Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Kenton Era Part 1 - Stan Kenton Band Bio - told by Frank Sinatra

The Kenton Era Part 2 - Stan Kenton Band Bio - told by Frank Sinatra

Whitney on Stanley: ”Artistry in Limbo”

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Stan Kenton’s music always evoked strong reactions.

And, as you can see from the following essay by the superb Jazz writer and critic, Whitney Balliett, some of them were not always favorable.

For me the pleasure of experiencing the sheer power of the band, especially in performance, was enthralling; the epitome of excitement in Jazz.

One of my most enjoyable memories is of a Spring break spent with friends on the Balboa peninsula in southern California while the Kenton band was folding forth at the Rendezvous Ballroom and literally walking into its cavernous spaces on a daily basis to hear the orchestra rehearse.

I certainly can relate to Gary Giddins’ description of one aspect of the Kenton aura when he writes:

“Kenton had a mystique, not to mention an audience that listened to little else. When he left Capitol in 1968, he started the most successful musician-owned independent jazz label ever, Creative World. A class operation in every respect, the company believed in its product. Spurred by its professionalism, I tried to measure up, poring over every new release, as well as reissues of albums leased from Capitol, and catching Kenton whenever he appeared in town. To be sure, his catalogue included many enduring performances, ingenious arrangements by Bill Holman, Gerry Mulligan, Pete Rugolo, Johnny Richards, and others, with solos by saxophonists Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins (whose tenor solo on Johnny Richards's arrangement of "Out of This World” is worth discovering), and Lennie Niehaus (for all the heavy-handed brasses, the reeds had the best soloists), and brassmen Carl Fontana, Frank Rosolino, and the Candoli brothers. For a while, drummer Mel Lewis, who gave the band much of its heart, and bassist Max Bennett made a vital rhythm team.” [Visions of Jazz, pp.328-329]

Whitney, on the other hand, seems less-than-captivated by the Kenton sensation in the following essay entitled Artistry in Limbo from his wonderful book: The Sound of Surprise: 46 Pieces on Jazz by The New Yorker Critic, 1959].

© -Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Stan Kenton got started officially as a band leader on Memorial Day, 1940, when he opened with a thirteen-piece group at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, Cali­fornia. The music, already indicative of things to come, was relentless and heavy-booted, with a staccato two-beat attack that resembled in intent, if not execution, the style of the Lunceford band of the time. Perhaps it was per­suasive because it was rhythmically overpowering, for by the summer's end, Kenton had built a staunch following on the West Coast and considerable speculation about his "new music" in the East. Kenton's second period began in 1944 after he had been East, and, although the band was defter and less aggressive, it was not much different. The third era, 1945-46, illustrated what is now known as the band's principal style — a big reed section securely rooted with a baritone saxophone, an inflexible, metallic-sound­ing rhythm section, and ear-bursting brass teams.

The next two periods extended from 1947 to 1951, years in which Kenton turned restlessly to his "progressive jazz" and "in­novations in modern music," using, in addition to his own works, the compositions and arrangements of Bob Graettinger, Pete Rugolo, Ken Hanna, Neil Hefti, and Shorty Rogers. Here the music moved ceaselessly and cumbersomely between the funereal orchestrations of Graettinger, mood music performed by a forty-piece band with strings that was perilously close to movie music, and immense jazzlike frameworks constructed about scintillating sec­tion work and occasional soloists. The last era, which brings the band up through 1953, was more or less of a deflation to the mid-forties period, and reveals a clearer jazz feeling than the band had ever before had.

It is impossible not to be impressed by Kenton's aural bulk, by the sheer sinew and muscle that have gone into his music. It is not impossible, however, to remain almost completely unmoved. Kenton's bands, in spite of all the complacent, organ like talk that has surrounded their "progressivism" in the past ten years, fit roughly into the tra­dition of the silvery semi-jazz groups of Larry Clinton, Glen Gray, Glenn Miller, the Dorseys, and Ray Anthony. This tradition, although aeriated from time to time by Bunny Berigans and Bobby Hacketts, is quite different from the genuine big jazz bands cradled by Fletcher Hen­derson and Duke Ellington, and maintained since by Goodman, Lunceford, Galloway, Basie, and Woody Her­man.

Kenton does not fit easily into the white-collar music of the former tradition, however, for he tried to combine the two movements, with the help of extracurricular sea­sonings, into something new. This he did, in part, by allow­ing ample solo space within glistening limousines of sound that, in the end, tended only to stifle whatever potential­ities for jazz there were on hand. He also created, as a result of purposely and confusedly trying to be a musical refractor of his times, a self-conscious music that was caught — strident and humorless — somewhere between the pseudo-classical, jazz, and popular music.

Nevertheless, Kenton's sounds and furies have, partly through accident, had certain positive effects within jazz. His various bands have been rigorous training grounds for many younger musicians, particularly those who have gone on to fashion in the past few years, in probable revolt, the small-band parlor jazz of the West Coast. His pelting about of words like "progressive" and "innovation," to­gether with the uncompromisingly modernistic tenor of his music, has helped prepare the public for true futur­ists like Gillespie, Parker, Monk, Powell, and John Lewis. And, finally, he has inadvertently defined, like a Thomas Wolfe, the possible wastelands of his own medium, thus performing the negative service of showing many jazzmen where not to tread.

Kenton says in the epilogue to a recent album called "The Kenton Era" that "It is too early yet to attempt to ascertain whether our efforts over the years have contrib­uted to the development of the world's music." It isn't, of course, for — as is apparent in this album — his music has come just about full circle. Indeed, it deserves a prominent place in that fascinating museum where the curiosities of music are stored.”

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wardell Gray Quintet - It's the Talk of the Town

Remembering Wardell Gray [1921-1955] - Part 4 - Alun Morgan Essay

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles’ initial effort to help remember and commemorate Wardell Gray on these pages began with The Ira Gitler Prestige Notes [Part 1], followed by an essay on him from a rather rare publication: Michael James, Ten Modern Jazzmen: An Appraisal of the Recorded [London: 1961] which constituted Part 2 and added Part 3 with an article by Herbie Butterfield that appeared in the October 1961 issue of Jazz Journal 9another rarity].

We now continue with Part 4 which is made up of the Alun Morgan article entitled Wardell Gray. It appeared in the January 1956 issue of the Jazz Monthly. It, too, is a rarity of sorts for while there are some fine pieces about Wardell in Jazz literature, getting a hold of a copy of them is not always easy.

“Nineteen fifty five will be remembered in the jazz world as a year which took a heavy toll of its musicians. During its course men of different styles, from Charlie Parker to Cow Cow Davenport, died leaving behind the memory of their work in the form of gramophone records, Parker, whose passing was one of the greatest single losses in the entire history of our music, died after a heart attack which came as a delayed-action culmination to a protracted period of ill health; pianist Dick Twardzick died in Paris as a result of an excessive self-administered shot of heroin. while baritone saxophonist Bob Gordon was killed in a California car accident as he was travelling to fulfil a concert engagement. Both these latter deaths serve as grim reminders of the internal and external hazards facing today's musicians.

On the 26th of May the most mysterious death came to light when tenor man Wardell Gray's body was discovered on some waste ground outside Las Vegas. He had died from a broken neck and injuries sustained to the head inflicted by an unidentified weapon. Dancer Teddy Hale was arrested and questioned on the subject of an alleged "drug party" the previous evening and confessed to moving Wardell's body after an "accident" at his flat. In Britain an EP record featuring Gray was released by Vogue, accidentally coinciding with his death and the subsequent review in the Gramophone magazine brought forth the astonishing information that "Gray was a known dope addict". 

Some thousands of miles nearer the scene of the tragedy. Gray's friends refuted all suggestions of the narcotics charge, white his employer at the time of his death, Benny Carter, was reported in Down Beat as saying: "Wardell Gray ordinarily was one of the most dependable musicians I have ever known. On this occasion he had been drinking, drinking too much, for him. We had been rehearsing or playing almost constantly for the past three days and nights. Warded had not been in the best of health recently. When he failed to make our last show on Wednesday night I thought he had gone to his room and collapsed. I still do", In a part of the world where the coloured man is often only suffered grudgingly by a white community it is not likely that the true cause of Gray's death will now be discovered.

During his lifetime Wardell achieved fame in a limited manner, although the amount of recognition he gained was disproportionate to his true musical worth. In the years immediately preceding his death he moved within the boundaries of the so-called West Coast circle without exciting the degree of interest accorded to newer and often lesser musicians. This was the price he paid for his consistency and dependability, Jazz enthusiasts are ever ready for new musical experiences and an artiste who attains the same high level for any length of time is likely to find himself cast aside upon the arrival of a less consistent but more sensational soloist.

Unlike some of his contemporaries Wardell's style changed little during his recording career. He achieved maturity early on and found no reason to alter his form of self expression. His playing took on a natural-sounding quality which suited his temperament, even if his younger listeners merely acknowledged his work and passed him by in their pilgrimages to heap praise upon men with more sophisticated and contrived methods of playing.

His earliest recorded solos were made as a member of the Earl Hines band in 1945. He joined Earl in 1943 as an alto saxist and sat in the reed section along-side tenor man Charlie Parker for a time. For the ARA label Hines recorded several sides, eight of which have been released here on the Vogue label. Wardeil may be heard on Throwin’ The Switch, Bamby, Let's Get Started and Blue Keys (EPV 1050) and Spook's Ball (EPV 1059). He plays with a broader tone than the one he used on his later recordings, but he is immediately identifiable as a musician with the potentiality of a true soloist

Leaving Hines in 1945 Wardell settled in Los Angeles and worked there in small groups organised and led by such men as Benny Carter, Vernon Alley and Howard McGhee. When Billy Eckstine disbanded his big band and came west he signed on Wardeil for the sextet he used for his Hollywood dates. Nineteen forty seven proved to be something of a turning point in Wardell's career and certain events helped him to break away from the closed circuit of his Los Angeles activity.

On February 26th, 1947, he played on a historic session with Charlie Parker for the "Dial" labei. Parker, Gray, Howard McGhee, Dodo Marmarosa, Barney Kessel, Red Caliender and Don Lamond reached a new peak of contemporary small-band jazz when they recorded Relaxin' At Camarillo. Cheers, Carvin’ The Bird and Stupendous. The following day. Wardell together with Kessel and Lamond played at a concert staged by promoter Gene Norman under the by-line "Just Jazz", In his time Norman has been responsible for organizing some outstanding gatherings of jazz musicians, occasionally adding one or two men of dubious virtue, but generally maintaining a very high standard of talent. On this occasion Wardell was teamed with tenor man Vido Musso from the Stan Kenton band, then visiting Hollywood and the "chase" passages on Just Bop (Vogue LDE101) form a most revealing comparison between two widely differing styles. Musso plays with the urgency and harsh tone which have invariably marked his work, while Gray's poise is perfect, his tone as smooth and as rounded as ever. His entries seem to be prefaced with a personal message to Vido, "Now this is how it should be played,"

At the beginning of May, Gene Norman presented a very impressive array of musicians at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. Wardell Gray, Red Norvo, Howard McGhee, Erroll Garner, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, Don Lamond, Jackie Mills, Dodo Marmarosa, Charlie Drayton, Harry Babasin, Red Callender, Irving Ashby and A! Hendrickson were on hand, while additional "name" guests included Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman. It was at this concert that Wardell played what was to become his best known solo, accompanied by a rhythm section led by Errol! Garner. The resultant Blue Lou (Vogue LAE12001) was above reproach, for it found the two main participants at their respective best form, Wardell builds chorus upon chorus with no repetitive phrases or clichés, while Erroll provides a stimulating background before launching into his own solo. One O’Clock Jump (Vogue LAE12QG1) from the same concert gave Wardell the chance to improvise at length on one of his favourite chord sequences, the blues in major key. By the common consent of his fellows he was the first soloist and took no less than eighteen choruses in. a row, verbally encouraged by the remaining frontliners.

On record it is possible to note certain aspects of the concerts in greater detail, with particular reference to Wardell Gray's own work. On the items with Garner he was given a rhythm section which played a straight, almost traditional 4/4 beat. On Groovin’ High, Hot House and Just Bop the more modern-sounding rhythm teams played with a fluid, undulating beat. Yet Wardell was also to assimilate both types of accompaniment without modifying the basic requirements of his style.

Further concerts followed, including the one issued on a marathon set of nineteen standard speed records on the "Bop" and "Savoy" labels. In June 1947 Ross Russell again used Wardell on a "Dial" session, this time pairing him with the similarly-styled Dexter Gordon for a six minute version of The Chase (Esquire 10-019). This was a friendly "carving" match between the two tenor men which had become a popular feature of jazz concerts in the area.

In the late-summer of 1947 Benny Goodman disbanded the radio band which he had been using and decided to form a regular sextet. He had been greatly impressed with the appearance of Wardell at the "Just Jazz" concert in May and offered him a job in the sextet which was later to contain clarinetist Ake Hasselgard. This was the beginning of a new chapter in Wardell’s life, for the Goodman engagement took him East at the end of the year. In December, just prior to the recording ban, Benny's sextet recorded a new version of Stealin’ Apples for Capitol on which both Wardell Gray and Fats Navarro were to be heard. Gray also played on a date under drummer J. C. Heard's name for the "Apollo" label with Joe Newman, Benny Green and Ai Haig.

In April !948 he recorded four sides “under cover" (due to the AFM ban on all recording then in force) for "Sittin' In With", a small company operated by Bobby Shad, Warden's exemplary sense of swing oversails the technical limitations of the recording equipment on Matter And Mind (a thinly veiled Idaho) and Stoned, a twelve bar. Light Gray (Fine and Dandy) and The Toup (virtually an alternative master of Stoned) from the same session have yet to be issued in Britain, although the former pair of titles will be found on Vogue EPV1064.

When Goodman gave up the Sextet in the summer of 1948 Wardell remained in New York and spent some weeks in the Count Basie band, playing the "Royal Roost" club booking and taking most of the tenor solos, while Bernie Peacock was featured on alto. On his evenings off he appeared with the Tadd Dameron Sextet at the same club and blew alongside Allen Eager and Fats Navarro, The beginning of the following year saw the relaxation of the record ban and the subsequent formation of a new big band by Benny Goodman. Wardell rejoined BG who immediately promoted him to the position of deputy leader, to front the band in the event of Goodman's absence. This feeling of admiration however was not mutual and in later years Wardell was reluctant to speak of his term of service with Benny.

The band recorded for "Capitol" although Wardell was not featured greatly. He did not solo on the studio recording of the band's best number, Undercurrent Blues, although a broadcast transcription of the number once used as a signature tune on AFN had three solo choruses of Gray's tenor. The twelve bar Hucklebuck a commercialized re-hash of Parker's Now's the Time, has a typically efficient chorus by Wardell, while the original coupling, Having A Wonderful Wish, has a dolorous vocal by Buddy Greco which is redeemed by eight bars of Warden's tenor in his best ballad style. Just prior to his visit to England to play at the London Palladium in the summer of 1949, Goodman recorded four titles with his sextet for "Capitol", three of which had fine solos by Wardell and trumpeter Doug Mettome. Mary Lou Williams' tune In The Land Of Oo-Bla-Dee has instrumental solos inset into the vocal choruses sung by Greco, while the choice of Blue Lou was probably activated by the success of Wardell’s previous record taken from the Gene Norman concert. Bedlam is a retitling of the blues which Gray recorded the year before as Stoned.

In April of 1949 pianist Al Haig made two sessions for American "Seeco", a label which, until then, had specialized in Latin American music. On four sides Haig chose Stan Getz as the featured tenor soloist, replacing him with Wardell Gray on the remainder. For two of the latter titles Goodman vocalist Terry Swope harmonised with the tenor man in the thematic choruses. In A Pinch utilizes the chorda! progression of All God's Children. Five Star is I Got Rhythm with a new middle-eight, while Sugar Hill Bop is a twelve bar with Wardell in fine form. The closing Talk Of The Town is a beautiful and sensitive interpretation of the ballad played with ail of Gray's warmth of feeling and respect for melody.

On severing his association with Goodman later in 1949 Wardell went back to the Basie fold and remained there until 1951. He played on the Columbia Basie sides dating from this period, notably Little White Lies, I’ll Remember April and his own tune Little Pony. He recorded two sessions for "Prestige", the first in New York with the combined Charlie Parker-Stan Getz rhythm section (Al Haig, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes) which produced the aggressive but swinging Twisted and the smooth, slow Easy Living. He cut the second set of four titles in Detroit with a locally recruited rhythm section including Art Mardigan on drums. In Hollywood with Basie, he made some sides privately for Eddie Laguna which were released both here and in France by Vogue, but which have not, apparently, appeared in America. Of these the outstanding titles are the confidently played and well-titled Easy Swing (actually the Parker tune Steeplechase) and the perennial Gershwin ballad The Man I Love.

Although a native of Oklahoma City, Wardell made his new home in Los Angeles after leaving the Count.  The wheel had turned full circle from 1947 to 1951 and deposited Wardeil back at his point of departure after a tour which had taken in many of the forty-eight States. West Coast concerts at which he appeared later were taped by Gene Norman (Chase and Steeplechase with Dexter Gordon and Conte Candoli on Brunswick LA8646) and by "Prestige" (Jazz On Sunset and Klddo with Clark Terry, Sonny Criss and Hampton Hawes). "Prestige" also recorded Gray at a not entirely successful session with his protégé Frank Morgan on alto and "Nu Di" expert Teddy Charles on vibes. 

A far better set of six titles was made for the same label in January !952 using Gray's regular group which contained trumpeter Art Farmer, pianist Hampton Hawes and drummer Larry Marable. Four of the tunes have now appeared here on "Esquire' (EP 91) comprising two blues, Jackie and Farmers Market (both vocalized later by Annie Ross with suitable lyrics), April Skies based on the I’ll Remember April sequence and Bright Boy.

Gene Norman, the man who had recognized Gray's talents in 1947 and devoted so much record time to his work, organized an eight-title session built around a small Ellington group. Wardel! was added to the Ducal line-up and was given a long solo feature on the Hodges stand-by The Jeep is Jumpin. On Billy Strayhorn's arrangement of Johnny Come Lately the tenor man blew one of the best solos of the day and was obviously very much at home in yet another set of musical surroundings.

Norman Granz picked Wardell for the large band he assembled in the "Clef" studio under the leadership of Louis Bellson and featured him strongly on Don Redman's For Europeans Only. Granz used Gray later in an all-star Jam Session with Stan Getz, Harry Edison, Buddy De Franco, Count Basie, etc. The last recordings before his death were made with a group under the leadership of Frank Morgan (to be released here by Vogue) and supervised by Gene Norman.

Wardell Gray achieved an excellent reputation amongst other musicians as a man of consistency, imagination, technique, unfailing good taste and, pervading all these other qualities, a sense of swing almost unrivalled in jazz. Due to his encouragement and help, younger men, notably Art Farmer, Frank Morgan, Frank Foster and Paul Quinichette, gained experience and a guiding hand along the difficult pathway to progress. Wardell was possessed of a likeable personality and an equable temperament which eschewed petty backstage bickerings. Through no fault of his own he lacked only one important quality, namely the respect and public recognition due to an artiste of his calibre.

Jazz is very much poorer by his passing.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Louis Armstrong: Views of "Pops" By 7 Jazz Trumpeters

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Genius is the transfiguring agent. Nothing else can explain Louis Armstrong's ascendancy. He had no formal training, yet he alchemized the cabaret music of an outcast minority into an art that has expanded in ever-widening orbits for sixty-five years, with no sign of collapse. He played trumpet against the rules, and so new rules were written to acknowledge his standards. His voice was so harsh and grating that even black bandleaders were at first loath to let him use it, yet he became one of the most beloved and influential singers of all time.

He was born with dark skin in a country where dark-skinned people were considered less than human and, with an ineffable radiance that transcends the power of art, forced millions of whites to reconsider their values. He came from “the bottom of the well, one step from hell," as one observer put it, but he died a millionaire in a modest home among working-class people. He was a jazz artist and a pop star who succeeded in theater and on records, in movies and on television.

Yet until he died, he traveled in an unheated bus, playing one-nighters around the country, zigzagging around the world, demanding his due but never asking for special favors. He was an easy touch and is thought to have handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars to countless people down on their luck. Powerful persons, including royalty and the Pope, forgave him a measure of irreverence that would have been unthinkable coming from anyone else. Admirers describe him as a philosopher, a wise man, someone who knew all the secrets of how to live. …

But few people knew him well, and many of those who were most possessive about his art were offended by his popularity. The standard line about Armstrong throughout his career, rendered in James Lincoln Collier's 1983 biography, goes like this: Louis Armstrong was a superb artist in his early years, the exemplar of jazz improvisation, until fame forced him to compromise, at which point he became an entertainer, repeating himself and indulging a taste for low humor. …

A jazz aesthetics incapable of embracing Louis Armstrong whole is unworthy of him, and of the American style of music making that he, more than any other individual, engendered.”
- Gary Giddins, Satchmo

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles can’t get enough of “Pops” on these pages. The above quotations from Gary Giddins’ superb biography of Louis Armstrong and the following feature excerpted from the January 8, 1959 issue of Down Beat magazine are intended to add more archival materials to the blog about an artist of whom it can truly be said - “No him, no Jazz.”

“In the world of jazz, Louis Armstrong is more than king.

He is a living legend and a symbol of the music.

To gauge his influence, and to obtain a new perspective on him, Down Beat gathered opinion and recollection from seven top brassmen from all areas of jazz.

Assembled around the Down Beat roundtable are veteran cornetist Rex Stewart; trumpeter-arranger Quincy Jones; lyrical cornetist Bobby Hackett; modern trumpeter Art Farmer; the melodic Ruby Braff; trumpeter-bandleader Maynard Ferguson; and trumpeter, major influence on the horn, and close friend of Armstrong's, Dizzy Gillespie.

Gillespie: "The first time I ever heard Louis was in 1935, at Fay's theater, Philadelphia. I must have been about 17. My brother-in-law was a fan of his, but I wasn't too interested in him. I liked Roy [Eldridge]. I got to admit I was impressed. I don't think I had heard him on records before that. Records were scarce at home."

Hackett: "I remember listening to Louis' records as a kid in Providence. I've never been the same since. I was just starting to fool around with the horn. The first time I heard him live was at the Metropolitan theater in Boston. We went up on the bus and stayed the whole day. He used to close the show with a spiel for the musicians in the audience. He tell us he was going to hit 400 high Cs, and he'd do it. He'd end up on a high F."

Jones: "Louis' was one of the first name bands I ever saw. That was in Bremerton, Wash., and I was about 14 or 15. I remember I was in the high school band, and I sneaked in the back door of the dance carrying my baritone horn. He wasn't so much of a legend then as he is now. And I guess I hadn't read the book on him."

Stewart: "I first heard him on records. It was in 1923 or 24 when I first heard him. What did I do? I flipped! I'm not sure what the tune was, maybe it was Mabel's Dream."

Braff: "When I was a little kid, I used to listen to the 920 Club on the radio in Boston. One guy would play 15 minutes of records by an artist. That's where I first heard him. In person, the first time was at Mahogany Hall, downstairs from Storyville."

Farmer: "I guess I first heard Louis about 1948, in person. On records, I'd heard him a lot earlier."

Ferguson: "I was about 13 when I first saw Armstrong. He came to Montreal with a big band, and played in the auditorium that's now the Bellview Casino. I had heard him on records prior to that. My mother bought me his theme song, Sleepy Time Down South, and I also had Struttin' With Some Barbecue."

At this point, everyone agreed on the scope of Louis' influence.

Braff: "He influenced everyone's playing. Lester Young . . . everyone.”

Farmer: "His playing was an influence on mine, but not directly. It's like hearing someone who plays good, and who makes you want to get the most out of your horn."

Ferguson: "I never really had one hero, but quite a few of them. Louis was one. I felt he enjoyed what he was doing more than the others."

Stewart: "He's an influence on everyone who plays a horn. He definitely influenced my playing. I think most in the conception. He taught the world how trumpet should be played."

Jones: "At first, I think he did influence me. For the first few years, anyway, in things like attack and the living part of his playing. But this was just before the era when it became hip to be cool . . . about 1948. Right after that, I went over to Diz."

Gillespie: "Louis' playing influenced mine in a roundabout way, through Roy. Roy got a lot from Louis' conception, and I got a lot from him."

Hackett: "His playing influenced everybody. His conception, his ideas . . . everything. To me, he's the perfect hot trumpet player."

There was less general agreement on Armstrong's biggest contribution to jazz.

Hackett: "I think it's his performance. He's been heard all over the world, and he has influenced anyone who is interested in music."

Gillespie: "His music is his biggest contribution, for my personal taste."

Jones: "I wish I had been around more. I'd like to have been around 45 years and be about 16 years old now. But I'd say Louis biggest contribution is that he was first. He wrote the book on trumpet. There's a lot of things in his playing that you've got to respect today."

Farmer: "Louis' contribution, I think, has been that he was really playing horn at a time when not many people were doing it. He was a good instrumentalist; one of the first and one of the greatest. And he started something . . ."

Stewart: "Well, I'd say his biggest contribution was getting me the job with Fletcher Henderson. Seriously, I really feel that without his influence, I couldn't imagine what trumpet   playing   would be like. He showed there was more range than high  C, and more  drive  than  the syncopation used before him. He did so many things.”

Ferguson: "Since Louis is associated with the word, jazz; he has made the public conscious of jazz. That shouldn't be ignored or put down. People love Louis. He's the hot jazz trumpeter off the river boat. He has a very beloved name."

Braff: "His biggest contribution was in just being. He happens to be the mother and father of music. And he's more important than Bach."

As it must in every conversation about Armstrong, the subject soon becomes a treasured performance. Sometimes it's a record. Sometimes it's an in-person appearance.

But always it's a memory to be relished for trumpet men.

Ferguson: "I guess I like Struttin' With Some Barbecue because the band is out of tune and raggedy, but Armstrong is carrying the whole thing, and he's wailing."

Stewart: "My favorite is Hotter Than That. Fireworks! And that came from the period I enjoyed him most in."

Farmer: "I can't right now think of the name of the tune, but it was made around 1927, and I always liked it because it sounded contemporary as far as his line of melody and his sound was concerned."

Jones: "I was in Hamp's band, and we were playing opposite Louis in Washington, D.C. This was in 1952. The song was Indiana, and Louis just amazed me. He played high G’s, and he was just smoking. I like his record of Chinatown, and, of course, West End Blues."

Gillespie: "I like the way Louis sings. I like his record of that French tune, C'est Si Bon. He reminds me of a conversationalist singing. He sort of talks in different ranges. It sounds like he's talking to me. Now, that's the way I'd like to sing . . . if I could sing. That phrasing, like the way I talk ... I'd like to sing that way. Louis sings the way he talks."

Hackett: "I just like everything he touches. Struttin' with Some Barbecue on Decca . . . the things with Luis Russell's band ... for vocals, I like If Could Be With You.

Braff: "For me, there's no such thing as a favorite performance by Louis. Anything with his name on it, that's all. The only things that make them weak are, maybe, the other people on them. But he always played the greatest with the weakest and corniest background. It's as if he can turn off the band he's with. He seems to be constantly playing with another band. I wish I could hear that band!"

Our round-tablers dig Armstrong for more than his music. Many are personal friends, with whom Armstrong has had good times off-stand as well as on.

Hackett: "I think he's just about the greatest guy who ever lived. When he's in town, I go over to his house and we sit around and talk about a hundred things. There's another wonderful thing about him that nobody knows. He's a very generous person. He gives to a lot of charities. And he likes to help people, and not exploit them."

Gillespie: "Louis is not two-faced. He's one of the most sincere people you'll find. You always know what he thinks. He doesn't bite his tongue, although sometimes he puts his foot in his mouth. But he's honest. That's the quality I admire in him."

Stewart: 'I'd like to say I feel Louis truly was the direct turning point . . . the reason for this wonderful music. He was the creator, the innovator, and at the same time one who gave the world much more than he received."

Jones: "He has been one of the most original figures ever on the scene. He's been a very strong voice in jazz."

Braff: "That cat is loved all over the world. And better than any of the political leaders.""

Monday, December 28, 2020

Sittin' In at Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s with Jeff Gold

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Sometimes it is difficult to imagine Jazz without photography: they seem to compliment and complement one another.

You can close your eyes and listen closely to the music as it is being made on recordings or you can open them and look at photographic images of the musicians creating the music or, occasionally, do both.

Every so often a collection of photographs come along that enables you to see this dynamic in a totally different way.

Enter Jeff Gold’s new book - Sittin’ In Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s [New York: Harper Design, 2020] - which gives a new perspective on the music from the vantage point of the fans who went to listen to it in clubs located in various cities in the decades following World War II.

Jeff explains how this project all came about in the following -


In my work as a music executive, historian, collector, and dealer I've had my fair share of crazy adventures, so sorting through the contents of a jazz collector's safe-deposit boxes in a closet-size room in a bank didn't strike me as particularly unusual. In the four hours I was there, I discovered many treasures that I coveted and eventually bought: concert tickets and handbills, autographs, contracts, letters, and other documents. But most interesting were the souvenir photographs from jazz clubs of the 1940s and 1950s. Each was in its own custom folder; the graphics were fantastic and so evocative of that classic era of jazz.

As I went through the boxes, I kept finding more photos—twenty-five, fifty, one hundred, and, eventually, more than two hundred—all mixed in with the rest of the collection. Some were well photographed, some were amateurish. But each had something to offer. Even before I finished., the thought struck me that the photographs would make a great book. If I hadn't seen pictures like these, I doubted many others had.

I bought all of them. Though the images were primarily of African Americans, some pictured white fans, and some showed mixed groups or white and Black people seated next to each other. There were couples on double dates, mothers and fathers with grown children, enlisted men and women in uniform, and even a picture of the Harriet Tubman Social Club. In a few, famous musicians—Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey, Oscar Peterson, and Louis Armstrong—posed with audience members. There was plenty of alcohol, which wasn't surprising.

These quick snapshots were taken by each club's in-house photographer, developed on-site, and ready to be taken home at the end of an evening for a dollar, a cheap souvenir of a night out. Collectively, though, they are something altogether different, something important today—a visual record of a rarely seen and poorly documented world. An accidental history.

These pictures turn the camera around. We've seen photographs of these clubs before, of the performers onstage, the marquees, the lines outside. But rarely, if ever, have we seen the audiences, the fans, as we do here. And they are a critical part of what jazz pianist, composer, and educator

Jason Moran calls the "ecosystem" of jazz. Sonny Rollins told me that in small clubs like these, the audiences "sort of played with you. They're like part of the band."

If you're looking for a comprehensive history of jazz, this isn't it. The focus here is on something that hasn't been properly explored: American jazz clubs of the 1940s and 1950s—what some call the golden age—as seen through the lens of these audience photographs and related memorabilia. Moran says, "Seeing these images is powerful because we never document the jazz audience." The Library of Congress, for example, is home to more than 1,600 images taken by legendary jazz photographer William Gottlieb, only a tiny fraction of which picture audience members.

Almost all the souvenir photographs in this book date from the 1940s and 1950s. It doesn't seem many clubs had in-house photographers before 1940, and by the end of the 1950s, most of these clubs were out of business. As New York City was already well established as the jazz center of the world, the majority of the images here are from the city's clubs. But there were hundreds of other clubs in cities across America, and we are fortunate to have a representative sampling from many of them.

These photographs were made at a time when discrimination and segregation were the norm in the United States, and some of them document how "jazz was really where the racial barriers were broken down heavily," according to Rollins.

I am incredibly fortunate that Quincy Jones and Sonny Rollins, who played these clubs, agreed to speak with me about the culture, the fans, and so much more. I'm grateful to Jason Moran, who looked at these photographs through the eyes of a contemporary jazz musician and historian and shared his insights. Dan Morgenstern, a jazz historian without peer, shared his experiences as a patron of some of these clubs beginning in the late 1940s. And writer and cultural critic Robin Givhan graciously shared her insights on the photographs themselves. This book would have been a much lesser work without them.

I've included whatever information I could find about the clubs, musicians, photographers, and mostly anonymous fans. But in some cases, we have only the photos. As I study them, they continue to reveal layers of information. It is my sincere hope they do the same for you.


One of the highlights of the book for me was the section on the clubs in Greenwich Village in NYC. 

By the 1920s, Greenwich Village already had a small jazz scene, at clubs like the Cowboy and the Starlight Room. In the early 1930s, the Hot Feet Club speakeasy featured saxophonist Otto Hardwick's group, with Fats Waller. But it wasn't until 1937 that jazz in the Village began in earnest, with the opening of Nick's and, the next year, Cafe Society and the Village Vanguard.

In 1945, guitarist Eddie Condon opened his namesake club, which, like Nick's, presented primarily traditional and Dixieland groups. During the 1940s and 1950s, the same music could be heard in weekly jam sessions at the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza. But in the 1950s, a new group of Village clubs began offering much more adventurous fare.

During the last few years of his life, Charlie Parker played regularly at the Open Door, a small, dark bar on West Third Street and Broadway. Cafe Bohemia featured modern jazz with groups led by Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and the Horace Silver/Hank Mobley Quintet. The newly emergent hard bop, a bebop offshoot that incorporated influences from gospel, rhythm and blues, and blues, began to take hold at various Village clubs. And in 1957, the Five Spot Cafe, a small storefront bar that held only seventy-five people, opened on Cooper Square, with the Thelonious Monk Quartet featuring John Coltrane. Two years later, the Ornette Coleman Quartet, from Los Angeles, brought avant-garde jazz to the club; its original booking had been for two weeks, but the group generated so much interest— and controversy—that it was extended to ten weeks. Musicians including Lionel Hampton, Leonard Bernstein, and the Modern Jazz Quartet came and were vocal in their support, but Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie were not won over; the latter was quoted in Time magazine as saying, "I don't know what he's playing, but it's not jazz.”

In 1958, the Village Gate opened on Thompson and Bleecker Streets., and for the next thirty-eight years, the club hosted shows by established artists like Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington and younger innovators like Coltrane, pianist Bill Evans, and Dave Brubeck.

Though most of the Village's jazz clubs closed long ago, the Village Vanguard, after more than eight decades, continues to be a center for jazz in New York City.


178 Seventh Avenue

In 1935, law school dropout Max Gordon opened the first Village Vanguard in a basement on Charles Street at Greenwich Avenue. Gordon initially planned for his club to be a hub for local poets, but after he decided to add live music, the police department denied him a cabaret license, deeming the premises insufficient. He soon relocated to the former home of a basement speakeasy, the Golden Triangle.

The new location offered a mixed bag of poetry readings, comedy, cabaret acts, folk and popular music, dancing, and some jazz. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Vanguard booked some small swing groups and musicians, including Mary Lou Williams and Sidney Bechet. In her memoir Alive at the Village Vanguard, Gordon's wife, Lorraine, recalled that before she knew Max, "the biggest reason my pals and I went to the Vanguard, though, was because there were jazz jam sessions in the afternoons on Sundays. You could go hear Lester Young, Ben Webster, all the greatest jazz musicians for fifty cents at the door, or something like that."

Sensing jazz might be something to focus on, Max Gordon brought in more musicians, and as jazz began to shift from big bands to smaller combos, he hired a resident trio featuring clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton, pianist Eddie Heywood, and drummer Zutty Singleton.

In the late 1940s, Gordon ran into his future wife at a Fire Island bakery. Lorraine, then married to Blue Note Records co founder Alfred Lion, recognized Gordon. She approached him, suggesting he book Blue Note's

Thelonious Monk at the club, and he agreed. On September 14, 1948, Monk opened at the club. As Lorraine recalled: "Nobody came. None of the so-called jazz critics. None of the so-called cognoscenti. Zilch. Alfred and I sat there in a banquette at the Vanguard, and Thelonious got up at one point and did this little dance and announced, "Now, human beings, I'm going to play...." Max came running over to me in acute distress.... There was almost no audience. And Max kept crying, "What did you talk me into? You trying to ruin my business? We're dying with this guy."

By the late 1950s, Gordon was focusing primarily on jazz, and the Vanguard was thriving, bringing in countless important artists including Miles Davis, Art Blakey, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Charles Mingus, and Horace Silver. Bill Evans was a regular. John Coltrane's groups played the club numerous times, resulting in his classic albums Live at the Village Vanguard (1962) and Live at the Village Vanguard Again! (1966).

More than fifty albums have been recorded at the club, including titles by Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, guitarists Kenny Burrell and Charlie Byrd, drummer Elvin Jones, singer Betty Carter, pianist Junior Mance, and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

When Max Gordon died in 1989, Lorraine closed the Vanguard for a single night. She then reopened and continued to run it until her death in 2018 at the age of ninety-five. The Village Vanguard continues to present important jazz today.”