Tag Archives: Willie “the Lion” Smith

HOT AND LOVELY: ANDY SCHUMM and his GANG in DAVENPORT, IOWA (August 1, 2018)

CHRIS and CHRIS

Thanks to Chris and Chris!  Here’s the first set at a bar called GRUMPY’S.  Beautifully recorded and annotated, too:

Bix Beiderbecke’s 47th Annual Memorial Jazz Festival 2018 had a pre-arranged gathering at Grumpy’s Village Saloon, Davenport, Iowa, August 1st. The Fat Babies, here somewhat reduced in numbers, but with sit-in David Boeddinghaus on piano and Andy Schumm cornet, clarinet, saxophone, John Otto reeds, John Donatowicz banjo, guitar, Dave Bock tuba, gave us, the lucky ones that day, a jolly good time. This plus-hour full first set was videographed in one-go, in pole position, head on, with a handheld SONY Handycam, FDR-XA100 in quality mode. For those who couldn’t make it to Grumpy’s, this coverage might be the next best thing. Enjoy!

THAT’S A PLENTY (with a special break) / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / Andy introduces the band / HE’S THE LAST WORD (which I hadn’t known was by Walter Donaldson) where Andy shifts to tenor sax to create a section, and Maestro Boeddinghaus rocks / FOREVERMORE, for Jimmie Noone, with Andy and John on clarinet: wait for the little flash of Tesch at the end / Willie “the Lion” Smith’s HARLEM JOYS / a beautifully rendered GULF COAST BLUES, apparently a Clarence Williams composition [what sticks in my mind is Clarence, as an older man, telling someone he didn’t write any of the compositions he took credit for] / HOT LIPS / Alex Hill’s THE SOPHOMORE, and all I will say is “David Boeddinghaus!” / THE SHEIK OF ARABY, with the verse and a stop-time chorus.  Of course, “without no pants on.” / Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET RAG / GETTIN’ TOLD, thanks to the Mound City Blue Blowers / Andy does perfect Johnny Dodds on LONESOME BLUES, scored for trio / For Bix, TIA JUANA (with unscheduled interpolation at start, “Are you okay?  Can I get that?” from a noble waitperson) / band chat — all happy bands talk to each other / a gloriously dark and grieving WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE that Louis smiles on / and, to conclude, STORY BOOK BALL (see here to learn exactly what Georgie Porgie did to Mary, Mary, quite contrary.  Not consensual and thus not for children.)

A thousand thanks to Andy, David, John, Dave, Johnny, and of course Chris and Chris — for this delightful all-expenses paid trip to Hot!

May your happiness increase!

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“WONDROUS THINGS”: A CONVERSATION WITH HANK O’NEAL: JUNE 12, 2018 (Part One)

Hank O’Neal and Qi, 2003, by Ian Clifford

Like many of us, I’ve been the recipient of Hank O’Neal‘s wise active generosities for decades.  I greeted each new offering of Chiaroscuro Records (this would have been starting around 1972) with hungry avidity; I went to concerts he produced at The New School; I devoured his prose and delighted in the enterprises he made happen, such as the book EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ.  The very energetic and kind Maggie Condon brought us together in this century, and I came to Hank’s office to chat and then have lunch.  And then Hank agreed to sit for my video camera to talk about a fascinating subject: George Wettling as painter and photographer.  Here are the videos and some artwork from our October 2017 session.  You will notice immediately that Hank, soft-voiced and at his ease, is a splendid raconteur, a storyteller who speaks in full sentences and always knows where he’s going.

I returned this June to ask Hank about his life in the record business — specifically, those Chiaroscuro records and compact discs I treasure, featuring Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Buck Clayton, Bob Wilber, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Wild Bill Davison, Eddie Condon, Buddy Tate, Don Ewell, Flip Phillips, Joe Venuti, and many others.

If — unthinkable to me — you’ve never heard of Chiaroscuro Records, do us both a favor and visit here — free, streaming twenty-four hours a day.  And how bad can a website be when a photograph shows Bennie Morton and Vic Dickenson in conversation?

Part One, with stories about Zutty Singleton, Earl Hines, E. Howard Hunt, Earl Hines, John Hammond, and others:

Part Two, which touches on Don Ewell, Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Marian McPartland, Willie “the Lion” Smith and other luminaries:

Part Three, which begins with money matters, then touches on Ruby Braff, Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna, Buddy Tate, Dicky Wells, and Wild Bill Davison:

Hank shared forty-five minutes more of stories, which will appear in a later post.

May your happiness increase!

SMITH and JONES, 1972-73

In my teens, I read MUSIC ON MY MIND, the autobiography of Willie “the Lion” Smith, and a sentence stuck in my mind, where the Lion mentioned a fifteen-minute duet he and Jo Jones had performed.  Jazz history is full of such remembered-but-not-recorded marvels, but this one haunted me, quite pleasantly, because I could imagine the two sounds blending magically.

Although I saw and was spoken to by Jo Jones several times between 1971 and 1983, the Lion had died before I could encounter him in person, and the closest I ever got to him was by spiritual transference through the eminent Mike Lipskin and a few television appearances.

This is the Lion, solo, and so pretty: for Mrs. Keenlyside, if she reads the blog.  The other voice, of course, is Albert Edwin Condon, and this is from one of the latter’s concerts, 1944-45:

Having Willie and Jo in duet only in my imagination, it was a lovely surprise to be record-hunting on Eighth Street in 1973 and find a new recording on the Jazz Odyssey label — THE LION AND THE TIGER, duets between my two heroes.  The two Elders were in generous sympathy, Willie, for the most part, eschewing the ferocious uptempos he liked in favor of sweetness, and Jo playing with great sensitivity.

When I saw Jo in person in his last years he sometimes played as if he were furious, wishing to annihilate musicians and audience, relying on his ride cymbal.  Here, even though the cover shows Jo at a full drum kit (possibly a photograph from Jazz Odyssey’s double-lp set, THE DRUMS) he stays, for the most part, on snare drum, a hi-hat, and his bass drum.  And much if not all of his work is wire brushes on the snare, his cymbal used for accents, and his bass drum a lesson in itself.  One exception — the closing JAM of under two minutes, a riotous TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, proves that Jo brought his sticks and ride cymbal, but it’s a glorious mutual impromptu explosion.

I treasured that record, and found more than one copy in my travels.  There was a second volume, LE LION, LE TIGER, et LE MADELON, issued in 1975, that I also had and has now vanished.  And so had the Lion: it was his final recording.  Those two discs contained two dozen performances, perhaps eighty-five minutes of wonderful music.

But now!

Please note the enticing “2CD” top left.  Were this simply an authorized transfer of the two vinyl recordings to compact disc, it would be a delightful product.  But this new issue adds a good deal of previously unheard material, adding up to  more than forty tracks, including conversation between the two august participants, for a total of more than two hours of music.  And the notes tell us that four more performances will be issued on a future CD.

The record company, Frémeaux & Associés, is not devoted solely to jazz, but they have done chronological CD series devoted to Louis and Django, so they understand where north is.

Here is information about the new issue, comprehensible even to the monolingual.            .

The Lion and Jo worked together splendidly.  Both could, given less strong-minded players, lean into exhibitionism.  (Jo’s recordings in the same period when he was partnered with the organist Milt Buckner are high-intensity and high-volume proof.)  I sat through ten-minute drum solos from Jo: astounding but also exhausting, and the Lion was not modest, given the proper audience.  But on these sessions, Jo kept Willie on track in tempos, and Willie was not about to let Jo play his CARAVAN solo.  (When Jo begins one of his expansive displays, as on CAROLINA SHOUT, the silent awareness that Willie was sitting at the piano reins Jo in.)  They sent love to one another in every sixteenth note but there was brotherly restraint in the air.

Unlike some stride piano extravaganzas, these discs do not rely on displays of technique: in fact, the Lion’s affectionate rhapsodic side is more often on display: CHARMAINE, SWEETIE DEAR, and a 6/8 version of TROIS HEURES DU MATIN (for the last dance).  And the Lion’s dynamics are a lesson to all pianists: he loved to quietly meander in imagined meadows.  His dramatic sense is peerless: begin with a WOLVERINE BLUES that is a half-time sauntering rhapsody before becoming a stride romp with Jo playing sticks on his hi-hat and snare in stop-time passages. (And the notes tell us that four performances will be issued on a future CD.)

But these discs are not soporific.  There are riotous stomps — the second SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, the aforementioned JAM, JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, CAROLINA SHOUT, and others.  Although the Lion’s voice occasionally sounds tired, his piano is exuberant and exact: the astonishing end of a fifty-year recording career.  And Jo’s playing is precise and masterful.  The second disc ends with a nearly ten-minute HERE COMES THE BAND which is, to me, as close to the fifteen-minute unrecorded duet as I and you will ever come.

It was a long way from 1936, but each man was, in himself, the very definition of swing.  Put them together and magic larger than magic was the result.  Again, details here.  So far, it is not available through the usual download purees, nor are there sound samples.  You’ll have to be a bit courageous to hear this music.  But it rewards the brave searcher many times over.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date?  I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person.  I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays!  Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.

Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech.  Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.

Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply.  And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps.  I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.

Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more.  He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play.  In life.

Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing.  Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed.  Medium tempos, too.

A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:

TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody.  I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination.  But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit.  And they play the verse!  Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:

Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING.  Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else.  And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!

Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear.  But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:

What a pair!  Mr. Waller approves.  As do I.  As did the audience.

May your happiness increase!

GENTLY, THERE: TWO RHYTHM BALLADS BY MAX KEENLYSIDE (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31-June 2, 2018)

I don’t know what you were doing in 1991, but the young man pictured above — Canadian pianist / composer Max Keenlyside — was busy being born, which makes his remarkable talent even more remarkable.  I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of meeting and hearing Max for the first time at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, just a few days ago, and you’ll hear why I am impressed.  Here you can learn more about Max.

What struck me immediately about Max was his gracious balance of technique and taste.  He can play with incredible dexterity and skill — as fast as you could want, never faltering — but he has something much rarer, which is the understanding that quiet music, sweet sounds usually reach far deeper into our souls than do pyrotechnics.  So I bring Max to you as a subtle wooer, a creator of inviting worlds of sound — specifically, his performances of two “rhythm ballads.” That’s an archaic term, and I don’t know who coined it, but it comes from the Thirties, where musicians played a tender song and made sure to send the emotions to the listeners, but kept a danceable pulse going all the time.

A few words about the music.  IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, is one of my favorite songs, and I wrote about it here.  I invite you to read that post — skip my prose if you’re in a hurry — but listen to Cliff Edwards and Dick McDonough, performing not only the chorus but the verse. But for now, Max, gently proceeding through the song, with a few nods to T. Waller, honoring the melody with delight and amusement:

I’LL FOLLOW YOU, by Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, might be known to piano scholars and Commodore Records devotees through the 1939 recording by Willie “the Lion” Smith, but I first fell in love with the song through Bing Crosby’s version when it was a new pop hit.

Here’s Max. What could be nicer than the affectionate words about his mother?

The artist Aubrey Beardsley is supposed to have told the young W.B. Yeats, “Beauty is so very difficult,” and we must imagine all the possible tones of voice those words could have been said in — but young Max already knows a great deal about making beauty alive and accessible to anyone with ears and emotions.

May your happiness increase!

TRY THESE ON YOUR PIANO, or THE LION LIKES MILT and FATS PLAYS PRANKS

I find jazz paper ephemera so very tempting.  Even though my piano skills were never more than sub-amateur at their height, that candid awareness hasn’t stopped me from coveting sheet music or purchasing a folio now and then.

I saw this on eBay and couldn’t hold back my hand (the price was low and the folio was new to me).  So I am the new owner:

and here (found online but not purchased) is a different edition:

I believe the edition I bought dates from 1934.  Why one folio is ten cents more than the other is a mystery too deep for me.  And speaking of “too deep for me,” here is the first page of ALLIGATOR CRAWL.  Maybe in my retirement I could crawl through those notes?

The Ebay seller also had two remarkable pieces of sheet music — prices too high for an eager dilettante like myself — compositions by Willie “the Lion” Smith inscribed to fellow pianist Milt Raskin in 1937.

FUSSIN’:

SNEAK AWAY:

And if you wonder how we know they belonged to Milt Raskin, the purple-ink rubber stamp on each sheet tells us so.

Music, Maestro, please!

Fats’ liberal improvisation (1935) on ALLIGATOR CRAWL:

FUSSIN’ — played by Ralph Sutton:

Our friend and hero Rossano Sportiello also played FUSSIN’ just two weeks ago at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, so perhaps I might be able to share that with you someday.

And here, introduced by The Lion and Eddie Condon, at a Town Hall concert, is SNEAK AWAY:

It’s possible that having sheet music connected to Fats and The Lion is as close as I will get to playing stride piano, so thank goodness for recordings.

May your happiness increase!

“THE MAIN THING, OF COURSE, WAS THE MUSIC”: DAN MORGENSTERN on SANDY WILLIAMS, BENNY MORTON, and THE SCENE (April 21, 2017)

Once again, our friend, hero, and down-home Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, shares his stories with us. . . . stories that you can’t get on Spotify.

But first, some musical evidence — both for people who have never heard Sandy Williams play the trombone, and those, like me, were happy to be reminded of this “barrelhouse solo”:

Here’s Dan in a wide-ranging memory-journey that encompasses not only Sandy and Benny Morton, the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, but an astounding cast of characters, including Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Bob Maltz, Conrad Janis, Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, Floyd Casey, Clarence Williams, Bob Dylan, Carl Kendziora, Annette Hanshaw, Bernie Privin, Leadbelly, Josh White, Horace Henderson, Lips Page, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge,Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, and more.

and just so no one forgets Mr. Williams or his associates:

Or the very sweet-natured Benny Morton (heard here with Billie Holiday, Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones) — it would be a sin to forget Benny!

I emphasize that Dan’s stories — squatting next to the piano to hear James P. Johnson more clearly, the kindness of Benny Morton, and other bits of first-hand narrative — have a larger resonance, one not limited to hot jazz devotees.

When the music is gone, when the band has packed up, when the chairs have been upended on the tables, the memories and stories remain.  I urge my readers to tell theirs — and to record the stories of older generations.  These stories are priceless now; as the participants leave us, the stories are even more precious.

The people in them don’t have to be famous, and the tales don’t have to be dramatic: asking Grandma what she ate when Grandpa took her out for their first date is irreplaceable.  (I nag at my students to do this — aim your iPhone at someone! — and I am fairly sure they won’t.  Forty years from now, their loss will be irreparable.)

That is also why Dan Morgenstern’s generosity of spirit — taking time to share his memories with us — is a great gift, one that won’t wear out or fade.

May your happiness increase!