Tag Archives: thinking out loud

Dream Bands

The following began when a friend joked about jotting down my favorite obscure players. Before I knew it, unsung section men, underappreciated doublers, under-recorded causes that I wish I could hear more of and people I wish had recorded together came to mind, and the list of players turned into a list of bands.

The particular sizes of these bands always seemed to me like the most flexible, transparent ones for arranged jazz. More of a large combination than a big band in the current sense of the term, sections are small enough to form their own miniature ensembles, or chamber groups, that allow each player’s voice to blend, contrast or color the whole even in the tightest blend. Jazz has always focused on individuality of tone, and a band of eight to ten musicians allows massed effects while never burying anyone’s timbre.

Why are there no banjoists or guitarists?  I’m not good at picking them. This is an entirely personal, probably ignorant list, so take it with a grain of salt, ideally enjoy it and let me know if you’ve got your own dream band. Here goes…

trumpet 1: Phil Napoleon
trumpet 2: Tom Morris
trombone: Charlie Irvis
clarinet, soprano saxophone and alto sax: Buster Bailey
tenor and c-melody saxophones: Jack Pettis
piano: Arthur Schutt
tuba and string bass: Joe Tarto
drums: Chauncey Morehouse
Phil Napoleon’s clean, well-balanced sound and crisp placement of notes made him (as another friend put it) born to play on acoustic records. The thought of contemporary Tom Morris’s wa-wa mute commenting under and around Napoleon’s open lead or the two New Yorkers coming up with their own take on the Creole Jazz Band’s two-horn breaks is a perfect example of a collaboration that time and social politics now leave to the imagination. Buster Bailey and Jack Pettis are simply two of my favorite reed players, both intense in solos, stirring in collectively improvised ensembles and more than capable on written parts. The double-sax format in this band (heard on records by the early Fletcher Henderson band, Clarence Williams’s combos and more recently by the Fat Babies) was a great sound that unfortunately faded as bands got bigger.
Charlie Irvis is another straightforward, big-toned, pre-Teagarden and non-Mole trombonist from the acoustic era with a knack for adding slurs, fills and bass to ensembles. The rhythm section swung the Georgians hard through acoustically recorded surfaces, with Chauncey Morehouse especially gifted at using a variety of engineer-approved auxillary percussion to punctuate ensembles. This band would sound amazing on a Gennett 78 from around 1923.

trumpets: Bill Moore and Bobby Stark
trombone: Charlie Green
lead alto sax: Joe Poston
clarinet, alto 2 and baritone sax: Don Murray
tenor sax and clarinet: Woody Walder
piano: Frank Signorelli
string bass: Steve Brown
drums: Kaiser Marshall
This rhythm section of not-quite “unknown” nor “famous” players would have been a meeting of New Orleans (Brown) and New York (Signorelli and Marshall), as well as different idioms within those geo-musical associations. History’s loss again, since it’s easy and exciting to imagine Brown’s bass slaps and Marshall’s cymbal crashes kicking behind the ensemble. Signorelli may or may not have broke any historical ground but he laid plenty of musical foundation in some of the best jazz groups on record. He’d even get to solo here.
It’s just fun to think of lithe-toned, chattering Bill “The Hot Hawaiian” Moore trading fours with Bobby Stark, who plays with the fire and speed of a Jazz Age Roy Eldridge (and, in my humble opinion, a more vocal quality than fleet-fingered Jabbo Smith). Add in Charlie Green’s trombone bottoming out the brass parts and contributing gutty fills around the ensemble and you have a real exercise in contrasts. The same goes for Don Murray’s technical wizardry on clarinet and light-toned baritone paired with Woody Walder’s Southwestern, blues-soaked style on both clarinet and tenor sax; imagine the duets these two might play! Joe Poston’s bright, flexible alto would be an ideal voice to tie this or any other section together.

trumpet 1: Joe Smith
trumpet 2: R.Q. Dickerson
mellophone, clarinet, soprano and alto sax: Goof Moyer
lead alto: Gil Rodin
clarinet, alto 2 and baritone sax: Don Murray
tenor sax and clarinet: Prince Robinson
piano: Irving Brodsky
tuba: Cyrus St. Clair
drums: Dillon Ober
Joe Smith’s sweet tone and restrained style distinguished him from his more extroverted contemporaries, making him Fletcher Henderson’s first-call trumpeter. RQ Dickerson was a force of nature, blasting and moaning with the St. Louis-bred Missourians. These two might be the oddest couple on the list.
Its most under-appreciated musician (which is really saying something here) might be Gil Rodin. Rarely if ever getting to solo, Rodin diligently led Ben Pollack’s sax section band during the band’s glory years. His rich yet gauzy alto always seemed like a predecessor to Hymie Schertzer’s transparent lead in fellow Pollack alumnus Benny Goodman’s swing big band. Maybe Goodman the sideman already had an idea of what Goodman the bandleader might want in a sax section? Filling out the section, Don Murray is back and Prince Robinson handles third sax. Robinson combined some of Coleman Hawkins’s influence into his own more declaratory, at times brass-like, approach to tenor sax.
The multitalented Ken “Goof Moyer” could not only add a unique color reading trombone parts on his mellophone, but punchy solos on that instrument as well as several others. The rhythm section is another assembly of players who were much more than dutiful, often spurring, never distracting and never together. This band would’ve been something to hear, perhaps on a Victor 78 from around 1928, or after hours following a battle of the bands.

trumpet 1: Leonard Davis
trumpet 2: Ed Allen
trombone: George Brunies
lead alto sax, clarinet and violin: Darnell Howard
clarinet, alto 2 and soprano sax: Buster Bailey
tenor sax and flute: Larry Binyon
clarinet, tenor and baritone saxes: Don Murray
piano: Bob Zurke
bass: Artie Shapiro
drums: George Stafford
This reed section alone could be a band in itself. Larry Binyon is another unsung studio player who could play any piece of music on nearly any instrument with some of the best bands on records who no one thought to interview. Darnell Howard’s roots go all the way back to playing violin with WC Handy, through saxophone with King Oliver and Earl Hines to some gritty clarinet quartets with Don Ewell. Bailey and Murray are there not just because they are my top two clarinetists but because of their respective doubling abilities. Bailey played soprano when Clarence Williams couldn’t get Sidney Bechet, but always seemed worth another turn on the instrument. My permutation is rusty, but this setup alone generates 54 combinations of instruments, 192 if you count duos, trios and solos.
Bob Zurke’s wild contrapuntal flurries supported by the sensitive yet swinging Artie Shapiro and woefully under-recorded George Stafford was way more likely at a jam session than a recording studio. It just goes to show how much is left off the record. Ditto for Stafford’s colleague in the Charlie Johnson band Leonard “Ham” Davis, who never got as much airtime as his incisive lead with Eddie’s Hot Shots earned him. Ed Allen received much more attention as a musician on Clarence Williams’s payroll, playing clean leads, driving ensemble ones, passionate blues, vocally-conceived muted solos, Armstrong-tinged licks and just about anything else the imaginative Williams asked for. I love the thought of George Brunies’s big, foggy New Orleans tailgate trombone trading choruses with these two St Louis trumpeters. Sometimes thought is all we’re left with!

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Thinking About Early Music

careofnietzschenewsdotorgFriedrich Nietzsche said that Wagnerian opera expressed “the sublime, the profound and the overwhelming.” Yet he wasn’t giving out compliments.

For Nietzsche, Wagner’s music represented the decadence of their time as well as the composer’s ego, two things that ticked Nietzsche off so much that he devoted The Case of Wagner and Nietzsche Contra Wagner to roasting his former friend and now musical Napoleon.  Readers may not agree that Wagner refused or was unable to write a melody or that he distrusted beauty, yet Nietzsche’s descriptions of Wagner’s big orchestra, big effects and big, superheated emotions are hard to dispute.

There’s a sense of girth to Wagner’s works that just isn’t found in the music of earlier composers.  No matter how busy the counterpoint or terrifying the scene, Bach and Mozart never let their textures grow too thick or their sentiments turn too raw. Their music glows while, for Nietzsche, Wagner’s music “sweats.” For Nietzsche, the artist’s sweat, the residue of their own subjectivity and anything that draws too much attention to the artist’s efforts made sublimity, profundity and the overwhelming seem like noisy, smelly passengers on a very bad tour of European culture and its future.

careofpausaniodotdeI don’t have the research materials needed to ascertain whether or not Nietzsche had heard of Galuppi, but he may have liked the Venetian opera composer’s own three descriptors of good music. “Charm, clarity and good harmony” might sound a little too modest for the philosopher who gave the world “will to power,” but Nietzsche might have respected Galuppi’s honesty and self-awareness (possibly even his modesty). Instead of self-absorbed display, a compulsion towards bombastic realism and a cleverly complex technique, Galuppi opted for lightness, directness, transparency, stylization, respect for form and tradition, rhythmic flow and a good dose of humor.

Early music, whether it’s a Baroque suite or a hot dance chart, isn’t limited to those values but it thrives on them. Depending on one’s taste, the music is “balanced” or “small” enough so that all the moving parts are audible, and valuable. The structure and scope of the music are not (yet) so big or so codified that they make anyone feel trapped by them. Practitioners, if they’re not inventing the forms, see them as springboards rather than shackles. Necessity plays an important role, for example with instrumentation, venue and material, leading to invention that wouldn’t be possible with unlimited resources. Musicians treat their craft (rather than “calling” or “mission”) seriously but take themselves slightly less seriously.  Early music is usually also commissioned by a patron or danced to by audiences. It’s usually not the undiluted expression of an “artist.”

It’s hard to imagine Galuppi, or for that matter Vivaldi or King Oliver, calling themselves “artists” or penning the kind of long, personal treatises written by Wagner. It’s harder still to picture any of them pouring their pure, undiluted tears onto the stage. Can anyone imagine Jabbo Smith or Handel using music to show how they felt, rather than crafting something that made the listener feel a certain way?

Wagner’s personal beliefs are an open book courtesy of his music.  The same goes for Charles MingusHaydn would have never gotten away with or even wanted to be so candid in his music.  Could we even imagine Don Redman composing a secular oratorio to honor one of his political heroes, or Hot Lips Page playing his trumpet to protest anything?  Mozart, who created some of the most touching, powerful experiences in sound, never felt the need to confess, let alone scream or cry. Neither did Louis Armstrong. No matter what they expressed, there was always style and play in their work.  They didn’t seem to want to be gods in the act of creation.  They continue to succeed as musicians inviting all of us into their (to borrow a term Albert Murray liked) recreation.

Nietzsche  looked for certain artistic qualities in music but didn’t find them in contemporary sounds. He found the past much more rewarding. In other words, Nietzsche was an early music fan.mound-city-blue-blowers-web_med care of VJM

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Celebrating Bob Crosby’s Birthday and His Big Band with a Lesser Known Number

In honor of Bob Crosby‘s birthday, here’s a side that’s probably not as familiar as “South Rampart Street Parade,” “Big Noise from Winnetka” or other tunes usually associated with his band:

At a time when most big bands were taking their cues from Harlem, Bob Crosby and His Orchestra found inspiration by looking a little further back to Chicago and New Orleans. The band was fairly popular during the swing era despite (or maybe because of) their allegiances to earlier repertoire and styles, yet this side is an intriguing hybrid. The tune was written by Jimmy McHugh for a New York revue and primarily associated with Duke Ellington. The arrangement includes riff choruses, which were more prevalent in charts by Crosby’s more “modern” contemporaries, as well as a lowdown, killer-diller feel vaguely reminiscent of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Goodman’s famous recording had been released a little over a year earlier. The Crosby band might have been trying to cash in on the continued success of similar numbers.

Whatever influences were at work, Crosby’s ensemble keeps its identity with deliciously reedy textures, a powerful but warm trumpet section and the outstanding rhythm team of bassist/arranger Bob Haggart and drummer Ray Bauduc laying down a beat that’s nothing like Goodman, Basie or any of their contemporaries. Solos from Warren Smith’s blistering trombone and Bob Zurke’s labyrinthine piano, as well as a typically liquid reflection from clarinetist Irving Fazola and criminally underrated tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller wailing away also make this an utterly Crosbyesque performance. Perhaps most importantly, it swings like crazy!

There’s too much here for me to capture in any cogent fashion.  Enjoy the music.


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