Tag Archives: Vic Dickenson

CONSULT YOUR OCULIST (1929, 1961)

Perhaps because I am both nearsighted and fallible, “I MAY BE WRONG (But I think You’re Wonderful)” is a favorite song of mine — written by Henry Sullivan (music) and Harry Riskin (lyrics) no matter what the cover states. The lyrics only make sense if one realizes that the singer is seriously myopic. Here’s the verse:

A delightful November 929 recording (the song was a duet in the original presentation) thanks to the splendidly musical Peter Mintun:

and here is my favorite instrumental version, with decades of playing this track on the “Swingville All-Stars” session on the Prestige-Swingville label. (Coleman Hawkins, Joe Newman, J.C. Higginbotham, Jimmy Hamilton, and Claude Hopkins were on another session, which is why Hawk is credited here.)

The band is a gathering of gentle idiosyncratic deities, each singing his own song: Joe Thomas, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Al Sears, Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Cliff Jackson, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Joe Benjamin, string bass; J.C. Heard. drums. New York, May 19, 1961:

I think these performances are wonderful, and in this I don’t think I’m wrong.

My gratitude to Peter Mintun and to Michael Burgevin, who introduced me to Joe Thomas.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING SAMMY MARGOLIS (1923-1996)

Some years before I met the reedman Sammy Margolis in New York City (at the Half Note, 1971, sitting in with his friend Ruby Braff) I had heard and admired him on record: a floating player, thoughtful, incorporating Bud Freeman, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell into his own gentle conception. He was never loud or forceful, but a sonic watercolorist.

In the next few years, I had the good fortune to hear and record him in several gigs: at Brew’s, at the New School, on an afternoon gig in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at the Root Cellar in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, along with Vic Dickenson, Jack Fine, Marshall Brown, Doc Cheatham, Mike Burgevin, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, and others. I was a shy college student, reluctant to impose myself in conversation with my heroes, although from what I know of Sam, he would have made me welcome.

This was my first aural introduction to Sammy, serene in Ruby Braff’s energized wake, thoughtfully creating songs of his own:

and Sammy’s beautiful interlude in the company of George Wein:

About a year ago, I made friends (thanks to Facebook) with his multi-talented daughter Carla, who generously shared her memories of her father. I offer her extended loving portrait to you now, with thanks.

Sammy and Louis: photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

My dad had a fraternal twin brother who was also musically talented. He played piano by ear and whenever they went to the movies as kids, his brother would come home and play themes the pianist played during the showings, having somehow retained all of that musical information in his head. My Uncle Carl (for who I am named) tragically died young (I think from glomular neuphritis) after having returned home from WWII.

His father was a housepainter who died from a burst appendix when my dad was eight. His 12 year old (?) brother Mortie had to go to work as did his mother. He had two sisters as well.

I’m not even sure how he and Ruby came to be friends.  As my dad often loved to say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been friends with Ruby many times.”  My mother actually dated Ruby first.  I don’t know what happened there, but then my mother started dating my dad.

Sammy and Ruby Braff, photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

The recordings that you sent me, around 1974, I was surprised that Ruby was on there.  I heard so much about Ruby, but I never met him until I was a teenager.  I was under the impression that they were on the outs, and I thought maybe it was because of the relationship with my mother, but I don’t know.  They both were Boston people who came to New York, but they were really not the same people, my father and Ruby.   

On records, he was the sideman for Ruby most of the time.  But he was on a Martin Mull recording that Ruby wasn’t on.  I didn’t know that he was on fifteen recordings!  He talked about how much he hated doing studio work, that it made him very anxious.  He didn’t like recording.  And I didn’t find out until maybe two and a half years ago that he was on so many recordings.  

Ruby and my dad loved Bud Freeman and Lester Young, but he had considered jumping the fence into be-bop.  He strongly considered that, because that was what was coming, what was current.  He claimed that Ruby had talked him out of it, so they both stayed on that side of the fence.  I don’t know if he was happy about that decision or not, I don’t know how that went.  He didn’t have a great opinion about bop — I went to Indiana University and I was a jazz studies major, and he was kind of unenthusiastic about it, but then he started listening to it more . . . 

I do remember going to Brew’s and the Red Blazer with him.  I remember going to Doylestown, Pennsylvania with him, the club that had the big murals at the back of the stage, Mike Burgevin’s THE ROOT CELLAR.  He took me to the hotel once, and I remember telling him that I wouldn’t go to bed until he played SATIN DOLL.  I was about nine.

Kenny Davern, Mike Burgevin, and Sammy at Brew’s, New York City: courtesy Chuck Slate

When I was in my teens, he had me sitting in a lot, singing, when he was playing at Jimmy Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky, who was the leader.  Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son, was playing drums.  The trombonist might have been Bobby Pratt.  One night I sat in and Roy Eldridge was in the audience, my dad introduced me to him, and I was “Yeah, okay, I don’t know who that is.”  I’m really glad I didn’t know who Roy was when I was singing!  I remember going to Eddie Condon’s with him, and he played a lot in the basement of the Empire State Building, at a restaurant called the Riverboat. 

Back row: Sammy, Ruby, Vic Dickenson, Jackie Williams, Al Hall; front: Wayne Wright, Jimmy Andrews. Brew’s, New York City. Photograph by Mike Burgevin, courtesy Chuck Slate.

A musical interlude, 1974, part one:

and part two:

He was really making a living doing these gigs.  He wasn’t doing anything else.  In the summers he would play in the Catskills, all summer.  The Italian Catskills, not the Jewish Catskills.  I went with him one time; I usually spent my summers with him because my mom and dad weren’t together.  From the time I was about eight I spent summers with him in New York.  My mother sang a little bit but I wouldn’t call her a singer although she liked to sing.  She was an actor and dancer who sang.  She came to New York for that, and my dad was impressed with her dancing but he never saw her act, which I find astonishing, because that’s what her big aspirations were, and that’s what she did, mostly.  She was a dancer at the Copacabana, and I don’t know where else.  And she studied at the Herbert Berghoff Studio.  But she later became a lawyer.  Because of them, I grew up with a lot of exposure to musical theater and to jazz.   

My father was really sweet and affectionate.  He read a lot of Krishnamurti.  He was very much into health foods and supplements, always reading up on those things.  He was into ayurvedic medicine.  He ate other things, but he wanted me to be very healthy.  He was, although culturally, ethnically and gastronomically Jewish, an atheist, but interested in Eastern philosophy. Despite his avid interest in health foods, supplements, etc., he did enjoy the occasional hamburger and jelly doughnut and Sanka with Sweet and Low. When I asked him about that he responded “Years of bad habits.”

He was also a really good athlete, very athletic, forever, up until right before he died.  He played golf and tennis.  I remember he and Ruby had done a date in Hawaii with Tony Bennett, and when they came back he and Tony played tennis often.  Once when they were playing tennis, some guy from the club asked Tony if he would play with him after he got done playing with his instructor (meaning my dad)…my mom loved telling that story.

I remember we went to Tony’s apartment one time and had lunch.  Tony had artwork there and I thought that was really cool, because my dad was also a really lovely artist as well.  He did a lot of watercolors.  I don’t know what happened to his art, whether he got rid of it when he moved to Florida in 1990 or 1991, but it disappeared and I wanted to have some of it.

Portrait of the singer Connie Greco by Sammy Margolis

In NYC, he lived in Hell’s Kitchen on 44th and 10th Avenue. At that time, one had to be rather paranoid to stay safe from crime. Of course he was diligent about locking his car and his apartment. Once he moved to Deerfield Beach, Florida, he refused to live in fear and refused to lock his apartment or his car. Whenever I visited him in Florida, he would not allow me to lock anything either, which I found hilarious. I lived in NYC at the time, and understood completely.

He had had rheumatic fever as a child, and later that caused a leaky heart valve, so some time in the late Eighties he had surgery to replace the heart valve – several surgeries, because there was an artificial heart valve that his body rejected, then there was a pig valve which worked, but he had to be very careful.  I’m not sure if he knew that he had prostate cancer before he moved to Florida.  He moved down there to relax, to be a “snowbird” with family who spent winters in Palm Springs.  There were a lot of musician friends who had retired to Florida, so he did do some gigs there – but he was basically retired when he went down there.  He was very worried that the heart problem was going to do him in, but it was the prostate cancer, and they couldn’t do surgery because of the heart problem. 

When I took my son down to Florida as a baby (I think that was the last time my dad saw him), I had to go to the laundry room in his complex, leaving him alone with my son (who could stand up but wasn’t yet talking). He played clarinet for my son to keep him amused. I only caught the tail end of it when I returned. It was so cute, my son was enthralled.

He was very funny, very outgoing, and he had hilarious stories.  He was a very good storyteller, and I loved that.  There was a story about a tiger in Bermuda, but I don’t remember how it went.  He spent some time on cruise ships going to Bermuda, and he used to bring back gifts for me and art.  There’s one statue of a woman which I have in my house now that he always had on the mantel in his living room. 

He loved taking me to museums, to art museums, oh my gosh.  He would talk to me about composition, and he loved Matisse and vibrant colors.  Did you know he studied at the Art Students’ League?  I mean, he felt it was really kind of a curse to be really good at a lot of things, but not just art.  He was an intellectual, and some things he didn’t really have to try to be good at.  Cooking and art and more.  He was a thinker, and that may have been hard for him later.  He loved Nature, and we’d go to Central Park, and he’d set up some watercolors and we’d draw, but he didn’t interfere with what I was doing, he would just let me do my thing. 

Whenever we were walking down the street in New York, and we did a lot of walking together, and he was always singing or humming.  All the time! – when we were talking or even when we were.  He was a man full of music.  There was never ever a second when it wasn’t turned on.  I should record THE MORE I SEE YOU for him, because he always wanted me to do that song.  I don’t know why it was that particular one, but he did.  And he used to sing ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET all the time. 

He loved having me sing, whenever I was with him in a club.  Once I started that, he loved it.  And he would give me really, really helpful feedback.  Truly helpful.  He was not overly critical of my singing at all.  No, he was lavishing praise,  But when I wanted to be a music major in college – I started out as a French major –which was actually useless to me (what was I going to do with that?) when I was at Indiana University.  But I had friends who were musicians, I interacted with them, and they were super-surprised that I was not a music major.  “You should be a music major!” they told me.  I was terrified that I would not get in to the program.  I went and did an unofficial audition for David Baker first, and he sent me to this classical vocal teacher, then, with their blessing, I officially auditioned for the music school there.  I got it, but I didn’t tell anybody at all that I had auditioned. 

Then I called my dad to tell him I had gotten in, and he was tickled, he was beside himself with joy.  He hung up the phone, and thirty seconds later he called me back.  “Are you sure you don’t want to get a different major as a backup?  Why don’t you stick with the French?”  And I looked at the phone, and I was like, “French???  French is more useless than music.  I don’t know what the hell I would do with French.  Go somewhere and translate?”  I had no vision how that would work into my life.  It cracked me up that he was so overjoyed and then called me back and was “Wait, wait, wait . . . . “  It was the mentality he grew up with; my dad was born in 1923.  I mean, when I moved back to New York as an adult, I saw him every week, at least once a week, we had our official dinner once a week.  I had a day gig at a Japanese insurance company, because I could type.  And he would tell me, “You know, my dream for  you, my goal for you, my life-dream is for you to marry some businessman you meet around there.”  “Wow.  Really? Your dream for me?”  It didn’t work out that way.  Maybe he was right, I don’t know.  He was worried that if I became a singer I would become an alcoholic.  He was sure those two things went together.  It did not happen, but he was very, very worried about that. 

He also helped me be prepared when dealing with musicians, even on pick-up dates, sitting in, or being a leader.  He really told me, “You know, musicians are going to hate you because you’re a singer.  You really have to be super prepared so that they respect you.”  I thought that was the best piece of advice anybody could give me.  I was incredibly spoiled by all the musicians I met even when I was a little girl.  But when I was little even though I played a little piano, I didn’t know what keys I sang in.  I’d just start to sing, they would find the key, and it would be fine.  I was spoiled by that.  But things change.

I remember meeting Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham, Marshall Brown, Mike Burgevin, Kenny Davern, and of course Max Kaminsky.  Oh, there’s a sad thing.  I was supposed to meet Louis Armstrong, my dad really wanted to introduce me to him, but I was in Michigan and Louis died before I got back to New York, but later I did meet Lucille Armstrong.  Dill Jones was the first pianist to play for me in public.  My mom and dad were both really good friends with Jack Bradley.  My sister said – I wasn’t old enough to understand this – that Jack facilitated it so that my mother bought Louis’ cream-colored Cadillac from Louis for five hundred dollars.  I remember that car very well and I know there was some connection to Jack Bradley and Louis. 

That same evening. Photograph by Mike Burgevin.

In the Seventies, when I was in New York with him, he would go off and do gigs at night, and I wasn’t going out at night so I would stay at the apartment watching TV, but I got hold of his fakebook, and I was going through it, listening to jazz recordings that he had, and jazz radio – he listened to WNEW – teaching myself songs from that fakebook.  Even though I couldn’t really read music yet, I would listen to people singing the songs and I would follow along.  I learned a lot of tunes that way.  I wouldn’t have learned them with him around, or my mother around: that was solo contemplation.  

And on those recordings you sent, you said there were people talking at the start, and I thought, “Oh, I hope I get to hear his voice!” and he wasn’t talking, but he was in the background warming up his saxophone, and that’s why he wasn’t talking, he was on the stand already.       

There’s a story my dad liked to tell, and in my recollection I cannot do it justice because I cannot give you his facial expressions or inflections. He was at his friend’s apartment in upper Manhattan (I don’t remember whose apartment, possibly Lou Levy’s?). Dave Lambert was at the party. Jazz records were being played (of course). Someone knocked on the door and the host asked my dad to answer. He opened the door and Duke Ellington was standing there. My dad was so surprised to see one of his idols standing there. After he let him in, the host asked my dad to pick the next record for everyone to listen to. My dad was so nervous because he couldn’t believe he was picking music for Ellington to listen to. I wish I could remember what he chose. But evidently it was something Ellington liked.

Here is Ruby Braff’s elegy for his friend, Ruby’s liner note to the 1996 BEING WITH YOU (Arbors):

This album, this salute to Louis, is as much about Sam Margolis as it is about Pops!

So much of my musical thinking was formed and inspired by the musical dedication and artistic humility of Sam, my old friend and teacher. No one ever did or could pay more homage to the genius and influence that Louis had on every aspect of American music. In that sense, Sam was a great champ and winner.

On March 23, 1996 tragedy struck out group of friends and many others! Our Sammy lost his fight with cancer. To the end he went with great courage and gallantry! My thoughts were about him as we made this recording a scant few weeks later.

Every one who knew him will miss this enormously talented person of profound influence. Jack Bradley’s great picture of Sam and Pops is the way I think he’d like to be remembered.

May God grant him the eternal peace his great soul deserves.

We will never forget you, Sam . . .

I would add to those grieving words my own perception that Sammy Margolis, up close or at a distance, was a joyous individual, a remarkable man: gentle, funny, modest, multi-talented. I regret now that my shyness got in the way of a real conversation, because I feel that Sammy would have engaged my young self with kindness.

There will be more music to celebrate Sammy, and perhaps JAZZ LIVES’ readers have their own tales. He deserves to be well-remembered. And my deep thanks to Carla Margolis for her memories above.

May your happiness increase!

SEVENTY MINUTES WITH GERRY MULLIGAN, HARRY “SWEETS” EDISON, VIC DICKENSON, MARIAN McPARTLAND, DAVE SAMUELS, PERCY HEATH, ALAN DAWSON (Nice Jazz Festival, July 15, 1976)

People who draw “jazz history trees” love to create categories that are often divisive, at best restrictive. For those so inclined, whether critics, journalists, or “fans,” the art form is defined as discrete sections, painted lines in an aesthetic shopping-center parking lot.

The musicians laugh about such dopiness, and not only talk to their friends but play alongside them. Happily.

Here’s a passionate interlude that refutes such categorization, from the Nice Jazz Festival of July 15, 1976. The set was called “Jeru and some friends,” “Jeru” being the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who made himself at home with musicians “from different schools” where and whenever he could, including Count Basie, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, and Joe Sullivan — and I am sure that is only a fraction of the friendly gatherings he participated in.

I love the fact that the common language is “the three B’s,” or in jazz terms, “Basie,” “the blues,” and “ballads.”

Nice Jazz Festival (audio only); “”Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 15, 1976.

Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Marian McPartland, piano; Dave Samuels, vibraphone; Percy Heath, string bass; Alan Dawson, drums. I FOUND A NEW BABY / NIGHT LIGHTS / WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (Marian, solo) / I’LL BE AROUND (Mullgan-Marian) / YESTERDAYS (Sweets) / TEA FOR TWO / SHINY STOCKINGS.

Miraculous to me, but common friendly practice to these wise feeling players:

“Ain’t that something?” to quote Bill Robinson.

May your happiness increase!

“YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE”: CLIFF, VIC, MARIAN, RUBY, SAM, LOUIS (1940-73)

I was born either too early or too late to truly appreciate Walt Disney films, but a few of the songs are very dear to me: WITH A SMILE AND A SONG, WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO, and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, which has been recorded and improvised on by many of my heroes.

Over the past few months, I have been making my way through my CD shelves, repackaging them in flexible plastic sleeves rather than the more cumbersome jewel-boxes, and yesterday I came across the CD recorded live in 1973 by Marian and Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Buddy Tate, Rusty Gilder, and Gus Johnson. Rather than his usual features (IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD or MANHATTAN) Vic chooses this song, and the result — an unadorned two-chorus melodic effort with the key change upwards for the last eight bars — touches me so that I wanted to share it with you. And that led me to a quick survey of a wonderful composition. I don’t know whether Alec Wilder would have singled out Leigh Harline’s music and Ned Washington’s lyrics for praise, but they are emotionally rich to me. And who among us doesn’t have dreams?

The source, an uncredited Cliff Edwards in 1940, beautifully at the top of his vocal range:

Vic Dickenson, Marian McPartland, Rusty Gilder, Gus Johnson at the Royal Box of the Americana Hotel, New York City, June 1973. Jimmy McPartland says, “Wasn’t that pretty?” Who would disagree?

Ruby Braff, Vic, Sam Margolis, Nat Pierce, Walter Page, Jo Jones 1955, one of the lesser-known Vanguard sessions:

And Louis 1968, monumental and tender both:

“If your heart is in your dream / No request is too extreme.”

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY-NIGHT LEVITATION: YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, RALPH SUTTON, BUD FREEMAN, BOB WILBER, BILLY BUTTERFIELD, GUS JOHNSON, LOU McGARITY, CARL FONTANA (April 20, 1969, “The Ed Sullivan Show”)

What follows is, to me, a thrilling four minutes and some seconds: it caused me a good deal of excitement two days ago. Never mind that the people in charge mis-titled the second of two songs, and that the applause, appearing at moments unrelated to what is going on musically, was surely generated by flashing APPLAUSE signs to a willing audience; never mind that Dick Gibson’s name for this wondrous assemblage — yes, “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band” — made many listeners want to puncture the PR balloon.

Here are Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Carl Fontana, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Ralph Sutton, piano; Bob Haggart, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums. (By the time I’d encountered the band, on June 21, 1970, in Town Hall, New York City, the trombone section was Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, monumentally.)

I hope that the Ed Sullivan Show people uncover more than four minutes, although the two performances — a Lawson / Butterfield BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? and their rollicking chart on UP, UP, AND AWAY — are spectacular. In concert, we didn’t see the two trumpets (in impassioned conversation) at this close range, and, my goodness! — to see Lou McGarity in color is a delight I never thought I’d have.

To think that this was once beamed into American homes on an ordinary Sunday night, in between the comedians making mother-in-law jokes, Topo Gigio or Senor Wences, high-energy pop singers . . . it dazzles. Watch it once, and then again. All the people who did bad impressions of Ed Sullivan, well, they never made music like this happen:

Thank you, Ed; thank you, Dick Gibson; thank you, incendiary creators.

UP, UP, AND AWAY! for sure.

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE TREASURE-BOX: ED HALL, RUBY BRAFF, VIC DICKENSON, KENNY KERSEY, JOHN FIELD, JIMMY CRAWFORD; MAX KAMINSKY, VERNON BROWN; RALPH SUTTON (1944-1960)

The music may not go ’round and ’round, but at the moment my collection certainly extends itself from room to room. Because I can envision myself moving house, as the Brits say, I have been slightly more energetic in my tidying, although Marie Kondo would have walked away in despair a long time ago (Marie: what happens if so many things “spark joy”? Hmmmm?)

A few days ago I noticed three cassette boxes that have been on a bedroom windowsill for some time. One was empty and unlabeled; another was Frank O’Connor reading “My Oedipus Complex,” a souvenir of a past life, and the third, mildly waterlogged and soiled, but with its tape safely inside, was this:

I recognized it as a gift from the late Joe Boughton, which, since Joe left us in 2010, already made it an artifact. Joe was a concert and jazz-party impresario (“Jazz at Chautauqua” among other delights), a record producer, but most often he was a collector and enthusiast who brought a tape recorder to many gigs and traded tapes of his favorites. Our tastes ran in the same directions, and when I had obtained something I knew he would like, I would send him a cassette of it, and he would send me one of his homemade anthologies. (We never called them “mixtapes,” but each of us had cars with cassette decks.)

I didn’t know if the tape would play, but it did, and I can share with you the most remarkable portions . . . saved from the recycling bag that holds disposable plastics.

First, four performances captured on home-recorded acetates, radio broadcasts of Ed Hall’s Sextet from the Savoy Cafe, Boston, WMEX, Nat Hentoff, m.c. May-June 1949: Hall, clarinet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Kenny Kersey, piano; John Field, string bass; Jimmy Crawford, drums. CHINA BOY / MORE THAN YOU KNOW (glorious Vic) / S’WONDERFUL into program closing / THE MAN I LOVE //

And a mysterious bonus, mysterious because Joe didn’t type in any data about it, BACK HOME IN INDIANA, by (audibly) Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; others not known. My friend Sonny McGown, a fine listener and collector himself, wrote in quickly, “The version of Indiana sounded familiar to me and I recognized the clarinetist as Ernie Caceres. The recording is from an Eddie Condon Associated transcription session of 24 October 1944. Others listed for this particular tune on the session date are Kaminsky, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Condon, Bob Haggart, and George Wettling. What a band!”

Then, Ralph Sutton at Sunnie’s Rendezvous in Aspen, Colorado, 1960s, playing Willard RobIson’s I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA.

Thank you, gorgeous improvisers, and thank you, Joe, for sharing the music with me . . . so that more than a dozen years later, I can share it with you.

May your happiness increase!

“A HEROIC THING”: VIC, SUPREME

Vic Dickenson spent most of 1945-47 in California and recorded prolifically with a wide variety of bands — appearing memorably alongside Louis, Hawkins, Leo Watson — as well as playing on JUBILEE broadcasts. And he had the opportunity to record as a leader for I think the first time, for the rather under-publicized SUPREME label, in late 1947. (The impending record ban may have made this even more of an opportunity.) From what I saw of Vic in person, later in life, he was perfectly happy to be a sideman, although he was asked to lead in the recording studio often in the last three decades of his life.

I stumbled across this YouTube posting of one of the SUPREME sides and noted with dismay that only 33 people had viewed it, the other side had 17 views. This post is my small effort to raise those numbers for the greater glory of Vic.

The band is not what some might expect from Vic — much more 1947 bop than loose improvising — but he stands out beautifully among the more “modern” Californians: Jack Trainor, trumpet; Jewell Grant, alto saxophone; J.D. King, tenor saxophone; Skip Johnson, piano, arranger; Billy Hadnott, string bass; Chico Hamilton, drums. Yes, ST. LOUIS BLUES begins with Vic playing Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza, slightly truncated (I heard him play it all, gorgeously, a number of times in performance) and his later solo is still rooted in his own version of 1928 Louis. And his winning vocal!

and a song Vic made his own many times, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU. Here, much of the record is given over to the band (Vic was never one to demand the spotlight) and they have their own take on the Eddie Heywood arrangement Vic had recorded a year earlier:

To me, Vic is a hero of sound among heroes, someone consistently underrated — but not by people like Roswell Rudd, who was most eloquent in his praise:

Vic Dickenson. You know it right away from the sound. Every note that he plays. He’s got so much personality. This is something you find in the older players, that every note they play is imbued with their own character. I guess it breaks down to where nowadays it’s hard to separate people by the particular personality that they have in their sound. But back in the days when there were fewer people doing this, there was more identifiable individuality. But now so many more people are doing this that it becomes harder and harder to identify the individuals. But they’re still there! I’m telling you. And especially on this instrument, which is all about imbuing the sound with your own personality so that you can be identified just from the sound of a few notes that you play. . . . You know who he is right away. I don’t know whether it’s because I was there or I grew up on it. But these sounds are so distinctive, these voices. Vic Dickenson liberated the trombone into linear improvisation the same way Jack Teagarden did, and this was a heroic thing.  

from a 2001 “Blindfold Test” conducted for Down Beat by Ted Panken, reprinted from Ted’s blog, TODAY IS THE QUESTION.

Listen to Vic, I say. And not just these sides.

May your happiness increase!

More From Copley Square: BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, GENE SEDRIC, TEDDY ROY, BILL GOODALL, BUDDY LOWELL (WHDH, Boston, The Music Box, March 16, 1951)

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

The Music Box, Boston, March 16, 1951. Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Gene Sedric, clarinet; Teddy Roy, piano; Bill Goodall, string bass; Buddy Lowell, drums. Theme: STREET OF DREAMS / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / CLARINET BLUES (Sedric) / MONDAY DATE / FIDGETY FEET / STREET OF DREAMS // Speed-corrected by Christopher Tyle. Source tape from John L. Fell, possibly recorded off the air by Joe Boughton.

And for those who like numbers: this music is seventy years old and it still leaps and cavorts in glee. Also numerically, how much joy these heroes pack into nineteen minutes: the greatest art.

May your happiness increase!

BOSTON, 1951: BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, GENE SEDRIC, TEDDY ROY, BILL GOODALL, BUDDY LOWELL (WHDH: The Music Box, Copley Square, March 26, 1951)

As Richard Vacca, author of THE BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES, can tell us, Boston was a hot town for jazz, vying with Chicago for second place to New York City. In the Forties and Fifties, there seemed to be a regular commute between the two cities, with steady gigs flourishing. Louis and Bird, Bechet and Tatum, Newton and Sullivan, Fats and Big Sid . . . the list of performers and performances is a long one. And there were radio broadcasts from Boston clubs. Here’s a brief taste of what was happening and what was captured off the air.

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

This glimpse into an animated past comes from the Music Box, where Bobby Hackett had a residency in early 1951, with his great friend and partner Vic Dickenson, trombone; Gene Sedric, clarinet; Teddy Roy (an old Boston friend), piano; Bill Goodall, string bass; Buddy Lowell, drums.

Caveat for the sensitive: there are vestiges of AM-radio static. (The original tape ran quite fast, but the generous Chris Tyle stepped in and fixed that, so nicely.) But you are made of strong stuff, and can surmount such things. The songs are Bobby’s theme for these gigs, STREET OF DREAMS, and then three “Dixieland” classics, SQUEEZE ME, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, and BYE AND BYE. The band usually broadcast on Fridays, but this was a Monday-night special. The tape came to me from my dear friend and benefactor John L. Fell, his source unknown. Both Bobby and Vic are in tremendous form, leaping into their solos.

More from Spring 1951 in Boston is coming soon: the Hackett band in a longer broadcast, and a Sunday-afternoon jam session from Storyville, featuring Johnny Windhurst, Peanuts Hucko, Dick Le Fave, George Wein, John Field, Marquis Foster, and guests.

Don’t touch that dial.

May your happiness increase!

A STAGE FULL OF BRIGHT LIGHTS: WILD BILL DAVISON, BOBBY HACKETT, JIMMY McPARTLAND, BUCK CLAYTON, JIMMY ARCHEY, VIC DICKENSON, GENE SEDRIC, ED HALL, FRANK SIGNORELLI, JOE BUSHKIN, MARIAN McPARTLAND, MILT HINTON, POPS FOSTER, MAX WAYNE, GEORGE WETTLING, JO JONES, TONY SPARGO, LEE WILEY (Town Hall, New York City, April 12, 1952)

 Here’s a vibrant paradox: the musicians who understand themselves deeply know that singularity is the great goal.  Be aware of where you’ve come from, revere your heroes and know the tradition, but be yourself.  At the same time, play well with others: understand that the community of jazz improvisation is sacred, and work for “the comfort of the band,” to quote Baby Dodds.

In this Town Hall concert, from April 12, 1952, that delicate paradox is on display in every performance.  Here’s the roadmap.

This Saturday concert, produced by Bob Maltz, was billed as a farewell party for Wild Bill Davison, who was leaving New York to tour. It was recorded by the Voice of America for broadcast overseas, which may be the source of this copy.  The introduction is by Al “Jazzbo” Collins, with Marian McPartland playing softly underneath his paragraphs:

BLUE SKIES / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU”RE IN LOVE WITH ME / HINDUSTAN Wild Bill Davison, Ed Hall, Jimmy Archey, Frank Signorelli, Pops Foster, George Wettling /

THE LADY IS A TRAMP / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (Bushkin) – DON’T BLAME ME (Milt) – DINAH (Buck) – HALLELUJAH! – BLUES (Jo) Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /

CLARINET MARMALADE / DAVENPORT BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, Tony Spargo /

ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE / STREET OF DREAMS / MANHATTAN / [Roy Haynes mentioned] ‘DEED I DO / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Lee Wiley, Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /

Collins jokes and talks to fill time . . .

FIDGETY FEET / SISTER KATE (Vic, vocal) / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN / Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, George Wettling //

THAT’S A PLENTY (explosively) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SAINTS Davison, Archey, Hall, Signorelli, Foster, Wettling //

Listening to these musicians, at the peak of their expressive powers, I thought of Ruby Braff (in Boston when this concert took place) and the subject of the party, Wild Bill Davison.  Ruby was often cutting about his colleagues, except for half-a-dozen who he held sacred.  Thus, in my hearing, Wild Bill was “that moron.”  But later in life — perhaps in the wonderful conversations he had with Steve Voce, Ruby unwound enough to praise Bill: he “had drama.” 

But my point is not to praise Bill in isolation.  Every musician at this concert has their own drama — Lee Wiley wooing, Vic Dickenson telling stories, Wild Bill taking a hot-jazz-flamethrower to the curtains to see if they would catch fire.  The concert reminds me of a televised production of KING LEAR where every role was filled — gorgeously — by a star actor (Laurence Olivier, John Hurt, Michael Gambon, Leo McKern, Diana Rigg) — and they meshed wonderfully, their reverence for the play and for each other evident.

It also reminds me that there was a time, nearly seventy years ago, where both Milt Hinton and Pops Foster were available for a gig, as were Marian McPartland and Tony Spargo.  A proliferation of riches!  And even if you think, “God.  Another version of FIDGETY FEET, for goodness’ sake?” listen — you’ll be startled out of your preconceptions and hustled into joy.

May your happiness increase!

“LIVE AND LIVELY” (Part Two): BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, LOU FORESTIERI, FRANKLIN SKEETE, GEORGE HAMILTON (Detroit, August 23 and 30, 1969)

And how did you spend your Saturday evening?

In September 1969, I was entering my senior year in high school, and my parents would not have encouraged a trip to Detroit . . . but through the marvels of ancient and modern technology, I can be there now, and hope you would like to join me. (I did get to hear Bobby and Vic in New York a few years later, blessedly.)

Bobby, Vic, Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums, were concluding a two-month run (imagine that!) at the glamorous Cabaret La Boheme, twenty-five stories in the sky, atop the Hotel Ponchartrain in downtown Detroit. And their “Saturday night dancing parties” were broadcast over WJR, “the goodwill station,” and taken down off the air by the late Jim Taylor. Yesterday I posted forty-five minutes of music by this band; here’s a second serving.

SWEET LORRAINE / WHEN YOU’RE SMILING (broadcast close) / August 30, 1969: TIN ROOF BLUES / CARAVAN / ALONE (Vic) / SATIN DOLL / THE LOOK OF LOVE (rhythm section) / THAT’S A-PLENTY / IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD (a small compact gem) / JUST YOU, JUST ME / HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Noralisa / MY FUNNY VALENTINE / THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (Vic) (incomplete) // (I will share the conclusion of this broadcast shortly.)

Think of being able to turn on your radio and hear such music live, or, better yet, to get dressed up (appropriate for Saturday night) and hear it at close range.

May your happiness increase!

“LIVE AND LIVELY” (Part One): BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, LOU FORESTIERI, FRANKLIN SKEETE, GEORGE HAMILTON (Detroit, August 23, 1969)

Care to dance, or just listen?

Bobby and Vic, circa 1969-70: photographer unknown.

What follows may seem almost inconceivable to musicians and listeners in 2021, but it was possible to have a two-month gig playing lyrical jazz in a posh downtown hotel, it was possible that Saturday nights the music would be broadcast without gimmicks to a radio audience, and — even better — we could hear it now, more than fifty years later. I present forty-five minutes of the “Bobby Hackett Quartet with Vic Dickenson,” featuring Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums. And just so that you know Rod Serling is not in charge of this alternate universe, here is an advertisement in the Detroit Jewish News (July 4, 1969) to prove it:

A number of these broadcasts were recorded off-the-air by enthusiast Jim Taylor, and some of the music made its way to me — circa 1975 — through the late British trumpeter and collector Roy Bower. My forty-five year-old cassette has held up beautifully, and it would be an understatement to say that this music has also. As the genial announcer says, “It’s live and lively!” From twenty-five stories up, it’s our “Saturday Evening Dancing Party,” broadcast on radio station WJR, Saturday, August 23, 1969.

TIN ROOF BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / JA-DA / ON THE BEACH AT WAIKIKI / MORE THAN YOU KNOW (Vic) / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / announcer calls Bobby “Buddy” / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / SUNRISE, SUNSET (rhythm section only) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU (Vic) / FIDGETY FEET / SWEET LORRAINE (incomplete) //

This is the first forty-five minute segment: more is on the way. Don’t they sound wonderful?

May your happiness increase!

“IN SUNNY ROSELAND,” or THE ARTS OF MELODIC EMBELLISHMENT: BARNEY BIGARD, VIC DICKENSON, DICK SUDHALTER, ART HODES, MARTY GROSZ, PLACIDE ADAMS, PANAMA FRANCIS (Nice Jazz Festival, July 22, 1977)

The jazz I grew up listening could be pure harmonic improvisation — Coleman Hawkins was a powerful example — but many of the musicians I idolized then and still do: Louis, Jack, Teddy, Ed Hall, Buck, Bobby, and two hundred others, had such love for the melody, which they had grown up with, that they ornamented and embellished it. They put earrings or a scarf on it, a bold bow tie or a cloak, but you always knew it was there. Hearing one of these embellishers play a solo, you could hum the melody alongside (or underneath) and the two lines would gently trot down the same road — not hand-in-hand, but in the same direction and arriving at the same good place.

Some performances dazzle and amaze me; others warm and embrace me. Here’s a gently leisurely example of the latter kind.

It’s a group trotting happily through ROSE ROOM at the Grande Parade du Jazz: Barney Bigard, clarinet, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dick Sudhalter, cornet; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Panama Francis, drums.

Some small ruminations, first. ROSE ROOM — in its original 1920 form, a love song — was one of Bigard’s features for years, but it’s pleasing to hear he doesn’t revert to his set solo. Listening to his late work is always a joy for me because age had slowed him down just a touch, so his phrases were more varied, and you listened for his tone. (YouTube commenters, vinegary in their recliners, have been mean-spirited about Barney; I wonder how many of them run at the same speed they did thirty-seven years ago.)

Vic Dickenson fit in anywhere as long as the tempo wasn’t punishingly fast, or the band too loud. He didn’t like backgrounds, one of which appears in his second chorus, but he is playing something so delightful that even Bigard and Sudhalter don’t unsettle him. Somewhere I read that Barney and Buster Bailey were two of Vic’s favorite clarinetists; I wish I could remember the third, but it was a mild surprise. Unlike Barney, Vic retained much of his phrase-making fluidity to the end of his life, but his tones, and I emphasize the plural, were marvels in themselves.

Dick Sudhalter was the new boy in the group, but he plays with wonderful style and variety — not reverting to the Bix-phrases some demanded of him, but being comfortable in a kind of easy Mainstream. I’ve highlighted his photograph because — aside from Placide Adams — I think he in this group is most in danger of being forgotten, and he plays so nobly here.

The rhythm section has the diversity (or oddity?) one finds at festivals, where producers delight in assembling people who don’t play together “to see what happens”: Placide Adams, from New Orleans, might have seemed out of his element in this late-Swing context, but he had played and recorded often with Paul Barbarin, so he knew about time; Panama Francis, unlike many of the famous drummers at Nice, also knew time: his steadiness is so comforting. Marty Grosz — a wonderfully fluid rhythmic cushion, filling in all the spaces the other three might have left. Art Hodes, the patriarch, could be unsettlingly spare and percussive, but he is happy in this context in ways that suggest Basie more than anyone else, perhaps resting comfortably on Marty’s eloquent swing support. He takes his time. They all do. There is a tiny train-wreck at the start — confusion that is more on the scale of a model train set — but it repairs itself quickly, and they are off: masters of melody, in solo and ensemble. I, too, find the fidgety multi-camera approach very distracting, but it is part of the particular package — perhaps an emblem of that time and style.

I find it a very sweet performance.

And it says certain things to me about the comfort of a common language, the wisdom and joy that comes from decades of experience in a congenial community. Masters of Melody, so endearing, so durable, who know that ROSE ROOM is more than a set of chord changes:

I wish this band had recorded hours of music, and I think of the times I saw some of its members (bless Marty Grosz for hanging out with us still!) — those sounds are translucent gold in my memory and ears.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD OLD NEW YORK, PART TWO: KENNY DAVERN, DILL JONES, MIKE BURGEVIN // JACK FINE, SAM MARGOLIS at BREW’S (156 East 34th Street, July 10 and July 4, 1974)

There was sufficient enthusiasm among the attentive faithful for more from BREW’S (I posted a set of Kenny Davern, soprano saxophone; Dill Jones, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums, yesterday) so I offer some more, without too many words to explain the deep effects of this music.

First, a set taken from the July 4, 1974 tribute to Louis Armstrong (a night where Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Nancy Nelson, and others performed) with Jack Fine, trumpet; Sam Margolis, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jimmy Andrews, piano; Mike Burgevin, drums.

Even when it wasn’t a Louis tribute, it was clear where Jack’s allegiance lay — forceful and expressive — and next to him, Sam Margolis floats in his own wonderful Bud Freeman – Lester Young way. That little Louis-Condon (hence the ballad medley) evocation is followed by two trio performances from July 10:

and five more performances by the trio:

Yes, there will be more.

May your happiness increase!

“THE UNKNOWN ARV GARRISON: WIZARD OF THE SIX STRING / CLASSIC AND RARE RECORDINGS FROM THE 1940s”

This three-disc set released by Fresh Sounds is a cornucopia of pleasures, both musical and scholarly.

Arv Garrison (1922-60) was a superb guitarist, swinging and inventive, who understood how the melodic and rhythmic inventions of Django Reinhardt and others could be expanded into “the new thing” of Forties bebop. Although his recorded legacy is compact, it’s impressive and diversified. In his prime, he was respected and sought-after, as the names below prove. But for most of us he was hidden in plain sight. Now we can applaud what we approved of subliminally.

Garrison was adaptable; he fit easily into any context while remaining true to himself. He would be a wonderful question for a jazz-trivia night: “What musician played with Charlie Parker, Leo Watson, and Frankie Laine?” Although the most recent recording in this set is from 1948, his work still sounds fresh, and he doesn’t have a small assortment of favorite licks that grow overfamiliar quickly: he is, in the phrase beloved of new audience members, “making it up as he goes along.”

Here’s one version of WHERE YOU AT? — reminiscent of Frishberg before Frishberg:

The new focus on previously known recordings this set encourages is indeed enlightening: “fresh sounds” indeed. I’ve known only a dozen of the sixty-plus performances on this set, but I confess I never paid Garrison proper attention. Listening to YARDBIRD SUITE or A NIGHT IN TUNISIA, for instance, I was captivated by Bird and Miles; laughing my way through the Leo Watson session with Vic Dickenson, I knew there was an excellent guitarist, but I was waiting for Leo and Vic to return. (I’m sorry, Arv.)

But now, listening to him with new attention, I admire the easy brilliance of his soloing — his long lines that surprise, his reliable swing, and what he adds to the tonal color of the whole enterprise. Garrison knew his Django deeply, but he also had absorbed some of Charlie Christian’s loping audacity, and he easily breathed the harmonically-complex air that was 1946-48 California and New York. I also hear a creativity that runs parallel with Les Paul and Oscar Moore — who could be unaware of the early Nat Cole Trio recordings? — but he isn’t copying anyone. Garrison is comfortable in early classic Dial Records bebop; he can play a ballad with grace and emotional intelligence; he can swing out in the best Forties fashion. He’s delightful alongside Frankie Laine; he romps on his own, and he has confidence: in an AFRS broadcast where he solos alongside Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Irving Ashby, he stands out. If he was intimidated by such fast company, no one heard it.

The nimble string bassist and singer-composer Vivien Garry, who married and outlived Garrison, was more than an oddity, more than a protege. She was the leader on more than half of the performances here, and she is far more than Samuel Johnson’s lady preacher. In fact, had the world of record producing been different (if our world was also) this would have been properly a dual feature. Her recording career began earlier and ended later; she performed with Benny Carter, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and was an integral part of two “all-girl” sessions. Garrison, a rather unworldly (or other-worldly?) young man, was no self-promoter, so we have to thank Garry for making a number of these record dates and radio appearances happen. Garrison was handsome, but Garry was that rarity — an attractive young woman jazz musician — and that helped a great deal in getting gigs, especially in the world of the late Forties where jazz and “entertainment” were friends. (Listen to Art Ford, on the WNEW broadcast — one that includes Charlie Ventura, Babs Gonzales, Kai Winding, and Lionel Hampton! — fuss over Arv and Vivien’s attractiveness, and you’ll understand.)

The musical content of this set is delightfully consistent; I listened to the three discs in two sittings, which is not my usual restless habit. Connoisseurs of the rare and obscure will also find much to delight them: private recordings, AFRS and commercial radio broadcasts, live remotes from a jazz club, and commercially issued 78s on the Sarco and Exclusive labels. Even scholars deep into this time and place will find surprises, and it’s easy to celebrate these three discs as musical anthropology of a world truly in flux.

The great surprise and pleasure is the nearly eighty-page book, with color illustrations (photographs and record labels, club ads) that accompanies this set. I’ve only read portions of it, because I wanted to listen to Arv and Vivien and friends without multi-tasking . . . but the book — to call it a “booklet” would be inaccurate — begins with twenty pages of intertwined portraiture by James A. Harrod and Bob Dietsche, the latter of who met and interviewed Vivien in the mid-Eighties, and it ends with Harrod’s detailed discography of the set.

In the middle is the real prize: nearly forty pages of beautifully detailed biographical-musical analysis by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi, who has become one of my favorite jazz writers alongside Dan Morgenstern, Mark Miller, Loren Schoenberg, Dave Gelly, and Ricky Riccardi. Rossi does more than trace Garrison’s life from boyhood — staying up all hours playing along with Django in his room — to the sad end in a swimming accident before his 38th birthday. He has a fine awareness not only of guitar playing but of the art and history of jazz guitar and the contexts in which it became the jazz monolith it now is. Rossi’s writing is direct, evocative, clear, modest, and it welcomes the reader in, unlike other writers busy showing off how clever they are.

I’ve listened to the set with great pleasure, mingled with ruefulness that Garrison’s life and career ended as they did; now I plan to read Rossi’s essay with equal pleasure, and go back to the music. If that seems an expenditure of time and energy, I assure you that this set has already repaid me in excitement, discovery, and joys.

You can purchase the set at Amazon, no surprise, or directly from Fresh Sounds here, as I did (don’t let the price in euro scare you off if it’s not your native currency). Either way, it’s a lovely set.

May your happiness increase!

THREE TIMES AROUND THE FLOOR: BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, MAXINE SULLIVAN, LOU FORESTIERI, TITO RUSSO, JOE BRANCATO (January-February 1969)

Imagine that, slightly more than fifty years ago, you could take your partner out for dinner and dancing not a long walk from New York City’s Pennsylvania Station — the Riverboat, in the lower level of the Empire State Building. There, you could dance to the music of the Bobby Hackett Quartet plus Vic Dickenson, with vocals by Maxine Sullivan. A dream, no? And if you simply saw the listings of songs performed on any given night, you could utter the usual implausible requests for a time machine. But for once, the government of a major nation made art accessible, and the programs (about fifteen minutes long) were not only broadcast on CBS Radio in good sound, but were transcribed by the U.S. Treasury Department for service personnel overseas, and here, for everyone, as an inducement to buy U.S. Savings Bonds.

Bobby, listening to Vic at Childs Paramount, October 1952 (photograph by Robert Parent).
A very young Maxine Sullivan.

Dreams come true, and I can offer you just under an hour of varied, inventive, danceable music by Bobby, Vic, Maxine (I’ve noted her performances by *), Lou Forestieri, piano; Tito Russo, string bass; Joe Brancato, drums: three programs in all.

Friday, 1.17.69: TIN ROOF BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / JOANNA (Vic out) / SILVER MOON (Bobby out — a Vic original?) / HARLEM BUTTERFLY* / I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER* / SAINTS //

Friday, 1.31.69: TIN ROOF BLUES / LET’S FALL IN LOVE / EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME* / THE LADY IS A TRAMP* / I’LL TRY (Bobby out – a Vic original for sure) / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / TIN ROOF BLUES //

Friday, 2.14.69: TIN ROOF BLUES / UNDECIDED / I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU* / LOCH LOMOND* / A STRING OF PEARLS //

I don’t always celebrate birthdays, but Maxine’s was yesterday, May 13, and it’s wonderful to hear her easy, floating way with a song — a splendid match for Bobby and Vic. And I think with deep nostalgia of the days (1969 seems both near and far) when such lovely sounds could come out of the radio, as they were happening, and then be preserved for us, decades later.

And a splendid side note: I was meandering along on Facebook, as some of us do, before posting this blog, and I saw the name “Lou Forestieri,” as someone I might know. I’d never encountered Lou in person, and he and I are now a continent apart, but when I asked if he was THE Lou Forestieri who had played with Bobby — at the start of his career, when he was not yet 25 — he responded happily and said he was. Lou has gone on to a distinguished career as composer, arranger, orchestrator for television and films. JAZZ LIVES salutes him.

May your happiness increase!

ART UNDER ATTACK: RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL JAM SESSION featuring GENE KRUPA, ROY ELDRIDGE, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, BENNY CARTER, RED NORVO, BUD FREEMAN, TEDDY WILSON, JIM HALL, LARRY RIDLEY (July 3, 1972)

There is a good deal of history within and around the live performance you are about to hear. However, the sound is not ideal — which I will explain — so sonically-delicate listeners may want to come back tomorrow.

It might be difficult for younger readers to imagine the excitement that I and my jazz friends greeted the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1972. It was the Arabian Nights — a cornucopia of concerts where we could see and hear musicians who, for the most part, had been sounds coming out of a cloth-covered speaker grille or posed on the cover of a long-playing record. My friends and I, specifically Stu Zimny, bought tickets to the concerts we could afford — we were college students — and I brought my cassette recorder with the more exotic Shure microphone attached. I don’t remember the ticket prices at Radio City Music Hall, but for people of our class, it was general seating which required climbing flights of stairs. I looked it up today and the hall seats just over 6000.

I think we might have scored seats in the front of the highest mezzanine. Our neighbors were two exuberant women from Texas, younger than I am now, understandably ready for a good time. They’d brought Scotch, offered us some, which we declined, and they politely declined our offer of Cadbury chocolate. I kept silent because I had a cassette recorder in my lap; the Texas contingent gave out with appropriate exultations. The audience in general was excited and excitable, although they paid attention to the solos. (One of the women, commenting on the applause, can be heard to say, “You like something, you tell ’em about it,” and who would disagree?)

The players were a constellation of heroes: Gene Krupa, drums; Larry Ridley, string bass; Teddy WIlson, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Norvo, vibraphone; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Roy Eldridge, trumpet.

The first set offered four long songs, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID were the closing pair, with Gene, whose health was not good, playing only those two, taking over for the younger Bobby Rosengarden. (Gene would die fifteen months later.) There is some distortion; my microphone was not ready for 6000 people; the engineers seemed only partially aware of how acoustic instruments might sound in such a huge hall. The ensembles are not always clear, and the applause can drown out part of a solo, although this excitable audience is tame when compared to some recorded at JATP concerts. Even in substandard sound, the music comes through, the individual voices of the soloists, and their pleasure at being on this stage together. Our pleasure you will have to imagine, but it was substantial then, perhaps more so now.

Consider for yourself, with or without Scotch or chocolate:

The Festival concerts were reviewed regularly in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs of Don Heckman’s review, “MIDNIGHT JAM SESSION AT MUSIC HALL,” in the New York Times, July 5, 1972:


The jam session, that most venerable of institutions, is still at the very heart of the jazz experience. Rare though it may be in these days of musical eclecticism, it continues to be a kind of proving ground for musicians, in which they can test and measure themselves against their contemporaries.

The Newport Jazz Festival had the first of two scheduled Midnight Jam Sessions at Radio City Music Hall Monday at midnight. The first group of the session, a mainstream‐oriented ensemble, included Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Bobby Rosengarden, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson and Bobby Hackett. They bounced happily through a passel of swing standards, with Carter, Eldridge and Freeman sounding particularly energetic.

Then the old gladiator of the swing drums, Gene Krupa, was announced and the proceedings went rapidly down hill. Krupa dashed buoyantly on stage and proceeded to hammer away in a style that would have been more appropriate for a Blaze Starr strip show than for the backing of some of the finest jazz players in the world. Yet his reputation and his flair for showmanship sustained him, and every tasteless clang of the cymbal was met with shouts of approval from the overflow audience.

I know Mr. Heckman (born 1932) is widely-published, has a musical background, and is well-respected. Several of my readers may know him; others may find nothing extraordinary in his prose. After all, “Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, Michael?” But I am amazed at what he heard — balanced against what readers in 2021 can hear even on my murky tape — and by his positioning himself above the artists and above the audience. His three sentences read as contempt for Krupa — a hammering gladiator who would have been more appropriate playing for a stripper — and for an audience too foolish to know, as did Mr. Heckman, that they should have sat silent in disapproval.

That kind of self-aggrandizing disapproval makes good copy, but it is to me a repellent attitude towards the art one is supposed to depict and evaluate. I know that if I had been able to ask Gene his reaction, he might have sighed and said, “Chappie, these fellows do it to sell papers. I don’t take them seriously,” and he told Harriet Choice that the wild applause was because the young audience perceived him as an icon of marijuana culture — which I think says more about his deep modesty than anything else.

At this late date, I am offended by Heckman’s paragraph, for the sake of this holy art. Sneering is not art criticism.

It was and is a blessing to be in the same room with these players.

May your happiness increase!

“WHAT DID YOU BRING US?”: MICHEL BASTIDE’S PRICELESS MEMORY-GIFT: July 1974

I know Michel Bastide as the slender, bespectacled hot cornetist of the Hot Antic Jazz Band, a very earnest, gracious man and musician.  Here he is leading a small incendiary group at the 2010 Whitley Bay Jazz Party, “Doc’s Night Owls.”  The “Doc,” incidentally, is because M. Bastide’s day gig is as an ophthalmologist.  But before this week, I didn’t know that he was also an early member of my guild of jazz archivists, and my admiration for him has soared.  I stumbled across his priceless half-hour memory tour on YouTube, was immediately thrilled, and I suggest you will feel as I do.  

Monsieur and Madame Bastide went to the 1974 Grande Parade du Jazz.  It was one year before any of the proceedings were broadcast on television, so although some recordings were made, the active life of the festival was not documented.  Perhaps Doctor Bastide has a deep spiritual respect for the powers of the eye, of visual acuity and visual memory, or he simply could not bear going home without some tangible souvenirs that could be revisited and cherished once again.  He brought a color 8mm film camera, which was the technology of the times, and his wife carried a small cassette recorder that got surprisingly clear audio fidelity.

Perhaps because of the inertia and tedium that are the gift to us of Covid-19, eleven months ago M. Bastide began the difficult, careful, and no doubt time-consuming work of attempting to synchronize music and image.  The results are spectacular and touching: he is quite a cinematographer, catching glimpses of the musicians hard at work and having a wonderful time.

I’ll offer some a guided tour of this impromptu magic carpet / time machine, beginning at the Nice airport on July 14, 1974: glimpses of Claude Hopkins, Paul Barnes, Vic Dickenson, Beryl Bryden, Lucille Armstrong;

An ad hoc sidewalk session for Lucille with Michel Bastide, Moustache, Benny Waters, Tommy Sancton;

Dejan’s Brass Band in the opening parade, July 15;

Cozy Cole, Vic Dickenson (talking!) and Arvell Shaw;

Lucille Armstrong unveils a bust of Louis with Princess Grace of Monaco in attendance (how gorgeous she is!);

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Wallace Davenport, Wild Bill Davison, Bill Coleman, Jimmy McPartland, Barney Bigard, Budd Johnson, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole;

Eubie Blake talks and plays;

Moustache All-Stars with George Wein;

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with Kid Thomas Valentine, Emmanuel Paul, Louis Nelson, Alonzo Stewart, Joseph Butler, Paul Barnes, Charlie Hamilton;

World’s Greatest Jazz Band, with Yank Lawson, Bob Haggart, Bennie Morton (in shirtsleeeves!), Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland;

a glimpse of Claude  Hopkins, Buddy Tate, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis;

the Barney Bigard – Earl Hines quartet;

Buddy Tate signing an autograph;

Milt Buckner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Tiny Grimes, Jo Jones;

Cozy Cole, to the side, smoking a substantial joint, watching Jo;

George Barnes, Ruby Braff, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore;

Kid Thomas Valentine and Alonzo Stewart signing autographs; Tiny Grimes walking to the next set; Claude Hopkins; Arvell Shaw waving so sweetly at the camera;

Earl Hines solo;

World’s Greatest Jazz Band with Lawson, Haggart, Wilber, Morton, Ralph Sutton, Bud Freeman, Gus Johnson;

Benny Waters;

Vic Dickenson joining the WGJB for DOODLE DOO DOO;

Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing TIGER RAG with Barney Bigard off to the side, joining in.

Wonderful glimpses: to me, who looks happy in the band; who takes an extra chorus and surprises the next soloist; adjusting of tuning slides; spraying oil on one’s trombone.  Grace Kelly’s beauty; Arvell Shaw’s sweet grin.  Just magic, and the camera is almost always focused on something or someone gratifying:

Monsieur and Madame Bastide have given us a rare gift: a chance to be happy engaged participants in a scene that few of us could enjoy at the time.  I was amazed by it and still am, although slightly dismayed that his YouTube channel had one solitary subscriber — me.  I hope you’ll show him some love and support.  Who knows what other little reels of film might be in the Bastide treasure-chest for us to marvel at?

May your happiness increase!

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THE GROOVE, SO NICE: ERSKINE HAWKINS, JAY McSHANN, CLAUDE “FIDDLER” WILLIAMS, VIC DICKENSON, BUDDY TATE, JIM GALLOWAY, GENE RAMEY, GUS JOHNSON (July 12, 1979)

Here’s a classic jazz festival / jazz party set (or at least the second part of one): it could have been a completely disconnected group of stars doing their feature numbers, but they are unified by The Groove.

And it helps immensely that Jay McShann, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums, were having a little reunion of the original McShann rhythm section.  The band is in a Kansas City mood, even though none of them hails from that city: Erskine Hawkins, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Jim Galloway, soprano saxophone; Claude “Fiddler” Williams, violin.  (Alabama, Ohio, three from Texas, Scotland, two from Oklahoma, should you wonder.)

This video begins with Hawkins’ hit — recorded almost forty years before to the day, TUXEDO JUNCTION, then the song Vic featured with the Eddie Heywood band and also the band Ed Hall led in Boston, PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE, and a slow raunchy BLUES featuring Buddy and McShann.

Erskine didn’t record after 1971, but he had a rewarding steady gig, well-remembered by our friend Hank O’Neal in this lovely portrait of the man and the musician who got people on the floor to dance, wherever he was:

Perhaps this will send people back to hear Erskine’s Bluebird and Victor recordings — entertaining documents of a danceable swinging band.  This post, by the way, is for my friends Nick Rossi and Michael Gamble, among others, who know The Groove when it enters the room.

May your happiness increase!

 

“JAZZ CAN BE HOT OR LANGUID”: BILLIE HOLIDAY, ROY ELDRIDGE, CHARLIE SHAVERS, ED HALL, BEN WEBSTER, VIC DICKENSON, BENNIE MORTON, ART TATUM, AL CASEY, SLAM STEWART, ARTHUR TRAPPIER, JOSH WHITE (“New World A-Coming,” WNYC, June 25, 1944)

Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett at the Metropolitan Opera House, January 18, 1944

Here’s an extraordinarily fulfilling eighteen minutes, as if — in the name of humanity and enlightenment — a New York radio station was able to gather everyone of note into its studios to uplift listeners: Billie Holiday, vocal; Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers; trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Bennie Morton, trombone; Ed Hall, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Art Tatum, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Arthur Trappier, drums; Josh White, vocal and guitar.

“NEW WORLD A-COMING: THE STORY OF NEGRO MUSIC,” Broadcast on WMCA, June 25, 1944, based on the book by Roi Ottlei, narrated by Canada Lee. Theme by Duke Ellington. Introduction / I GOT A HEAD LIKE A ROCK Josh White / FINE AND MELLOW Billie / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ALL OF ME Billie / I GOT RHYTHM // Hall Johnson Choir announced but edited out of this recording.

The music is timeless; the commentary may seem less so: I was struck by “from cabin to cabaret,” and sensitized listeners might find other archaisms. But the music!

P.S. “Jazz can be hot or languid.” You knew that, of course.

P.P.S., based on fifteen minutes of online curiosity: WMCA was a rock-and-pop AM station in the Sixties, home of the “Good Guys.”  Started in 1925, it had a wide range of popular music programming, with programs aimed at an African-American audience.  In 1989, it became a Christian radio station and continues today.

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE GIRLS’ SCHOOL (December 1, 1951)

Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students.  Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951.  Then again, jazz was still the popular music.  Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers.  Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:

They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).

That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.

One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame.  Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line.  In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street.  Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981.  He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.

Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan.  He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.

“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford.  But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948.  His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.

I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble.  Where did he go after Harvard?  Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved.  (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)

That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.

I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.”  To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds.  As young as they were, they were splendidly professional.  And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)

I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology.  Was this a dance?  Did the girls get to invite their beaux?  Or was it a social event where the band played for listening?  I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all.  I wish I knew, but here’s the music.  And what music!

In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew.  When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix.  And that sound! — full and shining.  Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans.  Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song.  Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support.  And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner.  It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures.  And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings.  Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.

Can you tell I admire this band?

The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):

The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other.  Was it broadcast on the local radio station?  And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”

On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm.  I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.

Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school.  Days gone by for sure.  (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream.  I will send this post to them.)

P.S.  I invite the word-averse to skip what follows.  Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond.  Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette.  Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month.  Why?  Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes.  It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard.  That was intolerable to me.  So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.

May your happiness increase!

“SALUTE TO DUKE”: ILLINOIS JACQUET, BARNEY BIGARD, VIC DICKENSON, RUBY BRAFF, JIMMIE ROWLES, SLAM STEWART, SHELLY MANNE (Grande Parade Du Jazz, Nice, France, July 7, 1979)

It’s so Nice.

Here’s a group of musicians you would only see at a festival, playing “the music of Duke Ellington”: Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ruby Braff, cornet; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums. Take a moment to let those names sink in.

Sometimes these groups don’t coalesce: they are the musical equivalent of a soup made with the contents of the refrigerator, and even in this case the closing “Ellington composition” might seem like the lowest common denominator, but it works wonderfully — thanks to the experience of the soloists and the splendid rhythm section.  And if you look closely, you will see Vic Dickenson mutely ask to be left alone while he’s soloing — he didn’t like horn backgrounds — but he’s eloquent even when annoyed.  Any chance to see Jimmie Rowles at the piano is exquisite, and I feel the same way about watching Ruby and Vic together.

The two selections — the end of a longer set which, alas, I don’t have on video — are ALL TOO SOON (Jacquet and rhythm) / C JAM BLUES (ensemble).  They were performed at the “Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 7, 1979, and broadcast on French television.

May your happiness increase!