Willie “the Lion” Smith was one of jazz’s great individualists: you know him in four beats. Here’s a delightful rarity, a Lion original, KARNIVAL ON THE KEYS, recorded by Timme Rosenkrants, the Baron, in 1944:
Here’s the opening page of the piano transcription — for the fearless! The whole manuscript can be purchased here.
Our musical benefactor — via YouTube — calls himself BlueBlackJazz and the channel is a rich trove of marvels.
Roar on, Mister Lion. And thanks to Sterling J. Mosher III for pointing the way.
I’m sure your insurance plan has Doctors WIllie “the Lion” Smith, Frank Newton, Buster Bailey, Pete Brown, Jimmy McLin, John Kirby, and O’Neil Spencer as participating providers. Their theraputic model was based in a text written on July 14, 1937, by Doctors Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin. Here’s the mission statement of this medical group. (First the label; the music is below this photograph.)
Sammy Cahn doesn’t mention this song in his autobiography, but I wonder if it was his whimsical response to some self-help book popular at the time, perhaps Napoleon Hill’s THINK AND GROW RICH, surely one of the most enticing book titles ever. But Cahn’s lyrics are good homespun advice; Chaplin’s melody is simple and thus memorable, and the singing of O’Neil Spencer, and the solos — this is, for me, an irreplaceable recording. See if it doesn’t stick with you, also:
A little four-chorus masterpiece, full of individualistic voices and great ensemble unity. It’s not as well-known, but it’s surely the equal of the more-heralded Billie Holiday and Fats Waller recordings of the time. And it contains truths. “Take personal inventory” is advice that never ages. Sing it, play it, live by it.
First, some music. I’m told it speaks louder than words. Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:
and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:
My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention. Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me. I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more. It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.
I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops. So I thought that was a great thing. With Chas, we played almost every week. We played clubs all over the country. We did some festivals, and we did a record. And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record. I don’t have a copy. Maybe I can ask him for one. And that’s that.
I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor. The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective. It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.
I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too. That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.
I studied with Lennie Tristano. I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff. He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students. I never worked with him, but he played with us. The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible. Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself. So you have to keep searching. That was an important experience for me, I loved that.
The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin. I worked a lot for Lester Lanin. And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name. Both of them were horrible people. Just absolutely horrible. But they worked a lot. Meyer Davis, he was busy. He worked two jobs every day. So he bought an ambulance. After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time. I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting. About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people. He was very good.
One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody. And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again. So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes. He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.
I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him. He did two of those things — big, splashy things. FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band. I was on the one with the big band. He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake. Everything was perfection. Absolute perfection.
In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith. We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one. He was crazy. He was wonderful.
I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims. Buddy was mean. Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten. He exuded evilness, or something. He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up. He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up. Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early? Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.” Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play. The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational. He could do anything. He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks. He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it. So he was positively a genius of some sort. Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people. And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards. It was fun. Beautiful, easy.
I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk? I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us. He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special. He was wonderful. And it was Thelonious Monk. And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me. He was willing to hear.
Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger. He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing. Nobody played like him. He was wonderful.
I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot.
Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time. ALL of the time. But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill. But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop. He’d call it a lambchop. He knew I was Jewish. So I thought that was nice. He was a funny man. And for what he did, he was the best. His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need. He was wonderful in his own way of playing. George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk. Then he was a terrible person.
I went down to see Bunk Johnson. I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot. I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music. He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places. And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that. Beautiful. And there were crowds every night when he was there. Dancers. It was an exciting time.
I loved playing with Max Kaminsky. I worked a lot with him, for years. He was a simple player, but he kept the time. His time was great. I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records. But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him. His wife was wonderful. I loved her. I played with her a couple of times, with him. She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.
I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE. In the back there are signatures. Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him. And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen. I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door. I didn’t do that.
[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.] Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with. When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me. They all were above me. Every one of them was above me.
Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK. (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)
Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.
Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world. And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor. In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’ He was a dentist. And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’ When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”
I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him. At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful. I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:
I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.
The JAZZ LIVES quarantine-collection of venerable lively recordings, ever-expanding.
Every Monday night, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera has been gathering the Hot Club of New Yorkfor a Zoom session from 7-10 PM, playing wonderful 78 rpm jazz records with great flair and great sound. You can become a member here. And there’s more information here.
Last Monday night, one of the sides was Clarence Williams’ MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — whose composer credits read Clarence Williams, (Banjo) Ikey Robinson, and Alex Hill. My money is on Mister Hill. Matthew, who knows things, has suggested wisely that Mister Robinson would have been responsible for the jivey lyrics. I wish I could trace the story I once read that Clarence, late in life, told someone that none of the compositions under his name had been his. Amazing if so.
But this post is about MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — a song of great melodic simplicity, with two-note phrases that have burned themselves into my brain, and lyrics that are unforgettable because they are so much a part of their time that they have a majestic silliness. And we could all use a Serenade. Please join me in Incid. Singing.
Here’s the first version, with Eva Taylor singing first (her voice is catnip) and Cecil Scott, clarinet; Herman Chittison AND Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Ikey Robinson, banjo, tenor-guitar; Clarence Williams, jug; Willie Williams, washboard; Clarence Todd, vocal. New York, August 7, 1933:
That recording has so many delights: the almost staid way it begins with Eva’s demure yet emotive delivery, and the underrated Cecil Scott, Chittison’s very “modern” piano — remember, this is 1933 . . . then the short pause while the band has to get it together for the key change into Clarence Todd’s much more exuberant Calloway-inflected vocal AND the rollicking duo-piano background. It may be a Silly Symphony, but it is a symphony nonetheless.
Here’s the second Williams version, brighter, with the leader’s potato-ey vocal: Ed Allen, cornet; Cecil Scott, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Roy Smeck, guitar, steel guitar; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba; Floyd Casey, washboard. New York, January 17, 1934:
Notable for me is the emphasis on steady rocking ensemble playing — and the sound of Clarence’s closing inquiry: he means it.
But wait! there’s more! — a frolicsome big band version from the little-known Tiny Bradshaw band: Lincoln Mills, Shad Collins, Max Maddox, trumpet; George Matthews, Eugene Green, trombone; Russell Procope, Bobby Holmes, alto saxophone; Edgar Courance, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Clarence Johnson, piano; Bob Lessey, guitar; Ernest Williamson, string bass; Harold Bolden, drums; Tiny Bradshaw, vocal. New York, September 19. 1934:
The Williams recording looks backwards to chugging leisurely ways (it feels rural in its approach) where the Bradshaw band is aerodynamic, speeding down the Swing highway — beautiful solos (Maddox, Procope, Courance, Matthews?) and an uncredited effective arrangement. That band’s eight Decca sides (autumn ’34) deserve more attention.
Here’s a more recent version, at a lovely tempo, with the verse, the group led by Ted des Plantes with some of my friends : Leon Oakley, cornet; Larry Wright, clarinet, saxophones, ocarina; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ted des Plantes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Ray Cadd, tuba, jug; Hal Smith, washboard. Berkeley, California, August 15-17, 1997:
The most contemporary version — reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson session! — by Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers: Marc Caparone, cornet; Alan Adams, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. San Diego, California, November 29 & 30, 1999.
See if you can go through the next few days without humming a phrase from this song. I dare you.
I love the arc of this chronology — even though I couldn’t produce versions by Mike Durham and Bent Persson — that starts with a rare record from 1933 and ends up with performances by some of my most respected friends.
Here is some delightfully rare music from a legendary concert — in videos, no less, although the visual quality is seriously limited. I had heard about this music and these films decades ago and, years later, a copy, how many generations removed, I can’t say, made its way to me. The videos are hard to watch, especially for eyes used to today’s brilliantly sharp images, but they are precious. [They will be less eye-stressful for those who can sit far back from the screen.] All of the music performed that afternoon is now blessedly available for a pittance (see details at the end) but the videos add a remarkable dimension of “being there.”
July 1, 1960 was hot at the Newport Jazz Festival, perhaps especially in the afternoon for Rudi Blesh’s “Stride Piano Stars” program, a select group of “old-timers,” none of whom were particularly elderly in years or energy that day.
Here is Eubie’s BLACK KEYS ON PARADE and LOVEY JOE:
Now, the Danny Barker Trio (Danny, banjo and vocal; Al Hall, string bass; Bernard Addison, mandolin) with a feature for Danny on THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:
More virtuosic showmanship on TIGER RAG:
Here’s Donald Lambert’s ANITRA’S DANCE:
Now, the Lamb plays LIZA as the restless camera-eye finds wiggling limbs:
Eubie and the Lamb play CHARLESTON, Eubie taking the star role:
Hat firmly in place, Willie “the Lion” Smith offers Walter E. Miles’ SPARKLETS:
Fats would have been 56: the Lion sings and plays AIN’T MSBEHAVIN’:
Two melancholy postscripts to all this joy. On Saturday, July 2, a riot broke out, and the festival did not return until 1962. Donald Lambert died less than two years later.
But the music remains. Here, at Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, one can download the audio for the entire afternoon concert (slightly more than ninety minutes) for five dollars. The performances are listed below.
Introductions by Willis Conover and Rudi Blesh / Stride Piano Demonstration (“Sweet Lorraine”)- Donald Lambert / Development of Ragtime and Stride Piano-Blesh / Early Hits from 1920’s-Eubie Blake / Black Keys On Parade / Lovey Joe // Take Me Out To The Ballgame- Danny Barker Trio / Muskrat Ramble / The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise // Anitra’s Dance-Lambert / Tea For Two / Liza // Polonaise- the Lion / “Shout” Defined / Carolina Shout / Ain’t Misbehavin’ // Fats Waller Medley-Lambert / James P. Johnson Medley // Old Fashioned Love-Eubie / Charleston / Charleston (Part 2) // My Gal Sal-Danny Barker / Tiger Rag // Sparklets-the Lion // I Know That You know-Lambert // Memories Of You-Eubie // Stars and Stripes Forever-Eubie, Lambert, the Lion //
This film or video is a wonder, even greenish and blurred. With the audio, we can revel in vivid art.
One moral of this story, for me, is that the treasure-box exists, and wonderfully kind people are willing to allow us a peek inside.
A jazz fan / broadcaster / amateur singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, Jr. (1923-1990), — he was an accountant by day — held jazz festivals in Manassas and other Virginia cities, beginning in 1966 and running about twenty years. They were enthusiastic and sometimes uneven affairs, because of “Fat Cat”‘s habit, or perhaps it was a financial decision, of having the finest stars make up bands with slightly less celestial players. Some of the musicians who performed and recorded for McRee include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, James Dapogny, Don Ewell, John Eaton, Maxine Sullivan, Bob Wilber, Pug Horton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Bob Greene, Johnny Wiggs, Zutty Singleton, Clancy Hayes, George Brunis, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Tommy Gwaltney, Joe Muranyi, Danny Barker, Edmond Souchon, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Gordon, Marty Grosz, Hal Smith, Kerry Price . . . .
McRee also had business sense, so the proceedings were recorded, issued first on records and then on cassette. I never got to Manassas while the Festival was happening, but I did buy many of Fat Cat’s lps (with their red and yellow label) and years later, when I met Hank O’Neal, he told me stories of recording the proceedings on Squirrel Ashcraft’s tape machine here.
My dear friend Sonny McGown, who was there, filled in some more of the story of the music you are about to see and hear. The 1986 festival was dedicated to Jimmie Noone and these performances come from a Sunday brunch set. “It was a very talented group and they meshed well. Mason ‘Country’ Thomas was the best clarinetist in the DC area for years; he was a big fan of Caceres. . . . Fat Cat’s wife, Barbara, often operated the single VHS video camera which in later years had the audio patched in from the sound board. As you well know, the video quality in those days was somewhat lacking but it is better to have it that way than not at all. Several years later Barbara allowed Joe Shepherd to borrow and digitize many of the videos. In his last years Fat Cat only issued audio cassettes. They were easy to produce, carry and distribute. FCJ 238 contains all of the Muranyi – Dapogny set except for “River…”. However, the videos provide a more enhanced story.”
A few years back, I stumbled across a video that Joe had put up on YouTube — I think it was Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR late in his life, very precious to me for many reasons — and I wrote to him. Joe proved to be the most generous of men and he still is, sending me DVDs and CD copies of Fat Cat recordings I coveted. I am delighted to report that, at 93, he is still playing, still a delightful person who wants nothing more for his kindnesses than that the music be shared with people who love it.
Because of Joe, I can present to you the music of Jimmie Noone, performed on November 30, 1986, by Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Mason “Country” Thomas, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass [yes, Sidney Catlett’s teammate in the Armstrong Decca orchestra!]; Hal Smith, drums; Johnson McRee, master of ceremonies and vocalist. The songs are IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (vocal, Joe); CRYING FOR THE CAROLINES (vocal, Fat Cat); MISS ANNABELLE LEE (Joe); SO SWEET; RIVER, STAY ‘WAY FROM MY DOOR; APEX BLUES; SWEET LORRAINE (Fat Cat).
Some caveats. Those used to videocassette tapes know how quickly the visual quality diminishes on duplicates, and it is true here. But the sound, directly from the mixing board, is bright and accurate. YouTube, in its perplexing way, has divided this set into three oddly-measured portions, so that the first and second segments end in the middle of a song. Perhaps I could repair this, but I’d rather be shooting and posting new videos than devoting my life to repairing imperfections. (Also, these things give the busy YouTube dislikers and correcters something to do: I can’t take away their pleasures.)
One of the glories of this set is the way we can see and hear Jim Dapogny in peak form — not only as soloist, but as quirky wise ensemble pianist, sometimes keeping everything and everyone on track. Joe has promised me more videos with Jim . . . what joy, I say.
Don’t you hear me talkin’ to you? It IS tight like that:
Who’s wonderful? Who’s marvelous?
I’ve just found joy:
I started this post with “a” moral. The other moral comes out of my finding this DVD, which I had forgotten, in the course of tidying my apartment for the new decade. What occurs to me now is that one should never be too eager to tidy their apartment / house / what have you, because if everything is properly organized and all the contents are known, then surprises like this can’t happen. So there. Bless all the people who played and play; bless those who made it possible to share this music with you. Living and “dead,” they resonate so sweetly.
Those who have time, patience, eagerness, can find treasures on eBay: type in “jazz” and “entertainment memorabilia” or “music memorabilia” — as I did. Here are two treasures, each with hints of mystery. First. I have no idea who “Kayo” is or was, what their gender, and so on. A name or a nickname? But Kayo got close to the deities for certain. I’ve seen Earl Hines and Willie “the Lion” Smith autographs fairly plentifully, but not Bud Powell and certainly not Fats Navarro. Of course the autographs do not have to be contemporaneous with each other, but Fats died in July 1950, which suggests a decade, as does the fountain pen.
Opening bid $100, for a very limited time: details here.
The second item is even more mysterious: we are told these photographs were taken by Hans Knopf of PIX — of Billie Holiday with Babe Russin’s Orchestra at the Famous Door, 1941. $1000 or best offer: details here. The only thing I am deeply certain of is that Hans Knopf existed from 1907 to 1967.
and what I presume is the back of the photograph (I believe that the smaller and larger images are the same thing — note the oddly empty room and the two or three people to the right) with notations that leave me skeptical:
Hereis yet another photograph by Knopf, advertised as Billie, 1941, and the Famous Door.
Several thoughts. Babe Russin appears on Billie’s sessions in May and June 1938, on August 1941 and February 1942, so their connection is plausible. During those years, no “Babe Russin Orchestra” made commercial records, so there is little evidence to help us figure out the personnel in this photograph. As for the photographs themselves, I see the same (or similar) cloth-backed chairs. But the club, long and narrow, does not look anything like the Famous Door at which the Basie band appeared in 1938. It does more closely resemble the Village Vanguard.
Was it Billie’s gig? In 1941 she was a star, and was she appearing with Russin, but why would the band name be on the marquee? Was Hans there one night when she sat in?
I hypothesize that the annotations on the back of the photograph may not be from 1941, that what was blacked out might be a clue, even if it was only “Property of PIX Photo” and that the emendation to “Famous Door” has more to do with another internet site — with the smaller photograph of Billie for sale — than any evidence by Knopf. (That latter site, selling a “jumbo” photograph, is fascinating for one frosty line only, at the end: If you’re not satisfied this page or Billie Holiday At the Famous Door NY 1941. Jumbo Hans Knopf Pix Photo, you can leave now. Thank you for visiting.)
This just in . . . and no fooling, from a 2010 entry on a blog called “The Daily Growler,” Hans Knopf, though there’s not much personal info about him, in 1941 was a staff photographer for PIX. During those years his work was in publications all over the place. In later life, Hans became a sports photographer on the first Sports Illustrated staff, where he was from 1956 until 1964 when he died. Hans was celebrity famous when he married Amy Vanderbilt, called the Staten Island Vanderbilt. Hans and Amy lived life to the fullest!
Fine, you say. But this blogpost has “the growlingwolf” tell of his adventures at an Allentown, Pennsylvania “paper show,” for collectors of paper ephemera, where he goes through a box of photographs and finds . . .
The first print I saw was of a black woman with a flower in her hair singing live with the Babe Russo Band, an all White band, at the Sherman House in Chicago. I knew she looked familiar–I turned it over and Hans had marked it “Billie Holiday at the Sherman House, 1941.” Holy shit. I dug deeper.
Now we know. Of course it’s Babe Russin, and it’s the Sherman Hotel . . . but 2020 is going to be a very good year. Mysteries, all delicious, and all allowing us glimpses of people and their relics we would never have seen otherwise.
Festivals and jazz parties make it possible for me to greet old friends again and bask in their music, but a great thrill is being able to meet and hear someone I’ve admired for years on record — people who come to mind are Bent Persson, Jim Dapogny, Ray Skjelbred, Carl Sonny Leyland, Rebecca Kilgore, Hal Smith (it’s a long list) and now the wonderful pianist John Royen, whom I met for the first time at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest.
At work / at play, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera. Photo by Alex Matthews.
For John’s New Orleans Rhythm, the first set, he was joined by Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums. I hear someone’s therapy dog, or an audience member was whimpering with delight.
SOME OF THESE DAYS:
That was Friday. We didn’t see John, and Conal Fowkes took his place at a set; we heard that John had decided (not really) on an internal home improvement, and had had a defibrillator installed at a nearby hospital. This surprised me, because his beat has always been terribly regular.
But he reappeared magically on Sunday, looking like himself. Virginia Tichenor graciously ceded some of her solo piano time so that he could play. And play he did.
His solo playing was both assertive and delicate, spicy yet respectful of the originals. John’s relations with the audience are so charming . . . and his playing, while not always fast or loud, is lively — lit brightly from within.
The Lion’s HERE COMES THE BAND:
ATLANTA BLUES, or MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:
and John’s delightful improvisations on MY INSPIRATION:
There will be a Part Two: John with Joe Goldberg, Marty Eggers, Riley Baker, and a brief visit from John Otto. An honor to encounter the Captain, who creates such good music.
Meet the Lamb! Here he is — don’t mind the murky visual — at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:
Thanks, deep thanks to Howard Kadison and Audrey VanDyke, keepers of so many flames. Here is Howard’s prized copy of the PRINCETON RECOLLECTOR, a historical journal almost exclusively devoted — in this issue — to the marvelous and elusive jazz piano genius Donald Lambert.
An editorial about Donald Lambert: will wonders never cease?
Lambert plays the Sextette from Lucia:
Recollections of Bill Priestley, a fine cornetist:
Pee Wee Russell and the milk truck:
More rare narrative:
Lambert in his native haunts:
Playing two melodies at once:
THE TROLLEY SONG, with friend Howard Kadison at the drums:
SPAIN, with Lambert and Kadison:
ANITRA’S DANCE, from the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:
LIZA, from the same concert:
Yes, Art Tatum:
The 1941 Bluebird PILGRIM’S CHORUS:
I GOT RHYTHM (recorded by Jerry Newman, 1940) with Lambert, Hot Lips Page, Herbie Fields, Pops Morgan:
DINAH, from the same party at Newman’s parents’ home):
I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE:
and TEA FOR TWO from the same incredible session, Lambert also playing FRENESI:
A very rare (and I think unissued) 1949 performance, BLUE WALTZ:
LINGER AWHILE, with Kadison (the first Lambert I ever heard):
An unlisted WHEN BUDDHA SMILES, with trumpet and string bass:
Today, one of our great heroes and pathfinders turns 90 — the down-to earth jazz deity of the Upper west Side, Dan Morgenstern. (He’ll be celebrating with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland this afternoon into evening.)
I’ve been reading Dan’s prose and absorbing his insights for more than fifty years now, and in the video interviews he’s graciously encouraged me to do since 2017, I know I have learned so much and I hope you all have as well. And some of what I’ve learned is about Dan’s generosity and the breadth of his interests.
During those interviews, he has often caught me by surprise. We were speaking about another musician who had played with pioneering string bassist George “Pops” Foster, and Dan said . . . hear and see for yourself:
I’ll return to the culinary subject at the end. Right now, some glimpses of Pops.
First, a trailer from a short documentary done by Mal Sharpe and Elizabeth Sher called ALMA’S JAZZY MARRIAGE:
I’d seen this documentary on a DVD and was thrilled to find it was still for sale — so Steve Pikal (a serious Pops devotee) and I will have copies in a short time. You can, too, here.
Here’s a 1945 interview Wynne Paris (in Boston) conducted with Pops:
and Roger Tilton’s astonishing 1954 film JAZZ DANCE, once vanished, now found, on YouTube (featuring Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Willie the Lion Smith, George Wettling, and Pops):
Those who want to understand the glory of Pops Foster — there are recordings with Luis Russell and Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Art Hodes, Sidney Bechet, and many more.
You’ll notice that I haven’t included more of the interviews I’ve done with Dan here. They are all on YouTube — stories about everyone from Fats Waller to Miles Davis onwards (with more to come) which you can find as part of my YouTube channel “swingyoucats”.
The tense shift in my title is intentional: it pleases me to think of Pops making dinner for friends in some eternal present. I just got through idly perusing a new book on the relationship between brain health and diet, where the ideal is greens, grains, wild salmon, and more. Now I wonder: are ham hocks the secret ingredient to health and longevity? Or do we have to have Pops Foster’s recipe?
To quote Lennie Kunstadt, we need “Research!” But whatever has kept Dan Morgenstern with us for ninety years, we bless that combination platter.
As we bless Dan. So let us say as one, “Happy birthday, most eminent Youngblood!”
P.S. The Birdland tribute was heartfelt and too short. David’s band had Will Anderson, Jared Engel, Arnt Arntzen, Bria Skonberg, Alex Raderman, and Jim Fryer — with guests Joe Boga, Ed Polcer, Evan Arntzen, and Lew Tabackin. Dan (with piano backing from Daryl Sherman) sang WHEN YOU’RE SMILING. And we were.
Our subjects today are the overlap of “madness” and “pleasure.” Please be prepared to take notes.
“But first, this,” as they used to say on public radio.
PLEASURE MAD, a Sidney Bechet composition, was recorded in 1924 but the vocal versions weren’t issued, except for this one. Did the record company find it too direct to be acceptable? Here’s Ethel Waters’ version, clear as a bell:
Perhaps the song continued to be performed with those lyrics, but I don’t have any evidence. However, it resurfaced in 1938 as VIPER MAD, new lyrics, as sung — memorably — by O’Neil Spencer:
There might be other ways to pose the rhetorical question, but at what moment in those fourteen years did sexual pleasure become a less interesting subject in popular song than smoking reefers?
While you consider that intriguing philosophical question, I have a new double-CD set (36 tracks! 12 pounds!) to share with you. A little personal history: I attended the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, then renamed Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party, from 2009 to 2016, and had a fine time: the best American, European, Australian, and occasionally South American musicians turned loose for a long weekend of hot and sweet jazz, its spiritual center the late Twenties and early Thirties.
Here are three samples, videoed by me, songs and personnels named:
I ended with GOT BUTTER ON IT so that JAZZ LIVES readers can — as they say — get a flavor of the experience. The Party continues to do its special magic splendidly, a magic that videos only partially convey. This year it’s November 1-3, and details can be found here. And if you search JAZZ LIVES for “Whitley Bay” or “Durham,” you will find a deluge of posts and videos.
But this post isn’t exactly about the Party as such, nor is it about my videos. Its subject — now, pay attention — is a 2-CD set of live performances from the 2018 Party, which is just thrilling. It’s called PLEASURE MAD: ‘LIVE RECORDINGS FROM MIKE DURHAM’S INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2017 (WVR RECORDS WVR1007). As I wrote above, 36 live performances in beautiful sound.
And the sound is worth noting, with delight. At the Party, some fans record the music from the audience with everything from ancient cassette recorders to digital ones; when I was there, I videoed as much as I could. But this CD issue has the benefit of superb sound, because of the young Norwegian trumpeter and recording engineer Torstein Kubban, who has recorded every session for the past six years. Torstein is a phenomenal player, so I may be permitted this digression:
He’s got it, for sure. And his recordings are wonderful.
Here are the songs performed — referencing Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Bennie Moten, the Halfway House Orchestra, Alex Hill, Rube Bloom, Jabbo Smith, Louis Armstrong,Eddie Condon, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, King Oliver, James P. Johnson, and more:
And the musicians: Mike Davis, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, Jamie Brownfield, Malo Mazurie, Kristoffer Kompen, Jim Fryer, Graham Hughes, Ewan Bleach, Michael McQuaid, Richard Exall, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Emma Fisk, David Boeddinghaus, Martin Litton, Keith Nichols, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham, Peter Beyerer, Henry Lemaire, Jacob Ullberger, Phil Rutherford, Elise Sut, Malcolm Sked, Josh Duffee, Richard Pite, Nick Ward, Nick Ball, Joan Viskant, Nicolle Rochelle. If I’ve left anyone out, let me know and I will impale myself on a cactus needle as penance, and video the event.
I think it’s taken me so long to write this post because every time I wanted to take the CDs into the house to write about them, I would start them up on the car player and there they would stay. A few highlights, deeply subjective: Martin Litton’s sensitive and tender solo LAURA; the riotous hot polyphony of CHATTANOOGA STOMP (which I recently played six times in the car, non-stop); the exuberant GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER; Spats Langham’s NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE; a completely headlong RAILROAD MAN; a version of THE CHARLESTON that starts with Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza; SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE that rocks tremendously; I FOUND A NEW BABY that sounds as if Hines (in the guise of Boeddinghaus) visited a Condon jam session in 1933; SOBBIN’ BLUES with layers and textures as rich as great architecture. You will find your own favorites; those are mine of the moment.
My advice? If you can, get thee to the Party, where seats are going fast. Once there, buy several copies of this set — for yourself, national holidays, the birthdays of hip relatives — and enjoy for decades. If you can’t get to the UK, you can still purchase the set, which I urge you to do.
And when the authorities knock on your door to ask about the ecstatic sounds coming from within, you can simply show them this CD and say, “Well, Officers, I’m PLEASURE MAD! Would you like to come in?” And all will be well.
This started out as a video post — a sharing of platefuls of joy — of music from one of my favorite bands, the Chicago Cellar Boys — and then their wonderful debut CD, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, landed in my mailbox. So it’s now a CD review also. You can learn more about the Rivermont Records CD here. And in that same place you can hear some convincing sound samples as well. For once, words seem superfluous.
If you like Twenties music, hot and sweet, expertly played, wonderfully recorded, thoroughly annotated, you will delight in this disc: twenty-one songs, many thoroughly rare, all uplifting and varied. The band is thoroughly playful (the title is not a song in itself, but a line from one of the songs performed by pianist-vocalist Paul Asaro).
Perhaps you’ve sat long enough. In the mood for vigorous aerobics?
Before you delight in the Chicago Cellar Boys performing at the Juvae Jazz Mini-Fest last March 30, here’s some relevant dance instruction:
The hot music that follows was performed in Decatur, Illinois, by the Boys: Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. Now, roll up the carpets and put the pets outside.
Here’s one for Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra and Sammut of Malta:
And a statement of intent, courtesy of Coon-Sanders:
Willie “the Lion” Smith’s particular brand of uptown hedonism:
A rare Fats Waller tune describing someone entranced by the dance:
Finally, Cliff Jackson’s THE TERROR (which is only scary for those who choose to play it):
I feel thinner already, and I’ve only intermittently left my chair. May the Boys flourish; nay they have so many lucrative gigs that they have to turn some down; may their CD sell out (if it hasn’t already).
Another visit with our favorite Jazz Eminence who, having spoken first of saxophonists Dexter Gordon here, Sonny Stitt, and Lee Konitz here, moves on to pianists Solal (with a digression to critic / violinist Hodeir), pianist-vibraphonist Costa, and pianist-force of nature Willie “the Lion” Smith . . .
In a previous conversation Dan had spoken of Solal with great enthusiasm, so I followed his lead:
I also wondered what Dan knew of the brilliant, short-lived, multi-talented Eddie Costa:
and finally, for that afternoon, glimpses of Willie “the Lion” Smith:
Now, some music.
Martial Solal, 1963, playing Django (with whom he recorded) — accompanied by Teddy Kotick and Paul Motian. (The sessions were recorded in New York City.):
Eddie Costa, Wendell Marshall, Paul Motian:
Willie “the Lion” Smith, 1965, introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton — accompanied by Brian Brocklehurst and Lennie Hastings.
Thank you so much, Mister Morgenstern! More stories to come . . . Randy Weston, Jaki Byard, Ira Gitler, Slim Gaillard, Harry Lim, Jeff Atterton, Kiyoshi Kuyama . . . and others.
Update: I am reposting this because yesterday, April 15, 2020, Lee Konitz moved into spirit at the clock-age of 92, from pneumonia resulting from COVID-19. There are already many tributes, but I thought it wisest to remind people of Dan’s.
More affectionate sharply focused tales from my favorite Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern — recorded at his Upper West Side apartment last summer.
Here’s the first part of Dan’s recollections of Sonny Stitt, which include an ashtray and a bottle of vodka, not at the same time or place:
More about Sonny and the wonderful trumpeter / arranger Willie Cook:
In these interviews, I’ve concentrated primarily on the figures who have moved on to other neighborhoods, but Dan and I both wanted to shine a light on the remarkable Lee Konitz:
More to come, including Dan’s recollections of a trio of wondrous pianists, Martial Solal, Eddie Costa, and Willie “the Lion” Smith. And Dan and I had another very rewarding session three days ago . . . with more to come this spring.
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 hereto 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!
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.
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.
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.
Hereis 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.
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.
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. Hereyou 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.
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.
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.
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.
Dan Morgenstern is a remarkable person, lively and kind, and would be so if he had been a veterinarian with only a passing interest in music. But even better for us: he hung out with [and wrote about] some of the greatest artists we know and still revere. I continue to feel immensely fortunate that I could visit him, and that he so generously shared some candid loving stories of people who many of us know only as a photograph or a sound emerging from a speaker.
For those of you who have been otherwise occupied, and I understand, I have posted videos where Dan speaks of Tommy Benford, Frank Newton, Al Hall, Mary Lou Williams and her friends, Donald Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Nat Lorber, Buddy Tate, Gene Ramey, Lester Young (twice for Pres).
But before you leap in, a small caveat. Dan is soft-spoken, and my few comments from behind the camera are louder. Friends have pointed this out, and I have been penitent, citing inexperience rather than ego and I will balance the audio better on our future encounters. The first five videos are here.
More friends and heroes. Eddie Condon (and I had to say a few things, given my reverence for Eddie):
Buster Bailey, Stanley Dance, Coleman Hawkins, cameos by Milt Jackson, Roy Eldridge, Joe Thomas, John S. Wilson, Billy Kyle, Louis, and Dan’s thoughts on writing about artists:
More about Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, with comments about Sir Charles Thompson, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker as well:
Notice in the second interview that Dan took an unpaid gig because “it will be good for the musicians.” And I am touched by Coleman Hawkins’ generosities (acceptance in to the tribe) to Dan — which Dan has repaid us ten thousandfold. More to come.