Tag Archives: Victor Records

MORTONIC CAPERS: ANDREW OLIVER, DAVID HORNIBLOW, and SURPRISE GUESTS MICHAEL McQUAID and NICHOLAS D. BALL

Two kinds of surprise, one subtle and one cinematic-vaudevillian-theatrical from the Complete Morton Project.  More details here.

First, DIXIE KNOWS — a composition Morton never recorded — played beautifully by Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet:

Then, a party!  The Complete Morton Project invited two friends over, increasing the band by 200%: Michael McQuaid on reeds and Nicholas D. Ball on drums and hilarity — for HYENA STOMP:

Should you be tempted to dismiss HYENA STOMP as pure goofiness, listen to Morton’s Library of Congress solo rendition:

Anyone who thinks of Morton as a limited improviser who didn’t swing should be given a fifteen-minute immersion in that performance, which I marvel at.

But HYENA STOMP (in the 1927 Victor version) is elusive in one detail.  I tried to find out about Lew LeMar, who says, “That’s terrible, Jelly!” and then does the laughing — choose your own adjective.  I know there is a tradition of laughter being recorded as part of an act (consider the OKeh LAUGHING RECORD and later, LAUGHIN’ LOUIE) but I can find no information on the exuberant Mr. LeMar.  Even William Russell’s seven-hundred page Morton scrapbook has no entry for him in the index.

And thus I am free to imagine.  Did Jelly and Lew know each other from vaudeville?  Had they met at a theatre or bar, with Jelly saying, “I’ve got a record date in three days and I want you on it?”  Or was LeMar appearing on another Victor recording at the same time?  Was he the recording supervisor’s idea?  Was HYENA STOMP — very close to one strain of KING PORTER — created for LeMar?  What was union scale for vocal effects?  This unsolved mystery pleases me.  But it makes me smile, which is a good thing in itself.  Let us hope that we always have reasons to laugh.

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS’ VICTORIAN ERA

No, not the steely Queen or Julia Cameron’s photographs.  This man.

LOUIS and ALPHA and dog

Some people celebrated yesterday (August 4) as Louis Armstrong’s “real” birthday.  I disagree, but choose to stay away from such disputes.  To me, every day we can think about or hear or see Louis is a collective cosmic birthday.

People who are drawn to Louis — magnetically, but his spiritual warmth — often gravitate to particular periods: the Hot Fives and Sevens, the later period — whether you define that as JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, or WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.  Thanks to Gosta Hagglof, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, and Mosaic Records, we’ve had the opportunity to rediscover the Decca classics of the Thirties and the All-Star gems.

But there’s a particularly rewarding period of Louis’ recordings that has been almost overlooked — the Victors of 1932-33.  Those who live to find fault have found plenty with the backing band — although they are at worst uneven, with beautiful solo episodes from Keg Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Budd Johnson, and the earliest recorded evidence of Louis and Sidney Catlett working together in deep harmony.  If one drops one’s prejudices, the material is also excellent — songs by Fats Waller, Tony Jackson, and the immortal Harry Woods.

And Louis is in spectacular form, playing the melody with all his heart, singing earnestly (and often with delightful floating levity), and improvising so very memorably.  Listen to what he does on the middle-eight / bridges / channels, as if he had decided earthly boundaries didn’t matter, and he could just lie back in the upper atmosphere no matter how fast the band was playing.  Some contemporary brass players — I think of Rex Stewart — took it as a stylistic point of honor to play more notes per bar as the tempo increased; Louis lazed over the pounding rhythms, as if he were a giant cat awaking from a splendid nap.

Spousal commitment of the highest order:

Friends don’t pass you by:

Revenge, served hot yet sweet:

May your happiness increase!

“REJECTED TAKES,” DECEMBER 17, 1937

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Most jazz aficionados, if asked what pianist / bandleader Teddy Wilson was doing in the recording studio in 1937, would reply that he was a member of the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet — recording for Victor — and creating brilliant small-group sessions with Billie Holiday for Brunswick.  Some might check the discography and report that Teddy had also recorded, under John Hammond’s direction, with singers Helen Ward, Boots Castle, and Frances Hunt.

But few people know about one session, recorded on December 17, 1937, with an unusually rewarding personnel: Teddy; Hot Lips Page; Chu Berry; Pee Wee Russell; possibly Al Hall; Allan Reuss; Johnny Blowers.  The singer is the little-known Sally Gooding.  (All of this material has been released on Mosaic Records’ Chu Berry box set, and two sides appeared on a Columbia/Sony compilation devoted to Lips Page, JUMP FOR JOY, with nice notes by Dan Morgenstern.  My source is the French Masters of Jazz label, two Wilson CDs in their wonderful yet out-of-print series.)

Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Hot Lips Page (trumpet); Pee Wee Russell (clarinet); Chu Berry (tenor sax); Teddy Wilson (piano); Allen Reuss (guitar); possibly Al Hall (string bass); Johnny Blowers (drums); Sally Gooding (vocal on the first three sides only)
New York, December 17, 1937
B22192-2 MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU
B22193-1 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22193-2 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22194-2 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING
B22195-2 I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME

All of the instrumentalists on this session are well-known.  One can imagine Hammond selecting Chu from the Calloway band, Pee Wee and Blowers from Nick’s, Reuss from Goodman.  Lips and Al Hall were presumably free-lancing, although Lips may have been on the way to his own big band.

Sally Gooding is now obscure, although she was famous for a few years, making records with the Three Peppers and appearing at the 1939 World’s Fair. Here, thanks to www.vocalgroupharmony.com, you can see and hear more of Sally.  And this 1933 Vitaphone short allows us to see her with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band:

with-a-smile-and-a-song

WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) comes from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which had not even been released in theatres when this session was made:

with a smile and a song two

The singer whose voice you hear is Adriana Caselotti.  Nearly sixty years later, our own Rebecca Kilgore recorded the finest version of this song for an Arbors Records session led by Dan Barrett:

MOON SONG Becky Barrett

The obvious question for some readers is “Where’s Billie?” Although Miss Holiday recorded several sessions with Wilson in 1937, I presume she was on the road with Count Basie — which also explains the absence of Lester, Buck, Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Hammond and Billie didn’t always get along, and he was trying out other singers when he could.  Someone else has hypothesized that Billie would have been opposed to recording a song associated with SNOW WHITE, but this seems less plausible.  When she and Wilson reunited in the recording studio in 1938, they did IMPRESSION, SMILING, and BELIEVE, which may add credence to the theory.

Here are “the rejected takes” — each one mislabeled on YouTube:

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU (from another 1937 film, HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME, also known as HAVING WONDERFUL TIME, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ginger Rogers — and Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Red Skelton, early on):

This version — for those who know Billie’s — is taken at a jaunty tempo, which makes the melodic contours seem to bounce.

All I can say is that both Chu and Lips Page leap in — not at high volume or extremely quickly — with swing and conviction.  (I love Lips’ flourish at the end of the bridge.)  Sally Gooding’s singing is not easy to love for those who know Billie’s version by heart, but she is — in a tart Jerry Kruger mode — doing well, with quiet distractions from Pee Wee and the bassist.  Wilson is energized and surprising, as is Pee Wee, and there is a moment of uncertainty when one might imagine Chu and Lips wondering whether they should join in, as they do, yet the record ends with a solid ensemble and a tag.

The first take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG:

I love Chu’s introduction, and Teddy sounds typically luminous as the horns — almost inaudibly — hum harmonies behind him.  (When was the last time you heard a front line play so beautifully behind a piano solo?)  Then, Pee Wee at his most identifiable, lyrically sticking close to the bridge but with two of his familiar turns of phrase leading into a Lips Page interlude — sweetly restrained, as if modeling himself after Buck Clayton.  Sally Gooding, who may have seen the sheet music for the first time only a few minutes ago, sounds slightly off-pitch and seems to sing, “With a life and a song,” rather than the title.  But she gains confidence as she continues, and her bridge is positively impassioned (although her reading of the song is less optimistic than the lyrics).  No one should have to sing in front of a very on-form Pee Wee, whose obbligati are delightfully distracting.  When the band comes back for the closing sixteen bars, they are in third gear, ready to make the most of the seconds allotted them, although it is far from a triumphant ride-out (think of the closing seconds of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO, in contrast). The rhythm section is quite restrained, but the bassist, Al Hall or not, adds a great deal.

The second take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG has, alas, eluded me on YouTube (thus I cannot post it here).  It is similar in its outline to the first take, although everyone seems more comfortable with the song.  I wonder if Gooding had had real trouble avoiding her singing “life” on the first take, so each time she sings — correctly — “smile” on this version, there is the slightest hesitation, as if she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t make the mistake again.  You’ll have to imagine it.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

The conception of how one could play this simple tune had changed since Louis’ majestic 1929 performance, and with four star soloists wanting to have some space within a 78 rpm record, the tempo is much quicker and the band much looser (hear Lips growl early on).  The ambiance is of a well-behaved Commodore session or three minutes on Fifty-Second Street, the three horns tumbling good-naturedly over one another.  In fact, the first chorus of this record — lasting forty-five seconds — would stand quite happily as the heated rideout chorus of another performance.   Behind Wilson, the rhythm section is enthusiastically supporting him, Blowers’ brushes and Hall’s bass fervent. When Chu enters, rolling along, he has a simple riff from the other two horns as enthusiastic assent and congregational agreement; his full chorus balances a behind-the-beat relaxation characteristic of Thirties Louis as well as his characteristic bubbling phrases.  Behind Pee Wee, the guitar is happily more prominent (did someone think of the lovely support Eddie Condon gave?) and Lips’ phrases at the end are — without overstatement — priceless.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Like SMILING, this 1930 song was already a classic. Wilson is sublimely confident, chiming and ascending, followed by a tender, perhaps tentative Lips (had Hammond asked him to play softly to emulate Buck?): the eight bar interludes by Chu and Lips that follow are small masterpieces of ornamented melody.  Wilson’s half-chorus has the rhythm section fully audible and propulsive beneath him.  Pee Wee, who had been inaudible to this point, emerges as sage, storyteller, and character actor, transforming the expected contours of the bridge into his own song, with hints of the opening phrase of GOOFUS, then Wilson returns.  (What a pity Milt Gabler didn’t record those two with bass and drums for Commodore.) Chu glides on, his rhythmic motion irresistible, then the guitarist (audibly and plausibly Reuss) takes a densely beautiful bridge before the too-short — twelve seconds? — rideout, where Blowers can be heard, guiding everyone home.

“Rejected” might mean a number of things when applied to these records.  Did Sally Gooding’s vocal error at the start of SONG convince Hammond or someone at  Brunswick (Bernie Hanighen?) that the session was not a success? Was Hammond so entranced by the combination of Billie and the Basie-ites that these records sounded drab by comparison?  Were there technical problems? I can’t say, and the participants have been gone for decades.  The single copies of these recordings are all that remain.  I am thankful they exist.  This band and this singer are musical blessings, music to be cherished, not discarded.

May your happiness increase!

RIMSHOTS, CYMBALS, STOMP and SWING: MISTER GEORGE STAFFORD

My friend and mentor Andrew and I have been having a conversation in cyberspace about the delicious unerring playing of drummer George Stafford. Stafford drove the Charlie Johnson orchestra, but he appeared on precious few recordings.  Here’s a particularly brilliant one — led by the Blessed Eddie Condon — as “Eddie’s Hot Shots.”  They were, and they are: Leonard “Ham” Davis, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, C-melody saxophone; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Eddie, banjo; Joe Sullivan, piano; Stafford, drums.

This is the first take of I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE — part incitement to Dionysiac ecstasies, part ominous warning:

Please listen to Stafford!  His rimshots behind the first ensemble chorus, lifting everything up — emphatic YESes all through; choke cymbal behind the earnest saxophone; pistol-shot rimshots all behind Teagarden’s singing; divine rattling and cackling on the wooden rims alongside Sullivan’s piano — excited commentaries; cymbal crashes and rolls into the final ensemble chorus, and a closing cymbal crash.

I am away from my books as I write this, so I cannot be sure, but I think Stafford died young — 1935? — which is a great sadness, although what he had to say to us was plenty.  Priceless, I think.

As much as I revere Catlett, Jo, and Gene, I would make space in my own Directory of Percussive Saints for George Stafford.  He goes right alongside Walter Johnson, Eddie Dougherty, O’Neil Spencer, and two dozen more.  They made the earth move in the most graceful and exultant ways.  Bless them.

P.S.  I’M GONNA STOMP has four composers — Jack and Eddie, Eddie’s friend George Rubens, and the magically invisible pianist Peck Kelley.  There’s a novel in itself . . .

May your happiness increase. 

THE SWING SESSION’S CALLED TO ORDER: HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, DAN LEVINSON, SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, REBECCA KILGORE at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2011)

I was tempted to call this post COUNT BASIE MEETS MARILYN MONROE, but thought better of it and opted for the title of a 1937 Victor 78 with Mezz Mezzrow, Sy Oliver, J.C. Higginbotham, and others — for this delightful late-night saxophone / vocal gala. 

Sessions featuring a proliferation of one kind of instrument (you know, four trumpets and a rhythm section) sometimes rely on drama for their motivating force: will A outplay B?  But these musicians are united my love and admiration rather than competition, so they left the cutting contest out on the Hotel Athenaeum lawn.  Basie, not JATP. 

And what musicians!  On the reeds, we have Scott Robinson, Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Harry Allen; with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, bass; Pete Siers, drums — with a lovely cameo appearance by Becky Kilgore, singing two songs associated with Marilyn Monroe — while remaining our Becky. 

Theu began this session with a BASIE BLUES — a time-tested stress reliever and my secret recipe for world peace:

In the same lovely mindset, TICKLE-TOE —  Lester Young’s tribute to a marvelous dancer . . . in music that keeps dancing in our heads:

For Hawkins, but also for Lester (think 1942) and Sonny Rollins, a series of improvisations on BODY AND SOUL:

Something sweet from Miss Kilgore — evoking Marilyn Monroe but not copying any of her vocal mannerisms on a song few people know, INCURABLY ROMANTIC:

And something witty and silly, A LITTLE GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK:

To close, a saxophone opus (think of Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Lockjaw Davis, Gene Ammons, and Sonny Stitt), BLUES UP AND DOWN:

What a marvelous session — not exactly DANCING WITH THE STARS . . . more like ROCKING WITH THE MASTERS.

TRULY WONDERFUL: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (May 7, 2011)

The post’s title isn’t hyperbole.  A friend sent me a few YouTube videos of this new band — holding forth on May 7, 2011, at the Bellingham Jazz Club (in Washington State).

I got through about fifteen seconds of the first clip before becoming so elated that I stopped the clip to make a few phone calls . . . their import being “You HAVE to see this band!  You won’t believe how wonderful they are!”

For a change, let’s begin with the rhythm section.  You can barely see Candace Brown, but you can hear her firm, flexible pulse — she’s playing a Thirties National steel guitar.  On her left is her husband Dave on string bass — strong yet fluid.  Closer to the camera is that monument of unaging swing, Ray Skjelbred on piano — the hero of the steady, varied left-hand and the splashing, striding right hand.  (His right hand knows what his left is doing: no worries!)  The front line is a mere duo but with multiple personalities — great for Jimmie Noone / Doc Poston ecstasies — of two gifted multi-instrumentalists.  On the left is Steve Wright — cornet, clarinet, soprano sax, vocal; to his right is Paul Woltz, bass, alto, soprano, tenor sax, and vocal.  Their repertoire moves from New Orleans / ancient pop classics to Bix and Tram to Condonite romps with a special emphasis on Noone’s Apex Club.

You’ll hear for yourself.  I began with MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (homage to Bing and to Cutty Cutshall, who called this tune MAHONEY’S . . . . ):

Pee Wee Russell had a girlfriend named Lola (this would have been in the late Twenties and onwards, before Mary came along); legend has it that Lola was violently jealous and when she got angry at Pee Wee, she’d take a big scissors and cut his clothes to bits.  The Mound City Blue Blowers (with Coleman Hawkins and Glenn Miller) recorded a wonderful song and called it HELLO LOLA — were they glad to see her or merely placating her, hoping she hadn’t brought her scissors along?  We’ll never know, but this version of HELLO, LOLA (with comma) has no sharp edges — at least none that would do anyone harm:

The young man from Davenport — forever young in our imaginations — is loved so intensely that the RCBB offer two evocations of his music.  Young Bix Beiderbecke is on everyone’s mind for a romping IDOLIZING (memories of those Goldkette Victors):

And we think of Bix at the end of his particular road — with I’LL BE A FRIEND (WITH PLEASURE):

Now do you understand why I find these performances so enlivening?  This band has tempo and swing, heart and soul, rhythm in its nursery rhymes!  Seriously — what lovely rocking ocean-motion, heartfelt soloing and ensemble playing.  This band knows and plays the verse and the tempos chosen are just right.  And that beat!

I want Ralph Peer or Tommy Rockwell to hear the RCBB and I want them to be under contract to Victor or OKeh right this minute!  I would invite John Hammond to hear them, but John tends to meddle so – – – he’d want to replace half the band with people he liked better.  And I can’t think of people I would prefer . . .

How about two more selections?

This one’s for Mister Strong — his composition, you know! It’s MUSKRAT RAMBLE at the nice Hot Five tempo:

And just for fun (and because Red McKenzie sang it so wonderfully), the DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — with the verse:

By day and by profession, I am an academic — which explains the didactic streak in my character — but this is a suggestion aiming my readers towards happiness rather than a graded assignment.  You might want to consider visiting Steve Wright’s YouTube channel — “” and indulging yourself in the other performances by this band.  How about SWEET SUE, EVERY EVENING, KING JOE, ONE HOUR, STACK O’LEE, CHANGES MADE, GEORGIA CABIN, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, and I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY.

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright told me this about the band’s instant creation, gestation-while-you-wait:

“We pulled this together in a hurry.  Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Band was originally booked, but Chris got a call for some work in Europe and gave the gig to Dave and Candace (who play with him in Silver Leaf).  I play occasionally with the three of them in Candace’s Combo De Luxe, so I was looped in, and then we decided to pull in a second horn player (Paul) and Ray on piano.  I pulled together some leadsheets and two-reed arrangements from previous bands, and off we went.  Even the name was a rush job: I got a call from the Bellingham folks needing a band name for their publicity, and an hour to figure something out. Since I was already planning to use some Red McKenzie material from the First Thursday book (Hello Lola, for example), I thought of taking off from the Mound City Blue Blowers.”

Now . . . suppose the names of these players are new to you?  Ray Skjelbred has his own website — go there and feel good!

http://www.rayskjelbred.com/

— but Wright, Woltz, and the Browns might be less familiar to you.  Don’t fret.  Here are some facts for the factually-minded.

DAVE BROWN began his musical career decades ago, on banjo and guitar, later expanding his impressive talents to string bass.  He lays down solid rhythm with an energetic style influenced by Steve Brown and Pops Foster. Dave’s credits include membership in the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, Stumptown, Louisiana Joymakers, Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Combo de Luxe, Glenn Crytzer’s Syncopators, Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, Gerry Green’s Crescent City Shakers and others.  Many West Coast bands call Brown for gigs, including Simon Stribling’s New Orleans Ale Stars, Red Beans and Rice, Vancouver Classic, Solomon Douglas Sextet, and Jonathan Stout’s Campus Five.  Over the years he has appeared at national and international jazz festivals and has been privileged to play alongside jazz greats “Doc” Cheatham, Spiegle Willcox, Jim Goodwin, and others.

STEVE WRIGHT has been a sparkplug of many fine bands, including the Paramount Jazz of Boston, the Happy Feet Dance Orchestra, the Stomp Off “studio” band (The Back Bay Ramblers).  He’s even substituted a few times with the Black Eagles on clarinet.  After moving to Seattle in 1995, he  joined the Evergreen Jazz Band as a second reed player and then moved to mostly playing cornet as personnel changed.  In the last few years, he’s played a great deal with Candace’s and Ray’s bands, as well as with a local Lu Watters-style two-cornet band, Hume Street Jazz Band.

CANDACE BROWN is one-half of the Jazzstrings duo with husband Dave, Combo de Luxe, Louisiana Joymakers, and she has subbed in many other bands (including Simon Stribling’s Ale Stars and Mighty Aphrodite) as well as playing in the pit orchestra for musical theater. Candace has been heard at a number of festivals including the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, on an Alaskan jazz cruise, at several jazz society concerts, and in July of 2007 she was a member of the pit orchestra for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”  Candace is also a splendid writer — if you haven’t read her inspiring blog, GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST, you’re missing out on deep pleasure:  http://goodlifenw.blogspot.com/

PAUL WOLTZ began playing music in his youth, in California.  He performed frequently at Disneyland for a decade, worked as a studio musician in Hollywood, and was a member of the Golden Eagle Jazz Band.  In the Seattle/Everett area, he is a member of the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band (with whom he has performed at countless jazz festivals and on jazz cruises) is principal bassoonist in the Cascade Symphony, occasionally performs with the 5th Ave Theater, and is called as a sub in numerous bands in the Puget Sound area and beyond — all over the United States and abroad.

TRULY WONDERFUL!

THE ELLINGTON MOSAIC, 2011

This post is a being written on the Duke’s 112nd birthday, but in my mind every day we can hear his music is a kind of birthday.  

I confess I am not an Official Ellington Idolator: you won’t catch me, here or elsewhere, referring to him as “the Maestro.”  But for me, his music accomplishes so many things that no one else’s did.  It exists at the intersection of Sound and Stomp, or beautiful tone-paintings and gutbucket rhythms.

Oh, I hear you saying — all jazz does that in some way. 

True, but Ellington knew how to balance both of those qualities so that neither obliterated the other.  And in his world the relentless plunging rhythms (think of Sonny Greer’s drums, Ellington’s smashing chords on the piano) enhanced the cloudlike auras of sound he loved — that saxophone section.  Debussy meets Sidney Catlett, both of them happy uptown.  And oone of the delights of his Thirties recordings is to hear him experimenting with the textures and timbres of “sweet music” mingled with distinctly vernacular sounds and rhythms. 

The apex of Ellington’s art — depending on which ideologist you choose — is commonly held to be the Victor period, specifically those two years when Ben Webster and Jimmie Blanton were illuminating the band — in the recording studio, at a dance date in Fargo, North Dakota, and more.  I think the music captured during that period is irreplaceable and unimprovable: MAIN STEM, the airshots, the pure sound and pulse of that band.  Across town, Basie and Lester and Buck, Walter, Herschel, and Jo, were accomplishing something of equal beauty and force, but Ellington’s Victors are something else!*

But the critical emphasis on those recordings has tended to flatten out the music that preceded that glorious period.  Until now, with the Mosaic set of the recordings for Brunswick, Master, and Columbia from 1932 to 1940, which I am listening to in astonishment and joy as I write these words.

A digression about Mosaic sets.  Some find them expensive, others are intimidated, and others say, “Gee, I have much of this music elsewhere.”  All these statements are valid reactions.  I felt differently about some of the sets that were objects I KNEW I had to have — the Buck Clayton Jam Session box, for instance, many years ago.

And I, like many collectors, thought all of the above — plus, “The sound on those cramped, stuffy Ellington Brunswicks was so irritating.”  This set transcends the limitations of the original 78s and the sound is bright (but never harsh) throughout; there is wonderful unfussy scholarship from Steven Lasker, and marvelous photographs.  There might be, perhaps, an Ellington collector who had managed to amass all of the 78s (including the alternate takes on Japanese Lucky), the Up-to-Date, Raretone, Blu-Disc, FDC microgroove issues . . . but who among us has been invited into George Avakian’s basement to hear and copy his previously unheard test pressings?

But the point of any Mosaic set is not, I submit, the six or seven new tracks.  It is the wonderful totality — all neatly bound up with a figurative bow, rather like having the best scholarly edition of Shakespeare you can find, or the complete DVD set of the Astaire-Rogers films. 

I used to hear a radio commercial for some very expensive watch, where the oleaginous announcer would intone, “You don’t buy a [insert name here] for yourself, you merely keep it for the next generation.”  It irritated me no end, because I am perfectly happy with drugstore timepieces, but in the case of the Mosaic boxes I understand the principle perfectly.  I hope to live long enough to have heard all the music in this set forty or fifty times, to have indulged myself in the sound of the reeds on DROP ME OFF AT HARLEM, the sound of Tricky Sam Nanton on IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, the slow-motion TIGER RAG that is SLIPPERY HORN, every note that Ivie Anderson sang, the bright splash of Sonny Greer’s cymbals . . . too many delights to enumerate! 

Here’s the link.  And the set is limited to an edition of 5000 copies; mine is number 3099 . . . does that suggest something about TEMPUS FUGIT?  Or, “What are you waiting for, Mary?”

*For the people whose musical world is bounded by Blanton and Ben — the final session on this elaborate banquet of a box set has them both, along with Ivie, singing a meltingly sad SOLITUDE . . .

“CHLOE (Song of the Swamp)”: THEME AND VARIATIONS

Written in 1927 by Gus Kahn and “Neil Moret,” the pseudonym of Charles N. Daniels, this song is both lovely and durable.  The sheet music says it is to be played or sung “in a tragic manner,” but liberties are always allowed here.  

Duke Ellington: thanks to Tricky Sam Nanton, Barney Bigard, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Juan Tizol, Wallce Jones, Ben Webster — that astonishing Victor Orchestra of 1940:

The Blessed Henry “Red” Allen, 1936:

The magnificient Louis Armstrong with Gordon Jenkins, circa 1952 (don’t let the swooshing strings and crooning voices put you off):

And Miss Chloe Lang (photographed by Lorna Sass).

The inevitable postscript is this recording of CHLOE, one I also knew in my childhood — cheerfully undermined by Spike Jones and his City Slickers:

Ancient vaudeville, with pokes at Ted Lewis, of all people, but still memorable fun.

Everybody sing!

Chloe! Chloe!

Someone’s calling, no reply
Nightshade’s falling, hear him sigh

Chloe! Chloe!

Empty spaces in his eyes
Empty arms outstretched, he’s crying

Through the black of night
I’ve got to go where you are
If it’s dark or bright
I’ve got to go where you are

I’ll go through the dismal swampland
Searching for you
For if you are lost there
Let me be there, too

Through the smoke and flame
I’ve got to go where you are
For no place can be too far
Where you are

Ain’ no chains can bind you
If you live, I’ll find you
Love is calling me
I’ve got to go where you are.

LOVE IS CALLING US: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

FEELING BIXISH?

By the time everyone gets to read this post the eBay article below will have been sold.  Still, I think it’s worth noticing.  When I was first visiting New York City on my own — intermittently and as part of a high-school independent study group, I found a shop still selling 78 rpm records in midtown.  Was it the Merit Music Shop?  It isn’t clear in my memory, and I thought the owner might have been a Mr. Meltzer.  Details gratefully appreciated from any New Yorkers! 

Mr. Meltzer wasn’t all that welcoming, although he wasn’t any worse than superficially gruff.  I bought a number of Commodore 78s for three dollars apiece, and a Disc three-record Pee Wee Russell set that I wish I had today (although I have the music on CD).  But I had read, somewhere, of the fabled Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Set on Victor — circa 1936 — and I asked him about it on my first visit to the shop.  “That?” he said derisively.  “That was gone thirty years ago!” and thus the conversation came to an abrupt halt and I went into the shelves to look for marvels (which were to be found).

Thus, while idling through eBay this evening, it was a remarkable shock to come across this same set — advertised as never played (why? under what circumstances?).

Feast your eyes.  All the music is no doubt available in a hundred issues, but this is rather touching — with the names of the SWING players there for the unaware buyer.

I love the Deco typeface!

When 78 record “albums” came with separate explanatory brochures.

Heartfelt — even if inaccurate — no doubt.

The seller wants (or wanted) $45.00, which seems far less extreme than other prices.  I will forego the pleasure of buying something as an adult that was beyond my reach in childhood, but I find the sight of this album moving.  I am happy to have seen it, even now.

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY COLLECTED ON THIS SITE GOES TO THE MUSICIANS WE LOVE!

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww 

“UNIDENTIFIED NEGRO JAZZ MUSICIANS” on eBay

Call me oversensitive if you will, but I found the title above more than a bit puzzling and demeaning when it was attached to a number of photographs on sale on eBay.  Hasn’t “Negro” been replaced by more accurate, less weighted language?  And to call the musicians below “unidentified” seems a failure of basic research skills. 

If Benny Carter is an “unidentified Negro,” we need to embark on a more effective national program of cultural education.   

Without further lecturing, the photographs (all of them sold to the highest bidders by now):

Benny Carter and his Orchestra, 1939 — including Jimmy Archey, Bobby Woodlen, Vic Dickenson, Chick Morrison, Lincoln Mills, Tyree Glenn, and Joe Thomas (from left to right).  It’s a rather unorthodox arrangement of this stellar brass section, for photographic purposes only.

I’ve never seen a photograph of this man looking downcast or mournful: that’s Zutty Singleton!

Two extraordinary percussionists for the price of one: on top, grinning even more broadly, Sonny Greer at his personalized Leedy set; below him, Cozy Cole, having a wonderful time as well.

In fairness, I must write that this handsome trumpet player is, for the moment, “unidentified” to me — he looks terribly familiar but his name is elusive.  Can anyone help?  (Although I must point out that John C. Brown or someone else had identified the subject on the reverse of the one photograph from this collection I bought . . . )

As a postscript: Steve Provizer thinks it’s Jonah Jones.  Mike Burgevin, who enjoyed a long friendship / playing partnership with Joe Thomas, thinks it’s Joe. 

The photographs above are famous — the Blessed Herschel Evans (possibly by Timme Rosenkrantz) and Irving “Mouse” Randolph.  I wonder how Irving got that nickname: he hardly resembles any rodent I ever saw, on the floor or in cartoons.  The Randolph portrait, by the way, was reproduced in one of the mid-Seventies Billie Holiday box sets on Columbia, which is where I saw it first.

His Honor, The Judge, Milton John Hinton (in the Seventies, I believe).

Mugging for the camera — by himself, without the Tympany Five — Louis Jordan.

Sonny Greer, resplendent at work (with the backs of the Ellington brass section to his right) during that band’s Victor Records contract — little Nipper’s on the bass drum head.

The two musicians at bottom are identified (although not by the seller); at top, I think the pianist is Patti Bown, the trumpeter Charlie Shavers, and I couldn’t mistake Milt Hinton and Jo Jones.

I won’t even guess at the trio on the right, but the handsome fellow on the left is intriguing.  If I can’t find out who he is, at least I’d like that suit jacket for myself, if it would fit.

The fellow in the center should be recognizable — but who could miss Lionel Hampton and Jimmy Crawford (the latter under his own stylized palm tree)?

Equal time for unidentified Caucasians!  The drummer at top left obviously loves his Rogers set, but might need a motorized throne to cover it all.  Behind the swinging woodpecker, none other than Ray Bauduc.  And at bottom — characteristically thin and somber — Dave Tough. 

Anonymous no more, I hope.

P.S.  And since I’d like to end this post in celebration rather than rancor, here’s a lovely (and fully identified) portrait of the saxophonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader Edgar Sampson, sharp in his band jacket and ready for action in front of the Savoy Ballroom, or at least the Savoy Billiards.  Everything suggests this was taken in the mid-Thirties, and it has the general affect of a Timme Rosenkrantz shot, but I can’t prove it: the clothing of the passers-by suggests mild weather, but only students of historical fashion could tell us more. 

MORE FROM ANDY SCHUMM at WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

We were very fortunate that Andy Schumm had three concert-length appearances at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, each with his Bixologists.  On the final day of the festival, the Bixologists were Norman Field, reeds; Paul Munnery, trombone; Keith Nichols, piano and vocals; Spats Langham, guitar, banjo, vocals; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone, with guest appearances by Michael McQuaid, clarinet, and Nick Ward, drums (the latter in the second part of this posting). 

Here are ten marvelous performances from that session!

Howdy Quicksell’s SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN is unusually sprightly for its rather sad theme.  Two conventions are also at work here: the witty imitation of a wind-up phonograph at the start, sliding into pitch on the first note, and the slow-drag break at the end.  (They are as solidly accepted pieces of performance practice as the whole-tone break in SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, something that Dan Barrett and Jon-Erik Kellso do perfectly when the stars are right.):

SUGAR isn’t the more famous Maceo Pinkard song, beloved of Ethel Waters and Louis Armstrong, but a bouncy concoction on its own, here sung most convincingly by Mr. Langham:

RHYTHM KING (listen to that Rhythm King, I tell you!) falls to Keith Nichols, so ably:

Bix and his friends didn’t exist in a vacuum, though: while they were in the OKeh studios, so were Louis and Bessie Smith and Clarence Williams. Andy invited our friend Michael McQuaid up to the stand to whip up a ferocious version of Clarence Williams’ CUSHION FOOT STOMP, which suggests a healing visit to the podiatrist or something else whose meaning eludes me:

Letting Michael off the stand after only one number would have been a bad idea, so he and Norman embarked on a two-clarinet version of the ODJB (and Beiderbecke) CLARINET MARMALADE, which paid homage not only to Johnny Dodds and Boyd Senter but to Olympic gymnasts as well:

Who was CLORINDA?  Only the Chicago Loopers knew for sure:

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band affected everyone who had even fleeting thoughts of playing jazz at the beginning of the last century: here’s their ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JAZZ BAND ONE-STEP, which has no relation whatsoever to CUSHION FOOT STOMP:

Andy Secrest would be jazz’s most forgotten man if it weren’t for the affectionate recall of people like Andy Schumm and Dick Sudhalter, who brought him out of the shadows (he was rather like the understudy forced to step into an unfillable role).  WHAT A DAY! is in his honor:

I’M GOING TO  MEET MY SWEETIE NOW — always a delightful thought — brings us back to the days of those all-too-few romping recordings the Jean Goldkette Orchestra made for Victor Records:

And (finally, for this posting) another version of BALTIMORE — the new dance craze — a rhythm that’s hot, as Keith Nichols knows so well:

More to come (on the other side, of course)!

DOC’S NIGHT OWLS at WHITLEY BAY (July 10, 2010)

What’s up, Doc?

If the Doc in question is ophthalmologist Michel Bastide, the answer is going to be idiomatic hot jazz.  Michel is a licensed medical practitioner by day, a searing cornetist / trombonist / singer / bandleader of the Hot Antic Jazz Band by night (or when he’s not in the office). 

At the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, I had another delightful opportunity to hear Michel in a perfectly balanced hot group — four virtuosi with but a single thought — which festival organizer Mike Durham called DOC’S NIGHT OWLS because they began their hour-long session at 11 PM.  (For jazz musicians, of course, that time is rather like brunch, but no matter.) 

The other OWLS were Matthias Seuffert on clarinet and tenor sax; Jacob Ullberger on banjo; Christian LeFevre on brass bass.  Martin Seck, the pianist with the Hot Antics (and last year with Les Red Hot Reedwarmers) joined in on washboard for the final number as prelude to the jam session that followed.

They began their session with a tune associated with Johnny and Baby Dodds, PIGGLY WIGGLY.  Until I hear evidence to the contrary, I will assume that it celebrates the famous Chicago supermarket (was it the first one in the United States?) now famous for its design and floor plan which compelled people entering to walk past every item in the store before they found the way out, something that I assume guaranteed many more purchases:

MESSIN’ AROUND followed — a hot tune recorded by Freddie Keppard:

I CAN’T SAY, another Dodds-related opus, must have been named in one of those classic recording-studio moments:

Michel showed himself a fine, amused singer on a very hot I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (the band knew chapter and verse!); this song reminds me of the brief Victor recording career of trumpeter Bubber Miley and his Mileage Makers, an idea of recording executive L.R. “Loren” Watson, who was cultivating Miley as hot player supreme, perhaps another version of Louis.  I don’t always find myself able to take notes while video-recording, but I wrote down in my notebook “Matthias on fire.”  See if you don’t agree:

A gutty E FLAT BLUES (what session is complete without one?) was very gratifying:

WA WA WA, presumably celebrating the sound of Joe Oliver’s plunger mute, is not the usual official jazz chestnut:

SISTER KATE (or her cousin) followed:

And the session concluded with RED HOT HOTTENTOT, possibly politically incorrect but no less rewarding:

The Doctor is in — as are these fine consulting specialists.  (Thanks to the erudite Michael McQuaid for some correct song titles.)

LISTENING TO LOUIS?

I’ve just read David Rickert’s assessment of “The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946)” issued by Mosaic Records in 2009, an essay published in ALL ABOUT JAZZ.  Rickert’s on the right path, but I found many of his statements confusing, even contradictory.  But before some eager commenters leap to his defense, I am not in the ad hominem trade, merely puzzled.

Here it is, unedited:

As far as recordings by trumpeter Louis Armstrong go, the Decca recordings don’t generate much interest. Prior to them came the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, the most influential jazz recordings ever made and the template for everything that was to come. Afterward came the superb pop recordings for RCA, which showed a masterful entertainer more respected for his vocal prowess than his trumpet playing. The Decca years represent Armstrong’s adolescence: a bit gangly, sometimes awkward, and filled with questionable choices amidst the bold assertions of identity. Part of the problem may be that the Decca recordings have been available somewhat helter skelter over the years. Who better to provide some coherence than Mosaic? The label has compiled everything that Armstrong recorded for Decca, brilliantly remastered from the original metal parts or discs, and with thorough liner notes from jazz veteran Dan Morgenstern to boot. With this seven CD set, it is finally possible to assess this set completely and perhaps more firmly establish them as the great records they are. Critics of these recordings gripe about the subpar quality of the song choice, which is surprisingly inferior given the astounding amount of good songs that were written at the time. A quick glance at the tracks will confirm this suspicion; there are quite a lot of second tier songs (you can often spot them just from the title.) At the time, Joe Glaser had recently become Armstrong’s manager and quickly obtained the services of Jack Kapp at the newly launched Decca label to record him. And record they did—166 tracks over 11 years that also span the infamous recording ban. Kapp saw Armstrong as a novelty act, someone whose numbers might be a little corny and superficial and easy on the ear. In this regard he had much in common with pianist Fats Waller, another mugger who recorded piffle. But also like Waller, Armstrong was always able to turn even the most insignificant material into something special, even if it wasn’t perhaps high art. He also correctly assumed that his performance would carry the material, and more often than not it did. There are some undeniable misfires here, such as a few numbers with a Hawaiian theme, and some gospel numbers, along with a few numbers like “When Ruben Swings the Cuban” that even Armstrong can’t redeem. But there are also quite a few numbers that Armstrong absolutely nails and turns into masterpieces, such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Tiger Rag,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Satchel Mouth Swing” and “Jubilee” proving that a terrific song and superb musicianship can always combine to make musical gold. Anther problem for some critics is the quality of the sidemen. There are really no stellar musicians on the stand, but rather serviceable sidemen capable of playing the charts and managing a decent solo when prompted. Clearly the focus here was on Armstrong and the rest of the band was only called upon to provide sturdy accompaniment and little else. Thus, unlike the Hot Five and Seven Recordings, there’s no pianist Earl Hines or trombonist Kid Ory to keep Armstrong on his toes and match his chops (although truth be told, few could keep up with him). The novelty here is hearing Armstrong navigate the world of big band coming from the smaller groups he had employed earlier. The recordings start out startlingly sweet and progressively get hotter, matched by terrific charts from Sy Oliver and Joe Garland. Armstrong was also paired with other artists from the Decca label such as saxophonist Glen Gray, reed player Jimmy Dorsey and bassist Bob Haggart, all white musicians, and pairings that helped erase the color lines that existed. There are also a few visits with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and a reunion with soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet, as well as early appearances with guys like guitarist Dave Barbour who would go on to greater things. Oh yes, and the first pairing of Armstrong and singer Ella Fitzgerald. Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great. A sampling of the best of these records would show how truly great this period was. Mosaic’s warts and all approach necessarily includes some questionable material. But with the Mosaic touch, don’t be surprised if these recordings reemerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.

Rickert ends his piece generously: he won’t “be surprised if these recordings emerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.”  But he begins with the rather curious statement that these same recordings “don’t generate much interest.” 

I wonder if the second statement is a matter of commerce rather than artistic merit.  The Deccas were never reissued intelligently at home.  Rather, they came out in blurts, “Jazz Classics,” “Collector’s Items,” “Golden Favorites,” and several well-meanin but incomplete attempts.  It was left to Gosta Hagglof  to issue the Deccas logically and completely on CD.   

It’s always tempting to see a jazz artist’s career in terms of the progression of record labels, but in doing this, Rickert presents some debatable generalities.  The Hot Five and Seven recordings are “the most influential jazz recordings ever made”; the later Victor sessions produced “superb pop,” where Armstrong’s singing overshadowed his trumpet playing. 

How about the “influential jazz recording, BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and the “superb pop” of JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES or PENNIES FROM HEAVEN? 

Rickert’s underlying assessment of Armstrong’s career might be something like this: “Louis played pure New Orleans jazz up until 1929, and then was corrupted into “pop” commercialism, with short detours back to Eden when he recorded with homeboys like Bechet and when he played W.C. Handy.  But had he stuck to POTATO HEAD BLUES, what a body of work he might have created!  Alas, poor Satchmo!  I knew him well, before he became popular, that is.” 

This harks back to the ideological wars of the Forties, Moldy Figs arguing with Be-Boppers over whose music was “authentic,” over how one defined “the real jazz.”  I thought we were past those quarrels.

Louis didn’t elevate jazz to the pantheon while lamenting that he was forced to play “pop.”  I doubt that he ever complained in the studio, “Hey, Mr. Kapp, this is piffle you’re asking me to mug.”   

In fact, if you admire what creative improvisers do with their material, what could be better than Louis did with ON A COCOANUT ISLAND?  Did it take more inventiveness for Fats Waller to swing THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART than the MINOR DRAG?  I would think so, but for these musicians, it was all music.  Perhaps even trying to play WHEN RUBEN SWINGS THE CUBAN is a heroic act in itself, and the discographies of many revered jazz musicians show equally unpromising titles. 

To his credit, Rickert recognizes that Armstrong was able to “redeem” many of the song choices and make them “something special.”  But he may confuse the musician, the record company, and the song. 

It is easy to view Armstrong as a good-natured pawn in the hands of White manipulators Jack Kapp and Joe Glaser, Kapp coming in for special excoriation for trying to make Louis a “novelty act.”  But record companies then and now wished to sell records — and, after years when companies went bankrupt, one can hardly blame Kapp for trying to ensure broad popular success. 

If Kapp viewed Armstrong as a “novelty act,” he also did so with his best-selling and most popular artist Bing Crosby, who recorded an even wider range of material with great success.  And the idea of “questionable material” might be one that the artists rarely asked.  And the idea of good songs and bad might be undercut by the results.  Does Billie Holiday sound less like herself on WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO than on YESTERDAYS?  The genius of jazz musicians lies in their ability to transform and transcend the most banal material — it is only in retrospect that jazz critics, praising “forward-looking” and “harmonically adventurous” music, make such distinctions.  I GOT RHYTHM and the blues were perfectly satisfying for Charllie Parker and Sonny Rollins to improvise on.  So, rather than assume that nefarious forces compelled Louis to record SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, we should marvel at what he did with it.  (As an aside, some of his recordings I find most gratifying are the least “jazz-inflected”: consider his Fifties recording of TREES, for one.)    

Rickert, as I do, teaches English, and I admire his equating Louis with Shakespeare.  But I find what follows condusing: “Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great.” 

Should we care how many people admire a particular piece of art?  What has popularity to do with merit? 

And if Rickert could point out to me where “academia” and “Pottery Barn,” meet, I’d be grateful.  I’d even meet him at the clearance sale table.  I applaud the idea of Louis as King Lear — majestic, commanding the winds.  But I don’t think that Louis had to pass through suffering to arrive at true awareness: his music shows that he had reached a deep awareness early.

Ultimately, I wonder if Mr. Rickert was victimized by circumstances in writing his review.  Mosaic box sets — in this case, seven compact discs — are initially overwhelming, not well-absorbed in one or two hurried gulps.  I wonder if he was sent this box with perhaps two weeks to listen to it and write about it.  He would either have had to work his way through the set — rather like doing homework — or to listen to it in pieces, hoping to find the figure in the carpet. 

In either case, I admire his fairness: praising Mosaic, attempting to situate Louis in a cultural context.  But he’s missed some of the beauties of these recordings. 

It’s perfectly understandable to look back to Louis’s partnership with Earl Hines as a high point.  But the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings are in some sense artificial, because Louis never worked with those groups.  The Deccas, for better or worse, represent some of the material Louis was performing every day with working bands.  But to become nostalgic for Kid Ory is to neglect J. C. Higginbotham.  And if you’re looking for a musician perfectly paired with Louis, able to keep up with him and to spur him to new heights, I would submit that Sidney Catlett is the man. 

I would ask Mr. Rickert to listen to WOLVERINE BLUES for Catlett alone, to THANKS A MILLION and SOLITUDE for the beauty of Louis’s expressive singing and playing.  Follow that up with the sides recorded with the Mills Brothers, those dreaded Hawaiian sides, and more.  Only then can he or anyone get a true picture of Louis’s achievement . . . and that might take a good deal of time.

SHORPY (“ALWAYS SOMETHING INTERESTING”)

In these days of “milkless milk and silkless silk,” to recall W.C. handy, it’s very gratifying to point my readers to a website that for three years now has lived up to its title.  www.shorpy.com presents beautifully defined black-and-white photographs from the past — everything from candids sent in by readers to Ben Shahn portraits of small-town streets, children at the beach, bathing girls, and more. 

I decided to write a few words about the site because I was fairly sure that people who are deeply involved in the kind of jazz I write about here might also have an affection for the objects and places it came from — and such obsessions as trains, for instance.  And this particular picture made it a must for me to write this post — a 1920 Washington, D.C., shop window advertising the latest Victor records and a line of Nippers (one large fellow in the doorway) that made me laugh.

Reprinted by permission of http://www.shorpy.com

I will understand if some of my readers ask, “What’s that doing on a jazz site?” but my guess is that others will be clicking on www.shorpy.com. as quickly as they can and won’t come up for air for a long time.  SHORPY has been going strong for three years now, and shows no sign of running out of energy, or of beautiful surprises.  (When you visit the site, you’ll find out the rationale behind its unusual name and you’ll also be able to see the photograph above in full size — the details jump out at you.)

“MKG and FRIENDS” (Feb. 6, 2010)

Another jazz gift from some brilliant musicians, ably captured by Rae Ann Berry!

MKG and Friends, on February 6, 2010, at the Sounds of Mardi Gras in Fresno, California.

That new acronym, translated, adds up to MARC Caparone, cornet; KATIE Cavera, guitar; GEORGIA Korba, bass; along with Mike Baird, alto sax; Chris Tyle, clarinet and vocal; Ray Skjelbred, trombone; Jeff Hamilton, drums; and Carl Sonny Leyland, piano.

They were intended to perform as a trio, but this happy aggregation just grew, in a friendly way.  The overall ambiance reminds me of a late-Thirties record session (the Varsity Seven with Benny Carter, Joe Marsala, Coleman Hawkins, and George Wettling), or a Lionel Hampton Victor, perhaps a Keynote band — the same loose, groovy feeling.  Two of the musicians are happily and ambitiously playing instruments they aren’t always associated with: Ray is well-known on piano, Chris on trumpet and drums.  But their knowledge and love of the music comes through powerfully.

Speaking of “powerfully,” might I suggest that readers who aren’t on the West Coast or who aren’t familiar with his work need to pay close attention to Marc Caparone, whose hot playing is a highlight of this set and of the New El Dorado Jazz Band.  Rough or polished, intense or pretty, he’s a great trumpet player, subtle or driving.  He loves the obvious Masters, but you’ll hear a good deal of those glorious eccentrics Red Allen and Jim Goodwin in his ferocities. 

And I’ve singled out the nifty Jeff Hamilton for praise at other times in this blog — but he’s having a wonderful time here, getting the sounds out of a drum kit that say Swing Is Here.

Here is a spirited reading of Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY, originally written as a lament — but that was before Hawk (in France) and Hamp (in the US) latched on to it.  Wow!

Here’s another lament, defined by Katie Cavera as “the saddest song” she knows — NOBODY CARES IF I’M BLUE.  It’s not true, Katie — we would worry about you if the lyrics were true.  Could we make you some soup or a cup of tea?  

I delight in her girlish angst, as if Annette Hanshaw had somehow found herself in the Vocalion studios circa 1937, and in the ghosts floating through this performance — not only Pee Wee Russell and Red Allen but Sandy Williams or J. C. Higginbotham. 

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME reminds me of Vic Dickenson, who liked it, and of Jon-Erik Kellso, who continues to do so.  A rocking performance of a sweet old tune, it has the sound of a Condon Town Hall Concert — with Jeff’s splashing cymbal summoning up Mr. Dave Tough, his accents suggesting Wettling or Catlett. 

Here’s something pretty and winsome from the singular Dawn Lambeth, who takes AS LONG AS I LIVE at the easy, convincing tempo she likes (with deep-down work from Marc, who seconds the emotions).  Nobody sounds like Dawn, and the embellishments she creates in her second chorus are delightful:

Time for something slow and romantic, a dance for the lovers, explicated by Dawn: hold your Beloved tight as Dawn and the band do BLUE MOON:

For the pastoral poets among us, a song I associate with Duke Ellington, Louis and the Mills Brothers: IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE.  Dawn brings Nature inside for a few minutes:

A rocking boogie-inflected version of ST. LOUIS BLUES:

Finally, a swinging version of LINGER AWHILE, entirely in the spirit:

“Groovy!” I thought to myself, in its pre-1967 meaning.  You could look it up.

THE 1932 MOTEN BAND RETURNS!

The recordings that Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra did in the Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey, are sacred music to jazz listeners.  How could they be otherwise?  Riffs by Eddie Durham, extraordinary playing by Bill Basie, Walter Page, Ben Webster, Eddie Barefield, and Hot Lips Page. 

This video clip of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks storming through TOBY at the February 2010 Central Illinois Jazz Festival is as close as we’ll get to recapturing that version of Hot Nirvana. 

It was captured by “tdub1941” of YouTube and appears there by special permission of Mr. Giordano himself. 

The hardest-working men in jazz here are Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella, Jim Fryer, Peter Anderson, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Andy Stein, Peter Yarin, Ken Salvo, Vince, and Arnie Kinsella. 

Now do you believe in reincarnation?

Yeah, men!

Visit “tdub1941” for more from this same concert (Jelly Roll Morton’s BOOGABOO, Ellington’s OLD MAN BLUES, Cliff Jackson’s THE TERROR, several versions of SUGAR FOOT STOMP, and Jimmie Lunceford’s JAZZNOCHRACY) as well as a host of live jazz delights.

“RACE RECORDS”

Often insulting, demeaning pictures — to sell extraordinary music, primarily to the audience being mocked by the pictures.

Records falling from the skies seems a good thing, but not for shellac 78s.

The “Dusky Stevedore” singing down on the levee — material for a sozen popular songs of the period.

Those colored people were very superstitious, you know.

And their home life was sometimes less than orthodox or well-behaved.

This, from the label that brought us Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven.

Splendidly offensive — nineteenth-century caricature.

At least this advertisement — straightforward and plain — doesn’t thumb its nose at the people expected to buy the product. 

What’s the moral?  Perhaps it is that beauty, given enough time, transcends such condescension and prejudice.

THAT’S LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE

My title comes from a Jelly Roll Morton record from his great Victor period — but it’s a close approximation of the phrase that came into my mind when I watched and heard this great small band from the recent San Diego Dixieland Jazz Festival, with these November 27, 2009 video clips coming to us through the apparently inexhaustible generosity of Rae Ann Berry.

The band?  Led by the melifluous clarinetist Tim Laughlin, it features pianist Chris Dawson, recently celebrated in this blog, drummer Hal Smith, cornetist Connie Jones, trombonist Alan Adams, guitarist Katie Cavera, and bassist Marty Eggers — a nice mixture of Californians and New Orleanians, stirred and hot.

Here they are on WANG WANG BLUES.  Catch Hal’s press rolls behind the opening ensemble, Tim’s melodic fluidity that hints at Noone by way of Davern, his beautiful tone; Connie’s mixture of gruffness and Bixian nimbleness; that rhythm section, with Chris light yet rocking, Marty and Katie fervent, Hal remembering all the things one can do with a hi-hat cymbal and its stem; Katie’s neat chorded solo.  And then the ensemble choruses, starting calmly and getting Hot.  There are rough edges here (it seems to have started the set) but I love it in an old-fashioned way:

Fats Waller’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW follows, situated midway between Dixieland conventions and the Vanguard recording featuring Vic Dickenson and Ruby Braff.  Connie’s earnest vocal is a treat, and the ghosts of Wild Bill Davison and Teddy Wilson, apparently unlikely partners, share the stage in perfect harmony, before Marty’s melodic solo and the easily-rocking final ensemble:

Connie and Alan left the stage for a splendid quintet version of DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM, which allows us to hear and see the uplifting work of Chris Dawson, his treble lines sparkling but never upstaging Tim.  Katie’s chordal solo reminds me of Carmen Mastren’s playing on the 1940 Bechet-Spanier session, and that’s high praise.  And this performance suggests some of the lilting playing of a Goodman – Wilson Thirties airshot without copying any of those patented licks:

More to come!

CHARLES PETERSON: HACKETT and RUSSELL

image0000007A_007To have the man you consider one of the greatest photographic artists capture your heroes at work and play . . . what could be better?

I am happy to present three of Charles Peterson’s on-the-spot portrait studies of Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell in their native habitat.  Hackett met Russell when Bobby was quite young, and, much later, credited Pee Wee with “teaching him how to drink,” not the best lesson. 

But if you listen to their playing — captured on records for more than twenty-five years — they were busy teaching each other more salutary things.  Standing next to Russell on a bandstand would have been a joyously emboldening experience: “Here, kid, close your eyes and jump off.  Nothing to be afraid of!”  Pee Wee’s willingness to get himself into apparently impossible corners was always inspiring.  “What could possibly go wrong?”  And, for Russell, having Hackett nearby, that sound, those lovely melodies, that sensitivity to the harmonies, would have been soul-enhancing: “Listen to the beautiful chorus the kid just played!” 

The portrait above was taken at one of the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Jimmy Ryan’s, January 19, 1941, and it presents another Ideal Moment in Time and Space that Peterson captured.  It’s possible that Brad Gowans (playing his “valide,” a combination slide / valve trombone of his own manufacture). Bobby, and Pee Wee are doing nothing more adventurous than holding whole notes behind someone else’s solo: they seem remarkably easy, effortless.  But that would have been enough for me. 

They all look so young.  And — adopting the slang of the period — spiffy.  Pee Wee’s crisp suit, folded pocket handkerchief; Brad’s bowtie; their hair, neatly slicked back.  Of course, the combination of Pee Wee’s height and the low ceiling — as well as the angle of Peterson’s shot — makes the three men seem too big for the room.  Which, in terms of their talent, was always true.

As always with Peterson’s work, I find the details I didn’t catch immediately are as enthralling as the big picture.  There’s another musician on the stand — a drummer I can’t immediately identify.  Is it Zutty Singleton?  He is hidden behind Gowans, both the man and the instrument, and less than half his face is visible.  But from what we can see, he is taking it all in, delighted. 

This photograph, with Eddie Condon’s taciturn caption, “TRIO,” appears in the irreplaceable EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ, assembled and edited by Hank O’Neal — one of the many things we have to thank Mr. O’Neal for.

The next view comes from a rehearsal for a Commodore Records date a few years earlier — I believe in the rather claustrophoblic Brunswick studios.   (It seems that every studio of that time except for Victor’s Camden church and Columbia’s Liederkrantz Hall stifled both the sound and the musicians.  That so much stirring jazz was captured in such circumstances makes me agree with Norman Field who said, “Can you imagine what those guys sounded like live?”).  The recognizable figures are again Bobby and Pee Wee, with Bud Freeman to the right.  The man I didn’t recognize until Don Peterson identified him, second from left, is jazz enthusiast and amateur drummer Harry Ely.  This is a rehearsal rather than a jam session, so it’s possible that the three men are trying out chords for a background,  Russell and Freeman are intent, but Hackett is at his ease.  His shirt-sleeve is neatly rolled up (revealing his boyish, thin arm), he holds the horn casually.  Musicians dressed beautifully for recording sessions even when no photographers were present — their habit and custom! — thus the neckties and suspenders, the fresh white shirts. 

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Here, again, the photograph can’t convey the sound these men made.  And if you were new to the art and had been handed the photograph, it would just seem reasonably antique: three men in archaic dress with instruments to their lips, a metal folding chair, its paint worn off in spots, in front.  But look at Ely’s face!   Head down, a mild smile, eyes closed to block off any visual distraction — although he never got to make a record, he is IN the music, serene and thrilled.

Finally, a photograph from one of the “Friday Club” sessions at the Park Lane Hotel, circa 1939, with an unusual lineup.

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Of course, that’s Eddie Condon on the left, Hackett, Zutty Singleton at the drums, Jimmy Dorsey on alto sax, left-handed Mort Stuhlmaker at the bass, and the intrepid Mr. Russell on the far right.  Condon is exhorting as well as strumming, and everyone else is floating along (Dorsey watching Condon to see what will happen next). 

Pee Wee has struck out for the Territory, jazz’s Huckleberry Finn, and where he’s going is not only uncharted and exciting but the journey requires every bit of emotional and physical effort.  I can hear a Russell wail soaring above the other horns.  And — perhaps as a prefiguring? — Russell’s face, almost cavernous with the effort, is an unearthly echo-in-advance of the famously skeletal man in the hospital bed in 1951, when Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong came to comfort and solace him. 

After Russell’s death, Hackett wrote of his friend, “Pee Wee and I were very close friends for many years and what little musical knowledge I may have I owe plenty to him.  He was truly a great artist and a very honorable man.  His music will live forever, along with his wonderful spirit.  I’m sure we all miss him, but thank God he was here.”

I feel much the same way about Charles Peterson, who saw, recorded, and preserved marvels for us.

THAT REEFER MAN

My long-time friend Rob Rothberg told me about this — by way of an AOL story that Barbra Streisand’s ex-lover — as far back as 1959 — was auctioning off her earliest private tapes.  I can see my readers politely stifling yawns, even when I point out that anyone wishing to bid on these admittedly rare items would be required to put $100,000 in escrow.

But Rob doesn’t give up easily, nor is he easily bored.  He followed the link to see what else the auctioneer had to offer — and it’s a rare batch of letters from Fredric Douglass, Sigmund Freud, Grover Cleveland, and a colored trumpet player and singer named Louis, making travel plans that involve his buddy Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow and some “arrangements.”  The handwritten letter runs sixteen pages:

Birmingham, England, September 18, 1932. “Well Papa ‘Mezz’, Here I am in Dear Ole Birmingham, but not Birmingham Alabama, Ha Ha. How’s everything Pal? I was awful sorry to hear of your being sick, I hope you are well by now. Alpha and I are well as usual. She + Mr. + Mrs. Collins sends best regards to you and the family. We’re playing here this week at the Empire Theatre. I shared the star honors last with the beautiful movie star Miss Esther Ralston. She has a lovely act. She also stayed at the same hotel with us in Liverpool. The name of the hotel was the Adelphi Hotel. My English boys are still swingin’ like nobody’s bizzness. Yeah, man. They’re all lovely chaps (BOYS). We have about four more weeks tour through the provinces (BIG TOWNS) of England and then we’ll disband the orchestra in England. Then we’ll go over to Paris which we’ll only stay about two weeks. Then back home to Death Ole America. Mr. Collins was telling me last night in my room that when we leave Paris to return home we’ll go the round about way which will take a little longer to get home but will give us a chance to see a great big part of the world. You see we’ll go by way of Japan, Honolulu and oh lots of places I’ve longed to see. Now won’t that be wonderful if he goes through with it? So Mezz, I’d like very much for you to co-operate with me on this proposition. Then we’ll take it over when I arrive. Understand? I’d like for you to start right in and pack me enough orchestrations to last me the whole trip. Will ya? Now you must look into this matter and give it your best attention, hear Gate? If you ever done anything at all for your Boy, do it now, then our troubles are over. You know what I’ve often told you about the future? Well Gate, the future is here. And Papa Collins is the Victor. And Boy, believe me success is just ahead now. That sounds good to your ears, eh? You know, Gate, I’ve often told you that my success is your success. Just wait, we’ll give the whole world something to think about. Here’s some more good news for ya …. The Victor Record Co., has just won the case from the Okeh Record Co. and wired Mr. Collins that all’s well and I can start on my new Victor contract which replaces the Rudy Vallee anytime. Gee, Gate, what a victory that is to win from our boy Rockwell. Looka heah, Looka heah. Now just watch those good royalties – dividends – shares – ‘n’ everything else. Ha. Ha. And the contract pop’s (MR. COLLINS) made with these people for me, why you’ve never heard of one like it before. And that includes the ole King of Jazz himself Paul Whiteman. Nice, eh? Oh boy, I have lots of good sparkling news for you. I think of them in spots. So all you have to do is pay strict attention to things that I tell you because I am your Boy and you must stick to me regardless of how the tides running, hear? And you must really see that I receive those orchestrations. And you’d start right now Gate and see to your Boy being well fixed because I wouldn’t want to run short because it might bring me down. No might isn’t…. It would. Ha. Ha. Now here’s the line on the trip. Papa Collins said that the trip would take about 12 weeks, which is three months. Now figure that out Gate. But be sure and figure right. Send it to the American Express Company, Paris, France. If you mail it now, it’ll about get there the same time as me. No doubt you’ve received the money I wired you, eh? There’ll be lots of nice things happening when I get back. The Paramount people are trying their best to get Papa Collins to take charge of all the bookings of all the Paramount Theatres. Now you can guess what that’ll mean to me if he decides. Oh, Gate, we have millions of opportunities. I just like to let you know what’s going on because I know you appreciates. How’s all the cats around the ole Berg? Have you seen Batie or Buck? Zuttie or any of the ole Bunch? I received a wonderful letter from Batie. Oh yes, by the way, Gate. I appreciate the write up you sent me. Mr. Collins asked me for it so I let him have it for some publicity or etc. He’ll return it and I’ll put it in my scrap book. I know Ole Alpha’s gonna enjoy herself on that round the world tour. Mezz, I sho wishes you was taking this trip with me, but it’s impossible…. first place it all happened too sudden to amount to anything;. So I figured since I am taking this trip, I’ll observe all the spots that’s of interest and maybe some day after I get my bank roll together we can take a trip like this on our own. Understand? We’re expecting to make another tour down south when we return (THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY LIES). I can’t say how Pop’s (MR. COLLINS) gonna do, but in case you should see fit to join me for a while you’ll be more than welcome. I’m sure you’ll enjoy a trip like that for a change (IT WILL DO YOU GOOD). Then I think after the trip down south we’ll step into the Big Apple. Oh, I’ll tell you more about that later. Lot’s of time yet. What we want to keep in mind now is the orchestrations (MUTA) in Paris. We’re expectin to pick up the same jigg band (COLORED ORCHESTRA) that played the London Palladium with me when we go to Paris. Gee won’t we be glad to see each other, yeah man. They’ve just written ‘n’ told me they’re waiting with Bells On. Tell Mrs. Mezz I received the wire – and don’t you forget your Abilene Water. Good night Gate. Don’t forget Paris, hear? From your Boy Louis Armstrong c/o American Express Co. Paris France – Savy?”

The auctioneer wants fifteen thousand dollars for that, and it is (to quote David Ostwald) worth every penny.  Not only because it’s Louis and Mezz, but because of the invaluable advice for travellers.  Savy? 

Visit http://momentsintime.com/autographs.htm to learn more and to bid!

“HOTTER THAN THE DEVIL’S KITCHEN”

Simmer 2009 006jelly 14 july 1927 ad

The advertisement above comes from July 1927, and it speaks for itself, euphorically. 

Here are three photographs taken at Jelly Roll Morton’s 1939 Victor date.  Their source is an incomparable UK jazz site which offers more information about Morton than you would encounter elsewhere: http://www.doctorjazz.co.uk.

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I see Sidney DeParis (trumpet), Zutty Singleton (drums), half of a trombonist (Claude Jones?), Morton at the piano, Bernard Addison (guitar), and a singularly wonderful reed section of Sidney Bechet (soprano), Albert Nicholas (clarinet), and Happy Caldwell (tenor).

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Here’s one I hadn’t seen before — Jelly with two music lovers who would go on to create jazz treasures: young Harry Lim (left) who would begin the majestic series of Keynote recordings in a few years, and Steve Smith, whose HRS Records would feature Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Thomas, Johnny Hodges, and other bright lights.

In the photo below, I imagine Harry Lim thinking, “This looks like fun.  I could do this, too!”  As he did.   jelly1939 3

All of this pleasant rumination was sparked by a purchase I made yesterday in an antiques / collectables store on Warren Street in Hudson, New York, that has mountains of records for sale — mostly Fifties and Sixties rock and pop, but there are the vestiges of a large jazz vinyl collection.  Most of it appeals to me for sentimental reasons: “I had that record,” goes through my mind as I flip through the browsers.  But I encountered a half-dozen 78s — a Kenton Capitol, Ellington’s Victor I GOT IT BAD / THE CHOCOLATE SHAKE, two of the red-label Columbia Bessie Smith reissues, and this beauty, close to mint condition:

Tomatoes  Jelly Roll 003

“Dance Orchestra,” if you needed to be told.

Tomatoes  Jelly Roll 004

The records aren’t expensive, so there was never a question in my mind about taking this one home.  When I finished looking at the records (there are always more than I can bear to go through), I walked towards the friendly woman proprietor, who saw what she was dealing with — a happy man trying to keep his pleasure within bounds — and she grinned, “YOU’VE found a treasure, haven’t you?!”  I assume that my emotions showed on my face. 

And, just to show how everything connects, at the top of the page is a genuine Red Hot Pepper that the Beloved grew in her extraordinarily bountiful container garden.  “Hotter than the Devil’s kitchen” describes the experience of eating it most precisely.