Andy Razaf, Maxine Sullivan: Mound Bayou

December 16, 2017 at 9:18 pm (black culture, civil rights, history, jazz, Jim D, music, Slavery, song, United States)

Andy Razaf, born December 16 1895, died February 3 1973.

Razaf was a song-writer, poet, African prince and associate of Fats Waller, who wrote many songs including Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose and Black And Blue.

According to Wikipedia: Razaf was born in Washington, D.C. His birth name was Andriamanantena Paul Razafinkarefo. He was the son of Henri Razafinkarefo, nephew of Queen Ranavalona III of Imerina kingdom in Madagascar, and Jennie (Waller) Razafinkarefo, the daughter of John L. Waller, the first African American consul to Imerina. The French invasion of Madagascar left his father dead, and forced his pregnant 15-year-old mother to escape to the United States, where he was born in 1895.

Singer Maxine Sullivan recorded a fine album of Razaf’s songs, with trumpeter Charlie Shavers amongst others, in 1956. She included one of Razaf’s lesser-known songs, Mound Bayou.

Again, accord to Wikipedia: Mound Bayou traces its origin to people from the community of Davis Bend, Mississippi. The latter was started in the 1820s by the planter Joseph E. Davis (brother of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis), who intended to create a model slave community on his plantation. Davis was influenced by the utopian ideas of Robert Owen. He encouraged self-leadership in the slave community, provided a higher standard of nutrition and health and dental care, and allowed slaves to become merchants. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Davis Bend became an autonomous free community when Davis sold his property to former slave Benjamin Montgomery, who had run a store and been a prominent leader at Davis Bend. The prolonged agricultural depression, falling cotton prices and white hostility in the region contributed to the economic failure of Davis Bend.

Isaiah T. Montgomery led the founding of Mound Bayou in 1887 in wilderness in northwest Mississippi. The bottomlands of the Delta were a relatively undeveloped frontier, and blacks had a chance to clear land and acquire ownership in such frontier areas. By 1900 two-thirds of the owners of land in the bottomlands were black farmers. With high debt and continuing agricultural problems, most of them lost their land and by 1920 were sharecroppers. As cotton prices fell, the town suffered a severe economic decline in the 1920s and 1930s.

Shortly after a fire destroyed much of the business district, Mound Bayou began to revive in 1942 after the opening of the Taborian Hospital by the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a fraternal organization. For more than two decades, under its Chief Grand Mentor Perry M. Smith, the hospital provided low-cost health care to thousands of blacks in the Mississippi Delta. The chief surgeon was Dr. T.R.M. Howard who eventually became one of the wealthiest black men in the state. Howard owned a plantation of more than 1,000 acres (4.0 km2), a home-construction firm, a small zoo, and built the first swimming pool for blacks in Mississippi. In 1952, Medgar Evers moved to Mound Bayou to sell insurance for Howard’s Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Howard introduced Evers to civil rights activism through the Regional Council of Negro Leadership which organized a boycott against service stations which refused to provide restrooms for blacks. The RCNL’s annual rallies in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1955 drew crowds of ten thousand or more. During the trial of Emmett Till‘s alleged killers, black reporters and witnesses stayed in Howard’s Mound Bayou home, and Howard gave them an armed escort to the courthouse in Sumner.

Author Michael Premo wrote:

Mound Bayou was an oasis in turbulent times. While the rest of Mississippi was violently segregated, inside the city there were no racial codes… At a time when blacks faced repercussions as severe as death for registering to vote, Mound Bayou residents were casting ballots in every election. The city has a proud history of credit unions, insurance companies, a hospital, five newspapers, and a variety of businesses owned, operated, and patronized by black residents. Mound Bayou is a crowning achievement in the struggle for self-determination and economic empowerment

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Prez and Billie express their love one last time

December 9, 2017 at 9:59 am (humanism, jazz, Jim D, love, music, The blues)

60 years ago (December 8 1957), a tired, demoralised Prez played the blues one last time for the great platonic love of his life, Billie. Prez is second up, following Ben Webster:

“It was time for Prez…If he got up, he might collapse on prime time. But when the moment came, Prez stood and, Looking at Lady, played in one chorus- its colors those of twilight in October- the sparest, most penetrating blues I have ever heard. Billie, a slight smile on her face, kept nodding to the beat, her eyes meeting Prez’s, her nod invoking memories only she and Prez shared. As he ended his solo, Lady’s face was full of light and love, and Prez, briefly, was back in the world” – Nat Hentoff, Boston Boy (2001)

Lester Young died in New York, March 15 1959
Billie Holiday died in New York, July 17 1959

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In loving memory of George Avakian

November 24, 2017 at 12:22 pm (culture, good people, jazz, love, music, posted by JD, RIP)

By Ricky Riccardi at The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong

The way I feel about this record can be summed up in this way. When I die, I want people to say, ‘That’s the guy that it if it hadn’t been for him and Louis Armstrong and W. C. Handy, there wouldn’t have been that great record, Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy.” — George Avakian, 1954

George Avakian passed away this morning [Nov 22] at the age of 98. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. It really felt he would live forever. It goes without saying that the music he created will most assuredly last forever. And for those fortunate enough to know him, our memories of being in his company will linger as long as we have memories.

Louis Armstrong, WC Handy and George Avakian

When a loved one passes, it’s tempting to eulogize the departed by talking solely about one’s self. I’m not going to lie, I’m probably going to do that right now. You have to forgive me: George Avakian’s albums changed my life. The fact that I got to know him and call him a friend is something I never, ever took for granted and as I process the fact that there’ll be no more visits to see “Uncle George,” I feel like I need to write my memories down.

If you don’t know who George Avakian was (is), Google him and prepare to spend the next several hours reading about his rich history. While still a student at Yale, George practically invented the concept of a concept album with Chicago Jazz on Decca, then pioneered in Columbia’s influential series of reissue albums shortly after, digging up some previously unissued Hot Five and Hot Seven masterpieces from the Columbia vaults. After the war, George continued to move up the ladder at Columbia, eventually heading the pop music album department after long-playing 33 1/3 albums exploded in the 1950s. Into the late 50s, he produced essential recordings by Louis, Miles Davis, Erroll Garner, Eddie Condon, Dave Brubeck, Buck Clayton, Duke Ellington….what more do you need? Even after leaving Columbia, he continued to have the master touch, helping to discover Bob Newhart and later overseeing Sonny Rollins’s fantastic RCA Victor recordings, plus managing young talent like Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett.

My life would not be the same without the music described in the previous paragraph. Around September of 1995, I had my first run-in with Louis Armstrong when he unexpectedly showed up in the middle of The Glenn Miller Story to steal the film with a hot version of “Basin Street Blues.” My curiosity was piqued. Shortly after, I told my mother to take me to the local library in Toms River because I needed to check out some more of this Satchmo fellow. I don’t remember how many choices there were but there were many. Perhaps my life would have changed if I grabbed some inferior-quality bootleg. But no, there was one cassette that looked appealing and I liked the concept: 16 Most Requested Songs. Read the rest of this entry »

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The top quality of Mercer

November 18, 2017 at 12:51 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, song)

Johnny Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia on November 18 1909; he died in Los Angeles, 25 June 1976.

He was one of the Twentieth Century’s great song lyricists, and was also a fine singer himself. He recorded as a vocalist with Paul Whiteman, Wingy Manone, Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden.

He duetted with Teagarden on what is surely the best jazz Christmas record of all time (not that there’s a lot of competition, Christmas Night In Harlem. For a Southern white guy, he was also remarkably enlightened and free of prejudice: he just loved music and couldn’t give a damn about skin pigmentation. When Nat Cole was having a hard time from racists, Mercer offered him personal support and publicly denounced the racists (though, it must be said, Cole was signed at that time to Mercer’s Capitol label, but I like to think he’d have done it anyway).


Above: Mercer on the Nat ‘King’ Cole TV show

Mercer’s most famous song is Moon River , written (with Henry Mancini) for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Personally, I have to say I don’t find it a very engaging tune or lyric. But I’m glad it brought Johnny some wealth and security towards the end of his life.

I much prefer Blues In The Night, his 1941 masterpiece, written with Harold Arlen. Here’s the Benny Goodman version, with Peggy Lee on vocals. The rather strange falsetto scatting following Peggy’s vocal is by trombonist Lou McGarity (how do I know that? Am I a bit sad or what?);  Benny himself, on clarinet, briefly returns to his wailing Chicagoan roots in the closing bars of the number:

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Ralph Sutton: strider supreme

November 4, 2017 at 4:10 pm (good people, jazz, posted by JD, Sheer joy)

Ralph Sutton, surely the most accomplished post-Waller stride pianist, born (Hamburg, Missouri) Nov 4 1922 (died Dec 30 2002).

I once shook hands with Ralph; my knuckles are still crushed:

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Fats Domino RIP

October 26, 2017 at 11:52 am (black culture, culture, jazz, music, New Orleans, posted by JD, RIP, Sheer joy)

Fats (Antoine) Domino, born Feb 26 1928; died Oct 24 2017


Above: Fats evokes a feeling all-too familiar to many of us

Obit in the New Orleans Advocate here

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Dizzentennial (100 years of Dr Gillespie)

October 21, 2017 at 1:47 pm (culture, jazz, modernism, music)

Dizzy Gillespie, born (Cheraw, South Carolina) Oct 21 1917 (died Jan 6 1993):

“He changed the face of jazz in three ways: first, he created  a totally original trumpet style which took virtuosity to undreamed-of limits, redefining the technical possibilities of the instrument; second, with (Charlie) Parker and others he established bebop as the valid contemporary style for both small groups and big bands; third, he changed the way jazz musicians behaved towards one another: whereas previous generations of musicians had been reluctant to share their knowledge with up-and-coming players, Gillespie proselytized, taught and encouraged musicians on all instruments, drawing them into the music and recommending them for various jobs. His generosity and his confidence in his own abilities were such that he assisted and nurtured the talents of potential rivals including Fats Navarro,  Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and later Lee Morgan and John Faddis. If Bird (Parker) was the intuitive genius of bebop, Dizzy was the organizing genius, the passionate, rational force” (extracted from the entry on Gillespie, by Ian Carr, in Jazz – The Rough Guide [pub: 1995])

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Monk at 100

October 13, 2017 at 8:12 pm (culture, jazz, music, posted by JD)

Thelonious Sphere Monk, born (Rocky Mount North Carolina) Oct 11 1917; died Feb 17 1982


Above: Monk (piano) with Charlie Rouse (tnr sax). Larry Gales (bass), Ben Riley (drums), Fairfield Hall, Croydon UK): playing Rhythm a Ning

The always-perceptive Gary Giddins commented, in a 2002 interview:

I can’t imagine anyone confusing Monk with any other performer. If you do a blindfold test and play Monk, the listener is likely going to know it’s him after about two bars. Everything about the way he approaches the piano and music is so distinctive. People used to use words like idiosyncratic and eccentric, but there is, of course, more than that — there is a tremendous beauty in Monk’s music, and it is peculiar to him. Everything about his attack, the particular percussiveness of his style, his use of chords, his astonishing time, can only be described as “Monkian.” And in terms of his almost exclusive reliance on jazz, most great jazz pianists have some classical training that seeps into their approaches to melodic line, time, harmony and everything else. With Monk, when you try to trace him back, you always go back to figures in jazz itself, to stride pianists, to Teddy Wilson, and to musicians who specifically predate him in that music. Even though he quotes from folk songs and all kinds of different material in American popular music, there is nothing obviously European about his influence. You would never say, “His playing comes from the fact that he spent his childhood learning how to play Mozart sonatas.” You just don’t hear that in Monk’s music.

When I was an undergraduate, I spent the summer of my freshman year studying in the South of France. One of the Americans in my group was a classical pianist who had actually toured as a prodigy in the United States and in Europe. He didn’t know a great deal about jazz, but he absolutely worshipped two jazz pianists, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans. The reason was that he was astonished at the idea that when these two musicians sat at the keyboard you knew instantly, from the first note, that it was them. The idea that an attack could be that distinct and individual filled him with admiration.

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Buddy Rich: a force of nature

September 30, 2017 at 1:25 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, United States, wild man)

The force of nature that was Buddy Rich, was born 100 years ago today in Brooklyn. He appeared on stage as part of his parents’ vaudeville act before the age of two, and remained an extrovert performer with extraordinary skill, speed and dexterity until close to the end (he died in 1987). As well as being a drummer he could also tap-dance and sing very proficiently. For those who are not familiar with his work, here’s a typical example that looks as though it’s from fairly late in his career:

Rich had a reputation as a tough guy and a martinet bandleader. You can listen to him ranting at his band in this infamous recording:

Yet at least one former sideman claims that a lot of the belligerence was an act, and underneath he was a “pussycat”. He certainly had a sense of humour:

His reputation in some circles, as a loud, heavy and insensitive drummer has some truth to it, but in the right company and circumstances, he could play with taste and restraint, as on this April 1946 session with Nat ‘King’ Cole on piano and Lester Young on tenor:

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Early Autumn, with Woody Herman and Stan Getz

September 24, 2017 at 4:22 pm (jazz, Jim D, Sheer joy)

According to BBC Radio 4, today is officially the first day of autumn – which surprised me, as I thought it had arrived weeks ago.

Anyway, that being so, it provides me with an excellent excuse to post a video of Woody Herman’s 1948 recording of Early Autumn, composed and arranged by Ralph Burns and featuring the young tenor sax genius Stan Getz:

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