Tag Archives: Zilner Randolph

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

THE MOST RECENT EXPLOITS OF MRS. MOSE MIGHT SURPRISE YOU. THEY CAME AS A SHOCK TO ME.

If you’ve been following the jazz news of the Thirties, it will not come as a shock to learn that Old Man Mose is dead.  The saga of his demise is sad, mysterious, and not a little frightening:

For the extended, fascinating coverage of the variations created by Louis and friends on this theme, I direct you to Ricky Riccardi’s unequalled blogpost here.

Hearing this song, I always wonder at its genesis: my guess is that someone in Louis’ Chicago band — where Zilner Randolph was one of the trumpets and the “straw boss” — fell asleep on the bus or elsewhere and the spectacle struck everyone else as comic.  “Man, you were so asleep you looked just like Old Man Mose.  We didn’t know if you were dead.”  Great art comes from such humble beginnings, you know.  Cultural anthropologists may note that here is another example of African-Americans making fun of the stereotype — its source too deep for me to discover here — that they were afraid of occult creatures, of “hants,” of the dead: make of that what you will.

But I dugress.  From Ricky’s blog, I learned that several “sequels” to this song, hoping to cash in on its popularity, had been created.  (On YouTube, you can even hear a group of Beatles imitators try their hand at it in 1964.  By the time their rendition is over, I do not hold out much hope for Mr. Mose being resuscitated, but that is only one man’s opinion.)

However, it was only on a recent record-shopping afternoon at the Down Home Music Store in El Cerrito that I found this latest chapter, a Bluebird 78 (circa 1939, I surmise) by the Eddie DeLange Orchestra, vocal by diminutive Elisse Cooper, of MRS. MOSE HAS A MILLION BEAUS (Since Old Man Mose Is Dead) — a Fox Trot penned by McCarthy, Redmond, and David.  For the discographically-minded, it is the “B” side of Bluebird 10213; the “A” side is another novelty song, EAGLE EYE FINKLE, which chronicles the exploits of a roving gossip / scandal reporter for an imagined Russian newspaper.

I don’t know who is in the band, nor do I know who plays the chordal guitar solo in the middle* . . . but I thought JAZZ LIVES readers deserved full disclosure of posthumous marital news amongst imaginary characters in novelty songs.  See if you agree:

It leaves me speechless, too.  Especially the part about Old Man Mose’s life insurance policy.  I’m on the edge of my chair, waiting to hear what happens next.

*Wise friend David Weiner tells me that it was recorded in March 1939 and the guitarist is one Guy Smith — no one else in the band is a “famous” musician (my quotation marks, not David’s).  Nice ensemble sound, though.

May your happiness increase!