Friday, September 30, 2011

Requiem for a Collector

Here's just a small sampling of the many records included in what turned out to be a wonderful collection of '40s and '50s mainstream jazz. Yowzah! Photo by Gems of Jazz 
Like most citizens in this day and age, I have a day gig. Only, because I work for a newspaper, my day gig is frequently on the night shift. The news never sleeps, especially in the digital age. So that's me, driving back and forth to work, trying not to doze off long enough to wake up in a ditch at 1 a.m.

Every now and then I try to do something interesting to make the commute a bit more palatable. I'll take a different route or pick up something tasty for the ride or visit a local thrift store (if I can get off early). There's one shop I pass every day that's a bargain hunter's paradise. I've been in it several times over the years, and never have had the patience to see it all. Stuff everywhere. Too much stuff.

One day I was early for the job and the weather was right and I was in the mood. I pulled over in front of "Ye Olde Anything Store" and plunged in. "Any new records?" I asked its corpulent, grubby proprietor. "Records? Yeah, right out back, in the shed. Here's a light bulb for the lamp. It's pretty dark out there. Just screw it in."

Screw it in? He was right – it was dark. And musty. And FULL of records. The chicken coop-sized shed out back was a repository for vinyl. The bulb helped a little, and after my eyes adjusted I could see pretty well. I went through several stacks without much luck. Mostly those annoying LP-sized disco singles. And record jackets with no records.

On the floor amid the piles was one of those big blue plastic recycling tubs that we have here in New York. Sticking up from one end of the tub was something that got my attention. It was the corner of a pink Mylar sleeve – the kind of sleeve that American Recording Society LPs came in. Jazz LPs.

I pulled it out and checked. "Billie Holiday Sings," ARS G-409. In mint condition. Lucky me! Then I noticed that there were 50 or 60 more just like it in that blue tub. Hoo-boy.

I pulled what I could and settled up with the grubby fellow out front. The score amounted to 57 records, all American Recording Society sides, all with their accompanying booklets. All great jazz. The man wanted a buck a piece for them, but took $55. I went off to work, thinking of other things.

A week later I went back to "Anything" and really went through everything. Not only did the guy have records in the shed, he had some in the cellar of the main house and farther out back under a big tent. I found several hundred additional sides, nearly all in pristine shape. And all, it turned out, from a single collection.

How did I know? Nearly every one of the records I pulled from the pile had a name stamped on the back cover. "J.J. Chambers" it said. Mr. Chambers clearly loved traditional jazz, and he took special care of his records. Judging by the nearly complete set of ARS sides, he must have belonged to a few record clubs. American Recording Society albums were repressings of Verve discs, all sanctioned by Norman Granz and only available by mail. And they all had liner notes in booklet form – something the originals lacked. Mr. Chambers' collection also included a large quantity of Jazztones LPs – another '50s record club product. There was also a nearly complete set of George Shearing records, evidence that J.J. may have belonged to a Capitol record club as well.

The backs of several of the records had address stickers attached  – the kind you get with junk mail solicitations. J.J. Chambers clearly lived nearby the "Anything" store. In fact, he lived on a side street that was on my route to work. I'd been going by his house every day for nearly seven years. It was an unassuming box-like structure, sided in baby blue aluminum clapboards with overgrown boxwood bushes out front. An inauspicious abode for a swinging jazz fan ...

One of my editors lives on the same street, and it turned out she vaguely remembered J.J. Chambers. He was as an elderly man she'd see occasionally out in front of the house. She thought he may have died several years ago. His son was now caring for the place and slowly cleaning it out. That's when the "Anything" store entered the picture. And yours truly soon after.

So ... as a tribute to a fellow collector and to the fine body of American jazz he amassed and was at pains to preserve, I offer these recordings from his trove for your listening pleasure.

Both of these discs are 10-inchers. One is on the cheapo Royale label, usually a budget label of dubious quality. But this one features all six sides from Earl Hines' very first session under his own name, originally recorded for QRS in Chicago. I know of no other issue for these historic sides other than the original 78s and this budget 10-inch pressing. Fabulous stuff, recorded just six months after Hines and Louis Armstrong waxed their superb Hot Five titles. You won't find these tunes anywhere else today.

The other LP is a sampler on the Jazztone label – the only 10-inch record they ever issued. It's as rare as hens' teeth, and though the music is mostly all available today in other forms, it's too cool not to include here. Plus the tunes make for great listening. One interesting note – the Rex Stewart cut features one "Herb Nichols" on piano, better known as Herbie Nichols. Nichols was, of course, the modernist whose recordings for Blue Note were later very influential, but whose lack of financial success forced him to earn a living playing in trad bands. Here he is, doing just that.

As always, these sides were ripped from the original vinyl, with only a minor cleaning of the sound.

Great Jazz Piano Solos, Royale 18166
Earl Hines, p.
Chicago, IL; December 8, 1928 (Originally on QRS)

1. Stowaway
2. Just Too Soon
3. Chicago High Life
4. A Monday Date
5. Off Times Blues
6. Panther Rag

Jazz Sampler, Jazztone J-SPEC 100
(Personnel in download)

7. Darling Nellie Gray (Sidney Bechet with Wally Bishop)
8. Slam Slam Blues (Red Norvo w/Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie)
9. Relaxin' at Camarillo (Charlie Parker)
10. Dark Eyes (Art Tatum)
11. B.C. Blues (Buck Clayton)
12. Honeysuckle Rose (Coleman Hawkins)
13. Bad Actin' Woman (Jack Teagarden)
14. Trio (Erroll Garner)
15. Moon Burns (Woody Herman Woodchoppers)
16. Basin Street Blues (Rex Stewart Dixieland Band)

Find them here:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Soulful Horn

Bennie Green's beautiful tone and affinity for the blues made him the perfect foil for the pyrotechnic style of pal Sonny Stitt. Here he jokes with Sonny at a 1960 Argo session in Chicago. Photo by Don Bronstein
Bennie Green was a member of  Earl Hines' swinging orchestra when Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughn also happen to be in the band. A Chicago native and DuSable High School graduate, Bennie later joined Charlie Ventura's "bop for the people" outfit and put the lessons he learned in sessions at Dizzy's house to good use. A solid improviser, Green's playing might be thought of as a link between the fluid swing style of Trummy Young and the ear-opening articulations of modernist J.J. Johnson. But Bennie's style, while exhibiting the superior technique and facility required of bop players, remains rooted in the fundamentals of the blues.

This record proves that point.

Recorded for Bethlehem December 1960, "Hornful of Soul" teams Bennie up with underrated tenorist Jimmy Forrest and alto player Lem Davis (who provides a nice original composition). Mal Waldron, a steady-working session man at the time, plays on a number of the selections and also contributes an original. His familiar ostinato-style soloing offers an interesting contrast to the bluesy work of the horn players.

A word about Jimmy Forrest. He had a big hit with a vamp blues called "Night Train," which many heard as a none-to-subtle reworking of Ellington's "Happy Go Lucky Local." His career seemed to falter following that early success, but he issued a number solid records on Prestige and later teamed up with Al Grey, recording some marvelous sides with that former Basie sideman. Jimmy seemed to have an affinity for trombonists. He's in excellent form here with Bennie.

The Bethlehem label, by the way, was issuing jazz sides willy-nilly around this time. Just why is a mystery, but many of them have since become classics. The company folded several years later, and when they did their catalog contained talents as diverse as Ruby Braff, Jerri Southern, Herbie Nichols and Charles Mingus. Some of Coltrane's formative work was documented on Bethlehem.

Where did I find this record? Back in the early '70s, I worked in a record store to earn rent money while I was in college. My store was part of a chain – Discount Records it was, owned by CBS – but our competition down the street was a locally-owned platter shop. They had a great selection of cut-outs there, and one day a truckload of deleted Bethlehem sides appeared. "Hornful of Soul" was one that caught my eye, and I laid down 69 cents plus tax to take it home. I've been digging it ever since, and now you can, too.

As always, these titles were ripped from the original vinyl with only a slight cleaning up of minor pops and clicks.

Hornful of Soul, Bethlehem BX 4019
Bennie Green, tbn; Jimmy Forrest, ts; Skip Hall, org; Wyatt Ruther, b; Art Taylor, d.
1, 5, 6: Add Lem Davis, as; Mal Waldron, p, replaces Hall.
New York, NY; December 1960

1. Summertime
2. Groove One (Green)
3. Lowland-ism (Babs Gonsales)
4. Dibblin' and Dabblin' (Babs Gonsales)
5. Foolish Heart
6. Indiana
7. Catwalk (Waldron)
8. Dee Dee (Lem Davis) 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jazz Funny Papers

What better way to sell horns than with a few good pictures, just like in the Sunday funnies? John Birks' career in panels, that outstanding Martin artist. Ad from Metronome Magazine

By the end of the forties, Dizzy Gillespie was the embodiment of modern music. The "king of bebop," he was the toast of the jazz trades with his big band, his JATP appearances and his antics. The Martin instrument company enlisted him in its roster of star trumpet players, and in 1949 featured him in a comic strip bio ad. Here it is, the first and last time (to my knowledge) a jazz artist got the graphic treatment. Note that Diz and "a few others" created bop at Minton's – did anyone say Charlie Parker? By the way, who the heck is Frank Fairfax?