Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hines' History

You maybe have seen this on the Tube of You, but in case you haven't, you're in for a treat. Here's the great Fatha' Hines, the Earl of jazz piano, demonstrating the art of syncopated piano playing as it evolved through the decades. He should know, because he played a major role in its development. The Yale-looking fellow who does the introduction is Ralph J. Gleason, esteemed critic and jazz historian (later SF rock 'n' roll champion). I never liked him much, but Hines is extraordinary. Watch, and be awed. 

The show, by the way, is Gleason's "Jazz Casual," a TV program that ran on NET in the '60s. This clip probably ran in 1961 or '62, judging by Ralph's coif.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pick of the Pickers

That's Mr. Babasin in the back row with the specs. It's the Tiffany Club in Los Angeles, May of 1952. The other participants you recognize, with perhaps the exception of pianist Donn Trenner who is obscured by vocalist Helen Carr. Photo by William Claxton

Here's a side I just acquired a few weeks ago. There's a story that goes with it, and I know you're not surprised to hear that.

I live in the foothills of New York's fabled Catskill Mountains and, while it's still quite rural, it's not quite as remote as when I moved here 30 years ago. One thing we have a lot of is vacant or abandoned houses, and there was one right down the road from me. It was a nice clapboarded bungalow, empty for a number of years – until this summer. A young couple from New York City bought it and have been working to put it back into shape (and succeeding very nicely). 

They dropped by one afternoon for a meet-and-greet and, while touring through my humble abode, they noticed all the vinyl around the place. "Are you into records?" asked the young lady. "Yes, you could say that," was my reply. "Well, the previous owner of our house left lots of old records in the garage. What kind of music do you like?" "Me? Oh, jazz mostly," says I casually. "I think they are jazz records – isn't that right, Albert?" The husband assayed that it was so. "Would you like them? You can have whatever you want," says she.

A few hours later, there was a knock at my front door (nobody ever comes to the front door) and there stood my new neighbor. "Here are a few of the records that I could grab. I'll get the rest once we clean out the rest of the stuff in the garage," she said. "Are these any good?" I took a look.

Among the pile were an RCA X label 10" rural blues record, ultra rare, a Riverside 10" "Origins of Jazz" EP with Furry Lewis' first recordings, and the record that is the subject of this posting. Needless to say, I was very pleased.

Harry Babasin was an institution on the West Coast in the 1950s, a bass player who worked steadily both in and out of the studios. He did many sessions as a sideman for Lester Koenig's Contemporary label, but also recorded with the great Oscar Pettiford, both of them plucking cellos. He plays cello here, this time with swing jazz legend Red Norvo joining him on vibes.

For this LP, the second of three albums produced by the Babasin/vibes collaboration – the "Jazz Pickers," he called them – the group features Norvo, who would later be replaced by Terry Gibbs. Red Wooten is the bass player (Babasin sticks with the smaller instrument) and Bill Douglass plays drums. Harry's discovery, Dempsey Wright, plays guitar. Wright would record his own album later in 1958, displaying great talent as a jazz guitarist, and then promptly disappeared from the scene. He supposedly moved to Little Rock and lived there happily ever after.

So here is some long-garaged vinyl, courtesy of my new neighbor. I hope to acquire other treasures from the former owner's stash before long, and I will certainly share any gems that turn up with all of you. As always, these files were ripped from the original LP, with only a little cleaning up of the sound. 

Command Performance
The Jazz Pickers
Mercury SR 60126

Harry Babasin, cello; Red Norvo, vbs; Dempsey Wright, g; Red Wooten, b; Bill Douglass, d.
Hollywood, CA; 1957

1. Stinger
2. Someone to Watch Over Me
3. Eyein' the goof
4. Lester Leaps In
5. Blues for Bill
6. Evening in Azerbaijan
7. Bagatelle
8. My Ideal
9. Petite Rondeau

Find it here:

Saturday, October 3, 2015

De Franco File

Domestic jazz bliss: Mr. and Mrs. De Franco at home on the road, circa 1950. Buddy is playing a portable piano that he lugged around to work out musical ideas. William Gottlieb photo

It's been a while, gang. My apologies for neglecting Gems all these weeks, but I been preoccupied with trying to make a living. I've never been very good at it, despite devoting more time than I'd care to admit to it. Modest success is all I can claim, but who wants to be Bill Gates, anyway? Don't answer that question.

Here's a gent who was successful. Not on Mr. Gates' scale, of course, but he did manage to become one of the leading practitioners of modern jazz on his instrument at a time when just about nobody was playing modern jazz on his instrument. Boniface "Buddy" De Franco was a clarinet player when nearly all the other licorice stick men were wearing straw boaters and had garters on their striped shirtsleeves. He started out playing swing but then heard Bird and Diz's message and became a bopper. He just forgot to switch to alto.

You can always hear Buddy's swing roots in his modern playing – or, at least, I think I can – but he also had the chops requisite for the newer style. He was one of the Metronome All-Stars in 1949, cutting a session for Victor with Parker, Miles, Fats Navarro, Tristano and a bevy of other jazz giants. He also hired a future hard-bop star named Sonny Clark as his pianist in the mid-'50s and made some very fine recordings with him. In the '60s, he worked with Tommy Gumina, himself a devotee to a decidedly unhip instrument – the accordion.

So, here's a delightful disc I picked up not too long ago that I thought you Gems fans might enjoy. It's Buddy De Franco in quartet and trio settings, recording early in his career for MGM. His pianist for these sessions is Kenny Drew, Bird's keyboard man from a few years earlier. Jimmy Raney shines on guitar and the King of Hard-bop, Art Blakey, shows up on a few cuts, too. Kenny contributes an original – the exotic sounding "Cairo" – and the rest of the fare consists of standards. All in all, a very satisfying collection of tunes.

As always, these files are ripped from the original, 63-year-old vinyl with no cleaning necessary (there's just a hint here and there of surface noise). If you want something to last forever, make it out of vinyl!

King of the Clarinet
Buddy De Franco 
MGM E177

De Franco, cl; Kenny Drew, p; Teddy Kotick, b; Art Taylor, d.
New York, NY; February 27, 1952

1. Sweet Georgia Brown
2. Gone with the Wind
3. Cairo

De Franco, cl; Kenny Drew, p; Curly Russell, b, or Art Blakey, d.
Hollywood, CA; January 1953

4. Street of Dreams
5. Lover Come Back to Me
6. Sophisticated Lady
7. I Got It Bad 
8. The Way You Look Tonight

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tenor Horn, Soprano Sax

Mr. Lacy, somewhere in Europe. In the mid-'60s, Steve went abroad and never really came back to the States, except to visit. Unknown photographer

No real story to tell about this offering, other than it showed up on eBay and nobody but your interlocutor bid on it (which means it went for a buck). I knew about this recording by a trumpet and horn player named Tom Stewart, but I'd never actually seen a copy. The reason I wanted it? Soprano saxophone pioneer Steve Lacy is featured throughout. There are very few sides of straight ahead jazz with Lacy, and I was curious to see how he sounded in a semi-hard bop context.

No surprise that Steve swings. He'd studied with classic jazz player and arranger Cecil Scott and had played extensively in traditional jazz bands with the likes of Pee Wee Russell, Pops Foster and Red Allen. What always did surprise me, given Lacy's history, was that his post-Cecil Taylor bands have always sounded dry and a bit academic (at least to me). And a little Irene Abei goes more than a very long way. So how Steve Lacy lost his swing is a mystery, but he sounds great here.

Tom Stewart? I have no idea. How did Creed Taylor decide to record him as a leader for the newly-launched ABC Paramount jazz label? We'll never know. Not that he's not an accomplished player and arranger. It's just that he seems to have come out of nowhere and then returned there immediately after this 1956 release. The tunes are familiar to jazz listeners, and there are no originals from Stewart, but he may have done the arranging. In the liner notes, he says he got a Bachelor's in English Lit, but then decided to switch to jazz horn playing. Clearly he was not interested in making money.

Anyway, here's his magnum opus, replete with Lacy and Herbie Mann for good measure. The sound was a little iffy in places, so I've cleaned it up a bit. I think you'll find the files acceptable – and musically of interest. From the actual vinyl, as always!

Tom Stewart
ABC-Paramount ABC-117
Stewart, ten hn; Steve Lacy, ss; Herbie Mann, ts, fl; Dave McKenna, p; Joe Puma*, g; Whitey Mitchell, b; Bill Bradley+, Al Levitt, d.
New York, NY; February 3, 1956. 

1. Rosetta
2. Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good to You
3. Let's Go Get Lost*
4. Out of Nowhere
5. My Heart Is a Hobo
6. Fidgety Feet
7. Spain*+
8. The Things I Love*+
9. Potatoes*+

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Loss of the Century

Friends and neighbors: Ornette recording in his loft at 131 Prince Street in Manhattan, a session that was released on Flying Dutchman in 1970. Bob Thiele photo

Ornette's gone. It's hard to believe. The news came as a shock, as these things do. But I had grown up musically with Ornette's music and he seemed timeless, always there, always challenging expectations and surprising listeners. I suspect we all could say of Ornette, "I've waited all my life for you." Asha Puthli sang as much in her rendition of "All My Life," a Coleman composition that keeps playing in my head.

A colleague once complained to me that Ornette always played the same solo. I responded, "Yeah, but what a solo!" No one sounded like him, though there were many who were inspired by his music. Sonny Simmons, John Carter, Marion Brown, Giuseppe Logan, Oliver Lake, John Tchicai, to name just a few.

To celebrate this great American original, here's a performance from Germany, possibly a television broadcast, issued in the '70s on the Italian bootleg label, Unique Jazz. It features Ornette's second great quartet, the one with Dewey Redman on tenor. Dewey's singing through his horn, something that always sounded a little desperate to me, is particularly successful here, and he also does some effective playing on musette. Charlie Haden's beautiful "Song for Che" is an added treat. That fat bass sound!

Sound quality is good despite the monaural recording, with no cleaning required. What you hear is the quartet at its best, recorded just prior to the period when Coleman would begin work on his symphony, "Skies of America." Not long after that, he would introduce his electric group, Prime Time, and the jazz landscape would shift once again. From the original vinyl as always, people.

Ornette lives!

Quartet European Concert
Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, as, tp; Dewey Redman, ts, mus; Charlie Hade, b; Ed Blackwell, d.
Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin, Germany; November 11, 1971

1. Street Woman
2. Song for Che
3. Whom Do You Work For?
4. Rock the Clock
5. Written Word

Find it here:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Duke's Day

The Duke on the air: A broadcast from around the time of this offering. This one obviously emanates from a radio studio and not a restaurant, with Artie Whetsol and Juan Tizol in the background. Photographer unknown

It's Ellington's 116th birthday anniversary, and we here at Gems could not let it pass by without offering our devoted followers a little something to celebrate. So, here's the Duke on the air, doing remotes for the United States Treasury Department in an effort to move a few War Bonds during the last big one.

Jacob Lawrence, Panel 18: "The
gained in momentum."
But ... before we get to the good stuff, a little story. Long-time visitors to this blog may recall that a while back we posted an Ellington download taken from Victor's original 78-rpm release of "Black, Brown and Beige." Many of you were appreciative of the dub, despite its audio limitations. All well and good, and Gems moved on to other postings. 

But about four months ago, I was contacted by a very nice woman interested in "Black, Brown and Beige" – specifically, in that odd paper sleeve that Victor issued the Duke's magnum opus in. This person, it turns out, works at the Museum of Modern Art here in the Big Apple. She was helping to produce their next big exhibit, a complete showing of artist Jacob Lawrence's "Migration Series," a 60-painting pictorial narration of the African-American migration to the north between the world wars. In searching around the interwebs for a source for that "Black, Brown and Beige" album which the museum wanted to use in the exhibit, she found Gems. One thing led to another, and the upshot was we were delighted to supply MoMA with our copy of the album for the Lawrence exhibit. 

Gems' copy of Ellington's "Black, Brown and Beige," an unusual gatefold paper jacket album, is seen at the top, on display at the Museum of Modern Art. Next to it is the original program from the Duke's 1943 Carnegie Hall concert where "BB&B" was originally presented. Gems photo
So, never underestimate to power of the web. You never know who's out there checking you out. The show, by the way, is highly recommended. The presentation of Lawrence's work is excellently done and the ancillary material, including films of Billie Holiday and Marian Anderson, is superb. 

On to this posting's offering. In the last year of World War II, Ellington was tapped by the U.S. Treasury Department to do a series of broadcasts to promote the purchase of War Bonds to fund the war effort's final push. Duke did a year of Saturday programs, each an hour in length. They were preserved on acetate discs and many decades later, a group of Ellington fanatics released the entire year's worth of shows on a series of 50 LPs. In my years of collecting, I've managed to find about 30 of these discs and hope one day to complete the set. I can't post all 30 here, so I thought instead I'd upload the first and last album in the series. 

So here's Duke in 1945. He plays the "Perfume Suite" on the first disc, which, you will notice, uses the original, provocative title for the second movement, "Violence." The second offering, the "Bonus" LP, is a remarkable document with a tribute to FDR broadcast shortly after his passing in 1945. Poignant! As an added treat, there's also a 1953 aircheck from the famed Blue Note in Chicago. Don't miss Ray Nance's romp on "Basin Street Blues"!

You'll note that these files are not broken down into individual tunes, as the records presented them as one continuous cut. I've appended the liner notes to the first LP here (if you copy and paste the file to your desktop, you should be able to read it). Unfortunately, there were no liner notes to the Bonus LP. The covers are, as you can see, minimalist. The files, as always come right from the virgin vinyl, no cleaning needed. The download is a big file (200 megs), so give it some time. Happy birthday, Duke!

Duke Ellington Treasury Series 1945 Vol. 1
DETS Treasury Show #1
Duke Ellington orchestra including Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, 
Cat Anderson, Jimmy Hamilton, Joya Sherrill, Kay Davis, Al Hibbler.
Aircheck, 400 Restaurant, New York, NY, April 7, 1945

1. Take the A Train
2. Blutopia
3. Midriff
4. Creole Love Call
5. Suddenly It Jumped
6. Frustration
7. I’m Beginning to See the Light 
8. Love (The Perfume Suite)
9. Violence (The Perfume Suite)
10. Dancers in Love  
(The Perfume Suite)
11. Coloratura  (The Perfume Suite)
12. Air Conditioned Jungle
13. I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues
14. Subtle Slough
15. Passion Flower

Duke Ellington Treasury Series 1945/1953 Bonus Album
DETS Treasury Show Bonus
Duke Ellington orchestra including Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, 
Cat Anderson, Jimmy Hamilton, Ray Nance, Joya Sherrill, 
Kay Davis, Al Hibbler, Jimmy Grissom.
Aircheck, 400 Restaurant, New York, NY, April 7, 1945

1. Moon Mist
2. New World A-Comin’
3. Nobody Knows the 
Trouble I’ve Seen
4. Mood Indigo
5. Dirge
6. Chant for FDR (American Lullaby)
7. Come Sunday
8. A City Called Heaven 
(Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow)
9. Creole Love Call
10. Moon Mist

Aircheck, Blue Note, Chicago, IL, August 1, 1953

11. Take the A Train
12. Boo-Dah
13. What More Can I Say
14. Frustration
15. Basin Street Blues
16. Duet
17. Ballin’ the Blues
18. Satin Doll

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: