Tag Archives: vaudeville

“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)

But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.

I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:

If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it.  Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES?  Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”

Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.

This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say.  (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)

He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.

To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.

Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.

I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.

May your happiness increase!

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“FROM RAGTIME TO JAZZ” WITH ROAD SCHOLAR PROFESSORS KRONINGER, ERICKSON, CALABRESE (March 2, 2012)

Before Dixieland Monterey 2012 began there was musical fun — somewhat like a cross between an aesthetic appetizer and a full-scale concert / lecture — hosted at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, California: a presentation for the Road Scholar Program (formerly Elderhostel).  (Click  here to learn more.)  Let’s just say that I flew out early to be here and video the delightful commotion: the second day of Professors’ Kroninger (Sue, vocal, washboard, kazoo); Erickson (Eddie, banjo, vocal); Calabrese (Chris, tour director, piano) showing us the roads from ragtime to jazz.

Although they call themselves Professors, the atmosphere was light-years away from academic seriousness (I know from experience); I had a wonderful time: you will, too.

Professor Kroninger began by introducing the band (very cleverly) which led into Improvisations on RED RIVER VALLEY:

Romping with Professor Calabrese on TIGER RAG, THE PEARLS (an extraordinary feature for Professor Erickson), and some takeout Chinese for Louis: CORNET CHOP SUEY:

MEMPHIS BLUES (Prof. Kroninger belting it out in a melifluous way); explaining the washboard — as “the poor man’s drum kit”; and a trio examination of that vexing question (both geographical and existential) WHERE DID ROBINSON CRUSOE GO (With Friday on Saturday Night)?

Down came the theoretical curtain for a breath . . . .

The second half began with an entirely generous introduction of the man behind the camera (leading to a surprise question about a Guy Lombardo ragtime medley on cassette); then more Louis with BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN (team-teaching by Professors Kroninger and Erickson); an unexpected cellphone call; something for Bix — a beautiful reading of SINGIN’ THE BLUES by Professor Calabrese; a demonstration of stride piano with MAPLE LEAF RAG and a compelling bit of Wallering around on HANDFUL OF KEYS:

Finally, a kazoo lesson for all of us (DO try this at home, but make sure that you have a kazoo first), culminating in an ensemble performance of ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND:

It’s my pleasure to present the entire — informal — concert, all eighty-six minutes of it.  It’s not the same as being there . . . so make plans for 2013!  But as you can tell, a good time was had by all.  And everyone got an “A,” onstage and off.

THE TITAN HOT SEVEN at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

The Titan Hot Seven is (are?) a lively, multi-faceted, energetic band — full of jostling good humor.  They aren’t locked into one narrow style or approach; they are popular and swinging both.  A full-service jazz band!

The band is spearheaded by pianist / singer / raconteur Jeff Barnhart, someone you’ve just heard about on JAZZ LIVES for his Fats Waller CD.  Then there’s the multi-talented Jim Fryer (trombone, vocals, euphonium) and the swinging Danny Coots, master of the matched grip and rocking down-home rhythms.  Danny’s partners in the rhythm section are the very able guitarist / banjoist Jerry Krahn and the powerful bassist Ike Harris.  Up in the front, there’s the splendidly assured pairing of Flip Oakes (trumpet / fluegelhorn) and reedman Jim Buchmann.  A hot band and a great show!

Here they are at Dixieland Monterey, the Jazz Bash by the Bay.

Danny Coots and Jeff start things rocking instantly with the Twenties favorite (it seems one of those bits of Oriental exoticism — here given a Krupa SING SING SING kick-off) SAN:

And for an instant change of pace, how about the TH7’s romantic side?  Here Flip Oakes dedicates Porter’s I LOVE YOU to his wife, in the audience:

Deadpan comic raconteur Jim Fryer brings us to France to honor Sidney Bechet, on the latter’s PROMENADE DES CHAMPS-ELYSSES:

I don’t think the Titans know my dear Aunt Ida Melrose, but they take an easy lyrical trot through “her” song.  Listen for Jim Buchmann’s sweet soprano and booting tenor, and Jeff’s irresistible late-vaudeville singing, mixing sincerity and just a hint of Wallerian satire:

I’m sorry that the variety shows on television no longer exist: it seems to me that I’M GOING TO SKEDADDLE BACK TO SEATTLE would have been perfect as a production number for Carol Burnett or Jackie Gleason.  Where did the June Taylor Dancers go?

In honor of young Bella Coots, a rocking (klezmer-tinged) I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Something for everyone and then some!

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SUE, EDDIE, and CHRIS: “HOW THEY HYPNOTIZE!” (Hidden Valley Music Seminars: March 4, 2011)

I had an extraordinarily good time at Dixieland Monterey 2011 (March 4-6) which took place at the Convention Center and other venues.  For those who might quail at the word “Dixieland,” there wasn’t a sleeve garter in sight — at least not among the musicians.  And there was plenty of soaring hot jazz, as my videos will show.

But the weekend started off in a more lovely pensive fashion: Sue Kroninger (vocals, commentary, washboard); Eddie Erickson (vocals, banjo); Chris Calabrese (hot piano) gave a lighter-than-air presentation on five great American songwriters — Irving Berlin, Walter Donaldson, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Hoagy Carmichael.

All this took place at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, California — in a beautiful room with wood walls, a lovely piano, a delighted audience.  Click here for more details: http://www.hiddenvalleymusic.org/.

Here is the whole precious program (I couldn’t bear to keep a note of it to myself).  Catch the wonderful interplay, wit, and feeling.  Unlike other programs of the sort I’ve seen, this one is beautifully balanced among the three players, who obviously like each other a great deal.  And Sue knows her stuff without being stuffy!

(A note to the suspicious, something perhaps superfluous.  Some of my readers will see a woman with a washboard and two whisks to keep time, a banjo player, a pianist . . . and they will think, “Oh, no . . . ” and skip these videos.  I understand their terror — their primeval fears.  But this trio makes such beautiful swinging deeply-felt music that nothing they do could scare off anyone.  I promise.  Or your money back.)

Sue began the program with a 1913 Irving Berlin tune, AT THE DEVIL’S BALL — which features both hilarious vaudeville lyrics and a tune that, once heard, is impossible to extract from your cortex.  And Sue is having the time of her life.  And ours:

Then, Eddie took on a wonderful song (I associate it with Louis and the Mills Brothers — can you blame me?) from 1927, THE SONG IS ENDED.  It might seem an odd choice for the second song of a program, but it’s such a good song!  And Eddie, dear Fast Eddie, sings it so beautifully:

Finally (for Berlin), Chris took a wonderful turn at ALWAYS — with hints of the Master, Dave McKenna:

Less well-known than Mr. Berlin was Walter Donaldson (but think of AT SUNDOWN, MY BUDDY, and fifty others).  Sue called for Eddie to perform a hit from the early Twenties — nothing could be sweeter than Eddie singing CAROLINA IN THE MORNING.  Hear the variations he brings to his timbre and delivery — and how Chris rocks:

Then a rollicking rarity (a bit of social commentary) that Sue explains, with the irreplaceable title YOU HAVE TO PUT A NIGHTIE ON APHRODITE TO KEEP THE MARRIED MEN HOME (or words to that effect).  I think hearing that song was worth the airfare from New York.  Hope you agree.  Sue is a born entertainer who grabs any audience as soon as she opens her mouth to sing:

And what might be the best-loved song in America (easier to sing than STARDUST), MY BLUE HEAVEN — with the lovely verse, delightfully played by the quiet man Sue calls “Mr. Excitement”:

Onward to the deservedly famous — and short-lived — George Gershwin, with an old favorite, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, winningly sung by Sue.  She isn’t Lily Pons or Sarah Vaughan when it comes to a four-octave range, but this is all to the good: her casual, understated delivery comes from the heart:

STRIKE UP THE BAND shows off Chris (and friends) without ever being militaristic:

Then, a high point for me — Eddie’s rendition of EMBRACEABLE YOU.  Eddie gets terribly embarrassed when I praise him, so I’ll go easy in print here (but I might just say very quietly that I’ve called him “our Sinatra” and I mean it).  Chris’s subtle traceries make me think of Tommy Flanagan:

Changing the mood, here’s Johnny Mercer’s cheerful life-affirmation, AC-CEN-CHU-ATE THE POSITIVE, always good advice:

From a title that’s nearly impossible to spell to one of the simplest — Chris leads the trio through a jaunty version of DREAM:

And as a special favor to me (I had said that I would like to hear Sue “unplugged”) she indulged me with an acoustic JEEPERS CREEPERS, happy as the day is long:

The trio’s version of RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE calls to mind the young man from Davenport, Hoagy Carmichael’s pal Bix — note the funny little personalizing Sue does with the bouncy lyrics (after Chris makes sure that the joint is entirely jumping):

LAZY RIVER (not UP A) shows off the easy grace of Mr. Erickson, Louis-inspired without a bit of gravel in his hopper:

And — instead of the more hackneyed Fourth of July closing — Sue chose one of the most tender songs in the last century, the Carmichael-Loesser TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, where the melody, the lyrics, and the loving wit come together exquisitely for Sue, Eddie, and Chris:

My weekend at Dixieland Monterey was off to the most gratifying start: these three dear artists already had me floating with pleasure, and it wasn’t even lunchtime.

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TEDDY BUNN in FULL FLIGHT

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The world would be a better place if more people knew about guitarist / singer Teddy Bunn. 

There!  I’ve said it again! 

Most people who know anything about Mr. Bunn associate him with the Spirits of Rhythm and with deep blues playing.  But he could also fly over that fretboard in a most swinging fashion!

Here are two examples: IT’S SWEET LIKE SO (1931, Victor) a duet between Bunn and pianist Spencer Williams.  Williams — more often known as a composer — is equally adroit, mixing Hines and stride, although he tends to get faster and faster as the already fast tempo continues.  The song (if you can call it that) is a rapid-fire vaudeville piece with the same chord changes as a dozen other slightly naughty ones:

And here is one of Bunn’s masterpieces — a solo rendering (1940, Blue Note) of KING PORTER STOMP, where his enthusiasm and invention seem boundless, as he keeps his only indetity while impersonating a thirteen-piece swing band:

Listen and admire — the bent notes, the overall sonority — even if you’re not a guitarist.  And if you know a guitarist, do all of us a favor by sending this post along.  I have kept up my Bunnian missionary zeal for years now: when I meet a student who brings his or her guitar to class, I say, “Your homework is to check out Teddy Bunn.”  And a few — the rare few — have come back and thanked me.  “Professor, Teddy Bunn is really cool.” 

That he is.

JAMAICA SHOUT: BENT PERSSON PLAYS RED ALLEN (July 9, 2010)

As promised, the second half of the glorious session (inventive yet very free-minded) that was Bent Persson’s tribute to Henry “Red” Allen’s early recordings — captured at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, in a downstairs room that was part of the hotel’s health club.  Healthy music, though — seriously aerobic for players and audience!

The players were Bent and Michel Bastide, trumpets; Paul Munnery (standing in for Red’s pal, J.C. Higginbotham), trombone, Robert Fowler and Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds, Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocals; Jacob Ullberger, guitar and banjo; Henri Lamaire, bass; Josh Duffee, drums. 

The second half began with one of the atypical small-group recordings with men from the Luis Russell band, issued under the euphonious title J.C. HIGGINBOTHAM AND HIS SIX HICKS — playing a serious blues, HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES:

Then, moving forward to one of the Russell recordings less celebrated than their characteristic rompers — a sweet ballad, HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (originally recorded in 1931 with a lovely, earnest Vic Dickenson vocal — here reimagined by Jeff Barnhart):

Bent scaled down to a rocking small group to give his own version of the incendiary Rhythmakers records (the originals were Philip Larkin’s favorites):

WHO’S SORRY NOW? had a Barnhart vocal (instead of Billy Banks’ warbling):

I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU (which became Claude Hopkins’ theme):

YES, SUH! (a piece of spirited hot vaudeville):

In 1933, Allen and Coleman Hawkins — comrades from the Fletcher Henderson band — teamed up for a series of recordings aimed at the jukebox market.  Some of the songs they recorded were charmingly ephemeral, among them MY GALVESTON GAL, HUSH MY MOUTH (If I Ain’t Goin’ South).  Bent chose to revisit three classic recordings:

SISTER KATE (an old-time tune in 1933):

HEARTBREAK BLUES (where one can hear the cross-fertilization of influence between Hawkins and Bing Crosby):

JAMAICA SHOUT:

The program ended with the moody THERE’S A HOUSE IN HARLEM FOR SALE — a somber conclusion to an uplifting program of hot music: 

You’ll notice that although the players reflect back on the original recordings and the fabled players, there is very little direct imitation of Red, Hawk, Higgy, Pee Wee, Dicky Wells, etc. — the way it’s supposed to be.  Bravo, Bent!

VAUDEVILLE / JAZZ MIGHT CURE EVERYTHING


Gelber & Manning in ‘Vaudeville’
Every Friday and Saturday!!!!


Dear Friends,

The 1920’s are where it’s at in New York these days.  If you don’t believe us, check out this article from last week’s Daily News.  It mentions Gelber & Manning’s new show, Vaudeville at the Gin Mill, which opens at Drom Supper Club on March 13th after two sold-out weekend engagments at Corio.  Robert Dominguez writes, “Entertainment choices in the city these days seem like a throwback to 80 years ago, when talking pictures were still a novelty, television was a far-off fantasy and the only illegal substance baseball sluggers ingested was Prohibition-era booze.”  Come escape with us to another era – it’s a lot more fun than reality these days.  We’ll all “drink a toast to temperence” together.

Most Sincerely,


Gelber & Manning


Vaudeville at the Gin Mill Flyer

Check out a live radio performance of our original song Comin’ Coney Island (featured in Vaudeville at the Gin Mill)

Vaudeville at the Gin Mill


Every Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm
beginning March 13th
at Drom Supper Club
85 Ave. A (bet. 5th&6th Sts.)

Advance Tickets $25 available at Smarttix
or call 212-868-4444
Day of show $35

Bill Edwards and Gloria Stewart

W.C. Edwards and Gloria Stewart (photo c. Don Spiro)

starring
Gelber & Manning
and their 1920’s jazz band
and
W.C. Edwards, Adam Linet, Gloria Stewart, Jezebel Express and Sarah Skinner

produced by
Lee Sobel
directed by
David Eiduks
written by
Sharon Cacciabaudo, Gelber & Manning and Lee Sobel
tech direction by
Aaron Riley
styled by
Jen Zak

Quick Links…

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Gelber & Manning Goes Public

Gelber & Manning Goes Public is available at CDBaby.com

The Beloved and I saw Jesse and Kate do their thing — wild, lowdown, and unpredictable — one night at the Triad.  And, not coincidentally, they had two of the best jazz players ever with them: Charlie Caranicas (cornet) and Kevin Dorn (drums), both heroes of mine.  Are the clouds hanging low?  Is Spring slow to arrive?  This might be the cure.

And I see that their original material (reprinted above) is too large for this space.  Take it as a good omen: larger-than-life performers who fill the room!