© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“I began to know Billy Bauer in 1949 with Lennie Tristano's band. To me Billy is a great asset to a rhythm section: his time is strong and very flexible, his sense of harmony and spacing is such that the soloist has a great deal of freedom to stretch in any direction. Billy's solo voice is original, spontaneous, and at the right times, very right — on ballads he is downright beautiful.”
- Lee Konitz, alto sax, liner notes to The Real Konitz, [Atlantic LP 1273]
“Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney, and Johnny Smith used a softer tone and less pronounced attack to mold the guitar into a cool-jazz voice: Smith became a household name for his romantic balladry on Moonlight in Vermont (Roulette), while Raney's work with Stan Getz (Stan Getz Plays, Verve), builds upon the unruffled interplay that marked Billy Bauer's work in the Lennie Tristano Sextet of the 1940s. This style—with emotionalism present but constrained, and always secondary to more cerebral concerns—enlisted its strongest disciple in Jim Hall…”
- Neil Tesser, “The Electric Guitar and Vibraphone in Jazz, Bill Kirchner, Ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz
“[Billy Bauer] enjoyed his most creative period between 1946 and 1949 as a member of Lennie Tristano’s ensembles, where he ceased to be a purely rhythm guitarist and quickly became an advanced bop stylist; he was known particularly for his fleet improvisations and remarkably precise playing of unison thematic statements.”
- Jim Ferguson in Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz
“Contrary to his luck with drummers, Lennie was very fortunate to encounter guitarist Billy Bauer shortly after his move to the East Coast. Bauer, already a big-band veteran with established credentials (Woody Herman et al.), seems to have had the ideal personality to understand and complement Tristano's piano. Never a student, Billy flows with the harmonic and metrical variations with surprising ease. Billy remembers trying to keep up with Lennie's harmonies, but he never could catch him since the pianist would always be moving on, altering already altered chords.”
- Terry Martin, insert notes to Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh - Intuition [Capitol Classic Jazz CDP 7243 8 52771 2 2]
“In guitarist Billy Bauer, Tristano found his first (or at least his first recorded) partner. Both players had an acute harmonic sense, and both thought in long melodic lines. The empathy between is evident from the opening bars of the first take ….”
- Dan Morgenstern, insert notes to The Complete Keynote Essential Lennie Tristano [Mercury 830 921-2]
I’ve been a long-time fan of Jazz guitarists who bring out the quiet beauty of the instrument. Don’t get me wrong, I like the in your face, finger-poppin swingas and the blues twangers, as well, but those that induce the mellow sound of the instrument have a special place in my Hall of Jazz Favorite Things.
Some players can do both: sizzle when they have to with rapid fire notes flying all of the place one moment and then, in the next instance, make the strings softly sing a pretty melody.
Which brings me to this feature on Billy Bauer who could be Tal Farlow one moment and Jimmy Smith the next.
Without the benefit of a copy of Sideman handy - Billy’s 1997 self-published autobiography as told to Thea Luba - [and unwilling to pay the outrageous prices for an out-of-print used copy] - I canvassed the jazz literature to collect the following excerpts to create this feature on Billy for the blog.
Keeping in mind some of the points covered in the opening quotations, let’s continue with a succinct retrospective on Billy career as well as more personal observations on his playing from bassist Peter Ind from his Jazz Visions Lennie Tristano and His Legacy [Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2005].
Billy Bauer (b. 1915, d. 2005)
“Born in the Bronx of a German immigrant family, Billy Bauer's choice of profession soon became apparent, despite family misgivings. He played banjo as a child and changed to guitar in the early thirties. He first worked in a band led by clarinettist Jerry Wald, then in 1944 joined Woody Herman's First Herd. After the group disbanded in 1946 he played with Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden. He enjoyed his most creative period between 1946 and 1949 as a member of Lennie Tristano's ensembles where he ceased to be purely a rhythm guitarist and quickly became an advanced bop stylist. He was known particularly for his fleet improvisations and his remarkably precise playing of unison thematic statements. He also played on those very first free-form Tristano recordings, "Intuition" and "Digression."
Meeting Lennie Tristano in 1946, from that time onward he was a close associate of Lennie's. His chordal work and improvisations set a new dimension in guitar playing, and added a new dimension to jazz guitar. He played with Lennie but didn't study with him - he had to work, I and couldn't study "heavy," as he described it, but recognized Lennie's teaching skills.
"He told me why I should know it [scales, learning the instrument better] that well. He was a good teacher. He'd show you how to use these things to cut a couple of years off your development" (Bauer, Sideman, 1997: 92).
He can be heard on many of Lennie's early recordings between 1946 and 1949. He received awards from Downbeat and Metronome magazines and from 1947-53 recorded in the Metronome All Stars group with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Lennie Tristano, and Fats Navarro. He also played with the NBC Staff Orchestra and taught at the New York Conservatory of Modern Music. In 1958 he traveled to Europe with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and performed and recorded frequently with Lee Konitz during the fifties and early sixties.
His book, Sideman, gives a very interesting picture of jazz development in New York from the thirties onward as well as a real insight into his great personality. He celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday in November 2003 and still teaches at his Albertson, Long Island studio. We went to see him in 2001 and he managed to fit us in between giving lessons - so he is still going strong. He has also been the main publisher for many of the group's compositions, including lines written by Lennie, Lee, Warne, Don Ferrara, and myself. As the only one of the group that has written about that time himself, Billy's salute to Lennie in his book provides one of the few personal testimonies of this group of musicians.
“My time with Lennie did more for me name wise than any other period of my career. He did me a big honor by recording me with him. Certain people heard me... He believed in me. He let me publish his work. He told his students to put their work with me. He thought I was honest. I think I am. He recommended people to study with me. He thought I was truthful. I think Lennie was a truly great musician. Harmonically he rode his own orbit. Thank you for letting me try to fly with your orbit.” (Bauer, Sideman, 1997:92) We visited Billy at his home, in May 2005, sadly he died just three weeks later.” [pp. 86-87].
Andy Hamilton, a Jazz pianist and a contributor to major jazz and contemporary music magazines wrote Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improvisor’s Art [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007] in which he uses an interview with musicians who have worked with Lee to glean their view of what’s it like to work with him and then has Lee give his thoughts on what it’s like to play with the musician in question. Here’s the section from Andy’s book involving Billy Bauer:
“Interview with Billy Bauer
Guitarist BILLY BAUER (1915-2005) was a hey member of the Tristano groups. He began playing banjo and switched to guitar in the early 1930s. He worked with Woody Herman in 1944, then Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden in 1946. He was on the sessions that produced the early free jazz pieces "Intuition" and "Digression" with Tristano. Konitz recorded duets with him in 1950-51 ("Indian Summer," "Duct/or Saxophone and Guitar," and "Rebecca"), and he appeared on Lee Konitz with Warnc Marsh from 1955. He recorded with the Metronome All-Stars during 1947-53 alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Tristano. In / 950-53 he played witli NBC staff orchestra, and taught at the New York Conservatory of Modern Music. He freelanced in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s and taught privately. When I interviewed him in 2002 for Jazz Review magaeine, he provided a fund of anecdotes from which these remarks are taken.'1' Billy Bauer died in 2005, aged eighty-nine.
From what I heard, Lennie used to make all his students write lines— take a progression, and write an original line.20 One of them became "Subconscious-Lee," and so on. 1 wrote a couple of tunes, but not under his guidance. When I hear talk that Lee, Lennie, and Warne used to play free music up in his house, I wasn't in on that. The only time I did it with them was in Birdland, and on the record date. There was no real time, you'd just take a phrase. ... I think it was a breakthrough. Tristano had a lough time releasing the record.
After he came to New York, that's when I met Lee. He had a floating style. It wasn't biting like Charlie Parker, he didn't have that kind of forcefulness, but he had another kind of a thing. One of the write-ups that he got for a record date without Lennie — I was there, it was the one with "Rebecca" — said, "Lee finally comes into his own." That's the first time they recognized that Lee had his own thing, that he broke away from the flavor of Tristano.
At that time Lee was using me quite a bit. I don't know where he got the idea of just the two of us, but one of the first duets we made was in a little room, a guy's living room, and he had a little acetate machine, the old discs, not a tape machine. We played about two takes and Lee wanted to make another take, and the guy said you can't, I haven't got any more acetate. And they released them.
[Lee Konitz’s response]. Billy Bauer was not a pupil of Tristano, but a bandmate of ours. He lived in Long Island, New York and into his late 80s was still talking a mile a minute like he always did, still full of plans and ideas. He was a totally unique guy. He loved to talk, and he had a very special sound and vocabulary, full of enthusiasm and interesting anecdotes. He issued a book, called The Sideman. I only know him through his playing with Tristano—did he retire from the music?
Well, teaching was a big thing with him, and I think he played occasionally. A few years ago, I actually asked him to play a couple of tunes on a record, and he thought about it, and the next day he just said it would be too difficult to travel into Manhattan.
He's said thai he didn'l feel he had a style, that he was a perpetual side-man.
[Hamilton] You worked with him quite a lot—what did you like about his playing?
Basically his accompaniment ability — he was a very exciting and inspiring accompanist. His solos were never really that great, he was very insecure about that, and very much encouraged by Tristano to play. But he just had a way of pushing you with his accented chords, and the quality of the sound he made. And when we played as a duo, without the need to swing, he was very effective, as an original voice. Harmonically and melodically he had a very unique conception.” [pp.66-67]
Billy Bauer played with two of the greatest, most individual improvisers that jazz has known — Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker — and he did so in the heady mid-century years. He never studied withTrisiano and he was only on a couple of records with Parker. But those masters encouraged him to develop his gift for blistering-fast phrasing of unison themes and for blowing bebop improvisation.
Plectrist [Verve 314 517 060-2], Bauer's only studio LP as a leader, reflects those influences. It's a fascinating glimpse of what a perennial Sideman (the tide of his autobiography) does when he gets the right support for his own music.The booklet includes Bauer's extensive comments about his career as told to Barry Feldman, May, 2000.
Reissuing Plectrist [Verve 314 517 060-2]
Billy Bauer (b. 1915 d. 2005) was one of the premier Jazz guitarists of the 1940s and 1950s, but he recorded only one studio album under his own name. He has always prided himself on his ability to accompany others; not for nothing did he call his self-published autobiography Sideman.
Originally a banjo player Bauer got his start on a small Bronx radio station when he was fourteen. He switched to guitar a few years later and, by his recollection, was playing an electric guitar by the late Thirties, inspired by Alvino Rey, Floyd Smith, and especially Charlie Christian, whose work with Benny Goodman left a profound imprint: Christian is one of the very few guitarists Bauer acknowledges consciously emulating.
His first high-profile professional job was with Woody Herman's big band, which he joined in 1944. and where his job was to play rhythm (except in his words, for the occasional "little spot where they'd give me a note or something"). Three years later shortly after deciding that he was tired of the road, Bauer began working with the pianist, composer and theoretician Lennie Tristano, whose music was modern jazz at its most complex and challenging. Through his work wrth Tristano and saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, Bauer established himself as a soloist of power and imagination, and as a perennial poll winner
He gradually shifted his focus to the recording studios, where his versatility and adaptability assured him steady employment until studio work in general began to dry up. He now devotes most of his time to teaching.
Here are Billy Bauer's thoughts on the making of Plectrist and on other matters.
“Norman Granz told me, "I want you to make a record date. So I said. "Okay." I signed a contract. He said, "Whenever you're ready, go on in there — any studio you want, anything you want to record, it's okay" In other words. I could have had strings, whatever I wanted. And if I couldn't get a studio, get in touch with him, he'll find me one.
Then I forgot all about it. A year later he came into town, he called me up, he said, "Where the hell is that record?" I said, "Well, I never got around to it," He said, "You get down there and put your ass in that studio and make me a record!"
I said, "Well, I gotta ..."And he said, "No, you've thought about it. If you can't do it by now, you'll never be able to do it" He was right!
So I just grabbed a couple of guys I'd been working with. I had been on a lot of dates with Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson, who did a lot of studio work in those days. I knew Andrew Ackers because I was working at NBC at the time, and Fran Warren, the singer had a couple of little shows, and he was the conductor; every once in a while I was called in to do a show with him.
We didn't get to play much on the shows, but we used to get together about an hour before a show and talk and play. Andy was a good accompanist; he backed me up very nicely, never got in my way. Some guys play well but they get in your way all the time. Andy let me play.
So when I got the record date. I said, "Well, I'll get Andy." I could have gotten anybody — I probably could have gotten Lennie [Tristano] to do it — but I was with Andy a lot and I liked the way he accompanied me.
He doesn't have that much solo space on the record. I asked him to play more. I think even Milt asked him. I said, "Why don't you take another chorus, or at least take a full chorus on some of these things?" He said."it's too fast." I don't think there are any tunes on the album that are too fast, but maybe he wasn't used to soloing on fast tunes.
I just called these guys up to do the date. We didn't even rehearse. We did mostly standards and a few of my own tunes. I ran over my tune "Lincoln Tunnel" for Andy, and that was about it "Blue Mist" was an unaccompanied solo.
Norman wasn't in the studio when I made the album. It was just the musicians and an engineer. I'd say "Here we go!" and we'd play I let everybody do what they wanted to do.
I guess a lot of people expected that my own album would sound more like the things I had been doing with Lennie. But Lennie was only a couple of years of my life, even though working with him was what gave me a reputation. Maybe if I had stayed with him instead of going into the studios, I would have had more of a name.
One reason I don't have more of a Tristano influence is that I didn't study with him, the way Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh and so many other musicians
Who worked with him did. He was always after me to study with him — he said "I can help you, I can help you!" The first lesson, he said,"! want you to learn all the scales in all the keys." I said. "Lennie. I couldn't do that for years!" I couldn't fathom trying to do that. But eventually I could.
Lennie was a strong player. Even though I didn't know what he was doing all the time I just had to follow him. With a player that strong. you have no choice!
The first record I made with Lennie, in 1947, we didn't rehearse. He told me, "Don't play the melody and don't play the rhythm." So that left me with what? You could play chords, but they couldn't be straight rhythm. And that's how I got into that kind of playing, which got me a little bit of a name. At that time, no one else was playing anything like what Lennie was playing.
I first met Lennie when I was in Chicago with Woody Herman's band. Lennie lived in Chicago then, and he showed up one afternoon because he had heard Woody was looking for material or arrangements. One of his arrangements had a lead part for guitar which was very unusual; it had "Billy" written on the sheet music, so I guess he was familiar with my playing.
Woody never played any of Lennie's arrangements. Lennie told me later it was because the trumpets couldn't play the parts; he had written some real Dizzy Gillespie bebop-type trumpet parts. That's what Lennie said, but I don't know. Maybe Woody just didn't want to use them.
In my life, I've played with every kind of band. I've played dixieland. I've recorded with [jazz/r&b saxophonist] Sam ‘The Man' Taylor — I have a few little solos on his album Jazz for Commuters that I think are better than almost anything else I've played on record.
On all my records it still sounds like me, but I'm playing in the style of the date. I play by ear basically, and my ear isn't that good either. If it was good, I'd be doing exactly what they were doing. I have the kind of ear that's compatible. I can blend in with other people.
I was once on an all-star date with a lot of great musicians. I was driving home from the date with [baritone saxophonist] Serge Chaloff and he said to me, "Do you realize, Billy, that we were just on an all-star date with the best musicians in the country?" I said "Well ..." He said "Well, what? What do you think would be great?" I said:'lf Charlie Parker would call me up and say, 'Billy, I want to use you on a record date"' And a few years later I pick up the phone and it's Charlie Parker. He says, "Hello, B" — he called me B. B. — "this is the Bird. Are you busy Friday?"
So I was on what turned out to be Charlie Parker's last record. When I got there, the studio was dark, so I took my guitar and started going over some things, including "Blue Mist". I'm playing "Blue Mist" and all of a sudden I feel somebody behind me; I look around and it's Charlie. I said hello and he said. "What are you doing?"
I said: “Well, I got this date coming up and I want to run over this thing. How does it sound?” He said: “It sounds like music to me.” That was a good compliment.
“I never worked that much as a leader, but I was in the studios for eight to ten years. Then I began to concentrate on teaching. People were waiting for studio work to come back, but I didn’t think it was going to. It didn’t come back for me, and I don’t think it came back for anybody. Not the way it had been.”
Billy Bauer as told to Barry Feldman, May, 2000.