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!

JAZZ STUDIES PROGRAM, NOVEMBER 1948

Sixty-five years ago, if you found yourself deeply entranced by hot music, you studied it in the ways available to you.  You collected records and talked about them with other devotees: Lee Konitz and Omer Simeon, bootleg reissues on labels like Temple and Baltimore. If you tended towards the dogmatic, you quarreled over Bunk Johnson versus Dizzy Gillespie. If someone had records you’d never heard, you had listening sessions where each of you could share the good sounds. You sought out live performances and talked to the professional musicians. You read Marshall Stearns and Barry Ulanov, Rudi Blesh and Art Hodes, DOWN BEAT, METRONOME, THE JAZZ RECORD, and more.

But perhaps most importantly, you didn’t find your jazz in classrooms, but in frat houses, dances, basement rec rooms, and the houses of friends and friends’ parents.

If you were any good (and even if you weren’t) you formed a band. One of the best was a Harvard group — The Crimson Stompers — of such fame that Ed Hall, Bobby Hackett, Bob Wilber, a young Barbara Lea (then a Wellesley girl) Frank Chace, and Vic Dickenson sat in.

From drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, thanks to Duncan Schiedt, here’s a portrait of what embodying the jazz impulse at college was sixty-five years ago:

CRIMSON STOMPERS 11 48

Bill “Hoagy” Dunham is still with us and still playing Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York City.  Any memories of this, Bill?

The photograph is before my time, but I salute the young men enjoying themselves.  What is college for if you can’t explore new subjects?

May your happiness increase!

LISTEN TO VIC DICKENSON

Vic Dickenson, trombonist, singer, composer.  Photograph by Robert Parent (circa 1951).  Inscribed to drummer Walt Gifford.  From Gifford’s scrapbook, courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.

VIC by ROBERT PARENT

I dream of a jazz-world where everyone gets the credit they deserve, where Vic is as celebrated — and as listened to — as his contemporaries and friends Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Mary Lou Williams, Frank Newton, and many more.

I’d like writers to pay attention to his delicate lyricism, his melodic improvisations, his way of illuminating a song from within.  This would require new language and new hearing: no longer putting Vic into the familiar compartments of “sly,” “witty,” “naughty,” and so on.

It would also require some writers and listeners to put aside their barely-concealed disdain for jazz as it was played before Charlie Parker came to town.  No disrespect to Bird, mind you, who jammed happily with Vic and Doc Cheatham and knew that they were masters. But Vic was more than a “Dixieland” trombonist, more than someone chained to TIN ROOF BLUES and SLOW BOAT TO CHINA.

Would Vic have been taken more seriously had he played trumpet? The trombone blends so well, so often, that it (like the string bass) is taken for granted. And Vic was one of the more reticent of jazz players: someone who wanted to play rather than chat or announce. But the musicians knew how special he was, and is.  (Some people celebrated Vic during his lifetime and still do: I think of Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, John Hammond, Dan Barrett, Mal Sharpe, Manfred Selchow, and others.)

We could begin to truly hear Vic, I think.  Perhaps the beginning of the campaign would be if we asked everyone we knew to listen — and listen with all their perception and love — to music like this:

It is indeed true that having Shad Collins, Ed Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones along — in gorgeous sound — did no one any harm.  But I ask my listeners to do the difficult task of putting Vic first: his sonority, open and muted.  His time, his phrasing, the vocal quality of his sounds (plural).  His love for the melody and for the melodies that the original suggested.  His delicate concise force: what he could say in four quarter notes, or eight bars.  There was and is no one like him.

May your happiness increase!

“GEORGE WETTLING, MARCH 1953”

That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:

GEORGE WETTLING 3 53

I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction.  In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous.  He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.

Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:

and

and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:

and

If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.

May your happiness increase!

ABOUT SIXTY YEARS AGO, HOT MELODIC JAZZ, SOMEWHERE

Even the most astute jazz historians sometimes assume that jazz was played primarily in a half-dozen cities, their names familiar. But in the Fifties and Sixties, there were many opportunities for famous musicians to tour, to touch down at clubs we haven’t heard of, for a week or so.  The photograph below came from Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, was passed on to Joe Boughton, and made its way to me after his death.

I believe that this was taken some six decades ago, somewhere in what New Yorkers and Californians would call “the Midwest,” which could have been Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis, or Columbus, Ohio.  The quartet, from the left, is bassist John Field (well-known in Boston), Walt at the drums, Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Marie Marcus, piano (a pioneering jazz player, not all but forgotten, unfortunately).

WILD BILL QUARTET

You can imagine how good they sounded.  “Hi Waltie!” to be sure.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN THEY WERE ALL VERY YOUNG (Part Two): MISS LEACOCK and MR. GIFFORD

Part One, somewhat more elaborate, can be found here.  In brief: the late Joe Boughton, jazz aficionado, record producer, jazz party promoter, was a close friend of several musicians who appeared in the Boston area in his youth.  One was the superb drummer Walt Gifford; another the legendary singer Barbara Lea; another the irreplaceable cornetist Johnny Windhurst.  Gifford was not only a splendid jazz player but a first-rate amateur photographer, who took color slides of his friends . . . which Boughton then had made into prints for his own scrapbook.  When Joe died, some of these photographs came into my hands, and the half-dozen with Barbara Lea, then Miss Leacock of Wellesley College, are now held in the Barbara Lea Archives.  All this is prelude to one tender snapshot.  On the back it reads (in Boughton’s handwriting)

DEC. 1948
LEAKY & GIFFY
BARBARA LEA
WALT GIFFORD
Both gone now, and so young then:
LEAKY AND GIFFY
However, perhaps some of my readers share with me the feeling that if you are remembered with love, you never die.  Looking at this photograph, it is hard to feel otherwise.
May your happiness increase!

WHEN THEY WERE ALL VERY YOUNG (Part One): MISS LEACOCK, MR. GIFFORD, AND THE FELLOWS

Barbara Lea and the Crimson Stompers, 1948:

LEA AND STOMPERS 1948 HARVARD

That’s Miss Leacock, Barbara Lea to you, singing as if her life depended on it, with the Harvard small hot jazz band, the Crimson Stompers, in 1948.  Bill “Hoagy” Dumham is at the piano; Walt Gifford is at the drums; Larry Eanet is on trombone; Ollie Taylor is one of the clarinetists . . . and the rest are not known to me, at the moment.  The photograph originally belonged to Gifford, then was passed on to the late Joe Boughton, and it now resides in the Barbara Lea Archives, tenderly maintained by Jeanie Gorman Wilson — and is reprinted here with her kind permission.  Here’s a story from the Harvard student newspaper, which explains everything:

Stompers Have Brought Basin Street to College

By EDWARD J. COUGHLIN,

October 11, 1950

Back in the days when the Crimson Stompers were getting organized, they held their practice jam sessions down on Coolidge Hill Road behind Stillman Infirmary at the home of Charles H. Taylor, professor of History. And they had a cornetist sitting in with the band whose playing Walter H. Gifford, Jr. ’52, drummer and manager of the group, describes as a “mean cornet a la Max Kaminsky.” The horn-player’s name was Sargent Kennedy ’28, Registrar of Harvard College.

During the summer of 1948, Gifford went to a musicians’ hangout in his home town of Washington, D. C., and met a heavy dark-haired young trombonist-pianist named Laurence J. Eanet ’52. It didn’t take long for them to discover two important facts about each other–that they were both starting at Harvard as freshmen that fall, and that they both loved Dixieland jazz.

It was quite natural that, when they came up to Cambridge in September, the two started shopping around for enough men to fill out a little “amusement only” jazz ensemble. Friends told them about a fine guitar player who was a junior at the time–David Sutherland ’50, who is now at the Law School. And then there were three.

“Through the College grapevine” they heard about a fine young clarinetist, Oliver S. Taylor ’53, Professor Taylor’s son, who was then attending the Belmont Hill School. They found that Taylor was not only enthusiastic about joining their group, but that he could also recommend a good trumpeter, a Milton Academy boy named Bruce Elwell. (Elwell, relatively young and inexperienced compared to the others, has since moved on to Rollins College in Florida).

The unit was rounded out by the addition of two classmates, bassist Herbert Levin ’52 and pianist Hoagie Dunham ’52.

Proving Ground

They used to go down to Taylor’s home evenings and shake the house with their practice sessions. “The Taylors’ was a proving ground for our band,” Gifford explains. “We really started to play well in ensemble there.” During this period Kennedy enjoyed going to the house at night to sit with the boys.

They started to make trips to the Savoy on Massachusetts Avenue to listen to trumpeter “Red” Allen and the Searsdale (New York) High School sensation, clarinetist Bob Wilber. After a time, when they became known at the Savoy, they would climb up on the stand and take over the nightclub.

One night Dunham showed up with a girl who could sing. He had met Barbara Leacock, Wellesley ’51, on a blind date. The good-looking brunette had a voice that pleased Dunham’s fellow musicians and she became a featured vocalist on the band’s College engagements during the following year. They put on two concerts in the Lowell House Junior Common Room and broadcast Monday nights.

Union Was Watching

The day before they played at the Freshman Smoker, the entire group trooped down to join the musicians’ union, because New Orleans clarinetist Edmond Hall was coming out from the Savoy to play with them “and the union was watching us like a hawk.” Shortly afterwards they played for the Radcliffe freshmen at Agassiz Hall, where they were paid off in rye smuggled in by an admiring Cliffe girl.

Last year the band started off at the Savoy with the trumpet played by 20-year-old. Tufts graduate Paul Gibson, whom Gifford calls “the best jazz trumpeter this side of New York.” Then they branched out. They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby). And they found another faculty supporter in Roy Lamson, Jr. ’29 clarinet-playing professor of Sociology at Williams.

They played the college circuit from a house party at Dartmouth to a performance in a baseball cage at a Spring Country Fair at Wesleyan in Middletown, Connecticut. Sandwiched in between were a number of Monday night sessions at the Savoy with bands led by Hall, trombonist Vic Dickenson, and pianist Joe Sullivan.

I was too young to be in that group, but I have heard the Stompers (Frank Chace played with them, and there is a riotous long ROYAL GARDEN BLUES from the session with Ed Hall — alas, neither of these delicious combinations are available on CD for the masses thirsting for the Real Hot Stuff) and wish that such impudent explosions of joy, collective and singular, were happening on college campuses all over the world.  When I go back to teaching, I would give extra credit to any group of students who could play COAL CART BLUES.  That’s a promise.

And Bill Dunham, happily, is still with us, beating it out on Monday nights with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street off Seventh Avenue in lower Manhattan.  Stop by and tell him you saw his back on JAZZ LIVES.

May your happiness increase!

IMAGINE THIS!

The generous jazz collector Sonny McGown keeps surprising me: first with that lovely candid shot of Barbara Lea and Johnny Mince, now with this — a disc that isn’t playable at the moment but may be restored in the near future.

It made me catch my breath at the computer, because not only is it a live 1951 recording of Miss Leacock with the great pianist Larry Eanet, it also features the irreplaceable and (to my mind) under-recorded trumpeter Frank Newton.  In 1951.

I knew he had spent much of his last half-decade in Boston, and had read about concerts he had played in, gigs he had done — both from Manfred Selchow’s encyclopedic studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson as well as the recollections of Leroy “Sam” Parkins — but I never expected to see this:

If that isn’t something to dream about in 2012, I don’t know.  Thanks, Sonny!

JOHNNY WINDHURST, MUCH MISSED

Few people today know of the cornetist Johnny Windhurst, but those who do speak of him with awe and affection. 

I first heard him on a Folkways record called JAZZ OF THE FORTIES, which contained excerpts from a concert put on by Bob Maltz in 1946.  The other participants inckuded Sidney Bechet, Pops Foster, Vernon Brown, Mezz Mezzrow, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson.  Windhurst had a ballad feature on “She’s Funny That Way” that wasn’t very long — perhaps two choruses — but it was instantly memorable.  The idea of a brass player having a golden tone is and was an obvious cliche, but it applied to Johnny.  He had built his style on a synthesis of Bobby Hackett and Louis and moved on from there.  His playing had a simplicity and tenderness I haven’t heard anyone else approach.  At the time, the only Windhurst I could hear was on recordings he had made with the fine singer Barbara Lea. 

In mid-1972, when I began to go into New York City to hear live jazz (with Stu Zimny and Rob Rothberg) the Sunday afternoon sessions led by bassist Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache were a special treat.  Balaban was not a stirring leader, bassist, banjoist, or singer, but he had good taste in guest stars.  One of them was Windhurst, who came down from Poughkeepsie, where his mother lived, to lead the band — either Dick Rath or Herb Gardner on trombone, Herb Hall on piano, either Chuck Folds or Red Richards on piano, and Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin on drums.

Windhurst looked much as he had ever looked — boyish, small, bespectacled, with a natty bow tie.  He seemed a little distant, a little tired, but he played beautifully.

After that Sunday, I began to ask my collector-friends for the private tapes they had.  John L. Fell, generous and erudite, shared his treasures.  Joe Boughton, a true Windhurst friend and fancier, let me hear tapes of Windhurst playing in the early Fifties at college gigs; later, I found the two lps on which he had appeared (one, a quartet session under his own name; the other, a session led by the drummer Walt Gifford).  He had recorded with Condon for Decca.  Still later, the “Jazz Nocturne” programs of 1945, where a 19-year old Windhurst stood next to Sidney Bechet and didn’t give an inch, came out on the Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and the “Doctor Jazz” broadcasts from 1952 or so, also appeared on Storyville.  I even found a semi-private recording made in Poughkeepsie at “The Last Chance Saloon,” where Johnny and his friend, trombonist Eddie Hubble, played in front of a local session.  Later, I heard broadcasts from the Savoy Cafe in Boston, where in 1947, Windhurst had run in the quickest of company: Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson,Kenny Kersey, John Field, and Jimmy Crawford.   

In all these recordings, Windhurst took risks but never faltered, and his tone never grew acrid or shrill.  But, for whatever reasons, he stayed out of the limelight.  Because he never cared to learn to read music, he had turned down gigs with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, preferring informal jamming.  He died in Poughkeepsie at 54.  The reference books I have say that he died of a heart attack, but I recall that having been mugged had something to do with his early death. 

Had he lived . . . alas.  And the recordings that have come out in the last few years — one a 1947 jazz concert where Windhurst and Jack Teagarden play beautifully alongside one another — are beautifully stirring, saying much about the musician we lost. 

These thoughts are motivated by a cyber-find: I haven’t given up on my quest for the 1946 “March of Time” clip featuring Dave Tough at Eddie Condon’s.  My quest led me to www.dailymotion.com., where trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig has posted excerpts from a 1958 “Jazz Party,” a television show hosted by jazz disc jockey Art Ford.  Ford’s program was simultaneously broadcast on the radio, so some diligent collectors have tapes that are as close to stereo as we shall get.  The programs tended to be informal to the point of messiness, with players ranging from Lester Young to Willie the Lion Smith to Mary Osborne and Teddy Charles.  Here is the only film footage of Windhurst, accompanied by pianist Roland Hanna, Osborne, bassist Mark Goldberg, and drummer Morey Feld (the last a particular favorite of our own Kevin Dorn).   

On this 1958 clip, an earnest Windhurst considers “Pennies From Heaven” in yearning style, reminding us of the pretty song that Bing Crosby, Hackett, and Louis explored.  In it, we see a player not afraid to take his time, to make beautiful sounds, to gently explore the melody.  It’s a lovely performance, and it doesn’t give up all its secrets on one viewing. 

Did any readers of this blog hear Johnny or play alongside him?  I would love to hear your memories.  Without them, who will remember Johnny Windhurst?