September in the Rain, with Dinah Washington

September 1, 2017 at 2:23 pm (jazz, love, music, posted by JD, Sheer joy, song, Soul, The blues)

There’s only one song for today (and, indeed, for this month), and only one singer:

Dinah Washington was one of the few black jazz/R&B singers to break into the mainstream US hit parade: in 1959, she had her first top ten pop hit, with a version of “What a Diff’rence a Day Made“,[11] which made Number 4 on the US pop chart. Her band at that time included arranger Belford Hendricks, with Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Zawinul (piano), and Panama Francis (drums). She followed it up with a version of Irving Gordon‘s “Unforgettable“, and then two highly successful duets in 1960 with Brook Benton, “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” (No. 5 Pop, No. 1 R&B) and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)” (No. 7 Pop, No. 1 R&B). Her last big hit was “September in the Rain” in 1961 (No. 23 Pop, No. 5 R&B).[10]

Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Washington’s seventh husband, football great Dick “Night Train” Lane, went to sleep with his wife, and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead.[7] An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital, which contributed to her death at the age of 39. She is buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois (Wikipedia).

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The lovely, gentle, sad but joyous jazz star: Lester Young

August 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm (jazz, Jim D, love, song, The blues, tragedy)


Above: Pres bursts into jazz immortality in 1936

Pres, or Prez (“The President of all Saxophone Players”, so named by Billie Holiday), died in New York on 15 March 1959. He was born in Woodville Mississippi on 27 August 1909, so perhaps that happier anniversary should be Lester Young Day.

“Lester was a dancer, a dreamer, a master of time and its secrets. Foremost among them: equilibrium. He never stumbles on the tightrope of swing, of tension and relaxation held in perfect ying-yang balance. He is a juggler, a high-wire artist without a net, a diver, a gambler, a gamboler.

The discoveries, the clear profundities of late Lester have been little understood. Some of his languor, no doubt, was the result of the need for conservation of energy. But what he made of this necessity! He was indeed a mother of invention….

“Long live gentle Lester, who loved life despite what it had done to him, and who never stopped reaching out, gifts in hand. To hell with those who call your strength weakness because you turned the pain inward, upon yourself rather than others, and offer simplistic explanations for your singular fate. Perhaps they envy you your immortality” – Dan Morgenstern, in ‘A Lester Young Reader’, edited by Lewis Porter, pub: Smithsonian, 1991.

I’ve posted this clip of Lester’s final encounter with his platonic love, Billie Holiday, several times before. But there may still be people who haven’t seen it. Watch Billie’s face as Pres (the second soloist, following Ben Webster) struggles through his slightly strained, but beautifully-constructed solo: it’s pure love in its most refined and intense manifestation; a couple of years after this 1957 TV show (on which Lester was not booked to appear, but turned up nevertheless) both Billie and Lester would be dead:

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Kay Starr: a true Star(r) right to the end

July 9, 2017 at 2:29 pm (good people, jazz, posted by JD, song, The blues, United States)

Katherine Laverne Starks (aka Kay Starr) July 21 1922 – Nov 3, 2016

One of my favourite singers, Kay Starr, died last November almost unnoticed, despite the fact that she’d had some big hits (Wheel Of Fortune, Rock And Roll Waltz, etc) in the 50’s.

Kay came up in the late thirties and sang with the big bands of Joe Venuti, Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller and Charlie Barnett, but was equally at home with hillbilly music, small group jazz and the blues. Legend has it that Billie Holiday said Kay (whose dad was Native American and mum Irish) was the only “white gal” who could really sing the blues.

I meant to write something at the time of her death, but somehow didn’t get round to it. However, this month’s Just Jazz magazine carries a delightful reminiscence by US bandleader Jim Beatty that deserves a wider readership. It’s not altogether politically correct, but exudes affection, respect and a little bit of sadness.

Remembering Kay Starr
By Jim Beatty

When I was a young guy in high school Kay Starr was one of the most popular singers on the United States pop charts. But she covered all the bases and sang all styles from Country, Swing, to jazz. Not only that, she was cute and good looking — the kind of girl that my friends and I would love to have a date with.

She was born in Dougherty, Oklahoma in 1922, her father was a full blown Iroquois Indian and her mother was Irish. Kay’s family did not make a lot of money, but raised chickens at home and every day when Kay got out of school she came home and sang to the chickens. Her parents entered her into a talent contest: she won, and that led to a 15-minute record show at three dollars a show. They later moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and she went into radio there as well. Jazz violinist Joe Venuti was passing through town with his band and listened to her sing on the radio and offered her a job. She was only 15 years old and still in school, but she sang with Joe and his band in the summertime when school was out. Joe Venuti was very protective of her and on top of that her mother came with her to all her jobs. She was with the Glenn Miller Orchestra for two months before going with Charlie Barnett and his band in 1945. She later went on her own as a featured singer and in 1956 recorded the number one hit in the United States and UK – The Rock And Roll Waltz. Kay followed that with more smash hits, such as Side By Side and Wheel Of Fortune.

David Christopher had booked Kay into his Lyons English Grille showroom on Memorial Day weekend 2010, and asked me if I’d like to play the show. Of course I was there with bells on. I met Kay in the musicians’ room so we could all run over the show together. She was wonderful to talk to and surprised that I knew so much about her early life singing jazz with Joe Venuti. We had a packed house that night and Kay sang many of her favourites, along with a beautiful rendition of If You Love Me. That night turned out to be Kay Starr’s last public appearance.

Following the show, Katie (that’s what her friends called her), her assistant Ann, along with David Christopher and I, sat down and relaxed with some drinks. I noticed that my scotch and water was disappearing rapidly and I didn’t remember even having a sip. What was happening was Katie chugalugging her scotch and water and switching her glass with me when I wasn’t looking, putting her empty glass in front of me and taking my full one. We later heard from her assistant Ann, that Katie loved her scotch and you had to keep an eye on her at all times.

David Christopher and I went to a restaurant and got some cold sandwiches which we brought back to Katie’s hotel room. So there I was, sitting on a bed with Kay Starr, eating a sandwich and drinking a glass of white wine. My childhood dream came true and I was in bed with Kay Starr. The only trouble was that I was 76 years old and Kay was 88, plus we were accompanied by Kay’s assistant and David Christopher. Katie hadn’t lost her sense of humour and when we opened the sliding door onto the hotel patio to leave —  she said, very loudly so everyone could hear — “Thanks for the business, boys!”

Below: Kay Starr with Les Paul in New York, five years before the final gig with Jim:

 

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The King of the Blues is dead

May 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm (good people, music, posted by JD, RIP, The blues)

BB King, 1925-2015

“[H]is instrumental virtuosity and the seamless interaction between the liquid, vocal tone he conjured from the numerous Gibson semi-acoustic guitars that have borne the nickname “Lucille” over the past six-and-a-half decades and his warm, chesty singing (“First I sing and then Lucille sings”) was only one part of the reason for his pre-eminence not only in his chosen field of the blues but in the broader expanse of the past musical century’s popular mainstream. BB King was also one of the planet’s consummate entertainers; his expansive stage presence, enveloping generosity of spirit, patent willingness to drive himself into the ground for his audiences and ability to put virtually any crowd at their ease took him from the backbreaking labour and harsh racism of the rural Southern states to the biggest stages of the world’s capital cities” -From the excellent appreciation by Charles Shaar Murray in today’s Guardian.

The Thrill Is Gone (probably his most famous recording):

…and here’s a live version of my personal favourite Three O’ Clock Blues:

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Billie Holiday, born April 7 1915, died July 17 1959

April 6, 2015 at 2:04 pm (civil rights, culture, history, jazz, Jim D, music, protest, Racism, Sheer joy, song, Soul, The blues, truth)

The woman who was simply the greatest singer in the entire history of jazz was born 100 years ago. Apart from her extraordinary voice (limited but highly expressive), she tends to be remembered for her “tragic” life, bad choices in lovers and her clashes with the authorities (she was even arrested on narcotics charges as she lay dying in hospital).

She made an extraordinary impression on all who met her, or even just heard her records. The British jazz critic Max Jones who met her and got to know her when she visited Britain in 1954 and then just before her death in 1959, is typical:

“Soon reports were coming in regularly of her deteriorating condition. At the end of May she collapsed and was taken to hospital, suffering from liver and heart complaints.

“Still harried by the authorities, she died in degrading circumstances at 3 a.m. on 17 July 1959, with 70 cents in the bank and 750 dollars in large notes strapped to her leg. She was, by her reckoning, only 44 years old. And I was halfway through a letter to her when friends telephoned to say she was dead. Though half expecting it, I was devastated by the news.

“But still, we have those many lovely or disturbing recorded performances. They will be a pleasure to my ears for the rest of my life and those of future generations for all time, I guess.” 

The actor, Billy Crystal  (who, it turns out, is the nephew of Commodore Records’ Milt Gabler, who recorded Billie singing ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939), still remembers her.

Billie is well represented on Youtube, including her incredibly moving 1957 TV recording of ‘Fine and Mellow’ , a reunion with her old (platonic) friend and confidant Lester Young, after some years of estrangement. Then there’s the cry of pain and protest that is ‘Strange Fruit.’

But I prefer to remember the young, joyous and careless Billie of the mid-to-late 1930’s, as can be heard on this little gem from 1936 (below):

Billie even (playfully) puts drummer Cozy Cole in his place in the opening banter. Bunny Berigan on trumpet, Artie Shaw on clarinet.

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The death-bed legacy of guitar legend Snoozer Quinn

November 22, 2014 at 5:37 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, strange situations, The blues)

Above: the only known film of Snoozer, with his ‘Snoozer’s Telephone Blues’ dubbed

I’ve been vaguely aware for some years, of a legendary jazz guitarist called Snoozer Quinn. I knew from something I’d read, that he was highly regarded by fellow musicians in the 1920’s and 30’s, but didn’t record much until he was – literally – on his death bed in a TB sanitorium in the late 1940’s, when someone brought in a portable recording machine and asked him to play into it.

Some of these recordings have been available on the internet for a while, but not the complete set and not on CD. Now, Mike Dine’s 504 Records has put out all 12 of these death-bed recordings known to exist, on a CD called ‘The Magic Of Snoozer Quinn’.

Here are the very detailed and knowledgeable CD booklet-notes by Charlie Crump:

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Snoozer Quinn was a classic example of a musician’s musician.

Born Elvin McIntosh Quinn in McComb, Mississippi on October 18th 1906, he was a child prodigy, learning to play mandolin and violin by the age of seven, before taking up the guitar which was to become his instrument of choice.

After the family moved to Bogalusa, La, he became a professional musician, playing with the family band before going on the road at the age of seventeen with bands led by Jack Wilrich and later Mart Britt. He first met Johnny Wiggs in 1924 when he joined Peck Kelly’s Texas based band, then playing in Shreveport, La. Returnin to Bogalusa, Snoozer was picked up by Wingy Mannone who was putting together a New Orleans style band for a gig at Bob White and Eddie Connors Somerset Club in San Antonio, Texas. Joe Mannone’s New Orleans Rhythm Band consisted of Wingy Mannone (tpt), Don Ellis (sax), Charles ‘Pee Wee’ Russell (clt), Joe Lamar (pno), Snoozer Quinn (gtr), Joe ‘Hooknose’ Loycano (bs), Clause Humphries (ds), the job lasted three months.

From late 1925 to 1928 he played in the New Orleans area where he was heard at an after hours jam session by members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, including Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer, then playing at the St. Charles Theatre in October 1928. Trumbauer was so impressed with Snoozer’s playing that he took him to Paul Whiteman’s room so that he could hear him play. Johnny Wiggs recalled  that one of Snoozer’s tricks was to play pizzicato and hold the chord with one hand and shoot out the other to shake your hand. He did this to Whiteman while playing ‘Tiger Rag’. Whiteman was so knocked out by this that he immediately offered Snoozer a job, and he played with the Whiteman organisation until around mid-April 1929.

As far as recordings were concerned this move did not do much to enhance Snoozer’s career, as he only appeared on two, or possibly three, over the Whiteman period. At the end of his stay with Whiteman he appeared on Bing Crosby’s first session to be issued under his own name and on a session, rejected at the time, by (singer) Bee Palmer which included Frank Trumbauer and an inaudible Bix Beiderbecke and has only recently seen the light of day as a CD issue (and on youtube). Discographies also list him as appearing on the Columbia issue of the Mason-Dixie Orchestra, a Frank Trumbauer group, shortly after leaving Whiteman. His only other recordings were a rejected session for Victor in San Antonio in May 1928 and ten titles with another guitarist as accompanist to Jimmie Davis on ten country styled tracks in May 1931.

After the Jimmie Davis period he played with Earl Crumb’s Band in New Orleans over a long period in the early 1930’s  and continued to work in the South until the end of his playing career was brought about by failing health at the end of that decade.

However, he started playing regularly again by the mid-1940’s, including a long spell with Earl Crumb’s Band at the Beverly Gardens Restaurant on Jefferson Highway in New Orleans. One of Snoozer’s last appearances was at the New Orleans Jazz Foundation Concert in April 1948.

Advanced tuberculosis caused him to be confined to a sanatorium for the last few years of his life. Effectively that would have meant the end of Snoozer’s music had it not been for Johnny Wiggs, who had maintained contact with him over the years and considered his music of sufficient importance to justify a further attempt to preserve Snoozer’s guitar work. Although he had spent over 20 years as a teacher of mechanical drawing and had only recently started playing again, Wiggs took his cornet, a portable recording machine and blanks  to the sanatorium where Snoozer was a patient. The twelve tracks presented here, some of which have Wiggs added on cornet, are those recorded at the time. Four of the titles were issued privately by Johnny Wiggs on two 78rpm records on his Wiggs Inc. label and are included in this set which represents all those that were recorded at that time.

Given the circumstances of the recording the results are remarkably good, with only one track showing any sign of groove damage.

The exact dates of the recordings are unknown but they fall between the dates of Snoozer’s entry to the Sanatorium in 1948 and his death in 1949.

*********************************************************************************************************

* H/t: Jason Hill (for bringing my attention to the youtube  film)

* ‘The Magic Of Snoozer Quinn’ is available from 504 Records, 20 Clifton Road, Welling, Kent, DA16 1QA, England. Tel: 020 8303 9719

* Lots more on Snoozer, here

* Finally, I hope it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I have no commercial interest in this CD.

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The Half Decents: Syria Benefit Gig for Médecins Sans Frontières

November 12, 2014 at 2:17 pm (anti-fascism, gigs, Harry's Place, Human rights, internationalism, London, Middle East, music, posted by JD, solidarity, Syria, The blues)

Congratulations to Dave ‘Blind Lemon’ Osler for initiaing this. At one point Dave was looking for a drummer and I considered offering my services, but the thought of getting a drum kit to a gig in central London was just too terrifying – JD

Some causes transcend political barriers. The plight of those trapped between the murderers of the Islamic State and the slaughter at the hands of Assad’s forces is one of those issues.

The Facebook Event page is here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/594797527292791/

On Saturday, 6 December, a band composed of bloggers, journalists and political activists from across the political spectrum will be playing a gig to support Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) and their vital work in the region.

Dubbed “The Half Decents”, our ad-hoc band will perform a familiar blend of rock classics and blues standards, with a sprinkling of indie pop. The evening will be hosted by 89Up, the public affairs agency (http://www.89up.org/), and will include guest speakers and a support act.

We’re asking anybody who wants to attend to donate at least £10 to Medecins Sans Frontiers, via this special JustGiving Fundraising Page.

https://www.justgiving.com/Half-Decents

Leave your name and we will email before the gig with all the details you will need.

The Half Decents is made up of Davis Lewin (Henry Jackson Society), Paul Evans (Slugger O’Toole), David Osler (ex Tribune), David Toube (Harry’s Place), Brett Lock (ex OutRage!) and Adam Barnett (East London Advertiser).

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Thanks, Stroppy, from me … and Red McKenzie

May 11, 2014 at 6:22 pm (blogosphere, good people, jazz, Jim D, The blues)

Thanks to ex-blogger Yvonne, aka “Stroppy Bird”, for a fabulous party on her 50th:

Stroppy Bird looking beautiful and happy at her birthday party. Good fun.

 I had a great time and was hugely entertained by Rosie Kane’s stand-up act. I also met Comrade Coatesy, in person, for the first time (and it’s not true that we had a ‘punch-up’: in fact, we got on very well).

Madame Stroppy’s partner, the ex-blogger Dave Osler, and I, performed (and I sang and played comb-and-paper on) a 12-bar blues:

Photo: Fine time at Stroppy Bird's birthday bash, not least Dave "blind lemon" Osler playing the blues

Rosie, and others, asked me about the comb-and-paper, and I freely admitted that my inspiration on this ‘instrument’ comes from the 1920’s comb-and-paper master, Red McKenzie:

So I hope, Madame Stroppy, that the spirit of Red McKenzie contributed to a great evening in your honour!

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Bessie Smith: Back Water Blues

February 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, song, The blues, tragedy)

Extreme weather and flooding having become a highly-charged political issue in the UK. So I thought Bessie Smith’s blues (superbly accompanied by pianist James P. Johnson) about the flooding of New Orleans in 1927 might be appropriate:

This is dedicated to all the people of the ‘Somerset Levels’ who’ve had to suffer so much over the past weeks. I’d also like to dedicate it to Lord Chris Smith of the Environmental Agency, a decent man whose monumentally inept handling of the situation and lack of PR skills are making it increasingly likely that he’s going to be made the scapegoat for this fiasco.

But, for now, let’s just enjoy Bessie’s incredible voice…

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Bobby Gordon: unsung hero of the jazz clarinet

January 18, 2014 at 7:07 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, Soul, The blues)

2014 came in badly as far I was concerned: checking old friend Michael Steinman’s Jazz Lives blog, I saw that Bobby Gordon died on 31st December.

Most of you will never have heard of Bobby, who was an American jazz clarinettist who came on the scene playing Condon-style jazz and swing, just as that style was going out of fashion. Nevertheless, he played some great music and, thinking about him, I realised he’d been on many of my favourite jazz CD’s of the 1980s and ’90’s, with Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Rebecca Kilgore and Hal Smith. His clarinet playing reflected his personality: modest, shy, understated, but intense and very, very beautiful. Back in the early 1960’s American Decca hired him to make an album with strings, in an attempt to emulate Acker Bilk’s UK hit  ‘Stranger On The Shore’ : sadly, it didn’t achieve the same kind of sales. The nearest Bobby ever came to fame and fortune was his  time in the 1980’s, accompanying singer Leon Redbone – and even that brief moment of relative success involved an horrific air crash, from which both of them were lucky to survive.

Bobby was one of the many unsung greats of jazz: not many people remember him, but those who do will always appreciate his great soul and blue-tinged sad-happy improvisations. Bobby’s main inspiration and mentor was the 1930’s Chicago/New York clarinettist Joe Marsala, to whom he paid musical tribute on several occasions, including two ‘Arbors’ CD’s (Don’t Let It End and Lower Register). Another influence was Pee Wee Russell and here’s Bobby, in 2010, remembering him on Pee Wee’s Blues:

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