Tag Archives: Walter Page

BASIE PRINCIPLES

Paradise, 1940: Count Basie, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Benny Goodman at Columbia Records

I am not Miniver Cheevy, nor do I long for pay phones, Donna Reed, and the nickel subway ride.  If you offered me time-travel to 1940, I would insist on a round-trip ticket, because I’d miss my friends too much. But this century seems hard, for all its vaunted technological strides.  Modern “edginess” and self-absorption make me cringe.

Two examples from the main street in suburban New York on which I live.

One is that as I drive slowly and attentively through congested areas, people with earbuds on, staring into their screens, looking down, walk directly in front of my car.  Of course I slow down, I do not roll down my window and shout at them.  But I think, in the words of Big Joe Turner, “You so beautiful, but you got to die someday,” or in my own words, “Your arrogance is horrible, and your defiance of common sense is stupid.  Will having the iPhone 93 make you immortal, or the fact that you have just had a perfect ‘mani and pedi’ protect you from my very slow-moving car?”  Their behavior is the complete expression of “ME, only ME,” and I think it sad.

Yesterday I was walking to the local train station to go to New York City to dine with friends.  Ahead of me was a man some years my senior who had an aluminum cane and moved with some difficulty.  He, his wife, and I arrived at a section of recently laid cement — like a small rivulet — that we had to step over.  His wife went first, then the construction workers looked at him, as he was slightly hesitant, and said, laughing, “JUMP!”  Jumping was not in this gentleman’s repertoire, but he managed to extend himself across the cement and make it to the other side, hailed by mocking laughter from the workers.  (I got across without disaster.)  That’s another kind of ME: “I am in good physical shape, so if you’re not, I have the right or perhaps the obligation to mock you.”

So, self-absorption, selfishness, small cruelties, unkindness, the absence of generosity, the individual held above the community.

What does all this have to do with Count Basie?

I owe these ruminations to my admired friend Nick Rossi, who posted this music on Facebook in honor of Count Basie’s birthday, August 21:

and I, having the two experiences above in my head, wrote this:

I wish this century allowed us to live our lives the way that rhythm section played — joyously, gently, precisely, modestly making room for everyone else, graciously creating beautiful spaces. LIVE THE BASIE WAY is a motto I imagine, although perhaps too much explaining would be needed.

The Basie rhythm section was a loving, spiritually aligned community, where even though Basie got his name on the music stands, he and everyone else knew that he was merely the figurehead who had the deep wisdom to let everyone hear Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Basie modestly let his “sidemen” shine; although he could have played solo forever and been his own orchestra, he created a little republic of generous interdependence.  Kindness and equalities rather than ego and mastery, generosity rather than selfishness.  And ease.

Even though 1942 was not an easy year for the world, Basie seemed to know, without making much of it, that we could mesh with the cosmos, keep it afloat and have it keep us afloat, if we picked the right medium-tempo.  Thus, love with open arms enacted in swinging 4/4.  Brother-and-sisterhood rather than a parade of egos in the spotlight, jostling for attention.

Taking it easy, stepping on no one’s feelings, finding the gracious way, without strain.  Cooperation rather than isolation, an unstated understanding that we are all aimed in the same direction and will reach the happy goal only if we help each other get there.

Imagine a world that moved this way, an irresistible perpetual motion machine:

Basie would have been embarrassed or aghast to read this philosophical praise.  When Whitney Balliett asked him where his piano style came from, his response was, “Honest truth, I don’t know.”  So he might have been very leery of being celebrated as someone whose laconic perfections were a spiritual path to follow.  But Basie’s is an honest truth, one we could all live and live by.

And a postscript: as I write this, there is a small jazz group called the New Blue Devils working towards playing the Basie way.  You could check them out.

May your Basie-ness increase!

Advertisements

STEVE PIKAL, “SWINGIN’ THE BASS,” with DALTON RIDENHOUR at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (June 1, 2018)

Steve Pikal, characteristically morose. Photograph by Andrea Canter.

String bassist / perpetual motion machine Steve Pikal is a marvelous force of nature.  Ask any musician who has been privileged to play alongside him.  His time is splendid, his inventiveness astonishing, his energy a delight.  He has perfect pitch — you can’t lose him! — and he finds the right notes.  He takes his playing tremendously seriously, but his work is joyous, and his ego almost invisible.  When I suggested to him that I do a bass-instruction video about him, he laughed and said he was self-taught so he didn’t know what he would have to offer.

Music elevates him, and the only time I’ve ever seen him without a smile is when he’s been studying a new chart with intentness.  I quote, “Swingin’ the Bass with all you great cats as often as I can is my mission. Gotta love it!!

What follows, slightly less than three minutes, is one of those occasions where I thank my lucky stars that I have a video camera and microphone, it was ready to go, and I was carrying it.

All through the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, free musical programs were sprinkling the air with notes — some a few blocks away at Gazebo Park, but most under the red-and-white tent pitched a block away from the Hotel Bothwell.  I had gone back to the hotel to get my camera and fresh batteries to record an evening’s concert performance, and was on my way to the theatre . . . when delightful strains of Swing filled the air.  It was Steve, apparently joining pianist Dalton Ridenhour for a number.  It sounded so good: jazz pheronomes, that I began to record the second half of their improvisation on MY BLUE HEAVEN, which owed a good deal to Walter Page and perhaps Johnny Guarnieri — but most of all to Pikal and Ridenhour. It makes me happy every time I revisit it:

I hope that the Fates offer another chance — when I am early and ready — to see, hear, and record Steve and Dalton again.  There will be a plenitude of Pikal-powered joy on this site (the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet and the Rock Island Roustabouts) and there are several new CDs that feature him, most notably GROOVUS (with Brian Holland and Danny Coots).

What a wonder he is, and how fortunate we are to have him.

May your happiness increase!

“THE SAVORY COLLECTION 1935-1940” (Mosaic Records MD6-266, 6 discs)

Along with many of the faithful, I have been waiting and hoping since 2010 that this set would become a reality. When it arrived, I turned immediately to the fifth disc — one of a pair containing thirty-nine live performances by the Count Basie band from May 1938 to February 1940, and I was open-mouthed and astonished three minutes into the first performance (one of four particularly extravagant frolics from the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing) — music that I thought I would never have the good fortune to hear.

Mosaic Records box sets usually have a similar effect on me, but this one is — as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says — “beyond the beyonds.”  And, as a point of information, the box set contains substantially more music than was released through iTunes downloads.

You can learn more and hear something Savory here.

This set is more than a dream come true: it feels like a whole freight train of them.  In a postscript below, I’ve copied Loren Schoenberg’s list of the enlightened and generous people who this set possible.  Full disclosures: one, I was asked to write a few hundred words for this set, and thus one of my dreams came true, and two, I bought mine — with my allowance.

A Savory Disc

I will write primarily about the Basie cornucopia, but it is true for the set.

Many listeners forget the distinction between music created and captured in a recording studio and the sounds played “live.”  Many of the performances in the Mosaic box explode with happy ebullience.  Some of that is the freedom to play without being stopped at three minutes and twenty seconds (I hear John Hammond’s voice saying “Too long, Basie!” at the end of a take that could not be issued at the time) — in fact, the freedom to play without any recording supervisor (Hammond, Oberstein, Stephens, Hanighen) or their disapproving presence (Jack Kapp’s wooden Indian) in the room: the freedom to make a mistake and convert it into something remarkable by proceeding on.  Often, the recording studio is all we have or will ever have, but its stated and unstated restrictions can make for a chilly environment.

Some of the joy comes from playing from dancers — the radio airshots from the Randall’s Island festival are particularly frolicsome.  And we can’t discount the freedom to have a drink or something to inhale.

On the Basie sides, so much is both new and reassuring.  Lester Young, Dicky Wells, and Jo Jones sound like schoolboys who’ve been told the school has burned down.  Herschel Evans, so passionate, is in wonderful form (here and elsewhere in the set).  I can’t leave out Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, a particularly eloquent Jimmy Rushing, and Helen Humes’ most tender singing the lyrics to BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL.

I hear the arrangements anew — often, the Basie band is perceived as a springboard for soloists, and there’s much justification for that — but these airshots make it possible to hear the sections as if for the first time.  (Also, it’s evident how the arrangements become more complex.)  And the rhythm section!  Before hearing these recordings, I didn’t take in that Jo Jones was still playing temple blocks in mid-1938, and it’s a common assumption that Freddie Green and Walter Page were going along in a serious 4/4, four quarter notes to the bar, but their work is full of wonderful variations, accented notes and syncopations.  Even when a soloist closely follows the version created in the recording studio (some audience members wanted to “hear it the way it was on the record”) everything sounds joyous and free.

And since Bill Savory had professional equipment and the discs were splendidly restored by Doug Pomeroy, overall the recording quality is superb — far from the airshots we know recorded by a fan in the living room holding a microphone to the radio speaker to funnel sounds onto his Recordio disc.  The sound is not only clear — one hears details and the gentle enthusiasm of the audience — but large.  I can’t explain what “hearing the sound of the room” actually means, but there is a spaciousness that is delightful.

The new repertoire — not just Basie — is also a treat, as if we had been offered an audio equivalent to Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK . . . Basie performing RUSSIAN LULLABY (with Jimmy singing), ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, ROSETTA, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, and BUGLE CALL RAG.

To the other gems, some of which have already been well publicized:  Coleman Hawkins’ six-minute rhapsody on BODY AND SOUL; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club — so revealing of what he was like as pianist, singer, personality, and entertainer — with dance medleys of songs by J.Fred Coots (a close friend) and Sammy Fain; windows into his world that the Victor sides never provide.  Five minutes of young Ella; the Martin Block Jam session with the painfully lovely STARDUST featuring an ailing Herschel Evans; another Block session featuring Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Zutty Singleton, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Fats; Mildred Bailey singing TRUCKIN’ with the verse; Leo Watson taking on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE with the John Kirby Sextet and JEEPERS CREEPERS with Johnny Mercer; pearly Bobby Hackett, more from Joe and Marty Marsala, who didn’t get to record enough; Stuff Smith; Ben Webster, Albert Ammons, Chick Webb, Albert Ammons, Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Ernie and Emilio Caceres, Roy Eldridge, Stew Pletcher, Ram Ramirez, Red Norvo, Teddy Bunn, Kenneth Hollon, Vernon Brown, Milt Hinton; Lionel Hampton, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole, Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, George Wettling, Ed Hall, Carmen Mastren (with several long solos!), Jonah Jones, new music from the here-and-gone Teddy Wilson big band, the wondrous Benny Carter ensemble, and Glenn Miller; a set of four solo piano improvisations by Joe Sullivan, one of them ten minutes long — a true picture of the artist as a barrelhouse Joyce, wandering brilliantly.  And I am sure I’ve left someone out.

These six CDs are the Arabian Nights of swing, documents of a time and place where magic came out of your radio all the time.

I think it is obvious that I am urging listeners to purchase this set while they can.  But I must modulate to another key — that is, to quietly comment on the culture of entitlement, which, sadly, also infects people who love this music.  When some of the Savory material was issued on iTunes, some complained, “I don’t do downloads.” Now that it is all — plus more music — available on CD, I’ve heard some whinge, and yes, that is the right word, that they don’t want to buy this box set for various reasons.  Some think, incorrectly, that the six discs of the box have only what was released on iTunes, which is incorrect.  Check the Mosaic discography.

I’ve even heard people being petulant, “Why doesn’t this set include X or Y?” not understanding that the artists’ estates were paid for the music — think of that! a legitimate reissue! — and that some estates wanted extravagant reimbursement.

Consider what this set offers — rarities never even dreamed of — and do some simple math, how much each prized track costs the purchaser.  And, on another level, what you would pay to keep Mosaic Records afloat.  I know that, say, ten years ago, if you’d told me I could have thirty-nine new Basie performances for slightly more than a hundred dollars, I would have leaped at the opportunity, and I am no plutocrat.  Of course, one is free to ruminate and grumble . . . but this is a limited edition of 5000 sets.  Expect to see Savory boxes on eBay for $500 in a few months.  You’ve been warned.

And, by the way, visit here.

Loren’s thank-you note!

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s The Savory Collection Mosaic CD set has been issued after many years of planning. Many people were a part of the team who made it possible. Let’s start with Sonny McGown, who led me to the late Gene Savory, Bill’s son. Jonathan S. Scheuer, long-time board member of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, purchased the collection and donated it to the museum. Frank Rich helped spread the word, as did Ken Burns, and within a few months, the Savory story graced the front page of the NYTimes. Fellow board member and attorney Daryl Libow stepped right in to handle all the myriad legal challenges. Doug Pomeroy rescued all that was salvageable from the discs. Dr. Susan Schmidt-Horning had interviewed and written about Bill and gave us lots of help from the academic/acoustic realms. Garrett Shelton was invaluable at iTunes for the initial releases, as was Ken Druker and the production team he assembled to make all of that happen. Samantha Samuels created first-class promo videos for us, and then Scott Wenzel, to whom the jazz world owes a huge debt for his unflagging production of the Mosaic catalogue (along with the rest of the Mosaic team, read: Michael Cuscuna and Fred Pustay) hopped back aboard to bring this collection to fruition; he had been there at the git-go, joining me and Kevin Cerovich in Malta, Ill., to catalogue and drive the discs to NYC.

The album is graced by essays of some of the finest writers out here, starting with Dan Morgenstern and Ricky Riccardi, Tom Piazza, David Fletcher, Michael Steinman, Vincent Pelote, Anthony Barnett, James Carter, Ethan Iverson, and Kenny Washington.

And none of the music would have been issuable without the cooperation of the artist’s estates, and the dedication of the board and staff of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  So it’s been a long haul, well worth the wait; here’s hoping Bill Savory would be pleased.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE and THE GANG GO TO FLORIDA; STUFF HEATS UP THE ONYX CLUB

Yes, I’ve been eBaying at the moon when I should have been grading student essays.  But one brings more pleasure than the other, I write ruefully.

Concert ephemera from the Condon ensemble — and what a band! — doing Florida gigs in, I think, 1955.  If you can find it, there is a recording on the Pumpkin label (the gift to us of the much-missed Bob Hilbert) of that same band in Palm Beach, 1955:

And I do know that Eddie hated the word DIXIELAND, but he didn’t write the ad copy.  Here’s some beautiful contemporaneous music from the “Bixieland” session supervised by George Avakian for Columbia, with a chance to hear Eddie, Walter Page, and George Wettling in glorious sound — to say nothing of Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, and Ed Hall:

and here’s an earlier piece of Americana that I’d never seen (nor imagined).  Why a football?  I don’t know.  But it’s great Stuff:

And the appropriate music, in two parts, mixing vaudeville, illicit substances, and Swing:

Aside from Stuff, that’s Jonah Jones, Clyde Hart, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, and Cozy Cole — a truly rocking band.  Listen to the great beat of that rhythm section behind the vocal jive:

Uh, uh!  Woof woof!

May your happiness increase!

HELEN’S DREAMS

I saw and heard Helen Humes in person only once, in 1975, but she made a lasting impression.  When Ed Polcer was leading the band at the last “Eddie Condon’s,” marvelous players and singers were invited to get up on the narrow bandstand and astonish us.  I was there because Ruby Braff was leading the group; Helen came up and sang IF I COULD BE WITH YOU and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and I have a clear memory of her beautiful smile, heartfelt delivery, and warm voice.

At the early peak of the Swing Era, John Hammond had yet another one of his good ideas: to feature Harry James (then in his first year as a star of the Goodman band) with a small group drawn from the Basie band.  There was a clear rapport, and these under-acknowledged records stand alongside the more heralded Wilson-Holiday sessions.  Helen had recorded a decade earlier, but she was then perceived as a classic blues singer, and those records show only one side of her considerable talent.  In these 1936-38 sides, we hear what made her memorable.  (On YouTube, you can hear the other sides from the James sessions.)

The first session (on December 1, 1937) had Harry, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones.  Helen sang several songs; here is I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:

On January 5, 1938, the same group reassembled, with Vernon Brown replacing Eddie Durham, and Helen sang IT’S THE DREAMER IN ME:

Other aspects of these recordings (of the two glorious sessions) are memorable: the warm sounds of Harry and Herschel, the beautiful distractions of Jess Stacy at the piano, joined by Walter Page and Jo Jones . . . but at this remove, Helen wins my heart — her deep sincerity, her vibrato, the way she delivers two love songs with complete conviction, even at the faster tempo of the first.  She’s been overshadowed for decades, but what a great artist she is.  In a few minutes, she invites us to live her dreams.

May your happiness increase!

BLOWINGLY, 1951

As part of my continuing quest to make the world more aware of Oran Thaddeus Page — known to those who know as Lips or Hot Lips, here is SWEET SUE, recorded at a session organized by Rudi Blesh in New York City on February 10, 1951, with Lips, Tyree Glenn, trombone; Burnie [or “Burney”?] Peacock, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Quinichette, tenor saxophone; Kenny Kersey and Dan Burley, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums.  Some of the shorter tracks from what was eventually issued as JAMMIN’ AT RUDI’S came out on Circle 78s; the most recent official CD issue is on the Jazzology label (JCD 262) with five tracks from this 1951 date, and a good deal of it — circuitously — has found its way to YouTube.  (Blesh had sponsored an earlier, more “traditional” session with Conrad Janis, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, Eubie Blake, and others, so this was JAMMIN’ No. 2.)  Thanks to Jon-Erik Kellso for reminding me to revisit this session, a few weeks ago.

I’ve always been fascinated by this session because it successfully replicates the feel of an actual jam session — in good sound — with musicians who didn’t usually work together.  Some of them did play gigs as members of Hot Lips Page’s little band of the time, but others seem assembled as former Swing Era stars who were no longer working with big bands: Page (Basie); Greer (Ellington); Barker and Glenn (Calloway); Kersey (Kirk and others), Peacock (Calloway, Basie).  I suspect that these musicians, for Blesh, were perilously “modern,” and I admire him for venturing into unusual territory.  Peacock, for me, was the least-known of the bunch: here is a Wikipedia entry with some possibly verifiable facts.

But there is a wonderful looseness, a let’s-start-this-and-see-if-we-can-get-out-of-it-safely feel to this performance, that speaks to familiar repertoire and no charts in sight.  I suspect Blesh might have even encouraged this as “authentic” and frowned on head-arrangement riffs and backgrounds, something Lips and the others created masterfully as a matter of course.  What else do we hear?  A nicely unhurried tempo, the tender expressiveness of Lips’ lead in the first chorus (a sweet conversational approach), Greer rattling and commenting all through; the sounds Lips got with his plunger — an emphasis on pure sound — before Quinichette dances in, Lester-airy; the powerful motion of Walter Page’s bass in duet with Danny Barker’s single-string solo.  Then the contrast between Lips, apparently at full power, alternating with Greer, before Tyree peaceably returns us to the melody.  How beautifully individualistic his sound is!  A more familiar Barker chordal solo (again, with impressionistic support from Walter Page and Sonny) before Lips returns, as if to say, “You thought I was piling it on before?  Hear THIS!”  Pure drama, and it — like the Jerry Newman recordings and a MUSKRAT RAMBLE recorded in Philadelphia (issued on a Jerry Valburn recording years ago) — shows Lips’ intuitive understanding of dynamics, and even more, the dramatic construction of a large-scale solo.

Never mind that the YouTube picture makes Walter Page the leader of the session and that the cover picture is of his own orchestra, decades ago.  We live in strange times.

And here is more tangible evidence of Mr. Page’s gracious spirit, if you didn’t hear it coming through those notes — a thank-you note to (I am assuming) some Swedish friends:

This emerged on eBay a week ago, and the lucky owner ventured much more money for it than I was willing to spend (the imaginary grandchildren tell me they need sneakers) but you can see it here for free.  I know it’s authentic because of the way Lips made his capital L (he went to school when “penmanship” was still part of your report card) and, for better or worse, “Lip’s” as part of his signature.  I’ve also seen an autograph where Lips — enthusiastically, I assume, signed VERY BLOWINGLY above his name.

SWEET SUE, to me, equals VERY BLOWINGLY by all.  And it didn’t cost $103.56.

May your happiness increase!

THE DIVINE SPIRIT: BILLIE, 1938

New York City, January 27, 1938.  A song of no special merit with undistinguished lyrics, but what Billie and her colleagues do with it is beyond remarkable.  We are in danger of forgetting the music in favor of salacious personal archeology, so I offer two explorations of beauty for your consideration.

“If I may,” in the words of Joe Thomas, to celebrate Billie on April 7.

and another take (the YouTube source is at much lower volume for seven silly reasons).  Incidentally, if these videos are not accessible in your part of the world, a little searching will solve the problem, for there are multiple versions posted:

In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson writes, “The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps.”  He was speaking about those who would presume to explain God to the congregation, but I take it as encouragement to let Billie Holiday, Jo Jones, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Benny Morton sing their own songs to you without any explication from me.  All the answers, and all the joy are there for those willing to listen seriously.

May your happiness increase!