BBC Radio 3 starts a week of Wagner in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
It begins with:
Wagner In Zurich: 12.15, Saturday 18 May
Tom Service travels to Zurich, where Richard Wagner the revolutionary lived in exile for nine years, and finds a city which played a crucial role in the development of the composer’s thinking and provided fertile ground for his Ring Cycle, and which is marking the 200th anniversary with a festival including a new musical theatre piece by the director Hans Neuenfels. Tom visits the home of the Wesendonck family, where Wagner was inspired to write Tristan und Isolde and his Wesendonck Lieder, and also the idyllic Tribschen district of Lucerne, where Wagner later lived and composed his Siegfried Idyll as a birthday gift to his second wife, Cosima. It was from Germany’s 1848 revolutions that Wagner had fled to Switzerland, and from Leipzig, Wagner’s birthplace and a city which is central to this year’s anniversary celebrations, the BBC’s Berlin correspondent Stephen Evans reports on the composer’s controversial place in German culture today.
Saturday Classics: 3.00pm, Saturday 18 May
The great English operatic bass Robert Lloyd joins Radio 3′s celebration of the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth with selections from his favourite Wagner operas.
Mastersingers of Nuremberg
Duration: 58 minutes: 1.00pm, Sunday 19 May
Immortalised by Wagner in his famous opera, Lucie Skeaping looks back on the life and music of the real Hans Sachs and his fellow Mastersingers in 17th Century Germany.
Wagner and His World
At 12.00 pm throughout the week Donald Macleod explores the connections and relationships that helped establish Wagner as the most revolutionary musical thinker of the 19th century. Includes:
One Winter’s Afternoon
8.00 pm, Sunday 19 May
The story of the great operatic rivalry between Guiseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner in the year marking the bicentenary of their births. In real life, the two great composers never met.
There’s no denying the fact that Richard Wagner wrote some sublime music. But never forget this, either:
My pal Michael Steinman, over at his Jazz Lives blog, has discovered some film of Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich together on the Merv Griffin show in 1979:
This is significant because Benny and Buddy had only ever worked together once before (an obscure recording date in 1947 that Rich mentions during the interview), and because both, as bandleaders, were notorious martinets: the combination could have been disastrous.
In fact, the meeting seems to have been very amiable, with Buddy paying Benny the compliment of comparing him favourably with Artie Shaw (Benny’s great clarinet-bandleader rival in the thirties), while Benny sort-of apologises for not having hired Buddy in 1939 to replace Gene Krupa (he hired the brilliant but unreliable Dave Tough instead).
Both these men could be complete assholes. The recording of Buddy screaming abuse at his band has become a legend in profanity, and would put Sir Alex Ferguson and his ‘hair-drying’ to shame. As for Goodman, he has twelve pages devoted to stories of his misanthropic anti-social antics in Bill Crow’s Jazz Anecdotes: the only problem is choosing the best one. I finally decided upon this, from pianist Dave Frishberg, who in the early sixties worked in a quartet with Goodman’s star drummer from the thirties, Gene Krupa, at the ‘Metropole’, New York:
“Must have been 1962. Benny walked in and the place went crazy. We were on the bandstand, just having finished an hour-and-fifteen-minute set. I looked at Gene and his face was white. He said, ‘It’s the King of Swing, and he’s got his horn. I don’t believe this. Here he comes.’
“Benny walked up on the stand and began to try out reeds. he stared off into space and tootled and fluttered up and down the scale. This went on for long minutes. Meanwhile Jack Waldorf [owner of the Metropole] had herded dozens — hundreds! — of passersby into the club, and he had them chanting, ‘Benny! Benny!’ Some were hollering out years — like ’1939!’ The camera girl, standing down by the bar, snapped a picture and hurried downstairs to make prints, promising autographs of Goodman and Krupa.
“Benny was finally ready. He said, “Brushes, Gene.” Gene obediently picked up the brushes and flashed a big smile, but I could see he was in a cold fury. Then Benny turned to me and said, ‘Sweet Lorraine, in G. Give me a little introduction.” I complied, and Benny entered in F. He waved me out and continued without piano accompaniment.
“He stayed on the stand for about an hour. The camera girl was going into a second printing. Then, abruptly, he packed up his horn and descended, demanding safe escort through the crowd, and he was gone into the night. he hadn’t signed one picture.
Krupa was drenched with two shows’ worth of perspiration, but he sat patiently on the steps of the bandstand and signed dozens of photos. He was writing personal notes on each one, asking each customer, ‘Who shall I inscribe this to?’ Later in the dressing room he said to us, ‘I was glad to sign this picture. This will be in a lot of homes, believe me. Did you get a load of this?’
“We inspected the picture then. And there was Benny with his horn in his mouth, perched on a stool with his legs spread wide. His fly was open.
“‘Buttons!’ Gene said. ‘Buttons!’ That suit’s probably from about 1940.”
NB: The group on the Merv Griffin Show was completed by Jimmy Rowles, piano, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar and Jack Six, bass. I agree with Michael that Jimmy Rowles is particularly impressive. But, of course, they’re all fantastic.
From Just Jazz magazine:
Three tenors: Herschel Evans (left), Eddie Miller (centre), Lester Young (right) in 1941
Lester Young? Surely not!
By James Hogg
You wouldn’t think anyone could mistake Herschel Evans for Lester Young, but BBC Radio 4 managed it in a recent ‘Archive on Four’ programme on the history of the saxophone. I understand that amongst those who spluttered into their Horlicks on hearing the howler was Wally Fawkes, who should be protected from such shocks.
The irony was that the presenter, Soweto Kinch, had reached a point in the programme where he wasa discussing with Courtney Pine the particular qualities that made Lester unique. And up comes the somewhat different sound of Herschel doing his featured number Blue And Sentimental. Producer’s clanger, definitely! The guilt of the two speakers has to remain ‘unproven’ because we don’t know whether they heard their words juxtaposed with the wrong recording or not.
The BBC has form in misidentifying Lester Young – incredibly for one of the most distinctive voices in all of jazz. Dave Green recalls a similar instance: “the ‘Archive on 4′ fiasco reminds me of a story that Humph once told me about Steve Race. Apparently Race played Humph a pre-transmission tape of a programme he had just done on Lester Young using one particular tune as an example of Lester’s Style – it may even have been Blue and Sentimental. Humph pointed out about half way through that it was a very good analysis, but the only problem was that it wasn’t Lester playing, it was Herschel Evans. Race’s response was: ‘Oh, it’s too late to do anything about it now, it’ll have to go out as it is’ – and it did.”
I suggest that in expiation Radio 4 should broadcast a whole programme on Lester Young entitled ‘Lester Leaps In – At Last.’
JD adds: The great irony of this repeated misattribution of the tenor playing on Blue and Sentimental to Pres is that he and Herschel Evans were great rivals and competitors when they sat alongside each other in the sax section of the Basie band. Indeed, they were considered to represent polar opposites in tenor playing: Pres with his light, airy almost delicate sound, and Evans with a big, heavy, ‘muscular’ tone. Billie Holiday described the relationship between the two, thus: “Pres and Herschel Evans were forever thinking up ways of cutting the other one. You’d find them in the band room hacking away at reeds, trying out all kinds of new ones, anything to get ahead of the other one. Once Herschel asked Lester, ‘Why don’t you play alto man? You got an alto tone.’ Lester tapped his head, ‘There’s things going on up there, man,’ he told Herschel. ‘Some of you guys are all belly.’”
Compare and contrast Herschel’s playing on Blue and Sentimental (above, recorded 1938) with Pres playing Ghost of a Chance (below, recorded 1944):
1/ Richie Havens
• Richard Pierce Havens, folk singer and guitarist, born 21 January 1941; died 22 April 2013
Richie Havens, who has died of a heart attack aged 72, is best known for his opening performance at the historic 1969 Woodstock festival. He had been scheduled to go on fifth, but major traffic snarl-ups delayed many of the performers, so he was put on first and told to perform a lengthy set.
He entranced the audience for three hours, being called back time and again for encores. With his repertoire exhausted, he improvised a song based on the spiritual Motherless Child. This became Freedom, his best known song and an anthem for a generation (from the Graun‘s obituary)
2/ George Jones
• George Glenn Jones, country singer, born 12 September 1931; died 26 April 2013
George Jones, who has died aged 81, was country music’s most stylish and emotional singer. Less well-known outside the genre than his one-time wife Tammy Wynette, he had one of the finest voices of the 20th century. He was the king of honky-tonk, the raw electric country style, and was in a direct line from Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams (again from the Graun‘s obit, written in this case by Hank Wangford).
Nina Simone, of course:
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
And I’m feeling good
I’m feeling good
I feel so good
I feel so good
Tom Lehrer was 85 on Tuesday. I was going to write something at the time, but events overtook me.
Lehrer was one of the wittiest, most intelligent and musically talented of all the 1950s and ’60s entertainers, yet somehow he never came to terms with either showbiz (he disliked appearing in public) or the ‘New Left’ of the 1960′s (despite his own left-liberal views). He was a humourist first and a political satirist second, saying. “If the audience applauds they’re just showing they agree with me. They’re not being amused by it. I’m sure in 1968, I could have gotten up and said something like ‘Cops are pigs,’ and they’d applaud.. But that’s not humor. So I dropped out just in time.”
Lehrer is the originator of the famous quote to the effect that satire died when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1973), but he had already more or less given up songwriting and performing years before then, and returned to the world of mathematics (he had an MA from Harvard and taught at MIT, Harvard and Wellesley). And, in any case, he’s always been highly sceptical about mixing politics with entertainment, saying in a 2000 interview ”I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted…I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin kabaretts of the 1930s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.”
Anyway, it’s good that the great man is still with us, even if he rarely performs and is not nearly well enough remembered. Happily, though, he’s been quite extensively recorded and filmed over the years:
Werner von Braun:
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (warning: not political, just anti-pigeon – JD):
I Wanna Go Back To Dixie:
After a long search, I’ve just obtained a deleted CD by my favourite singer, the now nearly forgotten Lee Wiley. It originally appeared in the mid fifties as a 10″ album called Lee Wiley Sings Rogers and Hart and the CD includes an added bonus: the original sleeve notes by George Frazier (no, not the boxer, but one of the finest jazz writers ever). As one of our missions is to bring you great writing from perhaps unexpected sources, I thought I’d reproduce the notes here. The Youtube clip, by the way, is of Lee singing Rogers and Hart’s Glad To Be Unhappy, but from an earlier (1940) recording, with Max Kaminsky (trumpet), Joe Bushkin (piano) and Bud Freeman (tenor sax) in the band:
George Frazier wrote:
Lee Wiley is one of the best vocalists who ever lived, with a magical empathy for fine old show tunes and good jazz. Indeed, I know of no one who sings certain songs quite so meaningfully, so wistfully. She is, however, an artistic snob and, consequently, simply awful when (as is blessedly rare) somebody persuades her to experiment with mediocre material. When she doesn’t get a lyric’s message, you might as well call the game because of wet grounds. But given a number worthy of her endowments — well, she is miraculous, as, in fact, she is here.
This is a portfolio of songs by Rogers and Hart — not Rogers and that other fellow (who would be Oscar Hammerstein II, who, no disrespect intended, no Larry Hart, he). These are haunting songs — songs that have withstood the ravaging headlong rush of the years, the fickleness of public taste, and the debasement of the lyric to the nadir where we are subjected to, forgive the expression, Be My Life’s Companion. But whatta hell, whatta hell. The gratifying thing is that Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart (who, although dead and buried these many years, is more artistically alive than the no-talent author of Be My Life’s Companion) turned out some lovely, lovely stuff and that Lee Wiley has a superb affinity for it. To my mind, indeed, she is the definitive interpreter of Rogers and Hart.
I do not in the least mind admitting that it gets me livid when most girl singers make it big, for it is my dour conviction that, by and large, they have plenty of nothing. Lee Wiley, however, is an artist. About the vast art of Miss Wiley there is a sophistication that is both eloquent and enduring and utterly uncontrived. Technically, she may leave something to be desired, but artistically she’s simply magnificent, projecting emotion with dignity and warmth, expressing nuances with exquisite delicacy, and always making you share her bliss or heartbreak. She came to New York from Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma, and before long all the right people were bewitched by her incomparable magic. There is no room here to catalogue all the individuals — that is, the prominent ones — who are Wiley devotees, but right offhand I can think of Bing Crosby, Dorothy Kilgallen, Ted Straeter, Victor Young, Louis Armstrong, and Marlene Dietrich. It is my feeling that they, along with a great many other people, will be grateful for this anthology. To my way of thinking, no better Rogers and Hart collection is available. Since de gustibus and so forth, I should probably mention at this point that I rather wish Miss Wiley had substituted, say, The Lady Is A Tramp or the rarely-heard Imagine for Give It Back To The Indians, but this is carping and, in any event, you cannot really fault Indians. As for my enthusiasms, the rendition of Glad To Be Unhappy is marvellous — a great love song interpreted in all its dark splendour. It is all the love affairs ended, all the marriages put asunder, from the beginning of years. It is Fitzgerald’s rich boy walking into the Plaza that stifling Saturday afternoon and suddenly coming upon his girl of once upon a vanished time, married now and big with imminent child. It is an ineffably haunting song, robust yet gentle, and this is its finest reading. It explains, I think, why Miss Wiley is an unqualified enthusiasm with such not-easily-impressed critics as, for instance, Roger Whitaker of the New Yorker, George Avakian of Columbia Records, and Jack O’Brien of the New York Journal-American.
And here, along with Glad To Be Unhappy, are such other small (and maybe not so small) miracles as My Heart Stood Still, Funny Valentine, It Never Entered My Mind and Mountain Greenery, all of them redolent of the suspenseful moments when the house lights lowered and the curtain went up on another show by Rogers and Hart. These are literate tunes, civilised tunes. Where, if you will, is there a more nearly perfect lyric than in It Never Entered My Mind? To me, it seems the greatest lyric ever written, but until I heard Miss Wiley do it, I never realized that it is the greatest by a prodigious margin.
Right about this point, I suppose, there should be the department of how-about-a-great-big-hand-for-the-boys-in-the-band. As it happens, this is a fine little ensemble, providing an accompaniment that is cohesive, rhythmic and gratifyingly unobtrusive. Its members are all, as Professor Kitteridge used to say of Sam Johnson, good men and four-squares. I would, however, like to put in an extra word or two about the stylish young trumpet player. His name is Ruby Braff and, to my ears, he sounds rather in apostolic succession to the late Bunny Berigan, who, coincidentally enough, accompanied Miss Wiley when she recorded a Gershwin anthology a decade or so ago.
Indeed, if I have any objection to this portfolio, it is that it will doubtless assail me with bittersweet memories — with the stabbing remembrance of the tall, breathtakingly lovely Wellesley girl with whom I was so desperately in love in the long-departed November when the band at the Copley Plaza in Boston used to play My Heart Stood Still as couples tea-danced after football games on crisp Saturday afternoons, with reawakened desire for the succession of exquisite girls with whom I spent many a crepuscular hour listening to cocktail pianists give muted voice to Funny Valentine, of the first time I saw Connecticut Yankee, of — Yes, of the first years of my marriage and listening to Lee Wiley late at night. My wife, who knew more about show tunes than any woman has a right to know, had a special affection for You Took Advantage Of Me and she always sang it when her spirits were high. Afterwards, when she had long ceased to sing it, when a judge had severed that which no man is supposed to put asunder, I lived for more than a year with a girl who I had hoped would make me forget. She was not witty or talented or, for that matter, particularly pretty. But she was very, very sweet and she tried very, very hard, even pretending to appreciate the Wiley records that I used to play over and over again as I clutched at the past and, for a little while indeed, it would actually seem to be kind of wonderful, with the mournful, wailing tugs in the river below and in the distance the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge stretched like a giant necklace as we sat there listening to the songs of heartbreak. There were even moments when I rather fancied myself falling in love again. But always such moments fled, because when Miss Wiley sings, there is nothing affected. So I would sit there and hurt more and more with the remembrance of other, never to be recaptured nights in the same room. Lee Wiley can do that to you — damn her! But damn her gently, because she is, after all, the best we have — the very best.
NB: ”She drank like a fish, cussed like a sailor, could treat musicians abusively, and had no qualms about stealing married men – including the star trumpeter and bandleader Bunny Berigan, with whom she recorded. ‘They had a pretty torrid affair,’ says Dan Morgenstern, the celebrated jazz historian. ’Bunny’s wife hated her.’ But Wiley got away with a lot, for she was a dish, with smoldering sex appeal and dark hair that tumbled past her shoulders.”: from a rather more critical take on Ms Wiley, here.
An unsung hero of British music has died:
Derek Watkins, the British trumpet player who played on every James Bond film soundtrack from Dr No to Skyfall, has died aged 68.
He died at home in Esher, Surrey, on Friday after a lengthy illness – Philip Biggs, editor of the Brass Herald said.
Watkins was “widely considered to be the foremost British Big Band trumpet player” of all time, said Mr Biggs.
The trumpeter, who turned professional aged 17, is survived by his wife Wendy and their three children.
He was born into a brass band family and was taught to play the cornet at the age of four by his father.
Watkins then played in the band his father conducted – the Spring Gardens Brass Band in Reading – of which his grandfather was also conductor and a founder member.
He honed his skills as a both a “reader” and an “improviser” with his father’s dance band before turning professional.
Watkins was described as “Mr Lead” by Dizzy Gillespie; as well as the Bond films he played with the Beatles, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during his lengthy career.
He also played with the BBC Big Band and worked for band leaders Johnny Dankworth, Maynard Ferguson and Benny Goodman, all of whom who recognised his underrated jazz ability.
Mr Biggs described his friend as “a people’s person – no side, no ego, a fun loving musician who couldn’t get enough of life, who loved his family”.
[Adapted from the BBC Entertainment & Arts website]
Recommended listening: ‘Warren Vaché meets Derek Watkins with the Brian Lemon Quartet, Stardust’, Zephyr CD ZECD9 (1996) – ignore the unenthusiastic review, here.
Details here of Derek’s Sarcoma charity – buy the t-shirt!
On St Patrick’s Day, we bring you perhaps the most bizarre lyric ever sung by Louis Armstrong: “I was born in Ireland (Ha, Ha)”…
Louis Armstrong And His Hot Five, November 1926: Irish Black Bottom
Louis’s tireless biographer Ricky Riccardi writes:
Admittedly, this is not songwriting as its finest but as a novelty, it’s good fun. The “black bottom” was a popular dance of the 1920s so this tune humorously pretends that it’s also taken Ireland by storm. If Louis had to record something so silly in the 1950s, critics would scream at the producers for forcing it on him. But “Irish Black Bottom” was written by the aforementioned Percy Venable so more than likely, it was a staple of Louis’s act at the Sunset. And can’t you imagine Louis bringing down the house with that vocal? That “ha, ha” he gives after singing “And I was born in Ireland,” breaks me up every time. I can only imagine what it did to the audiences who heard him do it live.
The song begins with the funny sound of Louis and his Hot Five swinging through a sample of the Irish classic “Where the River Shannon Flows” before Louis swings out with the main melody, which is predominantly in a minor mode until the end. Louis’s lead sounds great and Dodds is bouncing around as usual but trombonist Hy Clark, a substitute for Kid Ory, sounds hesitant and doesn’t add much. After a chorus and an interlude by pianist Lil Armstrong, Louis takes the vocal. If you can’t make it out, here’s what he says:
All you heard for years in Ireland,
was the “Wearin’ Of The Green”,
but the biggest change that’s come in Ireland
I have ever seen.
All the laddies and the cooies
laid aside their Irish reels,
and I was born in Ireland
(Ha, Ha), so imagine how I feels.
Now Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy,
see them dance,
you ought to see them dance.
Folks supposed to be related, even dance,
I mean they dance.
They play that strain,
works right on their brain.
Now it goes Black Bottom,
a new rhythm’s drivin’ the folks insane.
I hand you no Blarney, when I say
that song really goes,
and they put it over with a wow,
I mean now.
All over Ireland
you can see the people dancin’ it,
’cause Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy now
I don’t know how you can’t get swept up in that offering. Armstrong doesn’t so much sing it as shout it, or talk it, but his spirit sure gets the message across (though sometimes, he’s so far from the written melody, it sounds like he’s singing a different song on top of Lil’s chording on the piano). After the vocal, Clark and Dodds take forgettable short solos and breaks before Louis carries the troops home with brio. Louis’s lip trill towards the end is particularly violent and right before his closing breaks, he dips into his bag for a favorite phrases, one that ended both “You’re Next” and “Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa.” The concluding break is so perfect in its phrasing and choice of notes that I believe it might have already been set in stone by Pops during his live performances of the tune at the Sunset. Either way, that’s no reason to criticize him; it’s a perfect ending and puts an emphatic stamp on a very entertaining record.
That’s all for now. Have a happy St. Patrick’s day and don’t forget to mix in a little Louis with your Guiness. I hand you no blarney, it’s a great combination…
Above: the band in 1969 on the Morecambe and Wise Show. Personnel included Andy Cooper on clarinet, John Bennett on trombone, Paddy Lightfoot on banjo and Ron Bowden on Drums.
By Clare Teal (reblogged from here)
RIP KENNY BALL 22/05/30 – 07/03/13
Last May I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the company of a British jazz trumpeter and band leader of over 54 years. I was a little nervous to be interviewing jazz royalty, but the don of dixieland immediately put me at ease, it was a sunny day but like most studios ours was windowless and quite dark, 82 year old Kenny Ball turned up suited and booted wearing big dark sunglasses, “Sorry for the shades, I’ve got terrible hay fever.” Someone asked if he’d like a glass of water, “No thanks but a coffee and a large brandy wouldn’t go amiss.” It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Never one to let a soul drink alone, the producer found me a bottle of cider and we started the interview with a toast.
Kenny Ball was born in Ilford in 1930. He joined the sea cadets as a boy and was given a 5 note bugle. In 1943 clutching the £10 his father had given him, he travelled across London to buy the trumpet he’d seen advertised in Melody Maker, according to Kenny at that time spare metal was collected as part of the war effort, so brass instruments were hard to come by. On arrival the chap selling said trumpet, told the youngster, “You’d better come in – there’s been an accident. I was having one last blow last night and the missis got so fed up with the noise, she hit me over the head with it.” Kenny left some time later with a bent trumpet and £2 change. He straightened it out against a tree and got to work.
He started his career as a sideman in the bands of Charlie Galbraith, Sid Phillips, Eric Delaney and Terry Lightfoot before forming his own band in 1958. Fourteen hit singles followed including ‘Samantha’ and the million selling ‘Midnight In Moscow,’ the gold disc was presented to him by none other than Louis Armstrong who called him a genius.
Kenny and the boys featured in every BBC Morecambe and Wise TV series and were the resident band on ‘Saturday Night At The Mill,’ sadly, though wonderfully entertaining, many of Kenny’s stories from this period are unprintable…
The band hasn’t stopped working since 1958, they’ve toured the world many times over delighting and inspiring musicians and music lovers everywhere.
Sadly Kenny passed away this morning aged 82. He was a much loved figurehead of the British Jazz industry and will be sorely missed. Let us remember his fantastic contribution to live music. Thanks for the great times Kenny and of course the wonderful music x