Tag Archives: Van Perry

FOUR TROMBONES, FOUR RHYTHM, at the MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL: SPIEGLE WILLCOX, HERB GARDNER, BILL ALLRED, GEORGE MASSO, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, CLIFF LEEMAN (December 2, 1978)

The Manassas Jazz Festival, 1969: those names!

The video captures a completely spur-of-the-moment session, arranged at a few minutes’ notice by Johnson (Fat Cat) McRee at the Manassas Jazz Festival.  The trombonists are Spiegle Willcox, the Elder; George Masso, Herb Gardner, and Bill Allred.  Happily, the last two are still with us and Herb is gigging in New England as I write this.  The rhythm section is impressive as well: Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  The repertoire is familiar and not complicated (the better to avoid train wrecks, my dear): JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / YES, SIR, THAT’S MY BABY / SUMMERTIME / RUNNIN’ WILD, and the eight gentlemen navigate it all with style and professionalism:

Some personal reflections: I never met Van Perry or Spiegle Willcox at close range, although I saw and heard Spiegle at one or two Bix-themed concerts performed by the New York Jazz Repertory Company in 1973-4 (alongside Chauncey Morehouse).  Herb Gardner stays in my mind in the nicest way because of more history: Sunday-afternoon gigs with Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache in New York City, where he ably played alongside Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheatham, Kenny Davern, and other luminaries.  And Herb graciously gave me his OK to post this.  I had the real privilege of meeting and hearing the very humble George Masso in 2012, playing alongside Ron Odrich, when George was 85, and he allowed me to video-record him also: see it here.  Bill Allred, also a very kind man, brightened many sets at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: you can find some performances including him on JAZZ LIVES: one, from 2015, here.

That rhythm section!  As a 19-year old with a concealed cassette recorder, I was too timid to approach either Dick Wellstood or Cliff Leeman for a few words or an autograph, something I regret.  But I just saw Marty Grosz this year — March 4th — at his ninetieth birthday party, so perhaps that makes up for the timidities of my youth?  I doubt it, but it’s a useful if fleeting rationalization.

The music remains, and so do the players.  This one’s for my dear friends Dick Dreiwitz and Joe McDonough, who know how to make lovely sounds on this instrument.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING IT SOUND EASY: BILLY BUTTERFIELD

The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others.  But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.

Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.

Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.

Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough” (who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.

Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:

And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:

and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:

My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.

And one other piece of beautiful evidence:

How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?

Here is an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.

Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless.  I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted.  Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.

But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session.  I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff.  He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.

And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt.  When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn.  Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.

Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.

Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:

Billy should be more than a half-remembered name.

May your happiness increase!

SOPRANO SUMMIT: A COZY CORNER FOR FIVE, DECEMBER 1, 1978 (Manassas Jazz Festival)

Soprano Summit, now just a memory because only Marty Grosz, 90, survives, was one of the finest working groups it was my privilege to see — from my first sighting of them in 1973 to their eventual end.  It’s strange now to think that in New York, they were so ubiquitous for a time that I and others took them for granted.  Now, their performances seem precious evidence of a shining era: a band capable of roaring out-choruses and great lyrical delicacy.

Here is a forty-five minute session, performed and recorded on December 1, 1978, as part of the Manassas Jazz Festival –Bob WIlber and Kenny Davern, clarinet and soprano saxophones; Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Van Perry, string bass; Tony Di Nicola, drums.  The site was the “Olde Towne Inn” in Manassas, where, I am pleased to note, one can get a room at a reduced rate of $60 / night. Here‘s the Inn’s Facebook page, should you care to visit, although I have no idea who’s playing in the lounge.

But music counts more than vacation lodging, especially these days.  Tucked away in a corner in 1978, the quintet makes exquisite music: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / APEX BLUES / JAZZ ME BLUES / YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY OYSTER IN THE STEW (Marty, solo vocal) / CHANGES (Marty) / LADY BE GOOD:

Worth much more than sixty dollars, I say.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE IN A SMALL SPACE: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, KENNY DAVERN, SPENCER CLARK, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, TONY DiNICOLA (MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL, December 1, 1978).

What was lost can return — some papers I thought were gone for good have resurfaced — but often the return needs the help of a kind friend, in this case my benefactor, trumpeter Joe Shepherd, who (like Barney the purple dinosaur) believes in sharing.

Sharing what?  How about forty-five minutes of admittedly muzzy video of Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony DiNicola, drums, recorded at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978.

But first, a few lines, which you are encouraged to skip if you want to get right to the treasure-box.  My very dear generous friend John L. Fell sent me this on a VHS tape in the mid-to-late Eighties, and I watched it so often that now, returning to it, I could hum along with much of this performance.  It’s a sustained example of — for want of a better expression — the way the guys used to do it and sometimes still do.  Not copying records; not playing routinized trad; not a string of solos.  There’s beautiful variety here within each performance (and those who’d make a case that old tunes should stay dead might reconsider) and from performance to performance.  Fascinating expressions of individuality, of very personal sonorities and energies — and thrilling duets made up on the spot with just a nod or a few words.  There’s much more to admire in this session, but you will find your own joys.

YouTube, as before, has divided this video into three chunks — cutting arbitrarily.  The songs in the first part are I WANT TO BE HAPPY / SWEET SUE / I CRIED FOR YOU (partial) //

The songs are I CRIED FOR YOU (completed) / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Billy – partial) //

The songs are I CAN’T GET STARTED (concluded) / CHINA BOY //

I feel bathed in joy.

And another example of kindness: my friend and another benefactor, Tom Hustad (author of the astonishing book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY) sent along a slightly better — visual — copy that has none of the arbitrary divisions imposed by YouTube.  And here it is!  It will be my companion this morning: let it be yours as well.

May your happiness increase!

GOODBYE TO MISS BARBARA LEA (1929-2011)

Young Miss Lea

The remarkable jazz singer Barbara Lea has left us.  Her dear friend Jeanie Wilson writes, “I am deeply saddened to have to report the death of our own Barbara Lea, “The High Priestess of Popular Song”. She died peacefully yesterday, Monday, December 26, here in Raleigh, North Carolina; I was with her as were my husband, Bill, and our dear friend, Junk. And as most of you already know, Barbara has been battling Alzheimer’s for quite some time. So, “Sleep Peaceful”, dear Barbara… we will miss you but now you are free to sing once again.”

I know that many JAZZ LIVES readers have their own memories of hearing and working with Barbara, which I will share in an upcoming post.  For now, this is the way I and so many others will think of her:

It’s an informal exploration of SKYLARK at the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — where Barbara is backed empathically by tenor saxophonist Mason “Country” Thomas, who also left us in 2011; Larry Eanet, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Tom Martin, drums.  Thanks to Sflair for the original video and for sharing it with us on YouTube.

A musician who worked and recorded with Miss Lea several times is the fine drummer Hal Smith, who had this to say, “She had a lovely voice, terrific intonation, perfect diction and her voice aged very well.  I had heard that she adopted the last name of “Lea” as a tribute to Lee Wiley.  If that’s true, she deserved to invoke Ms. Wiley’s name. At the recording session she was well-prepared with a list of songs and keys, easy-to-read charts and ideas for routines.  In that respect, and in her pleasant demeanor, she reminded me of another great vocalist — with the last name of Kilgore.”

Saxophonist, pianist, and director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg, also worked with and learned from Barbara: “Barbara Lea passed away this week and the world has lost an exemplary interpreter of 20th century popular music and I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor.

I was driving Benny Carter down Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal years ago and Louis Armstrong came over the radio playing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” . Benny’s response was “Listen to that – no bullshit!” And in the generous sense in which Benny meant it, one can transpose the same comment to Barbara’s music, though I’m sure she wouldn’t be happy with that language.

She was above all an intelligent and classy lady, with a gift for discovering the melodic and lyrical essence of a song. We started working together in the late 70’s and continued up to the point her illness made it impossible several years ago.  If I heard her sing one tune, I heard her sing several hundred, because I was first and foremost a fan, and went to as many of her gigs as I could, many times with my parents. The Mr. Tram ensemble we had with Dick Sudhalter and Daryl Sherman was nothing less than a joy. You should have heard the conversations; they were as good as the music! Barbara was incapable of coasting when she sang.  No wonder so many composers, starting with Alec Wilder, were so crazy about her. What a variety of timbres she had, and a variety of ways of phrasing to match the words.  Scatting wasn’t for her, and she was forthright about her opinions, and blessedly empathetic with others who didn’t necessarily agree with her.  There’s much more to be said about her, but for the essence, just listen. It’s ALL there.”

We’ll miss Barbara Lea.

(Thanks to David J. Weiner, Hal Smith, and Loren Schoenberg for their help.)

WE GO FOR STEVE JORDAN (and VAN PERRY), 1980

Rhythm guitar — with its bouncing pulse, its swinging elasticity, and the ripe-fruit sound of those strings — isn’t a dying art, as I’ve seen happily on both coasts and overseas.  But the late Steve Jordan was one of the art’s finest creators — hired by Benny Goodman, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton, and others (the thread here is the enthusiastic advocacy of John Hammond).  Later in his career, Jordan got more opportunities to show off his soloing in support of his dry, witty singing. 

Here he is, captured by my YouTube friend Sfair (I know his real name but keep it to myself) at a National Press Club function in Washington, D.C., on December 4, 1980, with bassist Van Perry, a Virginia stalwart who played so often and so well on Johnson McRee’s Manassas Jazz Festival recordings:

Jordan’s  feature is a 1938 song — music by Matty Malneck, lyrics by Frank Loesser, I GO FOR THAT, a slangy, snappy version of what I call The Insulting Love Song (the earlier MY FUNNY VALENTINE is a much more gentle example) where the lover rues the inadequacies of the loved one and finds him/herself smitten nevertheless.  The version I hear in my head is Mildred Bailey’s, but Steve Jordan is doing a good job, two decades later, of displacing it.

“SOME BLISS, PLEASE?” DECEMBER 1, 1978

This song — Vincent Youmans’ I WANT TO BE HAPPY — evoked small verbal comedies from two musicians I saw in New York years ago.  Wild Bill Davison would announce the title and then leeringly say in his best W.C. Fields voice, “Don’t we all,” drawling the last word for four beats.  Kenny Davern, on the other hand, was more academic, seeing the simple declarative statement as the opening for a basic ESL class, “I want to be happy, she wants to be happy, they want to be happy,” trailing off, an amused look on his face.  But comedy isn’t the theme in this gathering of happy improvisers at the Manassas Jazz Festival: Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone, Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano, Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Tony DiNicola, drums.  See how Butterfield works hard, building and soaring; how Davern turns his familiar figures in every possible direction, animated by the thryhm deep inside; Wellstood’s opening jab at “Perdido,” and the way Marty Grosz, intent, relaxes when he can put his guitar down, take a sip of his drink, and revel in Wellstood’s playing.  And the ensemble joyousness.  We think of the Golden Age of Jazz — suggest your decade — but this performance is evidence that 1978 was a pretty good year for it, too.