Tag Archives: Yerba Buena Jazz Band

“THE BENNY STRICKLER STORY”: DAVE RADLAUER / HAL SMITH / CHRIS TYLE

Provide any jazz fan with the first name “Benny” and leave the surname blank . . . and most listeners will respond with “Goodman.”  Some will think of “Morton,” “Moten,” and stump-the-band types might reply “Meroff.”  But how many people will immediately think of the brilliant, short-lived trumpeter Benny Strickler, who distinguished himself both in Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and the early Yerba Buena Jazz Band . . . before dying of tuberculosis in his twenties.

Strickler GTJ

I knew of Strickler as a legendary figure — revered by two of my jazz scholar-friends, Chris Tyle and Hal Smith — but I’d never had a substantial opportunity to hear his work before a friend told me about Dave Radlauer’s fascinating series of radio profiles, now available online here.  Radlauer’s approach goes beyond assembling rare records and telling us their personnel: he has spoken at length with musicians who knew his subject — including Bob Helm, Bill Bardin, Danny Alguire.  And the series goes in reverse: detailing Strickler’s playing days in San Francisco, then returning to his work with Wills in Tulsa.  The delights of these programs are substantial: we get to discover a musician few of us knew, we hear first-hand testimony from people who were on the scene, and we hear both rare recordings by Strickler and later evocations of his compact, relaxed yet energized style, his shining sound.  Dave’s JAZZ RHYTHM site presents four half-hour programs on Strickler, full of delightful music and deep research.

Do visit Dave Radlauer’s site here — you will find programs on everyone — famous and rare — from Charlie Christian to Eddie Condon, Spud Murphy, Emmett Miller, Bix, gypsy jazz . . . and more.

May your happiness increase.

BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS FILL THE AIR: SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 21-25, 2012

My spirits are superbly high after a lovely long weekend at the San Diego Dixieland Thanksgiving Jazz Festival, now to be known as the San Diego Jazz Fest.

But first, an autobiographical digression.  Even though the mirror says otherwise, I still in some deep way think I am nineteen.  Nineteen can run from pleasure to pleasure; nineteen doesn’t need much sleep; ninteen will “be fine.”  I did achieve a major birthday recently (“I am no longer 45 but still some distance from 78” is all I will say) and I went to San Diego somewhat drained of energy and nurturing a noisy case of bronchitis.  I worry as I write this that many of my videos will have in the distance what sounds like a small terrier barking: that would be JAZZ LIVES with a cold, coughing.  (For my loving readers who worry — JAZZ LIVES will live to video another day.  I promise you.)

Because I felt physically awful, I saw and video-recorded fewer sets than I would have liked . . . fourteen or so over four days.  I spent more time sittin’ in the sun (to reference Irving Berlin) in hopes that it would make me feel better.

I’m still coughing a bit but I feel glorious because of the music.

Here I must bow low to that urbane and generous man Paul Daspit, who has a fine humane sense for the little dramas that explode beneath the surface of a large-scale enterprise such as this.  I am not sure how clearly most “jazz fans” understand how much work is involved in keeping a jazz party from self-destructing.  Of course I mean the simple business of having a comfortable space for musicians to perform and listeners to hear.  The Town and Country Convention Center, although it is mazelike by night and day, is exceedingly comfortable with a wide variety of performance spaces.

But a jazz festival is rather like a brightly-colored version of Noah’s Ark packed to the rafters with vigorous personalities.  The facilities need to be looked after: lighting and sound and chairs; doors need to be locked or unlocked; musicians need a safe place to stow instruments and (whisper it) a place to sit down in peace amidst their kind, breathe deeply, eat something.

There needs to be a well-organized corps of willing volunteers: at their most kind, they tell us how to get here or there, where the restrooms are; at their most severe, they say the icy words, “You cannot sit there.  You are not a ______.”  And the interloper flees.

The musicians, and no one can blame them, want to know where they will be sleeping, eating, playing.  The patrons have their own concerns, since each of us is occasionally an armchair general: “Why isn’t my favorite band (The Nirvana Street Joyboys) on the program this year?  Will they be here next year?  Why did the snack room run out of turkey sandwiches before I got here?  Have you seen my husband?  I left him here just a minute ago?  Why are the sets so long?  Why are the sets so short?  Why did you arrange it so that my two favorite bands are playing at the same time?  My eggs were cold at breakfast. . .” 

That Paul remains serene, amused, and kind is a great thing.  A lesser man might take up martial arts or retreat to his tent with earplugs.  He applies tact to the afflicted area; he knows what can be fixed and what cannot; he moves on to the next person who Must Speak To Him, whether the subject is hot jazz or the threat of sex trafficking at jazz festivals.

The San Diego extravaganza was bigger and better than ever.

There was a true panorama of musical sounds: walking from left to right or north to south, I could hear a small tubaish group with a woman singing that life is a cabaret; a big band walloping through SING SING SING; a Jerry Lee Lewis tribute; rollicking solo piano boogie woogie by Mister Layland; a Sunday-morning Dixieland “hymn-along,” another woman inciting the crowd to sing along with her on GOODY GOODY; young Miss Trick showing us her version of OLD-FASHIONED LOVE .

Imagine!   Two cornets are giving a properly ethnic flavor to ORIENTAL STRUT; in another room, someone is singing, “She’s got a shape like a ukulele.” In twenty-three hourlong solo piano sets, everything possible is being explored — Joplin to Bud Powell as well as James P. Johnson and Cripple Clarence Lofton.  Elsewhere a clarinetist is playing DIZZY SPELLS at a vertiginous pace; a small gypsy-jazz group is romping through MINOR SWING; Joe Oliver is still King in another venue . . . and more.  My weary math shows that there were over one hundred and eighty hours of music — although I, like everyone else, had to make hard choices.  If I stay here for the full hour of _________, then I will miss ____________.  Those choices were easy for me, because I didn’t have the energy to run around to catch fifteen minutes here and a half-hour there.  (Also, a tripod and a camera makes for an ungainly dance partner.)  So I saw / heard / delighted in less than ten percent of the jazz cornucopia here.

But — as Spencer Tracy says of Katharine Hepburn in ADAM’S RIB (I think) it was all cherce.

I saw a number of sets with my perennial favorites, the Reynolds Brothers, and they rocked the house, with and without guests.  The rocking down-home Yerba Buena Stompers (that’s John Gill, Leon Oakley, Duke Heitger, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Kevin Dorn, Conal Fowkes, Clint Baker) offered both I MUST HAVE IT and JUST A GIGOLO; Chloe Feoranzo had a sweetly giggly set with her young friends; Grand Dominion surged ahead in a most endearing way.  A dangerous (that’s a good thing) quartet of Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint (trumpet), Chloe (mostly on tenor), Marty Eggers (string bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums, just off the boat in the best way) played some deliciously greasy (also a good thing) music.

And I heard every note by the Tim Lauglin All-Stars with Connie Jones — and Hal Smith, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Chris Dawson, Mike Pittsley.  They floated; they sang; they decorated the air with melodies.  People who like to trace such things would hear Teddy Wilson 1938, of the Bob Crosby Bobcats; Irving Fazola; the Basie rhythm section; the Condon Town Hall Concerts; Bobby Hackett; Abram Lincoln.  All I will say at this point is that if someone had come to me and said, “Your room has caught on fire and you must come with me now to save your clothes,” while the band was playing, I would have said, “Let me be.  I’ll deal with that when the set is over.  Can’t you see that Beauty is being made?”

You’ll hear and see some of this Beauty, I promise you.

Thanks to all the lovely people who made my experience so sweetly memorable.  The musicians!  Mr. Daspit.  Friends new and familiar: Sue, Juliet, Barbara Ann, Carol, Tom, Frank, Anna-Christine and Christer, Mary Helen, Rae Ann, Alene, Janie and Kevin, Donna . . . you know who you are.  I am grateful to people, some of whom remain anonymous, who rescued me when I needed it — Orlando the young bellman and two dozen other people — I hope that none of you went home coughing because of me.

Let us say you are thinking aloud to your partner,  “Sounds like fun.  Why weren’t we there, Honey?”  I leave the rest of that dialogue to you.  But there will be a 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest.  It will be the thirty-fourth, which is frankly amazing.  Same place (the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center): November 27 – December 1, 2013.  The invited bands include High Sierra, Bob Schulz’ Frisco Jazz Band; Reynolds Brothers; Paolo Alderighi; Stephanie Trick; Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs; Chloe Feoranzo; Glenn Crytzer; Katie Cavera; Dave Bennett . . . “and more to be announced.”  Click here for more information.

For me, all I can say is that before it was officially Autumn in New York, I searched for and bought a 2013 wall calendar I liked just for the purpose of planning my Pleasures . . . I’ve already marked off November 27 – December 1 with “SAN DIEGO.”  Carpe diem, dear friends.  See you there!

May your happiness increase.

KING JOE / KING LEAR

King OliverMy iPod isn’t always a subject for philosophical contemplation.  More often it’s merely a calming talisman in my battle against airplane claustrophobia and tedium.  But recent experiences have made me think about it as more thought-provoking than a twentieth-century version of the transistor radio and cassette player of my past. 

It began when I unintentionally erased not only the contents of my iPod but also my iTunes library.  How that happened is not a subject for this blog, but I erased eight thousand tracks.  (Or, to use “the male passive,” I could write “eight thousand tracks had been erased,” but no matter.)  Preparing to go off on vacation far from my CD collection, I began to stuff compact discs into my iTunes library.  This, as readers will know, is a nuisance, and at times I wished for a youthful niece or nephew to whom I could say, “Want a hundred dollars?  Put each of the CDs in that bookcase into iTunes for me, will you?”  The computer did its job well, but it required me to check on it every six or seven minutes.  I began with the tail end of my collection — that’s Lester Young, the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, Ben Webster, Lee Wiley, and so on, and worked my way back to the Allens, Harry and Henry Red, in the space of ten days. 

And a King — Joe Oliver, pictured top left.   

This combination of obsessiveness and diligence resulted in an iPod with more than fifteen thousand tracks on it — the Hot Fives and Sevens, the Basie Deccas, the Lester Verves, the Billie Vocalions, the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Fats Waller from 1922 to 1935, Mel Powell on Vanguard, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins . . . all I could desire, more than a hundred full days of music.

But I kept silently asking myself, “What do you need all this music for, knowing that you couldn’t listen to it all in the space of the next twelve months?”

King LearAnother King kept insisting that I pay attention to him.  He didn’t play cornet; he would have been out of place at the Lincoln Gardens.  I had taught a course in Shakepearian tragedy this summer, and ended it with KING LEAR — adding a few scenes from the 1982 Granada television presentation with Sir Laurence Olivier.  

Early in the play, when Lear still thinks he has imperial powers (even though he has renounced the throne), he bargains with his daughters about whose house he shall stay at first, casually letting them know that he will arrive with a hundred knights.  Although Goneril and Regan are cruelly inhuman, I always feel for them at this point, as they ask their father, with some irritable reasonableness, why he, no longer King, needs a retinue.  Lear responds:    

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars

Are in the poorest thing superfluous.

Allow not nature more than nature needs,

Man’s life is as cheap as beast’s.

In the most commonsensical way, I take these lines to suggest that the difference between a reasonably privileged person and a Maltese terrier is that the person, when the impulse strikes, can go to the kitchen cabinet and have another cookie or pretzel.  Choice is at work here, unlike the dog who has to wait for the owner to fill his bowl.  “Need” is constricting; luxury is the freedom to transcend mere needs.  Or, in other terms, to have merely “enough” — the spiritual equivalent of eight hundred calories a day — is emotionally insufficient.

I knew that I didn’t “have to have” Ella Fitzgerald singing MY MELANCHOLY BABY (Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Benny Morton, 1936) in the same way I need food and drink.  I could capably replay most of that performance in my mind.  But not having it accessible provokes feelings of inadequacy, of being separated from my music.  To some, this will seem like an exercise in superfluity: I know there are people in other countries who don’t have clean water, let alone alternate takes of the Albert Ammons Commodores, and I feel for them, but the sensation of having more music than I can possibly listen to is luxuriant bliss.  It means that if, upon awaking, I really NEED to hear Dicky Wells and Bill Coleman play SWEET SUE . . . there it is.

Which leads me to the most brilliant feature of the iPod — not the ability to reproduce album cover artwork (!) but the ability to shuffle songs.  I plugged it in here and started it up . . . so that Dizzy Gillespie followed Mamie Smith who followed the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings who followed Hawkins . . . . a floating Blindfold Test, full of surprises and gratifications.  And no worrying about the hundred knights drinking up all the milk in the refrigerator. 

iPod

Olivier and Oliver, in perfect harmony.