Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Eastern promise

I can happily lose a couple of hours to the internet simply following lines of enquiry: one interesting reference will lead to a hyperlink or a Google search and, before you know it, an evening has gone by…

In this way, I recently happened upon precious footage of Duke Ellington in India which was filmed during his State Department sponsored tour of the Middle and Far East in 1963.

The tour inspired, of course, The Far East Suite – amongst the most iridescent works in the Ellington/ Strayhorn canon. Had I but time…

Anyway… The video is embedded in a blog called Blue Rhythm the main purpose of which is to raise funds for a proposed documentary, Finding Carlton: Uncovering The Story of Jazz in India. There are untold riches to explore there. A particular jumping off point for Ellingtonia is here.

This is an extract from Finding Carlton with some precious footage from the National Archive of the Ellington band's appearance.

The Blue Rhythm blog may be found here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Proust One of Those Things...

The creation of Ellington’s extended work was recently celebrated as one of fifty Great Moments in Jazz by John Fordham of The Guardian. His piece begins…

"The death of Duke Ellington's beloved mother in 1935 drew from the great composer a work that provided the first serious indication that his gifts could not be confined to the glittering multifaceted miniatures with which he had made his name.

"Reminiscing in Tempo, 12 minutes long, reflected the state of contemplative melancholy into which Ellington, then aged 36, had fallen following his bereavement. Given the technical limitations of the day, it had to be spread over all four sides of a pair of 10-inch 78rpm discs, and perhaps the inevitable discontinuity of the listening experience lay behind the mixed critical response it provoked in usually sympathetic quarters. With the benefit of subsequent developments, we can, of course, listen to it as a single unbroken piece and can therefore appreciate the subtle fluctuations of mood as it flows gently, and with a purposeful absence of rhetorical flourishes, through a sequence of carefully supported solos by Ellington's great soloists, including the trumpeter Rex Stewart, the trombonist Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, the clarinetist Barney Bigard, the alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges and the baritone saxophonist Harry Carney.

"Ellington was on the road, undertaking a series of one-nighters, when he heard the news of his mother's demise, and he stayed up all night in his Pullman car, "all caught up in the rhythm and motion of the train dashing through the south", to lay the foundations of his musical tribute. The interlude for Ellington's unaccompanied piano allows the composer to evoke the sensation of a mind gently slipping in and out of grief. With this piece, he articulated the extent of an ambition that ranged far beyond his reputation as the leader of a popular big band."


The idea that, in fact, this piece can be incorporated by dint of its conception amongst Ellington’s locomotive pieces is fascinating and testament to how Proust-like the composer drew incessantly upon the memory and direct experience of everything about him.

The more I listen to this piece, the more I am moved by it, that sweet, cupped cry of the trumpet articulating plaintively the word ‘momma’ like a motherless child.

John Fordham’s 50 Great Moments in Jazz has reached number forty nine. You can find the entire series – which comprises a wonderful primer for those new to jazz or a bone of contention, perhaps, in talk over dinner for more experienced hands – here.

And for more on Ellington and Proust, there is a lovely piece from one of my favourite blogs here.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

About Timme

Jazz attracted not only passion but patronage from Europe. The support given to Thelonious Monk by Pannonica de Koenigswarter is well known. A new book, Nica’s Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness was published just last week. My copy is winging its way across the Atlantic as I write these words, I hope.

And another book is to be published shortly, too: this, a translation of the memoirs of the ‘Jazz Baron’, Timme Rosenkrantz the centenary of whose birth we celebrate this year. Rosenkrantz came from Denmark and said he could trace his lineage all the way back to the Rosenkrantz of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Timme went to the United States in search of jazz in 1934 and became an habitué of the Harlem speakeasies, of dance clubs, recording studios and theatres. He was a spectacularly unsuccessful entrepreneur: a magazine he began called Swing Music lasted only a single issue, his record shop closed after only twelve months and the two jazz clubs he founded Chez Inez (named for the love of his life, vocalist Inez Cavanaugh) and Timme’s Club soon folded. The tragedy of Rosenkrantz and guilders, perhaps...

He was, perhaps, an amateur in the best and truest sense of the word – he did what he did for the love of the music.

In Music Is My Mistress, Duke Ellington wrote of him:

“Baron Timme Rosenkrantz was of noble Danish blood, but he was not known to us by his formal title in Harlem, on Broadway, the Champs Élysées, State Street, or Central Avenue. To us he was known simply as Timme.

Although he was an artist in his own right, a writer, a poet, and a wit extraordinaire, you will not find volumes of his works that are truly representative of his literary stature. The reason for that is that he was a very unselfish man who dedicated himself to the great musicians he loved and to the music they played.

There is therefore no way now of properly evaluating this man’s potential, because his patronage of music consumed most of his time.”

Timme’s greatest legacy, in many ways, is as the Boswell of the big bands, as it were, chronicling the lives of the musicians through his writing for such journals as Down Beat and Metronome and in his photographs, collected in the book poignantly entitled Is This To Be My Souvenir?

Now, Fradley Garner, International Editor of Jersey Jazz, the journal of the New Jersey Jazz Society, has translated the memoirs of Timme Rosenkrantz. dus med Jazzen: mine Jazz memoirer was published originally in Copenhagen by Chr. Erichsens Forlag in 1964. The English translation will be published in the Autumn by Scarecrow Press as part of their Studies in Jazz series. You can read more about Timme Rosenkrantz and the forthcoming book at the website devoted to its publication here.

In 1938, Timme persuaded the president of RCA Victor Records to let him cherry pick the cream of session players to make a record. In the event, two 78 rpm records were issued which introduced vocalist Inez Cavanaugh, tenor player Don Byas and trombonist Tyree Glenn.

The full recording details are as follows:

Timme Rosenkrantz And His Barrelhouse Barons, recorded in New York 27 May, 1938

Pers.: Rex Stewart, Billy Hicks (tp); Tyree Glenn (tb,vib), Rudy Williams, Russell Procope (as); Don Byas (ts); Billy Kyle (p), Brick Fleagle (g), Walther Page (b), Jo Jones (dm).

And to celebrate the occasion, for your listening pleasure, here are those four sides. Happy Birthday, Timme Rosenkrantz!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A Rose by any other name

Like fine wine, much can be deduced about jazz from the label.
And the label is the clue to the kind of jazz you’re likely to find.

My own favourite, Columbia, is a case in point. It came to prominence – along with the other two of the ‘big three’ record companies, RCA and Decca – during the period when jazz and popular music meant pretty much the same thing. And despite the signs after the war, that jazz was beginning to grow up and take itself a little more seriously – when smaller independent labels sprang up which existed for jazz and jazz alone, such as HRS, Commodore, Blue Note, later Prestige and Fantasy – the big three labels continued to promote jazz in the mix – along with classical, light music, ‘pop’ and folk – as part of the mainstream.

Uniquely, though, there were artists recording for Columbia in the fifties and sixties who had been there in the thirties – Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington. These artists were no longer at the cutting edge of modern jazz, perhaps – newer members of the stable such as Dave Brubeck or Miles Davis took up the vanguard, there. But during the fifties, Columbia was able to issue both the latest recordings of these great, mainstream artists and, thanks to far-sighted producers such as George Avakian who understood the importance of cherishing – and re-issuing- the music’s heritage - their earlier pioneering work from the swing era.

On one occasion, whilst Ellington was in the studios recording music for his latest album, the Columbia engineers were re-mastering a side his band had cut twenty years before. And this re-mastering effort actually appeared on the same charge sheet as the newly recorded work!

In 1957, Columbia issued an album entitled The Jazz Makers which was a compilation of sides recorded, largely, in the thirties. The album contained the following numbers:

Savoy Blues by Louis Armstrong
Lonesome Miss Pretty by Count Basie
Christopher Columbus by Fletcher Henderson
Soft Winds by Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian
The Sergeant Was Shy by Duke Ellington

Foolish Man Blues by Bessie Smith
Shoe Shine Boy by Jones - Smith Inc.
57 Varieties by Earl Hines
Back in Your Own Back Yard by Bille Holiday
Blues in C-Sharp Minor by Teddy Wilson and Roy Eldridge
Basin Street Blues by Louis Prima and Pee Wee Russell
I Can't Get Started by Dizzy Gillespie

Columbia, however, could not at that time trace the original metal part for Ellington's The Sergeant Was Shy.Writing in the bulletin of the Duke Ellington Music Society in 1983, Ellington authority Jerry Valburn explained:

“At the time this record was being produced, Columbia could not find metal parts for this item. The record was borrowed (78 copy) from none other than Boris Rose and it was transferred during an actual Ellington recording session at the Columbia Studios. It is from the New York session of 9September 1957 and this is exactly how the recording ledger reads:

Job # 34715 - 9 September, 1957

CO59716 COMMERCIAL TIME (B. Rose, use of recordings, $60.00
CO59717 (SM41526) TENDERLY (Jimmy Grissom)
CO 59718 AUTUMN LEAVES (Ozzie Bailey) (Remade October 1, 1957)

So not only was Rose’s material transferred at this session, but the time and payment to Rose were charged to Ellington’s session and even assigned a Master Number!”

The entire contents of this particular bulletin from the estimable DEMS is available as adownloadable PDF here and you can access the whole archive of this amazing Society here.

Boris Rose was legendary - an omnivorous collector of jazz recordings which he cut to disc himself from  radio remote broadcasts and live performances, some of which he bootlegged on vinyl issues in the sixties and seventies. He died in 1999 and his vast collection was bequeathed to his daughter. You can read more about his collection and its fate here.

And here is an excerpt of film showing writer and historian Will Friedwald visiting the archive:

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Sketches of Mex

Sketches by Paul Gonsalves are currently up for auction by one of the sons of Joe Castro.

The lot comprises eight studies. The listing reads:

“These are the only drawings (sketches) by Paul Gonsalves (Mex), one of the greats, created in 1967 when my Dad was with Duke Ellington and the whole band.

"He drew these for my father Joe Castro. My father was very close with Duke. I have many things over the years he sent my father and many pictures.

“These are very special and are known as the only sketches or drawings by Paul Gonsalves. They are 100% genuine with a COA and if you need more references for authenticity. I have already asked two very prominent people in the jazz community who knew Paul and my father's life. If you wiki his name it will give you an outline of who he is.

“I'm selling these to finish a body of jazz created in the 50's to 60's at Doris Duke and my father's home's Falcon Lair and Duke Farms. The transfer of the masters has taken 11 years 500+ masters never heard soon to be released all very high quality. Zoot-Getz-Mulligan, Gene Ammons, Teddy Edwards, Leroy Vinnegar, Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Dexter Gordon, everyone. The only master I sold was to Fantasy called Zoot Sims and The Joe Castro Trio (Live at Falcon Lair). My Father was very close with many prominent people in every area of Life.

“These are once again 100% genuine.... money back no questions. They’re 13x6 on blue ink. Mex wanted to become an Artist and studied. His famous signature is very hard to find and with a self portrait! It's the one and only self portrait with the famous sig with a sax. The Duke Loves Me Sketch is to me historic. If it doesn't sell I will be giving them or donating them to a Museum Of Art, because they are historic. My friend who is a sax player knows everything about Mex. He told me for sure they are the only ones. There is one LP with Duke he has supposedly with a tiny sketch but it's not original, it's a reprint of a doodle he did, and it's not anywhere to be found…

“I'm selling these way under what I think they should be worth. They are completely the only drawing sketches in existence and with the complete rarity I'm sure I don't even know what there really worth. My collector friend said with the condition they are in, and the unique appeal and overall rarest of rare - could fetch anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 from the right buyer. I'm starting them at 10,000 for 8 Original Drawing/Sketches from The Master Mex, Paul Gonsalves.

Sketch 1757 is The Self Portrait of Paul with his sig with the sax.

Sketch 1760 is an Abstract Picassoesque Render (I love this one)

Sketch 1761 is an Abstract Sketch of Duke Ellington (Reading Duke Loves Me) Very Endearing

Sketch 1759 is a drawing of my father (Paul calling him Maestro) With a JC and P and a drunk attempted G. He used to say to my father Maestro Castro Castro Maestro.

Sketch 1763 is a sketch of my mom, she said he always flirted with her, but what girl didn't he flirt with ;)

Sketch 1762 is a Render of Sketch of Paul Sleeping after he drank the whole bar. My dad said it has him passed out in the bed with the zzzzz there is an ashtray and a bottle and what appears to be just his feet coming out of the bed.;)

Sketch 1765 is a sketch of when they were jamming my father at the piano with cig, Duke in the front and paul just squashed drunk as my dad said with the xx's for his eye's from being way bombed.

Sketch 1766 is the House my dad was renting in Reno where they were Duke and all the cats, I asked my dad about these, and asked why he would draw the cabin house where they partied, he told me Mex would get so loaded he would just walk outside and sit across the street and blow the horn. So I assume he was just doing a perspective drawing of the place.

Maestro Castro Castro Maestro.”

The auction page is here.

These lines are particularly interesting:

"I'm selling these to finish a body of Jazz created in the 50's to 60's at Doris Duke and my father's home's Falcon Lair and Duke Farms. The transfer of the Masters has taken 11 years 500+ masters never heard soon to be released all very high quality. Zoot-Getz-Mulligan. Gene Ammons, Teddy Edwards, Leroy Vinnegar, Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Dexter Gordon, everyone."

I have contacted the vendor for details of the release of these live recordings and will update if I receive any information. Certainly Zoot Sims And The Joe Castro Trio Live at Falcon Lair is available here.

I must admit to having heard neither of Falcon Lair nor of Doris Duke. A little research, however, opens a vista upon a fascinating world of tobacco heiresses, silent movie stars and, of course, Duke Ellington, pictured here with Doris Duke.

I shall look for a copy of Joe Castro’s Lush Life album – the sole release on the Clover Records label. It may be a long search…