Tag Archives: Wild Bill Davison

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, 1944

A simple song about a universal, deep desire — by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar.  The melody is very unadorned, as are the lyrics: qualities that would make it memorable to a large popular audience and also great material for jazz improvisers.  It was recorded frequently when it was a new pop song, then given new life by Benny Goodman, his orchestra, and other Swing Era bands.

In my time, I’ve seen leaders call I WANT TO BE HAPPY when they want a trustworthy up-tempo song, often to close a set.  I remember Wild Bill Davison announcing the title and then leering at the audience, “Don’t we ALL?”  Kenny Davern, more an intellectual comedian, would conjugate the statement in a half-Yiddish inflection, “I vant to be happy, he vants to be happy . . . ” and then trail off amidst the audience’s laughter.

Here is a particularly memorable 1944 version, showing that a good melody has its own immortality, especially when explored by brilliant improvisers who never lose sight of the melody’s validity: the Commodore Records classic (from a long session with many alternate takes) featuring Edmond Hall, Teddy Wilson, Billy Taylor, Arthur Trappier (July 20).  It is easy to take this superficially as a version of a Goodman small group because of the uplifting presence of Wilson, but Hall and Wilson had been working together at Cafe Society for some time.

The YouTube presenter has gotten the date wrong and provides no data; instead there is a constant flow of often irrelevant photographs, but the music is what matters.

And what music!  It’s really a simple recording — a worked-out introduction, a chorus for Hall, one for the rhythm section, another for Hall (low-register with the bridge for bassist Taylor) one for the rhythm section with the bridge for Trappier on brushes, then a quartet improvisation, everyone more intense but hardly louder, ending with no dramatics.  I marvel at Edmond’s tone in all his registers, his easy facility that is allied to great quiet intensity; the depth of Wilson’s harmonic inventions that are always moving — he never puts a foot wrong but nothing seems worked-out — and the solid sweet push of Taylor and Trappier.

It’s a remarkable recording because it never tugs at the listener’s sleeve to say LOOK HOW REMARKABLE WE ARE.  (However, if one hears it through a fog of multi-tasking, it might become background music — what we used to call “elevator music,” which would be a shame.)

This was the peak of a particular style (still practiced beautifully today): swinging melodic inventiveness in solo and ensemble.  There really is no way that a listener could improve on this group effort, and I whimsically theorize that Bird and Dizzy went their own ways because this style, these individualistic players, had so polished this kind of jazz that there was no way to better it without breaking out of it.

We still want to be happy, and music like this points the way, if only we take the time to immerse ourselves in it.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN, AMONG FRIENDS: DICK WELLSTOOD, BUZZY DROOTIN, GEORGE WEIN, MOREY FELD, ZUTTY SINGLETON, WILD BILL DAVISON, and a few words about TESCH, (April 21, 2017)

Here’s another opportunity to hear some priceless stories from the man who was there, with eyes, ears, and heart open — our friend and hero Dan Morgenstern, at home on April 21, 2017, speaking of the people he knew and admired.  I’ve shared previous interview segments here and here.

And here’s more: Dick Wellstood covering fires for the local newspaper, Lester Young auditioning the new pianist:

and on a wide range of memorable people.  (After I’d shut the camera off, I mentioned the Singletons’ dog, Bringdown — whom Dan had also encountered. Perhaps the next interview segment should be devoted to Famous Jazz Pets?)

What’s the moral?  Nothing new, I think.  When people pass into spirit, they never “die” as long as they are remembered with affection, as Dan does here. And the living — that’s us, with luck — have a responsibility to keep the memories fresh, by telling stories and making sure those stories don’t vanish.  If you have a story-teller in your bunch, and the stories don’t have to be about jazz, place your iPhone in front of Grandma and ask her to tell what made her love Grandpa so. (Big Joe Turner had his own answer, which you can inquire about.)

Bless Mister Morgenstern — not only for keeping the memories alive, but for sharing them with us so beautifully.  There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“NO CHARGE FOR TABLES”: MR. ARNOLD GOES DOWNTOWN, HEARS JAZZ

The Stuyvesant Casino, Second Avenue and Ninth Street, visually:

And audibly:

One of the nicest parts of having JAZZ LIVES is that generous like-minded people want to share.  I received an email from Mr. Madison Arnold some time back, with this photo-enclosure, a Bob Maltz postcard from 1950, autographed by James P. Johnson, Joe Sullivan, Gene Sedric, Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Archey.  To the left, Tony Spargo and Pops Foster.  Below, that Sidney Bechet fellow:

I was one of the steady jazz loving week-end customers at the Central Plaza and Stuyvesant Casino from around 1950 to 1952 and got these post cards weekly. This is the only one I kept. I started when I was still in Erasmus Hall H.S. (they didn’t card in those days). My favorites were Bechet & Wild Bill but I loved them all. Among my memories: I helped Pops Foster put his bass in a cab one night and we went to the Riviera on Sheridan Sq., Red Allen pulled me up on stage once and we sang “The Saints Go Marching In” together. I became friendly with Baby Dodds and invited him over for dinner one evening to our apartment in Brooklyn. I also visited his place in Harlem. I have a Xmas card he sent me, written, I think, by his lady friend as I don’t think he could write. My personal Louis Armstrong stories are even better! (at least to me). He was a wonderful guy.

You can imagine that I asked Mr. Arnold to tell all.  And he did:

First time I met him was Xmas time 1949. I had just bought a Louie 78 at Big Joe’s record store on W.46th St. I’m walking down B’way and I’m shocked to see Louie walking up B’way.  I remember shouting “Satchmo” and the 2 of us walked, with our arms around each other, uptown to the Capitol Theatre where he was playing. I was so excited, I almost broke my record showing it to him. He invited me to visit him in his dressing room someday. A few days later, with a friend of mine, we bought tickets for a matinee show at the Capitol (75 cents?). I remember that, besides Louie and his group, Jerry Lewis’s father performed some comic stuff. Anyway, after the show, we went to the stage door and I told the door man that Louie invited me to come up. He phoned up to his room, got the OK and up we went. Louie was resting in a cot and the first thing I noticed was the Star of David hanging from his neck and thought, can’t be, he can’t be Jewish! I have no idea what we said but, coming from school, I had my note book which had his picture pasted on the inside cover. He signed it (green ink) and it hangs on my wall today along with a second one he signed at another time.

The second time was my graduation night from H.S. We were having a marshmallow roast on the beach at Coney Island when I remember saying, “Satchmo’s playing at Bop City. Let’s go.” About 5 or 6 of us took the subway and ended up at Bop City on, I believe, 47th and B’way. I told Louie who we were and he made an announcement, the exact words I still remember: “There’s a buncha kids just graduated from Erasmus High School and I’d like to dedicate my next number to them.” He put his horn to his lips and blew Auld Lang Syne ending by skat singing,”old acquaintance, be forgot baba ba doo zip, yeah” all the time looking at me (us).  A great musician and a warm wonderful person.

Louis, as we know, remains a warm wonderful person.  But right next to him is Mr. Arnold, so generous to us all.

May your happiness increase!

TWO BY EDDIE: RAY SKJELBRED, DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Eddie Condon (pictured above in 1946) has a well-deserved reputation as a superb leader, a musical catalyst, a guitarist — but not as a composer of popular songs. He wrote only a few, but their melodies are memorable.

By way of illustration, a 1944 record label:

Although we associate Eddie more with the hard-charging small-band jazz he loved so well (think of Wild Bill, Pee Wee Russell, Lou McGarity, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, Cliff Leeman playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE) it’s clear he had a deeply romantic spirit, and WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE — not only De Vries’ lyrics — exemplifies this.

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, and Jeff Hamilton admire Eddie and his musicians, thus they happily gave shape to Marc’s tribute to Eddie as composer, which happened at the San Diego Jazz Fest last November 25, 2016.

Here is Dawn’s tender version of WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE:

and Eddie’s LIZA — written with George Rubens, not Gershwin — first performed on the 1927 McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans date:

For me, the test of a song is that it lodges in my ear and memory.  Those two Condon compositions do, helped immeasurably by the passion and swing of these musicians.

May your happiness increase!

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

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

rare-wild-bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

DID MARVIN GO?

Here’s a little mystery, courtesy of the great attic / basement / rummage sale / museum that is eBay: two sides of a postcard, and the question of my title.

maltz-stuyvesant-casino-front

Flip it over . . .

maltz-stuyvesant-casino

Maybe Marvin was tired from his workweek; $1.50 meant much more in 1948 than it does today.  But I hope he got to the Stuyvesant Casino and heard the band, and had a wonderful time.  In my ideal fantasy, he saved the postcard because he did go . . . he’d kept it in his shirt pocket and his fountain pen leaked on the bottom right corner above.

Incidentally, the eBay seller (link here) is asking one hundred times the admission price for this artifact: make of that what you will.  Inflation, for sure. But shipping is free.

Internet research, always treacherous, shows me that 41-63 Frame Place still exists, and that there is “a” Marvin Dunenfeld, 89, who now lives in Willis, Texas. The age would be right, but it’s a much longer trip from Flushing to Willis than it might have been from Flushing to the East Village.

The moral to the story (there must be a moral) is that we don’t always know what Wonders are happening in our midst: almost seventy years later, this casual Friday night concert seems to us like a gathering of deities, correctly.  Get out and hear some live music if you can, while you can.  If you can’t, then buy a CD. If that’s not possible, have a friend over and play some music . . . spread the word.  Chippie Hill isn’t showing up for gigs any more, but we can still hear her.

May your happiness increase!