Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kid Stuff

by Hal Smith

The first recordings of Jazz giants Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and Bix Beiderbecke never cease to amaze me, no matter how many times I listen to those historic sides.

Though subsequent recordings would showcase his virtuosity on cornet, trumpet and vocals, Armstrong's first record ("Chimes Blues," with King Oliver from 4/15/23) shows that his playing style was almost fully formed at the age of 21.

Similarly, Teagarden's solo chorus on "She's a Great, Great Girl" with Roger Wolfe Kahn and his Orchestra (3/14/28) showcases Big T's beautiful tone, effortless technique and his gift for melodic improvisation. The record was made when Teagarden was 22.

Beiderbecke's first recording, "Fidgety Feet" with the Wolverines Orchestra (2/18/24), is more of a preview of things to come. Bix was 20 when the record was made. The listener will hear flashes of his ethereal tone and the rhythmic concept that spawned a new way of playing jazz. Still, Bix's style in 1924 was still "under construction."

Many other great musicians made their first records at early ages, but one of those recordings continues to be a real mindblower, "Deed I Do" by Ben Pollack and his Californians (recorded 12/17/26) with Benny Goodman on clarinet.

From the mid-to-late 1920s, Ben Pollack's orchestra was considered to be one of the best hot bands anywhere. Pollack, an outstanding Chicago drummer, cut his musical teeth with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. His own '20s-era ensembles included top jazzmen such as Goodman, the aforementioned Teagarden, and Glenn Miller, Fud Livingston, Frank Teschemacher and Bud Freeman.

Unfortunately, not all of the Pollack recordings allow the listener to hear the hot music that the band was capable of playing. But "Deed I Do," recorded in Chicago on 12/17/26, is plenty hot and includes an absolutely spectacular half-chorus by Goodman.

Composed by Walter Hirsch and Fred Rose, "Deed I Do" was a current popular song when the Pollack band recorded it (Pollack's photo adorns the sheet music). The recording begins with a "symphonic jazz" introduction and leads into an ensemble chorus in the key of F, with reeds playing melody, violins accompanying and brass "pecking." A brief interlude leads into the rarely-heard verse, with eight bars of Bix-influenced cornet played by Earl Baker. The reeds take the second half, and the orchestra makes a quick modulation to Eb for bandleader/drummer Pollack's vocal (Critics tend to be harsh concerning Pollack's vocals, but this writer believes that drummers make excellent vocalists!).

After the vocal, there is another "symphonic jazz" interlude with Goodman playing peek-a-boo between ensemble passages, then another modulation to Bb. Fud Livingston, a fine Chicago style reedman, takes the first half of the chorus on tenor sax and manages to quote his own composition "Imagination" on bars 7 and 8. He is followed by Glenn Miller, paying homage to Miff Mole. Both men's solos, and Goodman's later on, are punctuated by the leader's swinging cymbal work - choked, in this particular case.

Next is yet another "modernistic" modulation with breaks by Goodman. The fluid technique and rich tone on the first break suggest Jimmie Noone. The second break has a lemony tartness that recalls Johnny Dodds. After hearing only a few bars of Goodman's solo, it quickly becomes apparent that Bix's influence was not limited to cornetists! The "sock-time" phrasing is much like Bix's on Jean Goldkette's recording of "Proud of a Baby like You." And, like fellow Chicago clarinetist Frank Teschemacher, Goodman sometimes employed an almost brassy tone, more like a cornet. There is definitely some Tesch in Goodman's solo too (particularly bars 10 and 11). Before that, there is even a nod to Pee Wee Russell (bars 8 and 9). The final break, on bars 15 and 16, combines the graceful melodic lines of Jimmie Noone and Leon Roppolo with Beiderbecke-like phrasing.

Benny Goodman's first recording is a genuine tour-de-force. His flawless technique makes the solo sound as though it was casually tossed off, but the intensity is still white-hot. The half-chorus is a textbook demonstration of how to play "Chicago Style" clarinet, recorded almost a full year before the classic McKenzie-Condon sides with Teschemacher. Still, Goodman's musical identity is not lost in the process. What you hear on this 1926 record is not far removed from the Goodman clarinet sound of the '30s, '40s and beyond. "Deed I Do" and subsequent sides with Pollack such as "He's the Last Word," "Waitin' for Katie" and "Singapore Sorrows" continue to astound and delight musicians over eight decades after they were recorded (I hear that our own Ron Hockett was speechless after hearing them the first time!).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Meet Hal

I want to take a minute to introduce Hal Smith, regarded by many as the county's finest jazz drummer. To those of you who don't already know him, I'm pleased to tell you that Hal recently joined the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. He is also a respected jazz historian who has written for publications all over the world. Hal is a band leader in his own right and has played on hundreds of recording sessions and broadcasts including Riverwalk - Live from the Landing, A Prairie Home Companion, and Ken Burns' "Jazz."

Now here's the good part - Hal is joining me here at Le Blog Hot. He'll be blogging every other Wednesday, talking about every sort of jazz-related subject you can think of - deconstructing what you hear on the radio, stories of jazz greats and jazz history, and on and on. Hal and I even disagree on a couple of things and we might get a debate started once in a while. Keep your eyes peeled for it.

See you at the Landing!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thoughts about Your Technique and Stories about Spud and Big "T"

Jack Teagarden

In the photo above, that's Spud Goodall, Gene McKinney,
Jim Cullum, Jr., and Jim Cullum, Sr., about 1972

The young trumpet player plays for the older trumpet player and then he asks, “What do you think?”

“Well, kid,” the old guy says, “There is the good news and the bad news. The good news is you have a great technique. The bad news is you have a great technique!”

On the other hand, I have recently met and spent some time with Arturo Sandoval, generally considered the world’s greatest trumpet virtuoso. Arturo, a sensation because of his technique, can also play with passion and swing too. There have not been many like him.

Guitarist Spud Goodall was quite a virtuoso. We all talked about him. The older guys who had been around San Antonio for years loved to tell stories of how this or that hot-shot guitar player had come from Los Angeles or some place and how the guy would get up and play a lot and how they would let him go on just long enough to hang himself. Then they’d throw Spud out there.

Their eyes would sparkle when they told it. You know how it comes out and why they have to tell it. “Spud carved the guy up and sent him packing,” they would say. It vindicated the old guys.

There is something all of us love in a story like this. We relish the occasional long-shot victory. It is about the unknown underdog, David, going up against Goliath. Our country was born on this. Completely outnumbered and out-gunned for most of the Revolution, Washington’s ragtag Continental Army struggled against all odds and finally defeated the highly-trained and disciplined British army, by far the most powerful in the world. Relishing underdog victories is in our national DNA.

In jazz, a young Louis Armstrong, his fame off in the future, came face to face with the veteran cornetist Freddy Keppard. Louis was self-taught, and only a few years before had been living as a New Orleans street urchin. Keppard came on strong. “Boy,” he is reported to have said to Louis, “Give me your horn.” And Freddy played and played. He handed the horn back to Louis who then seriously took him apart.

I think the appeal of these upsets is highlighted when they happen in the provinces. Mighty Wild Bill Davison traveled from New York to San Francisco for a concert. Afterwards he went out to El Cerrito to be wiped out by local boy Lu Watters. Anyway, that is the way Watters fans love to tell it.

Benny Carter, the legendary saxophonist, was from time to time, part of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra of New York City. In the mid 1920s, Henderson led what was generally considered the finest hot dance orchestra in the country.

In 1926, Fletcher Henderson went first in a Battle of the Bands against a new band, the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.

Benny Carter told me about it. “They were from the sticks,” he said, “and when they got on the stand they looked to us like a bunch of fraternity boys.”

Jazz fans know the result: Goldkette’s band was like nothing that had come before. Brilliant Frank Trumbauer led the band and played C-melody saxophone. Bix Beiderbecke starred on cornet, Steve Brown on bass, and arrangements were by Bill Challis. The whole band was on fire.

“What a band,” Benny Carter said. “We had never heard anything like it. They became a huge influence on us.”

These scenarios tend to drive us forward, and usually it is not just virtuosity. Often there is something else in the music that reaches into us and touches us deeply and makes crusaders of us. For David’s sling arm was driven by something other than his technique.

Jack Teagarden is an example. No jazz musician performed with more pathos. At first one might be drawn to his arresting technique, but when you dig a little deeper, the “soul” in his playing is right there. It is the beautiful part.

He would tell me, “It’s about the story. The only reason you need technique at all is so you can tell the story.” He would go on: “When you hear jazz by a master like Bix and you listen, the technique is there but it soon becomes invisible. You become directly connected with his mind and sound. And then all you get is the story. Listen to Bix,” Teagarden said. “He was the greatest artist in history — not just the greatest musician, the greatest artist.”

“Really?” I ask.

“Show me a greater one,” Jack Teagarden said.

Of course, no one can make such a statement accurately, because no one can know all the artists. For one thing artists of the world go back thousands of years. Some, even most, are completely hidden from us.

It has been 50 years now since Jack said these things about Bix. I was only a boy then, Jack sat across the table. He exaggerated to make his point.

But there was no light of humor in his dark eyes. He looked square at me, his patent leather hair reflecting the ambient lighting of the restaurant where we cut pieces of the New York strip steaks we were having for dinner.

It is funny, the things you remember. I was only a teenager seated with a towering figure of the music that was already tugging irresistibly at my life. I was a little self conscious. I thought of my table manners. My mother’s voice was interrupting us, saying silently to me, “Change hands,” and things like that.

The years blur a little. But this was 1959 I think, and that would have made me 18. I had followed Jack’s band on a circuit of Texas concerts. At that point, Jack had heavyweights in the band: Barrett Deems on drums, Don Ewell, piano, Little Maxie (Kaminsky) had been in there on trumpet. They had come back from a Far East State Department tour and the stories of it are still repeated by musicians. In one of those countries, Thailand, I think, the Teagarden band went out to set up before the concert.

“How is the piano?” they asked Don Ewell.

“Oh, it’s okay,” he said, “But it’s a little low.”

The band went to dinner. When they returned for the concert the piano had been set up on blocks!

When they got to Japan the band toured, performing at several cities. At one point they were in Hiroshima, where several band members went on a tour and were shown the atomic bomb devastation.

A lady guide was explaining how it happened, how destructive it was, etc.

Little Maxie spoke up and said, “Well, next time, don’t mess around!” The other band members shuddered, they said, and the Japanese lady blanched.

One of the guys called her aside and said, “Don’t mind him. He was in the Navy during the war.”

“Yes, I understand,” she said, and they walked on.

But Jack liked the way Maxie played in the band. After the tour, Maxie dropped out and was replaced by Don Goldie.

The band went on, playing constantly. If there was a way to describe Don Goldie’s trumpet playing, one might say that it was the direct opposite of Beiderbecke’s—lots of up front technique and very little story. I know that Don Goldie frustrated Jack.

But, Jack never said any negative thing about anyone.

Somebody told Jack that I was a great young cornet player and this led to our dinner. “Come sit in with the band tonight,” Jack said.

“Oh, Mr. Teagarden, I couldn’t do that.”

“Sure, I’d love it,” he said. “You should play a couple of tunes. Do you like Bobby Hackett’s playing?” he asked.

“He’s one of my idols,” I said. Jack was always looking for another Hackett, another Bix.

This was in Houston. That night, I went to the Tideland’s Club where the band was playing and I sat in for two pieces. The night before, Peck Kelly had been there and Jack and Peck had played duets for a whole set while the crowd sat spellbound. Almost none of the people had ever heard of Peck Kelley, but there was an electricity in the air that pulled their heads around. “You should have heard it,” Don Ewell said. Jack would say the same kinds of things about Peck that he said about Bix.

I had missed a big moment in jazz history – missed it by one night. Twenty-four hours later, I got up there and played my best on “Sweet Sue” and “Muskrat Ramble.” In my teenage years, I was not much of a cornet player. Nobody said much. Don Goldie was extra nice to me.

In a few more years Jack collapsed and died in a New Orleans hotel room. At that point, he had broken several years of sobriety

“I could have helped him,” my father said. He grieved for Jack. “I knew he was drinking again,” he said. “I should have gone down there. I could have saved him…”

In 1945, my father had joined the Teagarden band in St. Louis, and on his first night in the band, Frank Trumbauer showed up to sit in. “I couldn’t believe it, “he said. “Trumbauer was sort of a god figure to me. Jack and Tram played with the rhythm section for a whole hour while the rest of us sat on the stand and soaked it up.”

“Jack called ‘Body and Soul,’” my father remembered. “It was in five flats and on Trumbauer’s C-melody saxophone, it was really five flats. Tram slightly messed it up. A week later, he was back. ‘What do you want to play?’ Jack asked. ‘Body and Soul.’ And there it was again – perfection this time. Trumbauer having run over it, really had it under his fingers.”

Most agree, Jack Teagarden was Texas’ greatest jazz player. He always had it, even from the time he was a child. When Jack started on trombone he was a little kid, unable to reach 6th and 7th positions. They say that is how and why Jack developed his unique technique.

The jazz world all knew about this. His hand rarely went past the bell!

Spud Goodall was from Texas too. Like Jack, he swung like crazy and was a natural musician. Teagarden became a world figure. Spud Goodall was hardly known.

When I came up, it seemed that almost everybody was swinging. At least, there were many more swingers among rank and file musicians. In those days, most players were completely influenced by the swing bands that dominated the bandstands and the radios. Louis had started the whole thing. Most knew about Louis and listened a lot to his records. But some of the musicians did not know where it had come from or how it had happened. They just did it.

Tommy Dorsey became famous in the trade for saying to his band members: “Swing or I’ll kill you!” Almost everybody could swing reasonably well, except for the guys in the symphonies. They did not swing at all and tended to hold us in awe and in disdain at the same time.

Spud Goodall’s real name was Alan Goodale. For some reason he had changed it. Musicians have standard phrases about someone like Spud. He can really play, they say. When you are in a band with a musician like Spud, he will swing the band and make the others in the band play better than they can play.

Spud was typical of many artists who reach great heights in jazz in that he was an eccentric in the extreme . When you heard him play you knew he was obsessed with music and obsessed with the guitar. Like Teagarden, Spud could not help him self. He had to do it. You could tell that Spud had spent long years — a lifetime — with the guitar. I don’t know if he actually slept with his guitar like they say Django did, but it sounded like it!

By the time I worked with Spud he was in his mid-50s. He always dressed in expensive Italian suits and alligator shoes.

At that point Spud was ready to pour it on in many ways. He had become an entertainer. He wore a gold ring with the initials TKH displayed across its crest. “That’s my name,” he would say. “Tyler Kilgore Henderson, at your service!” And he would take off with stories of East Texas around the towns of Tyler, Kilgore and Henderson, Texas. Spud was raised in the country around those towns.

Having dazzled the crowd he would grab the mike, double his Texas accent and pretend he was a hick. “Well,” he would sometimes begin, “The first time I come to San Antone, I was downtown on the sidewalk there by the Gunter Ho-tel and I met this feller with a guitar. He says his name is Curly Williams, and I says, ‘Well, I heared of you. Why, you’re that famous gee-tar player. Why I heared you played with the Texas Top Hands and even that Jim Cullum feller!’

"And we’re standin’ there just gettin’ real friendly and talkin’ about Gibson this and that, an’ I says, ‘Why lookie here, Curly, here comes a young feller with a goat on a rope, walkin’ right downtown here.’ An’ Curly, well he says to me, ‘Why Spud, that’s Jim Cullum himself.’ And I starts wonderin’ what he’s a doin’ downtown with that goat on a rope. So Curly, well he calls this Jim Cullum over an’ I says, ‘I’m Spud,’ ‘n’ all that, an’ then I says, ‘Say, where you goin’ with that goat on a rope?’ An’ he says, ‘Well, I’m a takin’ him home with me.’

"And then we stands there for a minute and I’m tellin’ you again it was all out there on Houston Street right in front of the Gunter Ho-tel. And then I asks him, ‘Well, where you gonna keep him? You gotta place with a big lotta grass and all?’ And he says, ‘Nope, I’m gonna keep him right in the house with me!’ ‘Is that so?’ I says. An’ he answers, ‘Yep, that’s so!’ And I looks again at the goat on a rope an’ I asks, ‘What are you gonna do about that smell?’ An’ he says, ‘Well, he’s just gonna have to get used to it!’”

Having worked this story up from a whisper, Spud would struggle to control his laughter as he got toward the punch line and he’d always bring if off perfectly and laugh like crazy at his own joke and the crowd would always explode with laughter.

Immediately he would stomp four beats and take off on “Limehouse Blues,” and just burn it up for three to four choruses, each one getting hotter and swinging harder.

Spud played with us three nights a week for about two years and was featured on my father’s solo clarinet album, Eloquent Clarinet. This was one of my father’s highlights, for Eloquent Clarinet received 5 stars in Down Beat.

We all said it: Eloquent Clarinet is really good. Still we knew that as good as it was, my father and Spud had cooked it up in a hurry and we knew that both played even better outside the studio. That is what the old guys used to say about the Bix records, “Good as they are, you should have heard Bix live.”

My father died in 1973. Soon after, Spud left San Antonio to sort of retire in Tyler. There Spud played a bit with local hillbillies. I heard that he then made a number of guest appearances with Willie Nelson.

I never saw Spud after he left for Tyler. He died up there about seven years ago.

Jim Cullum,
your reporter (and historian)