Tag Archives: Tut Soper

“MANHANDLING,” or IMPROVISATIONS ON THE FAMILIAR (January 31, 1944)

Time matters. Pulse matters.  And in music, a tempo even slightly slower or slightly faster makes a substantial difference in how a familiar piece of music comes across to us. Through decades of performance, we are used to hearing Carmichael’s STAR DUST — or STARDUST, if you prefer — as a dreamy, haunting ballad, although it didn’t begin its recorded life that way in 1927. But improvisers take chances. . . .it is as if your favorite sixtyish uncle dyed his white hair bright blue just to see what it would look like, and it looked fine.

Two bold takers-of-chances were the Chicago pianist Oro “Tut” Soper and drummer Baby Dodds, who recorded several duets for the Steiner-Davis label (the creation of John Steiner, revered jazz scholar and collector, and Hugh Davis) in early 1944, at the home of pianist Jack Gardner.

A wonderfully detailed survey, by Robert Pruter, Robert L. Campbell, Konrad Nowakowski, and Tom Kelly, of that label and the stories behind the recordings can be found here, and the two photographs in this posting come from that site.  But most important is the musical evidence: Tut Soper showing his radical exuberance and playfulness, by taking this ballad — and ballad it was, by 1944 — and treating it much as Earl Hines did LOVE ME TONIGHT, a melody to be explored, a song to be swung:

Here’s some fascinating commentary on this side and its fellows, from the site noted above.  (Was violinist Elmer Fearn “Mr. Fearn” of OKeh Records?  It isn’t a common name.)

Pianist Tut Soper was born Oro M. Soper on April 9, 1910. In the early 1920s, Soper made a record on OKeh with a group of kids, all 13 and under, called The Five Baby Shieks. Besides Soper on piano, they included Art Elefson on drums, Howard Snyder on sax, and Elmer Fearn on violin. By the late 1920s he was a regular in Chicago clubs, despite being underaged, and performing with Bunny Berigan, Wingy Mannone, Boyd Brown, and Floyd Town. After years of playing in bands, in the late 1930s Soper went solo, introduced vocals to his repertoire, and played in such clubs as the legendary Three Deuces (222 North State).

By the war years, Soper could be found in the Randolph Street nightclub district. He was playing around the corner from Randolph Street at the Capitol Lounge on State when his S D recordings were made. Steiner and Davis teamed Soper up with Dodds in pianist Jack Gardner’s apartment for the session. Gardner owned a particularly fine piano, which is why the session was held in his place, at 102 East Bellevue, a basement apartment located in the same complex as John Steiner’s. Jazz fans tend to revel in improvisation, and Down Beat columnist George Hoefer loved the idea at how “impromptu” the recording was, as Soper and Dodds had never met before, and had to feel each other out in the recording process.

Down Beat reviewer John Lucas—who tended to give favorable reviews to his collector colleagues’ product—cited these releases as “some of the finest jazz piano waxed in many years.” He raved about each one of the songs, and concluded, “The rip-rattling drum accompaniment provided by the one and only Baby Dodds simply could not be touched by anyone else. If Soper is super, Dodds is at once devastating, dynamic, and droll!”

In a lengthy review published in the October 1944 issue of The Jazz Record, George Avakian gave effusive praise to S D 5000 and 5001. “Picture Earl Hines in the full flower of his wildest period, playing as though it were his last chance to explode through with vital ideas of earth-shaking consequence. This is Tut Soper; an exciting, intensely live pianist whose work doesn’t merely “send” you the way many agitated instrumentalists can—it reaches out, grabs you by the throat, and shakes and chokes hell out of you” (p. 3). Avakian contrasted Soper’s genuineness and avoidance of clichés with the mannerisms of “the present-day frantic clique,” into which he went so far as to lump “such hopeless musicians as Lionel Hampton, Art Tatum, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, and a whole string of trumpet players, electric guitar virtuosos, and Hazel Scotts” (p. 3). Out of the four, Avakian declared that “[t]he originals—Oronics and It’s a Ramble—are my pet sides, displaying Tut’s talents in two tempos and two moods, both nonetheless full of his overall excitement. The first is sheer panic, but good; the Ramble is reflective and rather interestingly developed from the melodic view. The others are Soper franticizations of Thou Swell and Star Dust, and the tunes improve under his manhandling.” (p. 3.) Of Dodds’ contributions, Avakian complained (p. 11) that the drummer “loses much of his subtlety” on Oronics, but praised him for his rapport with Soper elswhere on the session.

John Chilton described Soper as one of the leading pianists in Chicago, and credited him with working with Bud Freeman, Wild Bill Davison, Boyce Brown, Bud Jacobson, and Eddie Wiggins, among others. In the early 1950s, Soper worked in California with Muggsy Spanier and Marty Marsala. He toured with Eddie Condon in 1960.

Soper in his later years worked mostly as an insurance salesman for the Chicago Motor Club. He died in March 1987. His obit described him as a former jazz pianist, who had played for 50 years in “some of Chicago’s most famous jazz clubs and with the bands of Gene Krupa and Bud Freeman.”

Soper sources: M/Sgt. George Avakian, “Records—Old and New,” The Jazz Record, October 1944, pp. 3, 11; George Hoefer Jr., “The Hot Box,” Down Beat, 15 June 1944; [John Lucas] “Diggin’ The Discs,” Down Beat, 15 July 1944, p. 8; Catherine Jacobson, “Oro ‘Tut’ Soper,” Jazz Vol. 1, No. 10 (December 1943): 8-9; “Oro Soper” [Obit], Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1987; Tom Lord, The Jazz Discography, Volume 21 (West Vancouver, B.C.: Lord’s Music, 1999): S1057.

STAR DUST — shaken and stirred, manhandled and franticized — remains undamaged, and we are grateful to Tut and Baby for their emotional fervor and technique.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU FOLKS HERE”: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2016) PART ONE

Ray Skjelbred, poet and explorer, at the piano, musing, feeling, sharing colorful worlds of his own invention.

PINKY ROSE, a blues rumination:

NO COMPLAINTS, a lilting homage to Jess Stacy:

SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD, a blues by the Mississippi Sheiks:

IT’S A RAMBLE, by the mysterious Oro “Tut” Soper, a pianist who once kissed the young Anita O’Day passionately before remembering he wasn’t [because of religious beliefs] supposed to:

HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA, celebrating Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Don Redman:

Rambles and saunters in worlds known and unknown: elegant, rough, always alive.

More to come from the Esteemed Mr. Skjelbred.  And this aural bouquet is in honor of Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.

May your happiness increase!

WHO WAS MIKE DURSO AND WHERE DID HE GO?

I would guess that hot jazz, especially the Chicagoan variety, would have upset Hercule Poirot’s delicate stomach, but we could use his help on this matter.  This posting owes its existence to my new jazz-friend (although I’ve read his work for a long time), Larry Kart of Chicago.  I’ll let Larry start us off:

You may be way ahead of me here (at least I hope you are), but listening to the radio Saturday, I heard this 1927 track “The New Twister” by The Wolverines (Bix’s old band under the leadership of pianist Dick Voynow, with Jimmy McPartland taking Bix’s place). The music has IMO a proto-Chicagoans feel (the first McKenzie-Condon sides were shortly to be made). Drummer Vic Moore has a nice a “Chicago shuffle” feel going, 17-year-old reedman Maurice Bercov, says Dick Sudhalter in “Lost Chords,” had “heard Johnny Dodds and the rest on the South Side but worshipped Frank Teschmacher, emulating his tone, attack, off-center figures … he wound up recording two months before his idol [did] .”

But who the heck was trombonist Mike Durso, who takes the IMO impressively fluid solo here?

Thanks to “Atticus Jazz” for the lovely transfer of this rare 78, as always:

The personnel of this band is listed as Dick Voynow, piano; director; Jimmy McPartland, cornet; Mike Durso, trombone; Maurie Bercov, clarinet, alto saxophone; unknown guitar; Basil Dupre, sb / Vic Moore, d. Chicago, October 12, 1927.

Back to Larry:

By contrast, here is THE NEW TWISTER played by Miff Mole and the Molers (with Red Nichols, et al.) from the same year. Mole’s trombone work here is not without its charms, but in terms of swing and continuity, it’s day and night, no?

To complicate matters (or to add more evidence) here is the reverse side of that disc, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

Larry continues:

The guitarist on the Wolverines track is Dick McPartland, Jimmy’s brother. Bercov’s contemporary, pianist Tut Soper, described him as an “extremely galling, sarcastic and difficult man.”

Looking for more on Durso, I came across this “moderne” 1928 piece by trumpeter Donald Lindley, “Sliding Around,” on which Durso may be a sideman. (There’s no trombone solo though.) Jazz it’s not, though it’s certainly aware of jazz — those oblique references to “Royal Garden Blues.” That’s Lindley , b. 1899, in the cap [the YouTube portrait]:

The beautiful video is by our friend Enrico Borsetti, another one of my benefactors, and the Lindley side eerily prefigures the Alec Wilder Octet.

Finally, here is LIMEHOUSE BLUES by “The Wolverine Orchestra” which might have Durso audible in solo and ensemble:

After Larry had asked me about Durso, and I had to confess that I’d barely registered his name or these recordings, and I had no information to offer (he’d stumped the band), I went back to the discography and was pleased to find that Durso had a history, 1923-28 and then 1939: recording for Gennett under the band name “Bailey’s Lucky Seven” which had in its collective personnel Jules Levy, Jr., Jimmy Lytell, Red Nichols, Frank Signorelli, Hymie Farberman; then Sam Lanin, with Vic Berton, Merle Johnson, Joe Tarto, John Cali, Tony Colucci, Ray Lodwig; sessions with the Arkansas / Arkansaw Travelers, a Nichols group where the trombonist may be Mole or Durso.  That takes him from 1923-25; he then records with Ray Miller, with Volly DeFaut.  All of this takes him to 1926, and all of it is (if correctly annotated) recorded in New York.  The Wolverines sides above are in 1927, in Chicago, as a re 1928 sides with the larger Wolverines unit, Donald Lindley, and Paul Ash (a “theatre orchestra,” Larry says).

Then, a gap of a decade, and Durso, in 1939, is part of the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, recording for Bluebird.  Then silence.

I realize that discographies are not infallible research documents, and that Durso might have made dozens of sides that a jazz discography would not notate, so I am sure this listing is incomplete and thus not entirely accurate.  But, to paraphrase Lesley Gore, I think, it’s my blog and I’ll surmise if I want to.  I am going to guess that Durso, probably born around 1900 or slightly earlier, was one of those musicians who could read a tune off a stock arrangement, blend with another trombone in a section, improvise a harmony part, knew his chords, and could — as you hear above — play a very forward-looking solo given the chance. Remember that THE NEW TWISTER came out in 1927.  Who were the trombonists of note?  Ory, Brunis, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Harrison, Charlie Green, Benny Morton, Mole, perhaps Charlie Butterfield.  Teagarden may or may not have impressed everyone yet.  (I am sure I have left out a few names.) Durso had technique but wasn’t in love with it, and his playing is lightly swinging and mobile; his solos make logical sense, with no cliches.

So between 1923 and 1928 or so he is what we might call “a studio man,” who obviously is known for his improvising ability, otherwise he would not have been in the studio with McPartland.  (Scott Black!  Did Dugald ever mention Mike Durso?)  More speculation follows.  I can safely assume that pre-Crash, Durso might have made a living as an improvising musician, but at some point the safer employment of sweeter big bands might have called to him.  Did he have a family to support?  Did he perhaps appreciate a regular paycheck playing in theatres and dancehalls as opposed to playing in speakeasies?  I can’t say, having even less that speculation to go on.  Did he die after 1939, or do some war work and decide that getting home after 5 PM with a lunch pail was easier than being a hot man?

The trail goes cold here.  Perhaps some readers can assist us here.  I know that you know, to quote Jimmie Noone.  And if no one can, at least we have the collective pleasure of having heard Mike Durso on THE NEW TWISTER. Thanks in the present tense to Larry Kart; thanks in advance to those of you who will flood the comments section with information.

May your happiness increase!

MYSTERIOUS PLEASURES, 1934

SAM NOWLIN Champion label

The world of jazz is full of stars, people who receive and deserve a great deal of attention.  Then there are phantoms — musicians who make a brief appearance and then vanish.  The pianist Sam Nowlin is a resounding example of the second group.  I’d made his acquaintance last week, when I took the wrapping off a Document CD called JAZZ AND BLUES PIANO 1934-1947.  Others on this disc are luminaries: Morton, James P.  Then we move into the realm of the less famous but still wondrous: Cassino Simpson, Tut Soper, Dorothy Donegan, Clarence Profit, Dan Burley, even Euday L. Bowman.

DOCUMENT Nowlin

But the disc begins with two solo performances by Sam Nowlin, called SO WHAT and CHANGE.

Meet the elusive Mister Nowlin:

I amuse myself by imagining the dialogue in the recording studio: “Sam, what was the name of that?”  “It doesn’t have a name.”  “Well, it needs one for us to release it.”  “Call it I DON’T KNOW.”  “We can’t do that.”  “Why?  So what?” “That’s it!”

About CHANGE as a title I have nothing even mildly whimsical to offer.

About Nowlin, I find little or nothing online.  He recorded three sides, in Richmond, Indiana, on October 8, 1934, for the Champion label.  The third selection, RIFF, was not issued.  Even with the vast, often unreliable library that is the internet, he remains mysterious.  I did find a notation that had him as co-composer of BLUE BLAZES, with Sy Oliver, but nothing more.  And my library (Chilton and more) has nothing to offer.  Nowlin has no erroneous Wikipedia page; Harry Dial does not take him to task; John Hammond seems never to have heard him.

In June 2016, this copy of the Champion disc sold at auction for $899.00 plus shipping.  Details here.

Nowlin black label

Does anyone know more about Sam Nowlin?

The important thing, of course, is how well he plays: an individualistic synthesis of what was in the air in 1934 — you can supply your own names — with a floating understated grace.  It’s a pity he didn’t record more.  But I am grateful that Document offered these two sides.  Great music is made by people who don’t end up in encyclopedias and dictionaries of jazz.  Bless the folks at Document Records for making such a delicious mystery available.

May your happiness increase!

EVERY EVENING: RAY SKJELBRED AND THE CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 29, 2013): RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, MIKE DAUGHERTY

Pianist, bandleader, composer, and occasional vocalist Ray Skjelbred is gently but obstinately authentic, a prophet and beacon of deep Chicago jazz — whether it’s tender, gritty, or romping.  He and the Cubs proved this again (they always do) at their November 2013 appearances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  For this weekend, The Cubs were Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

SIX POINT BLUES:

EVERY EVENING:

A highlight for all of us — heartfelt and quietly fervent — ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:

Alienation of affections or kidnapping was never so festive as this rendition of SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HO HUM!:

PIANO MAN:

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL:

That music is good news for us all.  But more good news — larger and more tangible than the computer monitor — is coming: the Cubs are making a California tour in early July 2014, beginning in two weeks. Jeff Hamilton will be on drums, along with the regulars you see above.

Thursday, July 10: Rossmoor Dixieland Jazz Club in Walnut Creek CA. For more information visit here.

Friday, July 11: Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. 7:30 – 10:00 PM. (1010 El Camino Real, dress casual, good food and drink and a sweet atmosphere).

Saturday, July 12: Cline Wine and Jazz Festival in Sonoma, California. The Cubs will play three sets: for details, visit here.

Sunday, July 13: Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society. For more information visit: here.

Monday, July 14: Le Colonial in San Francisco, California (20 Cosmo Place). For more information visit here.

The admiring shades of Alex Hill, Sidney Catlett, Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Sippie Wallace, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Cassino Simpson, Tut Soper, Frank Melrose, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Wellman Braud, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, and scores of unheralded blues musicians stand behind this band — as the Cubs make their own lovely ways to our ears and hearts.  Panaceas without side-effects.

May your happiness increase!

MEET ME AT THE CORNER OF THEN AND NOW

Although the physicists explain gravely that time — make that Time — is not a straight line but a field in which we may meander, it often feels as if we are characters in a Saul Steinberg cartoon, squinting into the looming Future while the Past stretches behind us, intriguing but closed off.  We anxiously stand on a sliver of Now the thickness and length of a new pencil, hoping for the best.

Jazz, or at least the kind that occupies my internal jukebox, is always balancing (not always adeptly) Then and Now.  For some, Then is marked in terms of dates: this afternoon in November 1940, or this one in July 1922. The most absorbed of us can even add artifacts and sound effects: uncontrollable coughing, a trout sandwich, the sound of dancers’ feet in a ballroom.

But for me, Then is a series of manifestations, imagined as well as real, that have no particular date and time.

Bix and Don Murray watching a baseball game. The Chicago flat where Louis and friends drank Mrs. Circe’s gin and told stories. Mezz Mezzrow on the subway. Strayhorn auditioning in Ellington’s dressing room. Mystics Boyce Brown, Tut Soper, and Don Carter, each imagining the universe in his own way. Eddie Condon picking up the tenor guitar. Hot Lips Page shaking a Texan’s hand. Art Hodes and Wingy Manone politely deciding who gets to wear the bear coat tonight. Francene and Frank Melrose having Dave Tough and friends over for a scant but happy meal of rice and peppers. E.A. Fearn making a suggestion. Billy Banks arriving late for the record date. Bird washing dishes while hearing Art Tatum. Joe Oliver having a snack in a Chinese restaurant.

Any jazz fan who has read enough biography can invent her own mythography of the landmarks of Then.

Now, although it recedes as I write this, is a little easier to fix in time and space, in the way one pushes a colored push-pin through a map.

Andy Schumm, cornet and archives; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Howard Alden, banjo; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums: late in the evening of September 20 at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua, now reinvented as the Allegheny Jazz Party.

OLD MAN SUNSHINE (LITTLE BOY BLUEBIRD):

SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL:

LITTLE WHITE LIES (in an arrangement inspired by British Pathe sound film of the Noble Sissle band — and piling rarity upon rarity — giving us a glimpse of Tommy Ladnier playing):

DEEP NIGHT:

GET GOIN’ (in honor of the Bennie Moten band, which also had spiders to deal with in Kansas City):

KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Sheridan’s verse gets everyone in the right mood):

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

18TH AND RACINE (a street intersection in Chicago / an Andy Schumm original / the title track of the Fat Babies’ delicious new CD on Delmark Records):

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a wonderful surprise at 3:00 — why isn’t there a whole CD of this?):

See you in Cleveland, Ohio, between September 18 and 21, 2014, for more of the same delicious time-superimpositions, courtesy of the Allegheny Jazz Party, where such things happen as a matter of course.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUE NOTES THAT FRAME THE PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED’S TRIBAL WISDOM

Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.

I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon.  Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.

He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at.  Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.

Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”

I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.

There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences.  One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person.  To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.

Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention.  One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.

I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect.  Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.

The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.

Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED.  Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.

Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances.  He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings.  I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:

Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: RAY SKJELBRED in RECITAL at CLINE CELLARS, JULY 13, 2013

I’ve already posted some life-enhancing music from the 2013 Cline Cellars Wine and Dixieland Festival — music by the Black Diamond Blue Five (more to come) and the Ragtime Skedaddlers.  But this set of solo piano by Ray Skjelbred was something special.  For one thing, getting to hear unamplified “acoustic” piano out in the open air is a singular pleasure — that the Beloved and I could sit so close and that my camera was welcome was sheer bliss.

Skjelbred himself is — although he would shrug off such an appellation — a true Artist.  Not only is he a fine romping pianist, mixing delicacy with propulsion, he is a quiet scholar of the music. Who else would offer us such a delicious bill of rare music by Frank Melrose, Tut Soper, and others — as well as MEMORIES OF YOU and SQUEEZE ME, classics that don’t get old, and Ray’s own wry, often hilariously tilted originals.

Here’s the music.  See if I overstate!

Frank Melrose’s JEMIMA STOMP:

HOLDING THE SACK:

Ray’s National Pastime salute, THE BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER:

Tut Soper’s IT’S A RAMBLE:

An evocation of Earl “Fatha” Hines, FATHER SWING:

Eubie’s MEMORIES OF YOU:

Ray’s own THE SAND BAG RAG:

A little SQUEEZE ME, for Fats, Joe, and Jess:

Chicago clarinetist Bud Jacobson’s LAUGHING AT YOU:

One of the nicest parts of the whole day at Cline — which was a splendid pleasure — was in walking from one site to another and hearing Ray’s piano ring out over the treetops.  Not loud, not bossy, but pastoral music as it might have been played for doves and larks who know what swing is all about.

This post is for Ida Melrose, Kenrick Lee, and Kate O’Donovan — who know Ray’s generous quirky virtues in their own ways.

May your happiness increase!

ALISA’S PARTY: JEFF HAMILTON and CLINT BAKER (May 18, 2010)

Veteran radio broadcaster and jazz lover Alisa Clancy teaches a jazz course called JAZZ FROM THE HILL at San Mateo Community College that ends with a music party — as a reward for the students, perhaps, so they now know how much they know!  Alisa is the Operations Director at KCSM (91.1 FM) and host of “A Morning Cup Of Jazz,” four hours of well-chosen jazz every weekday morning to soothe the nerves of people caught in traffic. 

This year (as in the past) the tireless Rae Ann Berry brought her camera.  I was far away when the party was in full swing, but now we can see and hear the delightful duets between Jeff Hamilton and Clint Baker.  (There are still more on YouTube — visit “SFRaeAnn” to lose yourself in a day’s worth of hot jazz.)

Most people know Jeff Hamilton as a wonderfully swinging drummer (there are two J.H.’s who play the drums: this one’s my favorite) but he’s also a splendid pianist.  He has two CDs out under his own name where he’s featured, beautifully, on that instrument — combining classical training with a great down-home rock.  He can rhapsodize or dig into the deep blues of people like Tut Soper and Cassino Simpson. 

And my audience (and Rae Ann’s) knows Clint as a polymorphous jazz multi-tasker, which is to say he plays many instruments very very well.  Here he emphasizes his cornet playing (with a splendidly evocative assortment of mutes), sits in on the drums, and plays an unusual and rare clarinet as well.  (It’s an Albert system one with an upturned bell — I believe it once belonged to West Coast legend Tom Sharpsteen.)  Clint does it all with great expertise and the kind of nonchalance that makes it seem easy.  Which it isn’t.  I thought of Jim Goodwin; I thought of Sidney Catlett; of the great New Orleans clarinet tradition. 

Here’s a medium-tempo MEMORIES OF YOU (with the rarely-heard verse) as Clint plays quietly effective, simple drums alongside him (on the simplest drum set one could imagine):

The well-worn SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, played as if it hadn’t gotten its paint rubbed off over the years:

ISLE OF CAPRI, complete with verse and a tango interlude.  Why should Wingy Manone have had all the fun?  I’d call the rideout chorus here “hot Chicago jazz,” even though the session took place in San Mateo, California:

A soulful reading of MY IDEAL:

ROSETTA, energetically:

And (to close things off on the right note) a rendition of SQUEEZE ME which made me think of its origins as THE BOY IN THE BOAT, a naughty anatomical ditty.

What I recall of the lyrics is something like this: “Oh, the boy, the boy in the boat.  He don’t wear no hat or no coat.  He don’t have no house.  He don’t have no shoes.  He don’t care nothing ’bout those weary blues.”  Full text and subtext gratefully accepted, even though this is a family blog. 

Jeff’s idiosyncratic mixture of Hines, Sullivan, and Hamilton is truly wonderful:

Thanks, Alisa, for throwing this little bash — how very gracious of you!

HAL SMITH REMEMBERS FRANK CHACE

The drummer and versatile bandleader — man of many personalities, all of them rocking — Hal Smith is also a fine writer, someone who counted his too-rare opportunities to play alongside the Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace as life-altering experiences.  Here, with Hal’s permission, I’ve reprinted his tribute to Frank, first published in JAZZ RAMBLER and reprinted in JAZZ BEAT. 

FRANK CHACE — FREE SPIRIT OF THE CLARINET

By Hal Smith

President, America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society

Chicago pianist Oro “Tut” Soper once said, “A Chicago Jazz musician will always have to fight to keep a free, wild heart.” For over 60 years, clarinetist Frank Chace fought for that same freedom.

Chace was born in Chicago on July 22, 1924—over three years before the first classic recordings that would define the Windy City’s musical style. As a youth he played flute, but did not stay with the instrument. In 1943, while attending Yale University, he was drafted by the U.S. Army. The Army is often castigated—justly—for its treatment of musicians such as Lester Young. Luckily for Frank Chace, his Army hitch yielded a benefit: A posting to New York, which resulted in an opportunity to hear Pee Wee Russell at Nick’s. Chace was instantly drawn to Russell’s idiosyncratic sound. He took up clarinet and used Pee Wee Russell’s music as a template for his own playing.
His first recordings were made with the “Cellar Boys” in New York in 1951. The personnel included three musicians who became lifetime friends of Chace: guitarist Marty Grosz, multi-instrumentalist John Dengler and pianist Dick Wellstood. (The great New Orleans bassist Pops Foster and Jelly Roll Morton’s drummer Tommy Benford also played on the records).

Later in 1951, Chace played with Wild Bill Davison at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston. Two of the evenings with Davison were recorded and several tracks were issued on the Savoy label.

In 1952, Chace played at the Barrel in St. Louis. The band included another lifelong friend: pianist Don Ewell. Live recordings made at the Barrel indicate that although Pee Wee Russell was still his main inspiration, Chace had also listened to Omer Simeon, Johnny Dodds, Frank Teschemacher and Darnell Howard.

After the St. Louis job ended, Chace established permanent residence in Chicago. In 1955 he played with the Salty Dogs. He also recorded with pianist Dave Remington for the Jubilee label and with Natty Dominique’s New Orleans Hot Six for Windin’ Ball. (Dominique’s group also included the legendary Baby Dodds and Lil Hardin Armstrong). Two years later Chace played a concert in Minneapolis with Doc Evans—later issued on a Soma LP.

One of Frank Chace’s greatest performances was recorded in 1957, when Marty Grosz organized a recording session for the Riverside label. The record, “Hooray For Bix,” by the Honoris Causa Jazz Band, featured Chace on clarinet and bass sax. The other sidemen were: Carl Halen, cornet; Bud Wilson, trombone; Bob Skiver, tenor sax and clarinet; Tut Soper, piano; Chuck Neilson, bass; and Bob Saltmarsh, drums. Bill Priestley, a longtime friend of Bix Beiderbecke, played cornet and guitar on a few tunes. Grosz played guitar, led the band and wrote the arrangements. His charts were based on the sound of Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude band (which was also the inspiration for the band name). Chace is in top form throughout the record, but his first chorus on “Sorry” is the crown jewel of the session. After the four-bar introduction by the horns and string bass, the horns play the melody in tight harmony. Chace floats above the ensemble, joyfully deconstructing the melody in the best tradition of Pee Wee Russell. His use of extended harmonics and rhythmic suspension is as close to “free jazz” as one can get in a swing setting. This breathtaking chorus is Chace’s supreme moment on record and one of the most inspired solos in the history of recorded jazz!

Another highlight for the clarinetist in 1957 was the opportunity to meet Lester Young when both were performing in Indianapolis. One night, after their club date was finished, drummer Buddy Smith offered to take Chace to the hotel where Young was staying. The other musicians gathered around “The Prez,” but Chace hesitated. Young finally asked the shy clarinetist to join the throng, addressing him as “Long-Distance Man.” Compare Lester Young’s introspective clarinet playing on “I Want A Little Girl” (with the Kansas City Six) with Chace’s on “For No Reason At All In C” from the “Hooray For Bix” session. In Lester Young’s own words, “See if you hear something.”
In 1959, Chace was reunited with Don Ewell and John Dengler when Grosz assembled a recording band for the Audio Fidelity label. The band, with Max Kaminsky, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder (alternating sessions with Ewell) and Don Maclean, recorded enough material for two LPs: “Roaring Twenties at the Gaslight” and “Banjo at the Gaslight Club.” As good as these recordings are, Chace is even better on some private tapes made during the same period. One of these—a session at Bill Priestley’s home in the summer of 1959—features the clarinetist in a trio with Ewell and Grosz. Musicians and jazz fans agree that Chace’s playing on “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” ranks with “Sorry” as one of his greatest performances.

He also worked briefly with Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings in 1959. That particular edition of the band included banjoist and vocalist Clancy Hayes. During that period, Chace and Hayes were involved in another memorable session at Priestley’s, with vocalist Lee Wiley. Fortunately, the tape recorder was running on that occasion too!

Chace’s only commercially-issued recordings from the early 1960s are two LPs on the Jazz Art label, taken from rehearsal sessions with the legendary trumpeter Jabbo Smith; these sides are being reissued with this release. .

During the early and mid ‘60s, except for a brief stint with Muggsy Spanier, Chace worked with the Salty Dogs and also led his own bands. One such group included veterans Johnny Mendel, Floyd O’Brien, Tut Soper and Jim Lanigan as well as younger musicians—Bob Skiver, Grosz and Wayne Jones. When this group played for the Chicago Historical Society in 1964, they were joined by a very special guest—Gene Krupa!

A late-60s Chicago recording session by guitarist/vocalist Jim Kweskin resulted in three more classic Chace solos. The album, “Jump For Joy,” released in 1967, paired Kweskin with cornetist Ted Butterman’s Neo-Passé Jazz Band. In addition to Butterman, the personnel consisted of Chace (clarinet and bass sax); Kim Cusack, clarinet; Johnny Frigo, violin; Grosz (guitar, banjo and arranger); Truck Parham, bass; and Wayne Jones, drums. Fellow reedman Kim Cusack called Chace’s playing on “You’re Not The Only Oyster In The Stew” “one of the sublime moments in jazz.” The clarinet choruses on “Memphis Blues” and “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” are two more outstanding examples of Frank Chace at his best.

Recently, the GHB label released a two-CD set of Chace playing with a specially-assembled band in 1967 at the Emporium of Jazz in Mendota, Minnesota. The group included Bill Price (cornet), Jimmy Archey (trombone), Don Ewell (piano), Bill Evans (bass) and Sammy Penn (drums). A cursory glance at the personnel and their stylistic differences might cause concern. However, the musicians—particularly Chace and Ewell—sound wonderful together.

Sometime during the ‘60s, or possibly the ‘70s, Chace went to work as a technical writer. He continued to work with bands around Chicago, and to play sessions, but did not rely on music for a living. As musician/author Richard Hadlock explains,
“Most jazz players learn to adjust, at least somewhat, to shallow audiences, wrongheaded entrepreneurs, pandering bandleaders and jaded or inept sidemen.

“Not clarinetist Frank Chace, however. Over the thirty-some years I’ve been observing his largely hidden talent, I have heard story after story to do with Frank’s losing out because he wouldn’t play ‘pretty’ or ‘straight’ or ‘traditional’ or some other term that meant going outside his own natural way of making music…

“There have been occasions when Frank simply would not take a paying but dumb job. At other times he hasn’t been hired or was let go because someone wanted to hear, say, Stardust and didn’t recognize Frank’s version of it. The result is that Frank Chace has kept one of the lowest profiles among outstanding jazz players.”

During the 1970s, Chace also listened closely to the music of John Coltrane and other modern jazzmen. In the right setting, his solos often went farther “out” than ever before! Delmark Records producer Bob Koester, a longtime admirer of Chace’s music, wrote about his plan to record the clarinetist with a “modern rhythm section.” Alas, the session never materialized.

This writer’s first encounter with Frank Chace was on Apr. 28, 1985. Pianist Butch Thompson assembled a band to play a concert for the Good Time Jazz Club in Libertyville, Illinois. Butch invited Frank to play clarinet, in a group that included Charlie Devore, cornet; John Otto, alto sax; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass; and myself on drums. It was an unbelievable thrill to hear that intense, wailing, clarinet coming from directly in front of the drums! The concert flew by—much too fast—and my only contact with Frank Chace for the next year would be written correspondence. The letters are priceless, especially for the humor. In one exchange, he obviously remembered the salutation on my first letter (“Dear Mr. Chace”). At the end of a very funny letter, which ran to several pages, he signed off as Your Friend, Mr. Chace.

In 1986, he was flown to New York, to perform at the JVC Jazz Festival’s “Chicago Jazz Summit.” An LP was subsequently issued, featuring several instrumental combinations recorded live at the festival. Unbelievably, Chace is only heard on one track. However, it is a rip-roaring version of “At The Jazz Band Ball,” played by Yank Lawson, George Masso, Eddie Miller, Truck Parham, Ikey Robinson, Barrett Deems and festival producer George Wein. Though we can wish that Chace was heard on more tracks, it is safe to say that his two idiosyncratic choruses are easily worth the price of the record!

My final gig with “Mr. Chace” was in 1987—another concert for the Good Time Jazz Club. On that occasion, I led the “Chicago Loopers” which also included Tom Pletcher, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Joe Johnson, piano; and Dan Shapera, bass. Frank’s playing that day—passionate, rasping, keening, whispered—was other-worldly. It was an indescribable high.

He continued to play with unlimited creativity for nearly 20 more years. In 2001, Drummer Wayne Jones played with Chace at a gig sponsored by Delmark’s Bob Koester. He reported that “Frank sounded not the least dimmed by the passing years.”

Frank Chace died on 28 Dec., 2007. He never gave up that fight to keep a wild, free heart.

Following is a list of recent CD issues that feature Frank Chace:
Salty Dogs 1955 (Windin’ Ball CD-105)
Marty Grosz & The Honoris Causa Jazz Band: Hooray For Bix
(Good Time Jazz 10065-2)
Marty Grosz & The Cellar Boys 1951/Honoris Causa Jazz Band alternate takes 1957
(J&M CD-004)
Jim Kweskin with Ted Butterman & the Neo-Passé Jazz Band: Jump For Joy
(Universe UV0051)
Jimmy Archey & Don Ewell at the Emporium Of Jazz 1967
(GHB BCD-461/462)
Chicago Jazz Summit
(Atlantic 81844-2)

These sessions are due for release in 2009:
Jabbo Smith – 1961 GHB BCD-510
The Chicago Loopers with Frank Chace – Live, 1987 Jazzology JCD 371-372
Butch Thompson and his Boys in Chicago – 1985 Jazzology JCD 373-374

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN, HAL SMITH, AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

FRANK CHACE ON DISC

This post is meant as a follow-up to my lengthy presentation of letters from the Chicago clarinetist to me.  When Frank Chace died, many jazz listeners who would have admired his work were unaware of it, and the first question asked on several online forums was “Where can I hear his recorded work?  Here’s a brief overviewm beginning with something of a sentimental artifact.

These aren’t compact discs, but 78s from the first recording session of both Marty Grosz and Frank Chace.  Dick Wellstood had already been recording since 1946; Pops Foster and Tommy Benford were veterans. 

Two other titles were recorded: the session was reissued on ten-inch lps on the Pax / Paradox label.  Compact disc reissue, anyone?

Since most of my readers prefer compact discs, here is a brief (and perhaps incomplete) listing of current issues of Frank’s music, in approximate chronological order.

DEWEY JACKSON LIVE AT THE BARREL CLUB, 1952 (Delmark).  This session, recorded by Delmark’s founder Bob Koester, finds Chace with trombonist Sid Dawson and St. Louis trumpet legend Jackson as well as long-time friend Don Ewell. 

SALTY DOGS 1955 (Windin’ Ball).  This features trumpeter Birch Smith, who arranged for the music to be recorded, the legendary trombonist Jim Snyder, John Cooper (piano); Jack Lord (banjo); Bob Rann (tuba); Dick Karner (drums).  Visit http://www.tradjazzproductions.com/music3.html to hear an mp3 of Frank — and to order the CD from TradJazz Productions.

HOORAY FOR BIX: Marty Grosz and his Honoris Causa Jazz Band, 1957 (Riverside / Good Time Jazz).  These sessions — under Marty Grosz’s leadership – pair Frank with cornetist Carl Halen, Bill Priestley on guitar and second cornet, Bud Wilson on trombone, Bob Skiver on reeds, Tut Soper on piano, and others.  (The outlandish names on the liner are pseudonyms — for reasons I have never discerned, since most of the players were not under contract to any other company.)  This might be the best introduction to Frank on record.  A vinyl record of alternate performances showed up very briefly at the end of the vinyl era (and the alternate material was again issued on a compact disc on the British J&M label.)

JIMMY ARCHEY / DON EWELL LIVE AT THE EMPORIUM OF JAZZ, 1967 (GHB: 2 CDs).  Recorded live at the Emporium of Jazz in Mendota, Michigan, home base for the Hall Brothers’ Jazz Band, this live issue features Archey, Don Ewell, trumpeter Bill Price, and drummer Red Maddock among others.

FRANK CHACE and his CHICAGO LOOPERS, 1987 (Jazzology: 2 CDs).  This 2009 issue pairs Frank with the fine drummer Hal Smith, the Bix-inspired cornetist Tom Pletcher, gutty trombonist Tom Bartlett, bassist Dan Shapera, and pianist Joe Johnson.  The candid portrait of Frank at work is by his friend Terry Martin. 

Jazzology plans to issue a complete 2-CD set of the sessions Frank recorded with Butch Thompson, Charlie DeVore, John Otto, Hal Smith, and others — originally issued in part on vinyl as BUTCH THOMPSON AND HIS BOYS.

Should anyone suggest a hidden agenda — ranking the merit of these recordings by the size of the images above — nothing of the sort is implied or expressed. 

Other CDs with appearances by Frank have come and gone — a Vanguard session led by Jim Kweskin (featuring Marty Grosz and Ted Butterman) called JUMP FOR JOY; Frank’s one track from a 1981 Newport Jazz Festival tribute, CHICAGO JAZZ SUMMIT (Atlantic).  Much of his recorded work has been issued on spectacularly obscure recordings: two records by Marty Grosz and his Gaslighters on Audio Fidelity; a session with Dave Remington on Jubilee (a record, oddly enough, that has surfaced a good deal online — in inexpensive V+ copies); with Doc Evans on Soma (where Frank plays baritone sax as well as clarinet).  But Frank’s refusal to play or record music not to his liking make his recorded oeuvre smaller than it should have been.  Ironically, at times I tried to interest two producers of traditional jazz records in doing a Frank Chace recording — preferably a new session — by sending them a cassette of chace in 1958 and 1997.  I received, as I recall, polite demurrers.  Not, mind you, that Frank was ever eager to record: his Chicago friends did herculean wheedling and coaxing with very little result.  But it took until 2009 — and the efforts of Hal Smith — to have a CD issued under Frank’s name, which is a pity.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SWING with NEVILLE, HAL, and TOM!

NEVILLE is the splendid stride and swing pianist Neville Dickie.

HAL is the swinging drummer Hal Smith.

And TOM is Tom Warner — dedicated videographer who caught them at the 2009 West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento, California.  These clips originated on YouTube, where Tom’s channel is “Tdub1941,” a jazz and ragtime cornucopia.   

The marvels of technology — and the marvels of Hot. 

This duo’s interplay reminds me of James P. and Sidney Catlett, of Tut Soper and Baby Dodds, of Joe Sullivan and Zutty Singleton, of Jess Stacy and George Wettling, of Willie the Lion Smith and Jo Jones.  In the ideal world, I’d want all the young pianists to study Neville’s left hand and the rollicking interplay between his treble and bass lines.  I’d want all the young drummers who think that surrounding themselves with mountains of cymbals and tom-toms is the answer to observe the marvelously varied sounds Hal gets out of his snare, wire brushes, sticks, and cymbal.  Less is indeed more!

Here’s STRUT MISS LIZZIE, a song I associate with late Bix and early Commodores:

IF I HAD YOU (with verse) becomes a gliding rhythm ballad with hints of eight-to-the-bar:

CANDY LIPS (whose subtitle is “I’m Stuck On You”) is from the Clarence Williams repertoire.  Here, Hal switches to sticks:

Finally, here’s STREAMLINE TRAIN — an answer to our mass transit problems!

Thanks so much to the players — generous in their creativity and swing — and to Tom, for sharing these treasures with us.  Rock that thing!