Tag Archives: Washboard Rhythm Kings

JUST FOUR BARS

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

The nominees for the 2018 Jazz Journalists’ Awards were just announced, and my blog, JAZZ LIVES, is one of the four blogs nominated for Blog of the Year. Very gratifying, and thanks to everyone who pushed this labor-and-love-intensive blog into the public eye once again. I’m pleased to be in the company of DO THE MATH, JAZZ WAX, and RIFFTIDES as well.

Here is the link, so you can see all the eminent musicians and journalists as well.

Whether JAZZ LIVES wins an award or not, I couldn’t have done it without you. In fact, I wouldn’t have done it without you.  The decade I’ve spent on this blog has been exceedingly rewarding.  Each one of you — musician, commenter, researcher — has increased my happiness.

The soundtrack du jour, inspired by last night’s conversation with Ricky Riccardi — this choice is so Ricky and I won’t fight over Louis’ version:

May your happiness increase!

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BEAUTIFUL, ELUSIVE, GONE: CLARENCE PROFIT (1912-1944)

By any estimation, the pianist Clarence Profit (June 26, 1912 – October 22, 1944) was immensely talented and short-lived. People who heard him play live, uptown, said he was a match for Art Tatum. He was proposed as a replacement for Teddy Wilson with Benny Goodman in 1939; Profit’s sleek drumless trio may have inspired Nat Cole’s.  Although his approach was spare rather than exhibitionistic, his harmonic subtleties were remarkable for their time, and his gentle touch and elegant playing are remarkable today. clarenceprofit One could collect every recording he made (fewer than fifty three-minute sides, less than half of them under his own name) on two compact discs, and his recording career was exceedingly brief: dates with the Washboard Serenaders, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and Teddy Bunn in 1930 and 1933, then Profit’s own piano trio (guitar and bass) and piano solos in 1939 and 1940. John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO OF JAZZ (1978) sums him up in a paragraph:

His father, Herman Profit, was professional pianist; his cousin was pianist Sinclair Mills. Played piano from the age of three, led own 10-piece band during his teens including Bamboo Inn, Renaissance, and the Alhambra. In 1930 and 1931 worked with Teddy Bunn in the Washboard Serenaders. In the early 1930s visited his grandparents in Antigua, remained in the West Indies for a few years, led own band in Antigua, Bermuda, etc. Returned to New York in November 1936 and began leading own successful trio at many New York clubs including George’s Tavern (1937-9), Ritz Carlton, Boston (1938), Yeah Man Club and Cafe Society (1939), Village Vanguard (1940), Kelly’s (1940-3), Performers and Music Guild Club (1942), Village Vanguard (1944). Was part-composer (with Edgar Sampson) of “Lullaby in Rhythm.”

I knew Profit’s work — solo, trio, and as a band member — for many years, but he has come back to my mind and ears because of a purchase made a few nights ago at the Haight Street Amoeba Music in San Francisco: a red-label Columbia 78 of BODY AND SOUL (take B) / I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, both Profit solos. I was so taken with them that I had to share them with you.

Each of the two performances begins with an exposition of the theme — simple yet quietly ornamented, with a spareness that is masterful, a peaceful, almost classical approach to the melody (but with elegant, often surprising harmonic choices beneath). He is patient; he doesn’t rush; he doesn’t attempt to impress us with pianisms. His playing verges on the formal, but it is based on a serene respect for the melody rather than a tied-to-the-notes stiffness.

Then, Profit moves into a more loosely swinging approach, which superficially sounds much like Wilson’s or a pared-down Tatum, but his choices of notes, harmonies, and his use of space are all his own. (There are suggestions of Waller in the bridge of the second chorus of I DIDN’T KNOW, but it is a cerebral, yet warm version of the stride motifs Waller tossed off to amaze and delight.)

Listen for yourself. The beauties of his style will not fully appear on one listening):

BODY AND SOUL:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS:

I know nothing of Profit’s early death, and can only speculate. Did he, like so many musicians of the time, succumb to tuberculosis or pneumonia?  I am not simply asking a medical question here, but a larger one: where did Clarence Profit go?  How could we lose him at such a young age? How many pianists under the age of sixty have heard these recordings? He left a void then, and it remains unfilled today.

Perhaps some readers have the Meritt Record Society issue above, or the Memoir CD devoted to Profit’s work, and can offer more information.

My own story of his elusiveness comes from this century. The parents of one of the Beloved’s New York friends had frequented Cafe Society and Fifty-Second Street.  Oh, yes, they had seen Clarence Profit — the name supplied voluntarily by the friend’s octogenarian mother — but it was so long ago she didn’t remember any details.  Like the jazz Cheshire Cat, all that remained was her smile as she said his name.

May your happiness increase!

BEWITCHED BY BECKY (Sacramento Music Festival, May 2012)

She shall make music wherever she goes!

Becky is our own Rebecca Kilgore, and we are so lucky to be able to see and hear her.  I had the privilege once again at the Sacramento Music Festival.  There she was joined by Dan Barrett (trombone, narratives), and Rossano Sportiello (piano) for a number of wonderful sessions.

I marvel again at the lovely music that these three created for us.

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED (Rodgers and Hart):

THIS CAN’T BE LOVE (again):

and a Thirties tune that some associate with Connee Boswell, others with the Washboard Rhythm Kings, HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF:

In the presence of the highest art: such beauty is easy to love but not so easy to create.

And I should point out that even though Becky appears with a variety of combos — each one offering beautiful interplay between her voice and the players — the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet (formerly known as B E D) is still thriving!  (That’s Becky, Dan, Eddie Erickson, Joel Forbes.)  Coming soon to a festival / party / concert near you!

But for the moment, we’ll all go on being BEWITCHED.

These three video performances have been approved by the Canadian Film Board of Review.

May your happiness increase.

SUNDAY MORNING with THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS, ED POLCER, and DAWN LAMBETH at SWEET AND HOT 2011

Depending on your habits and pleasures, Sunday morning might be a time to sleep in, to curl up with the metropolitan paper and your Beloved, to have a leisurely breakfast, to go to church, to visit friends and relatives . . . . all of them fine responses to a day of rest.  (All, that is, except for heading to the mall.)

But I propose one activity more singular and much more gratifying: spending Sunday morning with the Reynolds Brothers, those irrepressible rhythm rascals, and their friends.  I don’t know if the Brothers do house calls, so you will have to bask in the music they made on Sunday, September 4, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival.

The Brothers were reliably themselves: Ralf on washboard and rulebook; John on guitar, vocal, and whistling; Marc Caparone on cornet and vocal; Katie Cavera on string bass and vocal; Larry Wright on alto saxophone and ocarina, with guest artists Ed Polcer, cornet and vocal; Dawn Lambeth, vocal . . . and a special (although unseen) member of the audience in his stroller, James Arden Caparone, the happy child of Marc and Dawn.

Just to be perverse, perhaps, Ed called FROM MONDAY ON as an opening selection (possibly preparing the audience for the idea of having to go back to work, even though that Monday was Labor Day) — playing and singing it:

It was just after breakfast, so in other hands a beef dish might have seemed too heavy to tolerate, but with the Brothers, PEPPER STEAK went down very easily:

Katie Cavera sweetly and wistfully asked the question raised by the Boswell Sisters and the Washboard Rhythm Kings– a plea to the somewhat hard-hearted lover in question: WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?

After such knowledge, nothing but a rouser would suffice, so the band offered NAGASAKI.  By jingo, it was worth the price:

SUNDAY was appropriate in mood as well as on the calendar, and it offered Dawn Lambeth a too-brief chance to serenade us.  And the serenade took place off the bandstand as well, as Ed strolled over to James in his stroller to blow a chorus just for him.  I was sitting there and saw James grin — a baby in jazz bliss!

Who gathers all the talk of the town?  Why, DR. HECKLE AND MR. JIBE, according to Johnny Mercer:

With James in the audience, Papa Marc decided to sing a chorus of the Louis Dunlap – Charlie Carpenter song YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME — the lyrics don’t always fit, but the sentiment comes right from the heart:

I don’t think John Reynolds was following up on some subliminal associative strain by calling for PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY, but one never knows:

And — as is their habit — the Brothers ended with a truly hot AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

Keeping live music alive!

FAMILIES THAT PLAY TOGETHER (at DIXIELAND MONTEREY, March 5, 2011)

They stay together, if you hadn’t noticed.

Here’s more rollicking joy from Dixieland Monterey (the Jazz Bash by the Bay) that I attended in March 2011.

(“Attended” isn’t really the right word — too formal — but I can’t find a really good way to say “floated.”  I’m still floating, and if you wonder why you need only to sit down in front of the videos below.)

This was a session held at the Wharf Theatre.  It wasn’t billed as FAMILY REUNION, but it might as well have been. 

First, the Reynolds Brothers (and they are!): John Reynolds on National steel guitar, vocals, and sweet whistling, and brother Ralf on washboard, whistle, emotional uplift, and traffic control. 

Then there’s the Caparone Family.  Marc on cornet; his father Dave (the fellow over to the left of your screen, looking very serious, sounding like Benny Morton — in fact, sounding like Don Redman’s trombone section of 1932-3 with an occasional nod to Dicky Wells — a real prize!), and daughter-in-law Dawn Lambeth (vocals, piano, and cheer). 

Observant eyes will catch that Dawn is about to become a Jazz Mommy (Marc had something to do with this, it was told to me) so there’s another generation of Caparone onstage.  And baby does make three! 

The sole non-relative was the sweetly leafy Katie Cavera (string bass and vocals) . . . but everyone who meets Katie adopts her within the first few minutes, so she’s not an outsider.

Free-range and locally sourced, too!  She’s NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW (for the dancers):

Jazz scholars will note so many wonderful influences floating through these performance: Bing, the QHCF, Louis, Basie, Steve Brown, Red Allen, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, the Marx Brothers, Brunswick Records, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Steve Washington, and more.

Time for something deeply satisfying in its sweetness: and watch everyone’s face as they feel the love on that stand, just as we do.  What tenderness as Dawn, Dave, and Marc celebrate SUGAR!

Something exultant — from the man who wrote the brooding ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET — a song from A DAY AT THE RACES (originally sung by Ivie Anderson).  How they rock it here!  And at the end, Marc reminds us of a song from another 1937 movie.  Hint: “Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out.”  Here’s ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM:

Dawn had a cold — a great problem for a singer! — but her natural swinging heart, her spirited earnestness comes through complete . . . and no one bends and slides into notes as she does.  Here, MY BLUE HEAVEN, the perfectly appropriate song for the moment, with the verse.  And Marc suggests what might have happened if Louis and the Mills Brothers had recorded this one for Decca, before Papa Dave and John show what they can do:

One of the great delights is being introduced to a “new” “old” song — from 1922 or 1923 . . . a song Vic Dickenson loved (although I never heard him play it), TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME.  Isn’t it wonderful how lovely / hilariously comfortable Whislin’ John Reynolds is in front of an audience!  He’s a thrill and a hoot all in one.  And the brass section — worth another watching.  Like father, like son.  More below*:

Finally, something sweet and tenderly nostalgic — Dawn sings BLUE ROOM, which has very endearing lyrics (although the position the lovers find themselves in — an innocent one — might lead to neck pain, whether your head is wee or not):

“Every day’s a holiday” with a band like this, for sure!

While watching these videos, I keep thinking of Baby Lambeth-Caparone, who’s going to greet the new day at the end of March 2011.  Someday that Baby is going to be able to see these clips and say, “There’s Mommy, and Daddy, and Grandpa, and I was there, too!”  Yes, Baby — you were swinging with your families.

CLICK HERE TO GIVE BACK TO THE MUSICIANS IN THE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

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THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS IN HIGH STYLE, 2010

Living on the East Coast, I only knew about the Reynolds Brothers (that’s Ralf on washboard; John on National guitar; both sing; both are grnsdons of the legendary screen star ZaSu Pitts) through finding them on YouTube — a live session with singer Dawn Lambeth, trumpeter Marc Caparone, and plectrist Katie Cavera on her new triple, the string bass. 

I was both amused and elated: they were very funny, often sweet, but they swung very hard without raising their volume. 

Now, they have a new CD, and it’s is a corker.  A pip.  A honey.  A dazzler.  You find the appropriate adjective for “must-have.”

This CD features a beautifully-recorded, energetically hot quartet — with John taking most of the vocals, but with Ralf, Marc, and Katie having their own specialties.  What does a quartet of trumpet, amplified National guitar, string bass, and washboard sound like?

Listen (you can watch, too!): here are two performances by this very group recorded at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood, California, on January 13, 2010 (courtesy of Katie Cavera’s YouTube channel, “kcavera”).

Let’s start with a brief incendiary exercise, FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM:

And here’s something more tender (the Boswell Sisters did a lovely version of it), WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?:

This band harks back to an almost-forgotten series of recordings by one of the great Hot organizations of the early Thirties, the Washboard Rhythm Kings.  If you didn’t have money for a trap set (and who did, during the Depression?) you could outfit what was then a common item, a laundry washboard, with a cymbal, a cowbell, perhaps other percussive side-dishes, find some thimbles, and wail away.  A great washboard player (ask Doug Pomeroy about this art: he knows) would not only be an adequate replacement for a swinging drummer with a full kit, but could outswing one.  Those recordings — sometimes at slow and medium tempos — had a wonderful momentum, and the really Hot numbers are astounding.  Famous names played with those bands — trumpeter Taft Jordan, pianist Clarence Profit, and singer Leo Watson among them. 

Now the washboard is usually relegated to truly traditional “trad” bands: in Ralf’s hands, it’s a full percussion orchestra, and he is a pleasure to watch . . . his hands swooping and diving in mid-air.  John is an engaging singer, gentle and sly — approaching music and lyrics with great casual-sounding skill.  His solos make melodic sense; his rhythm playing is a model of the art.  Katie is a fine propulsive bassist — bringing the same accuracy to this instrument that she has brought to all her banjos and guitars.  And she is a very sweet (but never sugary) singer: you believe her!  Marc Caparone, I submit, has never sounded so electrifying as he does on this CD and these clips.  I thought of what the National Forest Service calls “a controlled burn” — an intensely Hot fire that is, however, always precisely focused on its musical objectives.  And the band is more than a collection of individualists: they rock, joyously, together. 

The best way to but the CD is through the brothers’ site — (http://reynoldsbrothers.net/recordings.html) but those who prefer to use credit cards can order through CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ReynoldsBrothers.  And if you’re sufficiently captivated, this quartet is “accepting engagements,” as the saying goes.  I am sure that the Brothers could add to this band to suit anyone’s desires.  

If you would like to hear more while you are waiting for your mail carrier to deliver the CD, Katie has posted a few more clips from this concert (as well as her own expert and witty short films).