Thursday, January 26, 2017

Blues in Cincinnati: Stovepipe No. 1

Steven C. Tracy’s excellent book, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City, served as my introduction to Sam Jones, AKA Stovepipe No. 1. Stovepipe played everything from gospel and square dance tunes to hokum and jug band blues, both in the streets and in various establishments in Cincinnati, although more often in the city’s West End. He was on hand from at least the 1920s to as late as the 1960s, and his voice in 1924 sounded as if he already had been around a bit. He was called “Stovepipe” because he wore a stovepipe hat as part of his shtick, but primarily because he literally played a length of stovepipe; if a jug is the equivalent of a tenor sax, a stovepipe is a baritone sax.  He also played guitar and harmonica, often as a one-man band.

Stovepipe’s first one-man band recordings were made in 1924 for Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana; unfortunately, none of them survives. As the story goes, when he hit Richmond, billing himself as “Daddy Stovepipe,” he found out that Gennett had just recorded another Daddy Stovepipe (go figure!). Thus, he started billing himself as Stovepipe No. 1―the original. A few months later, he also recorded for Columbia Records, again as a one-man band. The first day’s session is still missing in action, although the tracks he cut seem to have been blues and perhaps square dance calls. The next day’s recordings are still around, including a couple of gospel tunes (Lord, Don’t You Know I have No Friend Like You and I’ve Got Salvation in My Heart), some old-time songs like Turkey in the Straw, and an instrumental (Fisher’s Hornpipe).

In 1927, Stovepipe teamed up with guitarist David Crockett to record some novelty songs (A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy Around) and some jokey blues tunes like Bed Slats. He wrapped up his recording career in 1930 as singer and stovepiper-in-chief with King David’s Jug Band (presumably the “king” was the aforesaid Mr. Crockett); they recorded some prime examples of jug band hokum, including Tear It Down, another version of Bed Slats.  After that, Stovepipe went back to the streets of Cincinnati, following his calling into what one would assume was relative old age.

My take: Stovepipe No. I’s music is charming. Like Henry Thomas of Texas, his repertoire included a variety of forms that predated the blues; Fisher’s Hornpipe goes back to the 18th century. Steven Tracy surmises that the old-time and square dance material was for white audiences and the blues and gospel material for African Americans, but it may be that the latter (and maybe both groups) liked a variety of material presented by a top hat-wearing and hokum-loving street minstrel. Stovepipe was also the starting point for an impressive array of blues recordings produced by Cincinnati artists in the 1920s and 1930s, which I hope to talk about in future posts. I highly recommend Tracy’s Going to Cincinnati for more background; it seems to be out of print, but second-hand copies are out there at a reasonable price. Anyway, give old Stovepipe a try―after all, he was Number 1.

Here are Fisher’s Hornpipe, A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy Around, and Sweet Potato Blues (I love the jug band’s mandolin player―I wonder who he was? I love this stuff!

Fisher's Hornpipe

A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy Around

Sweet Potato Blues

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dreaming of Spanish Harlem: Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers

Henry “Pucho” Brown isn’t Hispanic, but he grew up in the vibrant cultural stew of what used to be called Spanish Harlem. His resultant immersion in said stew resulted in the formation of Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers, which recorded repeatedly for Prestige Records in the late 1960s. This band was only a name to me until I listened to this compilation from BGP, one of the Ace family of reissue labels. There are lots of funky Latino beats, of course, but what really resonates with me is the subtle background influence of John Coltrane and other contemporary jazz artists. It’s not just the versions of Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island and Maiden Voyage, but also the slightly melancholy tones of Vietnam Mambo, the bristling Psychedelic Pucho, and the pulsating Cloud 9

Maybe it’s the current dismal political environment, but I hear undertones of spiritual jazz and Vietnam-era political unrest behind the party beats and soul vocals. OK, maybe it’s just me and my reaction to the climate of lies and impending rule by corrupt plutocrats, so it's fine just to listen and move your body to some vintage butt-shaking sounds. Special kudos to Claude Bartee on sax, Eddie and Al Pazant on reeds and trumpet, respectively, Neal Creque on keyboards, and Pucho on timbales. I’ve got to check out more of the Soul Brothers! Here's Maiden Voyage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lester Leaps Again: The Brew Moore Quintet

In its pell-mell rush from New Orleans to infinity, jazz has left a number of styles behind. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in some cases, but others ought to be placed on an endangered species list and lovingly fostered. Right now, I’m thinking of the school of bop-influenced Lester Young tenor disciples like Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Allen Eager, and Brew Moore. They all achieved a beautiful mix of sound and ideas that seems all the more refreshing in contrast to the Hawkins/Rollins/Coltrane school that dominates our  era. Above all, they had the gift of easy, inevitable swing in every note they played.  I love today’s tenor players, but couldn’t they relax once in a while? Given the news these days, we could use some relaxation.

Take Milton (Brew) Moore (1924–1973), for example. He famously stated that “Anyone who doesn’t play like Lester Young is wrong,” yet he also assimilated the language of bebop. A true jazz itinerant Jack Kerouac was a fan), Moore wound up in Denmark before his untimely death from a fall in 1973.  In the 1950s, he temporarily relocated to San Francisco, where he recorded The Brew Moore Quintet, a good introduction to his work. It’s a fine collection of old standards like Tea for Two and Them Their Eyes, along with a number of originals by pianist John Marabuto. Moore tips his hat to Prez with I Want a Little Girl. Although he could really caress a ballad, as on Fools Rush In, the other tracks are exemplars of the wonderful laid-back swing that seems to be virtually a lost art these days. Trumpeter Dicky Mills, Bassist Max Hartstein, and drummer Gus Gustofson are uniformly good, but this album is Brew’s show.

Here's I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Roots of Georgie Fame: R & B, Soul, Ska, and Jazz

In one of those infinite universes out there, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones never made it big. Instead, the sounds of the British mods—1950s R & B, 1960s soul, ska, and hip jazz tunes—swept the world, led by my man Georgie Fame. I wouldn’t really want to do without the British invasion, but…

Because we have to operate in the universe we’re given, Georgie Fame, aka Clive Powell, remains a fine but relatively unheralded (at least in the U.S.) singer and organist who had a bunch of hits in the 60s and an excellent musical career in the years since. I’ve been a Fame fan since I first heard Yeh-Yeh, his biggest U.S. hit aside from The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde (not a favorite of mine). Years later, I picked up the U.S. pressing of his first studio album and subsequently have collected as many of his LPs and CDs as I could. I recently ordered an elaborate, five-CD box set of all of his 1960s recordings via Juno Records in the UK ( a good price and excellent service, I might add) and will be talking about it here in the near future.

Meanwhile, Ace Records has assembled a first-rate collection of originals that Georgie covered in his heyday: Georgie Fame Heard Them Here First. From soul (Sweet Thing by the Spinners in their lesser-known Motown days) to R & B (Pink Champagne by Joe Liggins and the Honey drippers) to obscure funky instrumentals (Soul Stomp by Earl van Dyke), and including Jamaican sound system classics (Dr. Kitch by Lord Kitchener—risqué!) and King Pleasure’s version of Eddie Jefferson’s jazz anthem Moody’s Mood for Love, Fame covered the best. Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Paul Anka (!) and more—this is a great anthology whether you dig Georgie or not. Ace does its usual fine job of annotating each track with interesting info, with lots of photos.Here are a couple of my personal favorites, from Mose Allison and Joe Hinton.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Dark Tree: Horace Tapscott, the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and the Community Arts

A few months ago I picked up a copy of Stephen L. Isoardi’s The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles at our local library’s semiannual book sale.  I hadn’t heard of the book, but it was about  Horace Tapscott, a legendary figure in the West Coast avant-garde, came with a CD, and was only four bucks, so why not? Having just finished it, I’m here to say it’s an important read for anyone interested in the culture and politics of the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond; the evolution of spiritual jazz; and the ongoing racial and political issues it reflects. Beginning with a brief history of L.A.’s Central Avenue jazz and R & B scene in the 1940s, it recounts Tapscott’s lifelong commitment to the arts in the African-American community, his bringing together the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA), and their participation in a host of arts projects and organizations from before the Watts riots through the early 2000s.  The book, based mainly on interviews with about 100 Arkestra/UGMAA participants, also provides a glimpse at the personality of Tapscott himself, a charismatic yet modest person who was both a devoted family man and night-wandering bohemian (his wife Cecelia must have been a very patient woman).

This story resonated with me because of my own knowledge of how all of the arts became weapons in the Movement of the 1960s and 1970s against war, racism, and imperialism. The abundance of groups and efforts that were born and died in the struggles of those days come alive in Isoardi’s narrative, which also demonstrates how little I knew about this important segment of the jazz world —one that continues in various forms today. In a period of time during which the perennial issues of race, class, and the arts continue to haunt American society, it’s both depressing to see how little progress has been made and uplifting to see the persistence of efforts to make this country what it professes to be.

The accompanying CD contains a number of previously released recordings of the Arkestra and its various components.  It made me want to hear much more of this fine music. Here’s a sample.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rein de Graaff and Gigi Gryce

Sometimes you start out in one direction and wind up somewhere else. Years ago I bought a record by Rein de Graaff, the Dutch pianist. Recently, I ran across a de Graaff CD I had bought with several others on the (also Dutch) Blue Jack label.  What I hadn’t remembered was that the CD, Blue Lights, was a tribute to the compositions of saxophonist Gigi Gryce. I knew about Gryce’s career in the late 1950s, his renown as a composer, his struggles on the business side of the music biz, and his sudden disappearance from the jazz scene. A few years ago, I read an article about his personal crisis, conversion to Islam, and lengthy career as a dedicated music teacher in an NYC public school. Aside from knowing the names of some of his compositions, like Social Call and Nica’s Tempo, that was it for me.

Thanks to Rein de Graaff and Blue Lights, I now appreciate Gryce’s compositions much more. I was particularly taken with Sans Souci and Evening in Casablanca. Both are impressionistic pieces in the Tadd Dameron mode, although Gryce must have visited Casablanca round midnight. Some tribute albums are slapdash affairs, but this one provides a well-thought-out showcase for a neglected composer.

The musicians are first rate. Altoist Herb Geller, on the scene since the 1950s, is fiery, with a bit of Johnny Hodges lyricism mixed in. John Marshall, like Geller an American expatriate, is excellent on trumpet. De Graaff solos and comps beautifully throughout, and Marius Beets and Eric Ineke on bass and drums furnish solid support.

Tadd Dameron once said, “There’s enough ugliness in the world. I’m interested in beauty,” and Blue Lights delivers. Here’s Minority.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Clarence Wheeler and the Enforcers: New Chicago Blues

For many years, Clarence Wheeler and the Enforcers were nothing more to me than a catchy name and a thumbnail album cover photo on the inner sleeves of some Atlantic LPs. Recently I got a chance to pick up Wheeler’s New Chicago Blues album at a bargain price and took the plunge. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I did some homework on the band and didn’t come up with much. They put out two albums from the 1969 and 1970 on Atlantic, then New Chicago Blues in 1972 (the Enforcers aren’t mentioned on the cover but several of them are present), and one more in1980.  Neither Wheeler nor the Enforcers have Wikipedia entries (in this day and age!). Aside from a thread on Organissimo, which includes a discography, there are a couple of online soul jazz/funk blog reviews, and that’s about it. All I can say is that based on the liner notes (by Wheeler) these guys were a Chicago band influenced by Gene Ammons, Eddie Harris, and the whole Chi-town music scene of the day.

It’s too bad, really, because New Chicago Blues provides a fine assortment of blues (Oblighetto, featuring Buddy Guy and Junior Wells), 70s soul (How Could I Let You Get Away), a fine Wheeler ballad performance (Don’t Go to Strangers), something with a Latin tinge (Kuumba) and some solid soul jazz (New Chicago Blues and Miss Gee). In addition to lots of Wheeler tenor, other band members featured include Sonny Burke and Kenny Price on organ, Frank Gordon and Sonny Covington on trumpet, and Billy James and others on drums and percussion. My guess is that Gordon solos on New Chicago Blues and Covington on the other tracks, but the liner notes don’t supply solo credits. I’m also guessing that it’s Sonny Burke who’s so strong on Miss Gee. If anyone has more info on these matters, let me know.

Here’s the title tune enjoy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ace/BGP: The Message: Soul, Funk, and Jazzy Grooves from Mainstream Records

America owes a debt of gratitude to Ace Records. For decades, this UK-based outfit and its subsidiary labels have hunted down, remastered, annotated, and repackaged jump blues, doowop, R &B, Northern soul, 50s and 60s sunshine pop, psychedelia, rock instrumentals, and a good amount of oddball stuff that together demonstrate the incredible richness of our nation’s musical history over the past six decades. Thanks to a familiar blend of corporate greed, negligence, and indifference, coupled with the nature of our ever more disposable culture, the U.S. often seems incapable of performing this important service.  

Take, for example, Ace’s resuscitation of Mainstream Records. Bob Shad was a veteran producer of jazz (Charlie Parker at Savoy, Clifford Brown and Sarah Vaughn at Mercury) who previously had run a small record label (Sittin’ In With) that put out some fine late 40s blues sides. He also dabbled in rock with his own Brent subsidiary and jazz with Time Records. On 1964, he started Mainstream, which for the rest of the 60s issued jazz and rock material. Ace has issued some his popsike stuff on a two-CD compilation and the straight jazz on another CD, along with individual albums by Blue Mitchell, Harold Land, and Hadley Caliman.

By 1970, though, that straight jazz was in one of its eternally recurrent declines, so Shad moved into soul jazz, recording both new vocalists like Ellerene Harding and Alice Clark as well as veteran musicians like Curtis Fuller and Charles Kynard in beat-laden contexts. The folks at Ace were canny enough to pick out this thread in the Mainstream tapestry and put together The Message: Soul, Funk, and Jazzy Grooves from Mainstream Records on the BGP (Beat Goes Public) label. As usual, it’s got a booklet containing a brief introductory essay, commentary on each track, and numerous photographs of the artists.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I bought this CD, so playing it was a bit of an adventure. After I played House of Rising Funk by Chubokos, I thought, “Pretty good!” by the time I got to Afrique’s cover of Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa, I was foot tapping and head bobbing too much to think about anything. Thanks to the notes by dean Rudland, I also knew that these two bands were the same group of studio/mainstream guys working under different names—thanks, Dean. There are so many great cuts on this record that it’s hard to know which ones I should call out. Funky Butt by the Delegates (another studio band, it got its name because the 1972 political conventions were going on at the time) features David T. Walker on guitar and Charles Kynard (also featured on a couple of other tracks) on Hammond B-3. Ellerine Harding kills To Whom It May Concern (All I Need), which also has a bit of a political slant (“I don’t need your study groups or your benign neglect” and “I don’t need your Doctor Jensens to study my IQ”).  Maxine Weldon really works out on Grits Ain’t Groceries, and Sarah Vaughn (!) gets a bit political AND spacy/funky on Inner City Blues (Make me Want to Holler).

Most of the tracks on The Message are instrumentals. The Jackson Five’s I Want You Back doesn’t seem to call for a 65-piece band named Bobby Shad & the Bad Men (if I ran a record company, I’d do my thing, too!) but it’s actually excellent—check out the dueling trumpets toward the end. Blue Mitchell and Curtis Fuller manage their funk quite nicely, and lots of great jazz artists pop up throughout (Don Pullen on the B-3 for Charles Williams’s Bacon Butt Fat?  Why not? Anyway, he acquits himself nobly.

OK, I’m totally taken with The Message. (I do wish that Blue Mitchell had played a little more on the title track, but you can’t have everything.) Ace has uncovered and revived a trend and some artists that I didn’t know about, as well as others with whom I was familiar but in a new context. I’ll leave you with Patience by Dave Hubbard, one of the former, who played on many organ trio dates for Prestige and other labels but recorded only this one Mainstream album commercially. It features Albert Dailey, one of Stan Getz’s favorite pianists, in an un-Getzian bit of post-Trane funk. Sadly, when I Googled Hubbard, I learned that he had died just a few days ago, so this appreciation is also a tribute to him. I hope you enjoy it.