© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
The following article was first published in Jazz Journal July 2016.
For more information and subscriptions please visit www.jazzjournal.co.uk
© - Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; copyright protected, all rights reserved., used with permission.
“If Dave Schildkraut is still remembered today it is probably because of a recording session with Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke that took place on Saturday, April 3rd. 1954. One of the titles was Solar which Miles never recorded again but the tune became so popular that Tom Lord’s discography lists 350 recordings by people like Phil Woods, Bill Evans, Chris Potter and Lee Morgan. A minor blues with subtle differences, Ted Gioia’s authoritative book on Jazz Standards highlights, “The ambiguity in tonality” of Solar which of course adds to the charm of the piece.
Dave Schildkraut was born on the 7th. January 1925 and he made his professional debut with Louis Prima in 1941. He played with Anita O’Day and Tommy Dorsey and when musical work became scarce in the forties he worked as a floor manager at Woolworths and later as a clerk at Decca. Around 1952 he was in Buddy Rich’s big band with Harry Edison, Eddie Bert and Zoot Sims at New York’s Paramount Theatre backing Frank Sinatra. Mrs. Sinatra - Ava Gardner – was usually to be found in the audience.
In 1953 Stan Kenton invited him to join the band which was about to undertake a highly successful European tour. He remained with Kenton for another tour titled a Festival of Modern American Jazz that lasted for a month from January 28th. 1954 with guests Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, Candido and June Christy. They visited twenty- two cities opening at Wichita Falls, Texas, concluding at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Bill Perkins who was in the band told me in a Jazz Journal interview, “The player Bird liked the best was Davey who was a complete original”. Schildkraut returned the compliment. In Robert Reisner’s book (Bird - The Legend of Charlie Parker) describing him as a “Musical Knight Of The Road”. Dave was apparently a poor poker player regularly losing all his money to Charlie Mariano during interminable games on the band-bus. Sitting next to Lee Konitz in the section meant few solo opportunities but Schildkraut made his mark on Kingfish, Fearless Finlay, Blues Before And After, Sweets and especially Egdon Heath.
Just prior to the Solar recording Miles Davis had been absent from the New York scene for about ten months due to personal problems. He spent time at his home in East St.Louis before moving out to California for engagements at the Lighthouse in Los Angeles and the Down Beat club in San Francisco. On his return in February 1954 he contacted Bob Weinstock of Prestige to tell him that he was ready to record again and Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke became his rhythm section of choice for recordings and bookings at Birdland and the Open Door. Schildkraut’s inclusion on the Solar date is a mystery because as far as I know he and Miles Davis had never worked together.
Saxophonist/author Allen Lowe who was a friend of Dave’s told me that Weinstock drove Schildkraut to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, New Jersey for the recording. On the way he made a sarcastic comment concerning Schildkraut’s work with Kenton, implying that Stan’s band was not considered to be hip. This of course annoyed Dave who wanted to prove himself at the session which he certainly did. He told the leader that rehearsals were unnecessary so they went ahead with the recording and Love Me Or Leave Me, I’ll Remember April and especially Solar are some of the finest examples of his work. On the latter, Miles establishes an intimate mood in a cup mute and when Dave eventually moves centre-stage, his four choruses add a fragile, almost haunting beauty to the performance. Kenny Clarke performs immaculately throughout, uninhibited by a missing hi-hat which he had mistakenly left at home.
Solar which was his own favourite recording is so well regarded that it has become the subject of a jazz-myth concerning a Charles Mingus Blindfold Test in Downbeat. Legend has it that Mingus was apparently convinced he was listening to Charlie Parker when Leonard Feather played Solar for him. It was actually Dave’s solo on Crazy Lady from a George Handy session that was played prompting these comments from Mingus, “That could trick me. It might not be Bird on alto but I think it’s Bird. If it’s not, it’s a cat who sure loved him”.
Initially credited to Miles Davis, Solar’s provenance has been in dispute for years. At least two other originals that were credited to the trumpeter (Four and Tune Up) were found to be written by somebody else (Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson) and there has always been doubts about Solar. These doubts were resolved in 2011 when the Music Division of the Library of Congress acquired Chuck Wayne’s Collection of correspondence and manuscripts. Wayne was a consummate bebop guitarist who had worked with Woody Herman, Gil Evans, George Shearing, Lester Young, Frank Sinatra – the list just goes on and on. Within the collection was an unpublished 10” acetate disc of a recording Chuck made with Sonny Berman in Oklahoma City in 1946 titled Sonny. When Larry Appelbaum the senior Music Librarian played the disc he immediately recognised Solar.
This might be apocryphal of course but Miles apparently once said to Chuck Wayne, “Are you the cat that showed me (Solar)? Well…sue me”. Davis copyrighted Solar on the 8th. August 1963 and the first two bars of the tune appear on his tombstone in Woodland Cemetery in the Bronx. Many jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry have their final resting place at Woodland.
After the Solar session Miles went on to re-establish his career but Dave never acquired the reputation he deserved. A true original musically he could also be somewhat eccentric. Bob Sunenblick told me that on an engagement with Elliot Lawrence, Dave took a really fine solo during the early part of the evening. After intermission Lawrence called for the same composition. Schildkraut stood up but didn’t play a note -“I played everything the first time” was his excuse. Behaviour like that would not have endeared him to bandleaders, club owners or record producers.
The fifties was a particularly busy period in New York recording studios for musicians of Schildkraut’s calibre. Hal McKusick for instance who acknowledged Dave’s influence on alto performed on 27 sessions in 1955 alone. Between 1954 and 1959 Schildkraut recorded on a mere 15 occasions but never as a leader. His career could almost be summed up as a series of deliberately ignored possibilities. Dizzy Gillespie wanted to record with him but was turned down more than once. Norman Granz offered him a date with strings with the same result. Bob Weinstock too was keen to have him on the Prestige roster but it did not happen
Schildkraut’s friend Bill Triglia was once performing at Birdland with Lester Young. During intermission he took the great man to hear Dave who was working at a strip club on 52nd. Street. Thoroughly impressed Young asked Schildkraut to come and sit-in with him at Birdland but Dave refused. Incidentally it should not come as a surprise that a jazz musician would play in a strip club since many did when work was scarce in the fifties. Brew Moore, Herb Geller, Joe Maini and Philly Joe Jones were all familiar with the burlesque scene. Brew once said “I was 21 years old before I saw a naked woman from the front.”
Each of his infrequent recordings can be recommended particularly a 1954 session with George Handy where he is featured in an octet including Kai Winding and Allen Eager who was soon to disappear from the U.S. jazz scene. The date is also notable for Lean To which has one of the few baritone solos by the most recorded baritone man in history – the legendary Danny Bank. Another session well worth tracking down is the Tony Aless date a year later titled Long Island Suite which also featured Seldon Powell and Nick Travis.
In 1959 he re-joined Kenton for a month as a sub for Charlie Mariano. Two years later he was recorded at the El Mambo in Clinton, Long Island with that most lyrical of trumpeters, Don Joseph. No longer available, this album is long overdue for reissue. Don was another who disappeared from the scene far too early preferring to teach in the public school system on Staten Island. This was thought to be Dave’s swan-song too because nothing was heard from him for a considerable time. Herb Geller once described him to me as, “A nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn with no alcohol or drug problems who just seemed to stop performing. He was one of the best saxophone players I knew. He played great alto and fantastic clarinet – just sensational”.
With his three children, Schildkraut was very much a family man unwilling to undertake the travelling expected of a professional musician. He took a clerical position with the City of New York confining his musical activities to playing clarinet at Bar Mitzvahs in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and occasional bookings at local clubs like the Café Bohemia. John Coltrane knew him and on one occasion at New York’s Jazz Gallery in the sixties he dedicated a song to him which apparently surprised Dave.
In 1979 Allen Lowe recorded him on alto and tenor leading a quartet with Bill Triglia at a music school in New Haven, Connecticut. Allen also arranged for Curly Russell who had played with Dave at the El Mambo in 1961 and was an old friend of Schildkraut’s to be in the audience. They perform bebop staples and song-book classics together with an up-tempo romp on Stars And Stripes Forever. On Now’s The Time Dave quotes briefly from Charlie Parker’s solo from the classic 1945 recording with Miles Davis. Parker along with Benny Carter, Lester Young and Bud Powell were three of his premier influences. The sound quality is a little uneven but it is an essential purchase for the many who would like to be re-acquainted with Dave Schildkraut.
His behaviour could be a little unconventional. Bill Crow once told me, “Around 1990, Eddie Bert who is famous for digging people out of the wood-work arranged for Davey to come out and play with us. He sounded wonderful but he is very spooky about seeing flying saucers all the time. Maybe he does but he seems to see them more than anyone I have ever met.”
Despite such a brief performing career Dave Schildkraut was highly regarded by his peers: “He was the only saxophonist to capture the rhythmic essence of Bird” (Dizzy Gillespie); “He was one of my favourite people on and off the bandstand” (Jackie McLean);“The two most original saxophonists after Charlie Parker were Lee Konitz and Dave Schildkraut” (Bill Evans); “He was one of the greatest saxophonists I ever heard” (Stan Getz); “Dave Schildkraut was a personal favourite” (Bill Perkins); “He was one of the premier Bird-influenced altoists” (Mose Allison). Ralph Burns, Bob Dorough, Al Cohn and Red Mitchell were all similarly impressed by Schildkraut. His reputation with the jazz media of course was a little different. Downbeat magazine managed a mere 117 word obituary for him when he died on January 1st.1998.
I would like to thank the Creative Framing & Blue Water Gallery of Colorado for providing the Chuck Lilly photograph that introduces this article.”
Last Date (Endgame CD005)
Stan Kenton: The Holman And Russo Charts (Mosaic MD4-136)
Miles Davis Quintet (Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55638)
George Handy, Handyland U.S.A. (RCA 74321611122)
Tony Aless, And His Long Island Suite (Fresh Sound Records FSR 1664)