Jazz memories of the 1950’s: The Street

April 16, 2016 at 12:37 am (BBC, culture, gigs, history, jazz, Jewish music, London, modernism, posted by JD, TV)

This is fabulous stuff: musician Dennis Rose’s amateur film of the jazz life (as lived by young professional musicians) in Soho of the early 1950’s, watched and commented upon thirty or so years later by participants Ronnie Scott, Benny Green, Laurie Morgan and (perhaps surprisingly) comedian Bill Maynard, amongst others. This went out in the 1980’s as part of a BBC2 jazz week, but hasn’t been seen since. Prepare yourselves for a lot of working class East End Jewish humour and political incorrectness:

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Spring Is Here: Kenny Dorham

March 20, 2016 at 11:34 am (jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, song)

The ONLY song for today. Dorham (1924 – ’72) was a somewhat neglected figure, whose misfortune was to have emerged just as Gillespie, Brown and Davis were stealing the scene. But on a good day (as here) he was their equal. A lovely version of a great song:

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John Chilton: gentleman and scholar of jazz

February 26, 2016 at 10:29 pm (good people, history, jazz, Jim D, literature, music, RIP)

When I was a lad first getting into jazz I wanted a copy of Eddie Condon’s biography, ‘We Called It Music’, which I’d heard was an informative and entertaining read: but how to get my hands on a copy? The old memory’s not all it might be these days, so I cannot recall how I got the idea, but somehow I learned that a jazz trumpeter called John Chilton ran a bookshop in Bloomsbury, London and so I sent the shop a book token I’d been given, with a note asking if they had a second-hand copy. The book arrived a few days later, plus a friendly note from John and postal order for the change I was owed! That was my only direct dealing with John Chilton, who has died aged 83.

I did, however, get to hear John play on several occasions, starting with a Sunday lunchtime session at a rather grotty pub in Clerkenwell called the New Merlin’s Cave, and then at a number of rather more prestigious venues where his Feetwarmers were backing George Melly. In fact, the Feetwarmers became Melly’s backing group and John his de facto road manager and musical director from the mid-70’s until the early 2000’s.

But John had a parallel career as a jazz historian and writer. His seminal ‘Who’s Who Of Jazz’ was described by Phillip Larkin as “one of the essential jazz books” and his biographies of Coleman Hawkins, Louis Jordan, Sidney Bechet  and (together with Max Jones) Louis Armstrong won many awards and remain indispensable works on their subjects.

He also happened to be, by all accounts, a very decent and generous human being – well, he did, after all, send me that postal order.

Revisiting his ‘Who’s Who Of Jazz’ for the first time in a while, I’ve just noticed this forward by one Johnny Simmen of Zurich., which I think stands as a good, brief, epitaph:

“Rex Stewart, Bill Coleman, and Buck Clayton were the first to mention the name of John Chilton to me. They all said that he was a fine trumpeter and led a good band. ‘That boy is amazing’, Rex told me, ‘and I mean it’, he said, emphaising the point. Later on, when Bill and Buck expressed similarly flattering opinions, I concluded that Chilton had to be a pretty exceptional musician. I finally managed to hear a few of his solos and realised at once that they had not exaggerated one bit.

“Some time later, I received a letter from England, turning the envelope I saw to my surprise that the sender’s name was John Chilton. Perhaps he wanted me to investigate the possibilities of an engagement in Switzerland? No, there was no mention of this, but John – he had received my address from Bill Coleman – that he was in the process of writing a dictionary of American jazz musicians, from the very beginning up to the inclusion of musicians born before 1920. He asked if I had any information on doubtful points.

“From the tenor of the letter, I could tell at once that John is as deeply involved in the history of jazz and the men who play ‘the real thing’ as he is in his playing and arranging. Having gradually got fed up with phoney ‘jazz journalists’ over the years, I was glad to find out that John Chilton is an entirely different proposition. He has the ability, perseverence, and enthusiasm to tackle and finish such a demanding work. It is my opinion that this is one of the truly valuable books on jazz musicians. It is the work of a musician whose knowledge of jazz and love and devotion to ‘the cause’ is unsurpassed.”

Below: John on trumpet with the Bruce Turner Jump Band in 1961 (the still picture shows trombonist Johnny Mumford):

NB: Telegraph obit, here

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‘Little Jazz’: remembering Roy Eldridge

January 30, 2016 at 5:03 pm (Anti-Racism, civil rights, good people, history, jazz, Jim D, Racism, song, United States)


Above: Roy in 1942 with Anita O’Day in the Gene Krupa Orchestra

Jazz trumpeter Roy ‘Little Jazz’ Eldridge was born this day (Jan 30) in 1911

Roy was a tremendously exciting player, generally regarded as the link between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. He died (Feb 26 1989) a well-respected jazz elder statesman, but he never achieved much public recognition or made much money. Also, as a black musician coming up in the 1930’s he knew all about segregation and was sometimes refused service in joints that had his name up in lights outside …

Roy was a sensitive guy and had to put up (or not) with a lot of racist shit, especially during his stints with the otherwise all-white big bands of Gene Krupa and then Artie Shaw. In fact, on leaving Shaw in 1944 he vowed “As long as I’m in America I’ll never in my life work with a white band again.”

However, Roy always spoke well of Krupa, and the following contemporary press report may explain why:

Krupa Fined After Fight Over Eldridge

York, Pa – Gene Krupa used his fists two weeks ago to subdue the operator of a restaurant here who refused to allow Roy Eldridge admittance. Gene and his band were playing a one-nighter at the Valencia Ballroom … It was reported that the restaurant man made “unfair” and ungentlemanly remarks regarding Eldridge, and then asked Roy to leave the place. Krupa took offense. Words tumbled forth. Finally, Krupa and the restaurant man “mixed” with fists flying. Police were called, Krupa was arrested, taken to jail and fined $10. Then he was released.

It maked the first time the color line had been drawn on Roy since he joined Krupa’s crew … Musicians in the Krupa band applauded their boss for his action, although both Roy and Gene said they were “sorry as hell” the occasion arose where force was necessary to maintain right – Dec 15, 1941.

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Saturated Fats for Christmas

December 24, 2015 at 6:19 pm (Christmas, jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, whisky, wild man)

My favourite Christmas record:

Fats and the boys recorded this in Chicago on November 29 1936: they’d obviously begun celebrating a wee bit early.

Best wishes to all readers.

Normal service here at Shiraz will be resumed shortly.

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Jack Purvis: Mental Strain At Dawn

December 11, 2015 at 12:42 am (adventure, crime, jazz, Jim D, mental health, wild man)

Jack Purvis, 11 Dec 1906 – 30 Mar 1962 (?)

Purvis must surely be the strangest, most picaresque and mysterious figure in the entire history of recorded jazz. As well as being a phenomenal trumpeter (one of the first – if not the first – of the white players who were obviously influenced by Armstrong), he was also a compulsive liar, con-man, gun-runner and drug smuggler. Naturally, he was also a jail-bird: but one who once, having been released, broke back in, so that he could continue to direct the prison orchestra for their radio debut.

He made no records after 1935 and seems to have committed suicide in 1962 (but even that is in some doubt: there was, according to Richard M. Sudhalter, at least one reliably attested encounter with a man claiming to be “Jack Purvis … I used to play trumpet” after that date). He had a wife and daughter, both of whom were reduced to broken-hearted despair by his antics and absences.

Many jazz musicians could be called “eccentric”, but Purvis’s lifestyle and behaviour went well beyond that: he was almost certainly mentally ill, which makes the title of this 1929 record especially appropriate: ‘Mental Strain At Dawn’:

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Billy Strayhorn, b: 29 Nov 1915

November 29, 2015 at 8:29 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, United States)

The great jazz composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn was born 100 years ago, today.

He joined the staff of Duke Ellington in 1939 and wrote the Duke’s signature tune ‘Take The A-Train’:

…note tenorist Paul Gonsalves, clearly out of it.

Strayhorn joined the Duke, initially, as a lyric-writer and had already written the music and lyrics to the remarkable song ‘Lush Life’:

Strayhorn died of blood cancer in 1967, but kept composing and arranging from his hospital bed right to the end. Shortly after Strayhorn’s death, his boss and friend Duke Ellington (and the Ellington Orchestra) made an album called …And His Mother Called Him Bill; the final track was the Duke himself, alone at the piano for most of the time (then joined by Harry Carney on baritone sax), playing Strayhorn’s composition ‘Lotus Blossom’:

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Milk and doughnuts with Pee Wee and Eddie

October 24, 2015 at 5:39 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, New Orleans)

You meet the nicest people … on facebook.

Pee Wee Russell, the eccentric poet-genius of jazz clarinet, has always been a personal favourite of mine.

I’m so grateful to Herb Gardner for sharing his memories of PWR in the course of a facebook exchange a few weeks ago. The exclamation mark after “milk” is significant. Milk was not known to be a favourite tipple of either PWR or Eddie Condon, even at breakfast:

JD: Herb: I’m presently reading Robert Hilbert’s ‘Pee Wee Russell: The Life of a Jazzman’ and have come across a reference to you playing in the ‘New York’ band led by Max Kaminsky, with Pee Wee Russell at the New Orleans ‘Jazzfest ’68’: “The band started off with a hard-hitting ‘Dippermouth Blues,’ with Kaminsky playing a fiery solo and Pee Wee sounding very inventive and self-assured.”
Have you written about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts about PWR, in particular.

Herb Gardner: Yeah, that was a memorable trip. I’ve always felt that I spent a month in NO that weekend. The Haggarts and I asked locals about secret good places to eat, so we had some of the best seafood ever. One evening I got to march in a parade with the Onward Brass Band, including Louis Cottrell and the Barbarins, playing bone next to Frog Joseph.
Pee Wee was always uniquely inventive and unpredictable. When he mumbled you couldn’t tell what he said, but when he played it was inspiring. I also worked a week with him, playing piano in an Eddie Condon Band up in the White Mountains of NH. This was near the end of his life, and my lasting image was of him and Eddie having milk (!) and doughnuts for breakfast in the coffee shop.

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Phil Woods RIP

October 3, 2015 at 10:34 am (jazz, Jim D, music, RIP, United States)

I’m ashamed to admit that I came late to Phil Woods and have only been listening intently to his superb playing since news of his death, aged 83, came through earlier this week.

He played his final gig on September 4th using an oxygen mask and, before the final number announced that due to emphysema, he was retiring with immediate effect. Due to his extensive work as a session man on pop records, many people who are not particularly into jazz, will have heard his playing without knowing it: he plays the sax solo on Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, for instance.

But it is as one of the greatest of post-Parker altoists that he will be properly remembered. Here he is on a live recording from 1976 (‘Live From the Showboat’), in truly magisterial form on ‘Cheek To Cheek’, a difficult song not obviously suited to jazz improvisation – but Woods makes it all sound so easy:

Phil Woods (alto) with Harry Leahey, guitar Mike Melillo, piano Steve Gilmore, drums

H/t: Pete Neighbour, who wrote on facebook, “This is one of ‘THE’ Phil Woods tracks… I remember playing this endlessly when I first got it on vinyl; desperately trying to get somewhere near this masterful performance – and failing dismally I hasten to add. My mind struggling with the harmonic complexities that Phil found in this standard….. desperately trying not to copy…but wanting… so, so wanting to be influenced and to let some of his genius seep through my playing. Today, with everyone seemingly accorded ‘superstar status’ to listen to this brings home the meaning of true musical genius. I know all this sounds ‘gushing’……..but….if it does…..I don’t care!”

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Jon-Erik Kellso in The The Land Of Beginning Again

August 29, 2015 at 4:02 pm (culture, jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, United States)

Blue Roof Blues: A Love Letter to New Orleans

Ten years on from Katrina, and New Orleans is still recovering. Great progress has been made (no thanks to the wretched initial response from the federal government under Bush), but it’s been uneven and problems remain – not least in working class black areas like the Lower Ninth Ward.

Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, though based in New York, has long regarded NO has his spiritual home:

“I was there playing at the Satchmo Summer Fest right before the hurricane … and then again at Jazz Fest (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival), nine months after the hurricane. A dear friend took me on a reality tour, from the ‘blue roofs,’ protective blue tarps on wind-damaged roofs, to the devastation of whole neighborhoods totalled by the flooding. The Ninth Ward looked like a war-ravaged ghost town. It broke my heart to see my beloved New Orleans in such a state’ (quoted by Michael Steinman, of the most excellent Jazz Lives blog, in his notes to Jon-Erik’s fantastic 2007 Arbors CD Blue Roof Blues – A Love Letter To New Orleans).

Now Jon-Erik has released a new CD/album celebrating the Crescent City’s partial recovery: it was recorded in NO in April and as well as Jon-Eric, features his New York pal, guitarist and vocalist Matt Munisteri and two New Orleanians – clarinetist Evan Christopher  and bassist Kerry Lewis. The album is entitled In The Land Of Beginning Again, and Jon-Eric writes of the title:

“Why ‘In The Land Of Beginning Again?’ Louis Armstrong spoke of playing this song regularly in his early days as a member of Fate Marable’s band on a Mississippi Riverboat. It was their closing theme. This wistful, seldom-heard song is a fitting theme for this album … as it reflects New Orleans’ resiliency. It is a huge relief to see how this unique and wonderful Gulf Coast city has bounced back and reinvented itself since ‘the storm.’ It seems my hometown of Detroit is now being talked about as another ‘land of beginning again,’ with its ‘keep on keepin’ on spirit.”

NB: I have no commercial interest in this CD (on the Jazzology label), but can personally recommend it. As well as the fantastic music by Jon-Erik, Evan, Matt and Kerry, it comes with notes by the A.J Liebling of jazz writing, Michael Steinman and cover art by Cécile McLorin Salvant – a fine vocalist who turns out to be an equally excellent graphic artist.

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