Sunday, July 31, 2011

The gospel according to Al

Following my post on the lost or neglected Jimmie Noone film footage, I would like to share another of my musical holy grails - Al Bowlly's crooning manual, The Modern Singing Style. I have no consistent desire to be a singer, yet I do have a love of Bowlly's singing and an overriding desire to understand how music works.

Does anyone have a spare copy lying around?

My mate Boris, an even greater Bowlly aficionado than I, forwarded me a link to this excellent YouTube presentation, which features images from the book. Watch for yourself and see if the table of contents doesn't spark your interest...

And here's Al conducting a musical masterclass on the subject:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where in the world is Jimmie Noone?

In 1944, Jimmie Noone was filmed in a movie called Blockbusters. That same year he died, missing the full bloom of traditional jazz revivals that made George Lewis famous and Acker Bilk a household name.

I've searched all kinds of obscure corners of the internet, but I've been unable to uncover either a digital version of this film or a physical copy on DVD or video. I'm astounded this priceless footage of one of jazz's most important clarinettists isn't available.

If anyone reading this blog can pass on any information on Noone's appearance in this film, I would be very grateful. Of course, it may be that Noone only appears briefly, or that the footage is hardly worth watching, but I so dearly want to see this jazz hero play.

Here's an appropriate record from Noone's colleague King Oliver - I Must Have It:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mainstream giants in 1958

Follow this link to see and hear Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Johnny Guarnieri, Milt Hinton and others jamming in 1958.

While this film features a cheesy voiceover and singing that isn't to my taste, the musicians seem genuinely relaxed. Hawkins plays a remarkable version of Lover Man, while Eldridge keeps the lid on his excellent but sometimes histrionic trumpet playing.

I can now say I've watched with awe as Coleman Hawkins arrived at a gig and set up his horn. Is this how Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Prince Robinson and so many other sax players going way back to the early 1920s felt?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Since You Went Away - Irving Mills & his Hotsy Totsy Gang

The delicate cornet playing on this record is the work of Jimmy McPartland, most often remembered for his association with the Austin High Gang. He idolised Bix, replacing him in the Wolverines.

On first hearing, his playing here sounds similar to Bix's, yet McPartland's own musical approach is evident on closer inspection. While there are similarities in tone and articulation, the phrasing is different - McPartland serenades us directly, while Bix's solos often give the impression we are eavesdropping on an altogether more private world.

In the interests of comparison, here's Bix playing Way Down Yonder in New Orleans:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Daddy Won't You Please Come Home - Annette Hanshaw with the New Englanders

Here's my current favourite Annette Hanshaw recording. It's been neglected on my computer for a long time, skipped over because I thought it was an Annettified version of 'Baby Won't You Please Come Home', a song I can live without hearing again. Silly me!

Hanshaw sings here with a breezy innocence and straightforward approach that is at least as hard to achieve as the complex vocal gymnastics of more modern singers. It also features a sweet melody and poised clarinet from Jimmy Dorsey.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bud Freeman and Edmond Hall

Here's a recording that's new to me, matching urbane Bud Freeman on tenor sax with the molten clarinet of Edmond Hall. Two great reed players, and the rest of the band is pretty impressive too!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jazz in a parallel universe

I've been musing on the nature of alternate takes lately. While watching a science documentary explaining string theory (or trying to!), I was struck by how alternate takes in jazz seem to offer us parallel universes for exploration.

It's an illusion and ALL takes actually took place in chronological order, but to a obsessive jazz fan like me, listening to the alternate take of a familiar track - one of Billie Holiday's records with Teddy Wilson, for instance - creates the impression that in a particular moment, Lester chose a different path.

Just this morning I was playing a bunch of 78s I recently acquired. I put on Eddie Condon and his Chicagoans playing 'Friar's Point Shuffle', a record I've known well for years. To my surprise, Max Kaminsky led the band off in an unfamiliar direction! It was as if a favourite novel or film had suddenly changed its plot, without warning.

Of course, a jazz fan can become irritated by the regular inclusion of alternate takes on CDs or vinyl - after all, it's the same song all over again, and the ear quickly tires of such repetition in casual listening. But when I have the energy to pay closer attention, I'm fascinated by the differences in solos, tempos, phrasing, feel etc.

A case in point is the excellent Jazz Oracle CD 'Red Nichols on Edison' (buy it!). It features a whole stack of alternates, often three takes of the one tune. However, the obvious differences between solos by Nichols, Miff Mole and Jimmy Dorsey, coupled with the quality of their playing, makes for absorbing music. Miff Mole's three solos on Hurricane and Red Nichols' three breaks on The Stampede are worth the price on their own.

Next time you hear an alternate take begin, stay away from the skip button and instead enjoy what can feel like the parallel universes of jazz!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Smiling Skies - Benny Meroff with Wild Bill Davison

A fascinating and rare glimpse of Wild Bill Davison early in his career, with Benny Meroff's Orchestra in 1928. It's interesting to hear his characteristically wild phrasing used to express ideas that are so obviously inspired by Bix Beiderbecke.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Max Kaminsky - Melody Maker

Max Kaminsky was probably more highly-regarded amongst peers than jazz fans, lacking as he did the sheer fire of Wild Bill Davison or the romanticism of Bobby Hackett. However, he was an expert at playing an economical yet swinging melody.

Playing a melody well is one of the most difficult things a jazz musician can attempt - it's relatively easy to play an unimaginative improvised solo that will fool casual listeners. Embellishing a melody means one has set material to work with, less room to deviate, and probably other horn players with whom to jostle for space between the barlines.

Kaminsky's no-fuss lead lines did more than state melodies - they inspired his fellow musicians. It's no wonder 'thinking trumpeters' like Tom Baker, Roger Bell and Ade Monsbourgh loved his playing (he visited Australia with Artie Shaw's band during World War II, hence his strong influence on Australian musicians).

Here's a great video clip with an all-star lineup including Herb Hall on clarinet, Stuff Smith on violin and George Wettling on drums:

And here are two records that show Kaminsky at his early peak:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pensive stride piano - Willie 'The Lion' Smith

The flexible piano playing of Willie 'The Lion' Smith evokes a broader range of moods than might generally be expected from a stride pianist. Far from providing mechanical virtuosity, his solos are, in turn, reflective, poignant, witty and jubilant.

I find myself listening to his fourteen 1939 Commodore piano solos as a method of meditation. If you haven't already heard these records, rush out and find them. 'I'll Follow You' and 'What is There to Say' are particularly soothing, while his own compositions build creatively on the stride tradition.

Here's 'I'll Follow You':

And a great band performance from a few years earlier (great tenor sax from Cecil Scott!):