Tag Archives: Vet Boswell

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

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TWO NEW GLIMPSES OF THE SISTERS

First, a neatly posed tableau from the UK (via eBay):

BOSWELLS

and then we find the Sisters, circa 1930, in a Hawaiian mood:

IT'S TIME TO SAY ALOHA Boswells

The Sisters were always full of surprises, so it’s fitting that these posthumous delights should keep surfacing.  And I know there are more to come — a splendid book and a remarkable documentary film!

May your happiness increase!

YOWSAH! CONNEE, VET, and MARTHA JOIN FACEBOOK

I like this.  And I “like” it, too.  Here’s the good news from Kyla Titus — enough to make anyone want to shuffle off to Facebook.

The Boswell Sisters.com* is now on Facebook. Please like us, and please suggest your family friends like us too by forwarding this announcement!  Click here.   We are also on Twitter for those of you that tweet…please follow us there as well: https://twitter.com/thesistasdotcom.

And be sure to check out January’s featured article Remembering Vet by David W. McCain.

*Welcome! to the newest website dedicated to honoring the music, lives, and times of the world’s foremost harmonists, The Boswell Sisters!** I would be honored if you would find the time to peruse the pages, offer comments and suggestions, partake in the blog, and please do sign the guestbook or fill out the contact form at the bottom of the home page. You may also wish to subscribe to the site via a feed reader, so you can be aware of any new postings/responses to the blog. And please feel free to forward this email to your contacts! Thank you for your interest and I hope you enjoy the site, but more importantly, I hope you enjoy The Boswell Sisters timeless and extraordinary music!

You can write to Kyla here.  She knows what she’s talking about: she is Vet Boswell’s granddaughter.

**”Who were The Boswell Sisters? They were three extraordinarily gifted musicians who emerged from the wellspring of the jazz movement in New Orleans in the early part of the 20th-century. They were icons, pioneers in music and early radio with influences that extend far beyond their own time. As Maxene Andrews once said, “They took the idea of jazz and did it vocally.” And they did it with such blending and precision that it has never been equaled since. Widely imitated around the world, they are musician’s musicians, and list of those who were influenced by them and their style is very long indeed. If you enjoy vocal groups in particular, or popular music in general, then you owe a great deal of tribute to The Boswell Sisters.

“What is presented in this website is less analysis of their style and influence on the development of popular music, and more exploration of the personal lives and journey of these three pretty little musical geniuses of the South. Presented primarily by a direct descendant this site–and in far more detail the new book poised for publication–contains information on the Boswell Sisters that does not exist anywhere else, through meticulous study of their private letters, films, records, and other career and personal ephemera. This information is important because it not only gives us clues on the development of a unique musical style, but an understanding of our American heritage and culture–and therefore a better understanding of ourselves.”

And even if you’ve had enough Facebook for the moment, don’t pass this page by — it has the most beautiful (previously unseen) photographs of the Sisters . . . and more to come.

May your happiness increase.

WE LOVE CONNEE, VET, and MARTHA: DAVID McCAIN TALKS ABOUT THE BOSWELL SISTERS (Dec. 8, 2012)

It’s always delightful to meet someone animated by great knowledge, great enthusiasm, and a passion for a subject: David McCain is such a person.  He is frankly in love with three little girls from New Orleans — Connee, Vet, and Martha Boswell — the Boswell Sisters.  David is not only a great collector of their music, their photographs, and evidence of their gifts — but he is a wise enthusiast who has done so much to let the world know about the Sisters.

On December 8, 2012, I had the great good fortune to meet David and have him talk to me (and all of us) about his love for the Boswells:

We love those “savage chanters,” we do.

May your happiness increase.

I’VE GOT SIXPENCE . . .

but I’d rather hear the Boswell Sisters sing this song.  Here’s a lovely souvenir of their 1935 visit to the United Kingdom.  Thank you, eBay!

WHEN I GROW TOO OLD Boswells UK

And when I grow too old to dream — I hope this doesn’t happen — I’ll still remember Connie, Vet, and Martha.  I promise.

May your happiness increase.

“FINE GIRLS,” “REALLY TOO TIGHT,” “I AM GOING TO TRY SO HARD TO DREAM OF YOU”: PROFILES IN HISTORY: LOUIS and BILLIE

On one of my rare audio visits to National Public Radio, I learned of an esteemed auction house that deals in the rarest paper documents — PROFILES IN HISTORY.

They are currently auctioning off the treasures of an American collector whose specialty was “everyday life” of the greatest mortals: thus, letters written by people whom we revere for their art — but letters that show them at home, being thankful, ordering a new pair of eyeglasses, listening to the radio.  Immortals being mortal, perhaps.

The trove is astonishing and the catalogue is no less so.  Below I have copied excerpts from two pieces of paper that I know JAZZ LIVES readers will find uplifting and sad, respectively.  The first — hooray!  has Louis listening to the radio . . . writing happily about the Boswell Sisters.  (God bless the Boswell Sisters.  God bless Connee, Vet, and Martha, and their family.  And that is not a digression.)  And he delights in the 1933 Ellington Orchestra.

216. Armstrong, Louis. Autograph letter signed (“Louis Satchmo Armstrong”), 5 pages, (11 x 8 ½ in.; 279 x 216 mm.), “Chicago,” 5 April 1933 to an unidentified friend “Gate”; soiled, small splits at folds.

Excerpts:

I’ve just gotten back home from my Tour down South – we had a lovely time. Everybody was so glad to see me and- you know? – all the ‘Buh lony’ that goes along with it. Ha. Ha. But sho ‘nuff Gate I am having a grand time on my tours.

I am now sitting home in my dining room with some of the folks at home and we are listening to the Radio. A swell program is now in session. The Three Keys are now getting away ‘righteously’. Late that Cats are after the Mills Brothers own hearts. But I am still Crazy over those Boswell Sisters. Bless their hearts. They are from my home town, you know? Fine Girls.  They think I am the Last word. They played here at the Chicago Theatre the same week we played the Palace Theatre. Ol Amos ‘N’ Andy’s just comin in on the radio. They are still funny. They ‘ll soon be making another movie so you all’l get another chance to see the funny boys again. Like Em? I bet your little boy does.

Boy, you’re right, when you said we broke all records for doubling from the Trocadero – to the Hobborn Empire Theatres. Some quick connections I really mean. Ha. Ha. We was known to make time, Eh? Gizzard? Ha. Ha.

So by now it’s the wee hours in the morning – And we’re now listening to Duke Ellington’s Orchestra whom has just return ‘d to the Famous Cotton Club in New York. Boy they are raising H— no foolin’ My. My. My. What a band. Ol Duke has a new trombone player from California that’s really too tight. His name is Lawrence Brown. He was in my orchestra when I was in Hollywood the year of 1930. He’s a trombone hound…

$3,000 – $5,000 (that’s the estimate for bids)

The second letter is as tragic as the first is sunny: Billie Holiday to her then-husband Joe Guy, while they were both in different jails.  What can one say for sorrow?

226. Holiday, Billie (Eleanora Fagan). Poignant autograph letter signed (“Lady Billie Holiday”), in pencil, 2 pages (10 ¼ x 8 in.; 260 x 203 mm.), Box No. PMB A, “Alderson, West Virginia,” 12 July 1947 to her husband, Joseph Guy, 10 Reed St., County Prison, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the letter is stamped “CENSORED BY:” (and initialed) at the top of page one.

Joe Darling.

Your letter just arrived and it just makes me sick the way people set there sevls [their selves] up to be so true blue. Bama [trumpeter Carl “Bama” Warwick] has told everybody on the street he gave you money a darlor [dollar] indeed could he spare it. As for Bobby [pianist Bobby Tucker] I am sure he will send you some when he can. He said he had to wait until pay day and as you know sweetheart he has got a wife and two kids. But hasn’t he wrote to you yet. He owes me a letter also. Well hes working on 52 nd st and has to travel way over to Jersey. But I don’t think he will let us down. We are going to the Movies tonight so I will finish this when I get back.

Well baby I am back from the Movies it was called Sister Kennedy [Sister Kenny, 1946] with Rosland Russel [Rosalind Russell]. It was a very good picture but it made me kind of sad thinking about the last show we seen together odd man out [“Odd Man Out”, 1947] rember [remember] I shall never forget darling its lights out now so I will finish this in the morning. I am going to try so hard to dream of you. Don’t laugh. Sometimes I am lucky and can there goes the lights Well darling its night again. After I got thru [through] my work today I just couldn’t write. I cried for the first time. Oh darling I love you so much I am so sorry you have to stay there in Phila. It must be awfully hot. Yes baby I gained nine pounds and I am getting biger all the time gee you wont love me fat (smile) But you must look wonderful. Youer [you are] so tall and you needed some weight. So thank heavens for that and what ever happens at your trial sweetheart keep your chin up don’t let nothing get you down. It won’t be long before were together agian [again]. My lights has been out every [ever] since I last saw you. But they will go on agian for us all over the world. Write to me Joe as soon as you can. Ill always love you as ever your Lady Billie Holiday.

$ 6,000 – 8,000.

Visit PROFILES IN HISTORY even if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on holiday gifts.  The letters are frankly astonishing, and the catalogue puts Eubie Blake next to Johannes Brahms, so someone knows where One is.

May your happiness increase.

CONNIE, VET, AND MARTHA (Continued . . . .)

In case you didn’t know, there’s a wonderful new blog devoted to the Sisters and to the book that Kyla Titus (Vet’s granddaughter) is writing about them:

THE BOSWELL SISTERS.  This book is going to be more than a family memoir, more than an adoring fan’s tribute . . . it places the Sisters in their proper historical context — alongside Bing, Louis, and FDR, lighting the way.

And — if that’s not enough for the objects of our affection — there’s also a Bozzies website full of music and history and more:  BOZZIES.  The Sisters are irreplaceable but also the best tonic and panacea I know . . .

May your happiness increase.