It’s been a while since we had some jazz here: and who better to provide it than my old chum Michael Steinman, who writes the following at his bog, Jazz Lives:
I arrived back in New York late last night. With no offense to my fellow urbanites and suburbanites, the word that would describe my return is RELUCTANTLY. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster up the good cheer of this Hero as imagined in a beautiful drawing by Thomas B. Allen
Even in enhanced stereo (!) Louis looks young and healthy.
But it will take a while for me to look close to that. The Beloved is 3000 miles away. My apartment has serious water damage . . . precious objects became damp, musty — some can’t be repaired. I feel as if spiritual mildew is creeping up on me, which is not something that responds to ordinary curative methods. While I was slumping around the apartment, wondering what else had been ruined and whether I could ever find everything, I knew I needed serious help of a medical kind.
I called on my own medical group and they rushed to my aid. They are Doctors Warren, Dubin, Caparone, Barnhart, Barrett, Shaw, Cavera, Reynolds, and Reynolds:
I apologize for the swooping camerawork but I was trying to create closeups without a tripod, and I think I was so happy that my hand possibly couldn’t remain steady. Somewhere, Fats Waller and Bing Crosby smile approvingly, too.
This always makes me feel better, and I will now play it again while I do other domestic chores.
May your happiness increase!
Above: Goodman plays to his Russian audience, 1962
The death in May of Joe Wilder, a beautiful, underrated trumpet player and delightful human being, reminded me that Joe had been part of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra on its tour of the Soviet Union in 1962. The tour was arranged by the US State Department as a sort of cultural exchange at the height of the cold war: I believe the Bolshoi Ballet visited the US in return.
Anyway, the Goodman tour was superficially quite successful (despite Khrushchev expressing a dislike of jazz in the course of a conversation with Benny), but behind the scenes it was a disaster in terms of band morale. The Goodman band included Joe Wilder on trumpet, Teddy Wilson on piano and as such ‘modern jazz’ luminaries as trombonist Jimmy Knepper, altoist Phil Woods and drummer Mel Lewis. Amongst the other ‘greats’ in the band were Bill Crow on bass and Zoot Sims on tenor sax, and when later interviewed about the tour, Zoot said “Everywhere you go with Benny is like Russia.”
Here are the edited highlights (with an emphasis upon moments involving Joe Wilder) extracted from a full account of the tour by Bill Crow. Bill has kindly given me permission to use excerpts from his often hilarious article:
Because his music was lovely, most musicians expected Goodman to be lovable as well. The stories about him make us laugh because they describe our astonishment at discovering his true nature. They may sound exaggerated to anyone who never dealt directly with the man. Benny apparently did something to insult, offend or bewilder nearly everyone who ever worked for him. He put together some wonderful bands, but he had a reputation for spoiling the fun. During my brief time with him, I watched him completely demoralize an excellent band.
Jay Finegold [BG's manager] had been nagging us for weeks about the contracts Benny wanted us to sign. A few guys had signed them, and he used whatever leverage he could devise to get the rest of the signatures. Joe Wilder’s trunk became a focus of his attention.
We had been warned that the laundry service would be poor and dry-cleaning nonexistent in Russia, so most of us had brought suitcases full of extra clothes and drip-dry shirts, but Joe Wilder had the largest single piece of luggage, a steamer trunk filled with the dapper suits and neckties he always wears. Jay told Joe that Benny was going to charge him for overweight baggage if he didn’t sign his contract.
Besides being a flawless musician, Joe Wilder is courteous, cooperative, and sweet-natured. He was delighted to be hired for the tour and was ready to do a professional job, and he couldn’t believe the way Benny was treating us. Joe never uses profanity. His strongest adjective is “blamed,” his most violent epithet “shoot!” If he quotes someone who uses strong language, he’ll say something like,
“He said to get the F out of here!”
But Joe said the secret word in Tblisi when Jay told him that Benny was going to charge him for his luggage. It was the last straw. He indignantly refused to ride on the bus with Benny that night. He walked from the hotel to the concert hall, a distance of two or three miles.
During the last week in Moscow, Jay told Wilder that Benny wanted him to give all the lead parts he’d been playing to John Frosk, since Joe was going to Sweden after the tour and wouldn’t be available for any work in the States. Then, on stage one night, Benny acted surprised that Joe wasn’t playing lead on Bach Goes to Town. Before one of the last concerts, Benny called Joe into his dressing room. He said,
“I just wanted you to know that I think you’re a fine musician.”
Joe wasn’t having any.
“As miserable as you’ve made life for me and the rest of the guys on this tour, do you expect me to be complimented?” he asked.
Benny received an invitation for the band to do a week of concerts in Warsaw on the way home. We were curious about Poland, and we could have used the extra money, but nobody wanted to go with Benny. Jim Maxwell called his wife and told her to send him a telegram saying there was an emergency at home and he was needed. The telegram she sent said:
“COME HOME AT ONCE. THE DOG DIED. THE CAT DIED. EVERYBODY DIED.”
Joe Wilder and Joe Newman were trying to get their flight information from Muriel [Muriel Zuckerman, BG's secretary]. They were to fly from Moscow to Stockholm to meet their wives, and wanted to let them know when to expect them, but Muriel didn’t get them the information. Before the evening concert she repeated her ultimatum. No contracts, no paychecks. We talked it over and decided that the only remedy was to refuse to play the last concert until we got paid.
At curtain time that night we were ready to play but wouldn’t go onstage without the checks. Muriel and Jay conferred, and told us that all they really needed was the first page of the contracts, the agreement on wages, in order to satisfy the paperwork required by the State Department. We conferred, and agreed to sign only that part. The other clauses were crossed out, the contracts were signed, and the paychecks were distributed as we were going onstage, twenty minutes late. Joe Wilder looked at his check and discovered that a couple of hundred dollars had been deducted for “excess baggage charges.” He told Benny he wanted his check corrected.
“Come on and play. We’ll talk about it later.”
Joe was adamant. He stayed backstage, and we played the last concert without him.
Joe Wilder decided to try one last time to get Benny to refund the baggage charge before he caught his plane to Stockholm. Benny said that such things were in Jay’s department, and not his concern. Joe called him a schmuck, and said,
“If we weren’t here for the State Department, I’d jump on you and beat your brains out!”
Muriel squawked, “How dare you speak to Mr. Goodman that way!”
Joe had a full head of steam.
“If it weren’t for shame,” he told Muriel, “I’d break your broom so you couldn’t fly out of here!”
Joe told me later that he wasn’t proud of that remark, and had apologized to Muriel when he ran into her a few years later.
“But I was really disgusted with Benny,” he said, “and I still am.”
After he returned to New York, Joe Wilder made a complaint to Local 802 about the money Benny had withheld from his salary. Officials at the local said it had happened outside their jurisdiction. They sent him to the national office of the American Federation of Musicians, where he filed charges against Benny.
The day before the hearing was scheduled, Joe got a call from a secretary at the AFM. She said,
“Mr. Goodman is willing to forget the whole thing.”
Joe reminded her that he was the one making the complaint, and insisted on seeing it through as a matter of principle.
At the hearing Joe produced a receipt from the post office in Seattle proving he had sent home everything over his allotted forty-four pounds when Jay had first complained that his baggage was overweight. Nothing had been weighed after Seattle. Goodman and his staff had just assumed he was still overweight, and had used it as a pretext to harass him.
Benny told Joe, “In all my years in the music business, you’re the first one to take me to the union.”
“That’s because I’m not afraid of you,” said Joe.
Joe told me he knew musicians who had been pressured into doing what Benny wanted through Benny’s influence with their other employers, especially in television. He said he wasn’t doing any work that Benny could interfere with, and he certainly didn’t ever want to be in his band again.
The AFM officers reprimanded Joe, saying he should have played the last concert and then brought his grievance to the union. They didn’t require Benny to refund his money, and Joe never got it…
From Ham & High:
Music without frontiers, a music and culinary event at St Peter’s church to promote Israeli/Palestinian unity, has been organised by Anna Marks, Violeta Barrena and Muna
A joint Israeli and Arab fundraiser promoting Muslim and Jewish unity is set to take place at a church following what organisers say is a rising number of “hateful online posts” about the conflict in Gaza.
Music Without Frontiers, takes place on Saturday at St Peter’s Church in Belsize Square, and will feature the music of Arab, Jewish and Christian musicians, with a buffet of Arab and Israeli cuisine.
Organisers Anna Marks, 24, Violeta Barrena, 28, and Muna Ileiwat hope the fundraiser will “bring communities together” and stop “the spread of hate”.
Ms Barrena, a musician from Greencroft Gardens, West Hampstead, said: “We both saw hateful posts about the situation in Gaza getting worse and worse so wanted to do something to help spread understanding and unity. The worst thing we can do in this situation is to create more hate. The best thing to do is help the victims of this terrible conflict.
All money raised will go to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Tickets cost £10 (£15 inc. food and drink) and can be bought at violetaviolin.com
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
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…
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