Kathy Stobart – jazzwoman

July 12, 2014 at 11:58 am (Feminism, good people, jazz, Jim D, music, women)

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

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The ethereal Jimmy Scott

June 14, 2014 at 9:01 am (good people, jazz, love, music, posted by JD, RIP, song)

By Felix Contreras at NPR’s A Blog Supreme:

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.”

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Remembering Jake Hanna

May 31, 2014 at 9:32 pm (gigs, good people, jazz, Jim D, music)

Photo: The Macallan jog no longer hangs over the bar at the Nellie Dean Pub as it did when Jake and Dave Green posed there with Brian Lemon and Tony Shoppee. But last night Brien Peerless, Dave, and Jim Denham hung out there and raised a glass to Jake's memory. Then we told stories and laughed together for the next 3 hours. What a great evening, but then it's always a great evening when FOJs get together.

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:

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Nat ‘King’ Cole: Afraid of the Dark

May 25, 2014 at 10:07 am (BBC, civil rights, culture, jazz, Jim D, music, Racism, song, United States)

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:

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‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ with Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and Thelma Carpenter

May 17, 2014 at 7:11 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, song, TV, whisky)

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…

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Chu Berry: forgotten sax giant

May 10, 2014 at 11:39 am (jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy)

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:

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Bill Evans: Spring Is Here

April 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

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

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Deen’s ‘deen': putting the fit into Fitna

April 17, 2014 at 6:44 pm (blogosphere, Guest post, Islam, islamism, music, Pink Prosecco, religion, song)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Adam Deen, of the Deen Institute, has been coming in for a bit of flack from (some) Muslims over his ‘modernising’ approach to Islam. In particular he has spoken out against the marginalization of women in university ISOCs, the way they have been excluded from full participation. Now he is at the centre of another controversy, this time sparked by the Happy Muslims video, which you can see at the Pharrell – HAPPY BRITISH MUSLIMS! site here. Deen appears with other Muslims, including his wife Myriam Francois Cerrah, dancing and singing to the Pharrell Williams hit ‘Happy’.

Several different objections have been raised to this project. The most predictable focus on the supposed impropriety of the video:

 “We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”

Others complain that it is pandering to non-Muslim prejudices to put on a display of happiness and normalcy in order to counter stereotypes. A few just find it a bit cringey, and some feel happiness is rather misplaced when there is so much suffering in the world.

Here is an extract from one of the more aggressive responses, a post by Uthman Badar.

“What we have here is an attempt by Muslims to been seen as ‘normal’ by the mainstream non-Muslim white majority in response to overbearing stereotypes and allegations to the contrary. In the words of the producers,

‘We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.

This video is to show the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.’

There is so much wrong with this approach, I don’t know where to begin!

It has Muslims coming in to bat for ‘Brits’ and their bad rep. Reward for the excellent treatment received by Muslims in Britain and by Britain abroad? House-Muslim mentality?”

The quotation from the video’s publicity material, that Badar objects to above, in fact demonstrates that the participants are not complacent about anti-Muslim bigotry, yet still unequivocally identify as British, and want to reach out to non-Muslims with a positive message.

It’s a cheerful video – but I do wonder what it is for exactly. I don’t think EDL supporters will see the error of their ways after watching it – they’ll probably think the performers are practicing taqqiya. Those with more nuanced concerns may quite like the video – but wouldn’t have seen people like Julie Siddiqui as a problem in the first place.

I think Uthman Badar (and others like him) have got this all wrong. My hunch is that this video was never intended to influence non-Muslims, but rather to enable Deen and co. to position themselves in opposition to more conservative, or orthodox, Muslim voices. Participants such as Salma Yaqoob have sometimes seemed keener on differentiating themselves from Quilliam types than from Muslim ‘puritans’ (to use Deen’s term). It’s positive that the battle against real hardliners, usually waged by ultra-liberal Muslims and non-Muslims, is being joined by those who are only moderately moderate.

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Songs for spring

March 15, 2014 at 8:41 am (culture, jazz, Jim D, music, song)

At last! Spring is here. And here are two pieces of music to celebrate:

Debussy:

Billy Holiday (lyricist/composer, Irene Kitchings):

Any other suggestions?

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Ravel Day on Radio 3

March 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm (BBC, culture, film, France, Jim D, modernism, music, wireless)

Today (Friday 7th March) BBC Radio 3 clears its schedule on Maurice Ravel’s birthday for a day devoted to the composer’s music.

Following on from similar focuses devoted to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert and Webern, March 7 will celebrate the great impressionist’s music through recordings dating from the 1930s to the present day.

Performers involved include pianists Pascal and Ami Rogé in a recital from Wigmore Hall (including a two-hand arrangement of Boléro), the Nash Ensemble, and New Generation Artist mezzo Clara Mouriz. There will also be a series of downloads called Ravel Revealed exploring aspects of his life.

Now, of course, there’s a lot more to Ravel than Boléro (my personal favourite is  Daphnis et Chloé) but I couldn’t resist bringing you this 1934 film (below) as a foretaste:

Better than Torville and Dean, eh?  George Rafters all round!

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