyone:

Finally, here’s George himself to say a few words.

Happy birthday, Sir!  Thanks for everything!  Keep on keeping on!

THANKS, JONATHAN SCHWARTZ (and FRANK SINATRA, too)

jonathan-schwartz-wnyc1Jonathan Schwartz has been broadcasting on WNYC-FM (New York City’s NPR station) for a long time now, offering remarkable music and deeply informed commentary.    Every Saturday and Sunday from 12-4, Jonathan plays a large variety of moving and intriguing music — Fred Astaire, Ruby Braff, Becky Kilgore, Tony Bennett and many others.   

Jonathan’s program also appears on Sirius satellite radio and his WNYC shows can be heard online, but I am listening live as I write this. 

Unlike other radio personalities who delve deeply into American popular song and jazz, Jonathan is more interested in presenting the music than a barrage of archival data.  And his program isn’t a museum, for he plays recordings by young performers who keep traditions vigorous. 

When I first heard his WNYC program, years ago, my musical range was deep but narrow.  I knew as much as I could about 1938 Billie Holiday, about the partnership of Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, about the sounds of Jo Jones and George Wettling.  I loved Bing Crosby.  But I was an impatient listener, fidgeting until Jonathan played a song or a musician of whom I approved. 

sinatraAnd I didn’t understand Jonathan’s deep fascination with Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra was everywhere in my childhood and adolescence, and he seemed one-dimensional, someone trying to be hip for the young’uns and a sad tough guy for the people who watched the Ed Sullivan Show.  Louis was always Louis, no matter what he sang or played.  Sinatra seemed so busy selling repackaged versions of himself.  When “Ol’ Blue Eyes” came back, it meant nothing to me — had he ever been away?  The performances I saw on television seemed consciously mannered: “Look how deeply I feel,” he seemed to be saying, which I did not find convincing.   

But I am writing this to say that even our most cherished artistic convictions need to be reinspected now and again, to see if they are valid.  Or if they ever were.  The Beloved listens to Jonathan’s WNYC program faithfully, so I have heard him more often and more regularly than ever before.

More than a year ago, Jonathan played a Sinatra recording I had never heard, from the Capitol sessions with the Hollywood String Quartet, which appered on vinyl and CD as CLOSE TO YOU.  The song was a collaboration of Gordon Jenkins and Johnny Mercer, “P.S., I Love You.”  I had heard Billie Holiday’s sweet-sour Verve version — but Sinatra’s singing, tender, unaffected, wistful — brought tears to my eyes.  The next day, I bought the CD and still think of it as supremely romantic music, superbly realized.  That singer in the Capitol studio didn’t care whether he struck the best I-don’t-care pose for the photographers.  He was inside the music, selling nothing but conveying everything. 

I was suspicious.  I looked into the mirror while shaving.  Was I turning into a Sinatra-phile, one of those people who reveled in every note their hero had sung?  I already had enough musical obsessions, thank you.  So I kept close watch on myself and played CLOSE TO YOU in the car, thinking that it was one atypical occasion when Sinatra had allowed himself to merge with the music. 

But it happened again when Jonathan played another Capitol Sinatra, the arrangement by Gordon Jenkins.  Perhaps it was “Where Are You?”  And, against my more suspicious self, I was staggered by the depth of feeling in that record.  I bought it and played it.  And then there was the slightly angry “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” from THE MOONLIGHT SINATRA.  And the tragically world-weary Sinatra of “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.”

So this is to say, “Thank you!” to Jonathan Schwartz for enriching my musical and emotional experience.  I now think it is possible to play a great Sinatra recording alongside one of the Billie Holiday Verves and to hear that both singers are — in their own way — considering the mysteries of the human heart. 

Some readers might be thinking, “Isn’t this a jazz blog?  Sinatra wasn’t a jazz singer!”  Those categories don’t matter when the art moves us.  As he was in mourning for his life, drinking cognac, Lester Young  played those mournful Sinatra records over and over.  “Frankie-boy,” Pres called him.  If Sinatra moved Lester Young, who knew everything about elation and despair, that’s good enough for me.  I am sorry that it took me this long to find the inward-looking Sinatra, but I am deeply indebted to Jonathan Schwartz for making it happen.