Tag Archives: Victor Young

MELLOW IN MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, JESSICA KING, BILL REINHART, ROBERT YOUNG, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (July 19, 2019)

Refreshing evocations of Thirties New York City and of late-Twenties Chicago, with cooling iced tea to spare, at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, captured for us by RaeAnn Berry on July 19, 2019.

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

The joyous creators are Clint Baker, clarinet and vocal; Robert Young, alto saxophone and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Riley Baker, string bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jessica King, washboard and vocal.

IF I WERE YOU would have been a fairly obscure 1938 song by Buddy Bernier and Robert D. Emmerich had it not been recorded by Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson (with Nan Wynn) and Hot Lips Page — more recently, by Rebecca Kilgore and Dawn Lambeth.  Bernier is not especially famous as a composer, although he wrote THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, but he adapted melodies from other cultures — POINCIANA and OUR LOVE perhaps the most famous, so he is responsible for rewarding pop music.  Emmerich’s lyrics are sly, clever, another example of the Brill Building genius of making memorable songs from common phrases.

Jessica sings it with sweet understated conviction, supported in the best Fifty-Second Street tradition by Clint, Jeff, and Riley (without the dark haze of smoke and the taste of watered drinks that I am told were characteristics of Swing Street):

SWEET SUE, JUST YOU moves us back a decade and east to Chicago’s South Side, with Robert Young and Bill Reinhart added — Noone, Poston, and a vocal duet.  What could be sweeter?  Victor Young just texted me to say he approves:

California dreamin’ isn’t the property of the Beach Boys, I assure you.  If you can get to Cafe Borrone while Clint and friends are playing and singing, you will drive home with a smile.

May your happiness increase!

DEEP FEELINGS, 1933-34

This song made a deep impact on me decades before I might have encountered the emotional situation it describes.  Perhaps it’s something about the intense but elliptical declaration of love: I am so deeply entranced by you that IF you decided to behave in opposition to those feelings I wouldn’t be able to “take it.”  “Baby.” By the way, singers could have a whole course of study focused on the ways each singer pronounces and phrases that meaningful word.

Here I present Thirties versions of this song (our friends Banu Gibson, Hanna Richardson, and Becky Kilgore have done more recent versions, as did Maxine Sullivan in Sweden, but that’s another blogpost; I’ve also skirted versions by Eddy Duchin, Frances Wayne, and a particularly raucous reading by Lionel Hampton from 1937).

I think you will hear why the song struck home, as well as understand my admiration for the singers and their particular approach to the material.  (And imagine a time when the jukebox would play new recordings by Jack Teagarden and Ethel Waters.  I know that had I been there, I would not be writing this blog, but still . . . . )  I also suspect that the connection between the Teagarden, Waters, Bullock recordings is the wonderfully omnipresent Victor Young, and that all the recordings use an arrangement by Arthur Schutt.

First, an unexpected pleasure — the Leo Reisman recording from December 28, 1933, with Thelma Nevins singing.  Years ago I would have scorned this as “just a dance-band record,” but it’s so pretty, and Miss Nevins does the song beautifully.  Google turns up no photographs of her, but she’s mentioned in an April 1939 Variety as a “svelte looker” and in a 1947 Billboard as singing at the Chateau in New York City, so she didn’t disappear, thankfully:

Now, the first of two 1933 versions for which I can offer personnel: Frank Guarente, Sterling Bose, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Chester Hazlett, Jimmy Dorsey, clarinet, alto saxophone; Mutt Hayes, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Walter Edelstein, violin; Joe Meresco, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar;  Artie Bernstein, string bass; Larry Gomar, drums; Victor Young, director. New York, November 11, 1933.  Jack only sings; before this, on the session, he recorded two takes of A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:

Jack takes it fairly briskly — one would think “matter-of-factly,” but listen to his variations on “Baby.”

Here’s Ethel Waters, accompanied by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra: Ethel Waters; Charlie Teagarden, Shirley Clay, trumpet; Jack Teagarden; Benny Goodman; Art Karle, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Dick McDonough,  guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Gene Krupa, drums.  (Two takes were issued; only one shows up on YouTube.)  New York, November 27, 1933  (the session at which Billie Holiday recorded her first side — YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW, also written by Nichols and Hollner — with the same band.  Ethel went first, as befitting a Star, with two takes of HUNDRED and of BABY.  And please notice that although Victor Young saw Jack as vocalist only on his own date, he is memorable, as is Benny, in duet with Ethel as if two voices.)

Her reading, and I mean this as a compliment, is dramatic — a three-minute stage play, with deep feeling throughout.  Her enunciation, her phrasing, her wit and sorrow, are all unforgettable.  I know there was a massive and unsparing biography a few years ago, but where is the Ethel Waters celebration?  She was extraordinary:

Here are a few happy meanderings on the theme, first, a quick instrumental version from the “Bill Dodge” transcription session (circa February 10-28, 1934) featuring Benny Goodman and a nearly savage Bunny Berigan out front.  The collective personnel according to Tom Lord is Berigan, Manny Klein, Shirley Clay, trumpet; Joe Harris, Jack Jenney, or Larry Alpeter, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Hank Ross, Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; Arthur Schutt, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Gene Krupa, Sammy Weiss, or Stan King, drums:                      :

Finally, Chick Bullock and his Levee Loungers from December 12, 1933. He’s accompanied by Guarente, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Hazlett, Hayes, Edelstein, Moresco, Botkin, Bernstein, and Gomar.  I like Chick’s singing a great deal but no singer should have to follow Ethel:

In researching this post, I found a scholarly essay (scholarly in its digging, not in its stuffiness) about Alberta Nichols and Mann Hollner, who were married.  The writer, Molly Ruggles, is much more fascinated by UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG than this song, but the piece is well worth reading.

I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT BABY is the real thing for those who feel.

May your happiness increase!

EV’RY STAR ABOVE / KNOWS THE SOUNDS WE LOVE: DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY at THE EAR INN (May 13, 2018)

I’ve been told that I sound like a New Yorker, which doesn’t surprise me, although I think there are many strains of New Yorkishness, all subtly different. But to think I carry the inflections of my native land even when I’m in Sedalia, Missouri, for the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, is pleasing.  So before I walk two blocks to hear more delightful music, I will offer some genuine sounds of New York for you, wherever you may read this.

I made another trip — a pilgrimage, rather, to the shrine for delicate and forthright creative improvisation (call it what you will), The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on Sunday, May 13.  And the spiritual guides for that evening convocation were Danny Tobias, various brass instruments; Scott Robinson, taragoto, tenor saxophone, and other instruments; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.  Here are three splendid songs and improvisations created for us by four splendid players.

Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR, at a very Bixian tempo:

Victor Young’s SWEET SUE, now ninety years old:

KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES, associated with Sidney Bechet, but theoretically written by Clarence Williams:

I couldn’t stay for the second set — my semester was still hobbling to a close — but I hope to make it to The Ear Inn more often this summer.  You should, too.

May your happiness increase!

GLIMPSES OF MISS WILEY and COLLEAGUES (1934-1953)

A small pleasure. seen on eBay.

Here’s what it sounds like:

The facts are: Lee Wiley, vocal; Sterling Bose, Tommy Dorsey, Sid Stoneburn, others; Ernie White, Larry Gomar,  Justin Ring or Victor Young, directing. New York, August 13, 1934 38298-B.

And nearly twenty years later:

Lee’s voice had changed, predictably, as had the band, but I like the new, tougher approach just as much.

We enter the magical world of sheet music covers.  This song is familiar, with the distinct connection to Victor Young — with whom Lee enjoyed a long relationship.  I reprint the cover for comparison:

Although I can’t offer a recording of Lee singing LOVE ME, how about two versions by Jack Teagarden — the first with ornamentation by Sterling Bose, Jimmy Dorsey, Perry Botkin — again directed by Victor Young?  I knew you wouldn’t object:

This is, again, twenty years later, swinging as well as romantic — from the sextet that Jack led after he’d left Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars.  This 1953 band was a family affair, with brother Charlie on trumpet, sister Norma on piano:

Back to Lee.

This piece of sheet music is new to me, and I haven’t found any recordings of the song to offer you:

This song is known to me because Red Allen recorded it at the time, but no recording of Lee singing it exists.  Still, it’s pleasant to hear her voice in one’s mental recording studio:

and, in case you’ve never seen it, here is the justly famous film — silent but with a soundtrack added later, both thanks to Josh Rushton — of Lee and then-husband Jess Stacy, out and about.

May your happiness increase!

A MASTER AT PLAY: JAMES CHIRILLO at THE EAR INN (August 6, 2017)

Drawing by Dan Christoffel

I have been enjoying the art of guitarist / composer / arranger James Chirillo (and I know I have company in this) for some years now on discs, all the way back to 1985, when he appeared as a member of the Loren Schoenberg jazz orchestra then led by Benny Goodman. I browsed his discography and was amazed but not surprised to find how many of my favorite discs he is on, for musicians knew a long time ago that he had a deep yet playful intelligence.

I don’t know when I first encountered him in person (finding him serious, witty, surprising, and kind) but I can say that he allowed me to point a video camera at him a good many years ago, beginning in 2009.  He is a very serious judge of his own work but has been generous and gracious about getting captured and shown off for free, possibly because he understands the depth of my admiration (and, again, I am not alone in this.)

James has always been a peerless soloist — offering delightful surprises mixed in with a fine respect for sound and for melodies — and a wonderful team player, someone who works seriously yet with a light heart to keep the band trotting in the right direction.  I’ve written elsewhere about James’ deadpan penchant for weird notes and tones and spaces, something I cherish, but there is nothing weird about what I can present here.

Often, The Ear Inn, my intermittent Sunday-night shrine, on 326 Spring Street, home of the blessed EarRegulars, has been crowded and noisy.  Although it plays hell with my goals of a) appreciating music in a near-reverent hush and b) recording it for this audience, I understand the throng as a good thing.  People who have read about The Ear in a guidebook that calls it one of the secret New York City places that tourists don’t know about (is that a whiff of irony burning in that skillet?) keep these Sunday soirees going — as they have been for ten years.  But two Sundays ago, The Ear was wonderfully serene, and the band of Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Frank Tate, and James (with an early-evening guest appearance by the lyrical violinist Valerie Levy) had a good time in the peaceful admiration and pleasure.

About two-thirds of the way through the evening, after a very pleasing EarRegulars performance of a song had concluded, James turned to the band and to us, and said (low-key, wry yet plainly) that since he hadn’t taken a solo on the previous tune, he was going to take one now, and play something he had worked on, Johnny Smith’s arrangement / recomposition / improvisation on GOLDEN EARRINGS, a composition by Victor Young — the title theme of a 1947 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Ray Milland (an autographed copy of the sheet music is here just because it seems a shame not to share it):

and the movie poster:

Here is James’ tender virtuoso interlude, and it is a marvel — you don’t have to be a guitarist to understand that:

James is also that rare entity, a functioning adult: some hours after I posted the blog, he wrote to me, “Would you be surprised if I told you I consider my performance around a 7.8 compared to Johnny Smith’s 10.0? I’m not trying to be unduly self-effacing, it’s just the fact of the matter.”  I admire someone for whom realistic self-assessment is second nature, no matter that we might disagree about the numbers.

Thank you, Master Chirillo, for offering us, without fanfare, a multicolored respite from this modern world.

May your happiness increase!

“AND APPRECIATE THE RHYTHM THAT YOU HEAR”: A 1938 PRIMER IN SWING

Mister Crosby on the air

and his fellow perpetrator:

Mister Mercer, likewise

Late in the previous century, I had my fascination with the recordings of Bing Crosby intensified by the opportunity to listen to two decades of his records in chronological order.  And although some see his career as an inevitable descent into “popular music,” I could always hear the glowing beauty of his voice, his wonderful phrasing, his direct appeal to the listener.  He never seemed detached when he sang, even if the song was at first an odd choice for those who, like myself, grew up on his recordings of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, DANCING IN THE DARK, PLEASE, and dozens of other masterpieces.  I think of Michael Brooks reminding us of the splendor of Crosby’s HOME ON THE RANGE, for one glorious example.

Although Johnny Mercer deserves his fame as songwriter and lyricist, I also encountered him early as a charmingly eccentric singer — the SIZZLING ONE-STEP MEDLEY with Trumbauer, THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and LORD, I GIVE YOU MY CHILDREN.  Later Mercer vocals — for instance, MOON RIVER — have the sadness of a mature artist, but the ones I came to love first had a delicious impish puckishness to them, as if he was about to burst into helpless laughter at any point — which he didn’t, being an expert jester in complete control.

This 1938 recording, pairing the two, is an absolute favorite of mine: it exists at the crossroads of Swing, Vaudeville, and Jive: Bing and Johnny playing around with an ancient (even then) musical-vaudeville routine, MISTER GALLAGHER AND MISTER SHEAN, updated to be satirically hip, with new lyrics by Mercer.

Although everything here is scripted (unless perhaps a few of the ad-libs were invented in rehearsal) the whole performance has a goofy splendor, with Mercer’s lyrics both hilarious and intentionally vaudevillian; the splendid expertise of this hot band, evident even when they don’t have as much to do as jazz fans would have wished: Sullivan’s written phrase at the start, Secrest’s quiet obbligati; Spike’s rollicking old-time drumming; Lincoln’s slides.  And the obvious joy Bing and Johnny exude, the sheer fun they are having.
I could close my eyes and see them nattily attired in updated 1922 vaudeville garb (straw boaters and striped jackets) pretending to teach us all about Swing — notice, it’s a lesson that “Johnny” doesn’t want at all, which is perhaps the best joke of all, for 1938-and-onwards listeners expecting this to be the triumph of “Modern” over “Old-Time,” which turns on itself when “Sorta Lombardo, Mister C!” is delivered in a completely authentic bluesy drawl.  Those who suggest that Bing never broke out of old-timey rhythmic patterns, never got in the groove in true (let us say Basie) fashion should listen closely: yes, he and Johnny imitate New Orleans rhythmic patterns in their asides, but everyone is swinging.  Oh, there are levels and levels of art here, even though Jack Kapp would have imagined this as one of this all-star productions, sure to win a mass audience, sure to sell well.  It continues to delight me, and I hope it does the same for you.
Bing and Johnny are perfectly accompanied by Victor Young’s Small Fryers : Andy Secrest, cornet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Jack Mayhew, clarinet; John Cascales, tenor saxophone;  Joe Sullivan, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Jim “Slim” Taft, string bass; Spike Jones, drums.  Los Angeles, July 1, 1938.

TWO GUITARS IN THE DARK (MARTIN WHEATLEY / SPATS LANGHAM at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, November 6, 2016)

spats-wheatley-2012

Guitarists Thomas “Spats” Langham and Martin Wheatley are two of the warmest people and finest creative musicians I’ve ever met.  In the accompanying photograph, they are appearing at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — the guitars they are playing are not the ones they brought later on; the video performances that follow come from the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.

Two guitars, trading solo and accompaniment, and Spats’ remarkable singing — especially on two ballads I’d never known.  Spats introduces each performance, so I will leave the commentary to him.  And unlike other guitar extravaganzas, this delightful interlude is about music rather than sparkling displays of virtuosity — although any guitarist will tell you that the simplest-appearing passage here is the result of experience, taste, and long years of practice and performance.  About Spats’ singing, I will only say that he is one of my favorites among the living and the departed: especially on ballads.

Before you launch into this assortment of pleasures, know that the videos are less than superb: I was stationed in an unusual spot, holding my camera in mid-air, and one of the patrons had run over my foot with his electric scooter, twice, once forward and once in reverse (annoying but not crippling).  So those factors must be accounted for. But I think that these two artists are worth the inconvenience, and much more.

I think they’re wonderful:

and an absolutely gorgeous love song, new to me:

and a tribute to Irving Berlin, Carl Kress, and Dick McDonough:

and yet another lovely surprise, this wistful Ivor Novello composition:

and a Victor Young movie theme, with romping variations:

I have it on reasonably good authority that Martin and Spats are planning a duo CD.  I can’t wait.

May your happiness increase!

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

surrender1

Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

I_Surrender_Dear_(1931_film)_advert

Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

GLORIOUS LYRICISM: ROB ADKINS, EVAN ARNTZEN, EHUD ASHERIE at CASA MEZCAL (Feb. 7, 2016)

How do you honor the past?  By being yourself and letting the ancestral beauties and lessons flow through you.  Here are three young musicians who not only understand that deep truth but embody it: Rob Adkins, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone (and a surprise vocal on DREAMS); Ehud Asherie, piano.  I offer you two lovely performances recorded at Casa Mezcal on February 7, 2016.

WAS I TO BLAME

I knew this gorgeous song through Louis’ Decca recording, then through Ruby Braff and Scott Hamilton (separately) but it was a thrill to hear this trio explore it with such deep fwwling but such a light tread.  And its title — and unheard lyrics — ask the eternal question:

Then, a Swing Era anthem — beloved of James P. Johnson, Lester and Billie, and many more.  The sheet music below credits Benny Goodman and  Irving Mills along with Edgar Sampson, but I’d give the latter full credit.

IF DREAMS COME TRUE

Incidentally, I’ve left the Louis version of WAS I TO BLAME? and the James P. and Billie-Lester versions to those willing to embark on a few YouTube clicks. I revere those records and have done so for decades, but comparison is — not necessarily odious — to me, disrespectful.  We should honor the giants who walk and create among us, shouldn’t we?  And thank them, not posthumously, but now, for their gracious, eloquent playing and singing.

May your happiness increase!

A LEE WILEY PORTRAIT

Thank you, eBay.

Thank you, Culver Service.

Lee Wiley back

Lee is rounder-faced than perhaps we are used to seeing her, posing with her cigarette held over the piano keys, “going through new songs” for the photographer, I assume.  She was born on October 8, 1908, so she would be at most in her very early twenties when this photograph was taken, already a known recording artist and radio star.  Was the setting a photographer’s studio or was it, perhaps, Victor Young’s apartment — with a large portrait, lit from above?

Lee Wiley front

On the piano, visible, is the sheet music for NO MORE LOVE — which Joe Venuti recorded on November 3, 1933, suggesting that this portrait is of that vintage. It was a Harry Warren – Al Dubin song from the Eddie Cantor film, ROMAN SCANDALS, where it was performed by Ruth Etting.

Lee did not record NO MORE LOVE, but Etting did — so those who can hear Lee’s voice can imagine her version of this song:

To the right of Miss Wiley’s pencil and manuscript paper is the sheet music for the 1932 LOVE ME TONIGHT, with Mister Crosby on the cover.

The photograph is five inches by seven inches — far too small to contain all that we know, imagine, and love about Miss Wiley.

P.S.  At close to 7 PM on February 28, a truly eager Wileyphile outbid everyone on eBay and won the photograph . . . $229.59.  That’s what I call keen!

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BLISS HAPPENS! AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH, BEAU SAMPLE (Nov. 30, 2014)

SAN DIEGO 2015 flyer 2

One of my friends recently asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m flying to San Diego for a wonderful jazz festival,” and this is why: the San Diego Jazz Fest (all schedules subject to change, but this is a filling menu indeed).

The names you don’t see on the flyer above are Marc Caparone, Kim Cusack, Chris Dawson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, and many others.  I know that some of you will say, with good reason, “That’s too far away,” and I understand that.  But if you say, “Oh, that’s just another California trad festival,” I hope you are not within swatting range, for it isn’t.  But rather than take this uncharacteristic vehemence as merely the expression of the writer’s personality, look below.

Evidence from November 30, 2014: a small-group session led by Ray Skjelbred, piano and vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello, Marc Caparone, trumpet.  I’ve posted other videos from this session, but here are the two that closed it.  One lyrical, one steaming.

The first song, ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE, which I associate with Lee Wiley — who recorded it a half-dozen times between 1950 and 1972.  Wiley wrote the lyrics; Ned Washington and Victor Young the melody.  I suspect that Ray knew it first from the Mills Brothers recording, but perhaps from the Chick Bullock, Ellington, Hackett, or Nat Cole sides, too.

It is one of those rare love songs that isn’t I WISH I HAD YOU or YOU BROKE MY HEART, but a seriously intent paean to fidelity (rather like I’LL FOLLOW YOU, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, or I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN).  Yet unlike those two songs, it doesn’t stress super-heroic behavior as testimony of diligent indefatigable fidelity.  There are no caveats: “I have to check my calendar.  I can’t be devoted to you this Tuesday.  How about Wednesday?” There aren’t any mighty distances, rivers, or mountains.  The singer simply says, “Ask for me and I’ll be there,” which I find touching. And Ray’s spare, whispered declaration of the lyrics makes it even more so.  I don’t hear his singing as evidence of a limited vocal range; rather, he sounds like someone uttering his deepest heart-truths about devotion in the form of a vow. A Thirties pop song about love — what could be more common — that suddenly seems a sacred offering:

From a sacred offering delivered in hushed tones to another song-of-relationships, the critical / satirical NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, which — with lyrics — details the small-town girl who has come to the big city and quickly become unrecognizable.  Perhaps she’d come to the South Side of Chicago and started hanging around the Lincoln Gardens?  If so, I’d assess her transformation as an improvement.  Note the easy hot tempo — that’s no oxymoron — and how Marc Caparone sounds a bit like a holy ancestor from Corsicana, Texas.  To quote Ring Lardner, you could look it up.  Or you could simply immerse yourself in the video:

Here’s the festival’s home page and the relevant Facebook page.  I hope you’ll heed the siren call of Good Music and join us there.  Festivals need more than enthusiastic watchers-of-videos to survive.

I hope I will be forgiven for ending on an autobiographical note.  Five years ago, I had some cardiac excitement that was repaired by the best kind of Western medicine: open the patient up and put a little machine in.  It works; I’m fine.  Ask my electrocardiologist.  But when I watch and listen to music at this level — music that I experienced then and have revisited often — I think, “Goodness, I could have died and never seen / heard this,” in a state of astonished gratitude. Not a bad place to be. Rather like the San Diego Jazz Fest.

May your happiness increase!

“BEAUTIFUL LOVE, YOU’RE ALL A MYSTERY”: REBECCA KILGORE / KEITH INGHAM (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 19, 2014)

BEAUTIFUL LOVE Bing

The haunting waltz BEAUTIFUL LOVE was composed in 1931, music credited to Wayne King, Victor Young, and Egbert Van Alstyne; lyrics to Haven Gillespie. That is an eminent group of artists.  I don’t know whether King insisted that his name be put on the music (thus, he would receive royalties) before he would perform the song.  On no evidence whatsoever, I think Victor Young might be most responsible for this melody.

I do know that I first became aware of BEAUTIFUL LOVE through one or another 1934 Art Tatum recording.  Here is his early Decca improvisation, characteristically with everything imaginable offered, including a vivid digression into RUSSIAN LULLABY:

There are, of course, many improvisations on it by Bill Evans, by Helen Merrill, Anita O’Day, Benny Carter, Joe Pass, Kenny Dorham, Lee Konitz, Shirley Horn, George Shearing, and a sweet, intent one by Bing Crosby.

What other song can you think of that has been recorded by both Donald Lambert and Chick Corea?

In this century, the song retains its popularity among improvisers, if YouTube videos are a measure of that.  Here is a sheet music cover from 1959 with the UK pop singer Edna Savage posing inexplicably:

BEAUTIFUL LOVE Edna Savage

But my new favorite performance of BEAUTIFUL LOVE is this, which took place at the Allegheny Jazz Party on September 19, 2014  —

That’s our Rebecca, Becky Kilgore, and Keith Ingham — in one of their duets in a Victor Young tribute set.  I so admire the varied textures and shadings Becky brings to individual words and to those words, made into tapestries of sound and feeling.  The most modest of stars, she is a great understated dramatic actress who seems never to act; she is possessed by the song and rides its great arching wings.

Love is of course the great mystery, whether it is gratified or if it remains elusive.  How the great artists touch us so deeply is perhaps mysterious.  But what we feel and perceive is not — whether we experience it in person or on a recording or a video performance.

To experience an unforgettable weekend of music by Becky and friends, one need only visit here to find out all one needs to know about the Allegheny Jazz Party, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, September 10-13, 2015.

May your happiness increase!

YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: JOHNNY MERCER, 1934

Please put your phones away and let’s begin.

I first heard this song in its original performance many years ago — it was issued on a Jack Teagarden compilation — and fell in love with it.  Later, I’ve heard the three other versions (Joe Haymes, Chris Ellis, and the happily-still-singing Daryl Sherman) but I keep coming back to Mister Mercer’s original, recorded on August 24, 1934, with Sterling (or Stirling) Bose, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone; Fulton McGrath, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Hank Wayland, string bass — and the session was directed by Victor Young.

I should mention that the music was composed by Bernard Hanighen — who’s not well-known today, but he is responsible for WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN, lyrics to Monk’s ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT, and he co-produced Billie Holiday’s 1936-39 records . . . and was her dear friend and advocate.

Daniel, do you have a notebook?  Would it be a good idea to open it up and write some things down?  As I’ve said, you can burn it in the backyard when this course ends.  But I digress.

The song is THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and blissfully this recording has everything: an unaccompanied Jack Teagarden cadenza to start and a Dick McDonough coda to close.  In between, we hear Mercer — someone I think of as one of the finest singers ever in his early phase, with a distinctive boyish twang to his lyric delivery and a real flair for playful improvising (measure his second chorus against his first):

Everything on this recording works for me — the cheerful rhythm section behind Mercer’s first chorus, and the tag, “So before I drown / The whole darn town / I think you better say ‘I do,'” which to me is the first marriage-proposal-with-the-threat-of-apocalypse-attached I know.  (So there, Andrew Marvell!)  Then the instrumental interludes: Bose sounds just a touch uncertain, and my guess is that he hadn’t seen the song before, since it was brand new, but he doesn’t lose the thread.  Teagarden’s minor bridge is easily tossed off, but what sounds!  And McDonough’s accompaniment is a wondrous etude in itself.  In the second chorus, I adore the larger freedom Mercer allows himself, the murmur of Teagarden’s horn under Johnny’s singing, the little break and stop-time additions.

I know.  I tend to get carried away.  But even when your professor is ecstatic in front of the room, if you take out your phone and begin to text, you will be asked to leave.

I assume that the song is meant for a male singer, but there are no explicit references.  So the vision of someone in the bathtub, sprucing up for an eight o’clock date with someone so adored that a marriage can be envisioned, is dear. And the conceit that the bather is so deeply in dreamland that the tub overflows and the very polite people underneath protest in the most genial way, “Dreamin’ ’bout your baby’s OK / but the house is floating away!” is beyond charming.  I know it is not an environmentally-correct song: wasting water is criminal, but I hope that in the name of dear love all things can be forgiven.

Any questions?

Your assignment for next class.  Learn this song.  Learn it so deeply that you can sing it, verse and chorus, with a smile on your face, with no lyrics in front of you. Sing it to the one you love; sing it to your children; hum it on the subway.  I want to hear THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN being whistled on the street; I want to hear Mr. Mercer’s voice coming out of earbuds on this campus and elsewhere, I want to hear four men or four women harmonizing on it as they walk down the street, arm in arm, grinning.

It’s not too much to ask.

I have some papers to give back.  Enjoy yourselves, and I’ll see you next class, when we’ll be reading Whitman.

May your happiness increase!

 

ROMANTIC SWING: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 30, 2014)

Here is an endearing  favorite — and a rare song, a beautiful “rhythm ballad” in the best style, a superb band, echoing Louis . . . I don’t want anything more than this.

The song,to give it its full title, is WAS I TO BLAME FOR FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU?  But — rather like WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY — the title gets split in two.  When Louis recorded it in 1935, very early in his Decca contract, it was called FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU — and the composers are Victor Young, Newman or Neuman, and Gus Kahn. An online source says the song goes back to 1932, and “M. Neuman” is really a pseudonym for Chester Conn.  I leave such matters to better researchers, and say only that I’ve never seen a copy of the sheet music.  But my hypothesis is that if Louis was handed a song with this title, written by Victor Young and Gus Kahn, he would have been interested in it.  Or perhaps he heard it on the radio and his deep romanticism was stirred.  We don’t know, but his performance is inspiring.  (You can search it out on YouTube at your leisure, as well as a a later homage by Ruby Braff.)

But my delight is to offer you this twenty-first century version by some Masters of Romantic Swing, recorded on November 30, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest — Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

I could write at length about the beauties of this performance, but I will point out only the deep love of melody, the subtle flow of the rhythm section, the individual sounds of each soloist, the use of space, the new melodies created. All delicate and purposeful at the same time.  Bless these artists.  They so generously bless us.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT DOES THE CAMERA SEE? LEE WILEY’S LOVE LIFE IN PHOTOGRAPHS

The endearing singer Lee Wiley was said to have legendary erotic energies, but they are not my subject.

Rather, I present to you two public photographs just encountered on eBay — each one oddly evocative, both presenting and concealing.

The first finds Miss Wiley with the composer Victor Young — a publicity shot from the early Thirties (circa 1934-6) for Al Jolson’s radio program SHELL CHATEAU:

LEE WILEY VICTOR YOUNG large

and the slip glued to the photograph’s back:

LEE WILEY VICTOR YOUNG large backThat photograph has an understandable stiffness: two musicians caught in the act of pretending to rehearse.  Everything is too neat: the “informal” clothing; the way that they are both looking at the camera while trying not to — not at each other.  I can hear the photographer: “Look like you’re singing, Lee.  Victor, don’t look down at the piano.  Look as if you’re accompanying her but don’t look at her.”

From this photograph, one wouldn’t know that Lee and Victor were “an item,” lovers for a long time.  There was a Mrs. Young, but the Wiley-Young affair was known among musicians.  The photograph of “Lee Wiley . . . and her old maestro” doesn’t even look as if they knew each other before this session. The truth of Lee and Victor — one of the possible truths — would not have been captured for the public eye.  Is it fitting that Lee and Victor made music together most frequently for records and radio broadcasts, where they would have been heard but never seen?

Slightly less than a decade later, another uncomfortable photograph freezes a present moment and accurately forecasts a less happy future:

LEE AND JESS 1943 largeGranted, wedding pictures do not always catch the moment in authentic ways, but the body language of this couple is less than ardent: their hands barely touch, their gazes are remote.  Even the text of the press release is more concerned with Lieut. Boettcher than with Jess Stacy, a great artist and a gentle man but hardly a “member of a wealthy Denver family.”  (Was this Charles Boettcher II, who had been kidnapped in 1933 and a $60,000 ransom paid?)

LEE AND JESS large back

The back of the picture tells its own story.  The marriage did not last five years.

These photographs come from the files of J. Walter Thompson.  Years later, an administrative assistant went through the files with a rubber stamp, noting the DECEASED — a job with certain melancholy overtones.  (I think of Bartelby in the Dead-Letter Office.)  Someone on eBay will buy these as cheerful nostalgic artifacts.

Music, Maestro, please?

CARELESS LOVE is from 1934 — Lee, with Victor directing.

SUGAR is from a 1944 Eddie Condon Town Hall concert / radio broadcast (Ernie Caceres, clarinet).

And — since I can’t see it too often — here is Joe Rushton’s home movie of Lee and Jess, newly married, walking down the street.  Is it the same day as the press photograph? Lee has on a different outfit; Jess wears what seems to be the same double-breasted suit.  Consider what this shows of their marriage.

Does the camera capture only a moment of staged reality or does it show more than we know at the time?

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE SWEET ON SUE: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON (JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY, March 8-9, 2014)

I admire improvisers who can return to familiar material and approach it with freshness — in the way the great forebears did, playing the same tunes night after night.

Here are two very energizing examples of that kind of creative improvisation — performed in 2014 at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums — variations on a 1928 pop tune, Victor Young’s SWEET SUE, JUST YOU.

The first gallops, nearly violently; the second (offered in the first set of the morning) is more gentle but no less swinging. Carl said he had played SWEET SUE at every set: had there been no other bands competing for my attention, I would have liked to record and present all six or seven versions. These two will act as evidence of the beautiful living music that Carl, Marty, and Jeff offer so generously.

SWEET SUE (late in the evening of March 8, 2014):

SWEET SUE (perhaps fourteen hours later, March 9, 2014):

I remind you that the Jazz Bash by the Bay is delightfully in gear for March 2015. Here is their Facebook page, and here is their band lineup for that happy event, with the Carl Sonny Leyland trio fourth from the top.  A good thing.

For those who have no intention of waiting until March, Carl and his trio will be at the San Diego Jazz Fest a week from now — details here. Hope to see you in both places.

May your happiness increase!

“WEE WEE,” “LOVE ME,” and MORE: COVERS AND LABELS

I’ve been eBaying once again — cyberspace’s version of going to antique stores in person — and I found four intriguing objects, all musical.

A song Mildred never recorded:

MILDRED 1932

but the intriguing part of this cover (it might have been a very good song, given the credits of Isham Jones and Charles Newman) is the store listing, bottom right — a jewelry store that sold victrolas, records, and music in a town in Wisconsin.  Evidence of a wondrous and now vanished past.

One year later, a song Lee Wiley should have recorded (music by her paramour Victor Young):

LEE WILEY 1933

The jazz versions I know are Jack Teagarden and Art Tatum — both contemporaneous.

Now, two discs.  Autographed ones, from the collection of Bill Thompson.

Mister Mercer and Mister Teagarden, if you please:

MERCER and JACKThey were a wonderful team (I think not only of these duets but THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN, and LORD, I GIVE YOU MY CHILDREN).

And the prize.  Was George French or was Louis being Louis?

WEE WEE LOUISI think that is positively begging to be made into a t-shirt, but I picture people coming too close, squinting at it, and asking for explanations, so this idea may have to go in the basket where the almost-good ideas are kept.

May your happiness increase!

MOLLY RYAN: “SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER”

When I first heard Molly Ryan sing, I thought, “That girl has such a beautiful voice!”  But she has more that that — innate connections to the music, to feeling, and to swing.  She knows what the records sound like, but she doesn’t imitate them: the music comes out of her essential self.

All of these lovely tendencies, fully realized, reverberate through her new CD, SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! (with its very apropos exclamation point).

MOLLY RYAN

But first.  Something lovely for the ears: SAY IT WITH A KISS, sung so prettily by Molly, accompanied by husband Dan Levinson, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano; Connie Jones, cornet — recorded Sept. 4, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival:

The good news about SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is that it is a new Molly Ryan – and Friends of the First Rank – CD.  That should be enough for anyone.

The even better news is that it is carefully thought out in every possible way, from the cheerful photos that adorn it, to the exuberant liner notes by Will Friedwald, to the varied and rewarding song choices, to the hot band and the Lady Friends who join in.

If there’s a way it could have been improved, it is beyond me to imagine it.

And all the careful planning hasn’t constricted the result — some CDs are so precise, so cautious, that they are audibly lifeless: morgue-music.  SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! is beautifully planned but all the planning gives the musicians room to swing out, to do what they do so beautifully, to be their own precious selves as individuals and as a supportive community of swing pals.

The pals are — from the top — husband Dan Levinson, reeds, arrangements, and a vocal; Dan Barrett, trombone, arrangements; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Chris Flory and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Vince Giordano, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And Molly is joined by vocal swing stars Banu Gibson and Maude Maggart for one third of the eighteen tracks, more than once forming a divinely varied and subtle vocal trio.

And where some well-meant CDs bog down in a narrow or restrictive repertoire (seventy-five minutes of the same thing can get tiring quickly) this one bounces from surprise to surprise, evidence of Molly’s deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for the best music from all kinds of corners.  Here are a few of the composers: Harry Warren, Richard Whiting, Cole Porter, J. Russel Robinson, Ben Oakland, Richard Rodgers, Bronislaw Kaper, Eubie Blake, B.G. DeSylva, Jerome Kern, Victor Young — and HUSHABYE MOUNTAIN from the Sherman brothers’ 1968 film CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, no less.

You can purchase SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER here, or (better yet) you can find Molly at a live gig and ask her to sign one for you, which she will do gladly. To keep up with her musical adventures, click here.

She’s the real thing.  But you knew that already.

May your happiness increase!

THE ODDS ARE ON OBJECTS

Brendan Gill told the story in his book HERE AT THE NEW YORKER of handing a Roman coin to his fellow writer William Maxwell, whose response I have taken as my title.  The objects I’m referring to are also round and ancient, with a different pedigree.

This most recent manifestation of The Quest began in June 2013 in a Novato, California antiques shop.  The Beloved had noted that they had 78s and even checked one to see — it was a Ray Noble Victor — that the pile might have some interest to me.

After assuming the traditional position — somewhere between all-fours and an unsteady squatting balance — I found this one, and walked away with it after offering the natives two dollars and eighteen cents for it:

2013 110

Ten days later, we visited the Goodwill in Petaluma, where I’d once found — magically — WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, thanks to Mr. Crosby and some collection of Hidden Powers (a story we treasure).

No such revelations awaited us, but on the floor were four cartons of 78s, most in paper sleeves — more than a few from a Berkeley record store — and some in brown paper albums.  Someone had admired or collected Bing, for two of the cartons held Deccas, from the sunburst 1937 LET’S CALL A HEART A HEART to the early-Fifties duet with son Gary, SAM’S SONG.

I went through them quickly, out of respect for Bing, but my attention was drawn by the scraps of someone’s record collection — the ones I collected for myself reached from the Twenties to the late Forties.  I bypassed any number of sweet bands — Tom Coakley for one — but went for many varieties of Hot and Sweet.  Each was ninety-nine cents plus tax.

The most recent, circa 1946, is a West Coast big band led by reedman Cates — including trumpeter Clyde Hurley:

2013 109

Going back nearly a quarter-century earlier, a label that makes collectors’ hearts race:

2013 108

January 1924, with Phil Napoleon, Miff Mole, Jimmy Lytell, Frank Signorelli, Tony Colucci or John Cali, Jack Roth.

2013 107

Aptly named — from 1940 — conducted and arranged by someone we admire, before he became Paul Weston.

2013 105

The way we feel about Miss Wiley.

2013 103

Another sweet star — asking a meteorological question.

2013 106

Miss Helen Rowland —  a singer memorable but not sufficiently well-known.

2013 104This record isn’t listed in Lord’s discography, but “Comedienne” suggests a certain amount of energy; having heard Miss Walker sing, I wouldn’t expect her to “get hot,” but she’s never a disappointment.

2013 102The other side of this disc appeared first to my eyes: I GOT RHYTHM by the Bud Freeman Trio, with Jess Stacy and George Wettling.  I find it nearly impossible to pass up a Commodore 78 — holy relics of devotion to the Hot Grail! — but this one comes with its own story.

I couldn’t find out anything about William H. Procter, but I do not doubt that he was a swing fan in the late Thirties and mid-Forties.  The two brown paper albums of 78s — mostly Goodman — all had his stickers on the label.  And it took me back to a time before my birth when a proud swing fan would have bought those stickers as a point of pride: “These are my records!” so that when he brought a new group of precious acquisitions to a friend’s house for a listening party, there was never any discussion that his new Bluebird or Blue Note was his.

Where is William H. Procter now?  I hope he is with us — just having decided that he could have the music of his elated youth on his iPod rather than those bulky black discs.  I send him gratitude for his good taste.

And let us consider — at our collective leisure — that these apparently fragile objects (and others) prove to be so durable that they may outlive their first owners.  The Beloved, who is wise, says, “Human beings cannot be stored in closets and attics, which is what happens to records.”

May your happiness increase!

DON’T MISS CHRIS (DAWSON)!

Artists rarely get paid in relation to how beautifully they create or how much their art pleases us — but if that were the case, the subtly brilliant pianist Chris Dawson would be a wealthy man.

Here’s the evidence, twice:

Victor Young’s aptly named BEAUTIFUL LOVE*:

A souvenir from Fats Waller’s 1939 London sojourn, PICCADILLY:

So, as you can easily hear, Mr. Dawson is a man of many talents: he can sweetly rhapsodize in a most restrained, elegant manner — not an extra note in an hour — with a beautiful touch.  And he can swing out in the best hot manner, evoking Fats, Nat Cole, Mel Powell, Teddy Wilson . . . imitating no one, staking his own claim.

Because he is based in Southern California, Chris is — to my way of thinking — both a National Treasure and a Well-Kept Secret . . . but ask musicians about him — Jean-Francois Bonnel, Connie Jones, Tim Laughlin, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, Dan Barrett, Hal Smith — and they will agree with me.

If you find yourself deep down South (down Santa Monica way) in the next few days, Chris is playing two gigs . . .

The “South Bay Swing Combo” will be appearing this Friday night, August 10, beginning at 6:30PM, at DeLuca Trattoria,  225 Richmond Street,  El Segundo, California: 310.640.7600.  Musicians who have eaten there say the food is delicious and the atmosphere relaxed.  Chris will be playing with two fine improvisers: Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Albert Alva, reeds.

The other appearance is a solo recital on Sunday, August 12, at 5:00pm in PDT at Mt Olive Lutheran Church Elca, on 1343 Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, California 90405.  The telephone number is 310.452.1116.

I’m beginning the one-man JAZZ LIVES campaign to make sure that everyone hears Chris and that wise concert / party / festival promoters put his name at the top of their lists.  Anyone want to join me in this endeavor?

*As an experiment, play BEAUTIFUL LOVE for someone who can’t see the screen or identify Chris.  Ask the listener who’s playing — my guess is that all sorts of august names (Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Bill Evans) will come up — which is praise for Chris and more evidence that he should be better known.

May your happiness increase. 

FACES, VOICES, PAGES

The first song is famous — and someone loved and played this sheet music:

Mildred even autographed another copy:

I couldn’t find any evidence that Mildred had ever recorded this song, but for those of you who don’t know it, here’s a sultry 2011 version by Tamar Korn with Mona’s Hot Four: Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, bass:

A Young-Washington-Wiley team effort, new to me:

A little online research led to Ted FioRito’s recording of this song (vocal chorus by Muzzy Marcelino) — http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9ywcs_ted-fiorito-his-orchestra-i-d-be-te_music — not the most distinguished Victor Young creation.

But now, as you go through your errands, you might be able to hear / imagine Mildred singing DELTA and Lee assure us of her essential honesty.

May your happiness increase.

SOULFUL ELEGANCE: JOE THOMAS, TRUMPET

The trumpet master Joe Thomas, aplacid, reserved man, didn’t make as many recordings as he should have.  But he played alongside the finest musicians: Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Herman Chittison, Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, Joe Marsala, Buck Clayton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Edmond Hall, Art Tatum, Pete Brown, Claude Hopkins, Kenny Kersey, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Russell, Buddy Tate, Tony Scott, Dicky Wells, Oscar Pettiford, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon.  Harry Lim (of Keynote Records) was a special champion of Joe’s and featured him on many sessions.

Here is a 1945 recording — during the great flourishing of small independent jazz labels — on the Jamboree label, which issued perhaps twenty discs in all, most featuring Don Byas; one session under Horace Henderson’s name; another was the only session under Dave Tough’s name — featuring our Mr. Thomas.  One of the Byas discs, recorded by Don, Joe, and the mighty rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri, Billy Taylor, and Cozy Cole, is JAMBOREE JUMP — a groovy 32-bar head arrangement:

My ears tell me that JUMP has a close relationship with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, exceedingly familiar chord changes for that period. The line sounds at first simple, something out of a child’s scale exercise — but it turns more adventurous.  There is a suggestion of a phrase we know from DIZZY ATMOSPHERE as well.  Swing and Be-Bop were adjacent, simultaneous, rather than two epochs as the journalists wanted us to believe.

Byas swoops and hollers, evoking Ben, over that concisely effective rhythm section, with Guarneri offering his own synthesis of Waller and Basie over Taylor’s powerful bass and Cole’s restrained drums — their sound somewhat swallowed by the whoosh of the 78 surface, although his bass drum is a swing heartbeat.

The quartet glides for two minutes until Thomas announces himself with one of the upwards arpeggios he loved, a sea creature leaping gracefully through the ocean’s surface.  His repeated notes never seem mechanical or over-emphatic: he just states he has arrived!  Joe, as Whitney Balliett pointed out, had listened hard to the Louis of the Hot Seven period, although Joe always kept his cool.  What follows might seem simple, undramatic for those anticipating the attack of an Eldridge or an Emmett Berry.  But Joe knew how to structure a solo through space, to make his phrases ring by leaving breathing room between them.  Like Bix or Basie, Joe embodied restraint while everyone around him was being urgent.  His pure dark sound is as important as the notes he plays — or chooses to omit.  Although his bridge is a leisurely series of upwards-moving arpeggios, it is more than “running changes.”

A simple phrase, in Thomas’s world, is a beautifully burnished object.  And one phrase flows into another, so at the end of the solo, one has embraced a new melody, resonant in three dimensions, that wasn’t there before, full of shadings, deep and logically constructed.  The band returns for the last statement of the theme, but it’s Joe’s solo I return to.

Louis, speaking about playing the trumpet, praised as the greatest good “tonation and phrasing.”  Joe’s tone, dark and shining, makes the simple playing of a written line something to marvel at, and each of his notes seems a careful choice yet all is fresh, never by rote: someone speaking words that have become true because he has just discovered they are the right ones for the moment.

I offer JAMBOREE JUMP as prelude to something even more marvelous.

Harry Lim, the guiding genius of Keynote Records — which, session for session, was consistently rewarding — loved Joe and featured him often.  The Pete Brown All-Star Quintet had a splendid rhythm section and the contrast between Joe’s stately sweetness and Pete’s lemony ebullience.  IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN shows off not only the contrast between them, stylistically, but also in tempos — this 12″ 78 (another one of the independent labels’ of the time’s great ideas — thank Milt Gabler and Alfred Lion) contrasts sweeping elegance with double-time romping.

That song might well have been Joe’s choice.  I was fortunate enough to see him in person a few times in the early Seventies, and he took this song as a kind of personal utterance.  I don’t know if the lyrics meant something deep to him — he was happily married to the singer Babe Matthews for many years — or if he associated the song with some event or place in his past, but he played it and sang it as if he had composed it.  And given Joe’s delight in the possibility of repeated notes in his soloing, TALK provides ample opportunities in its written melody.  (Like DARN THAT DREAM, it is a song that — played mechanically — could grow wearisome quickly.)

Here’s the Keynote recording, beautifully annotated by its generous YouTube creator:

If you’ve heard little of pianist Kenny Kersey, his chiming, serious solo introduction is evidence that he is another unheard master.

Then Joe comes to the fore in a sorrowing embellishment of the theme.  Hear his vibrato, his tone — without stating anything in melodramatic capital letters, he says, “What you are hearing is very serious to me.  It comes from my heart.”  Indeed, I think of the great later Louis of THAT’S FOR ME.  Joe is somber and tender at once, lingering over a note here, adding a small ornamental flourish, as he does at the end of the first sixteen bars, almost in a casual whisper, his brass voice trailing away.

Around him, the elements are in place: the warm resonance of Milt’s notes; the gentle timekeeping of J.C. Heard; Kersey, pointing the way; the sweet understated agreements provided by Pete’s alto.

When Joe would sing TALK OF THE TOWN, he would get even more emphatic on the bridge.  A song that begins, “I can’t show my face” already starts passionately, but the bridge is a drama of disappointment and betrayal: “We sent out invitations / To friends and relations / Announcing our wedding day. / Friends and relations gave congratulations. / How can you face them? / What can you say?”  Here, Joe’s trumpet rises to depict this heartbreak without increasing his volume or adding more notes.  The run that begins the second half of the bridge is Joe’s version of an early Thirties Louis phrase in sweet slow-motion.

Something startling comes next, and although I have known this recording for several decades, I can’t prepare myself for it: Pete Brown and the rhythm section go into double-time.  Pete loved to push the beat, and perhaps the idea of playing TALK OF THE TOWN as an extended ballad seemed too much of a good thing.  I also wonder if Pete knew that to follow Joe in the same fashion was not a good idea*.  Whatever the reason, the spirit of Roy Eldridge playing BODY AND SOUL at double-time is in the room.  Although Pete’s rough bouncy energy is initially startling, his bluesy vocalized tone is delightful, and the rhythm section digs in (Heard’s soft bass drum accents suggest Catlett).  And there’s the SALT PEANUTS octave jump at the end of the bridge, too.

It’s left to Kersey to return everyone to the elegiac tempo set at the start, and he does it beautifully, although the section has to settle in.  Joe returns, declamatory and delicate.  Where many trumpeters of the period might have gone up for a high one, Joe repeats the title of the song as if to himself.

I have loved Joe Thomas’ work for forty-five years, having heard him first on an Ed Beach radio show with the Keynote SHE DIDN’T SAY YES and then on a Prestige-Swingville session led by Claude Hopkins and featuring Buddy Tate.  His playing still moves me.  Although his simple notes are not difficult to play on the trumpet, to play them as he does, to learn how to sing through metal tubing is a lifetime’s work.  There were and are many compelling Louis-inspired trumpeters, and they all brought their own special joy.  But there was only one Joe Thomas.

Thanks to SwingMan1937 for posting JAMBOREE JUMP and to sepiapanorama for IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN.  These generous YouTube folks have excellent taste!

*About Pete Brown’s double-time section.  I came across another YouTube presentation of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — Connee Boswell’s lovely 1933 reading with the Dorsey Brothers in an orchestra directed by Victor Young — and she lifts the tempo, too.  Perhaps it was a swing convention when the song was first introduced?  (The picture of the singer isn’t Connee but Jo Stafford, by the way.)

May your happiness increase.