Norman Field on the correct key for Armstrong’s Cornet Chop Suey

December 13, 2014 at 5:30 pm (good people, history, intellectuals, jazz, New Orleans, posted by JD)

I met up with my old friend Norman Field yesterday, and – as is invariably the case with this extraordinary autodidact – had a wonderful time. The conversation ranged from nineteenth century European history, to contemporary jazz-scene gossip and Birmingham local history. Along the way we touched upon Thatcher and the Falklands war, the arranging skills of Fud Livingston and the reason(s) why Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra left Victor records and joined Columbia 1928.

Norman is (was?) a fantastic clarinet and sax player but has now – for reasons best known to himself and which I would not presume to cross-examine him over – more or less given up playing in public. Suffice to say that people who know about hot jazz (Keith Nichols, Scott Robinson, Richard Pite, to name but three) regard him as a master and oracle. Scott Robinson, having heard Norman play at the Whitley Bay classic jazz festival a few years ago, described him as a “f****n’ genius.”

I should add that Norman made me a clear plastic 78 rpm record (of Jimmy McPartland with the Original Wolverines) in the course of our meeting!

Norman’s commitment to serious jazz research is demonstrated by this article, from his website. It’s reproduced here with his permission:

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Louis Armstrong’s ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ (1926): What key is it in?

Above: Armstrong’s Hot Five

By Norman Field

This article could not have been written without the generous help of Michael Kieffer, to whom many thanks. Other acknowledgements will be found at the foot of the text.

Over the years, I had occasionally heard that some doubt existed as to the correct key for Louis Armstrong’s tune of this name. The doubt specifically concerned the original version of it, which he had recorded with the Hot Five for OKeh early in 1926. This problem had apparently been around for some years. It had been discussed in the correspondence columns of Jazz magazines; possibly articles had been written about it, and it had certainly been talked about quite a bit. I understood that well known trumpet players had gone into the problem, and that, surprisingly, there was still no general agreement.

A few years ago, I became interested in selecting the correct pitch for early Jazz and dance band records, and found that by applying a few simple tests, it was – usually – possible to be fairly sure of the correct speed at which to play a 78 rpm record, so that it would come out at the correct pitch.

However, these tests were only valid for Jazz and dance records made in the U.S.A. and Britain in the 1920s through to about the mid-1930s; and even then, only when the band included a piano. It primarily rested with the piano, of course, and the assumption that this would be tuned to a standard pitch. I asked the late John R.T. Davies, the doyen of 78 rpm record restorers, whether this assumption was acceptable. He agreed strongly, pointing out that the major record companies (Victor, HMV, Columbia, Brunswick, Vocalion, Odeon, OKeh &c.) were large concerns, recording the most prominent international artistes, and the use of first-class pianos was to be expected, and therefore, for pitching purposes, that assumption was valid, tenable; indeed, unavoidable.

Of course, there are instances of ‘below-par’ pianos to be found on some Jazz and dance records of this period. However, these are probably pianos that are simply rather out of tune (with themselves), and sound ‘ploingy’ as a result. This is quite a different thing from the piano being tuned to the wrong pitch altogether. (See appendix 1.) 

So in general our assumption that the pianos are tuned to standard pitch is valid as a starting point. In any case, if for example, a piano had been allowed to become very flat in pitch, it would be difficult for wind instruments – the clarinet in particular – to ‘get down’ to the pitch of the piano without becoming out of tune with itself. And if a piano had somehow been tuned very sharp, a clarinet would simply not be able to get up to that pitch at all. Overall, the statement: ‘Pianos in recording locations, whether permanent or temporary, were, in general, tuned to standard pitch’ is a reasonable one, and likely to be true far more often than not.

And what actually is this standard pitch? As far as the U.S.A. goes, the note A (the one above middle C on the piano) should be 440 Hz, usually written as A=440. And the standard pitch used in Britain for orchestral and dance music at that time (circa 1900 – 1945) was A=439, a fairly trivial difference, so that the same tests can be used pretty safely for both countries. (See appendix 2.) 

As for other countries, and other styles of music, and indeed those artists and ensembles in the U.S.A. and Britain not using a piano, the application of ‘The General Rule Of The Piano’ must – in the first instance – be assumed to be inapplicable and, consequently, conclusions from it non-viable. I am not qualified to comment further on these musics; but certainly commend those who may be interested in them to pursue their own researches on these fascinating topics. Perhaps they will be able to derive some simple tests to help ensure correct pitching of old 78 recordings of e.g. a Javanese gamelin orchestra, or a Cantonese instrumental ensemble? After all, the correct pitching of any and every ‘78 rpm’ record is an essential part of properly preserving, for posterity, the information contained on it.

About three years ago, I heard of the existence of a CD set of early Louis Armstrong classics that included the 1926 Hot Five ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ twice. Once in the key of E flat; and also in the key of F. This was because, in the opinion of the compilers of the set, there was still no general consensus on which key it was in. To include it, therefore, in both keys was certainly very commendable. But I was puzzled that a record could be attributed to two keys so much as a tone apart. Not merely a semitone, but a whole tone: really a very large interval! In theory at least, it should have been fairly easy to decide which was the true one. The trumpet players who disagreed on the key of the piece may have (I don’t know…) played the tune over on their trumpets (or cornets) in both keys. And then used, as a basis for their conclusion, the fingering of their horns indicating one key rather than the other because one key ‘fell more naturally under the fingers’ than the other. At least, I assume that this is what they did. If my assumption is correct, then I have to say that that approach might at times be deceptive. As a clarinet player, time and time again, I have tried to find out exactly what Johnny Dodds or Don Murray played on their clarinets back in the 1920s, and the more I learn, the more I distrust what seems logical on the surface. Also, as the decades pass, it becomes ever more difficult to even attempt to analyse the ‘mindset’ of a 1920s virtuoso player. Certainly, Dodds and Murray were both virtusosi of the clarinet. They could play anything they mentally conceived… and usually did so. Perhaps intuitively, they ‘eliminated the instrument from the equation’: the music that appeared in their consciousness was the music that straightway sounded in the club or the ballroom in which they were playing. There was no intervention of any ‘problem of execution’ on their instrument. If – as I suspect – they (along with most other top musicians) did this, they were rather in advance of their time. They did not need to read treatises on the psychology of musicianship, the bulk of which have proliferated in the last 50 years. They just did it anyway.

If Dodds & Murray could do that, how much more could Louis Armstrong do it? Louis, from his first startling appearances on disc in 1923, was manifestly a very special case. On this basis, Louis’s cornet fingering patterns, I thought, might be rather unsusceptible to logical analysis. I’d found exactly the same in trying to play Dodds’s clarinet solo on ‘Potato Head Blues’ by the Hot Seven on a clarinet in C, in case he was playing one of those, instead of the normal B flat clarinet. Both fingerings, I found, were pretty equally plausible.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Jim Godbolt interviews Ruby Braff

December 5, 2014 at 8:59 pm (funny, jazz, Jim D, music)

This interview first appeared in the ‘Jazz At Ronnie Scott’s’ magazine of November-December 1996. It doesn’t seem to be available anywhere on the web, so I’ve republished it here. I think it’s a classic, especially as the interviewer, the late Jim Godbolt, was known as something of a curmudgeon, but met his match in the legendarily irascible Mr Braff; we start with Godbolt’s introduction:

That very perceptive and admirably descriptive critic Whitney Balliett, commenting on jazz trumpeters/cornettists, pointed to the diminutive stature of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Bix Bederbecke, Charlie Shavers, Ray Nance, Bobby Hackett and Miles Davis.’The larger the lyric soul, it woud seem,the smaller its house’, wrote Balliet. This was his introduction to a monograph on Ruby Braff; five feet four inches and notorious for an equally short fuse.

I knew the stories about Reuben: his favourite tune is Just Me, Just Me, and that his favourite book is ‘Mr Hyde and Mr Hyde’.Indeed, one of is albums s entitled Me, Myself and I, described in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CDs, LPs and cassettes as ‘Mainstream Jazz at its very best’, a tome Ruby obviously has not read, for him to be advised in what category he is generally placed in jazz literature.

Another tale concerning the forthright Mr. Braff was when he was appearing in a package led by festival organiser George Wein at Ronnie Scott’s Club. Wein was the pianist, Ruby the cornettist and when Wein commenced a solo Braff, heard all over the room on the microphone, said to Wein, ‘Keep it simple, George, don’t try and express yourself.’ Yet another story was record producer Dave Bennett enquiring of Ruby, ‘Didn’t you once share a flat with Kenny Davern? ‘ And Braff’s curt response was, ‘No, he lived below me, where he belonged.’

My interview with him (and our very first meeting) at the Dean Street, Soho, flat where he was staying, didn’t get off to a flying start. We shook hands, he howled in pain. He then introduced me to guitarist Howard Alden, grunting, ‘If you’re going to shake hands with him, please don’t break his fingers, he needs them to play with me tonight.’ And things got worse. Ruby doesn’t look at you; he grimaces and glowers. He doesn’t talk. He rasps, growls, grunts and grates. Emphatically so when he took exception to my opening comments, the thrust of which was that he was born in 1927, very much younger than those who seemingly, inspired him — Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Bobby Hackett and others of that ilk. Unwisely, I referred to him belonging to an older tradition.

RB: What the fuck do you mean by an older tradition! I don’t want to know about any older tradition! I’ve never played like anybody and nobody plays like me.

JG: Ruby, I am stating what people like Whitney Balliett and Max Jones and many others, have said about you.

RB: I don’t give a shit what’s been said about me. Most of it’s inaccurate anyway. I don’t care about most people. I have nothing to do with most people. The best thing to do in an interview is to take it from the source.

JG: May I ask you then, why, as a contemporary of, say, Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown, you don’t elect to play in the so-called bebop idiom?

RB: That’s a fucking dumb question! Do they play like me? I don’t play any style but my own. Do you go up to Johnny Hodges and ask him why he doesn’t play like this or that guy? Would you go up to Teddy Wilson and ask him why he doesn’t play like Lil Hardin or Bud Powell? Do you really wanna go on with this?
I had heard of interviews with Ruby that terminated suddenly, and this came very near to being one of them. I thought I would have to pack up my Walkman and walk. Desperately, I looked at my notes and my eye fell on the name of John Hammond.

JOHN HAMMOND
JG: Can I ask you about John Hammond? Read the rest of this entry »

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Coleridge Goode – 100 not out!

November 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D)

Above Coleridge, about 15 years ago, playing along to one of his records with Django Reinhardt

“During the mid-thirties jazz in Britain was enriched by the presence of West Indian musicians like trumpeters Dave Wilkins and Leslie Hutchinson; saxophonists Bertie King, George Roberts, George Tyndale, Louis Stephenson and Freddie Grant; pianist Erroll Barrow; bassist Coleridge Goode; drummer Clinton Maxwell and guitarist Lauderick Caton. They were often joined, in various combinations, by the Cardiff-born blacks, Joe and Frank Deniz, on guitar” – Jim Godbolt, Jazz in Britain 1950-70 (Quartet Books, 1989).

The late Jim Godbolt’s tribute to black musicians on the early British jazz scene was as welcome as it was unusual in 1989. Sadly, all the players he mentions are now long gone – with one exception: bassist Coleridge Goode who is still with us and celebrates his 100th birthday tomorrow, Saturday 29th November. Coleridge has had an amazing career: he worked with Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt when they were in London in the 1940’s, in Ray Ellington’s Quartet (regulars on the Goon Show), and in the late ’50s began working with fellow West Indian Joe Harriott in a pioneering group playing free-form jazz and then, in the ’60s, Indo-jazz fusions.

He continued playing until only a few years ago, and was a regular at veteran bebop drummer Laurie Morgan’s jam sessions at the Kings Head in Crouch End, London (which I believe, are still going on) in the 1990s. At 100 years old, he remains an avuncular and inspiring presence on the British jazz scene.

Happy birthday, Coleridge!

2005: from left: Coleridge Goode, Tommy McQuater, Jim Godbolt and Frank Deniz

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The death-bed legacy of guitar legend Snoozer Quinn

November 22, 2014 at 5:37 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, strange situations, The blues)

Above: the only known film of Snoozer, with his ‘Snoozer’s Telephone Blues’ dubbed

I’ve been vaguely aware for some years, of a legendary jazz guitarist called Snoozer Quinn. I knew from something I’d read, that he was highly regarded by fellow musicians in the 1920’s and 30’s, but didn’t record much until he was – literally – on his death bed in a TB sanitorium in the late 1940’s, when someone brought in a portable recording machine and asked him to play into it.

Some of these recordings have been available on the internet for a while, but not the complete set and not on CD. Now, Mike Dine’s 504 Records has put out all 12 of these death-bed recordings known to exist, on a CD called ‘The Magic Of Snoozer Quinn’.

Here are the very detailed and knowledgeable CD booklet-notes by Charlie Crump:

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Snoozer Quinn was a classic example of a musician’s musician.

Born Elvin McIntosh Quinn in McComb, Mississippi on October 18th 1906, he was a child prodigy, learning to play mandolin and violin by the age of seven, before taking up the guitar which was to become his instrument of choice.

After the family moved to Bogalusa, La, he became a professional musician, playing with the family band before going on the road at the age of seventeen with bands led by Jack Wilrich and later Mart Britt. He first met Johnny Wiggs in 1924 when he joined Peck Kelly’s Texas based band, then playing in Shreveport, La. Returnin to Bogalusa, Snoozer was picked up by Wingy Mannone who was putting together a New Orleans style band for a gig at Bob White and Eddie Connors Somerset Club in San Antonio, Texas. Joe Mannone’s New Orleans Rhythm Band consisted of Wingy Mannone (tpt), Don Ellis (sax), Charles ‘Pee Wee’ Russell (clt), Joe Lamar (pno), Snoozer Quinn (gtr), Joe ‘Hooknose’ Loycano (bs), Clause Humphries (ds), the job lasted three months.

From late 1925 to 1928 he played in the New Orleans area where he was heard at an after hours jam session by members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, including Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer, then playing at the St. Charles Theatre in October 1928. Trumbauer was so impressed with Snoozer’s playing that he took him to Paul Whiteman’s room so that he could hear him play. Johnny Wiggs recalled  that one of Snoozer’s tricks was to play pizzicato and hold the chord with one hand and shoot out the other to shake your hand. He did this to Whiteman while playing ‘Tiger Rag’. Whiteman was so knocked out by this that he immediately offered Snoozer a job, and he played with the Whiteman organisation until around mid-April 1929.

As far as recordings were concerned this move did not do much to enhance Snoozer’s career, as he only appeared on two, or possibly three, over the Whiteman period. At the end of his stay with Whiteman he appeared on Bing Crosby’s first session to be issued under his own name and on a session, rejected at the time, by (singer) Bee Palmer which included Frank Trumbauer and an inaudible Bix Beiderbecke and has only recently seen the light of day as a CD issue (and on youtube). Discographies also list him as appearing on the Columbia issue of the Mason-Dixie Orchestra, a Frank Trumbauer group, shortly after leaving Whiteman. His only other recordings were a rejected session for Victor in San Antonio in May 1928 and ten titles with another guitarist as accompanist to Jimmie Davis on ten country styled tracks in May 1931.

After the Jimmie Davis period he played with Earl Crumb’s Band in New Orleans over a long period in the early 1930’s  and continued to work in the South until the end of his playing career was brought about by failing health at the end of that decade.

However, he started playing regularly again by the mid-1940’s, including a long spell with Earl Crumb’s Band at the Beverly Gardens Restaurant on Jefferson Highway in New Orleans. One of Snoozer’s last appearances was at the New Orleans Jazz Foundation Concert in April 1948.

Advanced tuberculosis caused him to be confined to a sanatorium for the last few years of his life. Effectively that would have meant the end of Snoozer’s music had it not been for Johnny Wiggs, who had maintained contact with him over the years and considered his music of sufficient importance to justify a further attempt to preserve Snoozer’s guitar work. Although he had spent over 20 years as a teacher of mechanical drawing and had only recently started playing again, Wiggs took his cornet, a portable recording machine and blanks  to the sanatorium where Snoozer was a patient. The twelve tracks presented here, some of which have Wiggs added on cornet, are those recorded at the time. Four of the titles were issued privately by Johnny Wiggs on two 78rpm records on his Wiggs Inc. label and are included in this set which represents all those that were recorded at that time.

Given the circumstances of the recording the results are remarkably good, with only one track showing any sign of groove damage.

The exact dates of the recordings are unknown but they fall between the dates of Snoozer’s entry to the Sanatorium in 1948 and his death in 1949.

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* H/t: Jason Hill (for bringing my attention to the youtube  film)

* ‘The Magic Of Snoozer Quinn’ is available from 504 Records, 20 Clifton Road, Welling, Kent, DA16 1QA, England. Tel: 020 8303 9719

* Lots more on Snoozer, here

* Finally, I hope it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I have no commercial interest in this CD.

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Anita O’Day: That Old Feeling

November 17, 2014 at 1:30 am (jazz, Jim D, love, song)

I saw you last night…

I saw you last night and got that old feeling
When you came in sight, I got that old feeling
The moment that you danced by I felt a thrill
And when you caught my eye my heart stood still

Once again I seemed to feel that old yearning
Then I knew the spark of love was still burning
There’ll be no new romance for me, it’s foolish to start
‘Cause that old feeling is still in my heart

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Fireworks from Louis and Earl

November 5, 2014 at 9:15 pm (jazz, Jim D, music)

Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines created this masterpiece (based upon the chords of ‘Tiger Rag’) on December 28, 1928: but it seems appropriate to run the number on 5 November:

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Acker Bilk RIP

November 3, 2014 at 12:58 am (good people, jazz, Jim D, music)

Bernard ‘Acker’ Bilk b. 28 Jan 1929, d. 2 Nov 2014

Above: Acker’s band in Prague, 1964 with  Colin Smith on trumpet, Johnny Mortimer, trombone, Ron McKay (joined by pianist Stan Greig), drums, Tony Pitt, banjo, Tucker Finlayson, bass.

News has just come in of the death Acker Bilk, aged 85. He’d been ill for some time and had to stop playing about a year ago. His tremendous popularity tended to obscure the fact that he always led really good bands, and his own clarinet playing was much better than he was usually given credit for. At first a follower of New Orleans clarinettists like George Lewis and then Ed Hall, in later years his playing took on a quirky, Pee Wee Russell-ish quality that displeased some fans, but I found very attractive.

When I last saw him (about 18 months ago) he was still telling his jokes and stories and described is big hit, Stranger On The Shore as “my pension.”

I once asked the trombonist Ian Bateman, who worked in the final edition of the band, whether Acker was such an easy-going, affable bloke to work for as his public persona would seem to suggest (not always the case with apparently jovial bandleaders): the answer was an immediate and unequivocal “yes.”

Farewell Acker. And thanks for the laughter, the good times and (most of all, of course) the music.

Telegraph obit here

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Eydie Gormé: ‘Tis Autumn

October 24, 2014 at 2:05 pm (jazz, Jim D, song)

A lovely, and seasonally appropriate ballad, performed by a singer I know nothing about (other than what I’ve gleaned from her Wikipedia entry), Eydie Gormé:

The song was written by Henry Nemo, an interesting character

Other nice versions:

Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Stacey Kent

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Cliff Edwards: ‘Remember’

October 5, 2014 at 8:26 pm (cinema, jazz, Jim D, poetry, song)

I learned from Radio 4’s Poetry Please that last Thursday, October 2nd, was National Poetry Day, on the theme of “Remember.”

Ever since I first heard it sung (on a 1938 record by Connee Boswell), I’ve thought that Irving Berlin’s 1925 song ‘(You Forgot To) Remember’ was sheer poetry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Connee’s version on Youtube, but I did stumble across a remarkably moving version by Cliff ‘Ukulele Ike’ Edwards, an extraordinary entertainer from the 1920’s and ’30’s, who is now only (if at all) remembered as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio:

Remember the night, the night you said, “I love you”
Remember

Remember you vowed by all the stars above you
Remember

Remember we found a lonely spot
And after I learned to care a lot

You promised that you’d forget me not
But you forgot to remember

[verse:]
Into my dreams you wandered it seems, and then there came a day
You loved me too, my dreams had come true, and all the world was May
But soon the Maytime turned to December
You had forgotten, do you remember?

PS: here’s Connee Boswell singing another lovely old tear-jerker, ‘In The Middle Of A Kiss’.

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Hoagy revisited by the Chris Ingham Quartet

September 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm (film, jazz, Jim D, music, song, United States)

Here’s a slightly amended and  extended version of a review I’ve written for Just Jazz magazine. I have no commercial interest on this CD:

Hoagy, by the Chris Ingham Quartet

Downhome Records DOH0001

Riverboat Shuffle; Washboard Blues; Old Music Master; Memphis In June; My Resistance Is Low; Lazy Bones; Hong Kong Blues; Dear Bix; How Little We Know; Old Man Harlem; Baltimore Oriole; Old Buttermilk Sky; Skylark; Huggin’ And Chalkin’; Georgia On My Mind; Stardust

Chris Ingham (piano, vocals), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Rev. Andrew Brown (bass), Russell Morgan (drums)

Recorded at Toucan Tango Studios, UK, 13 December, 2013

Hoagland Howard ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael always considered himself to be, first and foremost, a “jazz guy” (his son’s description) and over the years his tunes have brought forth monumental performances from jazz musicians as disparate as Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, both of whom recorded unforgettable versions of Hoagy’s masterpiece Stardust (Louis with his big band in 1931 and ‘Trane on his Standards album of 1958).

But it was Bix Beiderbecke, of course, who was Hoagy’s first and most enduring musical inspiration, and for whom he wrote his first composition, Riverboat Shuffle. So it’s only right and proper that this delightful album opens with that seminal number, and that trumpeter Paul Higgs paraphrases Bix’s 1927 solo, before launching into his own cool-school interpretation. It is also appropriate that one of the two non-Hoagy compositions on the album should be Dave Frishberg’s heartbreaking Dear Bix.

Leader Chris Ingham, as well as being a fine pianist (considerably better than Hoagy himself, if truth is told), also handles the vocals and stays pretty close to Carmichael’s 1940s Decca recordings. As Mr Ingham writes in his brief but erudite sleeve-notes, “We’ve resisted the temptation to reinvent the wheel here. Get too clever with stuff that’s already clever, you could end up with something stupid.”

Much of Hoagy’s material is, indeed, “clever” – and “whimsical” and “wry” and all those other words that might lead you to write him off as a lightweight. But listen to Stardust (or should it be Star Dust?) and Skylark and you will hear (as the late Richard Sudhalter noted) the melodic shapes, harmonies and sheer beauty of a Bix cornet solo. And when it comes to Washboard Blues, listen to the lyric: Hoagy didn’t write it (he only wrote the tune in this case), but he must have approved of it, and he sang it on several recordings. The lyric (clearly intended to be the thoughts of an impoverished black woman) concludes as follows:

I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry.
I’s going down to that river, going down to that river some day.
And throw myself, self away.
I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry…

If you’re already familiar with ‘Hoagland’ – small-town Americana, home-spun wisdom and a bittersweet yearning for something better that you somehow know will never come – then this CD will meet all your expectations. If Carmichael’s world is as yet unfamiliar to you, then this is as good a place to start as any.

By a melancholy coincidence, just as this album arrived, the news came through that sultry Lauren Bacall had died. A visit to Youtube’s clips from the 1944 film To Have And Have Not found Bacall singing How Little We Know (yes, it really was her voice, not Andy Williams’), accompanied by Hoagy at the piano. And watching that old classic confirmed the perceptive truth of Mr Ingham’s sleeve-note observation: “Hoagy was always the hippest guy in the room. Coolly apart from the central action, but all-seeing, all-understanding and always on hand to offer pithy philosophies to the hapless protagonists. And when he played his mysterious, dreamy, amusing songs, people stopped for a moment and listened, felt something and changed a little.”

That about sums up Hoagy and his world: to experience just some of it for yourself, buy this CD and be transported to Hoagland.

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