Kathy Stobart and her band in the early 1950s
Jazz can be proud of its anti-racist traditions and of how, from the early twentieth century, black and white musicians defied racism in order to work together to make great music. Jazz played a major role in the US civil rights movement and – long before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson for the 1946 season – helped convince white America that black people were at least their equals, and had an awful lot to contribute to the American Way Of Life, if only given the chance.
Jazz’s record on sexism and women’s rights is less honourable. Until quite recently, women were scarcely tolerated in jazz, and even then only as fans, hangers-on and singers. The few female instrumentalists that there were in the 1930s, 40s and 50s on the US scene tended to be treated with condescension or (as with pianist Mary Lou Williams, whose talent could not be denied), as novelties if not downright freaks.
The situation for British women jazz musicians was just as bad until very recently, which makes it only right and proper that we now remember the tenor sax player Kathy Stobart, who died on 6 July aged 89. Kathy was a pioneer, having started professionally in the 1940s when she ran her own band and worked for top bandleaders like Vic Lewis and Ted Heath. In 1957 she caused a minor sensation when she stepped in for Jimmy Skidmore (who was ill) with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band and recorded a highly-regarded album, Kath Meets Humph.
Humph held Kathy in high regard, describing her sax playing as having “a huge booming sound, imbued with total originality and a commanding presence.” Kathy joined Humph’s band as a regular member between 1969 and 1978, and then re-joined for 12 years from 1992. She set a precedent: after Kathy left, Humph hired two other female sax players, Karen Sharpe and Jo Fooks, both of whom have spoken of Kathy as a major inspiration and role model.
Kathy’s second husband, the trumpeter Bert Courtley, died in 1969, leaving Kathy a single parent, and she took up music teaching to supplement her income. By all accounts she was a “natural” and in 2000 she tutored Judi Dench in the rudiments of sax playing for her role in Alan Plater’s TV play The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.
Kathy, like a lot of the best female jazz players, would frequently be described by critics and fans, as playing “like a man”. The description didn’t please Kathy, who once commented: “It’s supposed to be the ultimate compliment, but I wouldn’t apply it to myself. I’ve got a good pair of lungs on me and I’ve got well matured emotions. I play like me.”
Guardian obit here
I’d intended to post something at the end of last month, on the occasion of what would have been his 104th birthday, about the great jazz bassist Milt ‘The Judge’ Hinton (June 23 1910 – Dec 19 2000); but for one reason and another I didn’t get round to it.
Anyway in the Youtube video below Milt gives a lesson in jazz bass playing. And below that is a heart-warming story from fellow-bassist Bob Cranshaw, via my pal Michael Steinman at Jazz Lives.
Michael Steinman writes: The extraordinary pianist Ethan Iverson (of The Bad Plus) has a superb blog called DO THE MATH, and most recently he has offered a lengthy, lively conversation with string bassist Bob Cranshaw here. This story seized me.
BC: Milt Hinton was one of the first bass players that I heard. This was before TV. I heard him on the radio. I think he was my biggest influence. When I heard him play, the shit was swinging so hard that the radio was about to jump off the table. I went to my father, and I said, “I want to play that.”
I have a story about Milt when I came to New York. I had been in New York maybe a few months, and I was on 48th and Broadway. I was on my way to rehearsal with somebody and I had a bag on my bass that was raggedy and about to fall off, but I couldn’t afford anything else. I was walking down to the rehearsal and this gentleman dressed with a tie stopped me on the street. He said, “Hi. What’s your name?” I said, “Bob Cranshaw.” He said, “Are you a professional bassist?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “I’m Milt Hinton.” I said, “Oh, shit.” It was like meeting God. Here’s my mentor.
He took me into Manny’s and he bought me a bass case on the spot.
EI: Really? Hadn’t even heard you play a note?
BC: Took me and bought me a bass case right there. He said as a professional, I couldn’t be walking around with a bag like that. What I teach in my method and my thought of music is, I say, “The Milt Hinton Method,” because when I came, I followed Milt around. I used to just go. They were doing a lot of recording. They were recording all day. I would just go to the date and I would sit on the side. I didn’t want to disturb anybody, but just to watch him. What I got from watching him was when – it could be 50 musicians – when The Judge walked into the room, you could feel the energy. Everybody was talking. That was the kind of guy he was. That was the life. He was my biggest, my most wonderful influence, was watching The Judge. When I started to play, when I started to work with Joe Williams and so forth, Milt did all the record dates. He was part of the rhythm section with Osie Johnson and a couple other guys. I would go to the dates and just watch him because I was working with Joe and I was going to have to play the same music the next week. I said, “I might as well get it from the horse’s mouth. Let me get the first thing and then I have a better understanding of what I need to play when we go out on the road with Joe Williams.”
I followed Milt’s career all the way to the point where I used to call him every Sunday. I’d say, “Judge, I just want me blessing,” just to talk to him and so forth. One Sunday I called, and his wife said, “The Judge is at a club meeting.” I’m saying, “He’s almost 90 years old. What kind of club meeting? What could he be into now?” There was a club called the Friendly Fifties that are in New York and I’m a member now. I joined following his thing. It was what guys like Jonah Jones and a bunch of the older guys put together, this club, so that the wives could be more together when they were traveling. These were the early days. I became part of the Friendly Fifties, and I wrote an article for Allegro at the union about all of these famous guys that were part of this club that nobody had any idea it existed.
I love the rest of the stories — because Milt in person was the embodiment of Wise Joy — but it is the little anecdote of the bass case that catches me and will not subside into a Nice Anecdote about One of My Heroes. You will notice that Milt didn’t lecture the young man about how wrong he was; he didn’t sell him a case and ask for money to be paid back; he was serious but gently fixed what was wrong with loving alacrity.
We all praise Kindness as a virtue. We try to be Kind. But how many of us would have made it so vibrantly alive as Milt did? Kindness in Action.
Several years ago, I wrote a post I am still proud of: I called it What Would Louis Do?.
Meaning Louis no disrespect, I would like to propose the quiet religion of Hintonism. Nothing new except the name. Doing good without asking for recompense. Taking good care of a stranger.
When we lie down in bed at night, we could ask ourselves, “Did I do my Milt today?” If we did, fine. We could try to do several Milts the next day, and ever onwards. We might have less money, but we’d be surrounded by love and that love would surely be immortal. Just a thought.
May your happiness increase!
Over at Facebook, my friend Stroppy Bird keeps asking me (for reasons I have yet to fathom) whether I have any pictures of cats.
Well, I can do better than that. Here’s a short film:
Not just ‘cats’, but the Benny Goodman Orchestra and lindy-hopping as well!
The recording date was June 12, 1944. The trumpet section consisted of Billy Butterfield, Mickey McMickle and Charlie Shavers, with Cozy Cole on drums.
Singer Jimmy Scott died Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at age 88, according to his booking agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc. Scott’s death was a result of complications from Kallmann’s syndrome, a lifelong affliction that prevented his body from maturing through puberty.
Scott was labeled Little Jimmy Scott by bandleader Lionel Hampton in the late 1940s. Hampton also delivered the first of many professional slights in 1949 when he left Scott’s name off on an early hit, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”
Scott’s career seemed promising after he left Hampton’s orchestra. He recorded for various independent labels and toured with a revue run by dancer Estelle “Caledonia” Young that included R&B singer Big Maybelle and comedian Redd Foxx.
Throughout the early ’50s and ’60s, Scott recorded for various indie labels including Savoy, where he was under the tight control of owner Herman Lubinsky.
According to Scott’s 2002 autobiography, The Life of Jimmy Scott (written with David Ritz), Lubinsky halted production of a 1963 album that was personally supervised by Scott fan Ray Charles for his own Tangerine label. Lubinsky used legal proceedings to halt distribution, claiming Scott was under contract to Savoy. The album was eventually rescued and released in 2003 and has been widely hailed as one of the great jazz vocal albums.
The experience of having his album shelved — not to mention the hardships he experienced being misidentified as a woman, accused of drug addiction and harassed about his sexual identity because of his voice — took a toll and Scott left the music business, moving back to his native Cleveland and becoming a hotel clerk.
Despite his absence, Scott maintained friends and fans in the music business, including legendary R&B producer Doc Pomus, who requested that Scott sing at his 1991 funeral. A record executive in attendance heard the performance and signed him to a record contract on the spot, kick-starting Scott’s second act. This time adulation came rushing in, resulting in a string of albums that received both popular and critical acclaim. He even appeared in the final episode of the singular TV hit Twin Peaks.
For most of his nearly nine decades Scott’s life and art were affected by loss: first his mother’s death when he was 13, then the personal slights and missed opportunities in his fractured career and decades of anonymity away from the record business. In 2000, The New York Times called him “perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century.”
And yet in a late-career interview Scott was philosophical about the bad breaks he had caught along the way. “I’ve learned that music is such a healer,” he said. “As long as I could sing my songs, I wasn’t as angry about what had happened, about being shoved back for this or shoved back for the other. I’m a singer, and I never lost sight of that.”
Brian Peerless, Dave Green, Maria Judge and yours truly met up at the ‘Nellie Dean’ pub in Dean Street, London, last Tuesday. Maria is the niece of Jake Hanna (April 4, 1931 – February 12, 2010), and author of the book Jake Hanna: The Rhythm and Wit of A Swinging Jazz Drummer. Brian is a promoter who brought Jake (and Kenny Davern, Yank Lawson, Scott Hamilton and many other US jazz stars) to Britain, while Dave is, of course, Britain’s most accomplished and versatile jazz bassist.
We had a great evening of laughter and reminiscence ending with a meal and a couple of bottles of wine over the road at the Pizza Express, scene of many memorable gigs involving Jake and Dave.
Maria describes her uncle, who was a man of words as well as music, as a latter-day shanachie – an Irish storyteller, travelling from one community to another, exchanging his creativity for food and temporary shelter. Following the London visit, Maria went over to County Sligo to investigate the family’s Celtic roots
Brian told me that he once knocked Jake out by playing him this 1940 record with the amazing Davey Tough on drums:
Dave and I agreed that the most extraordinary (“frightening” was the word we settled upon) film of Jake we’d ever seen is this 1964 version of ‘Caldonia'(below) with Woody Herman:
You have just five days to catch the superb BBC 4 (that’s TV not Radio 4) documentary, Nat ‘King’ Cole : Afraid of the Dark, which deals mainly with the music, but doesn’t flinch from describing the racism either.
Nat was the first black artist to have a show on mainstream US television, but it only lasted for two years (1955-57) before folding due to lack of sponsorship. Nat (not his channel, ABC) finally pulled the plug, commenting “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
The contributions to this BBC documentary from from Nat’s widow Maria are extraordinary and often heartbreaking. Meanwhile, here’s a reminder that Nat wasn’t only a (very superior) crooner: had he never sung a note he’d still be remembered as one of the great jazz pianists:
I was up late last night (well, this morning, to be precise), drinking single malt and surfing the net. I came upon this Youtube clip, featuring the great Harlem stride pianist Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and a singer I’d been only very vaguely aware of, Thelma Carpenter. It’s from a 1964 TV salute to bandleader/promoter/man-about-jazz Eddie Condon, and is not typical of the hot music (sometimes called “Dixieland”, though Eddie hated the term) that predominates in the rest of the show: it’s the sophisticated Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen ballad ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, a song whose difficult chord sequence and structure momentarily wrong-foots even the usually impeccable trombonist Cutty Cutshall.
In truth, Thelma Carpenter isn’t a singer in the same league as, say, Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald (or, indeed, Eddie’s favourite, Lee Wiley), but she does a good enough job here, and seems to have been an engaging personality. The Lion’s opening banter with her reminds us that he was – believe it or not – Jewish, and on his business cards described himself as “The Hebrew Cantor.”
Al Hall is on bass and the great George Wettling is at the drums. Melting-pot music…
Thanks to ex-blogger Yvonne, aka “Stroppy Bird”, for a fabulous party on her 50th:
I had a great time and was hugely entertained by Rosie Kane’s stand-up act. I also met Comrade Coatesy, in person, for the first time (and it’s not true that we had a ‘punch-up': in fact, we got on very well).
Madame Stroppy’s partner, the ex-blogger Dave Osler, and I, performed (and I sang and played comb-and-paper on) a 12-bar blues:
Rosie, and others, asked me about the comb-and-paper, and I freely admitted that my inspiration on this ‘instrument’ comes from the 1920’s comb-and-paper master, Red McKenzie:
So I hope, Madame Stroppy, that the spirit of Red McKenzie contributed to a great evening in your honour!
My old friend Michael Steinman (at Jazz Lives) reminds us of a nearly-forgotten giant of the tenor sax, Leon ‘Chu’ Berry:
Above: ‘Sittin’ In’, 1937, with spoken intro from Chu and his friend, trumpeter Roy Eldridge. The chord sequence is, of course, that of ‘Tiger Rag.’
Chu arrived in New York in 1930, and acquired his nick-name (it’s said) because his goatee beard made him look like Chu Chin Chow. His tenor playing was clearly based upon that of Coleman Hawkins, but he had his own variation on the style. Digby Fairweather (in Jazz: The Rough Guide) gives a good description of the Berry variation:
“Berry’s sound was in some ways different from his rival’s [ie Hawk's -JD]: blowsier, fuller, with a more emotive vibrato and a strange crying sound in his frequently used upper register.”
It has been suggested that Chu isn’t remembered today because he didn’t work regularly with top-class bands (he turned down an offer to join Duke Ellington). I’m not so sure: after all, he worked for a couple of years with Fletcher Henderson’s great band, and made some fantastic records with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and Count Basie. When he joined Cab Calloway in 1937, he immediately set about transforming the band into a top-flight jazz outfit and was responsible for the recruitment of young Dizzy Gillespie. As a member of the Calloway band, Chu recorded a classic ballad version of ‘Ghost Of A Chance’ (1940):
Chu died, aged 33, on 30 October 1941, having suffered severe head injuries in a car smash on his way to a Calloway gig four days earlier. Calloway described it as “like losing a brother, someone I had joked with and hollered at. There was quiet around the band for weeks and we left his chair empty”
As well as being a human tragedy, Berry’s death was a musical one too. His (never to be heard) best work was undoubtedly ahead of him: with his advanced harmonic sensibility and prodigious technique, he would almost certainly have adapted to bop and, like Hawkins and Webster, have become a modern-mainstream elder statesman of the 1950s and ’60s.
Happily, he was extensively recorded in the course of his short career, and his playing still amazes, as in this 1939 recording of ‘Limehouse Blues’ with Wingy Manone’s band:
It’s a wonderful spring day, and I’m thinking of my friend the pianist Bryn Venus who died earlier this month. He loved this kind of music and could play it to a very high standard:
Bill Evans (piano), Scott La Faro (bass), Paul Motion (drums) Dec 1959