Thursday, October 27, 2005


Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker Quartet, My Old Flame.
Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker Quartet, My Funny Valentine.

As soon as it had begun, it was over. The Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker quartet, in the course of a year, had played and recorded some of the finest, most elegant and mystical jazz of the period, and then fell to pieces.

In September 1953, Mulligan was arrested for narcotics possession and spent the rest of the year in prison at the Sheriff's Honor Farm. During Mulligan's incarceration, Baker claimed the spotlight, essentially becoming the public face of the quartet on magazine covers and assembling a new quartet of his own.

So the desire for fame, resentment and greed took their usual measures. After Mulligan was released from jail around Christmas '53, Baker found him walking on Hollywood Boulevard and then and there demanded a pay raise to $300 a week from his current $125. Mulligan, who was trying to kick heroin, was currently unemployed, and still had the smell of prison on him, told Baker where to get off, and thus the quartet ended. (Soon afterward, Mulligan would leave the West Coast for good and move back to New York City.) Craig Hanley: "Ever since then, it is said that Mulligan always looked for more sensitive partners, who understood his passion, and did not go head over heels with money."

While they lasted, though, they were magnificent. Here are two remnants: the cool, beautiful "My Old Flame", recorded in Los Angeles on April 27, 1953, and a live recording of "My Funny Valentine", taped at the Haig on May 20, which is one of my favorite jazz tracks ever. As glasses clink and clubgoers whisper, a drumroll sets the group off, and Carson Smith's two-note bass vamp provides a tightrope, first for Baker, who gives one of his finest solos, and then for Mulligan, who seems to stop time for the duration of his message (there are some amazing passages--such as the sweet melody that starts around 3:25). Then Baker and Mulligan unite briefly for one last time; Baker closes it out by reducing the main theme to three terse notes.

Find both on Original Quartet.

"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul erosion produced by high gambling--a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension--becomes unbearable, and the senses awake and revolt from it."

On April 13, 1953, the UK's Jonathan Cape published a novel by a first-time writer, Ian Fleming, which the Spectator's critic described as being "lively, most ingenious in detail, on the surface as tough as they are made and charmingly well-bred beneath, nicely written except for a too ingeniously sadistic bout of brutality." (i.e., a character gets whacked in the crotch repeatedly by a carpet beater.) While the book was a best-seller in England, it was rejected by every American publisher to whom Fleming's agent sent it, until at last Macmillan Publishing decided to take a chance on James Bond.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


triumph of the shabby man

Little Junior's Blue Flames, Love My Baby.
Little Junior's Blue Flames, Mystery Train.

Another rock & roll cornerstone: Sun 192, recorded in September or October 1953.

Herman Parker Jr. was born in West Memphis in 1932, just across the river from the future site of Sun Records. He began playing in Memphis in the late '40s, and took years to shake off the influence of Roy Brown and Sonny Boy Williamson (II) of whom he was a rank imitator for a while. He also began playing with the Beale Streeters, a sort of Memphis supergroup that featured on occasion Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon and Bobby Bland. Parker formed the Blue Flames out of a faction of Howlin' Wolf's old band, and in 1952, Ike Turner, who served as a circulatory system for early rock & roll, helped organize "Little Junior" Parker's first solo session.

In '53, Parker recorded a handful of tracks for Sam Phillips--the first, "Feelin' Good", hit #5 in the R&B charts. Its follow-up, the amazing single "Mystery Train"/"Love My Baby", did nowhere as well, prompting a frustrated Parker to leave Sun and sign with Don Robey's Duke label.

But "Mystery Train" would linger in the air at Sun, until two years later, when another group would take a crack at it...

Little Junior's Blue Flames were Parker on vocals, Sun regular Raymond Hill and possibly James Wheeler on sax, Bill Johnson (p), Floyd Murphy (g) (Phillips later would tell Scottie Moore to play like Murphy on various Elvis tracks); Kenneth Banks (b) and John Bowers (d). Find here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


cornucopia on wheels

Carl Smith, Darlin' Am I the One.
Carl Smith, Hey Joe!

Carl Smith seemed to emerge in country music just as Hank Williams faded, indicating to some the rise of a more cosmetic and homogenized, less "rural" type of singer as the '50s went on. But naysayers should take a listen to "Darlin' Am I the One?" in which Smith delivers a sweet, classic country vocal, and then its B-side, the loopy, vowel-happy "Hey Joe!", a solid bit of rock & roll. (Boudleaux Bryant's lyrics are pretty hilarious too--"Now we'll be friends until the end/this looks like the end, my friend", Smith hoots, ready to poach his buddy's girl).

"Darlin'" was recorded on May 19, 1953 with Johnny Sibert (steel guitar), Sammy Pruett and Grady Martin (electric guitars); Velma Williams (rhyth. gtr), Hal Smith (b) and Gordon Stoker (p). I think "Joe" is from the same session but am not sure. In any case, both were released in July 1953 as Columbia 21119. Find "Joe" on Essential Carl Smith and "Darlin" on this box set if you want to spend an obscene amount of money on Carl Smith.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Paper Anniversary (1945-1953)

Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Salt Peanuts.
Texas Ruby, Don't Let That Man Get You Down.
Joe Liggins, The Honeydripper.
Gene Krupa Trio, Dark Eyes.
Fred Astaire, Puttin' on the Ritz.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight, Up Above My Head I Hear Music in the Air.
Hadda Brooks, That's My Desire.
Buddy Johnson and Ella Johnson, I Don't Care Who Knows.
Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, The Chase.
Pee Wee Crayton, Blues After Hours.
Delmore Brothers, Pan American Boogie.
Yves Montand, Rue St. Vincent.
William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.
Muddy Waters, Louisiana Blues.
T-Bone Walker, Strollin' with Bone.
Earl Bostic, Flamingo.
The Larks, Eyesight to the Blind.
The Boyer Brothers, Step By Step.
Ole Rasmussen and His Nebraska Cornhuskers, C Jam Blues.
Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Max Roach & Charles Mingus, Salt Peanuts.

A year ago, I started this semi-public habit with the hope of spurring myself to write more, for lack of a better phrase, "creative" work. I have long had a tendency to begin projects and then happily abandon them, and so I thought a minor degree of self-publishing would boost my weak work ethic. What I failed to anticipate is how this blog would become about as consuming as my paying work, all while the long-awaited creative writing remains mostly stillborn.

For the most part, I'm fairly happy what I've put up, though there are exceptions--dud entries, uninspired song choices. I've also wanted to be funnier--there's a certain ponderousness to this project that I'd like to shake.

What else? After a solid start, there have been far fewer "classical" pieces than I expected to offer, but I found it hard to incorporate, for example, an aria from a Britten opera into a run of R&B/country posts. There have been hardly any Broadway songs, which is a shame, as the 15 years after WWII were a golden age for musical theater. My attempts at exploring non-US music have been mainly confined to the French at the expense of the rest of the world. Ah well.

So: onward. For a bit longer. I first considered starting with the year 1900 and running the whole 20th century, but I had neither the stomach nor the record collection to do the first quarter of the century any justice. So I felt 1945 was a good compromise, as it was Year 1 in several senses--musically, as it was the start of bebop, honky tonk and R&B; and culturally. 1945 was when a new world began; a world that, increasingly so over the past five years, seems to be dead and gone.

We're living in a different clime now, and this blog, if it has done nothing else, has tried to show just a bit of what's been bequeathed to us by persons already lost to memory.

Nine years

Here is a heap of songs from the '45-'53 period:

1945: The Parker/Gillespie performance of Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" is from the newly-discovered Town Hall concert, recorded on June 22, 1945--little more than a month after the definitive studio version of "Peanuts" had been recorded. This finding is pretty amazing, as no live recording of Parker and Gillespie from this period (especially in this type of quality) was believed to have existed. It's like discovering a lost Annal of Tacitus, a missing Patrick Troughton episode of Doctor Who. Buy this essential disc.

Texas Ruby came from the Texas plains and she never shook off the grit. Find "Man" here.

I put up Joe Liggins' "The Honeydripper"--ground zero of postwar R&B--early on, when about eight people read this blog, and have had some requests for a repeat. This is actually an alternate version, either a different take or edit, in which the vocal refrain starts far earlier. Liggins' best.

Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman's former drummer turned bandleader, was catching hell from his big band in the studio one day--the strings and brass players were griping about pitch problems. Finally Krupa, disgusted, sent everyone home but the pianist Teddy Napoleon and tenor saxophonist Charlie Ventura. Then the three recorded "Dark Eyes". More Krupa than you'd ever need.

1946: Fred Astaire first recorded the original version of Irving Berlin's "Ritz" (with references to Harlem, Lenox Avenue and "high browns" walking around) in 1930; here is a bowdlerized version in which the action has moved downtown to Park Ave. From the '46 film Blue Skies, which is pretty lousy. On this great Astaire comp.

1947: Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight were gospel singers with the urge to make R&B records: "Up Above My Head," in which the Holy Ghost is seemingly captured on record, is one remnant of their journey. The women start out hearing music above them, but in the second verse, it becomes the far less comforting "trouble in the air". Like Tharpe's "Strange Things Happening Everyday," it's a sign of apocalypse set to a joyful tune. On Gospel of the Blues.

That's her desire, and who could've turned Hadda Brooks down? Not me. Brooks, a brilliant vocalist and pianist, as well as a knockout, is woefully neglected today. Get to know her.

Buddy and Ella Johnson were siblings: Buddy provided the songs, Ella was their ambassador. They would play together for decades--listen to more on Jukebox Hits.

Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray's saxophone duel "The Chase" is one of the extraordinary jazz recordings of the postwar years, worshipped by Kerouac and Neal Cassady, and neglected by Locust St. at the time because I thought I had lost my copy of it. But lo and behold, while moving house I found, in a box full of jaundiced newspapers, my copy of an old compilation LP called "Jazz in Revolution". Moving has its few consolations. You can find "Chase" on CD here.

Brief roadmap, for those interested in this sort of thing:
16-bar intro, 32-bar main theme: everyone.
Solo choruses (all 32-bar): 1st: Gordon; 2nd: Gray; 3rd: Gordon; 4th: Gray; 5th: Jimmy Bunn (p); 6th: Gordon.
8-bar exchanges: Gray; Gordon; Gray; Gordon.
4-bar exchanges: Gray;Gordon (repeat 3x).
Final chorus (4-bars each) : Gordon/Gray unison; Gordon; unison; Gray; Gordon; Gray; unison;Gordon.
Theme recapitulation--everyone (w/Bunn on middle eight).

1948: The guitarist Pee Wee Clayton's "Blues After Hours": the sound of an ebbing summer night in a club long lost to time. On Modern Legacy Vol. 1.

1949: In his autobiography, Alton Delmore recalled the Delmores' first recording session, when the brothers heard their voices played back for the first time. "There was something divine in that little can...that helped us immensely and changed us from two country farm boy singers to something 'up town' and acceptable to listeners...that was the whole secret of our good luck. Our voices took well to the microphone." Find "Pan American Boogie" here.

1950: Yves Montand's "Rue St. Vincent" was one of the countless recordings Montand made in the '40s, '50s and '60s that became, in common, an alternate history of France, a grand suggestion of life. It wound up in Wes Anderson's Rushmore: Max Fisher ineptly attempts to seduce his dream crush, Miss Cross, while Montand purrs away in the background, oblivious.

Faulkner, having won the Nobel Prize in 1949, gave the following speech in Stockholm on December 10, 1950. (The idea of Faulkner wandering the streets of Stockholm is pretty hilarious--I'm surprised no one's done anything with the idea). "I decline to accept the end of man."

"Let's go back to New Orleans, boys." Muddy Waters' "Louisiana Blues" is on Anthology.

In "Strollin' with Bone", T-Bone Walker takes on a hot R&B band and wins. Around 1:15 into the song, he creates a Chuck Berry riff and moves on. On Blues Masters.

1951: Earl Bostic was the sort of loud, big-toned, vulgar saxophonist that jazz fans of the '50s simply hated, especially because Bostic got jukebox hits, like "Flamingo", while the likes of Lennie Tristano remained in obscurity. One of the last jazz musicians whose primary emphasis was keeping dancers on the floor, Bostic is what he is--pure buzz-toned entertainment. More on this 2-CD retrospective.

The Larks' "Eyesight to the Blind": in which a fallen gospel group transmogrifies a Sonny Boy Williamson blues into vicious doo-wop. Find here.

1952: "Step by Step" was the first record issued on Nashville's Excello label, which started out releasing gospel sides and wound up becoming a R&B/soul factory. The Boyer brothers were high school pianists from Winter Park, Florida; I don't know what became of them after this record, but I thank them for it--it's beautiful. On Excello Story Vol. 1.

Ole Rasmussen was a Swede from Nebraska who became, for a brief moment, the greatest Bob Wills imitator in the world. He stole everything--Wills' trademark asides and "yeah!s"; his singer was a clone of Wills' Tommy Duncan, his slide player a cut-rate Leon McAuliffe. But sometimes Ole blew past his limitations: his version of Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues" is his finest record, the type of wild fusion of jazz, blues and country that was just about to become extinct. On Sleepy Eyed John.

1953: At last, we come full circle with "Salt Peanuts", this time at Massey Hall, Toronto, on May 15, 1953. Where to hear the Town Hall show in 1945 is to be present at the creation, hearing the Massey Hall concert is to witness the late autumn of bebop--a summing up of glories.

For some (the up-and-coming Charles Mingus, who organized the show and taped it, and Max Roach, who would persevere in excellence for years to come), the show was just another milestone, but for Parker, it was close to the end--this would be his last great performance before his death in 1955. Bud Powell, increasingly in ill health, was spiraling downward as well, while Gillespie, his greatest work behind him, would move on to become a genial jazz statesman, whether on a government-sponsored tour of South America or The Cosby Show.

It was, from all accounts, a mess of a concert--the hall was half-empty because of a prizefight occurring at the same time; Gillespie and Parker almost missed the show due to an overcrowded plane; Parker showed up with only a plastic white saxophone. Still, the music this once-in-a-lifetime quintet made for a half-hour in Toronto that night was astonishing and vital--the sound of titans.

(That said, the recording of the Massey Hall show was muddy and weak, causing Mingus to overdub his performance in the studio later--thus, this is not a pure document of the concert. But what recording of a live show ever is, really?)

Is Bird's intro to "Peanuts," in which he calls Gillespie his "worthy constituent", a tribute or a veiled insult? On Quintet at Massey Hall.

Paintings: Pierre Bonnard, Last Self Portrait (1944-45); Jacob Lawrence, Barbershop (1946); Edward Hopper, Saturday Night (1948); Jackson Pollack, No. 31 (1950); Pablo Picasso, Fran├žoise, Claude y Paloma (1951); Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea (1952)


More people visit this site because they're looking via Google Images for pictures of Saul Bellow, Hank Williams, "Cosmopolitan" and "The Third Man" than for any other reason. Hope I helped.

Thanks to: Tofu Hut, Soul Sides, Honey Where You Been So Long and Moistworks, which were my impetus and which remain the best of the lot; The Mystical Beast (apparently soon to be retiring, sadly) and Norwegianity who have said some kind things about this site over the months; Big Rock Candy Mountain, the Reverend Frost's Spread the Good Word and Kat's Keep the Coffee Coming, which have been my biggest referrers and some of my favorite sites. Fine new blogs like Long Sought Home. And the rest of you on the blogroll and beyond.

Top countries, in terms of visitors: US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Netherlands.

Countries whose residents have only visited here once during the year: Ghana, Iraq, Ecuador, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Albania, Bahrain, Belarus, Bulgaria, Morocco. Also, one time someone from "Europe".

Thanks for coming.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Ray Charles, It Should've Been Me.
The Drifters, Money Honey.

The rock & roll attitude at birth. Both records, Ray Charles' and the Drifters' first major hits for Atlantic, share a new sensibility--brash and cocksure; the singer's a bit full of himself, and full of jive. A nation of impending teenagers awaited instruction--here are the first marching orders.

The first time I heard "It Should've Been Me," I (and my friend) thought Ray was singing, "It should've been me--with that real white chick." Ray hasn't found his mature style yet--this track is still heavily under the influence of Louis Jordan--but it's a hoot all the same. Recorded on May 17, 1953 and released as Atlantic 1021. On The Birth of Soul.

The Drifters had two main incarnations--the world (or at least the oldies stations) favors the more genteel Ben E. King version, but this is the frantic, brassy Clyde McPhatter edition of the early '50s. The singer's got troubles with his girl, his landlord and the world, in that order. Recorded August 9, 1953 and released as Atlantic 1006; it can be found on Atlantic R&B Vol. 2.

Monday, October 10, 2005


J.J. Johnson, Turnpike.

In 1952, J.J. Johnson, the great bebop trombonist, accompanist to Count Basie and Benny Carter, was working in a Sperry Gyroscope factory inspecting blueprints.

The early 1950s was a sere time for jazz musicians: the big bands were through; Miles Davis, along with dozens of others, was sidelined by heroin; Charlie Parker was fading. Even Frank Sinatra was in limbo. Johnson, always a cautious family man at heart, opted to take a regular paying job.

But luckily he kept his affiliation with Blue Note Records and in 1953, things began to turn. Davis, a friend, had called up Johnson for a session in April, during which Davis recorded two Johnson compositions. Intrigued, Blue Note arranged Johnson to have his own session as a leader.

Call it kismet or simply evidence of the sheer number of top players available for sessions in those days, but Johnson's solo recording date in June featured an amazing collection of talent: the bright young trumpeter Clifford Brown, making only his third-ever recording session; the pianist John Lewis, who was in the process of assembling the Modern Jazz Quartet; the brothers Jimmy and Percy Heath (sax and bass, respectively); and the bop veteran Kenny Clarke on drums.

"Turnpike," a Johnson composition, features a startling, ominous introduction and a driving two-note theme reminscent of Thelonious Monk. The 22-year old Brown starts off the solos, sounding like he has been playing for decades, then comes Heath on tenor sax. Johnson's trombone solo is masterful--he moves as lightly as Brown did on the trumpet.

Recorded on June 22, 1953, in New York, and available on J.J. Johnson: The Eminent Vol. 1.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


trade paper immortality

Johnny Ace, Still Love You So.

This, a posthumous release for Johnny Ace in 1956, was actually recorded three years before, in the midst of Ace's rapid upward trajectory. In early 1952 Ace was a minor regional musician known mainly in the Memphis area; two years later, he had become a national name, his records promoted by Alan Freed, and he was set to be one of the first great rock & roll figures.

Then he accidentally killed himself playing Russian roulette backstage at a 1954 Christmas show in Houston. Along with James Dean's death in 1955, this would inaugurate the run of great pop star death worship cults, which would devolve, as the years went on, into the various sects of Paul is Dead and Jim Morrison is Alive and Elvis has Risen Again, down into the Cobain and Shakur manias of the past decade.

Johnny Ace recorded a mere 21 tracks during his brief life--"Still Love You So" (recorded in August 1953 but released as Duke 154 in 1956 as Ace's last-ever single) is one of his finest, a moody record sung hypnotically. On Memorial Album.

As a kid reviewer on Amazon put it, "I wish he made more music and I wish he didn't die."

Monday, October 03, 2005


Bud Powell, Autumn in New York.

Summer is miserable--a guest who, after a joyful arrival, stays far too long, ruining the house, making you antsy. Spring is more hope than reality, crystallizing just long enough to bring out the allergies. Winter beats you down and leaves you flat. But the autumn, the autumn, is perfect.

Anthony at the Hype Machine asked me recently if I missed New York. "Sometime, not all the time," as Dylan once said. But, yes, I miss it greatly in October.

Bud Powell's take on "Autumn in NY" was recorded in New York on August 14, 1953, with George Duvivier (b) and Art Taylor (d). On The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2.