We live in challenging times. We can debate whether these are the grimmest of times or if we are simply more connected with their every component tragedy. Yet all of the screens, windows, channels, pages, devices and voices sharing the bad news, the good news, the breaking news, the ongoing stories and the same old crap is a challenge to the human mind unlike any it has faced before. Where does it focus? What does that even mean anymore?
A piece of music like the middle movement of Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto in A Minor (RV 463) offers refreshingly few options:
Just a single instrument playing a single line over a functional, lockstep accompaniment: Vivaldi leaves only one path for the listener’s attention span, as if asking, “what else do you need, or want, exactly?”
The idea of fixing onto a single anything without checking our email or expecting an explosion (in our art or our newsfeed) can seem quaint, naive, unrealistic, even selfish. Focus on a piece of music? Grab onto an old, “pretty” work like this, with its simple lead and accompaniment format? Follow this soliloquy of pitches and rhythms, hear where it goes, listen for the way the soloist decorates the line, the harmonies Vivaldi lays under it, the tapping of fingers, the exhalation of breath or some other sign of another human being concentrating on one thing and one thing alone?
That is a challenge.
A writing teacher one told me to avoid using the word “beautiful.” Well, Michael Steinman’s post about Johnny Windhurst and Jack Gardner is simply beautiful.
I try to cover obscure musicians on my blog, but after reading his post I not only want to hear more of Windhurst and Gardner’s music (and I haven’t even listened to the clip yet), I want to know more about the musicians themselves.
It’s also heartwarming to hear about people like Ms. Taylor, who in this context was “just a fan” but is responsible for preserving this music decades after the scholars and critics would have skipped it and written another biography of Miles Davis. The reference to trading tapes is another uplifting reminder of a time before everything was tagged and downloadable, when people shared music, talked about it and perhaps even got to know one another in the process.
We have come so far yet lost so much when it comes to hearing history, but we always have people like Michael Steinman, and as a result “Gypsy,” Johnny, Jack, Archie Semple and so many others. That is beautiful.
Originally posted on JAZZ LIVES:
When I returned to my apartment in New York, I thought, “I need music in here. Music will help remind me who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, where my path might lead.” Initially I reached for some favorite performances for consolation, then moved over to the crates of homemade audiocassettes — evidence of more than twenty-five years of tape-trading with like-minded souls.
One tape had the notation PRIVATE CHICAGO, and looking at it, I knew that it was the gift of Leonora Taylor, who preferred to be called “Gypsy,” and who had an unusual collection of music. When I asked drummer / scholar Hal Smith about her, he reminded me that she loved the UK clarinetist Archie Semple. Although I don’t recall having much if any Archie to offer her, we traded twenty or thirty cassettes.
PRIVATE CHICAGO had some delightful material recorded (presumably) at the…
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Peer through any “Top Ten Tenors” list and you just won’t find Arthur Rollini. When he’s remembered at all, it’s for his time with Benny Goodman’s epoch-making mid-thirties swing band. Yet as the title of Rollini’s autobiography indicates, he was a skilled enough saxophonist (and apparently devoted yet ultimately disappointed flutist) to make a career of Thirty Years With The Big Bands. Besides Goodman, Rollini played with sweet bandleader (and apparently very crass person) Richard Himber, the exacting, progressive-minded Raymond Scott and on a slew of pickup dates with a variety of jazz legends. Rollini must have done something right.
Rollini also had big ears to match that big talent. Alongside stories about life on the road, romantic boondoggles and references to “thoughtless…fickle…inconsiderate, etc. Benny [Goodman]!” his memoir is a who’s-who of pre-war talent. Far from name-dropping or even scattered recollection, Rollini effectually offers a listening guide to some now-forgotten musicians, artists who may not have all been innovators but were on bandstands and in recording studios making the music.
Here is Rollini’s extensive list of favorites, excerpted from his book in their order of appearance (emphases mine):
…Irving (Babe) Russin, who played fine tenor sax…Mario Lorenzi, also a good jazz harpist…Fred Elizalde, who was only twenty-three years old himself, a Cambridge graduate who played fantastic piano and arranged brilliantly…Bobby Davis, first alto sax…had a beautiful tonal quality on alto and baritone sax…Matty Malneck, a fine violin player (both concert and jazz)…
…Hymie Schertzer was now playing first alto sax [in Benny Goodman’s band]. Bill DePew was on the other alto sax, and Dick Clark and I were on tenors. It was a good sax section!…To this day Ziggy Elman had the most powerful sound that I have ever heard…Harry James was a genius. He could read all of the highly syncopated charts at sight, and he played fantastic jazz solos, different every time…also a good conductor and a fine arranger…Babe Russin, a great tenor man…no match for Vido [Musso]’s strong tone but made up for it with his keen ear and great drive…a good reader and read off all the charts at sight…Murray McEachern…a great talent…I must state emphatically, though, that the 1937-38 [Goodman] band was the best! Apart from Hymie Shertzer, who could swing a great lead alto sax, this band consisted entirely of jazz soloists of great talent…
…Hank D’Amico…was one man who did not try to imitate Goodman. He had a distinctive style of his own, and, as they now say, ears. He could read and transpose almost anything…Joe [Viola] was a schooled clarinet player and an excellent sax man…Ralph Muzillo…with an extremely strong sound and drive, was on first trumpet…Sid Stoneburn, a good clarinet player…Al Gallodoro, in my estimation the best technician of our day…could read and transpose almost anything; he was a self-taught musician and would often practice six or eight hours a day. He could double tongue, triple tongue on alto with ease and was magnificent…Abe [Osser] had absolute pitch…such a keen ear that he could detect a wrong passing note by one of the obscure violinists and could out the right one…Phil Napoleon, the fine Dixieland trumpeter…Johnny Bruno, a fine jazz accordion player…
…To this day, I think that Benny Goodman was still the greatest all-around clarinet player…a creator and influenced many players of his instrument throughout the world. I’ll have to give the number two spot to Artie Shaw, who was so great. The rest are up for grabs: Johnny Mince, Tony Scott, Peanuts Hucko, Barney Bigard, Pete Fountain, Abe Most, Buddy DeFranco, Gus Bivona, Hank D’Amico, Phil Bodner, Walter Levinsky, Mahlon Clark, Matty Matlock, Joe Dixon, Woody Herman, Clarence Hutchenrider, Sol Yaged, Bob Wilber, Buster Bailey, Marshall Royal, Joe Viola, Artie Baker, Paul Ricci, Tony Parenti, Jimmy Lytell, Sal Pace, Pete Pumiglio, Sal Franzella, Drew Page, Izzy Friedman and newcomer Dick Johnson…
Don’t forget Arthur Rollini! I’m willing to assume he knew his stuff and look forward to (re)hearing all of these musicians.
I rarely upload entire albums but given the rarity of this music, its energy as well as its originality and the likelihood that the label is no longer in business (and that most if not all of the musicians are past collecting royalties), sharing this LP shouldn’t hurt anyone.
In fact this music can’t help but raise the room temperature even as it introduces some mysteries: who were these red hot, all White, syncopated dance bands of the Midwest, taking jazz from Chicago, New Orleans and New York and making it completely their own? Musical breeds from the big three cities are there but these bands’ beat as well as their balance between improvised and arranged material is its own animal.
A few highlights include the slashing, Red Nichols-inspired trumpeter on “Hot Lips,” the clarinet lead throughout “Hot Licks,” the dueling brass and clarinet trios on “Igloo Stomp” and the warm, date night atmosphere of “Leven-thirty Saturday Night.” Play that last one alongside Fess Williams’s recording of the same tune for an illustration of why music can be completely individual even without improvisation.
Please enjoy! Thanks to Electric Buddhas of Portland, ME for keeping this one in its bins. If you are having trouble listening to the above clips, just click on each title below.
1. “Hot Lips” — HENRY LANGE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
2. “Nobody’s Sweetheart” — CLARIE HULL AND HIS BOYS
3. “Hot Licks (aka That’s A Plenty)” — ORIGINAL ATLANTA FOOTWARMERS
4. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” — HAL FRAZER AND HIS GEORGIANS
5. “Hot Coffee” — RUBY GREEN AND HIS MANHATTAN MADCAPS
6. “Louisiana Bo Bo” — LEW WEINER’S GOLD AND BLACK ACES
7. “The Merry Widow’s Got A Sweetie Now” — LEW WEINER’S GOLD AND BLACK ACES
8. “Igloo Stomp” — ART PAYNE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
9. “Blue Night” — ART PAYNE AND HIS ORCHESTRA
10. “Let’s Sit And Talk About You” — BOB MCGOWAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
11. “Don’t Hold Everything” — TOMMY MEYERS AND HIS GANG
12. “Things Look Wonderful Now” — TOMMY MEYERS AND HIS GANG
13. “If You LIke Me I Like You” — DUCKY YOUNTZ AND HIS ORCHESTRA
14. “Eleven Thirty Saturday Night” — DICK COY AND HIS RACKETEERS
15. “Cheer Up” — DEXTER’S PENNSYLVANIANS
16. “What’s The Use” — DEXTER’S PENNSYLVANIANS
Some credits for “Keyboard Express” confuse its composer, a pianist and vocalist named Mike Jackson, with bass saxophonist and King Oliver sideman Reverend Charlie Jackson, who is in turn often confused with bluesman Papa Charlie Jackson. “Mike” is also short for “Michael,” so the King of Pop is also on hand to make a mess of web searches.
Other sources confirm Mike Jackson as composer, but the tune’s title, its big introductory chords and winding central theme sound like the work of a pianist. In fact Clarence Williams Jazz Kings’ strip the tune down to just the leader’s piano and it exudes bright, plinking charm (listen here or below, and thanks to the owner of this website):
Williams was a composer in his own right but all business. Barring owing anyone a favor, Williams must have heard something he liked in “Keyboard Express,” thought Jackson’s tune would sell and decided to record it. Columbia marketed the record but the composition apparently never made a splash; Williams supplied its only recording (until the Southern Syncopators‘ 1993 album Happy Pal Stomp).
It’s impossible to glean if and how Lou Davis, John Fred Coots, Larry Spier and Sam Coslow ever heard “Keyboard Express.” Maybe some musical minds occasionally think eerily alike. Some just steal others’ work (Clarence Williams probably did). Either way, Jackson’s stepwise theme pops up in appended form on the foursome’s “Revolutionary Rhythm,” here given a medium tempo, hot foxtrot treatment by Fred Rich and His Orchestra on a record made a little over a year after the Jazz Kings’ side:
Introduced in the musical Illusion and sung by Buddy Rogers as dance feature for Lillian Roth, “Revolutionary Rhythm” fared slightly better than “Keyboard Express,” with recordings by Rich, Willie Creager and Bob Haring. An Internet search for the team of songwriters on “Revolutionary Rhythm” is also far more revealing than one for the lone composer of “Keyboard Express.”
Stacking both records side by side, we can compare Clarence Williams and Fred Rich, one’s Jazz Kings and the other’s Orchestra. Music historians might discuss jazz and popular music. Record collectors might subdivide hot and commercial, stomp and pep. In terms of performance, there is the distinction between arrangement and (some) improvisation. Compositionally, it’s a matter of a jazz tune and a Tin Pan Alley song. From a marketing perspective, one is a race record and the other (just) a record.
On one very specific level, we have a jazz composition by a now obscure Black composer that only received one recording in its time, recycled/plagiarized by a group of White composers and converted into a popular tune that gained far more attention. Ironically for some, the recording by a White band has far more improvisation than that of the Black band. Either way, the difference between these two old records is as complicated and current as Black and White.
Through both records and everything attached to them, there is that ascending phrase, more like a sequence or even an exercise, yet still typical of jazz. From its ragged beginnings to labyrinthine heads by Parker through Blanchard, jazz is often associated with instrumentally conceived melodies featuring lots of jagged turns, with piping, springy leads and songs that are hummable but not necessarily singable (unless you’re a Baroque diva, or Sarah Vaughn).
There is something telling about Jackson’s riff being used for an anthem to hip music. The bridge of “Revolutionary Rhythm” even ups the ante with modernistic harmonies and offbeat rhythmic emphases on the bridge. The riff itself is slightly mechanical but rises inexorably, like some efficient escalator headed to a wonderful destination. It’s not the trickiest jazz head but it is uplifting. It also unites several musical worlds, albeit in a very tricky, potentially disappointing way. It all depends on what you pay attention to.