What follows is, to me, a thrilling four minutes and some seconds: it caused me a good deal of excitement two days ago. Never mind that the people in charge mis-titled the second of two songs, and that the applause, appearing at moments unrelated to what is going on musically, was surely generated by flashing APPLAUSE signs to a willing audience; never mind that Dick Gibson’s name for this wondrous assemblage — yes, “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band” — made many listeners want to puncture the PR balloon.
Here are Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Carl Fontana, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Ralph Sutton, piano; Bob Haggart, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums. (By the time I’d encountered the band, on June 21, 1970, in Town Hall, New York City, the trombone section was Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, monumentally.)
I hope that the Ed Sullivan Show people uncover more than four minutes, although the two performances — a Lawson / Butterfield BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? and their rollicking chart on UP, UP, AND AWAY — are spectacular. In concert, we didn’t see the two trumpets (in impassioned conversation) at this close range, and, my goodness! — to see Lou McGarity in color is a delight I never thought I’d have.
To think that this was once beamed into American homes on an ordinary Sunday night, in between the comedians making mother-in-law jokes, Topo Gigio or Senor Wences, high-energy pop singers . . . it dazzles. Watch it once, and then again. All the people who did bad impressions of Ed Sullivan, well, they never made music like this happen:
I feel motivated to write these words because of a sudden influx — rather like a termite swarm — of unsolicited negative criticism directed at performances I post on YouTube. Yes, I might seem “thin-skinned,” “grouchy,” “over-sensitive,” but I gotta right to sing these blues also. There will also be many instances of the first-person pronoun in what follows. Caveat lector.
I — yes, me — make arrangements to go to a certain club or venue, which involves travel and carrying video equipment. I’ve already asked permission of the musicians and the clubowner, wherever possible. I get there early, test the camera, and spend the time recording the music. When I get home, I process the videos, edit them, annotate them, and carefully present them, again, after sending them to the musicians for their approval.
A video hits YouTube, and perhaps two minutes later some anonymous John Simon has clicked the “dislike” icon. “The _______ player has a bad sound.” Or, “I like _______’s version better.” Sometimes the poster simply puts up his own version of the song as if to say, “See? This is how you do it.” Or, more personally, “It’s a pity that there was an echo in the room,” or “I wish the cameraman had been able to do close-ups and move around. We can’t see ___________ well.”
Yes, I think that unexplained anonymous public dislike is rude and needless.
Of course it’s too easy in cyberspace. And I want to say to these people, “How well do you sing MORE THAN YOU KNOW”? “How well do you play all the strains of PANAMA”? Or, “Would you have done a better job with a video camera under those circumstances? Do you understand the difference between television’s multi-camera possibilities and what is possible by one human being with one camera?”
I want to say other things, but when those impulses descend, I make another cup of tea and put some laundry away. I stopped reviewing CDs for a famous jazz publication because I realized that my visceral reaction to someone’s creation was just that — a visceral reaction — and it didn’t necessarily have validity beyond the personal. I’m not fond of mushrooms to excess in a dish, but that shouldn’t stop people from harvesting and enjoying them.
Everyone, of course, has an opinion, to which they are all entitled. Everyone has their own taste. And not everything is equally worthy of praise. But I wonder about the basis of some expressions of distaste. If the only rendition of PANAMA you like is by Wild Bill on Commodore in 1943, I can understand your enthusiasm. But does your enthusiasm give you the right to implicitly or explicitly insult artists by suggesting their work is inferior to your ideal? I would have the audience remember that the artists I record and present are offering their art for free, as am I. So sometimes the negative reaction seems ungracious, as if you’d come to my house for lunch, I’d taken trouble over the meal, and you told me you disliked the silverware.
I understand that cyberspace has made possible and encouraged the free expression of anonymous opinion. And that is usually preferable to censorship. But I cannot figure out why the quickest response is negative. Is it that the world of 2022 is so full of free-floating hostility that people have to let it out, rather like other expressions best confined to the lavatory? Or is it a deep-seated and unacknowledged jealousy: “Why should X be singing on YouTube when I can’t?” “What about ME?” I hope not, but those possibilities do come up.
Yes, there is a precedent for accurate negative “reviewing.” When a gentle unmalicious saxophonist says to me, “I can’t listen to Y: he’s never in tune,” I have to take that seriously. And if I were to write a Google review of a new car whose engine burst into flames, I might be saving someone’s life. On a less extreme note, if I write a sharp Yelp review of a restaurant where the chicken is cold and red in the middle, I might be saving someone from a painful evening. But . . . if a YouTube disliker turns thumbs-down on someone’s work, is he saving us from injury, pain, vomiting? Is he performing a public service? Or is he merely saying, “Look at me. I know what good music is and this ain’t it.”
I watch many videos of performers, and some of them do not please me. But I do not reach for the mechanical icon of castigation. Why should I?
That’s all for the moment. But there are real people on your lit screen, singing and playing and making videos for you. Don’t be so quick to shit on them. It’s not nice. It’s not necessary. You’re not serving a purpose.
I usually close a post with May your happiness increase, and I still wish that for any and every one reading. But I say that the contrary is true: Don’t decrease others’ happiness. Please.
Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones. I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos. But humor me on this, if you will.
I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter. Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours. I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet. This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.
For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes. I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish. Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.
So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again. In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves. This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation. Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right. I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.” Childish, perhaps. But I won’t have people I admire shat on.
I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?” Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.
Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.” Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.
But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?” (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)
I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person. Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?” Let that sink in. Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman. Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.
But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance. I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.
Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool. The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.” It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.
Artists are not members of a service industry.
So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!” I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish. I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.” You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication. What’s next?
I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level. In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things. But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications. So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration. I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.
I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage. And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.
I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them. It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited. Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.
Great art outlives its critics. The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.
To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians. They own themselves. And we should bless them rather than carp at them.
In the darkness, there are gratifying rays of light. You can define that sentence in your own ways, but I have the pleasure of introducing you to a new band, the Forest Hill Owls.
I assume that the avian part of the name is homage both to the swinging New Orleans band who decided that would be a good animal to model themselves on, and the owls’ reputation for wisdom, inscrutability, and nocturnal energies. (I could be completely wrong, and one of the Owls I know will write in to correct me: it could simply be that there are owls in Forest Hill.)
Chris Lowe, trombonist and leader, tells me that Forest Hill is a part of London where several members of the band live. Nothing elusive about that. They are, from the back, Nicholas D. Ball on drums, David Horniblow on bass saxophone, Martin Wheatley on guitar and banjo, Michael McQuaid on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Tom Dennis on trumpet. I feel very fraternal about this band, since I have met, chatted with, and admired in person Messrs. Nick, Martin, and Michael; I know and admire David from recordings. Chris and Tom are new to me, but I salute them also.
Here’s what they look like:
and here’s what they sound like. Prepare yourself for exuberance that clearly knows the way.
First, ALICE BLUE GOWN:
and POOR PAPA, one of those Twenties sagas of marriage imbalance, at least in financial terms, sung by Chris:
Subscribe to their YouTube channel here: I did, not wanting to miss a note.
The virtues of the band are immediately and joyously evident: their merging of respect for past traditions (as manifested by Miff Mole and his Molers and the Goofus Five in these two videos) but their delight in going for themselves. They are not afraid to swing; their solo voices are so distinctive, as is the synergy of the band.
I look forward to more video-performances and I hope, when life returns to some semblance of what we know and love, live gigs, audiences, prosperity. Until then, I’ll keep watching these two videos: better than coffee for reminding the nervous system about the joys of being fully awake — which is what the Forest Hill Owls truly are.
So you took your pills this morning with your coffee and you don’t feel any different? You walked past the bed and it said, “Come back to me until March 2021,” and you heard its call? A good friend texted you I HAVE GREAT NEWS! and you didn’t read the message? Do you feel like an elderly carrot at the back of the crisper? If you were a quart of milk, would you be lumpy and sour?
Before you call your doctor to see if she can see you today, ask yourself: “Could my Swing levels be low? Have I been neglecting a flowing 4 / 4? Have I been reading the news far too much too early in the day?”
If so, I have the cure for you. No co-pay, no long list of side effects, no waiting room with tape across the chairs. Just sit still and prepare to receive the healing infusions through ears and eyes. Several repeated immersions will be helpful. When you find yourself moving rhythmically in your chair, the treatment will be working.
I saw this video last night on YouTube (my faithful companion) and watched it four times in a row before posting it on Facebook. But I think it’s my moral duty as an upstanding American to share it as widely as possible. Here’s what I wrote:
When it’s good, you know it. And what I am going to share with you is light-years better than good. It’s what Marty Grosz would call “the real breadstick”: BLUE LOU, created by HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS. That’s Hal, drums / leader; Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Nick Rossi, guitar; Bill Reinhart, string bass. I watched it four times in succession before writing this. Now I have to stop: Jack Kapp and John Hammond are squabbling in the next room over whether the band will sign with Decca or ARC. But judge for yourself:
Sometimes a JAZZ LIVES post is the result of a record I’ve heard, a musician I’ve been thinking about, or a particular idea. Other times, it takes a village, which I define as members of my emotional jazz-family to make something coalesce into print. In this case, I am grateful to adopted-brothers Bernard Flegar and Mark Cantor, who may never have met in person — that’s the way my extended family works. (I also have Brothers Hal Smith and Mike Karoub: someday we can all have Thanksgiving together!) Others, less beloved, who acted as stimuli, are the late Andre Hodeir and a sour YouTube armchair critic who will not be named.
About a week ago, to celebrate George Wein’s 95th birthday, I posted an eighteen-minute video featuring Barney Bigard and friends playing at Nice, and you can see the video here. Barney was 71. He sounded beautiful.
But the first YouTube comment was a dismaying “Not Barneys finest hour ?” I gently replied that Barney couldn’t be expected to play as he had in 1940, and did take a swipe at the commenter — without correcting his punctuation, “Your comment says more about you than about him.” His vinegary response came right back: “I’m 83 and an avid jazz fan ; there’s a time to leave your instrument in its case if you can’t keep up ! Just like boxers who hang on too long ; singers who hung on to long ( Frank was a classic example) Barney would have agreed . Unrepentant !” Someone else chimed in to echo the unrepentant avid fellow.
I sighed and didn’t write any of the things I could have about the irony of people of 83 being ageist. “Don’t insult my musicians!” is my credo, and I would rather hear Lester Young in Paris in 1959 than not at all.
Then, the splendid film scholar Mark Cantor and I conversed online about the French jazz critic Andre Hodeir. I was delighted to find that I had written about Hodeir in 2011 here. In his first book, Hodeir had rhapsodized over the “romantic imagination” of Dicky Wells as displayed in his memorable 1937 recordings. Dicky then came to France in 1952, but he was no longer the player he had been. Hodeir attacked him in an essay, “Why Do They Age So Badly?” stating that Wells had no reason to keep on playing, that his work no longer met Hodeir’s standards. I saw Dicky playing splendidly in the early Seventies, but Hodeir’s criticism stung not only him but readers like myself.
Yesterday morning, the wise drummer-scholar Bernard Flegar (whose eyes are open to the good stuff) led me to something that, in the fashion of Edgar Allan Poe, had been hiding in plain sight: a video shot by Bob Byler at the 1988 Elkhart Jazz Festival, a tribute to our mutual deity Eddie Condon, two sets featuring Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and (set one) Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones; (set two) John Bany, Wayne Jones — nearly two hours of extraordinary music.
Wild Bill could sometimes coast, but not here. And he was 82 and a half. Please consider that number for a moment. By the standards of Hodeir and YouTube critics, he should have stopped long before. But he’s so charged; the rest of the band, including younguns Hedges and Grosz, is also. A viewer who looks for double chins and thinning hair will find them. But the music — inventive, surprising, and fun — is anything but geriatric.
Bob Byler (with his devoted wife Ruth) shot many videos — some of them are cinematically flawed, but this one is fine.
Here’s the roadmap.
The first set [afternoon turning into evening, outdoors] offers leisurely swinging improvisations on LADY BE GOOD, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY (Saunders, vocal), ‘S’WONDERFUL (Bill tells a joke) I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (Marty Grosz), IF I HAD YOU (Masso and Hedges out), INDIANA (Milt, at a beautiful tempo), NOBODY ELSE BUT ME (Masso) SKYLARK (Hedges), AM I BLUE, I NEVER KNEW.
The second set [evening, indoors}: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN (at a sweet tempo), AS LONG AS I LIVE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF (Masso and Hedges out), TEA FOR TWO (Masso), RUNNIN’ WILD (ending with a spectacular solo from Wayne Jones).
We listen with our ears and our hearts, not our actuarial tables, I hope.
And if anyone wants to tell me I am too old to be blogging (I started in February 2008) tell me to my face and I’ll throw my pill bottles at them. That’ll do it.
Many thanks to the true heroes, here and elsewhere: Bill, Tommy, George, Chuck, Dave, Marty, Milt, John, Rusty, Wayne, Bernard and Mark, Hal and Mike. Their life-force cheers me and gives me strength.
Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019. The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.
Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo. This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing. And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.
It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention. Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations. As James Chirillo says, music was made:
Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic. The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.
It gives me great pleasure to have heroes in music (and elsewhere) who are younger: that they’ll outlive me is a delightful thought — I see a continuity of wisdom and love embodied stretching in to the future.
Years gone by: 2008.
A special member of this crew is percussionist-philosopher Kevin Dorn, whom I’ve had the good fortune to know and admire for sixteen years this autumn. In person, Kevin has always shied away from the least taint of didacticism: he knows many things and will gladly share his thoughts and feelings in the right circumstances, but he’s never itching to tell you why he’s right and you’re wrong: a great humility.
The canard is that those who can’t do, teach, but Kevin has been creating and sharing the most delightful and informative solo drum videos — on request — with us. Here are his most recent offerings.
Inspired by the sounds I heard and saw, I wanted to play drums: the apex of this ambition was buying a pair of 5B parade sticks from Jo Jones at Ippolito’s Drum Shop, but I lacked both the focus and the coordination to make them dance. But I, and others, can live joyously through Kevin while he reveals the deep mysteries behind the sounds we groove to.
Another facet of George Wettling’s magic:
I find this extended exposition particularly thrilling:
and Kevin himself has his say, neatly pressed, as always:
“Good deal!” You can subscribe to Kevin’s YouTube channel here.
Emerson writes in NATURE (I am grossly paraphrasing) that everything, closely observed, is beautiful. Proof here.
Our generous friend Sonny McGown, through his YouTube channel called “Davey Tough,” has been at it again, spreading jazz goodness everywhere. And this time he features the man Louis Armstrong called “Little Bobby Hackett.” If you’ve missed Ricky Riccardi’s wonderful presentation — music and words — of the remarkable relationship of Bobby and Louis, hereit is.
And here are more Hackett-gifts. The duet with Jack Gardner I’d heard through the collectors’ grapevine, but the 1964 Condon material is completely new. And glorious. Sonny, as always, provides beautiful annotations, so I will simply step aside and let Robert Leo Hackett cast his celestial lights.
Here he is with the rollicking pianist “Jumbo Jack” Gardner — and they both are wonderfully inspired:
and a wonderful surprise: an Eddie Condon recording I’d never known of, with Condon exquisitely miked for once (let us hear no more comments about his not playing fine guitar; let us hear no more about “Nicksieland jazz”). And let’s celebrate the still-thriving Johnny Varro, alongside Peanuts Hucko, Lou McGarity, Jack Lesberg, and Buzzy Drootin:
When I was a boy, my father brought home books from the public library and perhaps in an anthology of verse for children, I encountered the simple poems by Gelett Burgess about the Goops stick in my mind decades later. Here are two — didactic, but also witty and pointed.
The Goops they lick their fingers, And the Goops they lick their knives; They spill their broth on the tablecloth — Oh, they lead disgusting lives! The Goops they talk while eating, And loud and fast they chew; And that is why I’m glad that I Am not a Goop–are you?
The meanest trick I ever knew Was one I know you never do. I saw a Goop once try to do it, And there was nothing funny to it. He pulled a chair from under me As I was sitting down; but he Was sent to bed, and rightly, too. It was a horrid thing to do!
This is not a post about table manners, and I think practical jokes of the latter kind are vanishing from the earth, or I hope so.
But it is about the people we know who are Goops. Being a Goop in the twenty-first century, to me, is based in self-absorption, heedlessness, and the desire to make a splash, often through being unpleasant.
I have wanted to write about Goopish behavior as it intrudes on my sphere. So here are a few examples, and you can add more. I think mostly of the Video Goop, the Spectator Goop, and the Online Goop.
THE VIDEO GOOP holds his iPhone up in the air to catch a minute of his favorite band, never thinking for a minute that it is now in our line of sight. Or he shines the light from his phone in the musicians’ eyes; perhaps he has a camera that clicks loudly or one whose strobe flash blinds everyone. He doesn’t think to ask permission of the musicians he videos and is astonished when they object to hour-long sets of their work appearing immediately on YouTube. The Video Goop has a cousin, the “Professional Photographer” Goop, who gets in the way of the audience because he is working — so that we see his back and his camera constantly.
THE SPECTATOR GOOP treats the music as background to their conversation. Concert hall or dive bar, when someone who wants to hear the music asks for lowered voices (raised voices and alcohol go together) the answer is often a huffy “I’m just here to have fun with my friends. What the hell is wrong with you?” At jazz festivals, where the audience has sometimes been following bands for decades, the Spectator Goops start speaking immediately when the music begins, socializing, “Isn’t it a SHAME that Marcia couldn’t make it this year? I hear her husband is VERY ILL!” (I feel very sorry for Marcia and Mr. Marcia, but I came to listen. Kindly go away. Far away.) The talkative Spectator Goop is often the first to whistle or yell at the end of a solo, to offer us loud whoops about music that they can’t possible have taken in.
I witnessed an amazing corollary to this some months back. At a jazz venue distinguished by superb music and loud conversation, both were in evidence. The latter got louder — imagine my pleasure at being able to write that sentence — and one of the apparent jazz fans got madder and madder, offering loud assertive shushing. The AJF, in his righteous rage, even confronted the noisy group and “gave them what for,” as my grandparents might have said, which led to near-violence. The talkers were escorted from the venue, and one would think that Right had prevailed. Alas, no: the AJF spent the rest of the evening loudly congratulating himself on his virtue and how he had done the right thing, unaware that his talk was as loud as the people he had vanquished.
THE ONLINE GOOP is so prolific and energetic that I will not do him justice here. (An attentive reader will note my conscious use of the male-gendered pronoun. Women are often SPECTATOR GOOPS but rarely if ever VIDEO or ONLINE ones. Draw the conclusions you will.) For me, their sub-groups are MEAN and FOOLISH. The MEAN ONLINE GOOP is the person who fires off a scathing critical comment, sometimes cloaked in a thin veneer of “comedy,” that offers his harsh opinion. “Nothing worse than a bad _______ band.” “X can’t play the violin.” “This band sucks.” “Y sucks.” Sometimes, this person is inarticulate but still derisive, hence the vomiting emoji. This Goop finds fault, not only with the musicians (who play badly, who don’t perform as he thinks they should, who don’t smile) but with the person who records them, to him, imperfectly.
A word about such criticisms. Not every musician is perfect; not every performance pleases. And listeners have a right to say they like this and don’t like that. But the prevailing anonymity has fostered astonishing meanness. I have been guided in this not only by one of my professors, Mr. Sigman, now gone for decades, but by Sammut of Malta, who says quietly, “Would you go up to the musicians and say this to their face? Does anyone really need to read how you disapprove of someone’s vibrato?” I have strong opinions, but does it do the world good for me to put my disdain into print? Is my subjective disapproval the same as criticism valid enough to share with everyone who has a lit screen?
Occasionally, all of these cardboard figures become one: my example is the anonymous commenter who is furious about the loud talkers in a 2011 video and says, “I’d like to kill those people who don’t shut up.” I suppose I empathize in theory, but I have written back that wanting to kill people in a video from almost a decade ago seems a vain expenditure of energy.
THE FOOLISH GOOP is hardly malevolent but is still exhausting. When I read a comment that asks a simple question, “Who wrote that song?” “Where can I get the chords for this tune? What year was this done?” “Is he the same person as the one who did ______?” I sigh noisily, and think with no regret of decades of teaching where we — as faculty — were asked to swallow constant doses of this insipidity because our students “were young,” and perhaps because we knew that if they were intellectually curious, some of us wouldn’t have jobs. But I want to say, “You have a computer. Perhaps several. You have a smartphone. Have you ever heard of Google, and have you ever spent time looking up something before you launched your question into the world?” There is also THE JOKESTERGOOP, one who has to make comedy out of everything, but he is not a serious threat to one’s emotional equilibrium. And — this just in — THE SHOPLIFTER GOOP, who sees something (a photograph, a video, a piece of text) and presents it as his own without giving credit to the source. I know this is presumably a democracy, but would you walk through the diner taking a fry or a cherry tomato off of the plates you pass?
My favorite collision of the various online Goops happened just recently. I had posted a video of an excellent band playing a piece that required a great deal of virtuosity. And someone with a YouTube name suggesting hysterical laughter commented, “Nice playing. Just felt it might have gone better without the [insert name of instrument here].” It was a polite enough comment, but I felt as if I’d been standing in front of a Vermeer and heard someone say, “Those curtains should be green.” I wrote back, with some irritation, “Why don’t you send the musicians a note with your opinion?” in hopes that he would recognize some slight disapproval, some irony. Alas, he took the comment literally, “Thanks, I tried, but couldn’t find contact details. Anyway, it’s only one person’s opinion. They make great music, that’s the main thing.” I should have desisted but I was disarmed by his politeness, so I wrote back to say I had not been serious but that the band had a website. And there it lies, I hope.
What does all of this mean? Why have I expended my time and perhaps yours in what some will take simply as “Michael is complaining again.”? I think it’s important to encourage people to be considerate, empathetic, kind, to know that each of us is not the only organism on the planet, that our pleasure might interfere with someone else’s, that we should be gentle rather than cruel. Fewer Goops would be a good thing — I don’t mean they should be exterminated, but that they should be introspective enough to ask, perhaps in front of the mirror, “Is what I am doing something I would like done to me?”
And should you think that my words come from a position of unearned moral superiority, I hope that is not so: I have made serious mistakes in my life; I expect to make other ones, but my goal is to have them be smaller and less frequent — or at least to make new mistakes. For variety’s sake.
But all the Goops in the world can’t take the shine off of this: joy and energy at the highest:
Many people who visit JAZZ LIVES have been fervent in their love for Tuba Skinny and their entreaties that I go and video them. The latter hasn’t been possible (if some wealthy patron wants to sponsor such a junket, let me know) but through the goodness of “Chris and Chris,” who are always impeccably dressed and sweet-natured, I can offer readers a heaping bowlful of what they ask for.
And here’s annotation from Chris (the fellow to the right):
After a sweltering hot sunny day, Thursday July 25th, dark clouds started rolling in from the Bay of Biscay bringing gusty winds, fine rain and thunder to the later sets. This weather change did not stop the good times at Restaurant L’Etoile de Mer, a haven for connoisseurs of the finest sea food and great ambiance. Manager Emma Lahaye with her team had set a table fit for Kings and Queens, to welcome Tuba Skinny, the New Orleanians, who would electrify this cosy jazz club, adding extra spice with their hot music. Sitting in a very tight side position, the 1st set was captured in one-go with a hand-held HandyCam, HDR-XR520, in FH quality mode. Touring France July 2019, Tuba Skinny graced this pleasant sea-side resort of Anglet, just north of Biarritz for a one-night stop-over, before heading for Andernos-les-Bains. Happy to post this footage of the complete 1st set, unedited. Enjoy! Buying two sets of their CD recordings was just a small token of our appreciation, nothing compared to all the great work Tuba Skinny does shower us with. Shaye Cohn, leader, cornet; Craig Flory, clarinet; Barnabus Jones, trombone; Erika Lewis, drums, vocals; Max Bien Kahn, guitar; Jason Lawrence, banjo; Todd Burdick, sousaphone.
and the second set:
and, if that isn’t enough, here’s another triple helping from July 28, again nicely annotated by Chris:
A spokesman from The Andernos Jazz Festival 2019 stepped forward to give a short presentation of the band, describing to the audience what it is like in New Orleans, French Quarter, when Tuba Skinny plays in Royal Street, with people passing by, dancing, sometimes sitting in. A little tip is expected to land in the guitar case as a token of gratitude. Just before noon this sunny hot Sunday, the band members gathered on Place du 14 Juillet, Andernos-les-Bains, France, July 28th, 2019, and an expectant audience congregated, eagerly awaiting. Tuba Skinny here returns to their roots, a busking band without amplifiers or microphones. Standing in a somewhat lateral position, videographing the full set in one-go was a pleasure. The music starts at 3:10. Touring France July 2019, Tuba Skinny graced this little pleasant sea-side resort of Andernos-les-Bains on the famous Arcachon Bay west of Bordeaux with a three-day stop-over, before heading to Paris and their last performance.
At the YouTube channel called CANDCJ, you will find many more hours of jazz in live performance, in fine video quality, and Skinniness in profusion. As the waitperson says when she sets down my entree, “Enjoy.” May your happiness increase!
I wouldn’t have known of these programs (now shared with us on the Musikladen YouTube channel) except for my good friend, the fine drummer Bernard Flegar. They are rich and delicious.
The WGJB lasted from the late Sixties (when they were a development of the Nine / Ten Greats of Jazz, sponsored by Dick Gibson) to 1978. In some ways, they were both a touring assemblage of gifted veteran players — I believe Robert Sage Wilber, known to his friends worldwide as Bob, is the sole survivor — and a versatile band that echoed the best of the Bob Crosby units, big and small. The WGJB came in for a good deal of sneering because of their hyperbolic title, which was Gibson’s idea, not the musicians’, but from the perspective of 2019, they were great, no questions asked. And they weren’t just a collection of soloists, each taking a turn playing jazz chestnuts (although JAZZ ME BLUES was often on the program); Haggart’s arrangements were splendid evocations of a Swing Era big band with plenty of room, and the WGJB brought its own down-home / Fifty-Second Street energy to current pop tunes (I remember their UP, UP, AND AWAY with delight). And they played the blues.
I remember them with substantial fondness, because the second jazz concert I went to (the first was Louis in 1967, which is starting at the apex) was held in Town Hall, with Gibson as host, probably in 1970, and it featured the WGJB — Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble on trombones — and a small group with Al and Zoot, possibly Joe Newman, where they performed THE RED DOOR and MOTORING ALONG, titles no one would forget, and Gibson told his anecdote of the white deer.
These two programs seem to have been sophisticated television offerings: multi-camera perspectives with a great deal of editing from one camera to the other, and beginnings and endings that suggest that these were not finished products. The absence of an audience — or their audible presence — on the first program seems odd, but I don’t mind the quiet. The WGJB could certainly add its own charging exuberance — hear the final ensemble of CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME — that few bands have matched.
The first program features co-leaders Yank Lawson, trumpet; Bob Haggart, string bass, arrangements; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Bennie Morton, trombone; Sonny Russo, trombone; Dick Wellstood, piano; Gus Johnson, drums; Maxine Sullivan, guest vocalist, and the songs performed are BLUES / MERCY, MERCY, MERCY / DOODLE DOO DOO / THE EEL (featuring its composer, Bud Freeman) / THAT’S A PLENTY (featuring Bob Wilber and Dick Wellstood) / A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY (featuring Maxine Sullivan) / THE LADY IS A TRAMP (Maxine) / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE/ MY INSPIRATION (closing theme) //:
And here’s another forty-five minute program, presumably aired October 17 of the same year, with certain personnel changes — this time there’s an audience but the band is also dressed with great casualness: Ralph Sutton, piano; Al Klink, tenor saxophone; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; George Masso and Sonny Russo, trombones; Lawson, Haggart, Butterfield, and Maxine, performing AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / BASIN STREET BLUES (featuring Masso) / CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME (featuring Sutton) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (featuring Lawson and Butterfield) / LIMEHOUSE BLUES (featuring Russo and Masso) / HARLEM BUTTERFLY / EV’RY TIME (featuring Maxine Sullivan) / ST. LOUIS BLUES / STAR DUST (featuring Klink) / RUNNIN’ WILD (featuring Hucko) / BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (featuring Haggart and Rosengarden) / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE / MY INSPIRATION //:
The repertoire for the longer program is more familiar, with few surprises, but that band could roar as well as play pretty ballads and its own version of Thirties funk. What unexpected treasures these programs are.
I have no problem understanding taste. I admire Charlie Shavers; you prefer Shorty Baker. I think that the 1938 Basie band and the 1940 Ellington band were high points in civilization; you choose, instead, Lunceford and Miller. Fine, and we need not snarl at each other on the street. I can even understand the anonymous YouTube lone disliker — out of a sea of thumbs up, there’s one person who thinks, “That’s not so good.” And I know that criticism is not new to this century, as Nicolas Slominsky has shown: for one example, I have read that the audience at the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night was savage and satirical in its disapproval of performers who weren’t up to what the audience thought was the standard.
I have worked hard to acquire some equanimity when faced with negative responses to videos and posts I have created for JAZZ LIVES. When people comment negatively in either sphere, I can simply make the comment go away, leaving a faint bad smell until I open the window. However, some of the comments are so acrid that they make me get up from the computer and do something else for a few minutes. Typically, someone doesn’t approve of the angle from which I am videoing (assuming, I guess, that I am using several people and a multi-camera perspective) — especially if one of the performers is an attractive woman whom the male commenter doesn’t see enough of. In that case, if the spirit moves me, I gently explain the limitations of a single-camera setup or of my desire to not get walloped by someone’s swingout, or other factors that the commenter may not have understood. And in many cases, my calm approach gets a calm apologetic response, which is gratifying.
In other situations, the prose is darker. I shoot videos in places where — you’ll be horrified — people drink alcohol, eat food, and converse . . . as opposed to videoing in the Sistine Chapel. Thus, many viewers write in to me in a near-rage: “I’d like to shoot the people who were talking while this great band was playing!” I do understand, but the impulse — even rhetorical — is frightening in this century, and again I try to write a calm explanatory note. (Years of being a college professor have left their mark on me in a gentle moral didacticism.) I have also said that yelling at people in a video shot five years ago will have little effect on making them quieter.
If the commenter, in either case, continues to fume in response, I will often suggest that he should ask for a refund. Rimshot. And no one has written in to ask for one, for obvious reasons.
I understand that there are situations were sharp criticism in public from a nameless “reviewer” is not only appropriate but helpful. If I go to a restaurant and something makes me ill, in writing about my experience I might be warning others away so that they did not have to spend hours in the bathroom. If my painter, lawyer, doctor, or other professional does a poor job, there might be good reason to say so in public. (I would hope, though, that the first line of response would be to contact the restaurant or the professional, as a courtesy.)
But a video that someone disapproves of has no power to do harm, and one can always shut it off, muttering, “Wow, that’s awful,” to oneself.
All of this distresses me, not because people are not “entitled to their own opinion,” but because it seems ungenerous to criticize a product or a production that is offered open-handedly and for free. And the criticism is often voiced in a coarse unfeeling way. Of course, this tendency is amplified by the anonymity of the commenters, who are not asked to offer their credentials in evaluating artistic performance. The man — and the commenters are all men — who says that X is a rottten trumpeter is never asked to demonstrate his own ability on the horn by playing C JAM BLUES, even in Bb.
But anonymity gives courage. Thus, this comment on a YouTube video of mine this morning. The subject, a singer I respect greatly, someone with classical training and jazz experience, accompanied by a pianist: “Listening to that whiney voice instead of the sense of the song…horrible nonsense..he’s good but who can tell w that phony warbling…yikes”
That approach and that language seems abusive. I imagine that few artists read the YouTube comments, but why should someone doing their best be skewered by a nameless “reviewer”? Would the commenter have the courage to go up to an artist in a club and say, “Your whiney voice is horrible nonsense and phony warbling?” I would guess not, for fear of getting whacked with an RCA ribbon mike. And stand. And I would dearly like to be on the jury to vote for the musician’s acquittal and then award damages in a lawsuit.
I wonder if there is some motivation I am overlooking. Does it make the commenter feel superior? “I am an experienced music critic, and everyone is entitled to my opinion, as a public service? Or does it come out of a silent insecurity? “X makes CDs and is famous. Why doesn’t anyone want to give me a gig like that? I hate X!”
What I suspect, and hope I am wrong, is that it is yet another manifestation of general pervasive mean-spiritedness, that there are hate-filled people in the world who have not got enough to occupy themselves, so they rack up disapproval right and left. That makes me sad. Someone once said, “If you’re not being loving, why are you taking up space on the planet?” True enough.
Something to end this sad essay on a hopeful note: music that no one can disapprove of:
I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music. When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous. I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post. And I cherish most those who are open-handed. I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.
One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown. An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.
On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here. It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.
Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music. The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.
About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough” — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that. Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another. How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries. And surprises! Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.
I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):
Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.
Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:
And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:
Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:
and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:
These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures. I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights. I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.
Marty Grosz and Bob Haggart, date and location not known
When you’ve shot as many videos as I have — over a decade’s worth — there’s a sizable treasure chest of the unseen. Sometimes videos are buried for good reason, the primary one being musicians’ unhappiness with the results. And since we aim to please, I don’t post what offends the creators.
But a few weeks ago, during an atypical tussle with insomnia, I was sitting at my computer at 3:30 AM, looking at unlisted videos stored safely on YouTube, and I found this rousing delight. The musicians who like to approve of my postings have approved, so I can share it with you. It’s a hot half-hour with Marty Grosz and his Cellar Boys, from Jazz at Chautauqua, probably a Sunday morning, the exact date noted above.
That’s Marty on guitar, vocal, commentary (yes, he does like to expound, but commenters who complain will be teleported to another blog); Andy Schumm, cornet and miscellaneous instrument; Scott Robinson, reeds and inventiveness; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
The real breadstick, as Marty would say.
Sucrose, no corn syrup:
Don’t tell me different — I know I’m right! Watch Andy and Scott do magic:
And a series of wonderful hot surprises:
Once, when I was in Dublin, I found the Oxfam charity shop (as they would call it) and sniffed out the small shelf of recordings. Very little of interest, but there was one jazz lp — autographed by the band, and the band had Keith Ingham in it. I clutched it to my chest, fearful that someone would steal it away, and when I approached the cash register, the gracious woman volunteer looked at me, smiled, and said, “Well, YOU’VE found a treasure, haven’t you?”
That’s how I feel about these videos. Blessings on the musicians and of course on Nancy Hancock Griffith, who made it all possible.
This new endeavor — performing and recording all of Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions at the rate of two a week, scored and sometimes reimagined for clarinet or other reeds (David Horniblow) and piano (Andrew Oliver) is generous, expert, and ultimately joyous. I’ve fallen slightly behind, so this post offers weeks two and three. Hereis the first part, garlanded with deep praise from Moi.
A few words. In this technological age, artists are under pressure to give their work away for free — I’m part of this skewed exchange — and the results are sometimes uneven. But the Complete Morton Project, although it has no dusty air about it, no scent of the museum, is beautifully considered and executed, and the results are not only graciously offered but superbly inventive. I find that when I listen to a Morton orchestral recording, I hear the band, which is not a bad thing: here, the clarity of presentation makes me hear David and Andrew, of course, but the music is almost visible as it purls by.
GOOD OLD NEW YORK, with David on bass clarinet:
The deeply mournful WHY?:
The mysteriously titled FICKLE FAY CREEP:
and Morton’s evocation of Bert Williams, which makes me think of his poker-playing routine:
Here’s the link to the CMP on andrewoliver.net — elegant commentary also, not didactic — and on their YouTube channel. To get a regular weekly delivery of this expert pleasure right to your door, you don’t have to have money deducted from your paycheck or sign an agreement. Simply watch, feel delight, and tell your like-minded friends: that, I think, will be all the reward Andrew and David yearn for. Thank you, Benefactors!
For me, this morning started off splendidly with a blast of expert passionate hot music from pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinetist David Horniblow:
Please notice their immense romping ardor, and that although they are respectfully hewing to Morton’s composition, they aren’t reproducing the record note for note.
And the imagined flip side of the video 78, ORIGINAL JELLY ROLL BLUES:
Andrew and David have set themselves the substantial and joyous task of playing all of Morton’s compositions — about one hundred — in this duo format. And “playing” means several things that we take for granted in 2018. Their performances will be on video, and they will be offered to the eager public for free, both on their dedicated YouTube channel and on Andrew’s blog. I find this both refreshingly “contemporary” and “antique” at the same time, as if I could go down to the best record store in my town every Tuesday and buy the new Oliver-Hornblow 78 of two more Morton compositions, being very careful not to slip on the ice and break my precious purchase.
I emphasize that their generous Musical Offering is done for free. That’s the way musicians function or perhaps have to function in this century. How could we make Messrs. Oliver and Horniblow feel welcomed in what is, after all, a world of commodities that have to be paid for? (Artists, like us, have a fondness for meals and electricity and clean laundry . . . .) At this point the forbidding God of Should emerges and with a voice louder than thunder says, “You SHOULD subscribe to the YouTube channel. You SHOULD go to gigs that Andrew and David are playing (especially if you live in the United Kingdom). You SHOULD check out their fine band, The Dime Notes, and buy their debut CD or vinyl record. Details here.
For me (now that the God has spoken and I can hear myself think once again) I wish that there could be a Morton-Oliver-Horniblow PayPal subscription. I would gladly send these fellows ten dollars a week for their musical generosity. But until that time, I will merely exhort you to make sure that you watch these bursts of joy and get your hot-jazz friends to do likewise.
The dashing fellow above (from a 2009 photograph) is the jazz scholar-devotee Enrico Borsetti. I know him as a fine fellow, although we have never met in person. His generosity is remarkable, but this is a new example: Enrico’s video-recording of music from the 2002 Ascona Jazz Festival, specifically this wonderful band, the Blue Rhythm Makers. For this date, they were Keith Nichols, piano and vocal; René Hagmann, cornet, reeds; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Christoph Wackerbarth, trombone; Martin Wheatley, guitar;
Frans Sjostrom, bass sax, with guest appearances by Andy Stein, violin; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. This music was created at the Ristorante Tamaro, Ascona, on Sunday, July 7, 2002.
WHEN DAY IS DONE and POISON:
THE MAN FROM THE SOUTH and I WISH I WERE TWINS:
with guest star Andy Stein, violin, DOIN’ THE NEW LOW DOWN:
And the poignant I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:
ONE HOUR (Keith sings the lovely verse):
Jon-Erik raises the temperature, even for July, with a rousing SWING THAT MUSIC:
and Andy returns to close the first half of this performance with THAT’S A PLENTY, certainly an accurate description of these wonderful videos.
(Incidentally, I am pleased and amused to note that Enrico’s world is much like mine in the matter of videos: umbrellas and people with cameras obscuring the view, crashing dishes and more — but the sound blazes right at us, and these videos are true gifts.) Here‘s Enrico’s YouTube channel, where all varieties of beauties blossom.
Betty Lou has something to explain to us, and it doesn’t need Google Translate:
That rare record (quite hot and swinging) comes to us through the generosity of collector / scholar Steve Abrams, who has been showering the faithful with treasures of all kinds on his YouTube channel, SMARBA100. Everything from hot classics (Luis Russell, Joe Robechaux) to Twenties dance bands and “American roots music” — all gratifying and surprising. Thank you, Steve!
I couldn’t find any photographs of the band or of Betty Lou, but thank goodness we have the music: that survives. And as for Betty Lou: “DO try this at home.”
When it’s good, you can tell right off. And this — recorded at Fat Cat, at 75 Christopher Street, New York City, is good.
While Terry and Company were waiting for everyone to arrive on Sunday, January 29, 2017, they gently launched in to this 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic — once only a new pop song — and created some very fine and spiritually moving vibrations. The creators? Terry Waldo, piano; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.
Music like this improves the world. Blessings on you, gentlemen.
And a rather sour postscript, which has nothing to do with the glorious music presented here. This video ends up on YouTube, my cosmic megaphone to broadcast the joy that others create. But many people who post comments on YouTube do so to complain. “The video is too dark. The crowd is too noisy. One of the musicians is not up to my high standards.”
My imagined response is, at its most polite, “Dear Sir (it’s always a male writer!), such complaining is rather like pointing to the wonderful free dinner, made for you by a world-renowned chef, and refusing to eat it because it is on what you think is the wrong china. Since the internet has made most people think that everything is free, and that their often tactless expressions of taste are true criticism, I simply sigh.”
Insert loud sigh here. Now I will enjoy the video again, to be uplifted by the generous mastery of these musicians.
The string bassist Leonard Gaskin (1920-2009) could and did play with anyone: from Forties bop small groups (including Bird, Miles, Max, Cecil Payne, J.J., and more), to Billie and Connee, to Louis Armstrong to Eddie Condon to pickup groups of all shapes and sizes. Like Milt Hinton, he was steady, reliable, with a beautiful big sound that fit any ensemble: backing Odetta, Solomon Burke, Earl Hines, Butterbeans and Susie, as well as LaVern Baker, Cecil Scott, Ruby Braff, Kenny Burrell, young Bob Dylan, and Big Maybelle too.
Hereis Peter Vacher’s characteristically fine obituary for Leonard. (I’d like Peter to write mine, but we have yet to work out the details.)
And if you type in “Leonard Gaskin” on YouTube, you can hear more than two hundred performances.
Leonard was the nominal leader of a few “Dixieland” sessions for the Prestige label in 1961. Another, led by trumpeter Sidney DeParis, was called DIXIELAND HITS COUNTRY AND WESTERN (draw the imagined cover for yourself) with Kenny Davern, Benny Morton, Charlie Queener, Lee Blair, Herbie Lovelle. . . . from whence this sly gem comes:
Here is a loving tribute to Leonard from the singer Seina — it will explain itself:
And since anything even remotely connected with Miles Davis is judged important by a large percentage of jazz listeners, I offer the very Lestorian FOR ADULTS ONLY from February 1953, with Al Cohn (tenor, arranger) Zoot Sims (tenor) John Lewis (piano) Leonard (bass) Kenny Clarke (drums):
and from another musical world, the 1950 poem in praise of awareness, from a Hot Lips Page date, where Lips and Leonard are joined by Jimmy Buxton (tb) Vincent Bair-Bey (as) Ray Abrams (ts) Earl Knight (p) Herbie Lovelle (d) Janie Mickens (vcl):
Now, why am I writing about Mr. Gaskin at this moment?
Sometimes I feel that the cosmos tells me, gently, what or whom to write about — people or artistic creations to celebrate. I don’t say this as a great puff of ego, that the cosmos has JAZZ LIVES uppermost in its consciousness, but there is a reason for this post.
Recently, I was in one of my favorite thrift stores, Savers, and of course I wandered to the records. Great quantities — wearying numbers — of the usual, and then I spotted the 1958 record above. I’d owned it at one time: a Condon session with Rex Stewart, Herb Hall, Bud Freeman, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Leonard, and George Wettling, distinguished by a number of songs associated with the ODJB. (A completely uncredited Dick Cary is audible, and I am fairly sure he would have sketched out lead sheets and spare charts for the unfamiliar songs.) An interesting band, but not the apex of Fifties Condonia.
I debated: did I need this hot artifact. Then I turned it over, and decided that I did, indeed.
I suspect that signature is later than 1958, but the real autographs are usually not in the most perfect calligraphy. And, as always, when a record turns up at a thrift store, I wonder, “Did Grandpa have to move? Did the folks’ turntable give out? What’s the story?”
I won’t know, but it gently pushed me to celebrate Leonard Gaskin.
And for those who dote on detail, I’d donated some items to this Savers, and so the record was discounted: I think I paid seventy-two cents. Too good to ignore.
Every year at about this time, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs make a tour of the Bay Area in Northern California, including visits to the Dixieland session at Rossmoor, the Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival, Pier 23, Cafe Borrone, and other fortunate locations. (Don’t let the “Dixieland” label throw you; what Ray and Company play is light-years away from that manufactured product. Marketing isn’t music.)
Note: I realize that my title is geographically inaccurate, since everyone in this band lives in the West, as one of my Corrections Officers is sure to point out, but it made more sense than titling this post SOUTHBOUND, in honor of Alex Hill.
Here are the details from Ray’s own site, a remarkable place to spend a few hours.
Ray and his Cubs onstage at Rossmoor, perhaps 2014.
Ray has the good luck to have a dedicated videographer and archivist, RaeAnn Berry, somewhere between tireless and indefatigable, who will offer up large helpings of the music performed in these few delightful days.
Here’s a deliciously satisfying taste: DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL at an enticing tempo — in a thoroughly Commodore manner that reminds me, and perhaps you, of TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL:
That’s one performance from their July 7 concert at Rossmoor. I encourage you to subscribe to RaeAnn’s channel, where you can see the other dozen or so performances from that concert (made possible by the energetic devotion of Robert Burch and Vonne Anne Heninger, to give that kind pair their full monickers) and several thousand other musical delights.
As I write this in New York, RaeAnn is surely videoing something . . . and I know there will be more Ray / Cubs epiphanies to come.