Tag Archives: Wellman Braud

FRED GUY, TRICKY SAM NANTON, CHANO POZO, MEADE LUX LEWIS, J.C. HIGGINBOTHAM, BABS GONZALES, ABBEY LINCOLN, SAM JONES, LEE KONITZ, KARIN KROG, JOHN LEWIS, COUSIN JOE, BUD FREEMAN, EDDIE GOMEZ, ANDY KIRK, MED FLORY, CHUBBY JACKSON, WILBUR LITTLE, HELEN HUMES, FREDDIE GREEN, TAFT JORDAN, and MANY MORE, FROM JG AUTOGRAPHS on eBay

The astonishing eBay treasure chest called jgautographs has opened its lid again.  Apparently the trove is bottomless, since the latest offering is 118 items under “jazz,” with only a few debatable entries.  “Donovan,” anyone?  But the depth and rarity and authenticity are dazzling.

Consider this Ellington collection, including Joe Nanton, Billy Taylor, Fred Guy, Juan Tizol, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and the Duke himself:

The appropriate soundtrack, give or take a few years — Ellington at Fargo, 1940 with the ST. LOUIS BLUES (wait for “WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK”):

Incidentally, someone wrote in and said, “Michael, are they paying you to do this?” and the answer is No, and that’s fine.  Imagine my pleasure at being able to share Joe Nanton’s signature with people who just might value it as I do.

Here’s Meade Lux Lewis:

And his very first Blue Note issue, from 1939, MELANCHOLY BLUES:

Taft Jordan, star of Chick Webb, Duke, and his own bands:

Taft in 1936, singing and playing ALL MY LIFE with Willie Bryant:

“Mr. Rhythm,” Freddie Green, with an odd annotation:

a 1938 solo by Freddie (with Pee Wee, James P. Dicky, Max, and Zutty):

Tyree Glenn, a veteran before he joined Louis (Cab Calloway and Duke):

Tyree’s ballad, TELL ME WHY:

The wonderful Swedish singer Karin Krog:

Karin and Bengt Hallberg, joining BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL and SENTIMENTAL AND MELANCHOLY:

The link at the top of this post will lead you to more than a hundred other marvels — the delighted surprises I will leave to you.  And as in other eBay auctions, you or I are never the only person interested in an item . . .

May your happiness increase!

CAN’T HELP IT IF I WONDER: TOMMY DORSEY, DUKE ELLINGTON on eBay

First, the soundtrack to get you in the mood for jazz speculation, even though the subject of this wonderful performance is romance, not authenticity of paper ephemera (anything that gives me an excuse to listen to and share Louis is always welcome):

Now, two pieces of evidence, just spotted today on eBay.  The first one comes from a Detroit newspaper, with no other details, advertising something I would have liked to participate in: a personal appearance and autograph signing by an artist I admire, Tommy Dorsey:

My questions are perhaps reasonable but at this distance, I think unanswerable.  What was the name of the record?  Should we assume that the Dorsey band was playing a gig at the State Fair?  When was this?  And (most poignantly) when can I expect the R.C.A. VICTOR DANCE CARAVAN show up to my town?

I hear some of you hissing, “Never, Michael, never!”  to which I say, “I’ll bet you think Toto is dead, too.”  The link is here — should you want this mysterious sentimental artifact for your own.

The second item also raises questions: advertised as an autographed glossy photograph of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, each member signing his name in fountain pen, a glorious photograph that I had not seen before:

And here is the Ellington link.  I was a little skeptical at first, because real on-the-spot autographs tend to be less careful, and I wondered that everyone in the band either had the same fountain pen or they passed it from one to another.  I would guess that the photograph lay flat on a table for it to be signed by all those heroes ever so neatly.  But I stopped worrying when I saw that Sonny Greer had signed “Luck always,” which is the way he signed a Jazz Panorama lp for me in the Seventies.  Perhaps someone can say why the bassist — Wellman Braud, I assume — didn’t sign.  Now there‘s a mystery.

I can’t afford the Ellington photograph, but it’s lovely to see.

If you look for me, I’ll be scanning the street for Tommy Dorsey.  And I have my own fountain pen, thank you.

May your happiness increase!

SOUTH OF FOURTEENTH STREET (March 4, 1944)

When I am in conversation with someone new and the talk turns to my pursuit of live jazz in New York City, the question will be, “I suppose you go uptown to hear music?  Do you go to . . . ”  And then my questioner will mention some club, usually now-vanished, in what he or she thinks of as “Harlem.”  My answer nearly always causes surprised perplexity, “No, almost every place I frequent is below Fourteenth Street — you know, Greenwich Village.”

Nearly seventy-five years ago (before my time) the Village was a thriving place for hot jazz to flourish, with clubs and venues now legendary but long gone.

One of the quiet heroes of hot piano was Cliff Jackson, who began his career as accompanist to female blues singers but always as a striding player on his own or as the leader of a big band, an in-demand sideman, intermission pianist, and valued soloist.  (And he was married to Maxine Sullivan until his death in 1969.)

Cliff Jackson, 1947, photograph by William P. Gottlieb

In the last years of the Second World War, several independent record companies (notably Black and White and Disc) took the opportunity to record Jackson, either solo or in bands.  He was a remarkable player, full of charging percussive energy, with singularly strong left-hand patterns (just this week I found out, thanks to the great player / informal historian Herb Gardner, that Jackson was left-handed, which explains a good deal).

Here are three sides from a remarkable and remarkably little-known session for Black and White by the Cliff Jackson Quartet, featuring Pee Wee Russell, Bob Casey, and Jack Parker.  Pee Wee and Casey were long associated with Eddie Condon bands (Eddie featured Cliff in concert and on the television “Floor Show” often).  I am assuming that Jack and Jack “the Bear” Parker, both drummers, are one and the same, recording with Eddie Heywood, Don Byas, Eddie South, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams, Pete Johnson, Leo Parker, Babs Gonzales — and he’s on Louis’ BECAUSE OF YOU and Nat Cole’s 1946 THE CHRISTMAS SONG as well).

The quartet speaks the common language with grace and eloquence.  We get to hear Cliff at length, and Bob Casey has a fine solo.  Pee Wee seems particularly unfettered: he was the sole horn on sessions that happened once every few years (with Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacy for Commodore) and I think not being placed between trumpet, trombone, and baritone saxophone made for greater freedom. That freedom means great sensitivity on ONE HOUR, and wonderfully abstract phrases on WEARY BLUES.

from Fats to James P. Johnson:

and back in time to Artie Matthews:

Readers who are well-versed or have discographies (some might be both) will note that the YouTube poster has not offered us Cliff’s minor original, QUIET PLEASE.  Yes, there are a number of offerings of this song by Cliff, but they are of a 12″ Black and White session including Bechet, the DeParis brothers, Gene Sedric, Everett Barksdale, Wellman Braud, Eddie Dougherty — a true gathering of individualists. But — before there is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the cognoscenti — a nearly new copy of the quartet’s QUIET PLEASE arrived yesterday from my most recent eBay debauch, and if the stars are in proper alignment, it could emerge on this very site.

May your happiness increase!

MY HONEY, THAT THING, A SWEETIE, NEVER THE SAME, A JUMP: RAY SKJELBRED, JONATHAN DOYLE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 29, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred

Ray Skjelbred

I keep coming back to the videos I’ve shot at several yearly incarnations of the San Diego Jazz Fest — and finding treasures and marvels I’d overlooked.  (I also keep coming back to the actual Fest, but that should startle no one.)

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Here are some highlights from a long quartet set performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jonathan Doyle, the swing star from Austin, Texas; Beau Sample, string bass and leader of the Fat Babies; Hal Smith, who’s played with and swung everyone who deserves it.

Beau Sample

Beau Sample

My titles are an expression of whimsical shorthand, but there’s nothing left out in these performances.  First, a swing trio (Chicago pays San Diego a visit) then quartet improvisations that are delightful inducements to the dance, even if you are sitting in a chair.

Hal Smith

Hal Smith

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (scored for trio):

A song I associate with Bessie Smith, I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING (decide for yourself what THAT THING is, but no need to write in, because no prizes will be awarded for the best answer).  I’m wild about this performance, I feel compelled to say:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (in a medium tempo sitting nicely between Noone and Condon):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (evoking Venuti and Lang, Billie and Lester, or both):

Finally, THE 313 JUMP, whose title has a new pop culture / numerological significance — just Ducky:

See you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest — Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-27.  Of course.

A postscript.  The jazz-scholar part of my being says that I could have written a thousand words on Influences and Echoes, with a long list of names, including Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, Lester Young, Eddie Miller, Wellman Braud, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Milt Hinton . . . but I will let you do the research for yourself — in whatever way offers the most satisfying results.  I’d rather revel in the actual sounds made by Smith, Sample, Doyle, and Skjelbred on a late November day in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

THAT LOCALITY, THOSE SOUNDS, THAT PAPER

MORTON late

First, the uplifting and relevant soundtrack.  Recorded January 30, 1940, by Jelly Roll Morton’s Seven for General Records: Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Claude Jones, trombone; Albert Nicholas, clarinet; Eddie Williams, alto saxophone; Jelly Roll Morton, piano, vocal, composer; Wellman Braud, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums:

Morton made such an impact as composer, arranger, pianist . . . that we run the risk of forgetting just how wonderful he was as a singer.  This record, and others from these late session, show his awareness of what a hit Fats Waller was for Victor, the record company that Morton may have felt had shown him only intermittent love.  Finally, this song is very contemporary — in Morton’s mythical Southern town, much of the lyric has to do with produce, obviously organic, locally grown, and no doubt delicious.

I’ve seen photographs of the sheet music for several late Morton songs.  Most sheet music issued by the major companies had photographs and elaborate artwork: Tempo Music had a much smaller budget:

MY HOME IS IN A SOUTHERN TOWN blank

Two more improvisations on SOUTHERN TOWN, before we move on.  A contemporary version (from December 1995):

Bob Barnard, cornet; Keith Ingham, piano; Earl May, string  bass; Jackie Williams, drums.

Even more contemporary!  From November 7, 2014, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, with Bent Persson, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Thomas Winteler, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Nick Ball, drums.

Attentive readers will notice “that paper” in my title, and here it is.

Here is an astonishing item for sale on eBay.  My friend Kris Bauwens (of Gent, Belgium) — one of the great collectors of jazz autographs — told me about it yesterday.  Yes, six thousand dollars.  But an easy payment plan:

SOUTHERN TOWN large

a closer look at that signature:

SOUTHERN TOWN signature

and the inside:

SOUTHERN TOWN inside one

continued:

SOUTHERN TOWN inside two

turning the page:

SOUTHERN TOWN inside three

continued:

SOUTHERN TOWN inside four

and the back cover:

SOUTHERN TOWN back

At the end of Eudora Welty’s classic 1941 story, “A Worn Path,” an elderly lady from the Mississippi backwoods, Phoenix Jackson, plans to buy her grandson a paper windmill.  “He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world.”  That is my reaction to the autographed MY HOME IS IN A SOUTHERN TOWN.

Should you like more information about Mister Jelly Lord, I urge you to read SO WHO KNEW?  —  a brief post that attracted a good deal of attention.

May your happiness increase!

BARBARA DANE’S HOUSE RENT PARTY IS COMING (July 19, 2014)

Here’s Alex Hill’s description of a “house rent party,” circa 1934, as enacted by Louis Prima, George Brunis, Eddie Miller, Claude Thornhill, Benny Pottle, Nappy Lamare, Stan King:

The legendary singer and activist Barbara Dane — 87 this May — isn’t exactly raising money to pay her own rent, but she is starring in a musical fundraiser for the Bothwell Arts Center in Livermore, California — on Saturday night, July 19, 2014.  Barbara will be joined by her musical friends Tammy Hall, piano; Angela Wellman, trombone; Richard Hadlock, soprano sax/clarinet, as well as a string bassist and drummer.  More details here.

I can’t promise that the items listed in Alex Hill’s lyrics — corn liquor, chitlins, potato salad, pigs’ feet, spaghetti — will be on sale at the Bothwell.  In fact, I think you will probably have to have your dinner before or after the concert.  What I can promise is enthusiastic, deeply-felt, authentic music from someone who has performed with the greatest artists in all kinds of music — from Louis Armstrong to Pete Seeger, Lu Watters, Earl Hines, Bobby Hackett, Wellman Braud, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many more.

I had the good fortune to see and record Barbara and a hot band at KCSM-FM’s JAZZ ON THE HILL, and I present the results here.  As Jack Teagarden sang in SAY IT SIMPLE, “If that don’t get it, well, forget it for now.”

But don’t forget our Saturday date with Ms. Dane and friends.

May your happiness increase!

EVERY EVENING: RAY SKJELBRED AND THE CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 29, 2013): RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, MIKE DAUGHERTY

Pianist, bandleader, composer, and occasional vocalist Ray Skjelbred is gently but obstinately authentic, a prophet and beacon of deep Chicago jazz — whether it’s tender, gritty, or romping.  He and the Cubs proved this again (they always do) at their November 2013 appearances at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  For this weekend, The Cubs were Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

SIX POINT BLUES:

EVERY EVENING:

A highlight for all of us — heartfelt and quietly fervent — ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:

Alienation of affections or kidnapping was never so festive as this rendition of SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

HO HUM!:

PIANO MAN:

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL:

That music is good news for us all.  But more good news — larger and more tangible than the computer monitor — is coming: the Cubs are making a California tour in early July 2014, beginning in two weeks. Jeff Hamilton will be on drums, along with the regulars you see above.

Thursday, July 10: Rossmoor Dixieland Jazz Club in Walnut Creek CA. For more information visit here.

Friday, July 11: Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. 7:30 – 10:00 PM. (1010 El Camino Real, dress casual, good food and drink and a sweet atmosphere).

Saturday, July 12: Cline Wine and Jazz Festival in Sonoma, California. The Cubs will play three sets: for details, visit here.

Sunday, July 13: Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society. For more information visit: here.

Monday, July 14: Le Colonial in San Francisco, California (20 Cosmo Place). For more information visit here.

The admiring shades of Alex Hill, Sidney Catlett, Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Sippie Wallace, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Cassino Simpson, Tut Soper, Frank Melrose, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Wellman Braud, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, and scores of unheralded blues musicians stand behind this band — as the Cubs make their own lovely ways to our ears and hearts.  Panaceas without side-effects.

May your happiness increase!

BROADWAY GOES BECHET (September 9, 2013)

It’s not exactly what you might think: David Merrick hasn’t returned from the Great Beyond to stage a musical autobiography of Sidney Bechet.  A pity, because Bechet’s life is dramatic in itself, even leaving aside his heroic music.

But we don’t have to wait for a Broadway producer to take this on, nor do we have to wait until the right actor is found.   (I suspect a modern producer would insist on calling the show SIDNEY!)

Symphony Space

What I’m referring to is the opening concert of the Fall 2013 season of the Sidney Bechet Society.  Once again, the SBS has collected some of New York’s finest hot players to celebrate Bechet’s sweeping talents: as musician, composer, bandleader.

The players span the generations, but they all have the same spirit: exuberant swing.  Leader Ed Polcer, cornet, knows how to kick a band along — as he’s proven so often.  Next to him in the front line are the Midiri Brothers, Paul (trombone / vibraphone); Joe (clarinet / soprano saxophone), making their debut at a Bechet Society concert.  The rhythm section is made up of Three Rhythm Men of Great Renown: Mark Shane, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

And the press release hints at evocations of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, so you know the music will alternate between tenderness and dangerously incendiary.

Here’s one of the original 1940 masterworks, with Carmen Mastren, guitar, and Wellman Braud, string bass:

The concert will take place on Monday, September 9, 2013, beginning at 7:15, at Peter Norton Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway, or 2537 Broadway) in Manhattan.  Tickets are $35 ($10 students / children) and can be purchased by visiting symphonyspace or calling 212-864-5400.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING “POP SONGS” in SEATTLE (Sept. 6, 2012)

The subject today is The Illusion of Musical Purity in Jazz.

I think it began in the Twenties, when jazzmen themselves made divisions between “commercial” and “hot” music.  The former was what you were paid to play — often trivial, unswinging, unimaginative — reading stock arrangements while someone in a tuxedo waved a baton.  The latter — the ideal — was what you played at 4 AM with enough gin or muggles or spaghetti (or all three) to make sure that everyone was mellow.  Later on, when the fans started to anatomize the music in ways the musicians had never cared to, the fans and journalists built walls stronger than the Berlin version.  “Commercial” music was “Swing,” where good guys played insipid pop tunes and took eight-bar solos once a night; “the real thing” was an ideal, rarely achieved.

Think of the posthumous scorn heaped on Paul Whiteman because his Orchestra wasn’t Bix and his Gang; think of those serious jazz fans who traced The Decline of Louis Armstrong to I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE taking the place of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP.

But the musicians themselves — while preferring looseness, open-mindedness, swing, and an escape from the paper — never much cared what songs they were playing.  Was PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA unworthy of Bunk Johnson?  He didn’t think so.  Did John Coltrane disdain MY FAVORITE THINGS, or Charlie Parker A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA?

I have remembered, more than once, Wild Bill Davison’s comment to an interviewer that he never learned or knew THAT’S A PLENTY until he came to New York: in Chicago, he and his friends played swinging improvisations on current and classic pop tunes.  As did Eddie Condon, Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey.

These thoughts were especially prominent in my mind when I found the latest videos from the estimable First Thursday Band — led by pianist Ray Skjelbred — at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington . . . on September 6, 2012.  The other members of the FTB are drummer Mike Daughterty, skilled at roll play; bassist Dave Brown, whose beat can’t be beat; multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright.  Some of the tunes you will see and hear below — by virtue of jazz instrumentalists playing them memorably — have become “jazz classics.”  But they were all popular tunes, premiered in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, the movies, around the parlor piano.

The ambiance here is so reminiscent of an otherwise unknown Chicago club, circa 1934, with the good guys having the time of their life playing requests and songs they like.  Close your eyes and you’ll hear not only Wright, Brown, Daugherty, and Skjelbred, but Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Alex Hill, Zinky Cohn; Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschmacher, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett — the list of happily approving ghosts is very long.

I begin this history / music theory lesson with Wayne King’s theme song — in the wrong hands, as soggy as uncooked French toast, but here snappy and sweet:

THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME :

Richard Whiting’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, which had a life long before John Hammond handed it to Billie Holiday:

A zippy Harry Barris song from the film extravaganza THE KING OF JAZZ — in our century, adopted as music for penguins — HAPPY FEET (with the verse — and then Skjelbred leaps in like a man possessed):

Isham Jones’ pretty, mournful WHAT’S THE USE? (with a rhythm section that won’t quit):

And from 1919, one of those songs suggesting that happiness could be conveyed by facial expressions, in fact, by loving SMILES:

Purists, begone!  Visit here to see more.

May your happiness increase.

BACK IN NEW YORK (Volume One): MATT MUNISTERI, DANNY TOBIAS, PETE MARTINEZ, JARED ENGEL — The EarRegulars — at THE EAR INN (Sept. 2, 2012)

I don’t mean to suggest that my return to New York after a California summer is as momentous as that of Louis — but the phrase brought to mind this beloved vinyl issue — cover drawing by Thomas B. Allen, I think, and eloquent commentary by Dan Morgenstern.

Being “back in New York” could be defined in a thousand ways . . . but joy for me is being back at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on a Sunday night from 8-11 for a session with the EarRegulars.  No fake stereo there, just genuine swinging creativity.

Sunday, September 2, found Matt Munisteri (guitar), Danny Tobias (cornet), Pete Martinez (clarinet), and Jared Engel (string bass) having themselves a time and sharing their pleasure with us.  You’ll hear four sweetly intense conversationalists who majored in empathy and telepathy in graduate school.  No one steps on anyone else’s line, but it’s clear they all know The Path.  And that Path winds around through 1938 Basie, the Keynote sessions, 1929 Ellington, but the EarRegulars are never imprisoned by the past.  This music is splendidly vibrant, shining in the twenty-first century.

You’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night?  You, too, can be BACK IN NEW YORK if you put your mind to it . . . .

MY HONEY’s LOVIN’ ARMS (for Bing and Cutty Cutshall):

CREOLE LOVE CALL (for Barney Bigard and Wellman Braud):

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (alas):

I MAY BE WRONG (for Joe Thomas and Pete Brown, among others):

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL (for Bix and Eddie):

The American Decca Jazz Heritage series started off promisingly, but several reissue projects never got to their second volume.  No such worries about The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn . . . many more glorious Sunday sessions to come!

May your happiness increase.

DO YOU HAVE PLANS FOR APRIL 20, 1939?

Can you spare $2.50?

And are you free to join me uptown — Thursday night into Friday morning — for some remarkable hot jazz?

It’s not every day you get to hear Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow and his Blue Bird Recording Orchestra featuring Tommy Ladnier on Trumpets, is it?  I have never been to a Sensational Attraction and Dance, myself.

Here’s the official invitation if a newspaper clipping seems too gauche:

I want to know who else was in the band.  Teddy Bunn, Elmer James, Manzie Johnson, James P. Johnson, Wellman Braud, Zutty Singleton . . . .?  And who knew that Mezz was living at 126th Street and Fifth Avenue at the time.  Tommy Ladnier, alas, would be dead on June 4.

Who were the Park Royal Boys?  And when did the Congress Casino Ballroom become an office building or an apartment complex?

Thanks to David J. Weiner, sleuth extraordinaire, for this eBay find!

May your happiness increase.

DUKE’S APPLE, OR ADVENTURES IN SOUND

IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, composed in 1905 by Williams and Van Alstyne, may have seemed nostalgic even when it first appeared.  The lyrics describe some caressing and blushing and a promise of pastoral fidelity although they are now apart.  But no one has been thrown out of the Garden.

To establish the song, here’s a 1929 Max Flesicher SCREEN SONGS cartoon — a whole show in itself, with a comic prelude, the cynical vaudeville patter (is the singer Billy Murray?), then two verses, two choruses.  The satire of the cartoon jostles the innocence of the lyrics and melody.  (As the lyrics describe pastoral pleasures — the birds, bees, and flowers — the sandwich refuses to be eaten, the dachshund is nearly caught in the shrinking building: slapstick proliferates.)

Here’s Duke Ellington’s version from August 15, 1933:

This has been one of my favorite recordings for years, showing once again how beautifully jazz improvisers take the most simple material and make it spacious, relaxing in the freedom that simple melodies and harmonies afford.

It begins with the reed section stating the first notes of the melody against a simple stride figure from Ellington’s piano — a stripped-down Willie “the Lion” Smith motif, perhaps? — that suggests both a vaudeville vamp and someone ambling down the street.  The reeds and piano (over Wellman Braud’s happily prominent string bass) converse in a most pastoral manner . . . suggesting that a sweet band is taking the stand (although Duchin could never have managed that piano figure with such swing) until ominous rumblings are heard in the background.

Did a large dog make its way into the Brunswick studios?  No, it’s just Cootie Williams with his plunger mute.  I think in the second half of the chorus either Freddy Jenkins or Rex Stewart takes over to continue the sweet satire.  If, in the first thirty seconds, the Jungle Band was peeking sideways through the sweet foliage, the second half of the first chorus is more raucously comic — the apple tree gets connected to horse racing, to a repeated blues phrase, and the trumpet soloist ends his chorus with what sounds like a genuine guffaw.  Obviously more than “the dull buzz of the bee” is evident here.

So far, by the way, one might think this a small band recording — a three-piece rhythm section, a reed section, and one or two trumpeters at most.  None of the annunciatory “big band” power of trading sections.

The next eight bars suggest that satire — or at least a distinctively mocking voice — has taken the upper hand.  Could anyone mistake the half-muted plunger sound of Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, offering his own wry commentary on what exactly might be going on in the wildwood — certainly blushing and caressing are the least of it, for the imagined lovers have given full vent to their animal passions!  Then Tricky (in the next eight bars) seems to jam his plunger mute fully into the bell of his horn, sounding like another musician completely, ending his chorus with a huge guffaw or Bronx cheer.

So far we’ve had the counterpoint between the decorous (although swinging) reeds delineating the melody and the much naughtier brass voices.  Ellington saves his most dramatic soloist for the next chorus — the golden sound of Johnny Hodges, turning this simple melody into a blues, then adding a Louis-inspired upwards phrase to move us completely away from melodic embellishment.  There is no satire here — rather a mixture of the blues and a dramatic aria.

One more chorus remains.  What sounds like the whole ensemble (did Ellington have all his thirteen players in the studio for this or was it a smaller band?) — muted brass playing staccato phrases, supported by the reed section . . . but wait!  A beautiful embroidery of woody, swooping phrases (“that’s Barney Bigard on clarinet / you ain’t never heard nothing like him yet”) decorates the clipped phrasing.  That phrasing, to my ears, is so reminiscent of music for a tap-dance routine that I wonder if Ellington began playing this piece in theatres for a group like the Four Step Brothers.

And after a decorous, rather formal ending, the piece closes with a reiteration of those brass mockeries, doo-wahs that look backwards to the Jungle Band and IT DON’T MEAN A THING.  Whatever happened under the Old Apple Tree might have been less nostalgic, in Ellington’s imagination.

On paper, this is a very simple series of inventions: the reed section (and then the brass) keeps stating a pared-down version of the melody, while a small number of soloists improvise over it.  But what a variety of sounds!  And although I may have heard this recording several hundred times, and I know who and what is coming next, it never fails to be a delightful surprise.  No drama in volume, just a beautiful series of dance-vignettes celebrating individual sounds.

Twelve years later, Ellington returned to the piece and offered it regularly as part of his 1945 radio broadcasts from theatres.  One such version, recorded on May 26 in Chicago, made its way onto a V-Disc, which is how we have it here.  The band is larger: Rex Stewart, Shelton Hemphill, Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson (tp) Ray Nance (tp,vln,vcl) Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Claude Jones, Lawrence Brown (tb) Jimmy Hamilton (cl,ts) Johnny Hodges (as) Otto Hardwick (as,cl) Al Sears (ts) Harry Carney (bar,cl,b-cl) Duke Ellington (p) Fred Guy (g) Junior Raglin (b) Sonny Greer (d).

The outlines of the original performance are still visible, but the whole recording has a rather leisurely — even lazy — feel to it, as if this was a piece that Ellington’s band didn’t have to work too hard to perform:

And just in case you’d like another taste of the Apple . . . here’s my own personal Paradise, a sublime quintet:

May your happiness increase.

FROM THE HEART, FOR THE HEART: RAY SKJELBRED’S “FIRST THURSDAY BAND” (Dec. 1, 2011)

Feeling low?  Got a parking ticket?  Can’t shake that nasty cold?  Worried about the bills?  Did you burn the toast?

It’s going to be all right.  In fact, it’s already all right. 

Make yourself to home and listen to this music.  Or — if you’re swiffing around, turn up the volume and feel the deep swinging joy this band creates.

They’re Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, caught live at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington, on December 1, 2011.  They are Ray Skjelbred, piano / leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxes; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums.

And — in the spirit of the season — do you hear what I hear?  I hear a real jazz band.  “What’s that?” I hear someone in the back saying.  Well, that’s an improvising group where all the members love the music and work together towards the same purpose, supporting one another in a gritty joyousness appropriate to the song, picking up each others’ cues, playing witty follow-the-leader so that one hears simultaneously a quartet and four strong-minded individualists taking their own path to get to their own versions of Jazz Paradise.

I also hear echoes of Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Fud Livingston, Guy Kelly, Doc Poston, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Wellman Braud, Milton J. Hinton, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty (a relation, perhaps?), George Wettling — all embodied on December 1, 2011, by living creators who have absorbed the tradition and made it their own.  Who cares if people fight cyber-skirnishes in the blogosphere about whether “J**z” is alive or dead?  Call this by whatever polite name you like: it is most certainly alive.

The first song and performance that caught my attention was LOVE ME TONIGHT, which is associated in my mind with Earl Hines and Bing Crosby — one hell of a pair!  It is a lovely song: with lyrics, one of the most insinuating seduction lyrics I know (perhaps more wooing than A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY): a carpe diem pointed towards the bedroom.  But here it’s a bit more lowwdown, suggesting that Chicago jazz was a powerful aphrodisiac as well:

And here’s a lowdown Commodore JADA:

Something unusual from Mister Piano Man — a little solo tribute to someone quite forgotten, Cassino Simpson.  All most of us know of him is that he worked with Tiny Parham and did his own Chicago gigs, before succumbing to mental instability.  After he unsuccessfully tried to kill Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, he was institutionalized and I believe he spent the rest of his life there.  The noble John Steiner took recording equipment to Simpson and recorded him playing piano in 1942: the results, very hard to find even fifty years ago, appeared on a Paramont 10″ lp, which I’ve heard but never seen.  Mister Skjelbred gives us a window into the blues — the Cassino Simpson way:

And something pretty, soulful, as well as funky: Ellington’s BLACK BEAUTY:

Here’s a truly mournful TRAV’LIN ALL ALONE (Ethel Waters – Jimmie Noone – Kenny Davern tempo, not Billie’s ironic bounce):

And a rather obscure tune from 1936 — I associate it only with Henry “Red” Allen, but that’s sufficient pedigree for anyone — NOTHING’S BLUE BUY THE SKY:

Something else from Red (circa 1933), his affirmation that everything is really OK — THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME:

And the song that could stand as the band’s secondary title, summing up their attitude towards their work and their art, LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (think of Bill Robinson, Fats Waller, and Jeni LeGon in STORMY WEATHER).  Ray sings the delectable lyrics softly, but you might consider memorizing them — you could do far worse for a mantra to get you through every day:

What exquisite music — delicate and raunchy at the same time!

P.S.  I don’t want to be especially preachy, but I would like all the youthful musicians in the house to watch and listen closely to these clips — for the deep unspoken unity of the quartet, the shifting sound-textures, and numberless virtues.  Mister Skjelbred doesn’t cover the keyboard with runs and arpeggios (unless he wants to); his left hand is integral to his playing; he could be a whole orchestra but doesn’t trample on anyone.  Mister Wright knows everything there is to know about “tonation and phrasing”: not a note is out of place and each one has its own purpose, its own sound.  And, children, there were ways of playing the alto saxophone that Charles Parker did not render obsolete.  Mister Daugherty does so much with so few cymbals — bless him! — he knows what his snare drum and bass drum are for; he swings those wire brushes, and he is always listening.  And Mister Brown, whether plucking or bowing, gets a deep resonant yet flexible sound out of his bass.  Want to know what kind of amplifier he uses?  It’s called LOVE.  And although he can play the guitar beautifully, he doesn’t turn his string bass into one.  There!  I have spoken.  Learn it to the younguns!

OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, CLINT BAKER, CHRIS DAWSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (Sept. 5, 2011)

When someone tried to get Thelonious Monk up early for the GREAT DAY IN HARLEM photo shoot in 1958, Monk is supposed to have replied — and I don’t think he was joking — that he didn’t know there were two ten o’clocks in the day.  Perhaps an extreme statement, but many jazz musicians — by habit, temperament, and experience — are nocturnal creatures.  They aren’t terrified of daylight, just unaccustomed to it.

Thus the session that follows is special for reasons above and beyond the fine music that these players produced.  It took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011, at the Sweet and Hot Music Festival — and it began at 9:45 AM.  But no one complained, because they were taking such delight in each other’s company.

And, even better (perhaps a nod to the irritable shade of the late Kenny Davern) it was a totally acoustic session.  No microphones in sight!  That’s the way it’s supposed to be but so rarely is — electrified instruments or a forest of microphones.  Some sound men and women are expert, sensitive listeners, but it’s such a treat to hear acoustic music in a quiet room — it happens infrequently.

All of this wouldn’t matter if the musicians were ordinary . . . but this band is made up of great players, individualists willing to create something synergistic, a musical entity larger than themselves.  Tim Laughlin is a model clarinetist — his sweet, full tone is a pleasure to hear whatever he plays; his swinging playing never lets us down.  Connie Jones is a quiet master, offering one subtle, peaceably emotive solo after another.  He never reaches for a cliche of the idiom or of his instrument, and his knowledge of harmony is so deep that he never plays an expected or an overemphatic phrase.  I think of Bobby Hackett and Doc Cheatham, but also the translucent quality of early Lester Young.  Chris Dawson makes his hard work look easy, spinning airy phrases out as he goes — glistening arpeggios bolster and urge on the soloist, the band — without playing one superfluous note.

Next to these three polished stylists, we have the untrammeled man of jazz, the master of grease and fuzz, Clint Baker, reminding us that if it ain’t gutbucket, it ain’t worth playing.  Clint dosen’t demand the spotlight and is soft-spoken, but is a serious purveyor of darker impulses on his horn.

That rhythm section?  Sweetly propulsive!  Katie Cavera knows her harmony and pushes everyone forward in the most affecting way — a Freddie Green with a West Coast bite (as if Mr. Green had eaten many more ripe avocados in his day).  Marty Eggers plays his bass the old-fashioned way, the Wellman Braud way, without being overpowering or raucous.  And Hal Smith just shines back there at his drum kit: offering the exactly right sound, push, or rhythmic seasoning for this or any other band.

As an extra bonus: no terribly hackneyed “Dixieland” tunes — no muskrats rambling . . . just melodic favorites, some less-played, most at nice rocking tempos.

They started with a song whose title well represents this band’s feeling — a Twenties pop song not often recorded by jazz players, although Louis and the All-Stars did it more than once in 1948 — TOGETHER (an apt description of this band’s overall conception):

SPAIN (by Isham Jones) was ornamented with the Irving Fazola introduction — a lovely touch — and was taken at a sweet tempo (rather than a near-run):

WANG WANG BLUES might have called forth memories of the earliest Paul Whiteman Orchestra . . . . but the easy tempo here evoked the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1945 where the front line was BG and the much-missed Atlanta stalwart, trombonist Lou McGarity (ain’t nobody played like him yet!):

(WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR?) AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY is not only a song with two identities; it also lends itself to varied approaches and tempi.  Here Tim counts it off as if we really should know the emotional intent — a deep apology — and the band catches the sweet rueful mood immediately — after Chris, a soulful fellow, points the way:

Chris Dawson deserves more attention — he is such a fine (although understated) player that I think many people haven’t given his quiet swinging playing the applause it deserves.  Listen to what he and the rhythm section do to and for Berlin’s PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ:

They called her frivolous Sal.  Enough said — but MY GAL SAL commemorates this lively young woman:

There are two songs called ONCE IN A WHILE associated with Louis Armstrong.  One, a Hot Five display piece; the other, a lovely pop ballad that Louis played and sang with a small group for Decca in 1938 — that’s the one Tim and friends chose here:

Finally, the Louis-Hoagy Carmichael connection (such a fertile partnership over the years) gets its moment with JUBILEE:

Mister Gloom won’t be about / Music always knocks him out — even before 10 AM!  And lyricism at this level makes Mister Gloom pack up and go somewhere else forever.

HEAVENLY RHYTHM: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (Aug. 20, 2011)

Carl (piano), Clint (bass), and Jeff (drums) don’t play waltzes, but I thought this recent acquisition provided just the title for the music they created at the Wednesday Night Hop in Mountain View on August 20, 2011:

Because Carl is such a superb boogie-woogie pianist and blues singer (no one else I know summons up all that lowdown energy) he is often typecast within that genre.  But he is such a fine player of straight-ahead swinging jazz that I wanted to showcase him in that way here.  (Readers take note: he is also a powerful yet subtle player of ragtime and stride: I’ve been dazzled by his versions of SWIPSEY CAKEWALK and CAROLINA SHOUT.)

Clint is so good on so many instruments that his strong, focused bass playing might be taken for granted.  But he makes me think of the heroes of that instrument — Al Morgan, Wellman Braud, Steve Brown, Walter Page.

And I always knew how marvelously Jeff Hamilton swung, having admired the two compact discs he’s recorded as a leader — check them out for yourself at http://www.jeffhamiltonjazz.com — but his playing at this session was especially rewarding.  He can swing mightily in any tempo; his time is superb; he makes any drum kit sound orchestral without raising the volume; his solos have shape and form and wit.  He surprises in the same way Dave Tough did, and his grounding in New Orleans jazz keeps any band rocking.

I apologize to Jeff and to viewers for the post that seems to bisect him vertically.  It didn’t seem to affect his playing, and filming from this angle kept me safe from airborne lindy-hoppers.

Here are the HEAVENLY RHYTHM BOYS (rechristened for the purpose of this blog), making music that needs no exegesis:

ROSETTA:

SONG OF THE WANDERER:

LADY BE GOOD:

THE PRISONER’S SONG:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

SWANEE RIVER:

What a trio!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! — THE FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (ON DISC and VIDEO)

Imagine a jam session after hours in Chicago, circa 1934 or so (the date, being imagined, is flexible).  Waiting their turn to play are Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Omer Simeon, Boyce Brown, Guy Kelly, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, Cassino Simpson, Frank Melrose, Joe Sullivan, Wellman Braud, Truck Parham, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, and others.

No, the late John Steiner didn’t record such a gathering of saints and heroes. 

But a modern evocation of such a gathering is to be found when one of my new-irreplaceable-favorite jazz groups, the FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND, comes to play. 

They are Ray Skjelbred, leader, piano; Steve Wright, reeds, cornet; Dave Brown, string bass, Mike Daugherty, drums.  Everyone in the quartet has been known to sing a chorus or two.  It’s a thrifty, focused, engaging quartet — listeners get more than their money’s worth!

I’ve shared some YouTube videos of the band, performing at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington — and more are at the bottom of this blogpost. 

But there’s good news tonight, as a famous radio broadcaster used to say.  The First Thursday Jazz Band has just come out with their debut CD — drop evertyhing and pay attention, please! 

It’s an old-fashioned production: recorded on the job (but with a sweetly attentive audience) in good sound, with a variety of songs and approaches — one of those CDs you can listen to the whole way through and come back to again right away. 

If you know anything about Ray Skjelbred, you know that he rocks — and he loves both classic and unusual material.  And people who admire him can argue (in the nicest of ways) if he is a greater soloist than an accompanist.  Like Stacy, Ray is so fine backing up someone else that occasionally I want to listen to the track again just to hear his bubbling down-home fills and figures. 

Ray’s partner in the rhythm section is the quietly propulsive Dave Brown.  String bassists tend to get less respect than they deserve, but rhythm is Dave’s business.  And business sure is swell.  He has a big plush sound (no amps, thank you kindly) but he doesn’t need one.  And his time is neither stodgy nor over-eager: I think of the Blessed Walter Page when I hear Dave play.

Mike Daugherty (the man with the red drum) is a jovial player with fine time and a whole galaxy of sonic effects from his kit.  He doesn’t opt for the usual tricks, but often just stays on his snare with a rich, padding brush carpet, or moves around his set in a way that feels just right.  No showboating, no look-at-me, not ever.

Steve Wright should get triple or quadruple pay, but I don’t think he’d even entertain the notion of asking for it.  A sweet alto player (a style I miss a great deal) with deep but casual lyricism, a clarinet player who can be Russell-tart or Darnell Howard-smooth, and a neat, unflurried Bixian trumpeter — sweetly to the point.

That’s the band — and these fellows are having a good time purling through the repertoire.  Their quiet pleasure comes through from the first note.

The CD is called simple RAY SKJELBRED and the FIRST THURSDAY BAND, and it’s on the Orangapoid label (number 103).  It has a wonderfully diverse repertoire — Don Redman and Chris Smith, Louis and Red McKenzie, old favorites, oddities, and deep blues.  (JAMES ALLEY BLUES, sung guttily by Bob Jackson, is priceless — immediately identifiable as authentic.) 

The songs are YELLOW DOG BLUES / YEARNING AND BLUE / CAVERNISM / SOLID ROCK / TRY GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP / DON’T BLAME ME / LOVER COME BACK TO ME / FAR AWAY BLUES / NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART / HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY / JAMES ALLEY BLUES / CHERRY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL. 

I wish I could send you to your local record shop and be assured that it would be there — several copies! — but I think those days are gone, gone, gone.  However.  Obviously if you meet Ray at a gig (or the other FT chaps) you can buy a copy for the pittance of $15.  But for most of us, the idea of meeting Ray or the FTJB in person has a certain dreamlike quality.  So for $18, Ray himself will mail you a copy.  He promises!  The details go like this.  Ray Skjelbred can be found at 19526 40th PL. NE., Lake Forest Park, Washington 98155.  If you need more information or want to make a quantity order of a hundred copies, feel free to let me know and I will tell Ray immediately.  Here’s what the cover looks like.

Now.  I promised some new YouTube clips (I regret that they aren’t mine, but they are still lovely) recorded at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant on June 2, 2011.

Let’s begin with a ruminative PENNIES FROM HEAVEN that has all sorts of bonuses — Ray plays the verse in fine Crosby fashion, and Steve solos on clarinet and cornet:

Something in memory of Frank Melrose and George Wettling (with Tesch and Bud in the dim background), the WAILING BLUES:

Want to be some place where they huggy and kissy nice?  How about NAGASAKI?

And two highly reason-able songs, with connections to Red McKenzie, Wingy Mannone, Jack Teagarden, Fats Waller — the first being NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU (vocalizing by Mike Daugherty):

And that eternal plaint, WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?

ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON might have been just another Thirties cowboy song if Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham hadn’t been handed it in the Vocalion studios.  “Take another one, Higgy!”  I think also of the version with vocal by Al Bowlly to which Bob Hoskins emoted in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Vocal by Mike, doubling by Steve:

And THE SONG IS ENDED:

But that last song title (with apologies to Mr. Berlin) isn’t accurate.  There are more videos from this evening on YouTube, and — that new CD! 

Be the first one in your neighborhood to be walking around with a wide grin — and when someone says, “Why the hell are YOU so happy?” you can say, “Have you heard the new CD by The First Thursday Jazz Band?”  And — if you’re a really charitable spreader-of-the-good-word, you can share your headphones / iPod, or even invite them into your car for a few minutes of The Real Thing.

THOSE RHYTHM MEN: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (May 5, 2011)

Here are some more uplifting moments in jazz, courtesy of  on YouTube. 

The prime movers here are Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, performing at Seattle’s New Orleans Restaurant, on May 5, 2011.  That’s Ray on piano and vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

I would write “Four minds with but a single thought — to swing,” but that would be an oversimplification.  The beauty of this little band is that they are unified, presenting something irresistible, but each player shines through, his individual sensibility intact yet happily part of the group.  Ray, Steve, Dave, and Mike surely rock — in the best old-time-modern ways.  Savor those tempos!  Many bands with less feeling for the music play only Fast or Slow . . . . not this quartet.  But you don’t need me to tell you how good this band is: the music will do that in a minute. 

THAT RHYTHM MAN — connected to Louis and Fats in 1929 — was originally a dance number for the chorus line, I recall, so its tempo would have been hot.  The FTB takes it at an insinuating medium-tempo, just intoxicating:

Something for Bix — even if the debate goes on whether he is on the Irving Mills 1930 recording of this song — LOVED ONE:

Jelly Roll Morton’s tune WHY asks that puzzling question:

And for the vipers in the house . . . here’s a Thirties paean to the joys of muta.  Mike shows how it would feel to be Tall: he’s VIPER MAD:

More delights await — video performances of AVALON, STUMBLING, MOANIN’, ONE HOUR, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and a favorite of mine, the lovely FOREVERMORE.

But wait!  There’s more!  “Informed sources,” as I used to read about in the New York Times, have told me that there is a First Thursday Band CD in the works.  What good news!  Watch this space!

JUST DANDY: THE JOHN REYNOLDS TRIO

Do you like your swing intimate but hot?  How about some echoes of Bing and Eddie Lang, of Django and Louis Vola, of Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud?

I could go on naming names and posing rhetorical questions, but I’d rather direct you to these three YouTube videos — hot from the press! — recorded beautifully by Katie Cavera (string bass and video camera), Larry Wright (clarinet and other surprises), and John Reynolds (National steel guitar, singing, and whistling).  And in an ear where everyone looks as if they’re dressed for mountain climbing or dog grooming, those crisp outfits are an extra added attraction.

How about AFTER YOU’VE GONE?

Something more romantic — dim the lights and take your Beloved for a tender spin around the kitchen while the trio plays and sings and whistles OUT OF NOWHERE:

And to close off this delightful little presentation, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, where Larry breaks out his ocarina and then his alto saxophone:

I can’t wait — there must be more!  When’s the CD release party?  And I hear that this group has four new features in the Paramount picture, THE BIG BROADCAST OF 2012. . . . coming soon to a multiplex near you!

And there’s more fun — musical and cinematic — to be found on Katie’s YouTube channel, kcavera

A FIVE-MINUTE SEMINAR IN “HOT”: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS PLAY “CHINA BOY”

This performance — recorded by the percussive and erudite Sue Fischer at the Chattanooga Traditional Jazz Festival on May 1, 2011 — is both casual and extraordinary.

Facts first: that’s Ray Sklelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, bass; Hal Smith, drums.

And they’re playing — not too fast — the late-Twenties favorite CHINA BOY in a way that summons up early Benny, Fud Livingston, Tesch, Cless, and Pee Wee; Stacy, Hines, and Sullivan; Eddie Condon and Steve Jordan; Wellman Braud and Jim Lanigan; Baby Dodds, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.

You might think the shades of the dead crowd the stage.  You might wonder whether the living players have breathing room amidst all those Deceased Eminences.  They certainly do!  These are real people in the twenty-first century, playing their hearts out.  Bless them!

And I want to sign up for the Cubs’ fifty-city national tour.  Don’t you?

SIDNEY AND SIDNEY, 1941

And Willie and Charlie, Everett and Wellman.

All will be revealed.

Look at the record label, and listen!

WHY WAIT FOR THE LAST EIGHT BARS?  CLICK HERE: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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“TOM-TOM, THE ELEVATOR BOY”

I admit that it is hardly a promising title. 

But I just stumbled upon this clip — the only video I know of Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, and two other musicians who form the Spirits of Rhythm.  And Leo Watson scats!  The bad news is that the YouTube clip is moderately out of synch, so it takes an optimistic effort to get beyond the lapse between what Watson mouths and what we hear — or it could simply be that he is miming to a prerecorded track. 

The performance — a sublimely forgettable novelty number — comes from a forgotten 1941 Columbia Pictures college musical, SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS, starring Ruby Keeler in her final major screen appearance, alongside Harriet Hilliard and Ozzie Nelson.  The film was directed by Edward Dmytryk, whose reputation surely doesn’t rest on this.

But I thought I would never see film or television footage of Leo Watson.  Now if some film archivist will uncover more of James P. Johnson (besides THE EMPEROR JONES and ST. LOUIS BLUES, where he is heard but not seen) and some Lee Wiley and Mildred Bailey, I’ll be content.

And for the scholar-readers out there: the other tipple player seems to be genuinely playing, but I wonder about that bassist.  He doesn’t look like Wellman Braud to me!

CHARLES PETERSON’S VISION

This is the second part of what I hope will be a long series on the jazz photography of Charles Peterson, who mystically saw the essence of jazz.  00000005

Here’s Peterson the documentary photographer — his casual, offhanded shot of a quartet led by Sidney Bechet, who is characteristically both in command and absolutely at the service of the music he is creating, the experience ecstatic and powerful.  What I find fascinating are the expressions on the faces of his sidemen: Cliff Jackson (whom I remember seeing in later photographs as white-haired) looks up at the Master to see where the currents of music are going; Eddie Dougherty, a wonderful and little-known Brooklyn-born drummer, seems anxious, although he may have only been caught in mid-comment, and Wellman Braud is quietly gleeful, rocking in rhythm.  They seem small objects drawn into Bechet’s vortex.  The photo suggests that any cohesive jazz group forms itself into a unit, but each musician retains his or her essential personality, and in this picture we see the quiet tension between the Selves and the Community.  And this photo brings up another of Peterson’s unintended gifts to us: how many people ever were fortunate enough to be at the Mimo Club in Harlem to hear this quartet, much less at this moment on February 16, 1942?  But — with a substantial record collection, some memory and imagination — we can invent the music that this band is creating. 

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This is a new split-second capture from a famous jazz session and photo shoot: the Commodore Records session of April 20, 1939, where Billie Holiday recorded STRANGE FRUIT, YESTERDAYS, I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, and FINE AND MELLOW.  The musicians are bassist Johnny Williams, trumpeter Frank Newton, altoist Stanley Payne, and tenorist Kenneth Hollon.  Billie is holding a long-noted syllable; is it the “Yes” in YESTERDAYS?  And she is very young, very beautiful, also giving herself up to the music, her hands folded, her eyes almost-shut, Peterson’s lighting capturing her mouth, chin, and throat.  What distinguishes this portrait from others at this session is Billie’s lovely and obviously-treasured fur coat.  I find it ironic, seventy years after the session, that there is such a gap between Billie in her fur — which she deserved more than anyone — and the material she sings with such deep emotion.  One song, most famous, describes lynchings in the South; another describes a “fine and mellow” lover who doesn’t treat his woman well; a third and fourth describe bygone happinesses, all gone now, and the blues one sings when one’s lover has left.  And Billie sang these four songs as if her heart would break . . . wearing that fur coat.  Later in the session, of course, she got warm and took it off.  And no doubt the irony didn’t occur to her and she would have laughed it off if someone pointed it out, “Lady, you look too good to be singing those blues!”00000010

Hard at work is all I can say.  The caption states that this is the Summa Cum Laude band — led in part by Bud Freeman, arrangements by valve-trombonist Brad Gowans — performing at Nick’s in December 1938.  The band must be negotiating some serious ensemble passage, for they all look so intent.  Bassist Clyde Newcome stares out into space, as does Pee Wee Russell; Gowans and Freeman, especially Brad, are watching the band warily, or perhaps Brad is reading the music off the stand in the center.  I would guess that the drummer is Al Sidell, but I would hope that it is Stan King* — drummers shuttled in and out of this band.  The rather somber effect of this picture suggests to me that the band is playing one of its medleys of current hits (you can hear them on the airshots in 1939-40 from Chicago’s Panther Room at the Hotel Sherman . . . grown men of this artistic stature playing SIERRA SUE, but what can I say?)  Serious business indeed.  (In his later comment, Mike Burgevin points out that I left out Max Kaminsky.  How did I do this?)  *Don Peterson confirmed that the drummer is indeed Stan King — one of jazz’s entirely forgotten men. 

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This photo lets me imagine a time before I was born when James P. Johnson could wear his pin-stripe suit and play the piano, which is what he was meant to do.  It was taken in 1946, on a “Jazz on the River” cruise organized by Rudi Blesh and Art Hodes to go up and down the Hudson River.  From left, there’s the hand of an unidentified bassist, James P., Baby Dodds, Marty Marsala on trumpet (with the appropriate handkerchief) and guitarist Danny Barker — some of the same crew who turned up on the THIS IS JAZZ radio broadcasts.   But my secret pleasure in this photograph comes from the pretty woman whose head seems (although much smaller) in the same plane as James P.’s.  She is tidily dressed; her cardigan, pulled together at the collar, reveals a neat floral blouse beneath; we sense that she wears a neat wool skirt.  Her eyeglasses gleam in Peterson’s flashbulb; her hair is demure; her modest lipstick is in place.  Her hands are decorously in her lap.  Yet it’s clear — although she is prim, restrained, the last person to whoop and knock over her highball — that she is deeply pleased by what she hears.  As much as Bechet or James P., she is in the grip of the music, wanting it to go on forever. 

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Berenice Abbott told Hank O’Neal that most of photography was having the patience to wait for the right moment.  I’ll end this series with a superbly right moment — with only two musicians, Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett, playing at the “Friday Club” jam sessions held at the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan — this one on February 17, 1939.  Hackett here is much as I remember him, up close, in 1972: a small, slender man, neatly dressed, dark eyebrows, thin wrists with black hair on them.  Here he is all of 24, and so small that while standing he is only inches taller than Condon, sitting.  The expression on his face might be a smile or it might be that he is working hard to bring off a particular nuanced phrase.  But our attention is drawn to Condon, also young and healthy.  Condon called Hackett “The Impostor,” because — with his peculiarly ornate wit, he said “Nobody can be that good.”  The teasing compliment almost slips away, but you get the point.  What is more important in this picture — more than Condon’s neat attire — is his grin, his head turned in delight and pleasure and admiration towards Hackett, who is clearly playing something marvelous, inimitable, lovely.  Condon is astonished by what he’s hearing, but he’s expected no less from Bobby.  This photograph captures the joy (and the labor) of this music better than any prose. 

Thank you, Charles Peterson!

P.S.  It didn’t surprise me that Peterson’s offspring were particularly talented in music, film, and writing.  His daughter, Karen Yochim, a successful country-and-western songwriter, lives in Louisiana, has written extensively about Cajun culture for newspapers and magazines — and is branching out as a crime novelist.  Peterson’s granddaughter Schascle “Twinkle” Yochim (her name is Cajun, pronounced “Suh-Shell”) is a professional singer with several CDs, concentrating on soul, rock, and to a limited extent, country-and-western. She’s also a songwriter, with songs accepted in feature films currently in production.  

After a career in the Navy, Peterson’s son, Don, worked for the Navy Department in Washington, DC, doing motion picture & television scriptwriting.  Don also wrote scripts for many film and television productions.  He retired in 1986 and now concentrates on marketing his father’s photographic legacy, most lavishly accessible in the book SWING ERA NEW YORK.