Tag Archives: Tri-Ergon

YOUNG MISTER TOUGH: LOOK CLOSELY

My dear friend Uwe Zanisch is a generous fellow, as his website SATCHMOTUBE proves — on it he collects television appearances of Louis Armstrong, some of them never seen before.

But this post, for a change, isn’t about Mister Strong.

It’s about the New Yorkers — the “New Yorkers Tanzorchester” made up of hot players including George Carhart and Danny Polo and one other, who made some wonderful Goldkette-inflected records in Berlin in late 1927 / early 1928.  Here’s the label of one of the more incendiary sides, OSTRICH WALK:

And something even better — although how many of us have seen a picture of that 78?  Here’s a formal portrait of the band, with young David Tough to the right. 

As a typical Twenties band portrait, it is oddly diffuse: the young men in their tuxedoes look as if they did not know one another, as if their clothing fit very poorly.  Three of them are gazing off to the left — two skeptically, one far away; one stares challengingly, coldly at the camera; one takes its measure.  And then there’s Mister Tough — not even identified by name in the Bear Family booklet from which this picture comes (thanks to Uwe!). 

His hair threatens to explode from its pomaded state; his light eyes are both searching and even suspicious.  Do we read into this face the one that William P. Gottlieb captured in the basement of the Greenwich Village club — amused, mournful, rueful, trapped?  When we see two pictures, two decades apart, we might play the game of IS IT THE SAME PERSON — but all we know of him is the lovely singular music he had in front of him, his intelligence, and the sadness of short life and helpless self-immolation.   

When I think of Tough, I think of his cymbals and bass drum accents on FORTY-SEVENTH AND STATE, of his solo on the Charlie Ventura Town Hall Concert, his relentless playing behind Hot Lips Page on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, and those are exaltations of body and spirit.  But it’s impossible to think of him without grieving for him.  And I may assume too much, but sadness and distance are in the early photograph as well.