Tag Archives: Ziggy Elman

“SUPERSTRIDE: JOHNNY GUARNIERI” by Derek Coller (Jazzology Press)

I know it’s not true of other art worlds (say, literature and painting) where a proliferation of deities is not only allowed but encouraged, but jazz seems to want a very small number of Stars.  Singers? Billie and Ella.  Trumpet players?  Miles and Louis.  Saxophonists?  Trane and Bird.  And so on.  This reductionist tendency makes me sigh, especially when it comes to pianists, because there are so many more to celebrate than (let us say) Fats, Monk, Tatum.  You don’t want to get me started, from Clarence Profit to Sam Nowlin to Alex Hill to Frank Melrose to Nat Jaffee, and so on up to the present day.

Someone who deserves more attention is the expert and rollicking Johnny Guarnieri, whose recording and performance career covers forty-five years, from 1939 to 1984.  When I think of Johnny, I think of irresistible swing, lightness of touch, beautifully perceptive ensemble playing, amazing technique both in and out of the stride idiom, and (perhaps not an asset) stunning mimicry of any pianist or style you’d want.  I heard him live once, at Newport in New York, and even given the hall’s terrible acoustics and amplification, he was dazzling: it was clear why Eubie Blake called Johnny the greatest pianist he had heard.

And on any Guarnieri recording — with Goodman, Lester, the Keynote aggregations, Ziggy Elman, Artie Shaw, both the big band and the Gramercy Five, Cootie Williams, Ben, Hawk, Rex Steart, Benny Morton, Louis, Lips, Bobby, Don Byas, Slam Stewart, Red Allen, Ruby Braff, Joe Venuti, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Stephane Grappelly, solos and small bands on his own — he is instantly recognizable and enlivening: he turns on the light switch in a dim room.

Yes, he sounds like Fats in the opening chorus of SHOULD I — but his comping behind the soloists is immaculate, displaying a strong terse simplicity, propelling Joe Thomas and Don Byas along.  If you have him in your band, it’s a given that the performance will swing.

Guarnieri’s life and music are documented beautifully (typically so) in a new book — an  bio-discography, SUPERSTRIDE (Jazzology Press) by the fine writer and careful researcher Derek Coller.  The compact book — around 260 pages — is full of new information, first-hand reminiscence, splendid source materials including photographs.  Best, not only is it a satisfying five-course dinner of fact and information, but it presents Guarnieri as one of those undramatic people who behaved well to others, was a professional, and didn’t demand attention to himself through narcissism or self-destructive tendencies.  He comes off as someone I regret not meeting, generous, gracious, an old-fashioned gentleman and craftsman.  (Read the story of his generosity to then unknown actor Jack Lemmon, who was himself quite a pianist; read the recollections of Johnny’s “boys,” who learned from him.)  He had one vice: he smoked a pipe; one physical problem, seriously poor eyesight, which kept him out of the military during the war.

Because Johnny led a quiet life, his biography is more brief than the record of high dramas and crises other musicians present.  Coller’s chronological overview is detailed although not overly so, and it moves very quickly for just over a hundred pages.  I remember saying to myself, “Wait!  We’re in 1947 already?”  But the speed and the lightness of the narrative — Coller is an old-fashioned plain writer who wants the light to shine on his subject, not on his linguistic capers — make it delightful and a quiet reproach to other writers whose ego is the true subject.  The book slows down a bit, a pleasant change, when we get to the longtime residency Johnny had at the Tail of the Cock in Los Angeles, but it is much more a narrative of a professional taking whatever jobs came his way rather than psychobiography or pathobiography.  I’ve left out the fascinating exploration into his family — both his father and mother and the information his daughter provides — and his interest in playing, with such elan, in 5/4.

Also . . . there are pages of musical analysis of Johnny’s style by someone who knows how the piano can be played, Dick Hyman; reminiscences and reviews by musicians and journalists; a very thorough discography and a listing of Johnny’s compositions . . . and more, including fascinating photographs and newspaper clippings.

The book is to the point, as was its subject, and in its own way, it swings along superbly.  Anyone who’s thrilled to the playful brilliance of a Guarnieri chorus will enjoy it.  And it sends us back to the recordings, a lovely side-effect.  Here’s a later solo performance, so tender:

The Jazzology website is slightly out of date, but I am sure that the book can be purchased directly from them, and it is worth the extra effort to have a copy.

May your happiness increase!

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“Have one to sell? Sell now #D366 VINTAGE 1950S 8X10″ JAZZ ORCHESTRA NEGATIVE PHOTO Benny Goodman Big Band”

When I looked up “Benny Goodman” and “1938” in preparation for this blogpost, Google quite naturally led me to the Carnegie Hall concert of January 16.  But there was wonderful music made later in the year, by a band elevated by Dave Tough, drums, and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone.  Here’s a sample:

The link between that performance and my odd title might not be clear, so here’s the answer key: the title is the convoluted language of eBay, that odd treasure house.  And thanks to David J. Weiner, scholar and friend (pal of my childhood days, to be precise) I have the treasure below to share with you.  It’s a remarkable photograph — the negative of one — of the 1938 band, dressed up in performance garb, but not on the stand, and not holding instruments.  And even better, the normally somber-looking Dave Tough has just heard something funny or said something of the same kind (I think that Lionel made Dave laugh): a visage rarely if ever captured on film.

The bad news is that I did not win this photograph for my very own.  The good news is that someone who wanted it even more fervently did . . . to the tune of $105 and some change.  I hope (s)he enjoys it tremendously and hangs it in a place of honor.  For us, the magic of “Save image” means that we can hitch a ride for free, and moral questions aside, that is a great thing.

Now, I will confess ignorance and say that I cannot identify everyone in the picture, and I solicit the assistance of the readers of JAZZ LIVES who know more than I do — when they are irksome, I silently call them The Corrections Officials, but today I invite informed responses.

Here’s what and whom I know.

Front row left, unknown; Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; unknown woman who doesn’t look like Martha Tilton or, for that matter, Gladys Hampton, at all; Lionel Hampton, vibraphone; Dave Tough, drums; unknown (is that Chris Griffin, trumpet?)

Back row left, Vernon Brown, trombone; unknown; unknown; Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; unknown; Harry James, trumpet.

Where’s Benny?  Where’s Jess Stacy?  I assume some of the heroes I couldn’t identify are a second trombone, perhaps Noni Bernardi and Dave Matthews, guitarist Benny Heller.  Does anyone recognize the room?  The fireplace suggests a hotel rather than a recording studio, but that is a guess, nothing more.

And while you’re scrambling to prove your Benny-knowledge is just the best, here’s a soundtrack to inspire you, the deliciously loose rendition of SUGAR by Benny, Lionel, Teddy Wilson, and Dave:

This post is in honor of David Weiner, Kevin Dorn, and Richard Salvucci.  Of course!

May your happiness increase! 

ARTHUR and ADRIAN

I’ve just finished reading the charming autobiography of saxophonist Arthur Rollini (1912- 93), THIRTY YEARS WITH THE BIG BANDS, and it gave me the opportunity to learn about his first recordings — music graciously provided by the estimable AtticusJazz on YouTube.  Here are his first two recorded sides (April 12, 1929, in London) — the first a head arrangement of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, the second the full Fred Elizalde orchestra performing SINGAPORE SORROWS in an arrangement by Fud Livingston.  Arthur was seventeen (as was the brilliant trumpeter Norman Payne, heard briefly on the second side); his legendary brother Adrian was then not yet twenty-six.

Of the first side, Arthur writes, “Bobby Davis took the first half of a chorus and I picked him up for the second half.  Adrian played brilliantly.”  Recalling SINGAPORE SORROWS, he praises Norman Payne, “This little solo in Bix’s tradition still stands up today.”  Especially in SWEETHEART, I hear the influence of the contemporaneous Nichols recordings, and beautiful playing throughout.

The small band is Fred Elizalde, arranger / leader; Chelsea Quealey, trumpet; Bobby Davis, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone; Max Farley, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Billy Mason, piano;  Tiny Stock, brass bass; string bass; Ronnie Gubertini, drums; Al Bowlly, guitar.

The large band is Fred Elizalde; Chelsea Quealey, Norman Payne, Nobby Knight, trumpet; Frank Coughlan, trombone; Bobby Davis, Max Farley, Phil Cardew, Fud Livingston, Arthur Rollini, Adrian Rollini, reeds; George Hurley, Ben Frankel, Len Lees, violin; Billy Mason, Jack Hull, banjo; Al Bowlly, Tiny Stock, Ronnie Gubertini.

Before I was deep into this book, I already valued it because it explained the early death of Adrian. Arthur tells us just how seriously Adrian was accident-prone: “He inadvertently smashed cars, stepped into holes and, although he was not a clumsy person, frequently tripped.  It was so bad that insurance companies refused him coverage.  Eventually, even his death was the result of an accident. It happened in Florida when he fell down a flight of stairs into a pit of coral rock” (17).

Then, as I read on in this low-keyed, modest book, I encountered compelling anecdotes of Benny Goodman’s oblivious cruelty, Richard Himber’s aberrational behavior (intentionally aimed flatulence as his idea of comedy?!), brief portraits of Bunny Berigan, Dave Tough, Hank D’Amico . . . Paul Whiteman uttering Turk Murphy’s “three little words” to a society matron who had pushed him too far, the eccentric Raymond Scott, and more.

As the Swing Era ends, Arthur and others find comfortable jobs in network radio for a decade or more, but the book slowly records the end of an era in popular music.  He doesn’t moan or rant, but “thirty years with the big  bands” as a sideman have left him without a place to go.  Oh, there are gigs in Long Island clubs, but he doesn’t have the name recognition of, say, Buddy Tate, or the chameleon-like abilities of Al Klink. He and his wife try non-musical businesses, and they have a hard time, with all underscored by her eventually fatal illness.  So I felt much sorrow in the final pages of the book, and I was undecided if I would keep my copy or pass it on.

Then I saw this picture (which I have poorly reproduced with my phone) and said, “I’m keeping this!”: the 1938 Benny Goodman softball team with Dave Tough in the front row with a mitt (what kind would it be?) that seems too big for him.  The other players, in the back row, are Bud Freeman, Chris Griffin, Harry Goodman, Arthur, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Vernon Brown, Noni Bernardi; in the front, Benny Heller, Pee Wee Monte, Dave, Red Ballard.  (And for the Lesterphiles in the audience, Arthur tells of the inside-the-park home run the Pres hit in one game.)  You can find a much better copy of this photograph here.

And here, courtesy of THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY, a superb blog — temporarily on vacation,

the Rollini brothers send their best — from 1937, but the sounds are eternal.

With thanks to A.J. Sammut, as always.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC, BUSINESS, ZIGGY and NONI

Where shall we start?  With the music, of course.

Here is an engaging record with the spontaneous energy and lilt of the best small-band swing, but with neat arranging touches. The players were from the Benny Goodman Orchestra of 1939:

This performance was recorded December 26, 1939 with Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Toots Mondello, Elmani “Noni” Bernardi, alto sax; Jerry Jerome, Arthur Rollini, tenor sax; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Ben Heller, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums.

From a splendidly informative profile by Christopher Popa (including an interview of Martin Elman, Ziggy’s son) we learn that Bernardi created the arrangements for the sides Ziggy did for Bluebird Records, Victor’s budget label. The profile — superbly done for Popa’s BIG BAND LIBRARY, can be found here.

This post had its genesis in something not a recording or a performance, but the result of a record session and the hope of making money from a hit. On eBay, I found this two-page contract between music publisher Bregman, Vocco and Conn, and Elman and Bernardi — for this song, then called I’M TOOTIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME.  (This title is a play on Maurice Chevalier’s 1931 hit WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME — recorded by, among others, Louis and Nat Cole.)

NONI and ZIGGY contract

From this vantage point, the contract seems anything but lavish, although the format is standard and the terms might have seemed a good deal at the time.  I don’t think this venture made anyone richer.  I’ve never seen a copy of the sheet music?  And if one wishes to perceive BVC as exploitative, I am sure there is reason, but they at least published this folio, a good thing:

ziggyelman50trumpetlicks“Ziggie” is both nearly forgotten and much missed.  Like Charlie Shavers, he could forcefully swing any group in many ways (consider his work on sessions with Mildred Bailey and Lionel Hampton).  Harry Finkelman (his birth name) could do much more than play the frailich for AND THE ANGELS SING.  Those Bluebird records are understated delights (with a beautiful rhythm section for this session).

May your happiness increase!

SWING SIBLINGS TAKE MANHATTAN: THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS

Let’s assume you had an urge to put on a show celebrating the music and lives of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.  You’d need at least fourteen musicians, and they’d have to be versatile — a reed wizard able to duplicate the curlicues of JD on BEEBE and OODLES OF NOODLES, to sing soulfully on his more romantic theme song.  You’d need a trombonist who could get inside TD’s steel-gray sound, perhaps someone to evoke Bunny Berigan, a drummer who understood Dave Tough and Ray McKinley, vocal groups, singers . . . a huge undertaking.

Those energetic young fellows, Pete and Will Anderson, twins who play a whole assortment of reeds from bass clarinet and flute to alto, tenor, and clarinet, have neatly gotten around all these imagined difficulties to create a very entertaining musical / theatrical evening doing the Fabulous Dorseys full justice.  It’s taking place at 59E59 (that’s the theatres at 59 East 59th Street in New York City) and you can see the schedule there.

The Anderson Twins have two kinds of surprising ingenuity that lift their tribute out of the familiar.  (You know — the PBS evening where a big band with singers walks its way through twenty hits of X and his Orchestra, punctuated by fund-raising.)  They’ve assembled a sextet of New York’s finest musicians — great jazz soloists who can also harmonize beautifully: Pete and Will on reeds; Ehud Asherie on piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Clovis Nicolas, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  No, there’s no trombonist — but our man Kellso does a wonderful job of becoming TD on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU — a tribute to both of them.  And rather than being a parade of the expected greatest hits, this is a musical evening full of surprises: a few rocking charts by Sy Oliver that remind us just how hard the Forties TD band swung; a beautiful piano solo by Ehud in honor of Art Tatum; several of the arrangements that Dizzy Gillespie wrote for JD’s band, and a few improvisations that show just how this sextet, alive and well in 2012, can rock the house: DUSK IN UPPER SANDUSKY, HOLLYWOOD PASTIME, and more.

But the evening is more than a concert — the Andersons have a fine theatrical sense of how to keep an audience involved.  In 1947, Tommy and Jimmy starred in a motion picture that purported to tell the story of their lives — THE FABULOUS DORSEYS.  On the plus side, the movie has the two brothers playing themselves as adults, and some extremely dramatic performances by the stars of the Abbey Theatre, Sara Allgood and Arthur Shields, as Mother and Father Dorsey.  It also has on-screen footage of Art Tatum, Ray Bauduc, Ziggy Elman, Charlie Barnet, Mike Pingitore, Paul Whiteman, Henry Busse . . . a feast for jazz film scholars.  As cinema, it verges on the hilarious — although I must say that its essential drama, the rise to fame of the Brothers, is helped immensely by their true-to-life inability to get along.  In the film, they are finally reconciled at their father’s deathbed . . . which makes a better story than having them join forces because of the economics of the moribund Big Band Era.

The Anderson boys use clips from the film as a dramatic structure to keep the tale of the Dorseys vivid — and it also becomes a delightful multi-media presentation, with the Andersons themselves pretending to feud (with less success: sorry, boys, but you lack real rancor), pretending to break the band in two and then . . . but I won’t give away all the secrets.  My vote for Best Speaking Part in a Musical Production goes to Kevin Dorn, but, again, you’ll have to see for yourself.  It’s musically delightful and — on its own terms — cleverly entertaining.

I will have more to say about this production in the future, but right now I wanted to make sure that my New York readers knew what good music and theatrical ingenuity waits for them at 59E59.  This show will conclude its run on October 7 — don’t miss it!

May your happiness increase.   

A SHRINE FOR HOT MUSIC in ADRIAN, MICHIGAN

Who knew that Nixons’ Music Store in Adrian, Michigan, was the Mecca for hot trumpet swingfans circa 1940?*  But here’s the evidence from the eBay treasure chest:

But how could Feist Music teach anyone that tone?  Or this one:

Something for the pianists in the house (original source unknown):

I’d love to see the “transcription” of Fats’ solos on SHOE SHINE BOY and WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH. 

That one is priceless for Fats as Pagilacci — an early example of marketing tie-in, connected to his 1939 Lang-Worth transcription date. 

Someone actually owned this folio, and it’s the Second Series, too:

That one comes with its own rubber plunger mute — for no extra charge.

From A to Ziggy. 

*My research found that Nixons’ no longer exists — but an advertisement in the ADRIAN DAILY TELEGRAM, Sept. 2, 1947, says that they had everything in records and music.  Given the evidence here, I am convinced.  To see a vintage photograph of Maumee Street in Adrian with reference to a music shop, click here.  In 1970, it was Nixon-Marboro’s Music Store (120 East Maumee) and currently that address is occupied by a martial arts school, “Black Dragon’s Den.”  I wouldn’t dare to say a word against the Black Dragon, but it makes me think (not for the first time) 

Sic transit gloria mundi.

THE ANGELS SWING, 1953

The photograph below comes from Helen Ward’s collection, courtesy of my friend Sonny McGown.  It’s amazing — an onstage jam session from one of the 1953 concerts that began with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.  After Benny chose not to go on with the tour, Gene Krupa led his band — and obviously a good time was had by all.  See who you can identify:

From the left, I see George Auld and three other saxophone players, Steve Jordan (guitar), Israel Crosby (bass), a Goodman trombonist and bespectacled Vernon Brown, Trummy Young behind Vernon, a short fellow in a light suit whose name escapes me, Cozy Cole behind him, Ziggy Elman, an unidentified trumpeter and Charlie Shavers in front of Arvell Shaw.

I think I hear an uptempo blues . . . but whatever it is, the sound I imagine is angelic.  Wow!

P.S.  Sonny pointed out to me that Willie Smith (on left) has his back to the camera, Al Stewart is the unidentified trumpeter . . . and the closing jam session was typically THE SAINTS.  So now I know what I’m hearing.