Us old jazzers love discussing the perennial question of the ‘hottest’ record of all time. Alyn Shipton at Radio 3′s Jazz Record Requests has asked for suggestions. The definition of ‘hot’ in this context is (like the word ‘swing’ or indeed ‘jazz’) not at all easy to pin down. But we know it when we hear it. It doesn’t necessarily just mean ‘up-tempo,’ though a brisk pace is usually a requirement. It’s to do with intensity, drive and raw excitement.
Philip Larkin reckoned that Louis Armstrong’s 1929 recording of St. Louis Blues was the Hottest Record Of All Time, and I’m inclined to agree. But leaving that aside, what other contenders are there?
I’d put forward Hello Lola by the Mound City Blue Blowers (1929), Bugle Call Rag by the Billy Banks Rhythmakers (1932), That’s A’ Plenty by Wild Bill Davison (1943), and this (which I’ve suggested to Alyn and should be played on JRR this Saturday):
Berigan has always been one of my favourite jazz players, and he was Louis Armstrong’s favourite trumpeter. For my part, that’s because although he had an impressive technique, Berigan was fallible: you could never be sure he’d hit some of those high notes he went for – and, even on record, he sometimes didn’t. The booze (which eventually killed him) probably didn’t help. Michael Steinman, over at Jazz Lives pays tribute and introduces a new treasure trove of ‘live’ Berigan performances:
Any documentation of an artist’s work may be distant from the day-to-day reality of the work. In the case of the noble trumpeter Bunny Berigan, many of his admirers understandably focus on those record sessions where he is most out in the open — aside from the Victor I CAN’T GET STARTED, the small-group recordings with Holiday, Norvo, Bailey, the Boswell Sisters, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, and so on. Some, rather like those who listen to Whiteman for Bix, delve into hot dance / swing band sides for Bunny’s solos: I know the delightful shock of hearing a Fred Rich side and finding a Berigan explosion when the side is nearly over.
But the Berigan chronology — on display in Michael Zirpolo’s superb book, MR. TRUMPET — as well as the discography shows that Bunny spent much of his life as a player and (too infrequently) a singer with large ensembles: studio groups, Whiteman, Hal Kemp, Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, before forming his own big band for the last six years of his very short life.
Ignoring Berigan’s big band records would be unthinkable, even for someone not choosing to hear everything. Goodman’s KING PORTER STOMP and SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, the Dorsey MARIE and SONG OF INDIA; Berigan’s own Victors. Of course, like other bandleaders of the time, he was required to record a fairly substantial assortment of thin material. Almost always, Berigan bravely transcends what the song-pluggers insisted he record.
Even the bands that came through well on records sounded better in live performance. There is something chilly about a recording studio, especially when there are more than a dozen people trying to play arrangements flawlessly, that occasionally holds back the explorer’s courage. So if one wants to hear what a band was capable of, one must rely on recordings of radio broadcasts (and the much rarer on-location recordings from a dance date, such as the Ellington band at Fargo, North Dakota — itself a miracle). Radio was consoling in its apparent evanescence; if you made a mistake, it was there and gone. Who knew, fluffling a note nationwide, that someone with a disc cutter in Minneapolis was recording it for posterity?
Up to this point, there has been a small but solid collection of Berigan “live” material on vinyl — a good deal of it issued by Jerry Valburn and Bozy White in their prime. I cannot offer my experience as comprehensive, but I recall listening to many of those recordings and enjoying their rocking intensity, but often waiting until Bunny took the solo. But there were worlds of music I and others were unaware of.
A new CD release on the Hep label, “BUNNY BERIGAN: SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN’” is a delight all through. It collects seventy-one minutes of material from 1937-39, nicely varied between well-played pop tunes and jazz classics. An extensive booklet with notes by the Berigan expert Michael Zirpolo (and some unusual photographs) completes the panorama. Eleven of the nineteen selections have never been issued before, and there is a snippet of Bunny speaking. The sound (under the wise guidance of Doug Pomeroy) is splendid.
Listening to this music is an especially revealing experience. Stories of Berigan’s alcoholism are so much a part of his mythic chronicle that many listeners — from a distance — tend to think of him as helplessly drunk much of the time, falling into the orchestra pit, a musician made barely competent by his dependence on alcohol.
No one can deny that Berigan shortened his life by his illness . . . but the man we hear on these sides is not only a glorious soloist but a spectacular leader of the trumpet section and a wonderful bandleader. The band itself is a real pleasure, with memorable playing from George Auld (in his energetic pre-Ben Webster phase — often sounding like a wild version of Charlie Barnet), George Wettling, Johnny Blowers, and Buddy Rich, Ray Conniff and others.
One could play excerpts from these recordings — skipping Berigan’s solos — and an astute listener to the music of the late Thirties would be impressed by the fine section work and good overall sound of the band. The “girl singers” are also charming: no one has to apologize for Gail Reese, for one.
Did I say that Berigan’s trumpet playing is consistently spectacular? If it needs to be said, let that be sufficient. A number of times in these recordings, he takes such dazzling chances — and succeeds — that I found myself replaying performances in amazement. Only Louis and Roy, I think, were possessed of such masterful daring.
And we are spared RINKA TINKA MAN in favor of much better material: MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, THEY ALL LAUGHED, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, BIG JOHN SPECIAL, LOUISIANA, TREES, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, SHANGHAI SHUFFLE, HOW’D YOU LIKE TO LOVE ME?, and some hot originals.
This disc doesn’t simply add more than an hour of music to most people’s Berigan collection: it corrects and sharpens the picture many have of him. Even if you care little for mythic portraiture, you will find much to like here. It is available here. To learn more about the wonderful story of how this music came to be in our hands and, even better, to hear an excerpt from ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, click here.
May your happiness increase!
From A World At School
16 years old today…
…and here’s her inspirational speech to the UN today:
Shame, shame, shame on those people on the so-called “left” who’ve ever expressed any degree of sympathy, support for, or ‘contextualisation’ of the actions of, the child-killers and gynophobic barbarians of the Taliban: yes, I mean you fucking shower, the SWP, Workers Power, the ISG and degenerate ‘Labour’ MP Jeremy Corbyn.
If this doesn’t lift your spirits and brighten up your weekend, I don’t know what will.
Two middle aged men recall how, as young teenage would-be journalists in 1964, they got to interview Satch. And we can hear the recording of the great man talking about his “chops” and other crucial matters. I dedicate this to Comrade Dave Osler, who last weekend admitted to me that he now, at long last, finally ”gets” Louis Armstrong…
H/t: Michael Steinman and his great ‘Jazz Lives’ blog.
NB: The best Louis Armstrong website, written by his Number One fan, researcher and historian Ricky Riccardi, here.
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
Former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson is preparing for a short farewell tour in March. This really will be ‘farewell’: he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, having turned down chemo, has less than a year to live. He’s just given this interview to Radio 4′s ‘Front Row’ and if you didn’t hear it when it went out yesterday I must INSIST that you listen, NOW.
It reminds me of Dennis Potter’s incredible 1994 interview conducted by Melvyn Bragg, but might just be even more powerful and moving, with its humour, philosophy and complete lack of self-pity:
“When the doctor told me, I walked out of there and felt an elation…I looked at the trees and sky and thought, ‘wow!’…
“…I’m a feather for each wind that blows. Why didn’t I work that out before? It’s just the moment that matters. Imminent death…makes you feel alive. Every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, makes you think ‘I’m alive’…
“…I’m a miserable person but that has all lifted…I’ve had a fantastic life. Anybody that asked for anything more would just be being greedy.”
He also talks a whole lot of sense about music and recording.
Below; Wilko on guitar, with vocalist Lee Brilleaux:
The great jazz trombonist, arranger, composer and teacher Bob Brookmeyer died just over a year ago. As well as his musical accomplishments, he was a fine essayist, blogger and writer of what used to be called (back in the days of LPs) sleeve- (or liner-) notes. Someone really ought to publish a collection of his writings. In the meanwhile, here’re the sleeve-notes from Stretching Out, an album he recorded with Zoot Sims 54 years and one day ago:
These days, everything’s got science; or cellophane; or it’s frozen, ready to be popped into your old oven; or it’s safe for the kiddies and grandma too — the story is too familiar to all of us to tolerate much reiteration, but Jim, they never have been able to isolate SOUL long enough to deep-freeze it for storage and shipment. In fact, sometimes it seems like they forgot what it was, is and must be to the human heart and mind in our tin-soldier and popgun world. These men on this record know about that and some more besides and you can belive that if you will.
One of the saddening and, to my mind, tragic oversights of this evening’s “jazz” audience is their slavish, slatternly devotion to the immediate and the topical. The eternal seems to be too sticky a substance to mess with — it doesn’t wash off the hands very easy and so I guess people must really want to feel, for the first time, really clean, or sterile, or be in the swim, or hep or maybe even hip if they are some down kitties. Not me, thanks. There’s a lot of dirt, grime and sadness in life, perhaps more than many can cope with but it’s there, right under the edge of the carpet and behind the mirror, under your fingernails and betwixt your pearly teeth. And along with the sour you can have your sweet too, plenty of it, but that sugar doesn’t mean beans without you have some salt to let you know which is which. Admirably stated by Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton in a letter to his sister, to wit; “you got to take the bitters with the sweet” ( Mr Jelly Lord by Alan Lomax, Grove Press and the best book on jazz ever written). So, three long cheers for sadness that is blue instead of yellow, men that can admit to some real joy and know the hearse is parked just ’round the corner and above all, those gents that can say it all in that huge 4/4 beat that makes even this tired old correspondent “glad all over”, Orphan Annie’s old truism. By the way, did they really grab Daddy Warbucks on back income tax?
This all wouldn’t have been possible without Harry Edison and Fred Green, you know. They know as much about the kind of music that I feel as any men who ever lived. They have earned — with no catawauling about travel, working conditions, the plight of the “jazzman” in America today, and related rot — the respect and love of many musicians and listeners, especially those who were around to sop up that great Basie band in the early ’40s. They are, truly GIANTS: yesterday through, and inclusive of, tomorrow. Not an awful lot of that calibre here anymore mbut they’re enough. Ed Jones, Hank, Persip, Zoot and Cohn are of the same mind about this too, so if you all can’t agree in the world who is right, we’ll wait for you to catch up if you’ll hurry.
The album was recorded at Nola’s penthouse on a Sunday afternoon in December and it was fun, fun, fun and happiness. What I wouldn’t do to play with a band like this every night! Ah well, back to the workroom and some more of that score paper so have a good time at the funeral and a good day to all – BOB BROOKMEYER
Merry Christmas, everyone:
By Michael Steinman, Jazz Lives:
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, men would believe & adore & for a few generations preserve the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these preachers of beauty, & light the Universe with their admonishing smile.” – Emerson
It is a substantial irony that some may regard a new recording — or a new complete issue of an already beloved Louis Armstrong recording — as we do the stars: beautiful but to be taken for granted, because they are and will always be there.
I am listening to the new complete issue of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL (the sixty-fifth anniversary issue) with my own kind of Emersonian delight. And my pleasure isn’t primarily because of the extra half-hour of music and speech I had never heard before, although thirty minutes of this band, this evening, is more than any ordinary half-hour on the clock. Permit me to call the roll — not only Louis in magnificent form, playing and singing, but also Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Arvell Shaw, Dick Cary, Barney Bigard, and Velma Middleton. Some of my joy comes from hearing music once again that has been dear to me for thirty years — the sweet ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, the charging MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Teagarden’s tender, delicate STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, the serious BLACK AND BLUE, the electrifying STEAK FACE and MOP MOP (formerly titled BOFF BOFF).
What strikes me once again is the beautiful cohesion of this band. I know that others see this period of Louis’ artistic life as a gentle downhill slide into “popularity” and “showmanship”; these views, I think, could be blown away with an intent hearing of HIGH SOCIETY. This edition of the All-Stars (with or without hyphen) is uniformly superb, happy, and focused.
Teagarden’s playing is simply awe-inspiring (ask any trombonist about it) and his singing delicious, with none of the near-fatigue that occasionally colored his later work. Arvell Shaw never got the credit he deserved as a string bassist, but his time and tone couldn’t be better, providing a deep, rocking rhythmic foundation for the band. Dick Cary, nearly forgotten, is once again an ideal pianist — never setting a foot wrong in ensembles and offering shining, individualistic solos that sound like no one else. Barney Bigard is sometimes off-mike but his work is splendidly energized, his tone full and luscious. Velma Middleton fit this band beautifully — emotional and exuberant, clearly inspiring both audiences and the All-Stars. And readers of JAZZ LIVES should know how I revere Sidney Catlett, at one of his many peaks that night in Symphony Hall. Much has been made of the ideal partnerships in jazz — Bird and Dizzy, Duke and Blanton, Pres and Basie . . . but Louis and Sidney deserve to be in that number, with Sid not only supporting but lifting every member of the band throughout the evening. The little percussive flourishes with which Sid accents the end of a performance are worthy of deep study. But this band is more than a group of soloists — they work together with affection and enthusiasm.
Louis himself is sublimely in charge. Consider the variety of tempos — almost a lost art today — and the pacing of a two-hour show, not only so that he wouldn’t tire himself out (there is much more playing here, even on the “features” for other musicians, than one would expect) but so that the audience would be charged with the same emotional energy for two hours. And his playing! There are a few happy imperfections, reminding us that he was human and that trumpet playing at this level is not for amateurs. But overall I feel his mastery, subtly expressed. I hear a leisurely power. Yes, there were piles of handkerchiefs inside the piano (playing the trumpet is physically arduous) but one senses in Louis the dramatized image of a jungle cat who knows he has only to stretch out a huge paw to accomplish what he wants.
Inside this package are the original notes (Armstrongians of a certain vintage can quote sections of Ernie Anderson’s text at will) and a new appreciation by our man Ricky Riccardi. Beautiful photographs, too — several of them including the only shot known of the band at Symphony Hall for this concert — new to me.
Some discussions of this set, weighing the merits of its purchase, have focused on the question of “How much more is there that we haven’t heard?” surely a valid question — although it came to sound as if music could be weighed like apples or peanuts. Briefly, there are a good number of “new” spoken introductions by Louis and others, short versions of SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH and I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, complete versions of previously edited performances — BLACK AND BLUE, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, TEA FOR TWO, and performances wholly “new”: a seven-minute VELMA’S BLUES with plenty of Louis and Sidney, a somber ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, a mock-serious BACK O’TOWN BLUES, and a vigorous JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES. For some readers, that will not be enough to warrant a purchase, which I couldn’t argue with. However, this is a limited edition of 3000 copies . . . so those who wait might find themselves regretting their delay.
For me, it’s a “Good deal,” to quote both Louis and Sidney — we can’t go back to November 30, 1947, but this set is the closest thing possible to spending an evening in the company of the immortals. Thanks and blessings are due to Ricky Riccardi, the late Gosta Hagglof, and Harry Weingar . . . each making this wonderful set possible.)
And if you can’t afford the purchase, make sure to look up at the stars whenever you can.
May your happiness increase.
Review by Michael Steinman, reblogged from Jazz Lives:
Maria S. Judge’s book about her Uncle Jake — one of the most swinging musicians ever — JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER — is irresistible.
I write this in all objectivity, even though I have a connection to the book. When Maria let people know that she was collecting stories about Jake for this group memoir / portrait, I sent her my recollections of an hour spent with Jake before Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party.
I don’t mean to inflate my own importance by this: I am not sure Jake knew who I was before, during, or after his recital, but he HAD to tell stories as dogs have to bark and cats meow. So I was the delighted recipient of some of his best tales — affectionate, scurrilous, sharp, verifiable. My only regret is that I didn’t have my little digital recorder concealed to get Jake’s delivery — a Boston Irish W.C. Fields with expert comic timing — for posterity. I contributed a paragraph about that encounter, and I read the manuscript before it went to press.
But when a copy came in the mail two days ago I thought, “Oh, I know all this already,” and was ready to put the book on the shelf unread.
But Jake’s powers extend far beyond the grave, and I opened it at random. An hour went by as I stood in the kitchen reading, laughing, feeling honored to have met Jake and heard him play.
The book follows Jake from his family and birth in Dorchester, Massachusetts (1931) to his death in 2010. The family narratives are fascinating, because all of the Hannas seem to have been engagingly larger-than-life and the book begins not with serious historical heaviness but with the genial mood of a Frank Capra film. Here’s Jim McCarthy, a younger friend from the neighborhood:
We lived . . . two blocks away from the Dorchester District Courthouse. . . [which] was surrounded by a granite wall about two feet high that the guys used to sit on. When Jake sat there he’d straddle the wall and hit on it with his drumsticks. My mother and I were walking past the courthouse one day when we saw Jake playing the wall. ”Is that all you have to do?” my mother asked him. ”Just beat those sticks?” ”Hi, Mrs. McCarthy,” Jake said. ”Someday they’re going to pay me to beat those sticks.”
There are tales of Jake’s army service, his first meeting with Charlie Parker, “the nicest guy I ever met in my whole life,” working with Jimmy Rushing, Marian McPartland, Maynard Ferguson, and Harry James. Here’s drummer Roy Burns:
When Jake was playing with Harry James, Harry used to go “one, two, one, two, three, four,” with his back to the band, but his shoulders were slower than the tempo. So Jake finally asked him, “Harry, should I take the tempo from your shoulder, from the piano, or just play it at the tempo we usually play it?” Harry said, “Jake, you’re the leader.” Jake said, “Do you really mean that?” Harry said, “Yes.” Jake said, “OK, you’re fired.”
There are many more funny, smart, naughty stories in this book — but it is not all one-liners and smart-alecky. Jake comes across as deeply committed to his craft and to making the band swing from the first beat. And for someone with such a razor-sharp wit, he emerges as generous to younger musicians and his famous colleagues, affectionate and reverential about those people who epitomized the music: Count Basie, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney. We read of his work with Woody Herman, on television with Merv Griffin, in Russia with Oscar Peterson, Supersax, the long run of jazz albums for the Concord label, a sweet sad encounter with Chet Baker. There are long lovely reminiscences by John Allred and Jim Hall, by Dan Barrett, and Jake’s wife Denisa — plus memorable stories from Scott Hamilton, Hal Smith, Charlie Watts, Rebecca Kilgore, Warren Vache, Jim Denham, and dozens of other musicians and admirers.
Uncle Jake is still with us — not only on the music, but in these pages. “Pay attention!” as he used to say.
May your happiness increase.