Monday, April 6, 2015

National Holiday

Billie and her buddies: Miss Holiday with Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford and Big Sid Catlett, circa 1944. Judging by the flags, this might have been taken in England. The photographer was film maker Gjon Mili. From the Gems collection

The banks, the post office, the stock market, schools – they're all closed today. Did you forget? It's a national holiday. Eleanora Fagan's birthday. Better known to you and me as Billie Holiday.

But it's not just Billie's natal day. It's the 100th anniversary of her arrival, born on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia (you probably thought she was born in Baltimore, just like I did, but no – she just grew up there). So I thought it appropriate that Gems do something to mark the occasion. I have some 60 Holiday records and a dozen or so CD sets, but nearly everything I have is available (and that's not bad!). So what can I offer you Gems fans that you don't already got in your collections? Hmmm ...

Well, for one thing, here's page 1 of the Down Beat that reported Billie's first big bust – the one that wound up sending her away for a year and lost her her cabaret card. It gives you a sense of what a tough cookie Miss Holiday was, and how magnanimous she was in her concern for her fellow musicians. They don't make them like that anymore!

In poking around on the web, I noticed the the first ESP Billie Holiday release – the one with that "deer-in-the-headlights" cover – is hard to come by because Bernard Stollman had to withdraw it. I guess the Billie Holiday Estate objected to the cover image (it's not hard to see why). The music on the album comes from Boris Rose's tapes, performances from 1949-52, and they are all excellent. So, you may have this recording, but you may not have the cover. To celebrate Lady Day's centennial, here's cover and contents, just as they were initially released back in 1972 or so.

I bought this back in my college days, so there is a bit of surface noise (in addition to stuff that was inherently part of any ESP pressing). But I think you'll enjoy the performances regardless of a few pops and clicks. By the way, this is a rare legitimate Boris Rose release, one with song titles, credits, timings, the works. ESP must have insisted that he play it straight for once.

As always, the files were ripped right from the precious vinyl. Enjoy, and happy 100th, Billie!

The Lady Lives
Billie Holliday
Boris Rose airchecks, 1949-52; ESP 3002A

Just Jazz Concert, Pasadena, CA; June 2, 1949

1. My Man
2. Miss Brown to You

Horace Henderson, p; Lips Page, tp; Eddie Condon(?), g.
Eddie Condon Show, New York, NY; August 27, 1949

3. Keeps on Rainin'
4. Lover Man
5. I Cover the Waterfront

Art Ford Show; August 27, 1949 (same date as above, may be incorrect)

6. All of Me

Apollo Theater, New York, NY; May 24, 1950

7. You're My Thrill

Storyville, Boston, MA; October 31, 1951

8. He's Funny That Way
9. Billie's Blues
10. Miss Brown to You

Apollo Theater, New York, NY; 1952

11. My Man

Apollo Theater, New York, NY; December 10, 1952

12. Tenderly

Find it here:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

One World Ben

Ben Webster contemplates the implications of smoking with a cigarette holder while Abbey Lincoln makes a point sometime in the late '60s. Unknown photographer

Columbia has never known as a particularly adventurous record label, but in the late '50s the company did embark on a visionary experiment that resulted in scores of interesting and unusual albums being issued. While many of the sessions were picked up from other companies, Columbia actually recorded quite a few of the sides themselves. The series was called, appropriately enough, "Adventures in Sound." It featured music from around the world, in all styles and varieties. "World music," in other words. It was one of the first serious efforts in that direction.

But this is a jazz blog, so where's the jazz? Well, jazz is in the world and it's a music. So Columbia released a jazz record on its "Adventures" label. Just to make it more of a "world" recording, Irving Townsend, the producer, decided to record portions of the date in various locations around the globe with jazz players from the world over. Then he decided he'd mix the whole thing together into one happy whole back in the studio. 

Accordingly, he started in New York, and then journeyed to London, Stockholm and Paris, capturing jazz soloists as they added their choruses to the Big Apple-based rhythm section that played the original tracks. The result, appended here, is a lot less stultified than you might expect. It actually works, much to Mr. Townsend's credit.

The interesting thing is, to my ears anyway, this sounds like a Ben Webster record. Three of the tunes are vehicles for the Gentle Giant, and he plays a significant role in the remaining three. So think of this recording as an obscure and overlooked entry in the Webster discography, and I think you'll be more than pleased that you downloaded it before the link invariably fails.

The files come, as always, from the original vinyl with no cleaning of the sound needed. The photo on the cover, by the way, is by Art Kane. It's not very good, but Kane was a hotter-than-hot art director in those days. You may remember him as the guy who took that famous photo of 50+ jazz musicians all standing on or around a Harlem brownstone stoop back in the late '50s. Mr. Webster was one of them.

One World Jazz
Ben Webster and Others
Columbia WL 162

Clark Terry, Roger Guerin, tp; J.J. Johnson, George Chisholm, Aake Persson, tbn; Roy East, as; Ben Webster, Bob Garcia, ts; Ronnie Ross, bar; Stephane Grappelly, vi; Hank Jones, Martial Solal, p; Kenny Burrell, g; George Duvivier, b; Jo Jones, d.
New York, London, Paris, Stockholm; May 19, June 22, July 1, 3, 1959

1. Cotton Tail
2. Misty
3. Big Ben's Blues
4. International Blues
5. Nuages
6. In a Mellotone

Find it here:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tadd and Fats Redux

Fat Girl and Baptiste: Fats Navarro and Illinois Jacquet at a session in the mid-'40s. Photo from Down Beat
If you were to guess the most visited and downloaded entry on this blog, what do think it would it be? That rare Mingus? The live version of Ornette's "Skies of America"? The only record pianist Kenny Kersey ever made as a leader? How about Duke Ellington and Bing Crosby teaming up on "St. Louis Blues," with Der Bingle scatting a chorus?

I might have guessed one of those, too. But I'd be wrong and so would you. Number 1 on Gems is "Fats and Fat Value" from March of last year. There I mused on the worth of this music called jazz and contrasted the value of a Michael Cosmic LP with one by Tadd Dameron and Fats Navarro. Apparently Gems' readers thought the Dameron/Navarro download was worth something, because it sold and keeps selling ("selling" being a term of art – nothing here is for sale except a bridge in Brooklyn).

So, to keep our readers happy, here's Part 2 of Tadd and Fats at the Royal Roost in 1948, another treasure that comes our way via the obsessive/compulsive airchecking of the late, lamented Boris Rose. This one features a few nice vocals by Kenny Hagood and a guest appearance by Milt Jackson. The playing is first rate with Fats in primo shape and Alan Eager displaying his mettle.

The recording has Boris's abrupt starts and stops, and there's a bit of surface sound, but overall I'd say these tunes are in pretty good sonic shape for being in their 67th year (hey, I'm nearly that old!). So enjoy them and let's see if we can outdo the last Tadd/Fats download. As always, from the original vinyl.

(I wonder if I should post the Michael Cosmic ... ?)

Tadd and Fats Fats Navarro/Tadd Dameron
Sneaker TDFN 829
Airchecks, Royal Roost, New York, NY

Fats Navarro, tp; Rudy Williams, as; Allen Eager, ts; Tadd Dameron, p; Curley Russell, b; Kenny Clarke, d; Kenny Hagood, v. August 29, 1948

1. The Squirrel
2. Good Bait
3. Pennies from Heaven (KH)
4. Anthropology
5. Kitchenette Across the Hall (KH)
6. Lady Be Good
7. Tadd Walk

Fats Navarro, tp; Rudy Williams, as; Allen Eager, ts; Milt Jackson, vbs; Tadd Dameron, p; 
Curley Russell, b; Kenny Clarke, d. September 4, 1948

8. Symphonette
9. The Squirrel #2

As above, October 16, 1948

10. Anthropology #2
11. Our Delight
12. Tadd Walk #2

Find it here:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Papa and the Judge

Percussion discussion: Jo Jones entertains Art Blakey, left, and Elvin Jones with some fancy brushwork, probably in the early 1960s. Below, Milt Hinton at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1980. Unknown photographers

There's no story with this Gem. I just saw this on eBay and had to get it so I could hear it. The price was reasonable and there seemed to be no other buyers, so I won the bid. Once I did hear it, I was amazed that such a recording could have been made in 1960. This sort of adventurous duet is something one would expect to hear from creative music practitioners – the AACM or BAG or one of the other post-bop traditons.

What sort of duet, you ask? Why, an entire record of bass and drums playing together by their lonesome. And not by just any bass player or drummer. Performing on this LP are two giants of the swing and modern eras in jazz – Papa Jo Jones and the Judge, Milt Hinton. 

What makes this record so remarkable – other than it wasn't the sort of thing anyone was recording in the '60s – is the fact that these two gents hearken back to the heyday of the big bands. Jones with Basie, Hinton with Cab Calloway. That they would make such an unusual recording is an eye-opener, for me anyway. I guess there is nothing new under the sun after all.

Everest Records, by the way, was an interesting label. One of the first to produce high-end stereo recordings, they had a strong jazz division and put out quite a few mainstream jazz recordings, including some very good ones by Basie arranger Ernie Wilkins and a number by Jo Jones and Sweets Edison. The company's owner, Harry Belock, used 35mm film stock to make his recordings, believing the movie material captured a higher quality of sound. I don't know if that's true, but the process cost him quite a bit more than conventional tape.

So here are Papa and the Judge, free-improvising in the studio (there are only two bonafide tunes). The sound quality is good, but there is some background noise which, as far as I can determine, was present in the actual recording. I've cleaned it up a bit, and I think you'll find it an interesting listen. From the original vinyl, of course!

Percussion and Bass
Jo Jones and Milt Hinton

Jo Jones, d; Milt Hinton, b.
New York, NY; May 11, 1960
Everest BR5110

1. Tom
2. Man and You
3. Coffee Dan
4. Love Nest
5. H.O.T.
6. Shoes on the Ruff
7. The Walls Fall
8. Blue Skies
9. Late in the Evenin'
10. Ocho Puertas
11. Tin Top Alley Blues
12. Little Honey

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Twenty Fifteen

New Year's greetings from our pals at Down Beat, circa 1947, back when the editors were printing on cheap newsprint in an effort to control costs. By the end of the year, readers' complaints made them switch back magazine-quality paper, and our archivist is very glad they did. From Gems' DB collection

Another year come and gone, and still so many Gems yet to share. Happy New Year to all our friends out there in the ether and best wishes for a prosperous, swinging 2015! 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Relatively Lucky

A dapper Lucky Thompson, decked out ala mode Parisian. In the end, despite being one of America's greatest tenor players, he had little to smile about. Photographer unknown

Here's another jazz treasure, courtesy of WJFF's annual music sale, held every year right around Thanksgiving time. It's an event definitely worth giving thanks for if you're a vinyl hound like myself. We've posted record sale items here on Gems before, and this year's haul was especially good. Chief among the rarities was this long-out-of-print, wildly obscure LP by Eli "Lucky" Thompson. I snagged it, and now you can have a copy, too.

A few more gems from the music sale. Note the other Lucky Thompson, this one on ABC, made just prior to Lucky's heading off to Europe. A must-have LP, too, and readily available.

After spending half-a-dozen productive years in Europe, Lucky returned stateside in 1964 to have another go at making a living in the land of his birth. He waxed several very good LPs for Prestige and then somehow hooked up with a start-up company called Rivoli. The label's output was limited to a few short years before it went under, but in that time span Thompson recorded two excellent albums for Rivoli. This is the second of the two and it is Lucky's tribute to his roots – his "kinfolks."

In other news, gang, your humble interlocutor has returned to the airwaves at the esteemed broadcaster mentioned above, namely WJFF 90.5 FM in Jeffersonville, NY. That's right, I'm back hosting a weekly two-hour radio show, this time featuring 60 minutes of jazz followed by 60 minutes of blues. The program's called "Blues Connotation" (thank you, Ornette) and so far my tens of listeners seem to like it. You may remember that I ended my previous show on the station a few years back so I could spend a more time with my family (that's what what you're supposed say). I'll post a link to the new one on the column to the right in case you should find yourself with nothing else to listen to one day.

One other thing – WJFF has the distinction of being America's only hydro-electrically powered radio station, courtesy of nearby Jeffersonville Hydroelectric Co. There's a lake next to the station that lets Jeff Hydro generate the juice that lights up the board in Master Control and allows jazz-obsessed gents like myself to disseminate America's classical music for 60 miles in all directions. What power!

The mighty dam on Lake Jefferson in Jeffersonville (can you tell our little burg likes the country's third president?), the power source for WJFF. To give you a sense of its size, the spillway is about three stories high. Gems photo
So here's another Gem to celebrate this blog's host returning to the airwaves, and to share a once-in-a-lifetime find with all our screen-staring friends in the blog-o-sphere. As always, these files were ripped from the original vinyl with no, nada, cleaning of the sound. Dig!

Kinfolks Corner
Lucky Thompson and Friends
Rivoli 44
Lucky Thompson, ts, ss; Tommy Flanagan*, p; Frank Anderson, org; Wally Richardson, g; Willie Ruff, b; Oliver Jackson, Walter Perkins*, d.
New York City, NY; 1966

1. You Stepped Out of Dream*
2. Kinfolks Corner (Thompson)
3. Open Haus* (Thompson)
4. I'll Be Around*
5. Star Eyes*
6. Poor Butterfly
7. Anthropology*
8. Who Can I Turn To?
9. Caressable* (Thompson)

Find it here:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chazz Workshop

The Baron steps up to the mic. Wonder if this was also a broadcast? A photo
from several decades earlier than the period represented by this download,
probably taken on 52nd Street. Bob Parent photo

Well, gang, this here's our 100th posting on Gems of Jazz. Where does the time go? Since it's a special occasion, I thought I should post a real rarity. Not that many of the other items on Gems aren't in that category, but this one is – as far as I know – only available here. I've been saving it for a banner moment, and now that moment has arrived. 

You all know Charles Mingus. You probably know that his last great quintet was the one that featured Jack Walrath, George Adams and Don Pullen along with Dannie Richmond and the boss. You may also know that there are very few live recordings of this stellar group. 

Well, here's one more.

The Jazz Workshop (and Paul's Mall) on Boylston
Street in 
the mid-1970s.
To wit, the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop at the Jazz Workshop, 733 Boylston Street in good ol' Boston. The band appeared there on May 7 and 8, 1975, just before heading off to the Montreux Jazz Festival on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Mingus was in Boston for two nights, playing two sets each night and working out some of the new material he was going to perform in Switzerland. He was in declining health, suffering from the first symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease. But his playing – and especially that of his new quintet – was superb.

At the time, I was working at Discount Records in Allston (see a previous post on Walt Dickerson) and was lucky enough to get free tickets to the second of those nights at the Workshop, courtesy of our WEA rep (Mingus was on Atlantic at the time). The first night's show, I learned, was going to be broadcast live over WBUR, Boston University Radio. It was a Boris Rose moment: I decided I had to tape the broadcast.

The record store where I worked had a sideline selling cheapo stereo equipment, stuff that was made somewhere in Asia but was stamped with the CBS brand (CBS owned Discount Records). I didn't own a tape recorder, so I talked my boss into letting me borrow a cassette tape deck that was the store's demo model. I took it home and figured out how to wire it up to an old GE FM tube radio that I'd bought at a yard sale during my college days. I tuned in WBUR, ran tape, and to my great surprise and delight, was able to get a decent test recording. I eagerly waited for the 9 p.m. Jazz Workshop broadcast.

When the program began, I started the tape deck and hoped for the best. The show got underway a little late (jazz time) and the audio was pretty funky at first, but then suddenly there was Mingus and the band and some pretty amazing music. The demo deck performed flawlessly, considering that it was a bargain-basement piece of equipment. I used a 90-minute CBS cassette and had to hurriedly flip it once Side 1 ran out. But the recording came out OK, as you will hear, given the limitations of WBUR's engineering and my device. There's a persistent tape hiss, but I hope you can overlook that.

Here's Mingus during an earlier
visit to the Jazz Workshop in 
courtesy of Warren S.
The next night I went with a friend to the Jazz Workshop and caught Mingus' first set. Charles smoked a cigar through the whole performance and at one point I remember its ash leaving a dusty trail down his shirt front. George Adams sang an outrageous version of Gatemouth Brown's "Devil Blues," and Don Pullen deconstructed the piano repeatedly. It was the only time I saw Mingus live, and it was transcendent.

These shows are not listed in the Jazz Discography Project's page on Mingus, so apparently no recording has survived. Until now. So grab this one and enjoy the sound of the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop and my Boris Rose moment.

As an added bonus, here's George Adams performing "Devil Blues" at the aforementioned Montreux Jazz Festival. The trumpet player isn't Jack Walrath – I'm not sure who he is, but the rest of the band is there. (Note to self: After doing a little checking, the trumpeter is Claudio Roditi.)

Charles Mingus Quintet
WBUR Broadcast

Mingus, b; Jack Walrath, tp; George Adams, ts; Don Pullen, p; Dannie Richmond, d.
Jazz Workshop, Boston, MA; May 7, 1975

1. Introduction/Nobody Knows
2. Fables of Faubus
3. Peggy's Blue Skylight
4. Noddin' Your Head Blues
5. Ornithology/Cherokee

Find it here: