Tag Archives: Walt Gifford

“RARE WILD BILL”: WILD BILL DAVISON 1925-1960

rare-wild-bill

Initially, I was somewhat skeptical of this set, having heard the late cornetist — in person and on record — repeat himself note-for-note, the only questions being whether a) he was in good form and thus looser, and b) whether the surrounding musicians provided some extra energy and inspiration.  However, this 2-disc set, released in 2015, is fascinating and comprehensive . . . even if you were to find William a limited pleasure.  The Amazon link — which has a title listing — is here.

The set covers Bill’s work from 1925 to 1960, and I would bet a mint copy of THAT’S A PLENTY (Commodore 12″) that only the most fervent Davison collectors would have heard — much less owned — more than twenty percent of the 52 tracks here.  Thanks for the material are due Daniel Simms, who is undoubtedly the greatest WBD collector on this or any other planet.  (And some tracks that I’ve heard and known for years in dim cassette copies are sharp and clear here.)

A brief tour.  The set begins with three 1925 Gennett sides where Bill is a member of the Chubb-Steinberg Orchestra of Cincinnati.  He’s much more in the open on three 1928 Brunswick sides by the Benny Meroff Orchestra, SMILING SKIES being the most famous.  On the Meroff sides, although Bill was at one point billed as “The White Armstrong,” I hear him on his own path . . . at times sounding much more like Jack Purvis, exuberant and rough, rather than Louis.

We jump forward to 1941 — Bill sounding perfectly like himself — and the two rare “Collector’s Item Cats” sides featuring the deliciously elliptical Boyce Brown on alto, and eight acetates from Milwaukee — where Bill plays mellophone as well as cornet, offering a sweet melody statement on GOIN’ HOME before playing hot.  Two Western Swing sides for Decca, featuring “Denver Darling” on vocals and “Wild Bill Davison and his Range Riders,” from 1946, follow — here I see the fine sly hand of Milt Gabler at work, getting one of “the guys” another gig.

A live recording from Eddie Condon’s club — with Brad Gowans, Tony Parenti, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling — is a rare treat, and with the exception of the “American Music Festival” broadcast from 1948 on WNYC, much of the second disc finds Bill and Eddie together, with Pee Wee Russell, Lord Buckley, Walter Page, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Buzzy Drootin and other heroes, both from the fabled Condon Floor Show and even Steve Allen’s Tonight Show, covering 1948-1953, with a lovely ballad medley on the last set. One track, KISS ME, a hit for singer Claire Hogan, has her delivering the rather obvious lyrics, but with some quite suggestive yet wholly instrumental commentary from Bill which suggests that more than a chaste peck on the cheek is the subject.  Incidentally, Condon’s guitar is well-recorded and rich-sounding throughout these selections.

A basement session (St. Louis, 1955) provides wonderfully fanciful music: Bill, John Field, Walt Gifford, improvising over piano rolls by Zez Confrey, Fats, and James P. Johnson.  These four t racks — beautifully balanced — offer some gently melodic improvisations from Bill as well as nicely recorded bass and drums. Also from St. Louis, six performances by a “Pick-Up Band” with standard instrumentation, including Herb Ward, Joe Barufaldi, and Danny Alvin (the last in splendid form).  Four unissued tracks where Bill, George Van Eps, Stan Wrightsman, Morty Corb, and Nick Fatool (the West Coast equivalent of Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson) join Bill in backing the otherwise unknown singer Connie Parsons; and the set ends with three tracks from a 1960 session where Bill shares the front line with the astonishing Abe Lincoln (who takes a rare vocal on MAIN STREET) and Matty Matlock.

The level of this set is much higher than what most have come to expect from a collection of rarities — in performance and in audio quality.  It isn’t a typical “best of” collection, repeating the classic performances well-known to us; rather, it shows Bill off at his best in a variety of contexts.  Thus, it’s the kind of set one could happily play all the way through without finding it constricting or tedious. I recommend it highly.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING BILL DUNHAM (1928-2016)

Often the latest jazz news is an obituary notice. It’s not surprising given the age of some of my friends and heroes, but I don’t always linger on such news: if I immersed myself in it, I might become too sad to continue stating confidently that JAZZ LIVES.

BILL D one

But I will make an exception for William B. Dunham — known to me as Bill, known earlier in his life as Hoagy.  For more than half a century he was the regular pianist with the Grove Street Stompers, who play on Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York.

Bill died on January 11: details here.

Like most of us, Bill had many facets he showed to the world.  Officially he was a New York City real estate eminence who signed his emails thusly:

William B. Dunham
Licensed Real Estate Broker
Barrow Grove Associates Inc.
P.O. Box 183, Cooper Station P.O.
New York, NY 10276-0183

But this serious signature was only one side of a man who was at heart puckish. I’d met him perhaps a decade ago and we had become friendly, so when I hadn’t seen or heard from him last year, I emailed him in August to ask if all was well, and got this response:

Hey Michael……………….Thanks for asking. For a couple of doddering old geriatrics we are doing OK – not quite at the strained food stage. I have had a little problem which has kept me out of Arthur’s. Getting better.

Blog recommendation. Every Sunday from 12:30 – 2:30 a great trio at Cafe Loup on 13th Street. Piano, bass and guitar. Not to be missed! Could you video there?

Our cat population has dwindled by 50%. We had to download Manning because he tended to bite. Love bites mind you. I used to enjoy the occasional love bite – but not by a cat!

Let me know if you ever want to visit Cafe Loup on a Sunday…………

Best……Bill

PS……….LOVE your blogs!!

That was the Bill Dunham I will always remember: the enthusiastic jazz-lover who turned up at gigs, always beautifully dressed, the man who marveled at the music and the musicians, who would email me to share his delight in a video I’d just posted.  He and his wife Sonya were a reliable couple at New York City jazz gigs, cheerful and ardent.

I don’t remember whether I first met Bill at Arthur’s Tavern and then at gigs or the reverse, but our early correspondence was often his urging me to come down to hear the Grove Street Stompers on a Monday night, or telling me what wonderful things had happened the previous Monday.  I am afraid I put him off fairly consistently, because I have taught early-morning Tuesday classes for thirty years and even when the GSS gig ended at ten, I yawned my way through my work.  But I did make my way down there — with camera — one night in 2010, and recorded this performance, the regular band with guest stars Dan Barrett, cornet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone (later in the evening Rossano Sportiello took to the piano):

Others in that band are Peter Ballance, trombone (seen here in front of the narrow bandstand, keeping track of the songs played that night); Joe Licari, clarinet; Giampaolo Biagi, drums; Skip Muller, string bass.

Here is a more recent still photograph of that band, with Scott Ricketts, cornet; Steve Little, drums:

BILL D at Arthurs Ballance Ricketts Licari Little perhaps MullerAs a pianist, Bill was an ensemble player who offered the plain harmonies as the music moved along.  He knew this, and did not seek to inflate his talents: when I saw him at a gig where Rossano Sportiello or Mark Shane was at the keyboard, he spoke of them and their playing as versions of the unreachable ideal.  He was proud of the Grove Street Stompers as a durable organism upholding the collective love of jazz, but modest about himself.

A digression.  Bill became one of my most enthusiastic blog-followers but he often found technology baffling, which is the right of people who came to computers late in life.  WordPress would inexplicably unsubscribe him from JAZZ LIVES, and I would get a plaintive telephone call and then attempt — becoming Customer Service — to walk him through the steps that would re-establish a connection.  Once the complication was beyond my powers to fix on the telephone, and since I knew I was coming in to Manhattan, I offered to come to his apartment and fix things there, which he happily accepted.  There I found out about the four cats — I don’t remember their names, and since I was a stranger, they went into hiding (perhaps they didn’t like something I’d posted on the blog?) and I never saw them.

Once I fixed the connection, because it was noon, Bill offered me a glass of iced gin, which I declined, and spoke of his other jazz obsession — Wild Bill Davison. Wild Bill, when he was in New York City in between gigs, would come down to Arthur’s and play, and Bill (Dunham) spoke happily of those encounters: he’d also become a WBD collector, but not in the usual way: Bill’s goal was to acquire a copy of every recording WBD had ever made, perhaps on every label and every speed. I was awe-struck, but perhaps tactlessly asked if this was like collecting stamps, because WBD’s solos had become more worked-out than not. To his credit, Bill agreed.

He also had a substantial collection of paper ephemera and memorabilia. However, by the time I’d met him and had this blog, any ideas of an interview were brushed aside, “Michael!” he’d say, laughing, “I can barely remember my wife’s name!”

Before I’d ever met Bill, though, I knew of him as a youthful eminence in ways more important to me.  He had graduated from Harvard in 1952.  To my mind, this made him a truly sentient being — even if gentlemen at Harvard those days aimed no higher than a C, I believe those C grades meant something.  He was seriously involved with jazz before I was able to crawl.

Thanks to my dear friend John L. Fell, I heard a tape of Bill in 1951 as part of the Harvard jazz band, the Crimson Stompers — including drummer Walt Gifford — on a session where clarinetist Frank Chace, visiting Boston, had been the star. In Manfred Selchow’s book on Edmond Hall, I learned that Hall had been recorded at an informal session in 1948, and “Hoagy Dunham” had played piano on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. I had a cassette copy of what remained of those sessions.  At some point I copied these tapes onto another cassette and sent them to Bill, who was ecstatic.  Through Jeanie Wilson, Barbara Lea’s dearest friend, I learned that Bill — for a very short time — had dated Barbara, and I got Bill to write his memories when Barbara died, which you can read here.  Here is a post in which Bill figures — both in a black-and-white photograph of himself, Barbara, and the Stompers, and a Harvard news story where he is “Hoagie” Dunham.

Another photograph of the Crimson Stompers, from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, tenderly maintained by Duncan Schiedt:

CRIMSON STOMPERS 11 48

And here is Bill, as a JAZZ LIVES stringer or jazz town crier, with some New York news (hilariously).

A few memories from cornetist Scott Ricketts, seen above with Bill on the bandstand —

“At the end of a set, Bill would refer to Arthur’s as ‘The West Side’s Finest Supper Club’. But the only food I ever saw there was in the 25 cent glass peanut machine in the front.”  

“Bill would always close the set (over Mood Indigo) by telling the audience, “Have a couple of Wild Turkeys, we’ll be right back.” At the band’s 50th anniversary party, I asked Bill if he was having a Wild Turkey? He said ‘No, I don’t drink that stuff!'”

And a neat summation from a cousin of  Bill’s:

“Bill was a terrific guy, who served in the military in Korea and then came back to attend Harvard on the GI bill. He was a bit of a renaissance man; having gone to Harvard, worked on Wall Street, been a noted jazz musician (his real passion), and then into real estate. I was fortunate enough to get to see him just a few weeks ago, and we coaxed him to play some music on the piano in the front lobby of the assisted living home they were visiting with their daughter. He still had it then.”

How might people count their lives well-lived?  To me (and the person who has made the transition can only know this in some spiritual way) if you’ve lived your life properly, people miss you when you are no longer there.  I know I will from now on think, “I wonder if  Bill will show up tonight?” when I am seated at a particular gig — and then have to remind myself that he won’t.  I send my condolences to Sonya, and Bill’s daughter Amy.

My jazz universe and my personal universe are smaller and less vibrant because of Bill’s death.

Thanks so much to Alison Birch for her generous help in this blogpost.

And “this just in,” thanks to Joseph Veltre and ancestry.com — Bill’s picture from the 1952 Harvard yearbook:

BILL DUNHAM 1952

May your happiness increase!

“MAN — YOU KNOW IT’S THE COOLEST”

The epitome of cool, or “Gone, man, gone”:

WETTLING COOLThis studio portrait of Mr. Wettling, appropriately inscribed, occupied a place of honor in drummer and friend Walt Gifford’s scrapbook.  Two other facets of the very talented Geo. can be found here and .

Don’t let the period percussive gestures from the apparently ancient disc put you off.  To quote an expert jazz drummer I know, “You could play that in any context and it would sound good.  It never gets old.”  In fact, if possible, I would urge listeners to aurally push aside the glories of Fats, Tommy, Bunny, and McDonough, and simply concentrate on the shifting sound-carpets Mr. Wettling creates for us, alive in 1937 and alive now.

And here — magically — brought to you by the invisible forces of the internet — is another pose from the same studio session.  Intent on being cool.  Cool, you know, is serious business:

WETTLING alternate pose

Whether playing drums, painting, writing satiric doggerel, playing at being a late-Forties hipster, George Wettling was a treasure.  Listen, consider, and be uplifted.

Some cultural critics can balance these photographs against THE NIGHT BEFORE BOPMAS and arrive at a point of balance — I think amused masquerade plus affectionate mockery feels right.  And as a personal aside, perhaps a decade after the poem and the photograph, I dressed up for Halloween as a “beatnik,” complete with beret, cigarette holder, and goatee created with my mother’s eyebrow pencil.  I think I had to explain at many doors what my costume was.  Geo. did it better.

May your happiness increase! 

A FEW GLOWING SECONDS OF GLORY

When I returned to my apartment in New York, I thought, “I need music in here. Music will help remind me who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, where my path might lead.”  Initially I reached for some favorite performances for consolation, then moved over to the crates of homemade audiocassettes — evidence of more than twenty-five years of tape-trading with like-minded souls.

One tape had the notation PRIVATE CHICAGO, and looking at it, I knew that it was the gift of Leonora Taylor, who preferred to be called “Gypsy,” and who had an unusual collection of music.  When I asked drummer / scholar Hal Smith about her, he reminded me that she loved the UK clarinetist Archie Semple. Although I don’t recall having much if any Archie to offer her, we traded twenty or thirty cassettes.

PRIVATE CHICAGO had some delightful material recorded (presumably) at the Evanston, Illinois house of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft — amateur pianist, sometime composer, friend / benefactor to jazz musicians. Squirrel was both a dear friend of Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Eddie Condon, Boyce Brown, Johnny Mercer, George Barnes, Lee Wiley, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, and many others — one facet of a very intriguing life.  He deserves a biography.

But back to the music.

I played through the side of the cassette, rewound it, and played it again.  And I kept returning to a short improvisation: BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, played by Johnny Windhurst (cornet or trumpet) and Jack Gardner (piano) with possibly other players in the background — I hear a murmuring clarinet offering harmony notes — recorded, Gypsy’s typed notes say, circa 1950.

Neither Windhurst nor Gardner is as well known as they should be. Windhurst (1926-1981) was recognized young as a brilliant player, and got to play with the best — Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster in Boston when he wasn’t voting age, then Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Kenny Kersey, John Field, Jimmy Crawford a few years later, moving on to be one of Eddie Condon’s regulars, briefly recording with Jack Teagarden and on his own date with Buell Neidlinger, on a Walt Gifford session, with Barbara Lea (he was both colleague and boyfriend) then moving upstate to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he died too young (once being mugged and beaten) of a heart attack.

I saw him in person once, at Your Father’s Mustache in New York in 1972 — with Herb Hall and Herb Gardner (the latter someone who is very much with us) and Red Balaban.  Windhurst was capable of the most beautiful melodic flights of fancy — a cross between heavenly music of the highest order and Bobby Hackett — but he couldn’t read music, disdained the idea of doing so, and thus turned down higher-paying and possibly higher-visibility gigs from bandleaders.  I read somewhere that Woody Herman wanted to hire him, offered him good pay, promised to teach him to read, but Windhurst — a free spirit — would have none of it.

There is one video extant of Windhurst — I wrote about it, and him, in 2009 (and received wonderful comments from people who had played alongside him) here.

I did not know much about pianist Gardner, except that what I’ve heard suggests a delicate barrelhouse approach, and I seem to recall he was a large man called by some “Jumbo Jack.” But an exquisite biographical sketch of Jack by the diligent writer and researcher Derek Coller can be found here.  (Our Jack Gardner is not the man who led an orchestra in Dallas in 1924-5.)  Jack first recorded with Wingy Manone and Jimmy McPartland, then got more visibility with Harry James (you can hear him on SLEEPY TIME GAL and he is also on Sinatra’s first recording with James) 1939-40, then he crops up with Muggsy Spanier, Red Nichols, Bud Freeman, and after being captured on sessions at Squirrel’s from 1950-52, we hear no more from him.

I know THE BATTLE  HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC as a very assertive religious song in which the enemies of the Lord receive divine punishment:  “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” and so on, even though later verses of the song — known to how many? — suggest that there is a balm of kindness.

More importantly than the theological, I and others know it as a hot number — think of “Red Nichols” as played by Danny Kaye and “Louis Armstrong” as played by himself in THE FIVE PENNIES, sending the sermon. Everyone from Art Hodes to George Lewis to Gerry Mulligan has recorded it, but I suggest that no version you will ever hear matches the sweet delicacy of this brief celestial interlude by Windhurst and Gardner.

Windhurst doesn’t venture far from the melody — the recording catches less than a whole chorus, and aside from a bluesy transformation near the end, it is melodic embellishment rather than harmonic improvisation.  But he treats the melodic line with lightness, fervor, and love; every note is caressed; his tone is so beautiful as to make “golden” into an affront.  Gardner plays a simplified version of barrelhouse support but never gets in Windhurst’s way. The whole duet is tender, yearning — the music of the spheres in under a minute.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

May your happiness increase!

A NEWTONIAN UNIVERSE

Trumpeter Frank Newton should have been celebrated more in his lifetime, loved and understood more. I have written elsewhere about his glorious music and his difficult times. And even if you see him as a free spirit, too large to be held down or restrained by “the music business,” a more just world would have been kinder.

But I treasure every glimpse of him. These three are more cheerful than melancholy. The first is from the September 1939 issue of DOWN BEAT, a gift from Mal Sharpe, who also knows the value of such artifacts.

CALIFORNIA 2014 048 (1)

The second and third come from Newton’s final years (he died all too young in 1954) in Boston.  My source here is drummer Walt Gifford: his scrapbook passed through my hands thanks to the kindness of Duncan Schiedt, and I share two priceless artifacts with you.

Walt obviously took part in Frank’s birthday party; this was the trumpeter’s sincere gratitude in a few words:

NEWTON LETTER

The final artifact is a candid snapshot taken in July 1951, when Frank was working as a counselor at Kiddie Kamp in Sharon, Massachusetts:

NEWTON 7 51

Look at those smiling faces! One or more of those children is with us still, although it might be too much to expect that these grown men and women, in their late sixties, would be reading JAZZ LIVES.

Here is an audible reminder of the beauty Newton created — the 1939 recording (with Tab Smith, soprano saxophone), TAB’S BLUES:

Frank Newton touched people’s hearts with or without his horn.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE (October 14, 1952)

Bobby Hackett, listening to Vic Dickenson sing. October 14, 1952. Photograph by Robert Parent, taken while Bobby and Vic were performing at Childs Paramount, New York City. For another vision of happiness at that same gig, although a different evening, click  here.Untitled-1

I believe the photograph is posed rather than a candid shot, since no one is in motion, but the delight on Hackett’s face is not something he could or would have put on for the photographer.

Please study that expression — mingled astonishment, delight, and surprise.

Even though Bobby and Vic had worked together a few years before (their first recorded appearance is a 1945 Jubilee broadcast) and they would play together as friends until Bobby’s death in 1976, the emotions Vic could stir, and still does stir, are always fresh.

In this photograph, Vic is making a point — lightly, not emphatically, and Hackett is indicating, “I need to hear more of this.” If you looked only at each man, you would see a singular version of pleasure.  Vic is ready to laugh — he had a particular high-pitched giggle — and Hackett is clearly enjoying what he hears. Vic might have been singing his own lyrics to SISTER KATE — a story of erotic wooing both difficult and ultimately unsatisfactory — but the song itself is not important.

Here are three versions of Dickensonian happiness.

In Vic’s seventies, he appeared with Trummy Young, Jay McShann, Milt Hinton, and Gus Johnson at Dick Gibson’s 1982 jazz party.

Forty-five years earlier, in a Claude Hopkins band recording for Decca, revisiting MY KINDA LOVE (a hit for Ben Pollack nearly a decade earlier).  Vic has sixteen bars in the middle of the performance, and he leaps in with a break (tightly muted), and offers balletic ease and witty references to CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN HARLEM and SHOOT THE LIKKER TO ME, JOHN BOY — rather like a dazzling jazz acrobat who shows you all his twists and turns in less than thirty seconds:

And finally, Vic playing an ancient song (he knew them all) OH, BY JINGO! — introduced by Bobby.  This comes from a Chicago television show, JUST JAZZ, 1969, with Lou Forestieri, Franklyn Skeete, and Don DeMicheal.  Notice the mutual admiration between Bobby and Vic, and hear the latter’s “Yeah!” after Bobby’s break:

Between 1970 and perhaps 1981 I saw Vic as often as circumstances (time, finance, and geography) allowed — and although no one took my picture while he was playing, I am sure that my expression was much like Bobby’s — deep pleasure mixed with surprise.

And, three decades after his death, he still has the power to evoke those reactions. His friend, Mr. Hackett, continues to amaze at the same level.

Even if you do not get to listen to Vic or Bobby, alone or together, I hope that life brings you many opportunities to be just as pleased . . . whatever the reason.

May your happiness increase! 

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE (September 16, 1952)

Untitled-2Bobby Hackett admired Louis Armstrong — the man and his music — throughout his life, and Louis felt the same way about the younger man.  Louis and Bobby were friends, enjoyed each other’s company, and played alongside each other for nearly three decades.  Charles Peterson took photographs of them at the Walt Whitman School in 1942 (see that frankly astonishing offering here) and we have video footage of them at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1970.

The photograph above comes from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, lent to me by the very generous Duncan Schiedt.  The photographer was Bob Parent, but the photograph is otherwise not annotated.  But the “Childs” menu or drink list that Louis is resting his hand on tells me that this was taken during a Hackett gig at Childs Paramount; Louis’ informal attire suggests that he was visiting rather than playing, and that this happy meeting took place in warm weather.

My research team of Riccardi, Caparone, DeCarlis, and Rothberg, LLC, has noted that Hackett is playing a Besson trumpet with a Bach mouthpiece; The New Yorker has listed Hackett as playing at Childs in September 1952, and Louis was playing with Gordon Jenkins at the Paramount Theatre (immediately above the restaurant) in September, before he left for Europe.  Even better, the Hackett gig began on September 16, 1952, and it has been documented that Louis dropped in to visit and hear.  And smile.

I could show you a picture photograph of the restaurant — at 1501 Broadway (at 43rd Street) beneath the Paramount Theatre, or a 1947 menu that lists as its highest-priced supper item a plate of fried oysters, potatoes, and cole slaw — seventy-five cents. I could point out that Louis’ watch seems to say it is just past 11:30.

But the picture says more about what happiness is than any of that historical detritus, and Louis and Bobby are secure in their brotherly love and respect forever.

Here’s another lovely kind of evidence, music I have known since childhood:

and another version, from 1970:

(More evidence of Louis and Bobby’s deep love can be found here — coming soon!)

Incidentally, Louis was quoted as saying, “I’m the coffee, and Bobby’s the cream,” which I suppose one could take as a racial joke about their outer coverings — but I see it as something deeper, the way two elements combine in a sweet synergy to create something that neither of them would have been, separate.

May your happiness increase!