Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holidays in Swing Time

Season's Greetings from Hamp and the guys, and also from the crew here at Gems! This full-page ad appeared in the December 31, 1947 edition of the venerable Down Beat magazine (then more of a newspaper). Note the "new creation in a new movement" – "Mingus Fingers." Bebop at its greatest, indeed!

It's that time of year again. This is Gems' second holiday season, and we just want to thank all the many jazz fans who've visited this site and have shared their insight and enthusiasm with us. It's been great fun digging through the collection, uncovering interesting recordings and posting them here. And we promise more to come in upcoming months.

Meanwhile, here's a holiday treat for one and all. It's a jazz version of the old TV fireplace filled with cheerily burning yule logs. The soundtrack, of course, is by some of jazz's great players. So click the full-screen control, hit the start thingie and – viola! – bright and warm holidays in syncopation!

The music starts with Hamp and goes on from there. All of it is readily available, so there's no download this time (though I suspect you can figure out how to get it anyway). Enjoy, and happy holidays from us here at Gems to you and yours!

Holidays in Swing Time  
A Seasonal Mix 
1. Boogie Woogie Santa | Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, vocal by Sonny Parker
2. Greensleeves  |  John Coltrane  
3. Sleigh Ride  |  Duke Pearson Trio
4. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen  |  Jimmy Smith, Oliver Nelson arrangement 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hines' Varieties

On the ball: The Fatha takes a break from the keys to roll a few at the lanes. Very
nice form, don't you agree? This was taken about the time these recordings were
made. From "The World of Earl Hines"

Here's another Earl Hines offering – one that's a bit more contemporary than those of our previous postings. Hines has long been one of my favorite players, ever since I first heard his keyboard gymnastics on "Weather Bird" with Louis. His sense of rhythm was far more advance than any of his contemporaries, with the possible exception of James P. He just knocked me out!

I was filing away some records I'd pulled for my radio show when I came across this gem. It's another of those cheapo budget records from the early '60s, but it's not one that you see very often and the music reissued on it comes from an interesting period in Hines' career. Plus, these sides were all originally recorded for the short-lived Sunrise label in Chicago, making them pretty rare (back before the Internet, that is).

There's another reason why I decided to upload these files. The record has an interesting story behind it (are you surprised?). 

When I was living in Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago, I spent a lot of time in used record stores and thrift shops. There were great records to be found there as you might imagine, and I found quite a few. One day I purchased an LP with curious notes on its backside written in blue ballpoint pen ink. The notes added information on personnel, and on session dates and locations. They also commented on the various tunes on the LP – things like "Dynamite Blowing – a Real KICK!!!" and "Slow Burner – Tpt. Solo – Bold!!!" Whoever had made the notes used exclamation points freely.

A sample of the mysterious annotations, made
on a Duke Ellington record. The writer put much
effort into drawing lines and curious symbols.
I didn't think much of it until I came across another LP with similar jottings. And then another, and another. I began seeing dozens of records with the ballpoint marginalia in many of my record haunts. I decided that somebody was getting rid of a collection of primo jazz sides piece by piece, selling LPs to dealers as circumstances dictated. The variety of detailed information and the evaluations of the tunes (the writer had an elaborate system of stars and crosses for rating them) made me suspect that the original owner may have been a radio DJ. The notes served as a guide for picking material for his show on the fly – he wouldn't have to preview the music, just grab and go. 

I never found out the true story behind the ballpoint annotator, but I did end up with about thirty of his records. This Hines LP is one of them. The interesting thing about his notes is that he not only knows the correct date and place for Hines' Sunrise sessions, but he knows many of the players as well (more than are listed in my discography). The record itself offers no info whatsoever on the material. My question is this: How did this fellow know these things? Did he have the original Sunrise releases? Did he know one of the sidemen, or possibly Hines himself? Was he a serious hipster on the scene? This last hypothesis seems to be borne out in his liberal use of jive argot – as in "T-pipe" for "tenor saxophone."

Johnny Hartman
Whatever the case, we have here some rare Hines recordings that capture the Fatha in a period of transition. His big band had just been disbanded, a victim of changing tastes and shrinking budgets, and he'd just been hired by his former recording partner, Louis Armstrong, to be a sideman in Satchmo's first All-Stars unit. It must have been a difficult time for Earl. Victor was no longer recording him, so he went with Sunrise and issued a series of tunes in a variety of styles. In this download you'll hear the first gleanings of R&B, sweet ballads with strings and some straight-ahead jazz in the tradition. It's like Hines was hoping something would catch the public's ear but wasn't sure quite what.

The Dark Angel of the violin –
Eddie South
That said, you get to hear the immortal violinist Eddie South on three of these titles (and maybe more if, like me, you suspect it's Eddie South and not Bill Dougherty playing fiddle on some of the other tunes). You'll also hear the first recordings of a young up-and-coming baritone named Johnny Hartman, as fluid and smooth as he'd ever be even at age 24. Then there are the fine arrangements of Ernie Wilkins (or is it Budd Johnson?) on the big band sides. The jump tunes with Wini Brown feature a band pulled from Lionel Hampton's orchestra – with Mingus on bass! "Blues for Garroway," by the way, refers to Dave Garroway, then a nationally known Chicago radio personality and promoter of jazz. Earl no doubt was hoping Garroway would use the tune for his theme.

After 1947, Earl Hines would never again front an orchestra of his own on a permanent basis. Too bad, but then we wouldn't have his many decades of stellar trio and quartet work. So enjoy this last gasp of one Hines tradition. And see if the mysterious annotator doesn't inspire you to form your own theories about his story.

As always, these files were ripped from the original vinyl with just a mild cleaning of light pops and clicks.


Earl Hines and His Orchestra
Earl Hines
Hines, p; Morris Lane, ts; Eddie South, vi; Bob Wyatt, org; Ernest Ashley, g; unk. b, d.
Chicago, IL; December 1947

1. Honeysuckle Rose
2. Dark Eyes
3. Blues for Garroway

Hines, p; Duke Garette, tp; Bobby Plater, as; Morris Lane, ts; Charlie Fowlkes, bar; Bill Dougherty, vi; Bill Mackel, g; Charles Mingus, b; Curley Hamner, d; Wini Brown, unk., v.
Chicago, IL; December 1947

4. The Sheik of Araby
5. No Good Woman Blues

Hines, p; prob. Willie Cook, Vernon Smith, Fats Palmer, Charlie Anderson, tp; Bennie Green, Walter Harris, Gordon Alston, tbn; Clifton Small, tbn, p; Scoops Carey, Thomas Crump, as; Ernie Wilkins, Budd Johnson, ts; Wallace Brodis, bar; Bob Wyatt, org; unk., vbs; Skeeter Betts or Bill Mackel, g; Calvin Ponders, b; Gus Johnson, d; Johnny Hartman, Melrose Colbert, v; unk. string section.
Chicago, IL; late 1947

6. Ain’t Misbehavin’

Personnel as 4, 5:
7. Bow-legged Mama

Personnel as 6:
8. Black and Blue
9. I Need a Shoulder to Cry On

Personnel as 4, 5:
10. My Name Is on the Doorbell

Find it here:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Wailin' with Hamp

Lionel Hampton runs through a few two-fingered piano riffs prior to a show in the late '50s.
Photo from "Hamp," his autobiography

Barry O snags a
second shot.
The re-election of President Barack Obama reminds me of a time when I was directly involved in presidential politics, and that spurs me to offer this recording by the great Lionel Hampton. The connection may be a stretch, but I'll go with it since it's nice to have a logic (however contrived) behind these musings here on Gems.

In 1970, I worked for the late Senator George McGovern's presidential campaign, going door to door in the Syracuse, NY, region in an effort to get out the vote. Like many college kids from that era, I was firmly against the war in Viet Nam and believed that George would end it once elected. My canvassing partner and I were assigned to one of the poorer neighborhoods and the work was anything but easy. People answered our knocks – when they answered at all – with half-opened doors and suspicious looks. Nobody wanted to hear us talk about the Senator from South Dakota; they just wanted to get the two white kids from somewhere else off their front porch. 

Lionel Hampton chats with Richard M. during a visit to
the White House in 1970.
The experience impressed upon me just how complex the American political landscape can be. Another example could be found in Lionel Hampton's very public support for former Vice President Richard Nixon, McGovern's opponent. Back then I was just beginning to explore this music called jazz, and the idea that someone of Hamp's stature could support a war-mongering honky square like Tricky Dick just defied all logic. Of course, my eighteen-year-old political reasoning was anything but nuanced. But I really had trouble getting my head around the fact that a jazz giant was embracing a guy who seemed to be against everything that jazz stood for.

Of course, McGovern went down in one of the worst defeats anyone in a presidential election has ever experienced. Nixon went on to run afoul of the Watergate caper and also came up a loser. Our bumper stickers in Boston read, "Don't blame me – I'm from Massachusetts." 

But Lionel Hampton went on to play music for another three decades, swinging just as hard as he ever did. He was clearly a survivor, and that spoke volumes about his decision to go with the Repubs. That and the fact that his politics were pretty conservative to start with.

There's nothing political about this posting. It's just Hamp and the guys blowing for a rowdy crowd at a dance at Chicago's famed Trianon Ballroom. This is how live-in-concert recordings should sound – the crowd is vociferous, hip and paying attention. And Hamp and his men rise to the occasion. No great soloists here – Jay Peters and Jay Dennison are featured, and neither is exceptional. But they have a grand time and, if you can overlook Dennison's repetitious "Casbah stuff," you will too. And Hamp's solo turn on "Stardust" is worth the download all by itself.

As always, these tunes were ripped from the original vinyl, in this case a mono veteran of many years of repeated playings. There was a lot of surface noise that had to be cleaned up, so you may notice some minor digital artifacts here and there. But play it loud, roll back the rugs and pretend you too are at the Trianon ...

Wailin’ at the Trianon
Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra

Hampton, vbs; Billy Brooks, Wallace Davenport, Ed Mullens, Roy Slaughter, tp; George Cooper, Al Hayse, Harold Roberts, tbn; Jay Dennison, as; Bobbie Plater, fl, as; Edwin Frazier, Jay Peters, ts; Oscar Estell, bar; Dwike Mitchell, p; Billy Mackel, g; Peter Badie, b; Bill Eddleton, d.
Trianon Ballroom, Chicago, IL; July 22, 1954; Columbia CL1711

1. The Chase  12:05
2. Stardust  6:34
3. Mark VII  5:28
4. How High the Moon  8:58
5. Love for Sale  5:39
6. Wailin’ at the Trianon  6:17

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Great Black Music

I was fortunate enough to attend the first night of this 1977 concert series. Braxton's
collaborative group with Jenkins and Smith was stellar
. They had recorded for Delmark
a decade earlier. Music, as the AACM would later say, stronger than itself!

I have a truckload of jazz ephemera from my days living in Chicago and New York, and I've been thinking I should post some of it here on Gems. Even though this is supposed to be a blog that shares rare and unusual recordings with its visitors, every now and then I can't resist posting some visual stuff. So here is a selection of posters and flyers from some noteworthy but mostly undocumented jazz performances. I thought for this first installment I'd concentrate on Chicago and shows by members of the revolutionary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

Many of these concerts I attended, and all of them are a testament to the dedication of some great players who were in the music solely to advance tradition, art and culture. By the time I was in Chicago, the first-string AACMers had mostly decamped to New York. But there remained some very fine players, some of whom are represented here. To wit:

This Joseph Jarman performance comes from 1975. A show done
a year later at the University of Chicago was the first jazz concert
I saw after moving to the city. That solo show
was later released 
on the Art Ensembles' own label, AECO.
This performance by multi-reed player and flute maker
Douglas Ewart took place in 1977. The concerts below, featuring

Ewart's adventurous clarinet choir, were also held that year.
I missed this one, unfortunately. George Lewis was (is)
an amazing trombonist, electronics wizard, philosopher,
theoretician and – now – author and historian. He and

Douglas Ewart worked together quite often in the late
'70s. This show is from 1977.
Here's Chicago's first couple of creative music. Later the 
Colsons made occasional appearances in New York, and
eventually moved there in the '80s.
I saw this solo concert. Lester divided the performance into
two sets – the first consisted of free-from improvisation and
the second a reinterpretation of a number of jazz classics.
His rendition of Miles' "Walkin'" – replete with walking – 
was hilarious!
Ken Cheney is one of the less well known AACM members,
he's been a fixture on the Chicago scene since the '60s.
works most often with reed player Mwata Bowden.
This series was from 1977. Ed Wilkerson was one of the
younger AACM members at the time and was just
beginning to display his talents as a composer and
arranger. He often partnered with Light Henry Huff.
Kahil el-Zabar was the AACM's chief percussionist – and I
don't believe I ever saw him play a trap set. This concert
was a one-time event, and the group was a superb one.
Ari Brown went to work with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers
not long after this performance.
The Underground Festival was organized as a counterpart
to the recently created Chicago Jazz Festival. The bands
featured were all from the creative music community,
mostly AACM groups, and the shows were very successful.
I saw Threadgill's legendary Sextet(t) and they were even
better than they were on record.
Here's one of Ed Wilkerson's early bands, Shadow Vignettes.
He later put together Eight Bold Souls, featuring many of
the AACM's younger members. I always loved Ed's approach
as he brought a welcome bit of levity to the often overly
serious attitude surrounding the new music. These shows
were from 1981.
Back in the 1970s, many AACM concerts took place at the
University of Chicago. The university's radio station had a
number of knowledgeable DJs who were fans of the new
music, and they often promoted shows like this one by AEC
drummer Don Moye and Von Freeman's son, Chico.

That's just a sampling of some of the music that could be heard in Chicago in the late '70s and early '80s. Audiences for creative music were small but enthusiastic, and there were a number of sympathetic journalists who respectfully reported on AACM doings for the Chicago Reader, Down Beat and even the straight dailies. While I was a student at the U. of C., I attended as many shows as I could and experienced many memorable moments. 

Occasionally a recording of one or another of these concerts would come my way, and I thought since this is indeed a music blog, I'd share an excerpt from one of them. It's from another University of Chicago show, done on February 11, 1977, and features Don Moye's Malinke Trio. The late reed player and composer, Julius Hemphill, is the trio's prominent soloist for the opening part of the performance. Next comes a bass-and-drum duet demonstrating Favors' big sound. Then it's Moye who takes over with an extraordinary display of his precussion skills on conga. I doubt this group existed beyond this one performance, but the cohesion exhibited is a testament to the musical prowess of the players. Don Moye later had a drum ensemble called Malinke, but this trio may be one of the first examples of a Famoudou group with that name.

A caveat: The recording quality of this aged dub is not the best. I've doctored it a bit, but there's still some wow-and-flutter, background noise and other audio flaws. The music, as always, is amazing so I hope you'll pardon any sonic imperfections.

Malinke Trio
Don Moye
Julius Hemphill, sopranino, as, fl; Malachi Favors, b; Don Moye, d, conga, perc.
University of Chicago, Chicago, IL; February 11, 1977

1. Alto solo #1, trio
2. Bass and drum duet
3. Alto solo#2, trio
4. Alto and drums duet
5. Sopranino and conga duet

Find it here:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Goin' to Kansas City

The unfortunately ill-treated inside cover to Decca's classic "Kansas City Jazz" album. Basie's
been obliterated, but there's a candid of the legendary guitarist Floyd Smith, and one of Joe
Keys from the Blue Devils and another of the unjustly obscure Clarence Trice. Most of these
shots must have been taken during Decca's marathon November 1940 recording sessions
with the guys from Kay-Cee.

It's my firm belief that the familiar swing of jazz – as we understand it today – came to us from the Tom Pendergast's Kansas City of the 1930s. Specifically, from the men and women who created an original sound in the city's many night clubs, dance halls, speakeasies and dives. Four beats to the measure never swung so hard.

Here's impresario Gene Norman with a couple
of wannabe starlets, digging the sounds of
our offering for this posting. A typical period
from the editors at Down Beat magazine.

If you're not convinced, I offer this posting as as Exhibit A. It's from Decca Records' 1957 series of regional reissues (the "Chicago Jazz" LP posted a while back is another) and it features a veritable who's who of KC players. Most of these recordings were originally done in New York over a seven day period in 1940, so they come from a time when the heyday of Kansas City jazz had largely passed. But present are many of the original Blue Devils plus pianists Pete Johnson and Mary Lou Williams. The real treat is the two sides from Basie's superb composer and arranger, trombonist and guitar man Eddie Durham.

You hardcore collectors certainly know that all these tunes are available elsewhere – especially the familiar Basie numbers. But having them all in one place is a treat. You get a real feel for KC's hotbed musical environment. The two titles by Mary Lou are fairly obscure and feature terrific work from Shorty Baker (pre-Ellington, of course) and driving solos from long-forgotten Andy Kirk tenor star, Dick Wilson. Ms. Williams herself is in full command of the keyboard and her arrangement of "12th Street" occasionally foreshadows the developments of bop several years hence.

Gems' copy of the original release
is a little worse for wear. We
to use the LP version for the upload.
Then there's Eddie Barefield's unattributed clarinet on "South" with Lips Page's pick-up band. That coupled with the leader's muted trumpet solo and Don Byas' still-developing tenor sound make the tune a classic. Pete Johnson's band rollicks through a tune named for the Kansas City Colored Musician's Union, Local No. 627, with the cast the same as for Lips' titles. Great Don Stovall here. Roll 'em, Pete!

The standout for this posting has to be the rare Durham sides. Not only do we get Eddie's advanced electric guitar work, but Buster Smith demonstrates why Bird's sound was compared to his in Parker's early days. And catch the soli toward the end of "Little Girl" – fabulous Durham writing and very tight playing by the guys. 

Note that the liner notes for this LP refer to its selections as "dance compositions." Exactly right. This was music to move your feet to, and if you're like me your toes will be tapping. This is the music that taught the rest of the jazz world to swing. Mixed in, of course, were some of the greatest jazz statements by some of the music's greatest practitioners. You only have to catch the bookended solos by Hershel Evans and Prez on "Doggin' Around" to understand that.

So, download and roll back the rugs! As always, these tunes were ripped from the original vinyl with, in this case, no cleaning of the sound.  

Kansas City Jazz
Various Groups
Personnel listed in download
Decca DL 8044

Pete Johnson's Band
November 11, 1940
1. 627 Stomp
Joe Turner and His Fly Cats
November 11, 1940 
2. Piney Brown Blues
Mary Lou Williams and Her Kansas City Seven
November 18, 1940 
3. Baby Dear
4. Harmony Blues
Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy
November 7, 1940 
5. The Count
6. Twelfth Street Rag
Hot Lips Page and His Band
November 11, 1940 
7. South 
8. Lafayette 
Count Basie and His Orchestra
August 9, 1937 
9. Good Morning Blues
10. Doggin' Around 
Eddie Durham and His Band
November 11, 1940 
11. Moten's Swing
12. I Want a Little Girl

Find it here:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Our Kind of Jazz

Tony Scott in the late '70s, during his Yul Brynner tonsorial period. At this point, the clarinetist had been in the jazz biz for almost four decades. He died in 2007 at age 85. Photo from "Jazz: A Photo History"

Here's another jazz player who labored long and hard in the vineyards but never received his due. Antony Sciacca, known in music circles as Tony Scott, made numerous records with many of the jazz greats beginning way back in 1945 without ever attracting much attention. Maybe it was because he played clarinet, an instrument that belonged stylistically to an earlier generation? Dunno, but the guy's largely a footnote today.

Tony Scott does, however, get credit for spreading the jazz gospel abroad. Not long after this record was made, he decamped from New York and headed off to the mysterious East. In the '60s he lived variously in Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and other exotic locales in Asia. Wherever he went, he proselytized for jazz and won numerous converts for America's greatest cultural export. He also delved into zen meditation and other Eastern spiritual practices, releasing several albums having those experiences as a central theme. He was successful enough abroad that as early as 1960 Japanese jazz fans voted him best clarinetist in one of Down Beat's polls. Of course, that's an honor he'd already won in the United States four times.

This recording comes to Gems via eBay – a source that I usually try to avoid because I'm much too cheap to pay their prices. But the LP went for all of ninety-nine cents, so even with the shipping it was a bargain. It was recorded in 1957 for the ultra-obscure Perfect label (the liner claims it was a division of Epic Records, itself a division of Columbia). It is notable for several reasons.

Evans, like Tony Scott, was from
New Jersey. They made several
excellent records together for
RCA in addition to this one.
The first is the presence of pianist Bill Evans. These sessions capture Bill just months before he joined Miles Davis and emerged onto the national stage. He exhibits here many of the unusual chord voicings and unorthodox lines that later came to define his style, both with Miles and with his famous Evans-LaFaro-Motian trio. And coincidentally, Paul Motian is the drummer on these sides (or maybe not so coincidentally – Evans and Motian worked regularly in Tony Scott's groups in 1956 and '57).

The other reason to grab this recording is the presence of trombonist Jimmy Knepper. One of the unheralded greats on his instrument, Knepper had just started his on-again-off-again association with Charles Mingus in 1957. On this LP he exhibits a dynamism that may have been inspired by the bassist's own aggressive approach to music and composition. 

For added interest are Clark Terry on one number and baritonist Sahib Shihab on two others (all the other baritone solos are by Scott himself). And this may be legendary bassist Henry Grimes' first recording. (Actually, it was Henry's third recording session, preceded by dates with Shahib Shihab and Lee Konitz – this info courtesy of Margaret Davis Grimes. Thanks, Margaret!). 

So here is Tony Scott on clarinet, with his characteristic scratchy tone and cascade of notes. All the compositions are his – with the obvious exception – and some are more than a bit quirky. You'll note that the back cover offers an incomplete listing of the tunes, but Gems has corrected it in the download. As always, these tunes were ripped from the original vinyl with only a minor tidying up of the sound.

My Kind of Jazz
Tony Scott

Tony Scott, cl, bar; Clark Terry, tp (3); Jimmy Knepper, tbn (1); Sahib Shihab, bar (2);
Bill Evans, p; Henry Grimes (4) or Milt Hinton, b; Paul Motian, d.
New York, NY; November 16, 1957 (1, 2, 5), other titles 1957; Perfect PL 12010 

1. Villa Jazz (1)
2. Zonk (1)
3. Blues for Fives (1)(2)(4)
4. Third Moon (3)
5. For Pete’s Sake (1)
6. Just One of Those Things (2)(4)

Find it here:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Trane and the Critic

Coltrane caught cleaning his horn, possibly at the "Cathouse," Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter's home in Weehawken, possibly in 1958. From "Three Wishes" (2008)

Today is John Coltrane's 86th birthday anniversary, and I couldn't let it pass without posting an acknowledgement here on Gems. The day should be a national holiday, but of course that's not how this game plays out.

This offering is the now-famous interview that author and critic Frank Kofsky did with Coltrane in John's car at the railroad station near Dix Hills on Long Island, the town where Coltrane was living. Kofsky was working on his major opus, a Marxist polemic on jazz and politics called "Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music." The book has its good moments, but for the most part it's pretty rough going. Suffice it to say that Kofsky was a product of the times and that his theories haven't aged all that well. 

When I was living in Connecticut back in the early '80s, I got to know an extraordinary horn player named Tom Guralnick. He was studying at Wesleyan University in Middletown, and was busy exploring the limits of creative music. One day he gave me a copy of a taped interview with John Coltrane – he knew I was a collector and thought I'd find it interesting. It was something he'd gotten it from his brother, author Peter Guralnick. I was intrigued to learn the interviewer was Frank Kofsky because I had Kofsky's book and had even tried to read it. The interview with Coltrane was a central part of it.

The actual taped interview turned out to be a testament to Coltrane's gentle spirit, the clarity of his vision and the purity of his intent. Poor Kofsky goes to great lengths to get Coltrane to condemn one group or another, to endorse Kofsky's radical vision of race and politics. But John steadfastly refuses to take the bait and speaks not out of malice or spite but from the heart with real wisdom and generosity. Inspirational!

This historic recording is available in several places on the web already, but I thought I'd post it here as well. This version clocks in at about 60 minutes, and it may be more complete than others out there.

So, happy birthday, John Coltrane! And I hope those Gems visitors who haven't ever heard it will find the interview to be the revelation it truly is.

The Kofsky Interview
John Coltrane

John Coltrane interviewed by Frank Kofsky for Kofsky’s book, “Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music” (Pathfinder Press, 1970). Done in Coltrane’s car at the railroad station near Dix Hills, Long Island, NY, probably in the spring of 1966 (Kofsky had taken the train out from NYC to meet Coltrane near his home).

1. Interview, Part 1
2. Interview, Part 2

Monday, August 27, 2012

Jazz Royalty

I can't remember why I made this sketch – possibly it was for a display for the record store I worked in back in college. Whatever the reason, happy birthday, Yard!

August 27th and 29th are cardinal days in jazz culture, being the respective birthdays of Lester Young and Charlie Parker. I always do a special on my radio show for them, and I thought I'd mark the dates by posting an offering here at Gems as well.

Nothing need be said here about these two seminal figures – if you're into jazz, you already know the backstory. The President was the progenitor of a entirely divergent school of thought about the tenor saxophone and the Bird took flight on those ideas and made improvisation into an art music. 'Nuff said.

Lester as one of Walter Page's Blue Devils
in 1932. With him are Doc Ross, left, and
Buster Smith, right, the band's other reed
players. Pres does indeed look devilish with
whatever that is behind him.
These two LPs came into my possession when I was working in Boston at that Discount Records warehouse I mentioned many posts ago. The assistant manager of the company's Northeast region had offices there and I would see him occasionally on the phone behind his desk as I humped record cartons from the freight elevator to the delivery truck. He was about my age and was something of a party animal with high-waist bell bottoms, platform shoes, fitted nylon shirts and a severely teased mullet. He had a penchant for all-night revels, usually with a few of the hipper store managers in tow, and after one particularly wild weekend he never returned. The story went around that he'd burned too many bridges and had been asked to seek his fortune elsewhere. We heard he'd gone to L.A.

A few days after his departure, several skids of boxes were delivered to the warehouse. These turned out to be the former assistant manager's personal effects. The cartons contained clothes, shoes, toiletries, papers, nick-knacks and the like, and we were supposed repack them and ship them out to him when the word came down. I noted that along with all the personal stuff were a half dozen boxes of records. These intrigued me, because they were almost all rare and unusual imported jazz LPs. The manager, I knew, cared nothing for jazz and wouldn't have known John Coltrane from Chi Coltrane. How had these come into his possession?

Word never did come down on where to ship the boxes. The assistant manager's effects sat a the corner of the warehouse for months. My boss eventually tired of moving the cartons and got rid of them. But before he did, we were allowed to pick through the lot. I, of course, went for the records, and these two Queen Discs were among those I took.

The music contained in these records is probably available today on CD in one form or another, but back in the '70s these performances were ultra-rare. And they are, almost without exception, truly inspired.

The accepted take on Lester's playing following his devastating US Army stint is that it is inferior. His performances here disprove that canard. "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid" stands with the best of Pres, and "Lester Leaps In" is outstanding. Plus, you get to hear Lester introduce the tunes. 

The Bird LP captures Charlie in several unusual settings – including a version of "Groovin' High" with Lionel Hampton's keyboardist, Milt Buckner, playing organ. "Dance of the Infidels" finds Bird playing with the Massey Hall line-up minus Diz, probably right around the same time as the famed Toronto concert. It's astonishing for its intensity. And on the Bandbox aircheck, Bird corrects a confused Leonard Feather on tune titles.

So, happy birthday to Bird and Pres! Celebrate by enjoying these fine examples of their magnificent artistry. The files were, as always, ripped from the original vinyl with only a slight cleaning of sound.

By the way – how did the assistant manager come by these and the other remarkable jazz sides in his pile? I found out many years later that his father was one of the West Coast's leading rare jazz LP dealers. If you've been in the collecting game for a while, you've probably been a recipient of one of his record auction lists in the not-too-distant past ...

Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker

Parker, as; various groups, locations, dates (see cover for listings). 
Queen Disc 002

1. Anthropology
2. Cool Blues
3. Your Father's Moustache
4. Groovin' High
5. Star Eyes
6. Ornithology/How High the Moon
7. Diggin' Diz
8. Embracable You
9. Moose the Mooche
10. Cheryl
11. Dance of the Infidels

 Lester Young
Lester Young

Lester Young, ts: various groups, locations, dates (see cover for listings). 
Queen Disc 001

1. Pennies from Heaven
2. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
3. Jumpin' with Symphony Sid
4. These Foolish Things
5. Three Little Words
6. Lester Leaps In
7. A Ghost of a Chance
8. Just You, Just Me
9. Sweet Georgia Brown

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Penck's Pals

Looking not a little like a modern-day Walt Whitman, German artist Ar. Penck is also a man of many interests, not the least of them creative music. If nothing else, he has excellent taste in sidemen. Wikipedia photo

I was rooting around in a now-defunct East Village record store (not far from the then-mighty Tower Records) back in the '80s on what had to be the hottest day of the year. I mostly went in to take advantage of their delightful air-conditioning, not expecting to find anything of interest amid their big U-2 and Prince displays. But then, in the 99-cent bin, I came across a half-dozen LPs with hand-decorated covers that caught my eye. Several of them featured the legendary cornetist Butch Morris. All of them included a drummer named Ar. Penck. Who?

"Wechsein-Verwechsein," a
woodcut by Ar. Penck
The music on these records was a mix of Downtown and free jazz styles – self-consciously minimalist, sly, utterly hip. I loved it. But a painter friend who was into the new music scene rolled her eyes when she saw the covers. "Ugh," she said. "Penck!"

"Who is this Penck?" I asked. "These are great."

"He's some German – an artist, or so he thinks. A doodler. Those are his scribbles on the covers." I had to admit I didn't think much of the LPs' cover designs. "And those records?" she added. "They're nothing but vanity projects. He just bought himself some sidemen and got a grant to put them out." She turned up her nose.

"But they've got Butch on them. And they sound good to me," I protested. I was feeling a little defensive, but my friend wasn't buying it. We agreed to disagree.

Butch Morris conducting, using
his "from the heart" gesture.
The records were good, I knew that. I mostly wanted them because of Butch Morris. 

Butch was the first jazz player I saw when I moved to New York City in the early '80s, and by then I knew him pretty well. His cornet playing was absolutely magnificent, unlike anyone else's then or since. And he was just starting his large-scale "conductions," whereby he would improvise a composition using prearranged combinations of instruments and sound patterns cued by a series of gestures. He used his musicians the way Ellington did, but he did it in live performance, shaping the piece even as he heard it evolve. Tres cool! 

An original concept – a new music
music box!
My musician wife occasionally played in Butch's large ensemble, and I got to know him through her. When he learned that I was an artist and modelmaker, he asked me if I'd help him with a project he had in mind. He was working on a new suite of pieces for an upcoming recording for the Sound Aspects label, and he'd had an outfit in Switzerland create a number of music box mechanisms that played the suite's signature motif, a melody called "Nowhere Ever After." Would I be interested in helping him create a production music box to hold the device? Oh, yes, I would!

I worked with a neighborhood furniture shop to create a simple wooden box that when picked up would play the melody. One side held the mechanism and the other provided access to the winding key and left space for Butch's "dancing notes" logo. I priced it out at a very reasonable buck-and-a-half per box, and presented a prototype version to Butch at a conduction performance at Cooper Union. He seemed delighted.

After that, I saw Butch use the box several times in performances of the new suite and I heard that he'd been showing it around. But nothing much happened with the planned production of the music boxes. So I decided to create a one-off music box to really show him what I could do.

Tiny Butch-in-a-box, a device with more
meaning than I had initially realized
I was working primarily as a sculptor of detailed miniatures in those days, so I created a three-inch-tall figure of Butch from a photo I had of him conducting. I built a red oak box to hold it and the music mechanism, and gave the little model a movable arm. When the music played, the miniature Butch conducted. It was like a hip version of the little girl jewelry box with the dancing ballerina!

At another conduction performance a few months later, I showed Butch my creation. I was excited, hoping he'd be pleased with my elaborate treatment. But it was not to be. I could tell that Butch, though he was politely complimentary, was a bit put off. That confused me. 

It was my friend, the woman who had dissed Ar. Penck, who later cleared up the mystery. Butch, she said, saw my music box with the little figure of himself inside it as a coffin. The thing struck him in that moment as an ominous sign of impending mortality – his. Not a good thing.  

I have no idea if that was how Butch really felt, but the music box production plan was never mentioned again, and not long afterwards I left New York City for the Catskills. I still have the "coffin" music box, and Butch Morris is still very much alive and kicking, so I guess he was right to abandon the project – with me, at least. He did have a music box created by someone else, and you can see it here.

Back to Penck and his musical pals. Here is one of those "vanity" records with Butch. Filling out the ensemble are free jazz veteran Frank Wright and the Wollny brothers. The music is a marvelous amalgam of creative, free and downtown styles. The record was probably the result of an afternoon in the studio, a spontaneous creation that is a testament to the skill of the musicians involved. And Butch's skittering cornet is still one of my favorite sounds in new music. 

And, in case you're wondering what the music box sounds like, click this player.

As always, these files were ripped from the original vinyl with, in this case, no cleaning of the sound.

Our Sound Unity
Ar. Penck

Lawrence "Butch" Morris, cnt; Frank Wright, ts; Frank Wollny, g; Heinz Wollny, b; Ar. Penck, d.
Dimensional Sound Studio, New York, NY; May 27, 1984; No label, number

1. We Met Frank and Butch in Town
2. Our Sound Unity

Find it here: